a bit of writerly advice for #NaNo day 13…

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Free image courtesy of KathrynMaloney at Pixabay.com

Read.

Yep, that’s my writing advice for this luckiest of days during NaNoWriMo (at a point when my word count is stalled at 8,237).

Last night, I finished the novella (remember those; they’re having a renaissance, I hope) titled Camp Olvido. I could have been writing or plotting (ha, that’s a joke), but I needed to recharge. So I read.

Written by Lawrence Coates, Camp Olvido is set in a Depression-era migrant workers’ camp in California and will remind you of Steinbeck’s work, but this 2015 book is its own rare and wonderful gem. Read it for the compelling history, story, images and language that will leave you awed. It’s that good.

So, I wrote the author to tell him. OK, maybe it’s two pieces of writing advice today: No. 1: read. No. 2: respond to what sings true and clear for you on the page.

Happy reading and writing. Happy NaNo!

How’s it going, if it’s going? No NaNo for you this year? What are you reading and loving right now?

Feeling social? Let’s connect on FB and Twitter. Like a post of mine; I hope you’ll share with your friends–both social and otherwise!

 

 

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Writing to find the way home

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I am home.

When my husband and I found our house on this street in the best little riverside village we didn’t even know existed, that was it: we were home.

However, there’s more than one way to go home; just as there are so many wonderful and varied definitions of what home means to different people. Check out Christine’s take on this week’s Gin & Lemonade With a Twist writing prompt, Home, at I’m Sick and So Are You: “My Body is My Home.” And another blogger friend posits home as a feeling.

What is home to you?

Ever get olfactory déjà vu, and you think: this place smells like home? Or, a person’s accent takes your mind to the street where you grew up? Or the way a loved one squeezes your knee or tucks your hair behind your ear ignites your primitive brain and takes you there, wherever that is, home.

I write fiction to get my characters–and by extension me–home.

I generally start writing when I have that first, budding image of my main character. Before I sit down to write, I feel a sense of unease, even anxiety, rising as I begin to imagine this character’s problem. (There has to be a problem.) Sometimes, I’ll also imagine the final image, problem righted, character home (if not in geography, in body or mind or spirit.)

Between the beginning image and the end is the journey–home.

Wow, when I write it out like this, it sounds simple. (It’s not simple.) But maybe thinking about the fiction-writing process in this way can ease the actual writing part just a little bit, whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not.

And here’s a writing advice gem in the The Guardian from an author with quite a few books under her belt, Kate Pullinger. So, she’s reached home a lot. This quote speaks to so many aspects of my life, really:

Writing is a kind of confidence trick – you have to con yourself into thinking you can do it, into thinking that what you are writing is the Real McCoy.

Back at it…

I hope you’ll join in.

Handy links:

Lorna’s Gin & Lemonade With a Twist writing prompt for the week: Home.

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated (and sane).

 

 

 

 

 

 

NaNo progress: or, the method writer’s lament

NaNo progress–see how I did that?

OK, let’s call it NaNo Lite, this journey I’m on.

What’s NaNo? NaNoWriMo, if we’re being formal, is a kooky little challenge, whereby one writes a 50,000-word novel draft in the month of November.

Yeah. That.

You see, this past weekend was the first weekend (before monsoon season returned in force) that felt like fall. Crisp, sunny, sweater weather. I tossed a baseball with my kid, twice, and it was like a Hallmark card. Forgive me if I couldn’t hole myself up 24/7 in my office to bang away on my keyboard, but I’ve written before about the importance of living to writing that is not-so-sucky. Yep, dreams.

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My wonderful neighbor’s Little Free Library and bench provide a good spot to stop and smell the book glue.

Another excuse for my lackluster NaNo progress: this manuscript I’m beginning is historical (in parts), which requires research, which is SLOW, but not un-fun. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been researching Finland–it’s Winter War (which began in 1939) and its culture (then and now), which I believe would have slapped me hard had I wasted my glorious fall weekend indoors–NaNo or not.

