And So It Begins…..

Today is November 1st.  It’s not just a new month or the day after Halloween, it’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month, or as it is more affectionately known by writers, NaNoWriMo.

I participated five years ago and a novel came from it, but it wasn’t the best work I’ve done and so it remains buried.  But this year I am excited about the novel I am writing because it’s just a really neat idea.

So, I wanted to share some thoughts with my fellow writers who may be struggling with the thought of getting through an entire month of writing.  I am reading a wonderful book by Wayne Dyer.  In it he suggests that the reason we have failed at things that we have tried to accomplish before is not because “it wasn’t meant to be” or because “things just didn’t work out” but because we lacked one thing: being willing.  

He goes on to say that when we have a dream or a goal in our mind it’s already here in the now.  We just have to go about doing the steps to bring the thing to pass.  But we have to be willing to do whatever it takes, no matter what that means.  He also said that if we find ourselves hesitant to be willing to do whatever it takes, then we should reexamine that particular goal or dream because that hesitancy is your spirit self telling you that this isn’t the right path for you.

Wow.

That was such a moment of clarity for me.  Here’s another one.  He said there is no failure only results.  When you set out to do something you get a result and you keep working at what it is that you want until you get the result you want.

So I was kicking myself for failing at other things when really two things were happening: I wasn’t failing, I was getting results, just not the one I wanted; and I wasn’t completely willing to put myself out there because it wasn’t really my path.

With writing, I had put myself out there, but then I let the rejections I received (a result) keep me from working until I got the result I wanted (publication).

Here’s another gem I read in a book called Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.  She said to look at myself as two individuals.  There is the pragmatic, logical person.  This person handles the rejection letters, the editor’s notes, the critiques from those we let read our work.  In effect, this person handles the “business” side of writing and creates a productive environment for the writing to take place.

Then there’s the creative person.  This is the person who lives in your mind and gives you the ideas.  This person has all the awe and wonder of a tiny child who sees everything in the world as new and fantastic.  This person is rather whimsical and doesn’t like to be given a routine by which to share his/her ideas, but when given a set time every day in which to write, will come around and eventually learn to give of him/herself freely.

The book goes on to say that the trick to being a successful writer is to build a wall behind which the creative person can grow at his/her own pace.  The pragmatic person deals with the day-to-day of the world and responds to it, while the creative person is allowed to stand behind the wall and look out on the world and observe it freely and use what it sees to create stories.

Another wow.

These two pieces of advice have really changed the way I not only approach my writing career but how I handle the hurdles that pop up from day to day.

So…am I overwhelmed by the thought of 50,000 words in 30 days? Not at all.  Why? Because my goal is to become a published author — a national best-selling published author — and I am willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

I’m not in over my head, I’m out of my comfort zone.  And that’s where the good stuff happens. 

So you may not be a writer like me but I’m sure you have a dream or a goal.  So I’m sharing this with you hoping that you will see your goal from a different perspective.  Speak kindly to yourself. Forgive your past failures. And remember there is no failure only results and you need only keep persevering until you get the results you want.

 

 

 

 

 

I am….

I write every day without fail.

I also argue with myself about writing.

I am a writer.

I’m not a writer.

I have what it takes.

My writing sucks.

I compare myself to published authors. I sigh. I get discouraged. I wake up in the morning hopeful. Some days end in triumph. Other days end in abject failure. I wonder if it is too late. I’ve given up on so many things but writing is my one constant through it all.

If I fail at this, what’s next? Have I no gift to contribute to the world? I didn’t choose to be a writer. It chose me. I have to be successful at this. There is no other choice. This is the gift bestowed upon me. I will use it. It will make room for me here. I will show the world my soul. I will not be ashamed.

I AM a writer.

I bleed words.

 

Why I Write…

Photo purchased from vectortoons.com

I am a child of the 1970s who grew up in a blue collar section of a New Jersey suburb.

I clearly recall the first time I realized that the world saw me as different, as less than, because of the color of my skin.

I remember how that one comment snatched me viciously out of my childhood bubble. I remember questioning my worth, even though my parents told me over and over again that nothing anyone says changes my worth, unless I let it.

I didn’t know how to process this. I had so many emotions. So I sat down and wrote as fast as my little eight-year-old hands would let me. I remember how my rage poured out onto the page. I threw the paper aside and cried and then I went outside to play.

A few days later I happened to read what I wrote and I couldn’t believe those words came from me. That’s when I realized that there is this well of love and wisdom and acceptance deep inside me that knows exactly what to say to when I am hurting or sad or just can’t seem to make sense of what is going on, but I can only hear what it wants to tell me when I write.

So, I write to share my well with the world and that’s all there is to it.

