Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Don't Fish, So...

...I thought I'd hang up my sign and go writing instead.

Photo courtesy of http://thoughtontracks.com/2013/11/06/gone-writing/

Yep, it's one of those "life is interfering with my life, and I need to buckle down and get something done" sort of weeks. If I don't visit you this week, I will next week, I promise.. 

See you next week!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Life In The Concrete Jungle

Well my friends, I'm happy to say that I went to New York again this past weekend, and I did in fact avoid doing a swan dive across the pavement this time. I was happier about that than is probably normal. (But then I've never claimed to be normal.)

I was visiting the New Messiah, of course, but unlike the last time, I had no half-baked, hair-brained writing ideas to discuss with her. I'm too busy drowning in research and non-fiction submissions to brainstorm any new ideas or force my poor friend to soothe my insecurities. No, I was there purely for a visit, and a celebration.

You see, the New Messiah is pregnant. I know people get pregnant and have babies all the time, but she is my dearest friend, my "favorito" (another old nickname, always pronounced with a fake Italian accent and great gusto), and I have been jumping out of my skin to hug her and admire her growing belly and just celebrate with her since I found out, over six weeks ago. Any new life is a cause for celebration, but when people you dearly love create that new life, and nurture it and nourish it and create space for it to grow, it takes on a bright, vibrant, astonishing meaning.

At my core, I've always been in awe of pregnancy, but that awe fades so easily in the course of daily life. Awe is an overwhelming emotion, a giant, breathless, expansive thing, too big for the needs and pressures of the everyday. Pregnancy is miraculous, but it's too hard to focus on the miracle. It's much easier to grow accustomed to the idea and forget the awe, especially in my day job. I see prenatal clients all the time. I deal with the aches and pains: the sore lower back and the stiff calf muscles; the frustrating symptoms of sciatic nerve compression; the exhaustion and sleeplessness and worry. I treat the symptoms and try to soothe the client, and in the process I forget the fundamental miracle of it all.

And that's what we all do with awe, by necessity. We forget it; we move past it; we let it go, and go about our lives until something grabs us by the shoulders and whispers, urgently, Look. And then we do look, and we stand back and our jaws drop and our lungs expand with wonder. That's what happened this weekend.

I looked at the New Messiah, at the beautiful swell of her stomach ("do you think I just look ambiguously fat?" she asked, eyeing herself in the mirror) and felt overcome by awe. "You're building a life," I said, "Right now, right here, your body is making a new life."

Isn't that ridiculously beautiful? Women's bodies can make new life, without any conscious thought, without any directive: the cells double and quadruple, multiplying themselves into a dizzying array of bone and muscle and skin, stomach and heart and liver. Without any intervention on our parts, our bodies can build new human beings.

I salute you, pregnant ladies. I raise my glass of wine (I did all of the drinking this weekend; the New Messiah opted for almond milk and water) and I let the awe come pouring in, and it's as dazzling and broad as the sun. It's that beautiful.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insecure Writers: Savage Courage

It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! The IWSG is an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. You, too, can join us anytime!

Happy Wednesday, IWSG-ers! I'm continuing my recent IWSG trend of NOT writing about my own insecurities, but instead trying to offer some help, advice, inspiration, or wisdom. I'm not often always successful, but I am trying!

I've been thinking a lot about courage these days. It takes courage to live true to who you are, and to work from that place of truth - and if you're a writer, to write from that place. All the time. Every day. Even when the muse doesn't show up, or when the muse does a runner and it seems as if life is hanging all of its troubles on you, and the very weight of those troubles is enough to bring you to your knees. Still, you have to find a way to live and work and write from that place of truth. You have to dig deeply inside of yourself, to the darkest and heaviest places that have both buried and birthed your strength, and dredge up the courage to keep going. It can be a savage sort of courage, fueled by anger and frustration; or a tired sort, quiet and calm and lined with steel.

I've been reading quite a lot of creative non-fiction these days, and to me, one writer stands out as exemplifying this courage, both savage and quiet: Cheryl Strayed. My first exposure to her was this essay in The Sun Magazine, and I was floored by the sheer naked honesty of that piece. It's turbo-courage.

I was so affected by that piece that I kept reading her work. As I mentioned last month, I read Wild, and then I read Tiny Beautiful Things, and it's from the second that I'm going to draw today's inspiration. The book is a collection drawn from the Rumpus's Dear Sugar advice column, in the years when Strayed wrote as anonymously as Sugar, and both letters and responses feel more like beautifully crafted personal essays than advice columns.

