The Power of HappyDayMoments

My friend Jama posts a #HappyDayMoment every day to her Facebook page.  She’s done so for over 2300 days to date.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she’s one of the most positive, up-beat people I’ve ever had the privilege to know.  This year I knew I wanted to be more positive.  I wanted to find the silver lining more and complain less.  On January 1st, I started posting a HappyDayMoment each day to my Facebook.  Some days I struggled to find something to share that I felt good about.  Some days I forgot until after I was in bed and had to grab my phone to get one posted.  A few days I forgot until the next morning and wound up posting a belated one (I’ve remedied this by putting an alarm on my phone to remind me).  But I’ve kept going – I’m into the 150s now – and I feel like I’m starting to feel a change in myself.

Back on May 7th (only a month ago but it feels so much longer than that) I ran the Indy Mini.  I signed up because it was a bucket-list sort of race, the kind of experience that would be one-of-a-kind.  I was excited and, by the time the start actually came, more than a little nervous.  There were a lot of things that did not go well with the race – I got sick a few days before and didn’t sleep much the night before due to congestion, I got a little freaked out by the size of the crowd (I knew it was the world’s largest half-marathon but I wasn’t prepared for what it would feel like to be in that large of a field), I wasn’t as well trained as I wanted to be, and my time really sucked.  But, in spite of that, I came away feeling mostly good about the race.  I found myself all along the course noting things and thinking “I love that – I want to remember that!”  I was actively looking for the positives, determined not to forget them, and making the effort to not let the negative dominate my memories.  At the end of the day, I posted a list of the awesome, great, and not-so-awesome things from the race to my Facebook and I’m happy to say there were more in the first two categories than in the third.  The race itself may not have gone the way I wanted, but the overall experience was valuable not just for the things in my awesome list but for the way I was able to change my perspective and see more of the positives.

Me and Meb
One of the awesome: I got to meet Meb Keflezighi at the expo and get his autograph! He ran the race, starting last so he could run with everyone!

I am working hard now to use this skill again.  Over Memorial Day weekend my older dog, Maggie, started having trouble with her back legs.  Trips to an emergency vet clinic followed by a longer road-trip to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Purdue University ensued.  Maggie’s been diagnosed with IVDD.  There’s a swelling in one of the discs in her spine and it was delaying nerve signals reaching her back legs.  Her back feet will “knuckle” and sometimes one back leg will collapse.  She looks like she’s stumbling around drunk. If the swelling continues she could wind up with nerve damage and a ruptured disc, which would require surgery.  The treatment at this time is anti-inflammatory and pain meds for two weeks and strict crate rest for the next 6-8 weeks.  Strict rest means she is in the crate 24-7, except for when she’s being carried out to the yard to do her business (which is done while she’s on a 6 foot leash to keep her from walking too much or dashing after something).  Making matters more complicated is the fact that Maggie is high-strung and suffers from anxiety.  We are very concerned about how we can manage to keep her calm in the crate for that long.  Fortunately the neurologist at Purdue was able to consult with the behaviorist who’s seen Maggie before and together work on a medical plan to help us and so far she’s doing well with being confined.

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Maggie, giving me the look while I eat my dinner.

I’d originally scheduled to take the week of Memorial Day off work to do some yard work with my husband (we always take that week off and have what we call Mulchapalooza).  We cancelled our mulch order and, while hubs stayed home with Maggie, I went back to work.  I applied for Personal Leave and did triage on my job duties.  I did some crash training on those duties which would have to be handled while I was on leave, taking  care of Maggie.  Now I have seven weeks of being home with my dogs, trying to make sure Maggie stays calm and heals while trying not to stress out about having no income from my job while still having all of our bills to pay.

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My husband got a furniture mover so Maggie’s crate is on wheels, making it easier to move about the house.

