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This is how the story ends.

“Queen,” the loyal subjects cried, “enough is enough.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the Queen feigned as she grabbed the book she was reading even tighter in her hands hoping they would see she was busy and therefore not to be disturbed.

“Queen,” said the eldest of the subjects, this time with greater emphasis so as to get her attention. “We know how you like to give human characteristics to non-human objects.”

“Anthropomorphism,” offered the Queen, always read to expand her subject’s vocabulary.

“Yes, anthropomorphism.” The subjects sighed, well aware of the Queen’s love of words. “We remember how you would take the rocks we, as children, would bring home in our pockets to the castle and toss them outside at the end of the day. You’d tell us that they wanted to live with all their brothers and sisters rocks in the yard who were desperately waiting for them to come home.”

Such silliness, they all agreed.

“Yes…” said the Queen, wondering and yet knowing in her heart where this was all leading.

“We have a right to use the bathroom without having to share it with another species.” The subjects resolutely looked at the Queen, the littlest folding her arms in an effort to punctuate the demand.

The Queen looked at her subjects, a frown creased her brow. But don’t the spiders, she thought as she bit her lower lip, have that very same right?

The Queen, however was a fair and just ruler of her charges and so she decided that perhaps, enough was just that – enough. She gathered cups and lids and set about capturing all of the spiders in the bathroom to set them free outdoors.

“Say hello,” she whispered to them as they scurried away, “to my little friends, the rocks in the yard.”

IMG_20140702_162820719_HDR

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

RocketI was in grade school during the late 60′s, and remember watching rocket launches on TV. The rocket would just sit there, and then fire would come out the bottom, and it would wobble and shake, and you weren’t sure it was really going to happen, and them BAM. The rocket was launched. Now, getting to the moon, orbiting, landing, taking off again, and getting back to earth, all part of the same journey.

But it started with liftoff.

Well, dear readers, I have an update on my manuscript.

We have liftoff. Or, in writers’ parlance, the first draft is done.

I had a June 30 goal, and met it. It is short, rough, and needs TLC before anyone else can read it. But going from plot outline to a draft is a big step.

I printed it out, singled spaced, so I can read it through in a couple of days. This isn’t an edit, per se. This will be a “how’s the story hold together?” read. Next steps include:

  • Does the timeline work? (Remember, I am writing a mystery.)
  • Are all of the suspects in enough scenes?
  • Are there enough red herrings?
  • Does my sleuth (Ruth) do enough investigating, or does the story just happen to her?
  • Do the scenes make sense where they are, or should I move them around to keep the pace up? (Thank you Scrivener!)
  • Does the dramatic structure work? (Pacing of the story, payoff at the end.)

Once I’ve made those big picture changes, I will go back in and layer. Details and descriptions. Making sure all five senses are engaged in each scene. Research. Filling out subplot. More research. Adding the story arc that will work through all three books.

Then an edit. Are there talking heads? How many adverbs am I using? What other writers’ tics do I have that need to be eliminated?

Then my first reader.

By September 15, I will land on the moon, and send in my manuscript. But for today, this week? I am celebrating liftoff.

*****************

J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes is writing the Clock Shop Mystery series. And Julie Hennrikus works in the theater.

EllenMSWhen I wrote about Finding Preliminary Readers back in September, I hadn’t yet asked anyone to read my current work in progress. But that changed in June, when I reached that place where I could no longer see the forest for the trees; I needed new eyes on the page, and I needed to know what works and what doesn’t. It was time for me to follow my two rules for asking for feedback.

  • Rule 1: Tell your readers exactly what kind of feedback you want.

