Disconnect

I am afraid
Of people behind counters
And of talking on the phone.
Ring
Ring
Ring
“Here; you answer it.
I don’t know who it is.”
My husband shakes his head,
Takes the phone, and says,
“Hello”
Like it’s not the hardest word.
He smiles,
Calls me ridiculous,
Kisses me on the cheek.
I laugh even though
I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.

I am afraid
Of neighbors across the street
And of visiting our friends.
“Our friends”
Because I don’t have any of my own.
Ring
Ring
Ring
My husband says hello again.
“Dinner next week?”
He raises eyebrows at me
And I nod my head,
like I know he hopes I will.
The next seven days are
Composed of dread and low expectations.
During dinner my mind
snaps a picture of every awkward silence
and confused stare.

But after is the worst,
When I take the photographs from their box
and read the writing on their backs.
Look.
They hate you.
You always say the wrong thing.
Why do you—
Why?
Why.
Now I am especially aware
That they are our friends.
“Our friends,” not mine.
Because he is the one
Who answers the phone
And I am the one who is afraid.

I am afraid
Of congregants in their pews
And of talking to the pastor.
Ring
Ring
Ring
My husband isn’t here to answer.
He’s across the room,
A link in a circle of strangers,
Talking to our friends.
So I sit next to the pastor’s wife,
Our bibles on the pew between us.
She tells me it’s the devil
Saying those things I hear;
It’s the devil
Making me afraid of the telephone,
Of being a link in the circle,
Of singing the wrong note during worship,
Of talking too much, too little,
Too fast, too loud,
Too soft, too slow.
“It’s the devil,” she says
When I bring up brain chemistry
And therapy and medicine.
“It’s the devil,” she says.
“Let me pray with you.”

So we pray.
And I try to concentrate,
But I’m too busy being afraid
That I will say the wrong thing,
Pray the wrong thing;
That she will notice
My stutters–
My halting phrases–
That I am holding her hands too hard,
Or that my fingers are too cold,
That I am too open, too closed,
Too little, too much.
But most of all I am afraid
Because we are calling God
And he might notice too.

Ring
Ring
Ring
I hang up before He answers,
Smiling at the pastor’s wife,
Letting her hug me after “Amen.”
She laughs at the devil,
Her way of giving glory.
I laugh too, even though
This devil is me
And I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.
“Just pray,” she quips, looking away,
Punching a number
into her cell phone,
Like it’s something she
does every day.
“Call on Him and He will answer.”

But that’s what I’m afraid of.

Counting Bridges

You’re counting “No Thank Yous”
like pennies that I owe you.
Counting birthdays, anniversaries,
dinner parties I’ve skipped.
But me?
I’m counting bridges.
One,
two,
three of them
that I have to cross
to get to your house
on the other side of town.
Counting the minutes it would take me
to get my children, all
one
two
three of them,
out of their belts and into
the life jackets I’ve stowed
under the back seat
just in case one of the bridges breaks.
I’m counting the feet of rope I should bring
to tie their tiny arms to mine
so no one floats away from me.
And if there were no water,
and no bridges between us,
I’d be counting
stovetops left on
doors left unlocked
broken blinds
for the monsters to peek through.
I’d count electric poles
that might snap in half;
trucks weighed down with logs
that want to come loose
and roll into the street like hand grenades.
I’d count everything–
everything I didn’t want to.

You think I drive you away,
But I never drive if I can help it.

Shadow & Shape

I’ve been walking like a shadow these last three days:
like me, but
silent, dark
and dimensionless,
with parts just misshapen enough
to not really be parts of me at all.
Legs stretched out
like cables between telephone poles–
fingers scraping the floor,
as if trying to seep straight through
warped wood and concrete
and wormy, black earth.
As if they could snatch you up and bring you back.
But my stomach is not round enough,
my head too small and pointed at the top,
ankles melted together like a fish tail
stinking in the garbage.
If I could bring you back
You probably wouldn’t recognize me at all.
I’m different now,
At least for now.
I am the shadow,
And grief is the shape.

Space

You have hands that never formed–
fingers that didn’t get the chance
to curl into hungry fists
or wrap into the ribbons of your sister’s hair.
How then, did you
grab ahold of me so tightly?
I loved you
When you were nothing more
than a shade of pink
and I loved you still
When you turned red.

