Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Plateaus and Breakthroughs

The last few times I ran, I felt like I was slogging through molasses. I whined silently to myself the whole time. It didn't feel as good as it usually does, and I finished those runs feeling disappointed.

Frankie finds new skills tiring
The last few short stories I wrote, it felt like pulling teeth to get the words down. I kept thinking, "This isn't right. This sucks." I whined silently to myself the whole time. It didn't feel as good as it usually does, and although I finished the stories, I was disappointed in them.

See any similarities? Usually I struggled with one or the other (or best of all, neither), but both running and writing have been tough recently. I have to keep reminding myself that this usually happens before some sort of breakthrough: an insight about story telling, or the ability to run a little faster or a little farther. It's the mandatory suckiness before new synapses finally make their connection. It's the darkness before an AHA! moment. It's the reason I consider drinking more often.

It's nice to feel like I'm writing well or running well. I like feeling competent. So these plateaus leave me frustrated and grumbling and crotchety. And even though I've been around long enough to realize it's a temporary state that means I'm mastering a new skill, I still dislike feeling mediocre. But I run anyway and just do my best, waiting for my body to catch up with my brain. I still write anyway and try to make the story the best I can, knowing that I'm digging deeper and making progress on my craft.

One of these days, the light bulb will go off while I'm writing, and something gorgeous will come out on paper. And another light bulb will go off while I'm running, and I'll go farther and faster than I have before. I just have to be patient and embrace the plateau.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Grit

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It was a gripping story, and I found myself irked by things like having to go to work and eat and take showers because all of those things took away from the time I could spend reading the book. Louie Zamperini was an resilient person who went through some horrendous experiences, from days on a life raft after his plane crashed into the ocean, to months as a POW, subject to malnutrition, disease, physical and emotional abuse, and squalid living conditions. It's amazing that he survived.
WWII Memorial

There's nothing in my life that can ever come close to comparing. I can't say that I've ever been challenged that way. I've been fortunate to live a comfortable life, and I'm grateful for that. And yet, I have faced challenges and continue to do so. Here's a little secret... I like challenges. Not the surviving-shark-infested-waters-after-a-plane-crash type of challenges, but the kind that make me push myself in a relatively safe and healthy way.

I read through this list and recognized a lot of Louie's POW experience in there, although there was a deeper layer to what he and the other POW's went through because their captors were actively trying to dehumanize them. But Louie's experiences as a kid, as an Olympian, and stranded on a raft in the middle of the ocean certainly fit on that list.

Some of the items on the list reminded me of what I need more of. For instance, I've racked up 290 rejections for my short stories, and that's only the ones I've recorded on this app that I use. I had more rejections before I started using it. I've made 13 sales. That's a huge difference, right? That's a lot of "no's" in order to get to a few "yes's." I manage rejection fairly well, most of the time, but sometimes I do despair and gnash my teeth and rend my garments. I think I could manage rejections better, and so I started a little game where I rack up points for rejections, and when I reach a certain level, I treat myself to something nice. It's already working. I don't put off resubmitting a story when it comes back. Instead, I mark down the points I earned and send it back out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Finding the Stillness

Things have been busy, which is part of the reason blog posts have been few and far between. The other reason has been that I kept dismissing all the ideas that came to mind. I think some of that stemmed from the busy flutter of the past few weeks, and some of that stemmed from the fact that I wrapped up the rough draft of the third Necromancer's Inheritance book and felt all tapped out after that. My brain needed some time to recharge.

Although I'm working on flash fiction and getting geared up for an online class, I'm in a lull between major projects. Lulls are good. We can't always live on the crest of the wave. Sometimes we have to come down into the trough. It's the only way to keep moving along. I used to be horrible at lulls, though. But that changed after I had a child.

So calm and peaceful
When you have a little child, you are constantly running after them, helping them get something to eat or drink, teaching them how to use the toilet and get dressed, and later how to ride a scooter or a bike. When you have a job on top of that, you're constantly getting them to and from school or daycare, thinking about what to make for dinner or when you'll fit in that trip to the grocery store. Even when you're home from work in the evening, you can't sit and catch your breath because there's a little person demanding something.

