The Summer of Suck

U Jim Toasting at wdg_cropped

It happens to everyone sooner or later—the worst summer of your life.

Ok, in all fairness, I’m a bit of a drama queen. Hyperbole is the new black.

Maybe the shittiest summer in recent memory.

Of course, if you’re superstitious (or even a little stitious), saying that is like double-dog daring the universe to crap a shit-ton of misery on you.

Yes, there are swears in this post.

I’ve been to three funerals since April. One of them for maybe my favorite non-immediate-family-relative of all times, Uncle Jim. He gave me away at my wedding. He’s the one who always told me I was special. He was the family storyteller. And now, he’s literally dust.

Blah. Blah. Blah. Of course he lives on in our memories and my heart but he can’t pick up the phone when I call to ask him why so-and-so is such an a-hole.

There have been medical issues, and financial stresses, and job nightmares, and relationship troubles, and just about everything else you drink to avoid in the summer months.

And what is UP with the killer mosquitoes in the Midwest this summer?  All my bites are swollen and hard and inflamed.

Ok, now I’m just feeling sorry for myself.

The question is how to write when your life feels like it’s falling apart around you? For a few weeks, I couldn’t.

Then, I started the way I always started.

Tell the truth. Ten minutes. Writing prompt. Notebook and pen. Tree. Park. It was rusty.

It hurt.

The good news, maybe the only good news I’ve had in months is, it felt good. It felt like me. I was writing.

It wasn’t 10k words on a new novel. It wasn’t even an essay I could submit or the synopsis I’m getting muscle cramps and brainfreeze trying to finish.

But it’s something.

One day at a time. Remembering who I am. Remembering that I add something to the planet. Remembering that I have now. That’s all we have. Any one of us.

Now.

Today. This moment.

So I inhale, trying to breathe into my belly instead of shallowly into my chest.

I throw my shoulders back, lift my chin.

And write.

6 Thoughts on “The Summer of Suck

  1. Brenda Undercoffer on August 14, 2016 at 4:57 am said:

    The world has lost an important voice this summer. But it still has yours, and it is a voice that needs to be heard. Keep writing.

  2. jan petrie on August 14, 2016 at 5:37 am said:

    Boy, agree big time. Yes to this sucko weather summer.

    Feel like Brillo pad head from our lovely Chicago superhumidity.

    Assigned myself 250 word count a day this season. Some times its all I can muster.

    But, yes that does feel good.

    Been a shit happening tedious summer.

    Bad season sisterhood! Glad to know, not alone.

  3. I’m sorry for your loss, Suzanne! Sounds like a sucky couple of months. I’m glad you have writing to make you feel like yourself again. Sending you positive vibes for a healing, renewing, and comforting autumn…

Leave a Reply

10 Writing Reminders You Need Now

Morning Pages at Ragdale
Morning Pages at Ragdale

Optional 7am morning pages

Do you have your calendar handy? Go grab it, I’ll wait…

How many writing slots do you have penciled in? When’s your next class (first class?), weekend retreat, or workshop scheduled? Have you finally booked that AirBnb weekend with the two writers from your group?

I just returned from a three-day StoryStudio Ragdale retreat that I signed up for in January and carefully budgeted each month to attend.

Before you roll your eyes and complain you don’t have the cash or the time for a fancy retreat, I confess neither do I. I made the cash with a second job at Starbucks (don’t ask), and CHOSE to sacrifice other things from my schedule so I could attend.

What follows is just a smidge, the tip of the proverbial iceberg, if you will, of what I got out of my time there. I almost cancelled, but so glad I didn’t.

#10) Make Space for Yourself and Your Work

Literal space in your house. This can be a chair with a TV tray next to it. Bless it, claim it, use it.

Or don’t. The space is yours.

Don’t you deserve a chair?

The Blue Room - Ragdale House

The room most associated with ghosts – and where The Time Traveler’s Wife was written!

 

#9) Yes, You Do Have Time to Write.

If you’re busy lunching with friends, or even working a second job, telling yourself you don’t have time, or you’ll make time soon, QUIT LYING.

For every book that almost got written, there’s a published author stopped at a red light jotting down ideas on a Starbucks napkin.

You don’t need to make time, you need to make choices.

#8) Replenish As Needed.

My week leading up to Ragdale was hellish: A death in the family, out-of-town guests, harried work schedule, funeral, eulogy. A tornado or large scale flood would have topped off the week perfectly.

All of my carefully laid plains to finish a synopsis, revise certain sections of my WIP, went out the window.

Instead, I gave myself permission to do what felt right. I even swapped one workshop for a two-hour nap.

#7) Let Go of Expectations.

I’m all for setting goals. That’s what made my first book possible. But instead of pressuring myself to perform in the evening readings, I allowed myself to enjoy the work of the other brilliant writers who shared.

Was I nervous to share something unpolished or less emotionally intense? Not really. I lowered my expectations and trusted my words.

#6) Write by Hand.

The research is in and writing by hand draws on different connections in the brain. It opens up other avenues. Plus, it’s quieter!

Our instructor required pen and paper in the workshop sessions, though computers were welcome any other time and place during the three-day retreat.

Plenty of current published authors aren’t above a legal pad and pen. Try it – it helps with #9 above.

#5) Don’t Compare.

Thirteen writers shared work generated by the same prompts. Guess what? No duplicates.

Completely different takes, distinct voices, a wide range of topics and themes. There’s room for us all at the table.

Daisies at Ragdale

Ahhhh, summer!

#4) Make Writer Friends.

When your partner tires of hearing about the latest problems your characters pose, or about the theme of your essay, writer friends will listen without vomiting.

They will offer insight, ask questions, care. It’s a fabulous universe to inhabit.

#3) Make Artist Connections.

Our group included a sculptor, a poet, essayists, senior citizens, new moms, teachers, published authors—an amazing array of creative output.

Creativity breeds creativity.

#2) It’s OK to Eat the Chocolate Chip Cookies.

This is a metaphor. Stick with me.