There is a future–
I think there is–
when others will come.
Pink, then flesh, and nude, and brown.
And I will love them just as well.
But there will always be
A space in me
That was meant for you to fill.

Shed

If I am a new creation,
why do I sometimes feel so old,
bones brittle with the memories
of who I was the last time
I walked the earth,
In the same feet
I’m wearing now?
I’m expected to shed that life–
my old life–
like a dried-out skin.
But it’s not that easy,
Is it?
Because lives are more
than flaking cells,
turning to dust and
settling on the mantelpiece
to be wiped away when
you get sick
of looking at the mess.
Lives
have people in them
and smiles
that crinkle the corners of eyes,
laughing without laughing.
Lives are stocked
with everyday wonders
and what-ifs
and missteps
and regret.

Regret is the skin
I can’t bear to shed.

Claws

I saw you
across the Atlantic,
coated in claws,
And I miss you
so much that it feels like
claws hooked in my chest,
Because to you I am nothing,
but you are still something
to me.
And
–God–
I resent you like hell
because you didn’t keep fighting
when I gave up–
when I was so tired of having my claws out.
Because you didn’t see how confused I was;
You only saw how much I was changing–
not how much I didn’t want to.
I resent you like hell
because you thought
my illness was who I was.
So did I.
But I needed you to tell me different.
To see me different.
So I’d know I was different
than the thoughts inside my head.
But what were you supposed to do?
I can’t resent you at all.

I’m afraid to talk to people.
Did you know that?
I’ve wished you seven silent happy birthdays
and none of my new friends are closer than
“How’s work?”
“Good! How about you?”
“Good!”
“Well! See you next Sunday.”
because I still love you
like I love my childhood home,
like the bannister I curled my fingers around
when I first tried out my feet.
And I’m afraid I’ll hurt everyone
the way that I hurt you;
lose everyone
the way that I left you.
And that they will all think
my illness is who I am
because no one will be sane enough
to tell them any different.

Seven silent happy birthdays,
and my sickness still stalks me like a lost prize.
Maybe one day it will catch me
and mount me upon the wall,
forever with my claws out.
Maybe you’ll see me suspended there,
shake your head and say,
“Yep. There she goes again. Some things never change.”

Pride and Poverty

An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam. According to the World Bank, over 13 percent of Viet Nam’s population, and a quarter of the world population – nearly 2 billion people – live on $1.25 or less a day.  Photo Credit:  Kibae Park/UN Photo I've been awed lately by how richly blessed our family is. We always have food, clothing, a roof over our head, water, electricity and--praise God because we live in Louisiana--air conditioning. We are financially independent and consistently have money left over to save, to go on dates, to have family days. We've had access to tools that have taught us how to budget, and as long as we stick to that, we have very few financial worries. We are richly blessed, indeed.

It can be easy to forget sometimes that not everyone has been granted the same opportunities that we have. At just a stone's throw above the US poverty line, our household is actually richer than 99% of the world's population. While we have running water and air conditioning in our home, there are people walking miles through the heat every day for just the hope of clean water to drink. While we have money left over to save or to have fun with, there are people who don't know how they're going to feed their families for the week. And while we've learned how to budget every paycheck so we have exactly the right amount going to the right place, there are families living off a daily amount less than the forgotten change in the bottom of my purse. And usually, I'm not even aware of the disparity.

Even more than awed by how fortunate we are, I'm humbled. My perspective is awful sometimes. Pride and selfishness go hand in hand, each concerned with the self above all. At times, I have definitely been concerned with myself above anything else. That goes for finances too. Money often seems like too much when we're giving it and not enough when we're receiving it, as though somehow the context of a dollar can change its value. But it's always a gift. It's a gift to receive, and it's a gift to have the ability to help others, even if that means parting with what you have.

