It's summer. Sometimes it's hard to stay focused on a project when the sun shines, the pool waves, kids abound and schedules turn loose-y goose-y. So, I am grateful for my writer friends. We need them. You know the ones that like to talk about writing--
who are actually willing to read what you write.
I just got off the phone after a good chat about the most recently revised version of my manuscript Lucy Bound in Lyrics with my writer friend and author of the daily blog Existential Auto Trip, Dom Capossela. He was one of the small, brave group of writers who strolled in to be part of the writers' critique group I was starting over four years ago in 2017. Wow! Here's a photo of that first meeting--though the current members are all different now.
Lucy Bound in Lyrics has undergone several revisions since then and I have grown as a writer as a result. At least I hope I have:) If Dom's feedback is any indication, I am on the right track. He really liked Lucy and appreciated her father's character. It was good to hear from a father who can see through that lens since he is the first male beta reader I've had.
So, thanks Dom! For all your support along my writing journey. It's important to have people in my life who will read my stuff and, if I'm really lucky, are willing to carve out an hour to talk about it on a summer's day.
I am grateful for good friends and honest feedback!
I did it. It's done. Well, any writer who has ever written anything, especially a novel-sized anything, knows that "done" is a relative term. Nothing is ever done--at least not the first time around. But, I have reached The End and as backward as this may sound I am relieved to be at the point where I stop and start all over again--at the beginning, ready for the first complete revision.
Above is a photo of the home stretch. With such nice weather I have taken my laptop out onto the sunporch for a change of scenery and more open space to glance around, breath it in and wrap it up.
So, that's it. That's all I wanted to share. Eleanor with the Weeping Eye (which may get retitled to Eleanor with the Violet Eyes) has by some miracle gotten untangled like the clump of necklaces photographed somewhere down below in an earlier posting. Once one strand got loose, I found the path of another and another and it feels good to sit back satisfied that most of the strands made it out in one piece.
Looking forward to sharing it with you all one day. Until the next revision, it ends: "That’s how I came to know Eleanor with the violet eyes and, in turn—myself."
The other day I was reading The Last Story of Mina Lee. And that got me to thinking—so much so that I wasn’t remembering the first half of a sentence by the time I got to the last half. The book is about a daughter who hadn’t seen her mother in a year. There were complicated feelings there. When one is not sure as to the categorization of such feelings, the word “complicated” sums it up. And so, I was reading. She went to visit her mother and found her dead, face down on the floor.
There ends a visit and begins a process. Grieving, yes. But, also the process that anybody who has ever lost a close loved one knows is unpleasant to say the least. Sorting through belongings. Wondering what they meant. Are they clues? Rallying help to move furniture and put it—where? Someone else must live there now. That life is over and all the messy bits tidied up and thrown away, given away, taken in as gifts from the departed, sold. The mind churns and we grasp for things. Why? What are we trying to solve? Are we trying to solve something? Sometimes we are—especially when the last days of the departed were spent alone and the person left in a way that seems anything but natural or straightforward.
What of the departed reflects the person no longer living? What reflects us—those left behind? Perhaps that is why so many are drawn to reading and viewing mysteries fictional or true. The word "searching" sticks out in my mind like a clue. And so, I wonder what we search for when a life has ended. What are we clinging to as we see the decline of health and therefore the ticking of the clock of time?
I think the answer is: Stories.
It feels like a natural instinct to demand a beginning, a middle and an end. We as humans seem to desire the rising and falling of an arc. Things need to make sense to us. So, we crave happy endings or justice or something that seems close to an appropriate reflection of how a story began. Were the decisions a person made good or bad? What influenced the journey now that we see where it ends? What do we hope to gain by knowing any of it---by possessing a certain artifact or document—some sort of tangible clue?
We need to digest the story because we feel it will inform our own story—the one we are writing right now with our body and our mind, our emotions and our actions. Archeologists are diggings for stories. Scientists are hoping to influence stories or discover them or predict them. Historians immerse themselves in nothing but stories. Faith is built from the foundation up, one story at a time—passed on one person, one page, one witness at a time. Math and the codes of technology are stories being told using a different language.