Linda, the Ragdale Fairy Godmother, prepares the most delicious, nutritious meals. Fresh ingredients, amazing flavor combinations (tortilla chip encrusted tilapia anyone?) and a wide variety for all three meals.

But it’s ok to eat a cookie if you’re eating healthy most of the time.

Strive for quality, but have fun, don’t put limits on what you’ll read or write. Surprise is good. Fun is good. Sometimes light is ok.

#1) Walk.

Easy to do when you’re surrounded by 50+ acres of wild prairie. Walking opens the creative pathways.

If it works for Mary Oliver, it will work for you.

Note: this isn’t a command to exercise. Lighten up. Go for a simple walk.

Ragdale House

A truly magical place.

And just in case you’re still making excuses (see #9 above), I got up an hour early to write this post. I’m off to the day job (where they’re debuting my department newsletter, joy), then home to make dinner, do laundry, pay bills, fill out financial aid forms, walk, read, and write.

Care to join me?

*Bonus reminder – I’m human and thought I could get away with not proofreading a second time…argggghhhhh…you can never get away with not proofreading a second time.

2 Thoughts on “10 Writing Reminders You Need Now

  1. “You don’t need to make time. You need to make choices.” The best advice I have heard in a long, long while. Thanks, Suzanne.

Leave a Reply

A Peek Inside the Writing Life

Craft books and novels in progress

What does this “living a writing life” look like in real time?

This week, I’m submitting a partial manuscript to two literary agents I pitched last year at my first Chicago Writers Conference.

Panera writing session

Getting the submission ready includes the following:

  • Knowing and following the guidelines given to me by the agents during my pitch sessions.
  • Ensuring my first 50 pages are formatted and the best they can be at this stage of my development.
  • Preparing a one-page synopsis. This is not an outline, nor is it enticing cover copy. A synopsis has to spell out what happens in the book, including the ending, while revealing the voice and flavor of the novel.
  • Including a well-written query letter along with the manuscript and synopsis.

Once I get that all emailed, I will note it on my submission tracking sheet then dismiss it from my mind and get on with finishing the rest of this draft. It can take months to hear back on submissions, even if they were invited!

Engaging means improving my craft. That makes me chuckle. It used to sound so pretentious to me when I tried to think it let alone say it out loud.

The reality is I do work at the craft. I read, study, ask questions, practice, read some more. I am in the middle of three different books on craft today. They are: Save the Cat, The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction WritingWriting 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling.

Engaging means reading as much fiction as possible. I’m enchanted by the idea of writing a real world story with hints of magic ala the very talented and successful Sarah Addison Allen.

Craft books and novels in progress

I’m working my way through all of her novels (just finished my third). Plus, she’s recommended a few of her favorite books by other authors, and I’ve tracked one down from an interlibrary loan: I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell. Reading this before bed each night.

Playwright Michele Lowe recommends that writers always have more than one idea or project to work on. She’s brilliant so I listen to her. I’m collecting ideas and snippets of scenes for what might be my next book-length project.

I’ve started researching and am in the middle of a fascinating book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by journalist Rebecca Traister 

The idea that there will be a next book feels like a gift I’ve given myself. Three years ago I wasn’t even sure I could finish one book.

I’m also planning ahead for the fall. I might take a class, go to a conference, or sign up for a retreat. For me,  I need to build in time and space for meeting other writers, talking books, learning from more experienced authors.

My vision of “living the writing life” means engaging in the world of writers and readers on as many levels as possible.

Last week I published a book review on Blogcritics.org and am preparing a list of interview questions for the debut author, Abbey Campbell Cook.

I met an inspiring young writer at a family graduation party in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. Ellie is 14 and a voracious reader and writer.

We talked under a canopy that provided scant relief from the blazing sun. We commiserated about the difficulty of creating interesting characters and working in solitude.

Last week, I received an email from an old friend who recently joined a writing group. We didn’t discuss writing, just exchanged book recommendations.  But there’s an energy exchange that takes place just knowing she writes!

This week I’m looking forward to a coffee date with a writer I met at a retreat last summer. She recently finished her first novel, and I was honored to get to read the first few chapters. More energy, more writing flow.

And I’m two weeks away from attending my second StoryStudio’s Ragdale Retreat.

A mentor of mine—a talented author and inspiring coach—recently recommended a list of short stories.  She compiled a curated list of stories with craft elements that shine in each. Can’t wait to get started on this!

Engaging means following the careers of other writers and supporting them whenever you can.

I’m eagerly awaiting Jennifer David Hesse’s first novel in July and have been sharing free bookmarks with my friends and family. Be sure to look for Book #1 Midsummer Night’s Mischief (A Wiccan Wheel Mystery). 

Midsummers Night Mischief

Living the writing life means making choices. I spent Sunday afternoon in Panera, wearing ear buds and flip flops (and clothes, I was wearing clothes), brandishing a purple flair marker as I went over what I hope is finally the final draft of my partial manuscript submission.

I could have been poolside with a margarita. And a part of me wanted to be.

Sometimes living the writing life means saying no to things (like hanging out at the pool). Twice this month, I turned down opportunities to write and publish (once for pay, once for a byline).

So I will miss out on those two opportunities. My time is limited. I have a day job and a family. To finish this novel, I have to focus.

Write where you are

Sometimes that means writing in the car, then walking in the nearby park

To make all of this possible, I continue to invest in my health and wellness. That means making room for life. For good food and movement and mindfulness.

All of that makes room for my dreams.

Long walks with a girlfriend or my husband or my son, walking my daughter’s dogs, doing pushups, sharing grilled chicken and an episode of American Pickers with my husband, talking to my mom on the phone, all of this is life.

Social media (will that be the phrase that sounds the death knell for all of humanity?) is both a resource and a drain for a writer. I belong to a few great writing communities online.

The best of these have provided inspiration and opportunity and are worth maintaining. It’s getting sidetracked on dancing puppy tangents that can suck away what little time I’ve carved out to actually write.

It’s also time to update my website, invest in new business cards and an updated author photo.

Deadlines approach for an essay I want to write and a residency application I’m nervous to submit.