Every so often I have revelations like this. But they fade. I get comfortable again and forget about these things until something else brings them up again (thanks, humanity). I forget to be grateful; forget to be humble; forget to think about the needs of others. This time, I don't want to forget. I hope that no matter what happens with our finances, I could remain cognizant of the situation of those less fortunate, be grateful for the abundance we have, and out of that gratefulness, give. And I know that as I'm sanctified, I will become more like Christ: less prideful, more humble; less selfish, more giving; more and more loving of those around me. He is the source of everything good in me. May he increase as I decrease, until only Christ remains.

Monthly Book Review: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy

Before getting into the review, here's today's quote. What do you think? True or False?

Apparently reading begets more reading, because rather than read the one new book I promised this month, I've read three: A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing, all part of the same trilogy by Libba Bray. Before I get to what I thought about the books, here are a few things I've realized since beginning this challenge of mine:

  1. I can definitely make time to read one book a month.
  2. Not only can I make time to read one book a month, but if I set my mind to it I can make time to read three books in a week.
  3. I can also make time during that week for writing, as I wrote more in the days after I read these books than I have in a long while. Reading does in fact inspire writing! Who knew? ;)

Now back to the books themselves. Here's the synopsis of A Great and Terrible Beauty from www.libbabray.com:

It’s 1895, and after the suicide of her mother, 16-year-old Gemma Doyle is shipped off from the life she knows in India to Spence, a proper boarding school in England. Lonely, guilt-ridden, and prone to visions of the future that have an uncomfortable habit of coming true, Gemma’s reception there is a chilly one. To make things worse, she’s been followed by a mysterious young Indian man, a man sent to watch her. But why? What is her destiny? And what will her entanglement with Spence’s most powerful girls—and their foray into the spiritual world—lead to?

First of all, I actually did not realize these were young adult books before I read them. A Great and Terrible Beauty was recommended to me, and I simply procured a copy from the library before doing any research on the content. That being said, though I intended to try to read books geared towards my age range, the genre doesn’t bother me. I may be a 25 year old woman with two kids, but I’ve always enjoyed the YA genre, and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life. Call me young at heart.

Like any work, this trilogy has its likable side and its unlikable side (at least in my opinion). We'll start with the latter, just so we can end on a positive note.

The Unlikable:

  • Poor Reliability of Characters. I understand that people don't work in black and white. Nobody is all good or all bad, but some mixture of the two. I have no problem with this being displayed in writing because it reflects reality. However, I do take issue when the characters are so back and forth that you have no idea who to trust. There was an air of mystery throughout this series, particularly in the second and third books. The identity of certain villains in these two remain unknown until the very end--another element that I didn't mind. But as I read, I found myself wishing that there was one person--just ONE--that I knew for certain was on the main character's (MC's) side. Perhaps this was intentional on the author's part, but to me, that got old pretty quickly. When reading a book, we should be able to learn which characters to trust, rather than just being told who to trust. Imagine if, in the Harry Potter series, every character had been as difficult to figure out as Severus Snape (to a milder degree if course, because there can be only one Severus Snape). That's what this trilogy was like.
  • Stagnancy of Supporting Characters. The MC is the most affected by internal change throughout the books. However, while the reader does see changes occur in the other characters, these changes all seem lumped together in the last few chapters of the trilogy. Apart from this, the friends and family of the MC stay largely the same. I would have preferred to have seen a gradual growth process throughout the whole of the trilogy.
  • Unnecessary Sexualization. Get ready; I'm about to reveal what a "prude" I am. These books aren't even close to being erotica. There are probably 6-8 scenes in the entire trilogy that include sexual ideas and language: mostly little fantasies or visions taking place in the MC's head. I'll be 100% honest and say that any type of sex in books usually makes me uncomfortable, so my perspective may be skewed. But the problem that I had here wasn't that sexual content existed, but rather that it was unnecessary. Typically I see authors use sex as a way to show characters growing closer romantically instead of showing that growth through nonsexual interaction (which is a whole 'nother issue), but in this case there wasn't even a lack of closeness apart from sex. The characters' attraction to one another and their increasing closeness was apparent without any help from the sexual fantasy department. In my opinion, the books themselves benefited very little from the inclusion of these scenes, and the scenes added virtually nothing to the plot, the characters or the reader's understanding of those characters. If you want to include sexually charged scenes in your books, then feel free to do it. But like any other element, make it have purpose. Make it mean something or affect something. Otherwise, it's unnecessary.