I queried ten different people, hoping two or three would be up to the task. They all said yes. This group includes people from every decade between twenty and ninety; it includes men and women; and the group represents a variety of professions: two high school English teachers (one retired, one current), a professional book reviewer, a physician, a carpenter, a fiber artist, a poet, an antiques dealer, a Jane Austen fan, and my agent. These are the instructions I sent them:

Thank you for reading Ellen. In addition to bearing witness to the work I’ve done over the past three years, here are other, specific ways you can help me finish the book:

  • Praise: Tell me what you like about the book – what characters, scenes, circumstances – anything and everything that you liked, in detail.
  • Tell me if and where you lose the thread of the story or have a question that you need answered to maintain your willing suspension of disbelief. Please tell me what your question is and where it arose.
  • Tell me where you yawn and/or lose interest.
  • Please alert me to typos, grammar, spelling.
  • Also let me know about inconsistencies, anachronisms, repetitions, dead ends.
  • It would be incredibly helpful to me to have your written synopsis of the book. What do you think it’s about?

Two things that would not be helpful and that I ask you to refrain from:

  • Suggestions about how to fix problems
  • Allowing anyone else to read this draft. In fact, I would like the hard copies returned to me and the electronic ones deleted from your machines when you are done.
  • Rule Two: Listen to what your readers tell you without defending your work.

Two readers have already responded. They both had questions and comments. Hard as it was, I just listened. I didn’t try to answer their questions or explain what I was trying to do. And I didn’t blame them for not getting it; I accepted responsibility for not being clear. I noted where they lost the thread of the narrative or didn’t believe the course of the action or wanted less or asked for more. Lest you think I’m inhuman, it wasn’t always easy to refrain from defending my work as it stands. But what I’ve learned over the years is that the comments that rankle the most are invariably the most salient.

I’ve also learned to let my work ferment. While the book is out with my readers, I’m doing other things, some writing-related, like updating and filing my clips, and some not, like heading to Maine for a week’s vacation. All the while, I’m thinking about the book, but I’m not actually delving into the typescript. For the time being, I’m just letting it sit.

dll2013_124x186Deborah Lee Luskin is looking forward to reading the novels of Virginia Woolf while vacationing in Maine.

 

Tenacity is a great word to start off a new week. And this image is quite inspiring and worth sharing.

Tenacity

 

I hope you have a productive and successful week!

Getting Out of My Head

Meghan Sargent

My daughter, proudly atop Sargent Mountain in Acadia National Park

Last Saturday’s Weekend Edition was slightly abbreviated, but – as I said in my post – for all the right reasons.

The photo I shared was an  in-the-moment selfie of me and my daughter just before hopping in the car with my beau and heading five hours north for a few days of hiking in Acadia National Park, one of our favorite places to visit and the perfect place to celebrate the summer solstice. Though there was, as usual, a slew of hurdles to clear before we were actually on the road (including turning around twenty minutes out because I realized the spare key I’d meant to leave for the cat sitter was still in my purse), the effort and last minute scrambling was so worth it. We had a magical trip.

As writers, we live in our heads. We create whole worlds up there, including places, people, and the stories that they inhabit. We spend long hours behind the keyboard, usually in complete or semi isolation. Much of our day is spent in stillness – butt in chair, only our brains and fingers skittering across the otherwise tranquil surface of the moment. We have our routines and our talismans. We willingly embrace a creative grind that non-writers might consider a cruel and unusual punishment.

But sometimes, it’s good to get out. Out of your head. Out of your chair. Out of your routine.

acadia dogwood

Cornus canadensis (aka creeping dogwood or bunchberry), Acadia

And that’s just what we did. Acadia National Park is a stunning natural treasure. The mountains, though small, hold a wealth of trails that lead through astonishingly diverse landscapes to stunning views of Mount Desert Isle and the surrounding chain of smaller islands. Many of these trails include long stretches of granite stairs that were built into the sides of the mountains back in early twentieth century … without the benefit of modern tools and technology. Once the holiday haven of America’s elite – the Rockefellers, Fords, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Carnegies – the island now welcomes over two million visitors each year, many of them hikers.