There are method actors, right? I think I need to be the next method writer. (Just imagine how clever I just thought I was coming up with that idea; until I googled and found this, and this, and this.) Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

However, speaking of sun, why not, in addition to getting inside my characters’ heads, get outside in an environment like that experienced by my characters. In short, this novel may require me to brave some colder temps this fall–maybe even some cold-weather swimming (up to my knees, perhaps!). In doing so, I hope to find my sisu (a Finnish term for stick-to-it-iveness, fortitude, guts) and maybe also find this novel.

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My ride to my outdoors writing spot. I know, right? Notebooks and special pen (first draft is always longhand!) in the basket.

You want numbers? NaNo is a numbers game. Well, I admit I started with several thousand words prior to Nov. 1 and have hit 7,115. A good chunk of it I wrote outside, Sunday, using up that extra hour given to us by the Fall Back gods here in the U.S.

I’ve also finished reading one book on Finnish culture, and the pertinent parts of another on the Winter War against the Soviets (which is all kinds of David vs. Goliath awe-inspiring). As I research, I keep adding books to my TBR: a book on Finnish fairy tales; a translation of the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala; a book about the Lottas, the female version of the Finnish Defense Corps. (Special shout-out to my Finnish blog followers (of which I believe I have two!))

And thanks to all for sticking with me on this blogging journey and NaNo detour. Here’s hoping the destination is sunny.

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My view from my outdoor writing spot. I’m not complaining; well, my butt got a little cold sitting at a picnic table, but still…

Are you doing NaNo? How’s it going? What’s your word count? How many research books have you added to your TBR since Nov. 1?

 

 

Art Works

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This post’s photos taken by me of Donald Stoltenberg paintings on display (and for sale) at Annapolis Marine Art Gallery, Annapolis, Maryland.

Give me a painting of a shipyard over a regatta, a work boat over a pleasure cruiser. Give me the smell of diesel, sweat, and fish. Might not be pretty, but it works.

For me, art that works–that shows scenes of toil and industry, of creating and crafting–appeals more than art that features placid scenes. Sorry Manet, Monet, and pretty much anything on a rou de someplace.

Why? Well, there’s the Rust Belt influence, the legacy and lore of waterways that sustained the heavy industry that built places like my native Cleveland, Ohio, along Lake Erie, and like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with its three rivers.

And, like Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the late artist, Donald Stoltenberg, was born in 1927. Stoltenberg was new to me, until a recent visit to nearby Annapolis.

While I gravitate to industry and toil in art, I look for the same in the literature I read–and write. To me, a character is never more him- or herself than when working. Why? Simple. Work breeds conflict and conflict drives story.

Some of the best advice I received as a writing student was to introduce characters to  readers by showing them at work. This gets the characters out in the world, acting and reacting–and soon (as we all do) facing big problems, problems that will need to be, ya know, worked out.

So, as I think about the characters of my current WIP*, I’m putting them to work, testing their mettle, and seeing what they’re made of. Works for me, and I bet it’ll work for you.

What are you working on right now? A blog post? A story? A piece of art? What works for your characters? For you?

 

*Speaking of my WIP, I’ll be taking much of the month of November off from actively blogging to focus my attention on research and work for my WIP, as well as submitting to journals and agents before the end of the year. But I will be back! In the meantime, please see my categories above for writing advice, author interviews, publishing journey woes and successes–and keep on reading and writing (the Rust Belt and everywhere else).

 

A note on perseverance in writing…and everything else

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This is not an inspirational blog.

By that, I mean you will find no images and taglines here that you could use to make into a poster for your conference room. No cute kittens of mine will ever tell you to “hang in there”–or anywhere. (That’s my kid, above; my arms hurt just looking at him.) If I were to make such a poster, it might say, “Bitch a lot, and hope for sympathy–or at least free coffee.”