The Likable:

  • Well-written. In spite of the fact that there were aspects of these books that I didn't like, they were all well-written. Libba Bray has a unique style that captures the reader's attention and holds interest. Also, so much of her figurative language was on point. She made comparisons I never would have thought of, but were accurate and beautiful all at once. I give her props for that!
  • Themes of Women's Rights and Disadvantages. Taking place from the viewpoint of a young woman in the late 1800's, this trilogy includes several allusions towards suffragettes and issues facing women in that time period, including (low) cultural expectations, lack of basic freedoms, and oppression by a patriarchal system. Many of these issues still resonate in the modern world, making these allusions even more thought-provoking. Libba Bray executed this seamlessly and artfully, driving home the point without seeming like she was trying to preach. She tackled a heavy issue without once standing on a soapbox or turning her writings into political drivel, which I appreciate and applaud.
  • Believable Characters: Yes, as I said earlier, I did not like that the characters seemed unreliable and untrustworthy. That being said, however, I do feel the characters were realistic, even if I wasn't sure what to make of them. No character was one-note. From the heroine to the villains, every person had good and bad notes, which reflects reality.
  • Unique. I've read a lot of books, but I've never read one quite like this one. I don't want to give too much away to people who haven't read it and may want to. All I'll say is that I appreciated Bray's unique take on magic, friendship, and the time period.

The Final Verdict:

All of the above are just my opinions of course, which is why I've labeled the sections "The Unlikable" and "The Likable" rather than "Bad" and "Good." For my conclusion, I look to Oscar Wilde. His assertion in today's quote is that only a book you'd read over and over again is worth reading at all. Would I read this trilogy again? In all honesty, probably not. But does that mean I felt reading it was a waste of time? No! I enjoyed the books and I'm glad I read them. They spurred me to write and offered inspiration, plus they made me think. Though I wouldn't say I loved them, I did like them and I appreciated them for what they were. If you enjoy YA and fantasy, I would certainly recommend the Gemma Doyle Trilogy to you. And keep reading! Read books even if you might never read them again. You can almost always learn something. Sorry, Mister Wilde, but I think you're a bit off on this one.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story based on a book you've read over and over again. Use the same characters and setting, but create your own adventure.

Happy Writing!

A Sprinkling of Adverbs: 5 Appropriate Uses

 Adverbs. People hate them. Stephen King hates them. Writing bloggers all across the Internet hate them. Some of my writing professors even hated them. Adverbs are the cockroach of language, apparently. But what's the big deal? Why do adverbs have such a bad rap when they have a purpose and place just like any other part of language? Of course, like any other type of word, you don't want to rely to heavily on adverbs. No "Susie cautiously walked lightly to the poorly lit, haphazardly perched treehouse" type sentences, please. Four adverbs in one sentence is just a bit much. But a story won't suffer from a sprinkling of adverbs here and there. I'd venture to say a well-used adverb enhances writing rather than takes away. And what makes an adverb well-used?

  1. It clarifies rather than confuses. Some types of adverbs are particularly guilty of contributing to vague language. Examples: sort of, kind of, somewhat, to some extent. All of these are adverb phrases that don't do much for a sentence. If you must qualify with an adverb, try one that targets your actual meaning rather than a vague idea. 
  2. It's necessary. In writing, there are times in which an adverb changes the entire meaning/feeling of a sentence. It may be necessary to use an adverb to show an action the way you want it to be shown. For example, you might say, "Timmy stared at Sally." But is Timmy staring longingly? Angrily? Hopefully? Sometimes, as we all know, that matters. Of course, there's always a way to make a sentence adverb-free—"Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear." or something of the sort— which brings us to the next point.
  3. It's efficient. There may be a hundred different ways to say the same thing, but the best one to choose is the one that streamlines the readability of your work. Sometimes that involves an adverb. Perhaps you have four adverb-less sentences already, and you need a snappy alternative for sentence number five. Whatever the case, don't be afraid to use an adverb if you need to.
  4. It's right. Occasionally, as writers, there are things that just sound "right." We may not be able to explain it, but we know that a sentence or a word is simply meant to be. If an adverb is what's right, it's right. Don't let conventional writing "rules" hold you back.
  5. In dialogue. I implore you: please use adverbs in your dialogue. Forget all the points above and just use them, even if they're vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Why? Because humans often say things that are vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Hardly anyone speaks like a narrator all the time. For dialogue to be effective, it must be real. And real people say "kind of." Real people don't say things like, "Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear." So please, when your character is having a conversation, use adverbs at will, just as you would in life. Make it believable.