But when kids are older, they can play by themselves or with other children for a little while. At least, until they decide to climb on top of the castle on the playground equipment fifteen feet off the ground and act like they're going to jump off. Then your heart kicks into high gear and you're screaming like a crazy person at them to get down right this instant. But in those moments when they're playing nicely, you can just sit there and finish your thoughts and let your mind wander without interruption or just let it go blank. It's a lull in an otherwise hectic day, and it's precious.

For me, these lulls allow me to sink deeper into myself and let my subconscious be in charge for a little while. My subconscious makes a lot of my creative decisions. It works on problems while I'm doing other things, but if I don't have the chance to check in with it once in a while, it gets snarky and lets those ideas go. Sometimes it's when I'm doing nothing that my mind is working best. So these lulls are good. The frantic, half-finished thoughts get finished or filed away for later, and I enjoy simply sitting and being. It's so nice to enjoy warm sun and birds singing and the sensation of having absolutely nothing to do and nowhere to go at the moment because it's about as rare as a unicorn farting rainbows. It allows me to rest my mind and body so I'm ready for what comes next.

I'll leave you with a quote from Gore Vidal: "Many writers who choose to be active in the world lose not virtue but time, and that stillness without which literature cannot be made."

Monday, December 29, 2014

Reminiscing on 2014

While time in general always seems to fly by, December, in particular, zips past in a blur. As always, when I reach December, I look back on the year and what I've accomplished. Back in January, I set myself a couple of writing goals. One was to complete two novels. I did that, by the skin of my teeth. The other was to write twelve short stories. Again, skin of teeth. For 2015 I'm not putting a set number on completing stories. Next year will be the year of earnest yet relaxed writing, if that makes any sense.

So here's what all happened this year:

1) I published my first pro-level short story, "Extraction," in Nature Futures.

2) I self published two novels, The Graveyard Girl and the follow up to that, The Necromancer's Return. It was both terrifying and fun, and I learned quite a bit.

3) I ran my first (and second) 5K race. I'm currently training to run a 10K. I'm sort of curious about how far I can run, and how fast I can run. Yes, I know I'm a little crazy.

4) I read 60 books, which doesn't include the handful I began reading and quit, or those I began reading and skimmed to the end because I couldn't get into the story. My favorites of the year included Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato, The Martian by Andy Weir, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney. They're all fabulous, and even if you're not a runner, Born to Run is a great story.

I ended up selling more short stories this year than ever before, and more of my short stories came out than ever before. I already have a short-short slated to come out in January. It's one of my favorites, and I can't wait to see it out in the world. Here's to a prosperous and happy new year for all of us!

Monday, December 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 Report

Despite the wine bottle pictured, I was not baking & boozing
I wasn't sure this year is I would do NaNoWriMo or not. But as the first of November approached, I realized that I had to, yet again, restart my current novel. No matter how much I've written, if there's a huge problem with the beginning, I must go back and restart it. I have to get the beginning right in order for the rest to follow. If I just kept on writing with the idea that I'd fix it later, the rest of the story would turn out awful. So I needed something to motivate me, and keeping apace of the word count during NaNo seemed like the trick.

I told hardly anyone this year that I was doing NaNo because, based on how many times I've started this novel, I wasn't sure I'd reach fifty thousand words, and also, I was pretty frustrated with this novel when I started this draft on November 1. I was angry with it, and angry with myself. The last novel I wrote came out so easily. This one has more than made up for that.

Soon to be individual pie cookies
In past years I've written fifty thousand words of short stories and/or novelettes. That was a fun experience. This year, I had a hard time getting the words down, mostly because I'd written the beginning of this novel so many damn times already. But when I hit the fifty thousand mark with one day to spare, I was at the beginning of the novel final act. Pushing through and finishing should be much easier compared to writing the rest of this beast. The book will still require quite a bit of work when I'm through, but holy cow, at least I'll have a rough draft to work with.

I could hardly wait for them to cool!
To celebrate breaking through with this novel and getting most of it written, I made some apple pie cookies. I heard about these cookies on the online writing forum I belong to, Codex. I've been dying to make them ever since. They just looked so perfect, like you could hold a cookie pie thingie in one hand and a cup of coffee or glass of milk in the other and just shovel it in your mouth. Sweet, delicious pie in the shape of a cookie! What a brilliant idea.

