Tuesday, February 25, 2014

That's More Like It

I can’t tell you exactly when I discovered writing.  All I can say for certainty is that I was in elementary school. I loved to read and I loved to tell stories to others as well. I was writing full length novels, not well of course, when I was in fifth grade. In my seventh grade English class, my teacher read one of my novels aloud each day to our class before she started lessons. I don’t remember exactly what the story was, but it had something to do with mermaids, which I’m a bit embarrassed to admit now.

My love of writing followed me to high school.  Naturally I did well in English and excelled in the creative writing units. Throughout high school, I wrote stories. I still have some of those stories packed in a box in my closet and some of them are so melodramatic I can’t help but laugh at what an angst filled teen I was.

I continued writing in college and even took a poetry class.  I’d intended to take a novel writing class but I never did. Somewhere along the way, I stopped writing. Just as I couldn’t tell you when I started to write, I have no idea when I stopped other than to say it was in my very early twenties. It was right around that time that I got married and started a family so I can only assume there wasn’t much time to write. I was busy being a wife and mother and working full time and still trying to finish my college education. Writing took a back seat to all of that.

One day, after a ten year hiatus, I suddenly had the urge to write again. It started with a simple sentence that popped into my head. I later discovered this was the line in the midway point of a story I was going to write. Strange place to start, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. With this sentence I was off and running and I mean running with a vengeance. My kids were older so I could afford to devote more time to writing.

Having rediscovered the joy of writing after ten years of it being dormant, I was determined to publish a novel. I made it my mission to find an agent and get my books into brick and mortar bookstores. E-books were still an innovation of the future at that point. The decision was an easy one to make but the journey was full of ups and downs, honestly more downs than ups.

After a series of disappointments that I’m sad to say spanned several years, I found myself falling out of love with writing again. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I’d discovered an online site that allowed me to upload stories for review. My initial stories were well received and slowly but surely I built a following that still exists today. Despite this success, I couldn’t let go of this rabid need I had to be published in what I called a mainstream venue.

Last week I talked about my rededication to writing.  In case you missed it, earlier in the year I decided I was going to take a different approach to my writing.  I was going to write what I wanted the way I wanted to write it for the fans who had embraced all I’d written so far.  I wasn’t going to write with the intent of pleasing an agent or a publisher or an editor.

I’m currently working on a story requested by those readers that keep me going and remind why I’m a writer and it’s going so well I’ve decided to make a four book series out of it. I’ve finished the first draft of the first and second books and am in the editing process for the first one. I’m excited for the day that I’ll be able to share the story with those who’ve been so supportive, but I’m also taking my time to make sure it’s done well. Just because I’m doing this my way doesn’t mean I’m not going to give readers the quality they deserve.

And speaking of doing things my way, I’m almost two full months into this new resolve and I can tell you it’s been the best two months of my literary life. I feel a renewed passion for my work. In fact, I no longer view it as work, though I call it work. Instead, it’s the escape I always pictured it being. Now, that’s more like it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Going for It My Way

This year I made the decision to rededicate myself to writing what I wanted to write the way I wanted to write it. I was not going to submit my work to countless agents and publishers. Why should I when I have a small but loyal following of readers who like my work just the way it is and self-publishing is easier and more accepted than ever?

Along with this decision, I debated whether or not I was going to enter any writing contests. I’ve done countless writing contests over the years. Though I’ve never been that grand prize winner, I’ve had some respectable placements that looked nice on my query letters to agents and publishers. Given that I made this grand decision not to look for an agent or publisher, I had to ask myself what the point of pursuing more contest entries was. Ultimately I decided there wasn’t one.

For the most part, I’ve had no problem avoiding the writing contests. Okay, I’ve had one problem. Every time I get that email notification of a new contest opening, I have to resist the urge to start polishing off what I think would be an appropriate entry. Other than that, I’ve had no problems. Okay, that’s not entirely true either.

If you’ve been following my Twitter feeds (and if you’re not, you should be!) then you know I’ve been waffling over whether or not to enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards this year. As far as writing contests go, this is one of the better ones. It’s easy to enter and can net some good exposure even for the writers who don’t win. Best of all, there’s no entry fee.

If you’re not familiar with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, it’s an annual contest that allows both unpublished and self-published writers to enter one manuscript for consideration. There are five categories for entry: General Fiction, Romance, Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Young Adult Fiction. One Grand Prize winner receives a publishing contract with a $50,000 advance, and four First Prize winners are awarded a publishing contract and a $15,000 advance.

As the old and somewhat odd saying goes, that’s nothing to sneeze at. The odds of winning are debatable. I’m not good at statistics, but there are some past participants who insist that judging is biased and not representative of a writer’s ability to sell given that initial judging is based on the opinion of only two people who must reach the identical conclusion as to the writer’s talents.

Politics and personal feelings aside, the question left to me this year was whether or not I was going to enter. I had a manuscript ready that I felt was somewhat decent and might be well received. So, I had to ask myself, did I want to go through the trouble of uploading it or forego the contest.