Still, I am not totally, cynically immune to pep-talks, or at least subtle reminders that bitching gets us nowhere, usually not even heard. But perseverance can get us writers, bloggers, and do-ers of all kinds off the starting block (or whatever tired motivational metaphor you prefer).

Call it perseverance. Call it stick-to-itivness. Call it sisu, if you’re in with the Finns. Please just don’t call it grit. (Am I the only one sick of that word? People: meet thesaurus; thesaurus meet people.)

All that’s to say, sometimes one (me) has to stop bitching and start working, which for this story writer looks like: composing, revising, editing, more editing; and lastly, the dreaded submitting.

The tale of my most recent story submission goes like this. (Here’s hoping it’s mildly inspirational.)

It was a story that I had to tell. While I generally enjoy a football field-sized writerly distance from the characters I explore in my fiction, this one hit much closer to home. Call it cheap therapy, but my mom was battling breast cancer and I was a 12-hour Greyhound bus ride away and English major-angsty. What to do with all that anger at the plain meanness and stupidity of cancer for targeting the one person who “got” me?

I wrote about it. I framed my confusion into a story about going home to be with the fictional her at the end and about how a cancer death–the coagulating of so many errant cells–made the fictional me dream of growing another kind of ball of cells, which would turn into a kid (or kids, as it turned out) of my own.

Like much fiction, there was truth in this story (along with much artifice). And it felt good to get my truth on the page, and then into the ether, and maybe even under the nose of a literary journal editor–or 58 (yep, I just counted).

Fast-forward a dozen years or more, and a much-revised version of this story will see the light. I received the glorious email with “acceptance” in the subject line a week after logging three rejections of other stories.

Some stories come easily; some take just a couple revisions before I’ve deemed them to be editor-ready. Not this story of my mom and me and breasts and death as beautiful as birth.

My story of writerly perseverance, by the numbers: revision No. 15; story title No. 3; 1,200 additional words since first draft, written for English 666 (no joke); and 1 fewer mention of the show, Friends, and also 9-layer dip, since that first draft (phew).

You get the gist. The story grew with me, and I with it, but I didn’t let it go–just like my little guy up there on the rock wall. I could have, but I didn’t.

More to come on my story’s new home, journal information, and issue launch.

Want more writerly advice? I’ve got a category for that.

Want to follow me on FB? Twitter? Let’s persevere together in all the social fun…

 

 

 

 

3 Reasons to Connect with Your Creative Community; 3 Words of Thanks; 3 Inspiring Writers

The writing life is often, necessarily, an isolated one. To create a world on paper (or screen) takes holing ourselves up, cutting ourselves off from the myriad distractions of modern life.

For our writing to matter to anyone outside our own heads, however, we must connect.

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3 good reasons to connect with your creative community:

To find readers: Not surprisingly, most of the followers of this blog are other bloggers; the readers of my short fiction are other writers. You will find readers in writers, and v.v.

To research that next WIP: Let’s not research entirely online (pleads this former college composition instructor). Speaking of research, heartfelt Kiiitos paljon (Thanks a lot!) to all the wonderful folks at the Finnish Heritage Museum and to Lasse Hiltunen, president, in particular for the wonderful tour and background information on everything Finnish! (If you ever find yourself near Fairport Harbor, Ohio, don’t miss this gem of a museum.) Lesson-learned: take your research on-site, when you can.

 

To gain inspiration: How inspiring is that library carrel? As delightful as isolation can be, even the most introverted writer needs to get “out there” once in a while.

While online writing communities and critique groups, library databases and catalogues have been invaluable to my perspective, there’s no substitute for the in-the-flesh writing community.

I’m a writer interested in exploring place, specifically the U.S. Rust Belt (more specifically, Ohio), and yet I no longer live in that place. No, the irony isn’t lost on me. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog–to connect with readers and writers and photographers in my native place.