Living the writing life means not being afraid to fail.

I know there are more of me out there, closet writers not sure they have talent.

You do. But it’s mostly about the work.

A brilliant author friend said during a recent conversation “if we’d known what was involved in writing a book, we never would have started.”

She’s right. But I’m ridiculously grateful I did.

 

4 Thoughts on “A Peek Inside the Writing Life

  1. Great post, Suzanne! Thanks again for the shout-out, and good luck with those agents!

  2. Elaine Richards on June 29, 2016 at 3:23 am said:

    So excited for you to finally get those pages sent! Thanks for reminding me of what I might/could be doing if I weren’t, er, ‘otherwise engaged.’

Leave a Reply

10 Things About Illinois That Don’t Suck

Shawnee National Forest

Why do we live where we live?

Yesterday I hiked through a Forest Preserve near my home enjoying the dappled shade that made the 88 degree day bearable.

My steps were lightened by tunes from Maroon V, David Allen Coe, and even a little Ed Sheeran.

The Forest Preserve

Half Day Forest Preserve June 2016

I stopped to take in the view. White buds dotted the tall grasses and clouds of trees blew in the breeze.

Glorious beauty.

And I was reminded that Illinois is not all incarcerated governors, literal highway/tollway robbery, or Chicago street shootings.

All the above does exist (along with horrid city public schools, tax gouging, highest gas prices in the country, etc.) but that’s all we hear about these days.

I’ve spent most of my adult life in this state. In fact, when my 10-year-old son asked me ages ago “Mom, why DO we live in Illinois? There’s no mountains, oceans, good stuff,” my only response was FAMILY.

My family was here. Back in the 1940’s, my mom’s father moved his family from poverty in the south to the Midwest for work. Factory work. Mechanical work. All kinds of work.

We’ve called Northern Illinois home since then (with an 8-year sojourn to Texas which I loved and still miss). My husband grew up here from 6th grade on as well.

Most of my family recently relocated. One brother still lives in the southern suburbs. My oldest sister is in Tennessee where my mom retired. A younger brother is over the border in Wisconsin, and a younger sister moved with her family to North Carolina.

Friends and family who have joined the mass exodus bemoan the state they left behind and question our sanity for remaining.

But our daughter married a man from Illinois and they bought a house here. Our jobs are here, still.

We’re not yet at the stage where we’re contemplating our retirement or our next move. So, we continue to live, love, work and enjoy life in The Prairie State.

And the fact is, a lot of those who left forget anything good about it.

The national media loves to heap on the insults (many deserved).

It’s time to get our State Self Esteem back.

Here are 10 things I love about living in Northern Illinois.

#10 The Weather

That’s right. Don’t laugh. First of all, there are Four Seasons. That’s right. Not just winter and construction as the old joke goes. Four. Actual. Distinct. Seasons.

My favorite is Fall. The autumn in Northern Illinois is crisp and sunny, or chilly and rainy, but always colorful.

Winter blows in with a pure breath of peppermint snow and rosey cheeks and Christmas carols.

Spring is a coming out party (think one of the scenes from Close Encounters, with the multitudes craning their necks to look at the strange orb in the sky . . . Yes, Tommy, the sun has returned).

Summer is a free-for-all-freak-out-party. We live in Lake County after all.

#9 The Schools.

We happen to live in a national award-winning school district which provided a wealth of opportunities for our two children and a bushel-full of great memories.

Higher education is well-represented by private and public institutions.

#8 The Culture.

Want to hear a blues band? Want to go to the Opera? Want to see modern dance, or laugh your butt off at a comedy show?

All of this is within easy reach. Most of it available in one form or another free. Don’t get me started on world class libraries or museums.

#7 The Sports.

Amateur, professional, esoteric and mainstream. Some of the best traditions around. Hey Hey! (Even those who leave the state because it’s “so awful” continue to root for their home teams.)

#6 Transportation.

Hold on. Stop shaking your head. Yes, traffic is a beast if you’re commuting. But the truth is, you can get ANYWHERE from here.

We’re a hub.

Within one hour, I can be in a national forest in Wisconsin, in Grant Park in Chicago, in a farm field out west.

Shawnee National Forest

I can take a train or plane (or river boat or barge) from here to anywhere else in the country at less cost than most other places in the U.S.

#5 Natural Beauty.

What does Illinois have to offer that can compete with some more showy spots?

Lake Michigan - Ft. Sheridan

How about Starved Rock? The Mississippi Palisades? Lake Michigan, the only Great Lake contained entirely within the U.S.? Shawnee National Forest?

Starved Rock

In Lake County alone there are dozens of beautiful lakes and beaches and some of the greenest green you will ever see.

Whenever my BFF visits from Texas, it’s one of the first things she comments on.

When her boys were younger they shaded their eyes in wonder . . . “Everything’s so GREEN!!!!”

It’s lush here. Giant towering oaks and maples and waving grasslands. We have water. Something much of the country suffers from too little of.

#4 Non-Horror Movie Bugs

My daughter will chastise me for this one. She’s studying for her master’s in entomology, but I can’t help it. It’s one of my favorite things about living in Northern Illinois.

With the possible exception of the Brown Recluse Spider (who I’m sure hides out near the turn-y nozzle thingy for my gas grill waiting for an opportunity to sink it’s fangs into my hand), we are fairly safe from things like hairy mammalian spiders, giant centipedes, flying cockroaches, etc.

Mosquitos are normal-sized, forest critters don’t come with giant impaling tusks, and snakes are generally of the garden variety.

In other words, our wild animal life is normal.

#3 The Pace.

People here move at the standard (correct) human pace.

We don’t age perceptibly waiting for a clerk to count back our change, nor do we get whiplash from people passing us on sidewalks in a perpetual rush.

We’re middle of the road.

People are efficient without being cold or impersonal. People are friendly without being syrupy.

#2 THE FOOD.

In all caps. I repeat. THE FOOD. We’re home to the real Vienna Beef hot dog.

Chicago Dog

Italian Beefs.