I followed the recipe exactly. I made a thin layer of apple pie filling, but I think in future attempts I'll thin it even more. It was a lot of filling for the poor pie pastry to hold when I lifted a 'cookie.' But oh, so delicious! You can take a bowl of ice cream and sit two warm cookies on top. Or put the warm cookies in the bottom of a bowl and scoop the ice cream on top to melt over them.

I would love to hear how you celebrate your writing victories!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Version Four Point Oh

Little me. Notice Star Trek on TV. I had nerd creds even back then.
I just hit the big four oh. So far (knock on wood) it hasn't hit me back. It's funny how many momentous birthdays a person has when they're little. The first birthday is a huge one. Actually, it's more for the parents than the kid. It's a way of celebrating the fact that you haven't screwed up and accidentally killed the little human being you're responsible for.

Five seems to be a big one, too. Kids are usually in kindergarten, they're soaking up every single bit of information and experience, and they're charging full steam ahead into childhood. Ten is big because you've reached the double digits. Then there's thirteen and the official start of adolescence. Some people celebrate sixteen with a huge party, while others celebrate fifteen. And of course, eighteen is huge. You're officially an adult! You can vote! Join the military! Move out of your parents' house! In the U.S., twenty-one is a big deal because it's the official drinking age. Then there's twenty-five, which is a nice, round number, and also marks the quarter century mark. Not that any twenty-five year old thinks of it that way. They're too busy being fabulous.

From then on, the big birthdays come by the decade. For a while, anyway. Forty is pretty much the halfway point. If you're lucky, you'll live to eighty and maybe a little beyond, and hopefully with your mind intact and your bladder and, oh heck, the rest of your body, too. Funny thing is, birthdays start to become a big deal more often again. Seventy-five is a pretty big deal. So is eighty-five. And any year you blow out the candles beyond ninety is a downright miracle. If you live to a hundred, you get to be on the local news, telling people your advice for living that long, and secretly hoping your dentures don't come flying out while you're talking.

I wondered what I could do to celebrate my milestone birthday. Then it hit me. I'm supposed to be wise now. Or well on my way to wisdom. So I thought I'd share some of the things that have stuck with me over the years. Some of it is based on personal experience. Other bits are based on what I've seen while treating patients for fifteen years (dang, that makes me feel older than forty candles on a birthday cake does).

Take care of your body or else this happens!
1. Take really good care of your body. Find some sort of exercise you enjoy, and do it often. I'm talking at least three times a week, and possibly more. A variety of exercise is best, but if yoga is the only thing you can stand, then do yoga at least three times a week. Trust me, one of these days you'll go to reach into a cabinet or bend down to pick something up, and after years of doing no exercise and sitting at a desk for forty hours a week, something will give in a spectacularly painful fashion. Keep moving.

2. Here's one I only recently learned. You can choose to be happy. You choose to be happy. You don't have to wait for the perfect person, or the perfect moment, or the perfect whatever for happiness. You can choose to be happy right this moment. You control your thoughts, you control your emotions. Nobody else. Be happy.

3. What's that thing you've always wanted to do? What are your dreams? Not anybody else's dreams for you, but your dreams. Start working on one today. As soon as you're done reading this blog post, take step number one. Then take step number two. When I started writing in earnest, I approached a couple of professionally published writers and (politely) asked their advice. I'm an introvert, and I'm shy, so this was a huge step for me. One writer in particular pointed me in the right direction. It took all of maybe five minutes of her time and some bravery on my part. Then I took the next step. And the next. Go follow your dreams today.

Wondering where the road leads next
4. Sometimes I think of the world as a balance of positive and negative. You can put something positive into the world's net balance, or you can put something negative into the balance. Be kind, courteous, and helpful. Be like Mr. Rogers. Be like Mother Teresa. Make the world better one moment or one person at a time.

It'll take me another decade to come up with number five. Just kidding! I could probably go on, but I think four major insights is enough for one post.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Krampusnacht, Twelve Nights of Krampus

Santa always seemed like an ominous old man to me, watching people all the time to see if they behaved, so I love the idea of Krampus. Read on to find out a little more about Krampus, the anthology Krampusnacht, edited by Kate Wolford, and a short interview by two of the contributing authors.


