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The July issue

I spend a great deal of time critiquing other people’s work.  Sometimes I do this for money but most often I do it so that they’ll, in turn, critique my work and help me make it better.  I help them, they help me.  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

The fact is, I really enjoy critiquing works and the whole feeling that I have something worthwhile to contribute to the story they’re writing.  As I’m not naturally a confident person, this feeling is born from experience rather than innate self-worth.  Others have judged my critiques to be worthwhile and sought them out, sometimes paying me for my “expertise” but most often asking for my assistance on my favorite critiquing website (Scribophile).  Like I wrote, it’s gratifying to be part of an author’s journey in any capacity, but most especially when they invite you into the circle like that.  It’s even more gratifying to feel worthy of being a part of an author’s journey.  I’ve worked hard to get to this point as a writer.  I’m not sure I’m expressing this well, but I hope the point comes across.

The darker side of this critiquing, though, is that I rarely read for pleasure anymore, and when I do I find myself critiquing the work automatically.  Still, those times come when I just don’t want to think about how a story is written and just want to enjoy it.  Tonight was just such a night, and lo and behold a new Pilcrow and Dagger had just come out.  I was behind on my issues anyway, so I took the opportunity to get current.  And what a joy that was!  Not just because it was Pilcrow and Dagger, but because the stories were a real treat to read.  And I was only tempted a dozen times to email the authors and make suggestions!!!  That’s a joke for those who don’t critique a lot of works.  It really does affect how you read for fun.

I’m just a little ways into Conspiracy Theories (aka the July issue) and am looking forward to more rewarding stories.  When I get another chance to read for pleasure.  Which reminds me of the motto I often use here:

Life is short.  Read fast.

Portfolio

Recently I was asked to submit some writing samples from my portfolio. That sounds like it should be easy enough; I’m a writer, I have samples. But I discovered that as hyper organized I am about my projects and time, my actual storage of my writing needs some work. Yes, all of my writing is on a computer – either the laptop or the desktop – possibly in Dropbox, or on a thumb drive in the desk drawer, or the end table drawer, or my purse. See, it took me all day to locate some writing samples that were “okay” and I don’t like my writing anyway so then I was depressed all night because the samples I selected I felt needed apologizing for. This is not the place I need to be in and I’m sure that many writers need to get their act together as well.

Writing is a profession. And we should treat it as such. I have a resume and portfolio that highlights everything I’m accomplished for every job/career I’ve had. Samples, charts, graphs, bullet points, you name it. Yet, my writing career? My passion in life? Yeah, squat. My stuff is scattered in random files, across several devices. Some have several drafts not labeled other than writing1 or story2. GAH! What is that?! That’s not how I am, so why did I do that? Apparently, I need work on this. Sooo, when I return from vacation and school resumes, I will be turning my hyper focused attention to organizing my writing and editing portfolio.

The best way to do this? Well, here’s my plan:

  1. Create a mega folder in Dropbox. This allow access to my writing from the desktop, laptop, tablet and phone.
  2. Inside the mega folder, create subfolder labeled with each writing – newspaper articles, short stories, novels, blogs, etc.
  3. Within each subfolder label the writing as draft1title, draft2title, draft3title, finishedtitle.
  4. Save each subfolder on it’s own LABELED thumb drive so I have a digital back up.
  5. Print each finishedtitle so I have a physical copy because I’m old. These will be stored in binders on the bookshelf.

I don’t know if the samples I sent will tickle the fancy of the editor. The odds are low. I’m not sad. However, the request did bring to light a glaring problem I have and for that I’m glad. How do you store your work? Do you treat your writing passion as a profession? Is your portfolio put together and organized? What is your system?

Very soon the submission window for the August/September issue will close. The theme is “That’s Gonna Leave A Mark.” So, if you’ve been damaged, traumatized, broken or bruised, write it down and let us know! We will begin accepting submissions for the October 2017 Issue. The theme will be “What Lies Beneath.” Any deep dark secrets? Skeletons in the closet or under the bed? Told any half-truths? Bet you can’t creep us out!

Independence Day

We wish everyone a very happy Independence Day! It’s a BIG DEAL at our house because it is also Little Man’s birthday. We do cake and cookouts, fun and fireworks, pictures and presents. This year we are also hooking up the plumbing and gas to our kitchen after being without water and gas in the kitchen for 16 and a half weeks for the renovation. Just in time for me to make Little Man’s cake. And GOD! I have wanted to cook actual food for weeks and I am twitching!