 

The Flavor of Fall

There’s something inspiring about the arrival of fall. There’s irony in the beauty of it all. The trees push out fall foliage filled with vibrant yellows, burnt oranges, blazing reds, and warm browns as they bid us adieu until spring. You can hear the scraping of fallen leaves as the wind pushes them along the sidewalk.

Acorns fall and hit roofs of garages tink plink plunk. Fireplaces burning arrest your senses and spark the desire to curl up on the couch with a good book and a cup of coffee.

Wardrobes shift from bright neon colors and pastels that beckon you to beaches to warm inviting colors that call to the comfort of indoors. Flowers are fading and grass growth grinds to a halt signaling the hibernation season for the much-used lawnmower.

Squirrels scamper to and fro storing nuts for the winter. Food seeds sown have produced their last crops. The final curtain call for warm weather has come and gone. Halloween treats — but never tricks — stand at the ready to give sugar highs to all who adorn themselves in creepy and cute costumes.

Fall wreaths hang on doors and cornucopias sit centered on fireplace mantles and dining room tables. Plans for the holidays are on the horizon as television stations fill the airwaves with commercials that tell us Christmas is just around the corner making children all too eager to begin the constant count down of the days left until Santa shooshes down chimneys with sacks full of surprises.

Pies of pumpkin and sweet potato appear on store shelves. Nutmeg and cinnamon spices stand at the ready. Turkeys take their places in the meat aisles awaiting selection by mothers who complain of all they have to do but who secretly love all the hustle and bustle that this time of year brings.

Ah, yes, fall. And it all begins with the turning of the leaves.

Under the Influence

As a writer I’m always in tune to what is going on around me.  That can be a good thing and a bad thing.  Right now, it’s a bad thing.  The racial climate of this country is the worst it’s ever been, and its forcing its way into my writing uninvited.

I don’t like that.

I just wrote three short stories and two of them had race as the issue.  I had to let the stories go where they needed because as writers we have to remain true to ourselves.

But….

When I envision my success as a writer, I don’t see myself as a writer who is popular only in Black circles.  I see myself as a writer who is as widely read as Stephen King or Jane Austen.  I see my books filed alphabetically on the shelves, and not limited to the “African American Authors” section in libraries and bookstores.

Does that mean I’m not proud to be black?

Absolutely not. 

But it does mean that I want my talent to stand on its own.  I don’t write well “for a black girl,” I write well. Period.

Yet the thought still crosses my mind of where my book will land when it is finally published: alphabetized on the shelves along side all other writers or placed into the African American Authors section in libraries and bookstores.

You may be wondering what’s wrong with being in the African American Authors section?  Well, nothing, in theory.  I mean it certainly cuts down on the search when I am looking for a book written by someone who’s black.  But I guess I’m just bothered by the hint of segregation it provides.  Or maybe I feel like a person who isn’t black may make judgments about the book before they even open it.

I want someone to pick up my book and read the story and be so moved by it that they don’t want it to end.  I want my skin color not to matter.  So I guess that’s why I’m angry that race keeps rearing its ugly head in my stories.  I just want to write good stories.  And if they happen to have race in them, I want it to be because I CHOOSE it, not because my heart is so overwhelmed by the utter lack of disrespect for black people that I can’t help but use my writing as a platform to bring attention to it.

And there is another huge issue.  Am I to be yet another black writer to use my gift to champion the plight of black people?  Is it a betrayal to my race if I don’t? Hell, I feel like a hypocrite even writing this post because I use #blackauthorsrock and #readsoullit as hashtags when I am posting my current read on Instagram (if the book happens to be by a black author).   Am I sticking black authors in the “African American Authors” sections in the proverbial sense when I do that? 

I really wish I could sit down with other black authors and have this discussion.

So…this is where my head is today.

We All Need Grace

 

It’s been a month since my last post.  I have been busy writing short stories and submitting them to different journals and e-magazines.  I’ve been writing my novel, and I finished one writing class on plot and have begun another on creating characters.  And I’ve been reading. A LOT.  So, though my blog here has been dormant for a while, my writing has certainly been anything but.

My reading goal for this year is 70 books.  I’m definitely going to surpass that number within the next month.  Of the 60 books I’ve read this year, this is one of the best so far.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to post the review I wrote on Goodreads.  So, enjoy!

***

“So, I don’t know how many generations on American soil you got to live before you’re called “American,” or if English has to be your first language. No matter, negroes may always be foreigners.”