How do you feel about adverbs? Useful tool or Language Cockroach? Let me know what you think!

Today's Prompt: Write a one to two page story entirely without the use of adverbs. Include at least one conversation in your story.

Happy Writing!

  

Show and Tell (Writing Visually)

 "Don't tell; show." I've heard that from just about every source and authority on writing I've ever come across. Use language to show the reader what's going on. This is writing 101. Basic. I've given this advice myself, because (despite the musings to come in the next paragraph) I believe it's the best way to write.

HOWEVER (here come the musings)...

As easy as it might be to say, this rhetoric is not always easy to put into practice. Is it possible that sometimes there's no better way to say something?  That no matter how hard we might try to show, we end up telling instead? There are no absolute rules of writing, after all. What appeals to one person may not appeal to another. Perhaps there's someone out there who actually likes being told things instead of shown. Bring me such a person, and I will have a very lengthy and impassioned debate with him/her, but I will still respect that differing opinion (okay—maybe). 

So when is it okay to tell instead of show? What are some instances you've come across that required telling rather than creating a visual? Did you find those passages less enjoyable than others or were you able to maintain the quality throughout? I'd like to hear from you!

On the happenings and news side of things, I'm slightly dismayed to announce that (as you might have noticed already), I'm having to step back from posting. My "quotes of the day" now have to become "quotes of the week." Not only am I a stay at home mom of two busy youngsters, a writer, and a blogger, but I also have a freelance design business. The good news is my design business has started growing. The bad news? It's eating my time and something's gotta give. Sorry Wordpress, that's you. In any case, I'm thinking Mondays will be my posting day (yes, I know this is Wednesday and I'm already off schedule, but give a supermom a break).

In other news, my book reading adventure for September will be A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. I plan on getting started tomorrow if you'd like to join!

Today's Prompt: Write a short story from the first person perspective of someone who has been blind since birth. The setting: a city park on a lovely day.

Happy Writing! 

  

Reading for Writing (A Reading Challenge)

Guilty. Between writing, blogging, graphic design, household duties, raising two kids and the vague hope of a social life, my hands and schedule are decidedly full. Reading tries to climb up the priority list, but usually gets knocked down by the multitude of other responsibilities that require attention. And yet, reading is something I love--something I hate to go without. When I don't read, the impact on my creativity is tangible. My efficiency as a writer obviously shifts, and I think I know why: There exists a connectedness between we who work in words. It's as if we're all sharing our creativity: reading others' pieces to spark our imaginations, and then in turn producing material that will stir some other writer's thoughts. We require inspiration to inspire--like we must take in a breath in order to breathe one out. Unfortunately, the business of life often gets in the way and we're left wanting for air, wheezing out our lines and pages.

I've decided to make an initiative for myself and anyone else who needs to take a breath: It may be a small step, but I'll be reading one new book a month. The emphasis is on "new" because I have a funny habit of reading the same few books repeatedly. Why, I couldn't say, but my husband teases me mercilessly over this quirk of mine. Hopefully, exposure to some new material will inspire me even more than (or at least as much as) the books I've come to know as old friends. If you're having trouble finding time to read, and especially if you're also finding your work to be lagging (as I have been), try jumping in on this challenge with me. I'll let you know what I plan to read before I begin, and it'd be awesome to have a discussion about the book when the month is up. Feel free to join me.

As for the month of September, I'm open to suggestions. What've you got?

Today's Prompt: Write a short story set in a world in which people only communicate through the exchange of written fiction (books, poetry, short stories, etc.)

Happy Writing!