As I read The Last Story of Mina Lee I felt within myself a sudden urge to ask my own mother to tell us about herself. We’ve heard so many stories from her but have never written them down or recorded them. The details were sometimes hazy. The people’s names forgotten.
I picture my children with a microphone or a camera asking her questions that start from the inside and grow outward in a circle. Who is she? Her family growing up? Her parents, grandparents, siblings? Reaching back as far as her memory might go---seeing those stories in the water as they float around us. We in the boat lunge and pull the sopping wet stories out and up and into the boat—save them from sinking to the bottom of the sea never to be seen, at least not seen through that same lens, from that same angle and perspective.
What will we do with these stories once we’ve collected them? I don’t know, but I can feel the universe pulling me towards the work of saving stories, relating, understanding, witnessing humanity—together.
Recently I decided to pick a new name for a character in my YA novel Lucy Bound in Lyrics. Readers were getting the two characters Sully and Simon confused. Instead of just picking a new name myself, I thought the readers might be the best ones to decide, so I put it to a vote for Beta Readers and my book club Beta Readers to weigh in because they know the characters already.
It ended up being so much fun, and it was interesting to hear what their thought process was. Names seem like a small detail, but there's so much behind a name and everybody's experiences flavor the impressions differently. So much fun! See the votes below:
- - - - - - - - - -
"My vote is for Jacob only bc I have a Noah and Mason at school right now and that's what I associate those names with. I honestly do like them all though. Can't wait to hear what you pick!"
"My vote is Mason. 😊"
"I like Mason
It's funny how names can root you into a specific time period (or can cause a visceral reaction in someone - I wouldn't like a character named Regina). Interestingly both of my kids share names (or nicknames) with other book club members' children. I am/we are either trendy or risk-adverse if that has any impact on how you view my vote."
"My vote is Mason"
I like Jacob first and best, it’s innocuous and slightly average. You could easily look over a kid named Jacob and not give him or his name a second thought. He’s a shade of grey until you look closer and see the nuances, greys can be cool or warm and usually consist of other colors.
I dislike Noah for no particular reason.
Thanks, this was a fun little brain break."
I like Simon but if you have to change it, I vote for Mason.
"Funny, the names didn't bother me in the book. Maybe at first I thought, now which one is this, but generally I think boys are all the same so Sully/Simon, whatever. Ha. If I had to pick I'd go with Mason. Still seems like a nerdy name like Simon. Jake is too cool and Noah is too biblical. Ha."
"I'd go with Mason because it sounds like Simon and so I can picture that name being the same character.
Oops. It appears I've neglected this corner of my world for nearly a month. Seems like a good place to plunk a big ole turkey--with all the fixin's. Below is an email (letter) that I sent to my writer friend, Dom.
It's good to have a writer friend if you're a writer because they enjoy writing (and reading your writing--hopefully) and so every now and then you can write something you enjoy writing knowing they will enjoy reading. One of the best gifts a writer can receive is a kind reader. Truly.
Dom writes a daily blog (yes, DAILY!) and will often include emails and his responses within it:
You'd enjoy this food at-home adventure:
George and I had an idea back in November--Thanksgiving--that
we would get a big turkey later in the winter and have it long after Thanksgiving,
which is usually the only time we have turkey here.
We got a 20lb turkey for $14 and
it remained in the freezer until last week.
We thawed it and cooked it Sunday--stuffing, turnip and all the fixings.
It was so delicious to smell in the house--and
it was even more delicious because
we didn't have any appetizers like we do for Thanksgiving.
Just got to dig in.
It worked out that it was still freezing cold here, since
it would have been weird if it was too springy--but
I hope it's something we do again to jazz up a late winter.
It felt like our celebratory dinner that the pandemic is waning.
We even had St. Joseph zeppoles for dessert and
I made turkey soup out of it yesterday, along with
turkey sandwiches for lunch and the kids had them for dinner.