The first thought for today is from a letter about envy. How can we not feel jealousy when others are succeeding, garnering book deals and awards and acclaim, and we are not? Strayed writes:
"I know it’s not easy being an artist. I know the gulf between creation and commerce is so tremendously wide that it’s sometimes impossible not to feel annihilated by it. A lot of artists give up because it’s just too damn hard to go on making art in a culture that by and large does not support its artists. But the people who don’t give up are the people who find a way to believe in abundance rather than scarcity. They've taken into their hearts the idea that there is enough for all of us, that success will manifest itself in different ways for different sorts of artists, that keeping the faith is more important than cashing the check, that being genuinely happy for someone else who got something you hope to get makes you genuinely happier too."
The second thought is taken from a response to letter written by a despairing young writer, who worries that she "writes like a girl" and that she'll never have any success. Strayed's response is to not write like a girl, but to write like a motherf----r. To dig up that courage and get down to work and just work. It's the thought I'll leave you with for today, but I do highly recommend you read the whole thing:
"We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce. You have limitations. You are in some ways inept. This is true of every writer...You will feel insecure and jealous. How much power you give those feelings is entirely up to you."
Good luck, IWSG-ers! I believe in you.

When do you find yourself unable to write, and how do you write your way out of it? Where do you draw courage from? Who are you reading who's inspiring you these days?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The New Mrs. Collins by Quanie Miller

I'm happily turning my blog over to the crazy-talented Quanie Miller today, whose paranormal novel, The New Mrs. Collins, hit the proverbial shelves on October 13th. I can't wait to read this one! While I do, I'll turn this post over to Quanie (who, by the way, also writes one of the most thoughtful, funny, and insightful blogs out there. If you're not following her - well, what are you waiting for??) :




The Art of Saying No

A few weeks ago, I was on Facebook when I ran across a post by author Jonna Ivin:

“I have a great idea for a book. You should write it and we'll split the profits!”

Her response:  “Really? I have a great idea for an amusement park! You should build it and we'll split the profits.”

I got a good laugh out of that, and it really got me thinking about all the writerly things that people have asked me to do over the years:

Oooh, you know how to write screenplays? I have an idea for a movie! Translation: I’ll tell you my nebulous idea and you’ll mold it into something decipherable, we’ll sell the script, and I’ll get half for doing nothing and constantly asking, “So when do we call Stephen Spielberg?”

Can you check this document for spelling and grammar errors for me? Translation: I use commas like they’re going out of style. Can you fix this mess of a letter for me? I don’t want people to know that I have commasplice-itis. Help!

I need your help with a job cover letter. Translation: Every time I apply for a job, the HR person calls and tells me that “awesometastic” isn't a word. I need your good time, energy, and creativity to mold this into something that uses words from an actual dictionary.

Oooh! You’re a writer! You can help me write a grant!  

Oooh! You’re a writer! You can help me write my newsletter!  

Oooh! You’re a writer! I can totally exhaust you to the point where you have absolutely no more creativity left for yourself and to sweeten the pot, guess how much I’m going to pay you? Absolutely nothing! Woo-hoo! It’s a win-win!

I used to acquiesce to every request, afraid of appearing like a mean girl for telling people no, then something happened a few years ago that changed that. Someone asked me to author a screenplay for a film challenge. At the time, I was also doing developmental editing on the side, working full time, and writing the first draft to what turned out to be my first published novel. I said yes, participated in the film challenge, and was so worn out and creatively backed up at the end of that process that I became a sour little ninny.

I decided right then and there that in order to save my sanity, I needed to keep the majority of my creative energy for my own projects.  I used to feel like I had to explain myself after telling somebody no: “You see, what had happened was, I need to finish my novel because my characters are starting to get impatient and are threatening to do mutiny, so no, I won’t be able to write that 10 page grant for you that you need tomorrow and only told me about 5 minutes ago.”

I started to just say, “You know, I can’t do that for you right now but I’d be happy to take a look at it when I get the chance,” and you know what happened? Nothing! No one demanded any explanations from me and it dawned on me that I had done it to myself. In the words of the great Dr. Phil: you have to teach people how to treat you.

Do people still ask me to do writerly stuff? Sure they do. Do I always oblige? Nope. And you know why? There’s a little adage that all writers should live by: the only way to write a novel is to actually write a novel. And sometimes, in order to make that happen, you have to actually write. And in order to write, you need a ton of creative energy, and you won’t have that energy for your novel if you’re spending it in other places.