“The world is too big and too strange now, they believe, and without a conflict or war holding us up, leaders are uneasy. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders and they need straps. Without them, they feel something is wrong. They could be exposed as naked at any time. Vulnerable. They need to feel secure in something familiar and taut. The strain of one thing pulling against another. This is what the new America needs to feel normal, with the wrong question being asked over and over again, “How can we have peace without suspenders?” Not, “How can we have harmony and not need suspenders?” A silly question to too many, so we get more suspenders. And now, our men and their strain are inseparable.”

Yes, this is the beautiful language that flows like a river throughout Grace by Natashia Deon.

She beautifully reveals the breadth, depth, and width of the brutal terrors that slavery and the Civil War inhumanely doled out on anyone cursed with the GIFT of being Black in this country during that time period.

And yet.

Grace also shows the love, strength, and supernatural resiliency of a people who didn’t have the basic human right of belonging to themselves. And makes me proud to be a Black woman.

Naomi, Josey, Charles, Jackson, and Sissy were raw, real, flawed, and beautiful. They each found their own ways to adapt to unspeakable crimes committed against them. They showed in different ways how a people can remain human in a world that tries to beat the humanity out of them.

The author beautifully conveys the strength of a mother’s love and how it can defy any boundaries, including death. She also makes you see the worlds that the antagonists in this book come from. She shows you that they have backstory, too, and that though cruel, they too, are still human (and my reaction to that was so visceral).

Deon has masterfully woven a tale of complex characters that any person of any color can relate to. She also took the story one step further and gave each character, evil or beautiful, their own measure of grace.

This book belongs in your personal library.

Write On!

That scene is from my all-time favorite movie You’ve Got Mail.

And this is just what I feel like right now.

I’ve been writing a short story every week and sending it out to be considered for publication.  Between that, the creative writing class I’m taking, and the novel I am also working on, my brain just hit maximum stuck mode.

The words just. won’t. come.

I need a break but my Google calendar is the devil on my shoulder reminding me of the weekly goal I set for myself.

“It’s Friday,” she says in her obnoxiously female voice.

“I know that,” I say, “but I’ve been working so hard. Can’t I have an extension just this once?”

This is her reply:

And so I sit here with Nadia, Ella, and Sarek (my characters) staring at me like

waiting for me to write out what happens next in their lives.  But they’ll just have to stare. And I’m looking back at them like:

And I’ve decided I won’t be intimidated by my calendar or my characters who all seem to have bad attitudes today.  And I have no room for that kind of negativity in my life.

I’m going to go read.

Or maybe watch You’ve Got Mail for the millionth time.

So there.

Until I write again….

 

The Drunken Bull

You may remember me telling you that I am participating in a short story challenge at 12shortstories.com.  Well, here is the story I just submitted for August.  It may or may not have been an actual event in my life. 😉

***

I made it a point to have lunch at The Drunken Bull that day after two of my coworkers told me eating there was worthwhile entertainment. I needed something to take my mind off doing way too much work for way too little money. I didn’t really want this job but I took it for two reasons: my husband’s old college roommate said I would love working there and my current job was taking its toll on my health. I walked over to The Drunken Bull around noon. It was only a few blocks from the congressional buildings and the crisp fall air did me a world of good.

The rectangular red brick building looked unassuming from the outside, like it housed offices or apartments rather than a restaurant. The entrance had an inconspicuous blue awning that jutted out over it. The lack of any wording on itgave hints of the infidelity that went on inside. Inside was a stark contrast to the exterior facade. This was the watering hole for congressmen and senators who wanted more than just the draft beers and food listed on the menu, if you catch my drift.

My khaki pants and woman’s polo shirt with the computer installation company logo emblazoned on the shoulder announced to everyone that I was not of the same ilk. The men in their suits and ties looked like desperate johns, and the women in their painted-on suits looked like expensive call girls. I grabbed an empty seat at the bar and was greeted immediately by the bartender with a menu and a glass of water. The chatter was thick and loud. The words “Lewinsky” and “cigar” and “impeachment” were on tap in every conversation. Yes, I worked as a computer installer during that scandal.

I never saw so many people in one place so concerned with who knew whom. But I guess it was par for the course, politics were all about connecting with the right people. Who were the right people? That depended on what your agenda was. I’m not sure what that girl’s was, but I’m almost certain penetration by cigar in the oval office wasn’t what she had in mind. Or maybe it was.

The scandal in the news and the reporters that crawled all over Capitol Hill like an army of ants, hadn’t put a damper on things at The Drunken Bull. This was “the club,” where our nation’s lawmakers made shady deals with rich constituents over burgers and beer and used their political prowess to get laid by women who weren’t their wives.

A tape recorder and no conscience would have made me a rich woman. My ears zeroed in on the guy next to me who called his wife and gave her some bullshit story about congress being in a special session so he wouldn’t be able to make it home this weekend. “No, no, you just stay there and have fun with the kids,” he told her. I choked on my soda. He hung up his cell phone and shot a look at me, displeased I had been privy to his plans for debauchery. I scoffed at his attempt to intimidate me and ate my fries.