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But virtual connection is not enough. Sometimes one has to be boots-on-the-ground there. And so, after some preparation to make the most of the conference, I drove my proverbial boots the five-and-a-half hours to attend Lit Youngstown’s 2nd Annual Literary Festival this past weekend. 3 inspiring festival highlights–not just to plug this literary festival (but do come next year, if you’re in the area; I plan to) but every and all such excuses to communally share our stories:

Dave Lucas, Ohio Poet Laureate and author of Weather: Poems, presented a piece about the mythic in poetry for an audience of fiction writers, creative nonfiction writers, and poets. (Poetry not your thing? I get that, and have talked about my on-again-off-again relationship with poetry. But Lucas is all about finding the poetic in the everyday; he talks about that here–from about minute 8 on).

Lesley Nneka Arimah, author of the amazing short story collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, read a few of her stories and graciously shared a little from her formative years. Arimah told a story about visiting the public library in summer with her sister, where they would each check out the max amount of books–50–and when finished with her tower, trade, and read her sister’s. Sure, Arimah read literature with a capital “L”, she joked; but she also read romance novels and fantasy, and continues to do so today–and her literary short fiction is all the more playful and magical because of it.

Jon Kerstetter, read from his memoir, Crossings: A Doctor-Soldier’s Story, which chronicles a life begun in poverty on the Oneida Reservation in Wisconsin to a life in business before Kerstetter pursued his dream of becoming a physician. When his days as an emergency doctor weren’t proving exciting enough, he volunteered for tours as an emergency military medic. After three tours in Iraq, Kerstetter returned to the U.S., injured, but this was only the start of his stateside struggles, as he suffered a stroke–leading to his reinvention as an author through the writing of his life’s story.

 

Inspiration abounded at this literary conference–and not just from the big names but from the poems and stories bravely shared by writers at all stages at open-mic and in conversation.

Me, I braved the mic to read a flash fiction piece of mine set not far from where we sat, amid the rolling hills and history of Northeastern Ohio. I also took part in a publishing panel to extol the virtues of connecting through traditional and nontraditional publishing, including sites like this blog–when we can’t connect in person.

And today I returned to my writing desk feeling inspired and connected in a meaningful way to the stories of home. Thanks a lot to all who made it happen!

Have you done the conference thing–for writing, blogging, or anything else? What are the benefits to in-the-flesh arts and literary communities?

Are you a Rust Belt author, blogger, or photographer? I’m always looking for stories to share.

 

*Photos from top down are of Youngstown, Ohio, buildings, the Finnish Heritage Museum in Fairport Harbor, and interior shots of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Youngtown, where the Arimah and Kerstetter readings were held.

 

 

 

 

Where are we going, Where have we been?*

I am not the most introspective person. A dash of denial, a handful of escapism, maybe a pinch of penchant for intrigue, and my past is folded into the stories I write–about other people in other times.

I don’t feel drawn to answer the personal questions that pepper the blogosphere: fave book, town, TV show, ice cream flavor (OK, chocolate. There.)

I’d rather ask these questions of other writers or answer these questions in the guise of the characters I’m writing. Because, honestly, introspection and exploration of my past for its own sake, for my own sake–and not for a WIP–feels a little bit fruitless…

And time consuming. And, really, who’s got time?

Me. You. Everybody. Even if we have to make it. (Even if the process of making time for one thing and not another sometimes feels “shitty.”) Or, so says novelist and short story writer Dave Housley in his essay I’ve been carrying around in my head like a mantra:  “Baby Steps All the Way: Making the Time to Write a Book” featured on The Millions.

So, when the lovely Jennifer Kochak at Unfold and Begin asked if I’d like to answer questions about the end of my dancing life and the beginning of my writing life for her Starting Over series, I made the time.

And it wasn’t just not fruitless. It was really and truly meaningful, to me, and hopefully to those who stopped by the Starting Over interview: “A New Way to Express Her Creativity.