We have every cuisine you can think of and invent more for new reality TV shows.

We have one of the largest RibFests in the country.

Organic Farmer’s Markets abound.

Sweet Corn.

Bakeries.

I could go on.

#1 The Pizza.

Pizza gets the number one spot. The rest of the world thinks Chicago pizza means deep dish.

If you grew up here, you know the BEST pizza is thin crust, cut in squares (never triangles, how trite).

chicago-thin-crust-pizza

You fight with your siblings over the corners. If you’re lucky, someone is duped into thinking they like the crustless middle pieces, leaving you with all the edges.

So that’s it. My love letter to Illinois. I don’t overlook all the problems. You can’t live here and be blind to them.

But for now, I do live here. I do love here. I’ve raised my family here and am glad I did.

So keep your studies and charts and facts to yourself. A wise man once said, “you find what you expect to find,” or “wherever you go, there you are,” or some other profound sentiment.

For me, for now, this is home.

 

6 Thoughts on “10 Things About Illinois That Don’t Suck

  1. jan p on June 22, 2016 at 11:45 am said:

    Humidity n ice would be the only two reasons Id contemplate
    leaving.

    Oh yeah, three…da taxes!

    Also we DO have the best sports teams.😊

  2. j baum on June 22, 2016 at 11:46 am said:

    Suzanne: Agree completely with your above-mentioned ten and would add shopping. Yes, you can go crazy on Mich Ave or the outlet malls, but funky neighborhood retailers, independent butcher shops, and tasty food boutiques populate Northern Illinois. Mmm, food. Must be lunchtime!

  3. Thank you for such a positive post, Suzanne! I grew up in Central Illinois and now live in Chicago, and there is so much to love. Certainly there are bad things, but we shouldn’t let them overshadow the good. …My daughter goes to a Chicago public school, and it happens to be one of the top schools in the whole state. (Granted, it’s a selective enrollment school, but still.) Another plus about Chicago weather specifically: I got to enjoy the rumbling thunder last night, while feeling relatively safe from any tornadoes. …Anyway, it’s a beautiful state, top to bottom. Lots of diversity too. Thanks again!!

Leave a Reply

34 Ways NOT to be an Asshole

Call your mother

Are you one of those people?

Have you found a way to function in society—to get most of what you need and some of what you want—without infringing on, or repelling others?

If so, congratulations. It’s comforting to meet you and to know that there are still people that don’t assault, deride, or otherwise demean fellow humans.

But some of you need help.

In case you were misunderstood as a child, in case you didn’t have good examples to follow, consider these tips for getting along with others.

These are all things most of us learned by the time we got out of high school. But not all of us.

And let’s face it, times have changed. We have more opportunities to be asshole-y then ever before. (This is odd because we probably physically interact less than ever.)

Read on and try one or two of them:

Call your mother

law_keven/Creative Commons

Call your mother. Minimum once a week. If only once a week, do it on a Sunday.If your mother kept you alive and didn’t torture you, she deserves not to be left all alone on a Sunday.

Eat dinner with your family (your family can be puppies, a roommate, a gay lover, whomever) occasionally. No phones allowed.

Grow something outdoors. On a balcony, in a public garden, in your backyard. (Legally)

Hiking boot plant pots

Photo: Andrew Bowden, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Watch your child’s sport event or musical performance, or any other activity. Watch them. Put your screen, newspaper, book away. They’re watching you and they see you NOT watching.

Quit multi-tasking. You suck at it. Unless you’re a parent making dinner and folding laundry—you, we salute.

Smile at people. Especially if you were just staring at them, visually assessing them and are caught. Do not just look away.

Learn how to merge. It’s a zipper people. First one car, then the next. Don’t be the second car trying to squeeze in.

https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/23-posts-on-trade-show-etiquette/

https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/23-posts-on-trade-show-etiquette/

Hold the door for people.

Say thank you to someone who held the door for you.

Send thank you notes. Actual real paper thank you notes with a stamp and everything.

Stop hitting “reply all” to your work emails. You don’t need to point the public finger when someone screws up, and no one wants to see the 37th email wishing someone “Happy Birthday.”

Read the entire post or article before commenting on it.

Don’t argue politics on social media.

Mind your own business about what other people wear, listen to, eat – unless they’re minor children under your direct supervision.

Introduce yourself to your neighbors.

Worry more about the environment and less about the number of syrup pumps in your latte.

Pay attention to your friends. If you’re lucky enough to see them in person, vow to keep your face out of a screen while you’re together.

Don’t shoot people.

Recognize that religion is private and personal.

Visit sick people in the hospital.

Dive in and help someone in crisis instead of telling them you’re there if they need you. Most people won’t ask for help.

Tip your server – even the incompetent ones.

Say please and thank you to those you love.

Encourage someone in your field. Look out for the new guy, mentor a youngster.

Celebrate your parents’ anniversaries.

Put yourself in someone else’s shoes (not literally).

Thank a public servant.

Police Officers

Creative Commons / Tiptoety

Don’t have sex with people who don’t or can’t say yes.

Be on time.

Return calls/texts/emails or reduce your social circle.

Teach your kids not to be assholes.

Don’t let your dog (cat, iguana, etc.) behave like an asshole.

If you mess up on any of these, apologize and try again.

www.odditycentral.com

Call your mother. Seriously!

 

2 Thoughts on “34 Ways NOT to be an Asshole

  1. Good advice, Suzanne! I’d like to think most people mean well, but lately it seems more and more people are doing “asshole-y” things. Your tips ought to be taught in school!

Leave a Reply

Could You be Addicted to Feedback?

criticism
criticism

Creative Commons http://www.bookandnegative.com/

What are the signs?

I have this mentor/friend who thinks I have a problem. She’s traditionally published over a dozen novels and teaches a wildly successful fiction workshop in a major city.

Twice, she has told me to just finish my current draft without getting more feedback.

What kind of feedback am I talking about? Not just your garden variety writing or critique group comments that take place in a workshop setting. (But I partake in that, too!)