It's like a big whale washed up on the shore and
we're going to use up every bit of it!:)
Happy Birthday today Dom! Enjoy whatever food adventure you find yourself on:)
Blog meister responds: that's a great story!!!
totally love the anticipation,
the holiday atmosphere,
what a great home.
In life, especially in 2020 (oh, wait--we're not in 2020 anymore?:), it's important to take time out to sit and soak in a few pleasant moments when they surface. As a writer who is currently working on books for young people, it's natural to wonder if my projects will be enjoyed by the ages they're intended for.
Cue my in-house editorial team with a penchant for unabashed honesty. They had so often asked to read what I was writing when I was drafting and later revising my Young Adult novel: LUCY BOUND IN LYRICS, but the answer was always, "No, you're too young." So, I started writing a Middle Grade novel allowing me to say, "Yes, take a look."
The two projects are completely different, which makes it fun for me. The Young Adult novel has been a heart-wrenching, creative, learning journey and a chance for me to take broad strokes with my poetic paintbrush to address the challenges of an age-group I used to teach in the classroom and advise as a college admissions counselor. Alternately, the Middle Grade novel has been a fun and funny, wild, mysterious ride with characters I hadn't expected to meet but am glad they insisted on joining in. I can't wait to find out how it ends. Seriously! :)
So, two weeks or so ago I printed out my YA novel and spiral bound it for my very first Beta Reader: My oldest daughter. She is a voracious reader and being a teenager--I knew I wasn't going to get unearned praise. In fact, I wondered if I would get any. It felt so good to share something so dear to me with someone so dear to me.
I gave her a list of questions and a teen-friendly mini emoji survey after each chapter. Then, I waited for the verdict. And, she didn't disappoint. She really enjoyed the book, but pointed me toward some scenes that felt too long, some words that were used too often, a couple of outdated terms and even offered up a comp title: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. Her feedback was put right to work and as a result I made a rather substantial format change that was not only a compliment to the storyline but super fun for a writer who loves poetry. I finally got the feeling: It's ready! I wanted it to be ready so many times over the past two+ years, but this was the first time I felt pride for it in my bones.
Last week, I needed a boost in motivation to propel me through the resolutions needed in my MG novel: ELEANOR WITH THE WEEPING EYE. I printed out the 120+ pages in their rough draft form, punched three holes, tied yarn through each to bind it and handed it to my second oldest daughter to read and let me know if I was going in the right direction. Not only did she read it, but she read the first 55 pages out loud to my younger son who really enjoyed the story until my daughter's throat started hurting. She didn't want to stop reading it, though, so she finished the rest in silence, herself within hours. She loved it!
My books aren't published, but it still felt so good to see kids (especially my own kids!:) reading them--even if just bound together with plastic coil or pieces of yarn. It was the most instant gratification a writer can get.*
I'm going to soak it in and savor it for the gift that it is:)
* Disclaimer: Giving birth and raising your own in-house editorial team should in no way be thought of as "instant." There really is nothing instant about it and much thought should be given to the responsibility and expense involved when embarking on such an involved editorial plan. In-house editorial teams may cause exhaustion, stress, sleepless nights, depletion of food, less time for writing, clogged toilets and memory loss. :)
I've reached the point in my Middle Grade novel where I need to start to rein in the characters. They were given a bit of freedom to explore, but now I need to bring them to the wrap party and it needs to make sense. To tell you the truth--I've been dreading this a bit. I know where I want them to end up for the most part, but now I have to figure out how they will get there. I write by the seat of my pants and that adds an element of suspense--for ME.
This challenge presents itself to me like four necklaces that have been tangled up into what feels like an endless mound of knots. The tendency is to just chuck the whole thing in a drawer (or the trash) and leave it regardless of the lost value or the likelihood that it will never be dealt with if it is not dealt with now. Another inkling might be to break at least one chain to make it easier to untangle. Maybe just untangle one--my favorite one or perhaps the easiest one to untangle. After all, no reader knows how I wanted it to end in my imagination.
My characters can be tweaked as needed unbeknownst to anyone.