 

I’m going back to what I did in the Mini and trying to see the positive in the next seven weeks.  I get to be a stay-at-home dog momma.  My introvert-half will be happy for the time alone.  If I can only convince myself to stop worrying about it, I don’t have the stress of my job hanging over me.  I should have time to do more writing, and to help more with Midwest Writers Workshop.  We won’t be eating out but I do enjoy cooking – it will be fun to try some new recipes.  I’ve always wanted to keep my house cleaner but never felt I had the time – now I will.  Having little financial wiggle room will force my husband and I to do a better job sticking to a budget.  It only takes 30 days to build a new habit, and we have the next 7 weeks to create some new ones which will serve us well even after I return to work.  Most important of all, I am doing what Maggie needs and if all goes well, she will make a complete recovery without requiring surgery.  These are the things I need to focus on over the next seven weeks.

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The princess, snoozing.  She’s worth every bit of stress and struggle we may have!
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Book Review: The Great Detective

The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes, by Zach Dundas
5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

“If you love Sherlock Holmes, the rabbit hole beckons, always.” – p238

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One of the two deerstalkers that my mother made for me, creating her own pattern.  I have been known to wear this.  In public.

This book is close to pulling me back into that rabbit hole. I was an avid Sherlockian when I entered college, thanks to a friend I made my senior year of high school. I loved to play “the Great Game” (Holmes and Watson were real, Conan Doyle was just a literary agent, and all these stories really happened). I’d hole up on the third floor of the University library with a copy of Baker Street Byways or The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and read them between classes.  I discovered I could get copies of articles from the Baker Street Journal via inter-library loan and amassed quite a collection of them (at one point they had to cut me off because if I’d received any more articles that calendar year, I’d be violating copyright law; we worked around this by requesting the entire bound journal so I could make my own copies). Reading this book brought all that fun back for me – pouring over footnotes in Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, driving off to Indianapolis and a Sherlock Holmes Symposium with that friend from high school, and making my own attempts at pastiche.

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We called this “the tome.”  One of my two copies (yes, I have two copies of the same book) is on display in my house.

The Great Game is only one part of the phenomenon that is Sherlock Holmes, and Dundas tries to explore them all. We begin with the beginning – Arthur Conan Doyle. Dundas traces his early life, at least so far as it might have influenced Holmes’s creation (this isn’t a biography of ACD). We get more details as they coincide with the publication of the various novels and stories in the Canon, and Dundas draws connections between real-world events surrounding Conan Doyle and the stories he wrote. When you play the game, you mostly ignore Conan Doyle. He’s just the literary agent, after all. But Dundas looks at Conan Doyle the story-teller, and he gave me a new appreciation for ACD. Conan Doyle was a master short-story writer. He had the formula down pat. And yet, his writings aren’t entirely formulaic. Holmes and Watson were useful characters who found themselves in a variety of stories. Action-adventure, spy thrillers, Gothic horror, and even something like a Western (as Dundas puts it, “the Sherlock Holmes Canon is a Whole Earth Catalog of storytelling strategies.”). Throughout it all, Conan Doyle creates a portrait of a lasting friendship. There cannot be a Holmes without Watson. Reading about Conan Doyle and the chronology of his writing of the Holmes stories made me realize I have never read them in publication order. My text has always been Baring-Gould’s text, which puts them in “chronological order,” or at least his version of it (if you put 5 Sherlockians together and asked them to put the stories in chronological order, you will get 5 different orders).

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I received a Persian slipper from my friend as a high school graduation present. Today it keeps company with a bust of Abraham Lincoln and an owl on my fireplace mantel.  To date it still does not hold any tobacco.

The book delves in to the various productions of Holmes, from the parodies published in newspapers contemporary with the stories coming out in The Strand to Gillette’s play and on-ward, lingering with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, skimming over Jeremy Brett (more really could be said about Brett’s performance and Granada’s production), and finally moving to Sherlock and Elementary. He takes a stab at discussing fanfiction (and treats it pretty fairly) and spends a satisfying amount of time giving the history of the Baker Street Irregulars and the writings about the writings.

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My Sherlockian bookcase, which includes different editions of the stories as well as some neo-Sherlock.  Sayers and Stout both played “the Great Game” so it’s fitting they are there.  Allingham sort of snuck in but I haven’t the heart to banish her.