After my second full draft, I realized my beginning needed work. I rewrote the first forty pages then got an assessment from a professional editor.

I rewrote those pages again incorporating the changes suggested by the editor (also a well-known novelist).

Next, I took part in a story workshop with an award-winning playwright and realized I hadn’t quite nailed my “what’s this about.”

Most authors, whether they’re screenwriters or novelists, eventually have to distill their project to the infamous log-line.

So, I spent some time on that. Then rewrote my outline making sure I was faithful to the gist of my story.

Then I rewrote the first few chapters to more faithfully follow the outline, and—yep, you guessed it—submitted those for feedback.

All of the feedback I received was spot-on and useful.

So, what makes me think I might need a 12-step program for writers seeking feedback?

Last week, the first mentor I mentioned above asked how my project was going. I was all positive: “Great, still working on it. Incorporating feedback on a new beginning, etc.”

And she asked: “Haven’t you already done that?”

Yes. Three times.

She was confused. She told me to knock it off. That it was just procrastination masquerading as “improving my craft.” She told me to just finish the draft using everything I know how to do. On my own. Like, without a guide. Alone. Solo.

start-and-finish

Creative Commons http://www.dumblittleman.com

I know, pushy, right? So, I said I ok. I committed. No more feedback.

Then I texted her and asked if going cold turkey included getting comments from my writing group.

Her exact response: “OMG. Yes, that counts.”

I’ve had limited time to work on my draft over the last two weeks. I have a post-op son at home that requires twice-daily “wound-care.” And, yes, that’s as disgusting as it sounds.

A dear relative is in the ICU.

I have a day job. I have laundry and meals to prepare and groceries to procure.

(Einstein ought to have tackled that job. The most inefficient system in the modern age: take item off shelf, put item in cart, take item out of cart, place item on conveyor, place item into bag, place bag into cart, take bag out of cart, place bag into car, take bag out of car, take bag into house, take item out of bag, place item onto shelf. Seriously—473 steps for groceries. Aaaaaaggggghhhhhh!)

I’m supposed to find time to exfoliate and floss and meditate and correspond with family. And when do I squeeze in watching VEEP or Silicon Valley on TV?

On my lunch hour today, I sat in my car and read my first two chapters out loud. I listened for the cadence of my sentences. I made notes about two pages of dialogue with almost no exposition or setting. I made notes on two page of exposition and setting with no action or dialogue.

Such is the life of a writer on her first book. I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who has attempted this while also having to figure out how to pick a ripe, juicy cantaloupe from the produce section.

Sometimes knowing you’re not alone helps. Sometimes it doesn’t.

To further suck time from editing my novel, I signed up months ago for an online workshop. Our current module is “Unhooking from Praise and Criticism.”

This dovetails with my feedback obsession for my work in progress.

One of the common pitfalls of first-time novelists is starting over, never getting to the end of the first draft.

But I avoided that trap! I outwitted my newbie-ness and made sure I got to The End on that first draft. And on the second.

The remaining drafts? You guessed it. I keep going back and working on the beginning. Sometimes, this is important if you still don’t know what your story is. And, yes, there’s no right way and blah, blah, blah.

But by sending out the first twenty pages, or the first five chapters or  just this one section for editorial assessments and feedback, I’m avoiding the inevitable.

I have to finish the f$#king draft I’m working on. Not the next one. This one.

Epiphany-ish, no?

And I know how to make it better. I don’t know if anyone will want to publish it, but I do know how to make it better.

There should be a drive-thru service where workers (trained editors of course) scan your latest output of words and hand you a printout that declares Congratulations, these four pages are working. Carry on!

Feedback

Creative Commons http://media.trusper.net

I just don’t know if I’m doing it right. Four nights ago, I was sure it sucked. I decided to just race through the draft maniacally so I could put it in a trunk under my bed and get on with the next, better book.

Several months ago, I was trying to decide if I should send a current draft out for feedback and I asked my wise mentor person if she thought it was a good idea.

She replied, “Have you already done everything to it that you know how to do?”

The answer was an easy No.

What a question! What’s she hinting at?

You guessed it—she suspected my feedback addiction back then. But I had to be ready to quit.

So, I’m taking it one day at a time. Not sharing pages with anyone. Just working away. In my writing room. At my writing desk. In my car. In the coffee shop.

Alone.

In one of my favorite books about the experience of writing a book (Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s fabulous. How’s that for book-y geekdom?), many pitfalls and stages are explained. Writing a book is a journey.

It’s possible I’m making it harder than it has to be. It’s possible I’m doing it all wrong. It’s possible that I’ll relapse. But for now. I’m just writing. And most days, I don’t want to stop.

 

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Could You be Addicted to Feedback?

  1. Tracey Curzon-Manners on June 7, 2016 at 3:39 am said:

    Suzanne! Your words come alive and I relate to every single sentence… and I agree with your mentor. Trust yourself and silence the inner critic. I understand the need to feedback, I’ve even been tempted myself but deep down I also know what I really want is approval and only I can give me that.

    Leave the feedback to your readers – they’re going to love you as much as I loved reading this.

  2. Tracey Curzon-Manners on June 7, 2016 at 3:40 am said:

    ‘ the need to seek feedback’ Tch

Leave a Reply

Mom vs. HuffPost: Mom Wins

Fried eggs in my restored Iron Skillet

I spend half my time trying NOT to become my mother, and the other half wishing I were half as good as her at some things.

For example, I didn’t want her wide hips and flat chest, but no one asked me. Likewise, I’d have loved her singing voice and brilliant blue eyes; again, no one asked me.

So when the potato and sea-salt video from HuffPost lit up Facebook last week, I hitched up my britches and decided it was time to rescue my rusty iron skillet from the bowels of the garage.

Iron Skillet Potato Sea Salt

My Actual Pan and Potato (eyes removed): A smidge of rust is visible to the right, but the entire bottom was flaking and rusted, too.

After all, my mother and all of her ancestors wouldn’t dream of cooking in anything but an iron skillet. She bakes in them, fries eggs in them, makes cornbread in them.