So few would look at a knotted clot of chains and be excited to patiently, slowly, mind-bendingly and methodically follow each strand to its first knot. Work to untie it. Then the next and the next until each is free from its metalic captivity--able to be useful again, to be admired for its own individual attributes instead of one tangled mass of metal.
A confession: I am the designated detanglee in my family. So, it's not neccessarily a task I loathe or have never done. It's a challenge. Something I know I need to sit, relax and work on. A puzzle.
And so, that's where I am in this project--untangling, identifying each individual strand. The part where I need to focus and figure out. Hopefully I am able to do it because I believe there are some really valuable jewels in the pile and I'd love to showcase their dazzling merit for readers. Admittedly, it feels so good when something is transformed--like a clump of metal--from trash to treasure.
There is a relief and a sense of accomplishment. There is the fulfillment of investing time in what could otherwise just remain a useless cluster of words and transform it into an intricate and powerful story that sparkles and demonstrates how materials found in nature can become art in the right hands. Here's hoping that my hands are the right ones.
The hardest part is that I won't know until I have put the hours of untangling in. I could be left with nothing more than aluminum out of a gumball machine or I could be left with a solid gold, gem encrusted family heirloom. The challenge is the not knowing, but needing to have faith and persevering anyway.
That's the mystery of any artform, right? Any mission or passion--any initiative. Persistance. Blind faith. So often it is endurance, not raw talent, that determines success and satisfaction. Skill without the will to try and try again won't get a person very far.
Tuck in and find that first knot.
Forgive (yourself) and forget (your efforts)--early and often.
Pick up Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and start going knot by knot.
I'll get there. So will you:)
Just when a person thinks she has, perhaps, created something--invented a thing--one internet search proves that she is not so original after all. But, ignoring the fact that the "word," Prosetry, already exists and that there are some scattered definitions of what it is supposed to mean or represent, I present to you my intention of the word.
PrOsETRY: a genre that mixes the use of Prose and Poetry for the length of the novel.
Recently I finished my latest whole-manuscript revision of my Young Adult Contemporary Coming-of-age novel complete at approximately 63,000 words. It is a milestone for me having written the first draft at the beginning of 2018, revised that draft aloud, sent it through my critique group, queried, received feedback, decided to change the point of view of the narrative from 3rd person to 1st person, made that change and then embarked on this latest pass through which took several months. This latest revision was a word-by-word, read through out loud in my basement (my husband is working from home still, but luckily my kids are in school part of the day). It involved major rewording and of course the disbelief that I thought it was good enough to send out previously.
So--now for the part where prosetry is invented!
In a one-on-one critique I was fortunate to participate in through NESCBWI's 2020 conference, agent Alex Slater's last piece of advice on his critique form was: "-Think about the power of the 'white space.'" So, though at first I was busy with homeschooling during a pandemic and other such things leaving little time to "think," when I made it to September I finally had time to focus and think. That's when the long task of reading my manuscript out loud and making serious revisions began. This time, though, I thought about the power of the white space which gave birth to PrOsETRY: a mix of Prose and Poetry. After all, this novel has poetry running through its veins. It makes perfect sense in this case!
Considering the appeal of Graphic Novels, which is simply a long form of a comic book that combines narrative and illustration, there's no reason why a book has to be all prose (standard fiction) or all poetry (novel in verse). Why can't we blend both and create another hybrid--something like a graphic novel? Instead of visual illustrations to pair with the narration, poetic form is sprinkled along the length of the novel in a way that illuminates (perhaps illustrates) the narrative prose.
So, that is the genre of my YA novel: prosetry. It is not all straight prose in paragraph format, nor is it a full-length novel in verse only. It is a novel where prose and poetry dance together the entire time and allow the white space to exert its power where the reader would benefit from slowing down, soaking in what is being said or seeing a scene more visually--like an illustration would invite a reader to do.
So, I don't care what the internet claims already has been invented. This feels like is a fresh new genre format that is something writers and readers will embrace--celebrate even! It feels like the writer's answer to graphic novel form and I have to say--as someone who has just written a whole novel in the form--it feels so liberating to dance along the page as I see fit.