Dundas’s stated purpose was to answer some questions about Sherlock Holmes and the way he has continued for 130 some years in various forms. I found myself nodding along to his conclusions. There is Holmes himself, this man we know so much and so little about. Devotees can tell you many characteristics of the Great Detective, and yet his past remains a mystery. Who was he before he took on those first investigations (“The Gloria Scott” and “The Musgrave Ritual”)? What was his family life like? Where did he grow up? Where did he go to University? In the stories we learn very little beyond the fact that he has an older, even smarter, brother (Mycroft). Then there is Watson, the heart and soul of the business. Holmes is the genius detective, intriguing to be sure, but it is Watson that the reader identifies with. He is necessary to make the whole thing work (and if you doubt that, just look at the two stories ACD did with Holmes as narrator, and how they don’t work). At times Holmes is a calculating machine, but Watson remains reliably human. The Canon is a lasting portrait of their friendship. And finally, there is the sense that when we read Conan Doyle’s stories, we are getting a glimpse of a fully fleshed out world. I’ve likened it to peeking through a keyhole. You know there’s more to the room, things out of your line of sight – you can’t see them but you know they’re there. This sense of these stories being part of a larger world is intriguing (and gives rise to the Great Game, to pastiche, and opens the door for a multitude of interpretations of the characters). As Dundas puts it, “Conan Doyle didn’t mean to, but he salted his Sherlockian work with storytelling prompts. Watson repeatedly whispers ‘Go’ into the imaginative reader’s ear. And so, from almost the very beginning, other people have felt compelled to make up their own Sherlock Holmes stories.” People have done that in many ways, from finding “problems” in the original stories to analyze to writing pastiche to creating fanfiction to writing plays, radio dramas, movies, and tv shows based on the characters. If you love these characters, you can’t resist. You slip into that rabbit hole and off you go. It’s great fun, even if it would drive Arthur Conan Doyle mad. That fun is beckoning to me once more, but before I go back to the game, I think I’ll read the stories over in publication order.

Book Review: Beware the Wild

5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads

This book pulled me and didn’t let me go, much like mud in the swamp at the heart of the story. Sterling Saucier (pronounced SO-shur) was a great character. I felt her worries, her sense of urgency, her confusion as she tried to hold on to the memory of her brother and deal with a whole new set of memories, of a sister, which shouldn’t have been in her mind. She struggles against feelings for this sister, all while knowing that she shouldn’t have these memories of her.

Sterling’s mission seems clear – get her brother back from the swamp, set things right again. Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. All magic comes with a price, and the magic of the Shine is no exception. Sterling has to find a way to get Phin back without losing herself, or anyone else, to the Shine. She has to deal with a town that denies the existence of the Shine, that fears the swamp and fences it away without ever daring to talk about or even think about why. There’s power in memory, power in fear, and power in where things (and people) are from. Sterling has to figure out how to work with all of that in her efforts to save her brother, and the one thing she can’t evade is the cost of the Shine.

Sterling has a cast of other great characters around her. There’s Candy, her best friend and the undeniable leader of the group; there’s Heath, who understands what she’s dealing with; and though he isn’t there, her memories of Phin make feel her attachment to him. Even Lenora May turns out to be more complicated than she seems at first. The only character who really falls flat is Abigail. We’re told she’s black and Lesbian, but we don’t get any real sense of her a person. It feels like she’s there to check some box and that’s it.

All in all this was a great read and I look forward to meeting the author at Midwest Writers Workshop later this year!

My Favorite Tale of Revenge

I have enjoyed various versions of The Count of Monte Cristo since I was in high school.  It began, not with Dumas’s novel, but with an old movie version starring Richard Chamberlain.  It was part of a double-feature one Friday night on TNT or TBS.  My parents remembered it and recorded it (along with another favorite, The Scarlet Pimpernel).  My father liked the sword-play and that is most of what I remember about Chamberlain’s version.