I’m a decent cook and can follow a sewing pattern, both things my mom excels at. But I’d burned something in our one iron skillet over a decade ago, and let it soak and rust.

Oh, the shame.

When the magic video made the rounds, I thought I’d redeem myself and my pan. Thank God for HuffPost, right?

I called mom to ask about the potato and sea salt method.

She scoffed.

I told her I’d heard I shouldn’t use soap.

She scoffed.

We had two potatoes. Well, there were two slightly mushy, alien vegetables with tentacles in a basket on the counter. And, I had purchased a new box of kosher salt in December.

(I’d had an Etsy-spasm a month before and was determined to make organic olive oil facial scrub to give as gifts. Instead, I bought anti-bacterial soap and tubes of Chapstick in bulk.)

The box of salt remained full.

I sliced off the bulging potato eyes and filled the pan with salt and water and started scrubbing.

And scrubbing.

And scrubbing.

For 90 minutes.

Until the skin peeled back from my cuticles and the potato was mashed.

Still, rust remained. I watched the video a second time.

sos pads

The part of my brain that is like my mother’s kicked in. I chucked the slimy potatoes, recycled the empty $3.50 box of salt, and reached for a .30 cent SOS pad.

Fifteen minutes later: Voila, my pan was restored.

Skillet after

I spent the rest of the day seasoning it. Baking in it. Fried two eggs in it. Took selfies with it. Compared it to my hips and chest and then called my mother.

Fried eggs in my restored Iron Skillet

She was proud. My family’s bellies were full. Mom: 1, HuffPost: 0.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Thoughts on “Mom vs. HuffPost: Mom Wins

  1. colleen on May 29, 2016 at 12:08 pm said:

    Ha ha ha! Good ol’ SOS pad. Mama so often knows best! :O)

  2. Too funny, Suzanne! That sounds like something I would try. Good to know it doesn’t really work! 🙂

Leave a Reply

How Do You Do Character?: Scientific Poll Results

Inside your main character
Inside your main character

Flickr: State Library Queensland Creative Commons

Do you become your characters, or do you observe them from outside?

I posed this question to writers in a very special Facebook group back in February and promised to report on my findings.

And no, I wasn’t just being nosy. I was reacting to all the craft books overflowing my bookshelves.

You know how it goes—you read a piece of writing advice and then immediately fall into a Ho-Ho binge because you’re not doing something the right way.

Once again, turns out there is no right way.

A few writers weren’t even aware that they favored one method over another until they tried to answer the question.

Ho_hos

In case you’ve forgotten or never met a Ho Ho.

Here’s my original query and some of the fantastic responses shared by writers with a wide range of experience and styles.

When writing your scenes, are you IN the body of your main character trying to feel/see/hear what she does, OR are you watching her to see what she feels/sees/hears? Curious!

“A bit of both, really. I usually first see the scene like a movie in my head, then I describe it while trying to feel like my character.” ~ Kelly M.

“Listening. Sometimes watching. And then, empathizing.” ~ Wendy G.R.

“I never realized it but yes I become my characters and write their story and feelings.” ~ Wendy T.

“In their body, usually. But it also depends on whether I’m in first person, close third, or omniscient. And what psychological distance I’m trying to convey.” ~Tamara L.

“I am the observer and write down what I see, what comes to me.” ~ Esther L.F.

“I think more in . . . ” ~ Lynne L.

“If writing in first person, I’m in, if writing in third, I’m observing and in.” ~ Dorothy R.

“Great question! Actually both . . . sometimes I feel what she feels and sometimes I try to look how she has to look, feeling it.” ~ Miranda M.

“Inside his or her head. More immediate, more fun to write.” ~ Nikki C.

“Both, but not at the same time. Usually as I write the story/scene that is there I’m in. Then I’ll do another pass from the outside.” ~ Jennifer B.

“Living it as much as I can.” ~ Julie H.

“In. Usually so in I find it difficult to use my character’s name even though it’s third person POV.” ~ Rachel V.

“I don’t even think about it. It’s whatever I wrote.” ~ Linda A.

Woman playing with Barbie dolls

Creative Commons http://www.odditycentral.com/tag/barbie-collection

“I just finished a piece yesterday and was in tears, absolutely as devastated as my MC, feeling what she felt. Sometimes I think they channel through us. Sometimes, though less often, it’s like I’m hanging out with the characters—this is especially true for dialogue—and kind of just transcribe what I hear when they’re talking.” ~ Cristel G.O.

“Depends on which POV I’m writing from, which I never fully realized before. Interesting question!” ~ Cathy M.

“In the room with her which makes writing sex scenes awkward, because then I feel like a voyeur.” ~ Gill R.

“All in.” ~ Sherry Anne

“Totally in. So deep I don’t realize I was in until the scene is complete.” ~ Kiarra T.

“Watching. Definitely watching.” ~ Lisa C.B.

“I try to feel what she feels! I often play music that I feel she would like. That helps.” ~ Maire F.

“My friend calls me a Method Writer. I am IN the body of ALL my characters the entire time while writing, which can get really weird, uncomfortable, and straight-up physically and emotionally exhausting since I write hybrid horror/Sci-Fi/fantasy/speculative fiction, among other things. My husband has even come home and told me I wasn’t speaking like myself, and I’d realize later I was actually speaking in the voice of a character.” ~ Sezin G.K.

“I’m sitting on their shoulder so I have POV and can hear them speaking the words I give them to say.” ~ Sally W.

Scientific Poll Results

Of course I’m a writer so the science behind this is based on pretty fonts:

Inside the character – 46.6%

Both inside and observing the character – 34.9%

Observing the character – 13.9%

Two responders could not confirm their own method (writers!).

And there is no statistical margin of error (see pretty fonts).

My goal was to figure out if I was doing it all wrong. I found myself more of the observer type, but with most everything in this novel writing process, I’m learning as I go.

I’ve spent more time trying to see my book world through my main character’s eyes and that’s made a difference. There is no one right way.

How do you get inside your characters? Are you a biography maker? A note taker? Do you have a favorite worksheet or method you care to share? Would love to hear about what works for you!