Prosetry is the perfect rhythm for a young adult novel to dance to.
Here’s the truth: I write almost every day in my personal journal (aka: diary) but when it comes to writing for this more public, shared Dear Diary or my author newsletter, I find myself procrastinating. Why can I write so much unpublished and then clam up when it comes time to share my thoughts with the outside world?
The fear to share is a problem these days for many.
I am in a state of analysis paralysis. A feeling many refer to as anxiety. I, personally, don’t like to use that word because it is everywhere these days. I suppose I don’t want to add to the pile.
Back to my original thought. I digress. I ramble so easily off to the side thoughts. Focus!
That’s the problem I seem to have a lot.
I ask myself, “What should I focus on?”
Then I wonder, “What do readers want me to focus on?”
And, once I start to wander away from myself and looking to others to determine what I should do, what I should say—well, I have lost focus. Lost and wandering, digressing . . . often gravitating to the internet to look up garden ideas.
This is why some people loathe to write. The writer fears if that first sentence, those first few words aren’t good enough, interesting enough, provocative—the reader will turn away. So, I suppose I should give to myself the same advice I’ve given to so many students and fellow writers: JUST WRITE!
Why must I assume I’m wandering away when I digress? Perhaps it is simply my feet finding their footing and traveling toward something worthwhile. I love the line from Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.” We, as humans, have so little faith in ourselves at times that we assume our default setting is all fault even when the past directly contradicts this.
Today I found myself focusing on all the things that were nibbling away at my time. They seemed to serve as perfect excuses for why I got no writing done despite having written somewhere in ink that I would get writing done during the allotted time. Altogether the excuses began to resemble one big “dog ate my homework.” Producing anything felt impossible because it wasn’t “anything” I had told myself to create. I had set the high expectations that I would create “everything.” I would complete something—completely.
When I look at things as a whole, I can easily become overwhelmed. I’m sure you can relate. I forget that there are several smaller pieces that are eventually bound together to form the whole.
So, I decided to look at things a bit inside-out today. Just as easily as I can allow bite-sized pieces of time to be taken away by the many people and responsibilities I have in my life—along with my own fallible human habit of allowing distractions into my day—I can choose to focus on bite-sized pieces of writing, get them onto paper, and feel confident that those pieces will join together to create a whole piece of writing eventually. I have to admit, I do not like creating a piece of writing as a mosaic comprised of a stolen piece here and a hijacked piece there. Here a piece, there a piece, everywhere a piece-piece. (Sorry, my imagination frequently breaks into song quite often:)
I need to just write. I need to begin. I need to be honest and, above all else, I need to be myself. What do readers want? All sorts of things—a myriad—a rainbow—a unicorn. I cannot be all of those things, but I can be one bright hue in a rainbow. I don’t have to be everything. However, I must insist I be something instead of a puddle of indecision.
Whatever that may be, I hope to always be human. Our shared humanity is truly the only thing any of us has in common. I must shape my humanity, ship it out and then move on. I have to ignore any “unsubscribes” or absolute silence. The human heart and our fragile self-esteem are just no match for all the analytics and quantifitics* available to us through technology. As if we don’t doubt ourselves enough, we’re able to actually quantify how many people do, don’t or did-but-now-don’t “like” what we’re doing, saying or sharing.
Ignore and continue. That was my philosophy through much of parenting as kids protested (sometimes very loudly and with flailing arms and a body that seemed boneless) what I knew was best like vegetables, bedtime, brushing teeth and not playing in the street. I must now ignore my own fear of rejection or judgement and continue to write, to create and connect with other humans in a way that feels authentic to me.
The Brits have “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
I introduce to you “Ignore and Continue.”
Wait, so? Did I just write that? I finished. I did it. It’s done.
Ok. So I just need to do that again.
* quantifitics is a word I made up. It appears it does not exist, but it felt like the right word, so I'm keeping it in anyway. If Dr. Seuss did it, why can't I? Sure, I'm not a doctor--but surely could play on on television if I had to.