The contest opened on Sunday, February 17th. In the end, after much waffling, this is what I’ve come up with; why not go for it but go for it my way? So I’m going for it, but I am not going to be as emotionally invested in the past. I’m not going to obsessively refresh my email the day the notifications of the winners are supposed to be sent. I’m going to continue writing other manuscripts and have a good time doing so.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Message to My Daughters

Writers are often told to write about what they know.  Sometimes that’s not always easy to do. If you’ve never experienced cancer but want to write about it then you have to do some serious research to craft a believable story. In my first novel, the protagonist lost her father suddenly when a car accident claimed his life.  When that story was released in 2006, I didn’t know the pain of that loss. The emotions I wrote of were those I imagined by putting myself in that character’s place. Seven years later, my father passed away in his sleep at the age of fifty-nine. There’s a lot I know as a result of that experience and while I’m sharing it with all of you, it’s my hope that my teenage daughters, Kylie and Cyan, will pay the most attention so I pen this as a letter to them.

Dear Girls:
I know there are times when your father drives you crazy. You think he’s unreasonable and overprotective and just plain mean. You think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about or maybe he doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a teenager. I know you think these things because I too was once like you. I also know something you don’t yet but one day will. Everything you think about your dad may be right, but it’s also wrong.

Your dad doesn’t like to be lied to. Neither did my dad. Sometimes he punished me for my lies, but sometimes he didn’t have to. I can recall one time in particular. I must have been seven or eight years old. Rubik’s cubes were fairly new then and I was so proud of myself for getting one side solved. Granddad offered me five dollars if I could solve the whole thing. I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t do it. I’d get one side solved and then start on another only to have it mess up the side I’d already solved. Frustrated and desperate for the money, I took all of the stickers off the cube and put them back on so it appeared as if I’d solved it. I then marched in to show Granddad my triumph. He took one look at the stickers and seemed to know something was amiss. He twisted the cube several times so it was no longer showing solved. When he handed it back to me, he offered me fifty dollars to solve it again in front of him. Again and again I tried, but I just couldn’t. And do you know what your granddad said? Nothing; he didn’t have to say anything. That grin he wore as he watched me said it all. He knew I lied to him. Not only did he show me that I was caught in the lie, but he showed me the damage a lie can do. It’s a lesson I remember to this day and I’m almost forty years old.

Your dad pushes you in school. Every day he asks what you’re learning in class and how you’re doing and if you’re turning in your homework. My dad used to do the same thing. He valued education and was determined that I would benefit from it whether I wanted to or not. I was expected to get good grades and was held accountable if I did not. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to your granddad say that if I could get an A I should be able to keep it and if I got a B then I should bring it up to an A and there was never an excuse to get a C, D or God forbid an F. And boy did I dread the days that I needed help with my math homework. Your granddad wasn’t always the most patient teacher and he had a difficult time accepting that I couldn’t understand. So many times, he jabbed his finger into my paper demanding to know why I couldn’t see the answer that was right in front of me. Fat tears would roll down my cheeks and I would tell him he was mean and it wasn’t my fault that I had trouble with math. When I grew up, Granddad admitted to feeling bad for how he handled the situation. You know what? I’m not sorry for the decisions he made. I wasn’t permanently traumatized. If it wasn’t for Granddad pushing me to excel in my education, I might not have gone to college or found a career that I’m good at.  I might not have moved beyond my current station. My dad wanted better for me than he had, and your dad wants the same for you. If you ever have children, you will feel the same way.

You girls have never known what it’s like to go hungry or go without the basic essentials of life. One of you thinks the fact that your iPhone camera doesn’t take good pictures is an incredible injustice while the other of you thinks not having your iPhone screen replaced when it was stepped on and cracked is just your father’s way of being cheap. You don’t know that you’ve never gone hungry because there was a time in your life when your father ate once a day so that he could make sure you were well fed. You don’t notice that your father owns just four pairs of jeans and three of those are riddled with holes because he’s spent all his money buying your black low top Converse, not those Air Walk knockoffs that Payless sells, and your Bear Paw boots that have to be Bear Paw because you have to have the symbol on the back of those boots or you’ll just die. My dad was once like your dad, and I didn’t see it at the time. I saw only myself. I was eight or nine and I desperately wanted a Care Bear and not just any Care Bear but Wish Bear. The Care Bears cost maybe twenty dollars at that time, but we couldn’t afford it. I stood in the Kmart toy aisle crying and hating my dad because he couldn’t buy me the toys I wanted. And do you know what Granddad did? Even though I was behaving so selfishly, he promised me that when he got paid in two weeks I could have that Care Bear. Two weeks later, he made good on that promise, but I don’t remember if I thanked him.

Your dad doesn’t like your boyfriend and that bothers you. You know what? Granddad didn’t like too many of my boyfriends either. Most fathers don’t like their daughters’ boyfriends. The day he met your father, Granddad sat shirtless on our couch just staring at your father without speaking. At the time I was mortified and irritated by his behavior. Now I know better. He was sending a message to your father that he’d better take care of his daughter or be willing to deal with the consequences. Maybe someday when you’re grown you will understand your dad was only so harsh in his judgment of your boyfriends because he loves you so much that he wants only the best for you. Sometimes your definition of what’s best for you is not the same as his.

One year ago, my dad died. The other day I visited him at the cemetery.  As I stood in the rain looking at his modest grave, I wished I could see him again and tell him again how much I love him and how much I appreciated what he did. When he was alive, your granddad often told me how much he admired your father. Granddad thought your father was a much better father than he himself was.

Girls, with all of my heart, I hope that you will one day open your eyes and your hearts to the knowledge that your Granddad already had. You have an incredible gift. You have a father who loves you and sacrifices for you and always puts your needs and wants ahead of his. You have a father who cares more about you than he does about himself and would do all that he could to make you happy. You have a father who will always be there for you. You have a father. I wish I still had mine.