This place was filled with young women, none of them more than 23 or 24 years old, who got hit on by unattractive old men whose only lure was their political prowess. They had access to places and these women wanted in. The hypocrisy of it was amusing: these men committed the same sin they were trying to impeach the sitting president for. I kept my gaze on the shelves of liquor behind the bartender to disguise my eavesdropping efforts. I picked up on another conversation, to my right this time. A congressman who convinced his new and gullible-sounding staffer to let him show her around DC to “give her the lay of the land.” She had no idea his words were a double entendre.

I heard politicians were the slimy sort and not trustworthy, but I just sat among scalawags that justified the sentiment. I shoved the last bite of my sandwich in my mouth and raised my finger to the bartender. “Check, please.” I wanted to take my exit before the slime in that place found me and tried to ooze its way over my body like that pinkish-red ickyness in the movie ‘The Blob.’

Then I heard it: “Well, haven’t seen you in here before, pretty lady.”

Shit.

The Learning Never Ends

 

I have two undergraduate degrees in journalism.  I tell you that to say I never thought I would see myself enrolling in another writing class.  But last week I began a five-course creative writing series to learn the mechanics of writing stories and novels and hone my skills in those areas.

Coursera is a great place to go to take online courses in just about any topic you can imagine.  If you go to Coursera.org, you can search their website by keywords.  It’s pretty amazing.  I was especially happy to find an email stating that my request to have the course fee waived was approved.

The first week of class was about plot and ended with me having to write a 250-350 word scene about a character with one want and one weakness. Every other sentence had to be a rising action (an event) and there were 12 words that had to be used in the story.

Whoa.

I consider myself a pretty strong writer, but that was packing quite a punch into a small space. I’m now on week two, and my assignment is to write a 200-word short story about a trip to the doctor using an ABDCE structure (yes, the D comes before the C) from a book called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  I read it some years ago, I may have to dust it off.

These courses will definitely keep me busy from now through February of next year.  In the midst of all this, I am still writing one short story every week and submitting it to online literary journals and magazines that I have found, and I’m also still writing my novel.

Am I busy? Sure. Do I love what I’m doing? Without a doubt. When you finally step into your purpose, the hard work you are doing doesn’t feel like work at all.

Until I write again….

An Item On My Bucket List

One of my favorite authors is Nora Roberts.  She’s from Maryland .  Sixteen years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I wrote to her. A few weeks later I got a reply complete with a bookmark, a few other little keepsakes, and a short, hand-written note congratulating me on my pregnancy.  I never forgot that.

Well, Nora has a bookstore in Boonsboro, Maryland.  My parents, until recently, lived in North Carolina.  I would always pass the exit for Boonsboro as we would travel to their home.  For 13 years, every time I would travel past that exit I said, “I’m going to go see her bookstore one day.”

Here’s the plot twist. Three months ago, my parents moved to a little town in West Virginia.  As I was coming home from their house the other day, I decided to finally visit her store, since it’s only 25 minutes from my parents’ house.

When I got there I was just giddy. My daughter thought I was crazy because I just kept squealing but I didn’t care.  I was just steps away from a place I’ve always wanted to visit.

The bookstore is in this quaint little downtown section that just makes you want to walk arm-in-arm with a good friend while taking in the scenery.  Here it is. Turn The Page.

It sounds so geeky, but I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was so excited. Don’t judge. I’m an extreme booklover and a pre-published author, so this was two worlds colliding for me. Here I am in front of Turn The Page on a bench that invited me to sit there and read one of her books.

When you walk in, there’s the main section of the bookstore that has a wonderful selection of books to choose from. When I told the very friendly employee there that I was so excited to be in Nora’s store, she pointed me to the room that is just Nora’s books and merchandise.  I swooned.  Here are some shots.

I absolutely love this sign. I need it in my life. Now.

This is me with Cardboard Nora. I am hoping to replace this photo with one of me standing next to the real Nora. She has a few signings coming up, but I’m not sure if they will allow photos.  When I meet her, I think I might be able to keep myself from fainting, but I can’t promise that I won’t be having a huge inner fangirl moment.

Of course, a trip to her bookstore would not be complete without buying one of her books.  I ended up getting The Collector. 

So, that’s one item crossed off my bucket list.  She also owns the Inn BoonsBoro On the Square. All the rooms are named after couples from famous books. Hubby and I love The Princess Bride so it’s no question that we’d have to stay in the Westley and Buttercup room.

Well, that’s it for now.

Until I write again….