It’s difficult to find the time during the whole beach/lake/park/cookout/fireworks festivities to sit down and write something. But consider note cards or in lieu of that, texts or emails or making a note on your phone for any ideas or inspirations that come up. Photos too can capture that moment and you can write about it later (whenever that is). For me, because it is Little Man’s birthday I have so many things that inspire me and drive me to write on this day. You can do it too.

For those not in the USA, happy 4th of July to you too! Be it midsummer in the northern hemisphere or mid winter in the southern hemisphere, enjoy your Tuesday! And have a piece for cake to help celebrate Little Man’s birthday. Take a picture, send it in. He’ll get a kick out of knowing people all over the world celebrated with him.

Don’t forget, we are accepting submissions for a few more days to our August/September issue. The theme is “That’s Gonna Leave a Mark.” Any memories of unfortunate accidents or events? The girl or guy who dumped you at the prom? That missing finger from the fireworks? Any pranks that have gone way wrong? Let us know!!

Deadlines

Deadlines.  We all encounter them from time to time, some more often than others.  It seems like the clock is always ticking on something in my life, especially when it comes to writing.  I’m sure you have the same problem.

August 1 is the deadline for a short story that I’m having a devil of a time writing.  It’s for the publication The First Line.  The contest is that they give you the first line of the story and you take it wherever you want to go from there.  Full rules can be found at the site, but that’s the gist of their publication.  This time around the first line is Frank Rooney had been the manager of the Shop & Save for thirty-eight years and he wasn’t retiring anytime soon.

Now, I’ve been in retail for a little over twenty years, so you’d think that this first line would be a cinch for me.  I mean, ideas should be rolling through me and I should have the problem of having too many stories for the prompt.  In fact, I’ve had many ideas for this story.  All of them sucked.  They’re good in concept but I’m not able to execute them.  I’ve spent considerable time munching on peanut M&Ms and hacking away at my keyboard, but so far nothing useful has happened. Try as I might, I can’t seem to force creativity.

Which makes me wonder how all those professional writers do it, and gives me a fresh appreciation for them.  Take the writers for Doctor Who.  Every week they have to come up with something new for the Doctor to do, some new challenge to overcome, possibly even a new nemesis to best.  I realize there’s a team there, and creativity can be easier if you’ve got multiple idea generators (i.e., brains) working together, but it’s still got to be exhausting to work on deadlines like that.  I guess that’s why I’m an amateur writer and they get paid for their work.  My deadline is just at a month away and I’m bellyaching on a blog about it.

But wait, there’s more.  I have more than one deadline in my guise as author.  I’ve got one for September 1 that’s got a theme of “Community” attached.  I’ve dusted off a story I wrote a couple of years ago and am re-working it now, sending it through the critiquing process to get fresh eyes on it.  And there’s this other deadline of July 16 for the August/September issue of Pilcrow and Dagger that’s coming up.  That story’s written too, a fresh new story, one I’m pretty excited about.  I’ve given it to my critiquing partners and am polishing it up based on their feedback, but at least that one’s “done.”  We’ll just hope it’s good enough to be picked.

I wish I could wrap all this up in a neat philosophical bow about how all this gibberish is germane to your life, but if I get started on deadlines we’ll be here all day while I start at the concept of time as a linear absolute and we go on from there to explore thoughts about time as a non-absolute and then work on how deadlines either exist or not depending on your view of time.  For our purposes, deadlines exist in a linear time framework, and if you’ve got a story for the theme “that’s going to leave a mark” then you, too, have a July 16 deadline at Pilcrow and Dagger.

Better get cracking.

If there’s a moral for this blog entry, one take away point, one summation, it’s this (and it’s my father’s favorite expression I think) – Press on.

Dieting, De-cluttering, Editing, and You

I have a lot of things going on in my life. First, there’s Little Man. He’s out of school for the summer so we are wrapped up into his activities such as day camp, vacation bible school, scout day camp, soccer camp, and all things scout patches/loops/pins/awards that we can work on. Let’s not forget his social calendar of play dates, swim lessons, and birthday party planning (who new planning kids’ parties were like planning a state dinner?).

Not my house.

Second, there’s family time. Planning family vacation, weekend visitations to or from family members, and gatherings with friends. Third, there’s the fixer-upper house. We are STILL in the middle of the kitchen renovation so I have no kitchen, just an electric skillet and a bathroom sink. Husband is building beautiful cabinets but with his work schedule it can only go so fast. Meanwhile, I’ve been tackling the deck and gardens trying to chip away at the hot mess. And since June is rainy season in Georgia, I’ve been trying to knock out some of the unfinished/half finished projects. And when I can, I’m trying to purge all the stuff we don’t need (or at least haven’t needed in the past 5 years).