The joy and terror of the season. For bad children, a lump of coal from Santa is positively light punishment when Krampus is ready and waiting to beat them with a stick, wrap them in chains, and drag them down to hell--all with St. Nick's encouragement and approval. Krampusnacht holds within its pages twelve tales of Krampus triumphant, usurped, befriended, and much more. From evil children (and adults) who get their due, to those who pull one over on the ancient "Christmas Devil." From historic Europe, to the North Pole, to present day American suburbia, these all new stories embark on a revitalization of the Krampus tradition. Whether you choose to read Krampusnacht over twelve dark and scary nights or devour it in one nacht of joy and terror, these stories are sure to add chills and magic to any winter's reading.

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Nothing to Dread by Jeff Provine

1) What about the Krampus myth inspired you?

Krampus inspires me as the idea of a punishment figure. Here in the States, we have such a positive sense of Christmas, practically even to the point of being spoiled. Even if kids are bad, they get coal, which may be burned to help keep the family warm. The idea of St. Nick going around giving reward to the good kids is easily familiar. The idea that someone is out there counting you on their "naughty" list to come beat you or even haul you away is such a foreign idea that it took some creative thinking just to wrap my mind around it. Maybe it is a good idea to punish the wicked.

2) Why do you think Krampus is of increasing interest outside of Germany nowadays?

I think a lot of other people share my thoughts on the aspect of punishing the wicked as a foreign concept. Another reason Krampus appeals is because he's so out there. A goat man with a wicker basket beating and kidnapping kids? That's crazy! Crazy fascinating.

3) What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?

The most challenging aspect of writing the story was getting the historical setting right. I'd traveled through Austria and southern Germany where Krampus is said to roam years ago, so I had a feeling for the setting. But it needed to fit exactly into place and time to put naughty little Adolf in a position where he would get away with not doing his studies.

A Visit by Lissa Sloan

1) What about the Krampus myth inspired you?

 I am captivated by the art of the old Krampus cards.  The humor and horror of this terrifying beast-man menacing well-fed, rosy-cheeked Victorian children is deliciously creepy.  I also love learning about old winter holiday traditions, the wilder and closer to nature the better.  Krampus feels very far removed from Black Friday madness, all-holiday-music radio stations, and artificial Christmas trees.  He is fierce, uncompromising, and definitely uncivilized.  This wildness, along with the gleefully twisted art, made Krampus an irresistible story subject.

2) Why do you think Krampus is of increasing interest outside of Germany nowadays?

 The world is an unjust place.  Many people follow the rules.  They work, struggle, and do what they can to get by, rarely getting what they deserve, while others lie, cheat, and take advantage, also rarely getting what they deserve.  So even during the season of the Christmas spirit, peace, and good will towards all, I think many of us find enormous appeal in thinking there’s someone (or something) out there breaking into the houses of wrong-doers and dealing out “just deserts”.  And I’m not talking about fruitcake.

3) What was the most challenging aspect of writing your story?

I am bothered by cautionary tales.  The punishments are ridiculously extreme.  “Stay on the path or you’ll be eaten by a wolf.”  “Don’t unlock this door or your husband will cut you into bits and put you in a cauldron with his other curious wives.”  Krampus is the same.  “Do as you’re told or a savage goat-man will take you away in a giant basket, beat you with a birch rod, and lick you with his nasty long tongue.”  I had to come up with a premise that appealed to my own sense of justice.  Eventually I thought up a character who truly deserved a visit from Krampus.  At that point, I had almost as good a time writing about him as Krampus did visiting him.

***

With new stories from Cheresse Burke, Guy Burtenshaw, Jill Corddry, Elise Forier Edie, Patrick Evans, Scott Farrell, Caren Gussoff, Mark Mills, Jeff Provine, Colleen H. Robbins, Lissa Sloan, and Elizabeth Twist.

Krampusnacht is available in trade paperback and ebook via Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Kobo.com, WorldWeaverPress.com, and other online retailers, and for wholesale through Ingram. You can also find Krampusnacht on Goodreads.