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That’s me there! For once, I was on the answering end of an interview, which was a nice change. I’ve talked here before about the need to ask good questions to get at good answers, and Jennifer did just that.

Truth is, it had been a long time since I’d given 19-year-old me much thought, and I think she needed it. Jennifer’s questions got at the grief I felt at giving up ballet, the art form I’d practiced since I was five, and the relief I felt at finding another creative outlet: writing. And, as I will have my own 19-year-olds in just a decade, they need me to engage in a bit of memory dredging and examining, too–even if they don’t know it yet.

The point is, in order to know where we’re going, we need to know where we’ve been.

Novel-writing folks fall into two camps: outliners and pantsers. I’m among the latter. Think: exploration without background knowledge, map, or compass, but a decent sense of direction. And while I like being guided by in-the-moment intuition, I realize this isn’t always the best way to lead a life off the page, especially since my real life also leads the real lives of other, pint-sized people.

So, I urge you to check out Unfold and Begin–not only for Starting Over interviews but for all kinds of roadmaps, like vision boards, that can help us navigate our paths ahead.

Where are you going? Do you consult your past before setting out?

In the near-term, I’m headed to Lit Youngstown’s Fall Literary Festival in (you guessed it) Youngstown, Ohio. I’m excited at the prospect of spending a couple days with fellow writers, along with accomplished authors, editors, and academics on this many-peopled writerly path I’m traveling. So, this will be my last post for the week.

And, since we’re getting personal, I’ll leave you with a photo from deep in my personal archives (an old album of yellowed images and copies of newspaper clippings). Excuse the poor quality, but you get the gist. That’s me in the middle at age eight. If not properly dancing, I’m moving, and expressing something, anyway–look at that cavernous grin–and relishing it! A memory to remember and build on…

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*Title is a nod to Joyce Carol Oates’ frequently-anthologized short story, one of my all-time faves, the plot of which is nothing like where I’ve been, thankfully.

a bit of writerly advice…for Sept. 13, 2018

All the moments that make up a human being have to be written about, talked about, painted, danced, in order to really talk about life. –Rita Dove, Ohio native, Pulitzer Prize winner, and former U.S. Poet Laureate

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Free image courtesy of KathrynMaloney at Pixabay.com

The above quote is from an old interview with Rita Dove in which she talks about her background and her decision–not until college–to try to become a writer. “I always thought [writing] was something that you did as a child, then you put away childish things,” she said. “I didn’t know writers could be real live people, because I never knew any writers.”

There it is, isn’t it? This writing thing: childish, right? Ever feel guilty about writing? I do. Especially the writing I do that doesn’t buy groceries. Why? Because it’s unnecessary, a luxury, an escape, mere child’s play.

Or is it?

Maybe writing, as Rita Dove says, is essential to this life we’re all living here–necessary to becoming part and parcel of this existence.

What do you think?

Now…go write.

But first, sample Rita Dove’s poetry here at Kenyon Review with “Concert at Hanover Square” and try–I dare you–to forget the gray mice image!

 

Submit, submit, submit

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Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

It’s that time again: submission season.

It’s the season when we writers polish up our prose and poems and novel MS synopses to send out into the world, fresh-faced and optimistic, imbued with loads of potential–in the hopes of being published. I wave to them and smile (a little smugly). “I’ve done good,” I tell myself.

And then proceed to shudder in fear.

Oh, wait.

Maybe that’s my kids. Yep, silly me. September is also back-to-school season, when I send my actual offspring out into the world, fresh-faced. I wave and smile…Well, you get it.

Here’s the thing.

Let’s not confuse our creative offspring with our actual offspring, our stories with our kids. Really, I’m talking to myself here. Is it just me? Am I the only one who’s ever uttered: “That manuscript is my baby.” (Note that I had not yet endured screaming twin infants when I said that.) No, I can’t be the only one. In fact, I’m pretty certain there’s a country song with that title.

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