 

 

2 Thoughts on “How Do You Do Character?: Scientific Poll Results

  1. Such a great question Suzanne. I found out these past few months that I did both. It was an interesting psychological experiment on myself that was observed during therapy treatments called EMDR (Eye Motioning, Desensitization and Reprocessing). I noticed that when I wrote “outside” watching my character (me–I write memoir), it was in the form of a disassociated state caused by trauma. After treatment I no longer am able to write “outside” me, only inside. It has brought about a complete change of perspective, tone, and quality to my writing.

    • That’s fascinating, Deb! Thanks for sharing – I noticed I was having trouble getting to the heart of my character in an opening scene because I was observing from the outside. This prompted my original question. It’s still not a default state for me but I’m learning so much from going “inside.”

Leave a Reply

Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

The Mother Shot

The Mother Shot

How was your Mother’s Day?

Mine was sunny and warm. Freshly picked lilacs filled the kitchen with my favorite smell. I received funny and heart-felt cards from both kids and Tim, my husband.

The family had asked what I wanted several times leading up to the big day. I hemmed and hawed.

Several pieces on the internet referenced women really just wanting to be left to use the bathroom alone.

A piece in Salon heralded non-mothers and chastised any who claimed it as a virtue, calling it the “cult of motherhood.”

Motherhood to me is both a crushing burden and a weightless joy. I’m not unaware that many choose not to experience it for themselves and that many want it desperately and are denied.

It’s been said that having a child is to feel your heart walking around outside your body, but that doesn’t quite capture it for me.

It’s more like having your heart stomped on, thrown down the stairs, and then when you least expect it, dipped in chocolate and rolled in fairy dust.

Motherhood is an awful paradox. We see toddler cheeks in the faces of our adult kids, yet are denied the full memory of their physical weight in our arms.

We want desperately to be left alone for one minute—I used to say I was going grocery shopping, then I’d park under a tree with a magazine and an iced tea—then we cry the first time one of them doesn’t return home for a holiday.

And it’s never really over.

Not all mothers feel this way, and not all moms are saints. I’m certainly not.

I’m lucky to still have my mom who made me believe I was smart and beautiful. She taught me to never give up and made me feel someone was always in my corner. She still does.

I had a lot to be thankful for yesterday, as far as moms go. I’m friends with some terrific moms, and both of my sisters are great at the job.

I have my big sister, whose gorgeous, loving, hardworking kids first gave me the awesome job of “Aunt.” She taught me how to get my firstborn to sleep and taught me to trust that no one knows my kids as well as I do.

I have a younger sister with a creative, funny brood of three, who makes me believe my parenting experience is worth sharing.

Most importantly, I have my husband and two healthy, witty, loving, hilarious, and challenging children who support me, my writing, and try not to complain too much about my singing.

They are good. They are generous. They make me proud. They make me fear that the world isn’t good enough for them. I always knew I’d be a mother. I just didn’t know we’d all be such a good fit—most of the time.

lilacs

Shortly before the big day, I decided to tell them exactly what I wanted. I wanted two donuts—one glazed, one chocolate—and a strawberry milk for breakfast.

Then, I wanted to go on a hike in the forest preserve with my husband. Next, I wanted two or three hours alone to write.

All of that happened in exactly that order. Amazing!

Later, all four of us plus my new son-in-law went to see Captain America: Civil War in the big reclining seats at the mall. Every year, the latest superhero movie is released suspiciously close to Mother’s Day.

I like these movies but in the past they weren’t my first choice. There was a twinge of resentment that it was my special day, and I was sharing it with The Hulk or Batman.

But in the strange way of traditions, it’s become something I look forward to. It was a given that we’d make it our family movie this weekend.

By nightfall, we were well-fed and relaxed. I opened gifts (liquor and bubble bath . . . awesome together or separately), and we shared texts and phone calls with those far away.

My mom did not have a great mother, but she became one. I had a great mom, and I worked very hard and consciously to follow most of her examples.

Not every woman wants to be a mother. Not every woman gets to be a mother.

I certainly don’t feel like I joined a cult, even if I didn’t think of becoming a mother as a deliberate choice. My path seemed clear. I would raise a family. Biology cooperated.

Yesterday was a great day . . . the weightless joy kind of day and I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Not Sorry About Mother’s Day

  1. This is so lovely Suzanne. So nice to read a positive post for a change. Will share on #wwwblogs tomorrow.

    Hedgey xxx

  2. j baum on May 10, 2016 at 12:38 pm said:

    Great post. Beautiful writing.

  3. Sounds like a lovely day and well-deserved day. 🙂

Leave a Reply

On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to the Village

Catherine Lloyd Author

On a lucky trip to the library a few months ago, I pulled Death Comes to the Village off the shelf and quickly hunted down the next two novels in The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries series (Kensington Books).

There’s nothing like writing your own first novel to give you an appreciation for all authors. One of my goals this year is to reach out and thank those writers whose books I’ve enjoyed. That’s how I “met” New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author, Catherine Lloyd. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her books and her writing process.

Death Comes to the Village        Death Comes to London      Death Comes to Kurland Hall

Congratulations on the success of The Kurland St. Mary Mysteries. You write under a pseudonym (Kate Pearce) as well. Do you have a preference for one genre over another?

Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to write something different. I also write romance, but they are very different entities. With romance it’s more about the love story and the character’s romantic arc. With the mystery, the plot is more front and center, and the characters don’t have to be quite so romantic.

I don’t really have a preference for one genre. They speak to different sides of my brain and my writing process. I’m lucky to get the opportunity to do both.

You’ve previously said it took you five years to get your first novel published. Can you describe those five years; the successes and setbacks?

Yes, that was back in the days before self-publishing in its present form existed, so the process was literally to send off lots of submission letters with a stamped addressed envelope and wait for the reply in your mail box. It took me a while to find my first agent, who then immediately died, and a little longer to find my second agent. The third one was the charm. Once I’d sold a couple of my romance novels things did start to get easier, but it took me 5 complete manuscripts and almost five years to get there.