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Bored With Your Own Writing

 Have you ever written a passage—or even a whole chapter—then gone back to read it only to discover that it bored you to death? I'd bet so. After all, even the best writers write poorly sometimes. Usually I find this happens after a particularly difficult bit of writing: anything complex or with a lot of detail. You try so hard to get it out and paint an accurate picture that you end up oversharing and your reader (usually also you) ends up falling asleep between the lines. When this happens, you might be tempted to beat yourself up or even to give up, but don't! Use that backspace/delete key without mercy. Go back to the point at which you lost interest, and just cut, cut, cut. There's no shame in starting over, especially when the second try (or third, or fourth)  interests and surprises even the one who wrote it.

Today's Prompt: Dig up an old story you weren't happy with or gave up on. Read it, identify the problems, and then start over. Make it great.

Happy Writing!

  

Dear Moms: Sometimes Love Grows, and That's Okay.

  Three years ago this morning, I posted this scripture: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3.30)

Little did I know that I would indeed be decreasing that day—by about 20 pounds. My oldest daughter, now affectionately called Biggle in public internet posts, was born that afternoon, filling my life and shrinking my belly.

I'm not going to lie; as wonderful as she is, I wasn't quite sure what to make of her for a while. The two of us got off to a rough start. I loved her, but I found that the happy warnings everyone had given me fell flat on their faces, and that had me confuddled, to say the least. Veteran mothers had assured me:

"As soon as you see her, you'll realize you never really knew what love was before." 

"You'll fall in love with her instantly,"

"You think you love your husband until you have kids. Then you find out what love really is."

All of these things I had heard countless times during my pregnancy, and yet in the twilight hours, after visitors had gone and we were left alone with our brand new person, I looked over my daughter's tiny head and swirls of black hair at the man who helped make her. Still, I loved him more than anything on the planet—more even than the baby in my arms. When I looked down at those steely, new-to-the-world eyes, I didn't find love at first sight. I found a tiny, squalling creature with rolled up fists and a purple Angel's Kiss splashed across her forehead, but that love? The love that was so great and terrible I never could have understood it before I had kids?  It wasn't there—or if it was, it wasn't what I'd been led to believe. She left me in awe. I would have given my life for her in a heartbeat, but at that time, that instinct was biological. It wasn't emotional. I didn't even know her. After an early arrival and a surprise C-section that I didn't want, I barely even felt like she was mine. It was like someone handed me a baby and said, "Here, this is yours." She didn't look like me. I'd never met her. I did nothing to physically push her into the world. I didn't even see her for 15 minutes after she was born. Then almost as soon as I got her, she was taken and passed around to visitors. When they gave her back, they said, "Here, this is yours."

But I was exhausted. She was so unfamiliar. So even though I smiled and nursed her and did everything I knew I should, and even though I loved her in that strange, biological-imperative kind of way, my heart said back, "Is it? Well, someone prove it."

On top of that, I wasn't ready for her yet—we had been working on getting our home livable, but it still wasn't prepared to move into. We wrapped her up in blankets and took her "home" to someone else's home. I'm so grateful we had somewhere to go after leaving the hospital, but it wasn't the way it was supposed to be. I felt out of place, uncertain,  and shaky. Nothing seemed solid to me. It was as if I was floating, suspended in midair, with no control over anything. How was I supposed to be the solid, unshakeable being I thought a mother should have been? I couldn't. Beneath the heartbreaking happiness that came with my little girl, there was an undeniable sadness to it all. And I worried that I was an awful person because I loved my husband more than ever and only loved her because I should have.

Just like with any other person I've ever known and loved, I grew to love my daughter. Our love wasn't instant or all-consuming, but steady and real. I had to learn how to love like a mother loves, and what that meant. When my second child was born, I already knew. I knew how to be a mother and I knew what that love felt like. When they put him in my arms, I loved him. Instantly. But Biggle and I, we were in the trenches together, so to speak. We figured out this whole parent-child thing, side by side, together. And because of that I love her in a greater, entirely different way than I possibly could have three years ago when they laid her against my breast.

Today she is three years old, with beautiful brown hair that falls like silk ribbon in curls around her face. She wrinkles her nose when she smiles, can't stand to wear clothes, and has enough sass to rival even my own, which I've dutifully cultivated since birth. Although there's still a healthy distinction between the love I have for my husband and the love I have for my kids (my relationship with him comes first, always. That's the best we could do for out children and they thrive because of it), I couldn't love her more if I tried. I love her more than myself. I love her more than my own life. That love just took a while to grow.