In college the University theater did a production of the story, adapted by one of the faculty.  The student performers were joined by one professional actor, brought in to play Edmond.  I went with a friend and we both fell for the actor at once.  Going back stage to meet him was a thrill.

I hadn’t thought of the story for some time, until I came across the 2002 movie version.  The cast list alone made me gape:  Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Luis Guzman, and Herny Cavill (with such a baby face you’ll hardly recognize him).  How was this not a run-away hit?  Somehow it wasn’t, but it is most definitely my favorite adaptation of the tale.

You probably know the story.  Edmond Dantes is betrayed by his best friend, Fernand Mondego.  He goes to prison for 13 years.  His fiancee is told that he’s dead.  His father hangs himself.  His boss winds up swindled out of his business.  Edmond, in the meantime, suffers beatings and near starvation.  He also meets a fellow prisoner who, as they attempt to tunnel to freedom, teaches him to read and write, mathematics, economics, philosophy, and fighting.  With his dying breath the man tells him where a treasure is.  He urges him to use it for good, but Edmond says no, he will use it for his revenge.

In Dumas’s novel, the revenge plot becomes convoluted.  Here it is simplified and straight forward.  It is my favorite part of the tale.  Edmond plays his enemies like violins, using their own greed and lust for power against them.  He sets the traps but they enter them willingly.  They bring about their own destruction.  There is justice in what befalls them.  Everything goes perfectly, save one thing.  Mercedes, the woman Edmond was to marry, is not so easy to deal with.  He wants to hate her.  She married his best friend, the chief architect of all his suffering, and yet he cannot.  His henchman urges him to take his treasure and Mercedes and to leave – to give up his revenge and go find happiness.  Edmond refuses, at least at first.  Here again we deviated from Dumas.  Mercedes doesn’t slink away to live in a convent.  She confronts Edmond, tells her side of the story, and he realizes that it will not enough to destroy the men who hurt him.  He wants the chance at happiness with her.

In Dumas’s tale Edmond has a single-minded quest for revenge.  In this film version, the story becomes about more than just pursuing revenge.  Edmond lost his way in the prison, but in the end he is able to find it again.  He started out on a quest for vengeance but in the end he finds a chance for redemption and he chooses that.  Of course, Fernand being the petty man that he is, he can’t let Edmond go and there must be a final confrontation (with swords, naturally, because Dumas did write the original tale).

It’s a fun tale, with great visual spectacle, an amazing cast, and a highly satisfying conclusion.  If you haven’t seen this version, I highly recommend it.  As I said, it is my favorite.  Besides, look at that cast!

Book Review: The Icarus Hunt

Five out of five stars on Goodreads

As I got closer and closer to the end of this book, I became more and more torn. I wanted to know what was going to happen next, but at the same time I didn’t want the book to end. I loved the world Zahn created, loved the characters of Jordan and Ixil (and Pix and Pax) and I didn’t want to leave them. I went to Zahn’s Goodreads page, hoping he had written more with these guys, but he hasn’t, so I knew when I reached the end, that would be it (except for re-reads).
Zahn plunks you down in a wholly-crafted world of space travel, bars on far-off planets with disreputable mixes of humans and aliens, space craft hauling cargo, and a mix of humans and aliens crewing them. It’s a familiar world – lots of sci-fi novels take place in similar ones – but it’s great atmosphere. We learn more about the politics of this world as the story goes on, just as we should (those play a key role in the action). We don’t get bogged down in the science part – Zahn doesn’t lose sight that this is fiction. This is a good old fashioned space opera and thus it is our characters who matter most. Zahn creates good ones, ones you like and enjoy rooting for (or against).
Jordan McKell might remind you a bit of Han Solo. He’s a spaceship pilot, former military now turned smuggler, but there’s more to him than that. Ixil is his partner, an Iguana-faced alien with two symbiotic critters, similar to ferrets, that perch on his shoulders when they aren’t being sent off to scout or stand guard (or when they haven’t spotted some good food nearby).
Ixil and Jordan have each others’ backs, and that is good because they’re part of a crew of strangers hauling, taking a bizarre spacecraft from a far-flung world to Earth. Their boss failed to show for lift-off, their cargo hold is sealed so they don’t know what they’re hauling, and at their first maintenance stop their mechanic is killed in what may or may not have been an accident. Add to the mix a criminal underworld boss, another mysterious man of power, and a race of aliens who control most shipping who are showing a great deal of interest in the ship, and it’s going to be all Jordan and Ixil can manage to fulfill their contract to deliver the Icarus to Earth while staying alive. It makes for a great page-turner and a fun read!