Sometimes it was difficult to keep going. At one point I almost gave up, but decided instead to be braver with my writing and really write what I wanted to rather than what I thought was the popular thing. That proved to be the right decision for me. I also learned how to deal with rejections in a more private way than anyone who self-publishes these days and has to deal with reviews on amazon etc.

With the mystery series things happened a bit differently in that my current editor asked me if I’d like to write something else for the same publishing house. I went home to think about it, and submitted a proposal for the cozy historical mystery series. It combines my knowledge of the Regency period with my love of Agatha Christie in a perfect way.

How did you develop a knowledge of the Regency Period?

Well, I grew up in London with a mother who did her teaching qualification in history, and always talked about places we were visiting, which inspired a great love of the past in me. I also did my degree in history, so I know how to research a time period. I read voraciously and loved Rosemary Sutcliff, Dorothy Dunnett, Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. I gained a sense of what I wanted to write from there, and the rest I just research as I go. It really does help having been born in England with the history all around you.

You say you went with what you wanted to write rather than what you thought was popular. What did you think was popular? What were you trying to write?

I was originally trying to be Jane Austen or write more cookie cutter romance.  I couldn’t really be Jane, and I’ve always had something of a subversive nature, which meant that my historical romances always pushed at the boundaries of what was acceptable. (I was more interested in writing gritty dark romances with multifaceted heroes with questionable sexual proclivities than the standard Alpha male. LOL.)

For my mysteries I wanted to write something that wasn’t centered in the city of London with a strong male protagonist. I wanted to write a cozy mystery set in the English countryside where the hero and heroine are unconventional in a different way. I researched what was published in Regency mysteries, and I found a nice little niche for myself.

What was your mindset during those years? What made you persist?

I think I just wanted to communicate. I knew that writing was the piece that made sense of who I was, and I was determined that I’d eventually get published. I couldn’t not persist if that makes sense, but I had to give myself permission to be brave, and think outside the box. Getting angry at all the rejections helped sometimes as well.

What does the physical process of “thinking outside the box” entail? Do you make lists, brainstorm, try scenes from different angles, etc.?

No, I just write and let my brain noodle away at what will happen next. Sometimes if I’m aware there is a problem my unconscious will happily provide me with a solution when I wake up. Sometimes I can see a scene is wrong, and I’ll go back, try it in a different point of view or look for where the problem starts, and write on from there.

For me thinking outside the box means more that I look at my strengths as a writer and I commit to using those strengths and not compromising when I write by worrying about the market too much or what I ‘should be writing.” You have to be aware of what is popular, but you can’t follow trends, and make yourself miserable writing things that don’t work with your writing style.

How does penning your own books affect you as a reader? Are you able to read and get lost in stories?

It depends on the story. A fantastic author who can pull me in, and not let go makes me very happy. I do have a tendency to work out the plots ahead these days though, which sometimes even annoys me.

What books are on your to-be-read pile now? Favorite type of story to get lost in?

I have eclectic tastes. I currently have:

Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels by Gwen Hayes.

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison.

Get A Clue by Jill Shalvis

The Roads of Taryn McTavish by R. Lee Smith

Dark Angels by Karleen Koen

I’ll try anything, I like to see how other authors do things especially in literary fiction.

Being a full-time author is a dream for many writers. What is one thing about the reality that would surprise most people?

I think it can be quite lonely, and that you have to establish boundaries to either protect your writing time, or not let your writing time take over your real life. For me, it’s also my job. I sit down five days a week and write. That’s what I do.

Aspiring writers have a fascination with the writing process of a published author. Do you care to share any special aspects of your process or your opinion on this fascination?

I plot my mysteries quite extensively, and talk them through with my editor. The end product sometimes doesn’t have a lot to do with that initial synopsis, but the basics are there. I like to be surprised when I’m writing, and I like to follow off down trails that appear and use them to make the book better.

For my romances I’m even more vague because I really enjoy writing in the moment and discovering the emotion along the way.

My husband sometimes taps me on the head and says, “Where does all that stuff come from?”

Answer: I have no idea.

How much of real characters in your life make it into your books?

None in the sense that you’d recognize anyone. I do, however notice small things about people, their body language, the way they accent certain words etc. etc., and those things sometimes creep into my writing. I am fairly famous for eavesdropping in restaurants.

What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

The best? Write the book. Repeat.

The worst? Write what you know.

Why was “write what you know” not good advice for you. Can you elaborate?

I meant it in the sense that most of us live fairly unremarkable lives, and can’t time travel back to the Regency or out into the future. To me my imagination was my escape from the everyday, and it’s where all my best ideas come from.

Something readers would be surprised to learn about you? Any hidden talents or obsessions?

I’m British, but I currently live in Hawaii. That’s fairly unusual I think. I love to knit. I make hats and scarves and Outlander cowls and send them overseas to the cold people in my life.

If time and money were no object, describe an ideal day for you:

I’m pretty lucky actually. I get to live on the Big Island of Hawaii, with my lovely husband and daughter, three cats and fluffy little dog. I can get to the ocean in ten minutes. I love my job. I can’t really think of anything else I’d want except if I were a billionaire, I’d have a cat butler to let the cats in and out because they drive me nuts.

Lastly, if you could get newer writers to understand one thing about writing a book, it would be:

It’s hard work, but if you get it done you will learn so much along the way that even if it sucks, (and first books often do), the next one will be better.

A big thank you to Catherine for her time and generosity! Look for Book #4 Death Comes to the Fair, set to be released November 29, 2016.

Visit my #BooksByTheBed page for my take on the first three books in The Kurland St. Mary series.

For more information about Catherine and her books, check out her website. If you enjoy edgy romance, check out her Kate Pearce Novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Thoughts on “On Cat Butlers, Regency Romance, and Murder Mysteries: Author Interview with Catherine Lloyd

  1. Just finished today the third of the Kurland St. Mary mysteries and loved all three – it’s a long wait until the next one

Leave a Reply

Post Navigation