My prayer is the same today. Let there be more of you and less of me, Father. You are the love that I give my children and the rest of the world. Let that love increase.

Happy Birthday Biggle, and cheers to all the mothers out there.

 

What's Your Reason? 

 This is just a Fast Friday quote, but my quick two cents is that Elizabeth Hardwick must have had a pretty dismal view of writing. If I had to choose one word to describe my reason for writing, it wouldn't be "desperation" or "revenge" or anything else so morose. It would be "love." I write because I love it so much I can't not write—a vastly better reason than either of the above, I think.

So what's your reason? If you had to put it into just one word, what would that word be?

Today's Prompt: Carl is a proud resident of a fancy-shmancy suburban neighborhood. Two weeks ago, his next-door neighbor killed Carl's prized petunias in order to take the neighborhood's esteemed "Lawn of the Month" award. It worked, but now Carl is going to have his revenge. Write a short story detailing his master plan and how it turns out.

Happy Writing!

    

The Late Night Write

MoonQuote All you night writers, raise your hands. I know you're out there, chugging coffee past midnight or working on your second glass of wine. I see you mothers and fathers, hours after you've tucked your children into bed, trying to finish "just one more chapter" before they wake again. I see you young men and women, staying home on a Friday night while your friends go out, tending to the friends in your book instead. I see you because I'm awake at that ungodly hour too.

You're not alone. Writing and nighttime go together like breathing and coffee (because as long as I'm breathing, I've got to have coffee, am I right?). Sometimes we even try to go to bed at a decent hour like normal people, just to sit up in bed hours later with a perfect line in our head, or a picture so beautiful we've got to write it down. I don't know about y'all, but I get some of my best material when I'm falling asleep. When my body and mind relax and the constraints on my thinking start to float away, that's when the good stuff comes. So what do you do when that happens? Fall asleep and try to remember it all the next morning? Of course not! You get up in the middle of the night and write. And  more often than not, that writing turns out to be some pretty good stuff.

I will say to Saul Bellow that I don't deal in absolutes-- everythings and nevers don't sit well with me. It's entirely possible that you might write when you're not quite alert enough to write, then wake up the next morning, look at your work in progress and say, "What is this gobbeldy-gook and how did it end up in my novel?" Let's face it: we can't be perfect all the time. However, I can see his point: If something is important enough for you to drag yourself out of a half-dream state and away from your warm, cozy bed, it's usually going to be pretty good. Even if it's not flawlessly executed, the "meat" of it typically stays. So keep sleepwalking to your computers, notebooks, and typewriters, my friends. That late night write is something to strive for.

... But that's only been my experience. What about you? Do you find your dream-writings add to your works, or do they usually end up in the trash bin? Am I the only one who has the best ideas at night? Can't be! Can it?

Today's Prompt: Your significant other, of whom your friends, family, and coworkers do not approve, has asked you to run away with him/her. You plan to meet at your "special place" at midnight, but when you set off to meet him/her, you run into a series of obstacles: three not so pleasant, and one very pleasant. What are they and how do you/your significant other react?

Happy Writing!

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Here's to the Children's Authors

Here's one for you children's authors out there. "Props" to y'all, because writing for tiny humans is definitely not my forte. My husband on the other hand, who worked in the Children's Room of the Library for something like eight years, understands the world of children's fiction. He actually authored a children's book himself: Gator in a Tree. The most I could contribute to that project was my graphic design skills, which were used to format everything (at least I did a good job there!). Needless to say, having seen the process of making a kids' book and now having kids of my own to read to, I admire anyone who writes for children. There's a real skill in making something as utterly complex and simple as a child's book. It's a skill I'm not quite comfortable in, but perhaps one day I'll improve. Here's to you!

Today's Prompt: Write a children's story that begins with the line: "Henry the Balloon Man was missing from the park today."

Happy Writing!