What about others? Do people ask you to do things that drain your creative energy? How do you handle it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!



Book Info

Title: The New Mrs. Collins
Author: Quanie Miller
Genre: Paranormal
Release Date: October 13, 2014


Book Blurb

In the small town of Carolville, Louisiana, no one knows that Adira Collins inherited mystic powers from her great grandmother. All they know is that she’s beautiful, poised, graceful, and ruthless—especially when it comes to love. And no one knows that more than Leena Williams, who was all set to marry the man of her dreams until Adira swooped into town and stole the man’s heart.

Being left at the altar is bad enough, but Leena and her ex share custody of their son, so she has to see the new Mrs. Collins on a regular basis.

And it burns every time she does.

But soon, Leena starts to suspect that there is more to Adira Collins than meets the eye. And it’s not because she owns some kinky lingerie shop or allegedly insulted the pastor’s wife—it’s the strange way she can make a door close without touching it, or take one look at something and make it drop dead at her feet.

Leena starts digging for answers and soon discovers that, unlike her public persona, Adira’s true nature is somewhere on the other side of grace. She also learns, a little too late, that some secrets are better left buried.


Excerpt 
She was on her knees in the back yard when she heard the unmistakable sound of Johnny’s truck pulling into the driveway. She turned her head slightly to the right and got up just as calmly as Ronetha Powell had done the night she put a bullet in her husband’s head. She had done it so calmly. Walked in there while he was watching Wheel of Fortune, put the gun to his head, fired, put the gun down, and then went to Wednesday night revival and sang “Somebody Prayed for Me” with such vigor that the visiting pastor singled her out and shouted, “Woman of God! You are blessed!”
It was two days before they found Mr. Powell. Before that, Ronetha had merely stepped over him like he was a bunched up rug that she didn’t feel like straightening out again. She was taking her meatloaf out of the oven when they surrounded her house. When Leena saw Ronetha on the front page of the Carolville Daily, being taken away in handcuffs, she thought to herself that Ronetha looked as serene as a river on Sunday morning. In some odd way, Leena felt the same thing. Serenity. It washed over her as she quietly opened the door and tiptoed through the ice cold house, which, for some reason, was blanketed in shades of yellow. She heard movement upstairs and knew that Johnny was in the bedroom. She walked to the kitchen and set a pot of water on to boil.
She walked slowly up the carpeted stairwell thinking that she should have changed that beige carpet long ago. When she got to the bedroom and saw Johnny — putting a picture of them face down on the nightstand — the shades of yellow that had intruded upon her vision turned stark raving red. Still clutching the letter in her right hand she cocked her arm back and hit that son of a bitch for all he was worth. 


Quanie Miller grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana. She fell in love with reading at an early age and spent most of her time at the Iberia Parish Library discovering authors like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike (she was often found walking back home from the library with a stack of books that went up to her chin). She holds degrees from Louisiana State University and San Jose State University. She has been the recipient of the James Phelan Literary Award, the Louis King Thore Scholarship, the BEA Student Scriptwriting Award, and the Vicki Hudson Emerging Writing Prize. She is the author of The New Mrs. Collins, a southern paranormal novel, and It Ain't Easy Being Jazzy, a romantic comedy. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and is currently, as always, working on another novel. To find out more about Quanie and her works in progress visit quanietalkswriting.com.


Book Purchase Links

Amazon (US) http://www.amazon.com/New-Mrs-Collins-Quanie-Miller-ebook/dp/B00OAC362I
Amazon (UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Mrs-Collins-Quanie-Miller-ebook/dp/B00OAC362I
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/483357


Social Media Links

Twitter: @quaniemiller
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/QuanieMillerAuthor
Blog: http://www.quanietalkswriting.com
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/QuanieMiller
Website: quaniemiller.com
Email: quanie@quanietalkswriting.com

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dribbles and Drabbles and Drivels

I have no blog post today.

Wait, you're thinking, what the heck am I reading, then?

Technically, a blog post. Right. Fair enough. I'll get more specific: I have no planned, cohesive post with one set topic and a solid through-line today.

That's OK, though, because I only pretend to have those things most of the time. In fact, I often have what I have today, which is a mostly unrelated collection of thoughts, updates, ideas, and musings. So I'm going to start a new, recurring post today that stops pretending to be cohesive and starts claiming its own identity as a Dribble. Or a Drivel. Or a Drabble. Or perhaps all three. That way, I can post collections like this when I need to, instead of dressing them in costumes to convince people that they are actually coherent stories or essays. Live with confidence now, little dribble-drabble-drivels!