Book Review: The Coincidence of Coconut Cake

The faculty list for Midwest Writer’s Workshop came out a few weeks ago so I am trying to read something from each of the faculty (if I haven’t already).  First up, Amy Reichert’s The Coincidence of Coconut Cake.  I gave this one 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

First, let me warn you. Reading this book will make you hungry! Food is an extremely important part of the story, and both Lou and Al are foodies so there are descriptions galore of some amazing-sounding foods. Consider yourself warned.

This reads like a rom-com movie, which means there are more than a few cliches. However, that’s not meant as a criticism. There are certain cliches which are fairly inevitable for the rom-com genre and they are not only expected, but welcomed. We have the woman-pulled-off-balance-into-the-man moment, a dance in the rain, misunderstandings which threaten to ruin everything, and a wise older couple to help guide our love-lorn characters. These are all enjoyable moments (well, the misunderstandings are painful, but that’s because you can see how this is going to hurt the characters and you like them). I especially love the older couple. They are sweet without being cloying. Reichert’s voice was enjoyable, and I loved Lou, Al, Sue, Harley, and John.

If I have one criticism, it is of the way Lou’s ex is handled. When we first meet Devlin, I assume he is a well-meaning but clueless guy. The real issue between them seems to be that they want different things from their lives and aren’t communicating well. Devlin sees working in restaurants as a thankless, difficult job. His mother did it to support him and help him pursue his education. He doesn’t understand that for Lou is this a labor of love, not just a job. Lou doesn’t do much to dissuade him of that notion. That alone is reason enough for them to not get back together. There was no need for Devlin to be made into a full-on villain. Lou could have found her strength and confidence without that, and the rest of the story would have worked as well. That was one cliche too many for me.

All in all this was an enjoyable read and definitely left me hungry, for good food and for more from this author.

What Do You Want From Your Writing?

I was emailing back and forth with a friend earlier this month, and as frequently happens, our discussion turned to writing.  She teaches writing at a University and we both have aspirations to write mystery novels.  We’d talked about NaNoWriMo and she asked if she could see what I had for my project so far, so I sent off the first couple chapters.  She responded that my chapters seemed pretty polished, especially for a first draft, and wanted to know my secret.  Did I outline?  Had I planned out the story in great detail before I started writing?  I answered that no, there was not usually a great deal of advance planning for me.  I am a pantser.  I generally go in with an idea of who these people are, what the big problem is, and I have an idea (sometimes a fairly vague one) what the conclusion will be.  My secret, if I have one, is practice, and what I practiced on for several years was fanfiction.

Yes, I said fanfiction.  I spent several years writing fanfiction.  It was actually what got me back in to writing after several years hiatus.  I learned a lot doing it too.  Before I wrote fanfic, I didn’t know how to make chapters.  I just wrote one huge long narrative.  I learned how to put out a polished chapter in a short period of time (whether all those chapters always added up to a good story is another matter).  I got my first real feedback as a writer from my fanfic.  I made several online friends as well, and did my first NaNoWriMo with them.  Most of us are still in touch. Some of them are still writing fanfic.  One is a published author who continues to write fanfic on the side.  Another has pretty much stopped writing altogether.  A third blasted through NaNoWriMo this year, finishing an original fiction project in 20 days.