Fourth, my physical therapy schedule. Twice a week for two hours each visit for the last 8 weeks. Two more weeks to go and hopefully I’ll be released to continue PT on my own recognizance. My back is much better and my right shoulder only hurts when I try to do too much so I stop and rest when I need to. Fifth, I’ve been editing. I completed a wonderful novel, I’m going chapter by chapter with a novice writer acting as not only and editor but a structural editor and writing coach. I have been asked by another author to edit their work and I’ll soon start yet another project.

Sixth, I’ve also been studying for and taking exams for my real estate license. Happy to say I completed the course and passed all the tests. Now on to broker hunting and applying for an active license to begin working.

Eat smaller portions.

On TOP of all that, I get to look forward to my doctor tell me I need to lose weight (like I’m unaware of this). I just can’t really cook healthily when I don’t have a kitchen and it’s hard to exercise more than the physical therapy when everything hurts all the time and squeezing PT in at all is a miracle (see above list). I know, I need to just eat better to get back to my pre-marriage pre-baby shape quit nagging.

But don’t we all have a ton of stuff to do? Couldn’t we all stand to lose a few pounds? Couldn’t we all stand to just take a few days and complete the last bits of a project? Couldn’t we stand to clean out our rooms/drawers/closets? Yes. Yes we could.

Our writing is like our lives – busy and crowded. We put everything into it. We write everything our characters think, feel, smell, say, and do. Our descriptions talk about the leaves on the trees and in hopes of imbuing our readers with the feeling and tone of the setting, we over do it. We over extend. And thankfully, our editors are there to put our writing on a diet. Stripping away the fat and junk making our writing leaner. Editors help us reorganize our paragraphs and straighten out the plot and subplot lines. They de-clutter and streamline making our stories flow. As writers, we need our editors to help us, guide us, and we need to trust them. Writers should also check their work before turning it over to an editor so it is as clean as possible to begin with. Sort of like cleaning the house before the housekeeper shows up. Is your punctuation correct? Spelling? Word choice? How many times have you used the word “that” when you should have used “which”? And strip your adverbs to a minimum.

In the meantime there are only 6 weeks left of summer. My projects are becoming fewer, my tasks are wrapping up. Soon I will have edited my life’s schedule down to only a few things to do. I’m looking forward to a less crowded life. Hmmm….maybe I’ll have a chance to write again.

Not that you aren’t busy, but we are accepting submissions for the August/September issue. The theme is “That’s Gonna Leave A Mark.” What harrowing experiences have you had that have left you permanently scarred? Do you have a tattoo? What’s the story behind it? Missing a tooth? One eye? We’d love to read all about it!

 

Writing Signature

One of the recent forum posts on Scribophile (www.scribophile.com) asked about writing signatures.  Specifically, what element or elements appear in most or everything you write.

Answers were, as you would expect, all over the map.  One of the most common was food.  A surprising (to me, at least) number were music related, in which the author intentionally added a musical element somewhere in the story.  Some had scenes or entire stories that took place in a desert.  Some always had character names that started with a specific letter, or always had a character with a specific name.  Those seemed to be the most common signatures expressed, though there were at least a dozen others mentioned, but never more than once.

It got me started thinking about my own signatures, of course, though I’m a lurker in the forums and rarely comment unless I get really jazzed about a topic.  I commented on this one, if only to say what my signatures are.  Food is one.  I tend to include detailed food dishes in my stories.  Handguns is another.  I have a lot of knowledge about handguns and I tend to have my characters use them or talk about them in some way.

Having a signature can be a real boon to a writer.  It gives you a chance to become a part of the story.  I know that can sound stupid, after all the whole story takes place in the writer’s head before it ever gets to the screen (or paper, if you write longhand), but typically the author is at one remove from the story that’s being written.  Being able to incorporate a nice coq a vin or some kind of exotic appetizer into a story can be a lot of fun, though fish sticks and buffalo wings have their places too.

Using a signature also gives you a chance to educate your readers about whatever the subject is.  How many of you got excited to have coq a vin again?  And how many of you had to look it up (it’s a chicken and wine dish, very rustic origins)?  I don’t know about you, but when I read something, I like to walk away thinking I gained something from the transaction.  Sure, a good story is a pleasure to read, but in fiction there’s no real gain to the reader other than entertainment unless the author has inserted something that the author knows a lot about, like cooking and/or food.  I think back to the Nero Wolfe novellas, personal favorites.  Wolfe was a gourmand, and food plays a role in every single novella that Rex Stout put out featuring his rotund detective.  I’ve learned a bit about food from reading that series.