Let us begin:

1. California Envy

So this happened this weekend:

Full disclosure: I didn't take this picture. Another wedding guest did, and I'm borrowing it. 

That's at Diablo Ranch, in Walnut Creek, California, about an hour outside of San Francisco, and it's where I spent most of the weekend, at a family wedding. I got more sun in 24 hours there than I have in the past two weeks in Boston. Which raises the question: why the hell do I live in New England, again? Every time I go to California I forget the answer. I end up feeling envious and wistful, and then pretend I'm actually just disdainful of the weak, soft people who live in constant sunshine and never have to learn to endure anything more difficult than a a few clouds. Unlike we New Englanders, who are a tough, hardy breed. Or something. Of course, the whole drought thing sort of disproves that thesis. Which leaves me wondering why I live here and not near that picture.

Oh, and the wedding was lovely. Really, really lovely, actually.

2. Ode to Being Anal

I love my spreadsheets. They make my brain feel clear and clean. They also make figuring out what I need to work on much, much easier. I spent a good portion of the day yesterday finishing a rough draft of a piece about online dating.

3. The Neverending Story

I'm almost done with the Texbook From Hell. I didn't read the whole thing, no, but I did skim a large portion of it, and read a solid chunk of it. I was hoping to have all of the information I needed for my WIP on Pre-Columbus South America by the time I finished it...but I realize now that was a pipe dream. Of gargantuan proportions. What I have instead is a much clearer idea of where I need to go next in my research. Sigh. Some day, I will finish researching, and that will be a really, really good day.

4. American Navel-Gazing

Did you know that the BBC has a series of television shows on Pre-Columbus South America, with a dashing, sexy, young archaeologist as the host? Yeah, I didn't know archaeologists came in dashing, young, and sexy, either. Check out Dr. Jago Cooper:

Image courtesy of http://cdn.wanderlust.co.uk

Oh, and the shows were pretty interesting, too. They're called The Lost Kingdoms of South America, and they've been a welcome, if temporary, respite from the Textbook From Hell. Sadly, I don't think any of them are about the tribes that my characters are from, but the shows have provided great visuals, and excellent insights into the region, history, and various cultures of a place that my schooling, at least, mostly pretended did not exist. Why is that?

5. NaNoWriMoWhoDoesWhatNow?

Based on last year's experience, I'm probably not going to do it this year, but I feel that pull all the same. You know the one: everyone else is doing so maybe I should think about it...

I'll more likely do my version of it, which is less "write a 50,000 word novel in a month" and more "put lots of pressure on yourself to write more and faster and better and get stressed about it while producing about the same amount as always."

What about you all? What's going on in your lives? Are going to NaNo?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Organizational Paradise

For those of you who have been following this blog for a while, it'll come as no surprise that I have a small crush on organization. There's my love of outlines, first of all. I use them for every plot line, sub-plot line, mini-plot, and story device, ever. I also use them - or their simpler, but no less sexy cousin, the list - for groceries, packing for travel, task management, and everything else in my life.

With that in mind, I know no one will be the slightest bit shocked when I confess that I also love spreadsheets. Oh, the organizational options! The endless array of tables, charts, and graphs at my disposal! Is there a more satisfying way to track your life? I think not.

(Before you write me off as a total weirdo, let me just say that I run my own business as a massage therapist, and Microsoft Excel has saved my life. Seriously. I use it to manage my finances and keep my books and organize my tax info for my accountant, all of which you have to do when you are a sole practitioner and have no one to do it for you. So my love of Excel at least has a practical, real-world foundation.)

I started using Excel in my writing life last year, and believe it or not, it wasn't my own idea. I found this great guest post by Delilah S. Dawson on terribleminds (warning: utterly NSFW), which laid out in clear steps a great, easy way to organize and manage your querying process (scroll down to #10 on the list).

I know I'm biased, but if you're planning on querying, I highly recommend you take her advice to heart (all of it, but especially the spreadsheet stuff). Tracking who you've queried, what they said, or how long you've waited for a response, is a complicated and serious business - not to mention essential. Who wants to query their dream agent only to find that they already queried said agent two months ago and that this agent was reading a partial of their novel and now they've gone and humiliated thesmselves? Right. Nobody. So, take my word for it: use a spreadsheet. It'll help.