After I emailed my friend back, I started talking to my husband about my fanfic.  It’s still out there, and I still get reviews on it from time to time.  Reviews are generally something to enjoy, as most times readers who don’t care for the story just stop reading rather than commenting, but when I get these kinds words, I don’t feel happy.  I feel guilty.  My husband asked me why and the only answer I could come up with was that I felt that I should be focusing on my original fiction.  Fanfiction was fun, but it doesn’t help me pursue my ultimate goal of having an original novel published.  My husband, astute man that he is, asked me what I wanted to get out of my writing.  What am I trying to create when I write?  The answer, for me, is to write a story that will entertain a reader, something he or she can get lost in and enjoy.  Saying that out loud made me stop to think.  I did do that with my fanfiction.  I created a story which entertained, and people enjoyed reading it.  They enjoyed it enough to tell me so, which says something.  At least, I like to think it does.

The upshot of all this is that I think it’s time I stopped feeling guilty about having written fanfiction.  It was a wonderful learning experience.  I made new friends.  And I put out stories which entertained and gave enjoyment.  None of that is something to feel ashamed about.

Hello November!

I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I updated this blog.  Wow.  I did not intend for October to get away from me like that!

The Midwest Writer’s Workshop Manuscript Makeover session was wonderful!  Terry Faherty is an outstanding teacher.  He made many helpful suggestions for everyone in the session, and found a way to make us all feel encouraged about our writing.  It was a terrific session and we wound up going longer than scheduled because he was willing to keep going and none of us were eager to leave!  I came out of the session feeling good about the possibilities in my manuscript and ready to work on it.

My 5k was slow, but I had a lot of fun anyway.  I got to run with a co-worker, who was doing her first 5k.  We got lots of high-fives from Charlie Cardinal (races with mascots > races without mascots).  My co-worker’s daughter ran the 1 mile race with a friend and we had a lot of fun cheering them on to the finish line!  There we all are after our races, hanging out with Charlie.

Chase Charlie after race

The culminating event for October was attending the 21st Magna Cum Murder conference!  Magna is a mystery writers/readers/fans conference.  It’s organized by Kathryn Kennison, the director of the EB and Bertha C Ball Center at Ball State University.  The conference started out as a small event, meant to help connect the community to the university (Cum Murder is a play on Cum Laude).  The conference rapidly grew and these days we have guests from all across the country as well as internationally.  There are several people who have attended every single Magna, and it’s terrific to be part of something which inspires that sort of loyalty.  There are always new people each year as well, and it doesn’t take long for them to recognize how special this conference is.  No matter if we’re meeting for the first time or we’ve seen each other many years, it always feels like you’re getting to talk with old friends at Magna.  I had an amazing time at the conference but, as I’ve been asked to do the wrap-up write-up for the official newsletter, Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence (how we do love our plays on words), I’ll limit myself here for the moment.

Technically Saturday was the last day of October, but we had one more October-ish event which didn’t take place until today.  My husband and I went to the EB and Bertha C. Ball Center this morning to give a talk on Haunted East Central Indiana.  We shared stories we’ve collected over the years, as well as evidence we’ve caught on investigations, with an attentive audience of about fifty people!  We had a grand time sharing our stories and hearing a few from our audience as well.

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Now that the October fun is over, it’s time to buckle down for November!  I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (you can see my word count in the right hand column).  All the lingering October excitement has put me a bit behind, but I hope to catch up soon and be able to finish my 50k by November 30th!  I’ll also be taking my first knitting lesson tomorrow morning.  There’s another 5k coming up as well, plus Thanksgiving!  All in all, November is looking to be as busy as October!  I hope it will be just as much fun!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I love the month of October.  It means fall – changing leaves, bonfires, football games, Halloween, and Magna Cum Murder!  I am happy we’re here, though I am wondering where the heck the month of September went.