I tended to focus on the food signature here because that’s one universal experience that all humans have – the need to consume nourishment.  It’s a powerful tool in the author’s repertoire because it can instantly connect you with any reader.  While not everyone has had coq a vin, almost everyone has eaten chicken at one point in their lives and can relate to a dish that contains it, wine, and vegetables.  Chicken, in fact, is almost universally known and consumed, so it’s a safe bet to include in a story.  Though that shouldn’t put you off of including turtle soup or haricot vert in your story.

I’ll save you the trouble, if you don’t already know.  It’s French for thin green beans.

I think including a bit of yourself in your story makes you and your story more accessible to your audience.  Including a signature of some kind gives a bit of cohesion to your body of work, as well.  I’m not saying you have to have a signature, but it’s certainly not a bad idea, at least that I can tell.

In Memorium

Today the USA is on holiday to celebrate Memorial Day. It is the celebration of the memory of fallen military members who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect our culture, values, and freedoms. It is a heartfelt “thank you” to the family members who had to sacrifice their loved one. And whether you like or dislike the idea or necessity of the military, whether or not you question the money spent on the military, whether or not you feel disdain toward those in the military, you cannot deny that they are no longer with us because THEY felt the need or desire to protect your life and life style. It’s sort of like an Irish wake here in the US on Memorial Day. Yes, we are honoring the fallen BUT we do it with BBQ and beer and all manner of recreation. It’s what we do. Because they gave their lives so we could live ours. We can also use this day to reflect on all of those who we’ve lost. And the older I get, the more parents, schoolmates, and friends seem to pass.

Still, it’s a holiday to celebrate life. So, go to the beach (watch out for sharks and sunburn), eat BBQ meat (because BBQ tofu sucks), drink beer (but don’t drive), and have a great time! Do all those things that make your heart sing. And in celebration of life, a big happy clap for A. Marie! She, and her husband, just brought forth baby number three for them just a few day ago. A beautiful little girl! Find what there is to celebrate in your life. As for me, I’m learning how to tat. I feel the need for lace.

Submissions for the July issue close on Wednesday. So, if you have any conspiracy theories you’d like to share, better get them in soon!!! Unless of course, you think they are watching you. If they are watching, then wait to Thursday, June 1st and submit for the August/September issue. The theme is “That’s Gonna Leave a Mark.” Why I could write a dozen short stories today about Little Man’s exploits last week.

It’s That Time of Year

Photo by Ben Schonewille courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Here in the southeast USA the temperature is rising. Many days have already reached 90 degrees and some have topped it. It means one and only one thing – summer. And so, it’s time to take out the BIG roll of paper and make the “Summer of Fun” calendar. Little Man is becoming more and more independent so he’s able to attend activities that don’t require parental supervision or participation. This is good for me because I don’t like summer – hot, humid, bugs, hot, draining, hot – so now Little Man can go to these fun things with his friends and the other mothers and I can go hang at the local coffee shop until it’s time to pick them up. Or, do all the other fun things we do – laundry, grocery shopping, housework, work, and so on. There is still a few days of school before summer vacation but then it’s full steam ahead.

This year is the year of the camp. There’s full day camp focusing on clay and pottery, archery, swimming, soccer, and crafts; Vacation Bible School; Scout Camp teaching archery, BB guns, knot tying, fire starting, and all manner of camping and campfire activities; soccer camp; and several weeks of home time and spotty activities. What to do? Well, there’s movies, putt putt, activities at the park, concerts, rock climbing, bowling, reading contests at the library, and possibly a few overnight trips for mini vacations to places not too far away – possibly the beach or mountains. Can’t forget the big celebration on July 4th! And Little Man turns seven!

The best part of summer is spending time together as a family and enjoying activities together. The hardest part of summer is finding the balance of down time so we, Husband and I, can continue to work and do the things we need to get done and have to get done. But it’s all good. What are your plans for the summer?

Part of your plans had better be submitting to Pilcrow & Dagger! July’s theme is Conspiracy Theories. Don’t make me tell you know who…. Submissions close on May 31st so get suspicious and paranoid now!

Blockage Part 3

Blockage, Take 3

Two weeks ago I wrote the first thing I’d written since before Christmas.  Today I sat down and started working on the stories I started back in November.  The interim has been a terrifying time.

For five years I was driven by a passion for writing.  I wrote every day, getting up early and planning my days off to make sure I had writing time scheduled.  And when I say early, I mean five o’clock early, which for me is remarkable since I seem to arise at seven o’clock naturally.

Then, one day in December, I didn’t write.  And the next day I didn’t write.  Didn’t even have a desire to do.  I just didn’t care.

It’s been four and a half months of not caring.  I didn’t have an episode when I wanted to write and couldn’t for whatever reason, I just didn’t want to write at all.  It was more compelling to me to watch YouTube videos about my hobby than it was to write (which doesn’t count as my hobby).