My recent forays into non-fiction have proved I also need to use spreadsheets there if I want to have any hope of getting published. As of today, when I created the second of these sheets, I now keep two running so that I can track what the hell I'm doing. The first one is a list of places to submit pieces to: journals, websites, blogs, etc. My column headers are: Publication, Tone/Style Sought, Topics Sought, Submission Guidelines, Deadline, Pieces Read?, Name of Piece To Submit, Date Submitted, and Response. Each row is a different publication.

Simple, really. If it seems too complicated, consider this: I've been researching places to submit to for a few days at most, and I already have over forty options - and that's only the tip of the iceberg. I can't remember which ones want flash non-fiction and which ones want subversive essays under 3000 words and which ones only accept poetry essays over 8000 words, so now I have a spreadsheet.

Today, as I was trying to figure out what I actually need to be writing, I also realized that I need a spreadsheet to track my pieces. Again, I know I'm anal and maybe a little bit crazy, but I'm used to dealing with one book. One. Now I have fourteen pieces at various stages, from brainstorming only all the way up to polished and ready to go. You try keeping track of all of those without a spreadsheet. I've been doing it for weeks, and it ain't pretty.

So I made a new one. The fact that I may have geeked out while making it is unimportant. What's important is that I know have a simple, easy way to track my pieces, too. This one is even easier. The column headers are: Title, Theme (so that I remember what the piece is actually about), Stage, Length, and Possible home.

And now I'm so organized. I love it. I'm in heaven.

What about you? How do you keep track of everything you're working on?




Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Not-Run Run

Ok folks, it's the dawning of the new blogging era I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, in which I write about stuff that's kind of about writing anything I want to. I enjoyed writing this; I hope you enjoy reading it, too. 

So last Wednesday, I didn't go for a run.

Perhaps this doesn't sound like news. I understand. For most people of varying fitness levels, it's probably not too unusual. We all have off days: days when the sky is too gray or it's raining too hard or the thermostat hovers around stupidly cold, or days after the nights we had a little too much to drink and got not-quite-enough sleep, and dragging ourselves from the warm, deep nest of our beds is just too damn hard. These are the days we don't make it to the gym, don't go for that run, skip that spin class.

Well, I say 'we', but it's not quite accurate. I have these days, but I go anyway.

This is not always a good thing. I am not an exercise saint. What I am is anxious. I lost a large amount of weight six years ago and while I've kept it off, I'm haunted by the fear that if I stop exercising for even one day it will all come rushing back, every last pound. The recognition that this fear is absurd, that skipping one day of exercise will not cause me to gain half a person's worth of weight, does nothing to lessen the brutal strength of it. So when I wake up on a Wednesday, which is my day off from my day job and therefore a day to both write and run, and I feel sluggish or lazy or just plain tired, I ignore my body's signals, shove my protesting feet into my sneakers, and head out. Every single time.

Yes. I have a tendency towards extremes. Moderation is something I'm working on.

But last week, I didn't go. I don't know why; some quiet, still instinct held me back. The fact that I could even hear this instinct, whispering like wind-blown leaves in my ear, is an achievement. Two years ago, the fear would have drowned it out. But not anymore. I listened, and I stayed in my pajamas and drank my coffee and worked, and when the sun became so bright around noon that I felt its presence like a physical hook around my spine, I went outside. But not for a run. For a walk.

It was one of those perfect, priceless September days, the sort the universe drops in our laps every now and then as if in apology for the coming New England winter. A warm, crisp day, a day washed clean, burning bright blue, with the kind of light, gentle breeze that lifts even the lowest spirits.

It was so beautiful and so precious that even though I intended to walk, I found myself running. Sprinting down narrow paths in the woods inside the park, kicking up fallen leaves; racing up small hills with the browning grass crackling beneath my feet. I ran like I haven't run since childhood, for the pure, simple joy of it. I ran because I could, because my body was strong and my legs could bend and spring and my lungs could take in great big gulps of that perfect, crisp air.

When I reached the top of a higher hill, I found I was laughing out loud. The sun kissed my cheeks and the wind caressed my hair and I laughed harder, not from the joy of running this time, but for recognition of what I'd been missing, all of those days and weeks and months and years when I forced myself to run out of fear. This. This is what I'd forgotten.

I stayed outside for a long, long time, returning home only when the sentences forming in my mind became too urgent, too pressing to ignore, and I had to go inside and put them onto paper. They came out of joy, out of space; they came because I didn't force them, and that is such a rare and precious thing that I knew I'd received two gifts that day.

All because I didn't run.