I had a lot of hats to wear in September.  There was the runner hat, as I prepared for and ran my first half-marathon.  There was my historian hat as I gave a talk on Muncie in the Civil War at a local senior center.  And there was my writer hat as I registered for the Midwest Writers Workshop manuscript makeover session on October 10th (and needed to decide on, or create, 10 pages of a manuscript for making over).  It was a busy month, but I’m happy to say I survived it all!  The half was quite the experience, especially since it rained for almost the entire time I was running.  The talk would have been more fun with a larger audience (note to people running/volunteering at senior centers – don’t schedule a talk at the same time as euchre club if you want anyone to attend it), but it was fun to go back through all the research I’d done in preparation.

The worst part of the month was agonizing over the manuscript makeover.  I had a great idea to work with when I registered for the session, but nothing on the page, and I didn’t like any of my other manuscripts.  After weeks of staring at a blank screen and going um as all the words disappeared from my brain I finally managed to get a good start to the manuscript and thus the 10 pages needed for the makeover.  Part of the torture was that I didn’t want to tell my husband anything about the story up front.  He has always been the person I spit-balled ideas with, who helped me to figure out what I was struggling with, but that means he always knows what I’m trying to say before he starts to read.  I wanted to know if I was setting a good hook with my start and if he already knew where the story was going, he couldn’t evaluate that.  I had to keep quiet and fight on my own when all I wanted to do was talk to someone about my idea!  But I persisted and, when he did read my pages, he reacted exactly the way I wanted!  Success!

My October will be busy too, but more fun!  In addition to attending the Manuscript Makeover session on October 10th, I plan on going to a couple Ball State home football games, I’ll be running a 5k, attending a Halloween party, and then – the best comes last – attending Magna Cum Murder October 30th-November 1st!  Somewhere in all of that I’ll keep working on the current manuscript, hopefully armed with some helpful advice from the makeover session.

Voices in My Head

I left Midwest Writers Workshop feeling, as always, eager and excited to write write write.  And then… I didn’t.  I got back to my running and biking (and even did some strength-training – owie).  But the writing thing didn’t happen for that whole week after.  In fact, it wasn’t until yesterday that I even opened my manuscript.  I wanted to write, but I cringed at the thought of opening the manuscript file.  There were so many things running through my head from MWW15 – changes to make, revision ideas, thoughts on theme and characters.  It was overwhelming.  Then I remembered one of the great panels from MWW15.  Julie Hyzy talked to us about the voices in our heads.

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As writers, part of our job is to listen to the voices.  However, that doesn’t mean we want to listen to every voice.  We don’t, for instance, need to listen to the nagging voice of the inner critic when we’re working on that first draft (and this goes double if, like mine, your inner critic sounds like your mother).  We don’t need to hear the voice of our critique partner, because as much as that person might intend to help, she doesn’t necessarily share the vision for your story that you have (Julie recommended not sharing your work with a CP until that first draft is finished).  We don’t need to listen to our inner procrastinator, nagging us to wash the dishes or mop the floors or do the laundry.

not listening

We do need to listen to our characters.  We’ve got to let them talk to us, tell us what it is that they want to do and, sometimes more importantly, what they won’t do.  We need to hear them and if we can’t, it could be a sign that we’re trying to force them into something that doesn’t fit them.

writers

The point here (yes, I do have one) is this.  I heard a lot of advice at MWW15.  It was great.  It gave me a lot to think about.  It also gave me a lot of voices in my head.  I mean, A LOT.  All those voices were drowning out my characters.  They were drowning out my voice.

don't panic

I heard a lot of tips and tricks at the conference.  Julie Hyzy talked about locking yourself away from everyone with a timer and giving yourself 30 minutes to just write.  Finding that 30 minutes wasn’t working for me this time.  What did work was letting those voices shout themselves out.  I didn’t fuss about not writing (much).  I went on my runs and my bike rides.  I started reading a new book.  I gave myself some space and finally I am back to a place where I can listen to my characters and move forward again.  And this is, I think, the ultimate lesson of Midwest Writers Workshop.  You can (and will) hear a lot of writing advice but in the end, you have to do what works for you.  If you don’t know where to start then yes, by all means, give someone else’s method a try and see if it works for you.  But don’t be surprised or upset if it doesn’t.  We’re all wired differently and there’s no one-size-fits-all writing process.