During that time I’ve been “off” in other ways as well.  I’ve been more easily distracted in general, less focused on my work, and less attentive to things like housekeeping and gardening.  Is it all related?  I think so.  It’s my supposition that when a writer isn’t writing, when a writer is truly blocked, as they say, that it manifests itself in other ways as well.

I looked on Amazon to see if I could find books about writer’s block.  Now, when I say looked, I mean that I typed in “writers block” as my search term and scrolled through the results.  I found several books about getting around writers block, a few using that as their title, and one book that purports to use “brain science” to get around writer’s block.  Since I was looking for a book about the causes of writers block, this seems the most promising of the titles offered.  If I get the time I think I’ll read this book and post a review of it at some point in the future.

Have I missed writing?  Yes and no.  Maybe I just needed to recharge my creative batteries, so to speak, but it’s not like I woke up every morning and said, “Today I’m going to write” and then couldn’t.  I tended to do with writing what I do with working out – it’s a cute idea but that’s about it.  Not like the “before times” when I HAD to write or I would get the jitters.  I can’t describe, really, the feeling of not wanting to do something that consumed me for so long, because it wasn’t a feeling at all, it was a lack of feeling.  That was the scariest part of all.  For a long time I’ve wondered if I would ever write again – and was pretty blase about the outcome!!

But the feeling is coming back.  Like I wrote earlier, I figuratively dusted off two of the works I’d been working on prior to this strange episode.  I went back over the critiques people left me about them and sighed.  I have some major editing to do.  But I’m wanting to do the editing.  And that’s a huge step forward.

Changing gears, have you read the latest issue of Pilcrow and Dagger?  If not, you should seriously think about it.  Another great issue!!  Thanks to everyone involved in the making of it.  And, as I always say, life is short, read fast.

All Done! Wait. Not yet…

Back in October 2007 my husband of 11 months and I moved from Florida to Virginia. I had been living in Florida since 1986 so I looked on the move with happy anticipation and excitement. Husband had only lived in Florida since 2004 so for him it was just another move for a better paying job. And we did what most people do when they are looking to settle down in a new location – we bought a house at the height of the housing market. It was a cute house – a little brick Cape Cod style home on an acre lot. It had a small living room, a kitchen/dining room combination, half-bath/laundry room, Master bedroom, and master bath downstairs. Upstairs it had two really big bedrooms and a full bath. The walk-out basement was unfinished but had potential to be something more. There was no garage and we had to quickly add a shed in which to stow the motorcycle.

In the end, the job was not what it should have been, my employment opportunities were narrow, and it turned out to be one of those places where if you weren’t born there or went to the “right” church, you weren’t picked first for the team regardless of you stats. The scenery was superb, the weather was fantastic, and the best thing about that place is Little Man. He was born there. We moved away from there and to our current home 1 month after he was born.

Anyway, after 6 years, 8 months, and 1 day we finally sold the house! Hurray!! It had been a rental house for the years in between. Don’t get to excited – we rented for less than the mortgage payment and we didn’t sell it for what we bought it for. And in between we also had to repair things, replace things, and maintain things – all from a distance, all third party, in a small town where if you aren’t from there and aren’t living there it’s hard to get anyone to repair/replace/maintain anything.

It’s just one of the many projects that I’ve been consumed by for the past several months. Getting the house on the market, my dad’s passing, completing my real estate course and class test (still have the state test to take), and my dog died. We are still in the kitchen remodeling phase – Husband is making the cabinets so it’s slow going now –  and I’m working in a “dorm room” kitchen, I’ve got just a few more chapters left to finish the novel I’ve been editing and that will complete all the projects (except for the kitchen) that have been swirling around.

And just in time too. School is almost out here in Georgia. Just 3 1/2 weeks to go and then on to the “Summer of Fun.” This year I hope for an actual summer of fun not to be interrupted by a hysterectomy, an ill family member, or old pet having to be put down. This summer should be awesome because I’m almost all done with the current things that distract. Oh, there’s still many projects that remain – the rest of the fixer-upper house, the back yard landscaping, my family tree project, the next novel I’ll start editing as soon as I’m finished with the current one, MY novel….. but those can wait a bit or tackled one at a time. For now, I’m all done (almost).

 

We are accepting submissions for the July issue! The theme is “Conspiracy Theories.” Do you put electrical tape over your phone’s and computer’s camera lens? Do you not talk about important things in the same room as your smart TV? Do you erase your cookies after each time you go on the internet? Are they listening? Tell us your theories! Deadline is May 30th.