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Tasting Life Twice

img_5830 When I read this quote, my first thought was of writing and reliving the times in our lives we would like to taste again: any memory warm, savory or sweet. To be able to experience these memories through writing is a gift, to say the least--but sweetness is not the only taste. The majority of people who write don't just taste the "good stuff" twice; they taste bitterness. They taste straight cocoa powder and drink vinegar and week-old spoiled milk. And they do it on purpose. Having already tasted it once, they do it all again for the sake of the stories that need telling.

If you ask me, there's a bravery in that: knowing from experience something will turn your stomach, but revisiting it just the same. It takes courage to live painful experiences all over again rather than shutting them away where you never have to think about them again. I consider that courage a gift as well, right along with the ability to taste the sweet times again. Without it, our writing would be superficial. Stories can't be made of love scenes and happy endings-- there would be no depth. We have to include bitterness if our readers are going to relate--if we want anything good to come of our writing at all. And that's the goal, isn't it? For our writing to have an impact somehow?

So I, for one, am glad to taste life twice, even if it includes some sour bits.

Today's Prompt: Write a short, murder-mystery style story that takes place at an upscale wine tasting.

Happy Writing!

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Self Doubt: The Enemy of Creativity

SylviaPlathQuote-01 I've been stalling a bit lately (in spite of the fact that I've made some writing strides over the last week), primarily because I'm afraid of going forward into the uncharted territory that is the second half of my book. Up until this point, Ourselves and Others has remained a creative account of things that actually occurred in my life. From here on, though it will continue to be a piece of autobiographical fiction, I'll branch out into some different circumstances that I have little to no experience with. I keep thinking, "What if I get something wrong?" or "What if this isn't really what this is like, and everyone thinks I'm a fraud? What if I'm not able to write this as it should be written?" Self-doubt pounces on me whenever it can.

But everything can be written, if you've only got the guts to do it. Like every other writer who's ever gone outside of his/her own experiences in a story (i.e. every writer that ever existed), I've simply got to believe in my own ability enough to try. If I try and fail, then so be it. At least I stepped past my boundaries and created something, which is more than I could say for myself if I stayed afraid.

Have any of you ever been afraid to write something you didn't know much about? Did you let it stop you or did you press through and end up with something awesome? Let me know!

Today's Prompt: Write a short story in which your main character moves to a different country. He/she arrives safely, only to have all his/her possessions stolen at the airport/bus station/etc. The character now is all alone in a new place, has nothing, and there's no going back. What happens?

Happy Writing!

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Constructive Criticism and Making Choices

Once, when I shared the opening chapter of Ourselves and Others with a fiction writer's group, a well-intentioned group member suggested that I change one word in the first line, which is as follows:

She met him when her bones were strong and her mind was sick—like a brand new house set on a crumbling foundation.

The word in question was "sick." From his perspective, "sick" was almost the right word, but not quite. It was "lightning bug" instead of "lightning." In its place, he suggested "weak." To him, I had used the wrong word because he believed I was trying to convey the opposite of "strong." Anyone who's been to first grade knows the exact opposite of "strong" is "weak," right? And yet I hadn't used it.

So I thought about his suggestion—there is a certain parallelism to using exact opposites, after all. I tried it out in my head and on paper, but no matter how I looked at it, "weak" could not win me over. To me, it was the flickering pinprick flash of a lightning bug when I wanted the power of lightning. I hadn't been trying to convey exact opposites in the first place. I used "sick" because it evoked the emotions and associations that were right for the story. "Weak" just didn't give the vibes I wanted to give. So "sick" stayed.

Book pages may be black and white, but writing is not. The "right" word is entirely subjective. Where one person sees lightning, at least one other person is guaranteed to see lightning bugs. Still, feedback remains an amazing thing. Every piece of advice you receive, you should consider carefully. Some suggestions may lead to changes that strengthen your work, while others reinforce confidence in the choices you originally made. There is no bad side to constructive criticism. However, in a world where right and wrong are so subjective, someone has to choose what is what. Ultimately, that's you, the author. You choose what's right and what's wrong for your writing and you take responsibility for those choices. You're the only one who really knows what your story should say, look like, and feel like. So stay true to your voice; don't exchange your lightning for someone else's, because you might find you've gotten lightning bugs instead.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story that takes place in the midst of a terrible lightning storm. Replace every use of the word "lightning" with "lightning bug."

Happy Writing!

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