We were among those two million, and we did our fair share of hiking – 10 to 12 miles each day, two peaks on the first (Dorr and Cadillac) and three on the second (Gilmore, Sargent, and Penobscot). It felt so good to get outside, to move, to venture into new territory. Best of all was being able to share the experience with people I love. I am so grateful that my ten year-old daughter has taken to hiking like she was born to it. She’s a trooper and a half, and – even better – she has the fever for it.

Stones from a Bar Harbor beach

Stones from a Bar Harbor beach

The interesting thing about stepping away from my keyboard is that while it does help me clear my mind, it also has a way of filling it back up to overflowing with new ideas, thoughts, and questions. Out there on the trail, without so much as a pen in my pocket, I felt like some long unused lines of communication had suddenly crackled back to life and were transmitting an endless stream of inspiration. The world around me seemed brighter and sharper, each plant and stone and mountain stream seemed to speak to me of their stories.

Though our writing comes from internal sources, it is influenced by everything around us. Our experiences – what we do, see, read, feel – are the raw ingredients for our stories. I imagine my experiences lining the honey-colored shelves of a kitchen witch’s pantry. Here in this sea-green bottle is a day in the mountains collecting photos of wildflowers. See how the light sparkles inside with all the colors of their petals? There, in a small paper box tinged with the bright colors of autumn, is the afternoon spent building a girl-sized birds’ nest with my sister. And inside this seashell is the memory of warm sunshine in November and pink skies rumbling across the soft sea.

Love your words. Cherish your stories. But don’t forget to get out into the world. It’s full of just what you need replenish your stores of creative magic.

 

What I’m Writing:

flash fiction challengeI didn’t do any writing while away, and this week has been mostly playing catch up and adjusting to my daughter being out of school for the summer. I did, however, come across an upcoming writing event that might be just the thing to kick my inner fiction writer in the butt. The Flash Fiction Challenge is an annual event. Here’s how the event is described on its website about page:

The Flash Fiction Challenge is an international creative writing competition, now in it’s 6th year, that challenges participants to create original short stories (1,000 words max.) based on genre, location, and object assignments.  The event is organized by NYC Midnight Movie Making Madness, an organization that has been holding exciting creative competitions since 2002 and is dedicated to discovering and promoting a new wave of talented storytellers.  NYC Midnight aims to provide the prizes and exposure necessary for writers to take their next big step towards writing professionally.

There is an entry fee ($39), but I’m feeling like that’s a completely reasonable cost if registering for the event will get me to push my fiction practice to the top of my To Do list for a few days, instead of letting it languish at the bottom of the pile beneath my marcom projects.

The event includes four writing challenges that take place in three-day sprints in August, October, November, and December. Writers accrue points based on placement in each of the challenges as judged by a panel of writers and publishers.

I might be crazy, but this sounds kind of fun.

What I’m Reading:

book moon sistersWhen I was a kid, my family watched The Wonderful World of Disney each Sunday night. Our only television was in my parents’ bedroom, so me, my parents, and my younger sister would all pile on the bed together, often with dinner. (If we were really lucky, dinner would be my mom’s homemade pizza.) I don’t remember all of the stories we watched, but I do remember clearly that any sign of an emotional bit always sent me sliding off the bed to sit with my back against the footboard where no one could see me bite my lip to hold back the tears. I never wanted to cry in front of anyone.

As I get older, I’m losing my inhibitions about showing tears. I cry openly at movies, in my own living room and even in public theaters. I also cry at books.

Just this morning I finished The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh, an author who also happens to be the cofounder of one of my favorite writing blogs, Writer Unboxed. The Moon Sisters is a beautifully told and captivating story of grief, redemption, release, and acceptance. The last few pages brought me to tears. I don’t want to give away too much of the story (there is a surprising twist at the end), but here’s the cover blurb:

After their mother’s probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz are figuring out how to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia, who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights, is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to say her final goodbyes and lay their mother’s spirit to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches on to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As Jazz and Olivia make their way toward their destination, each hiding something from the other, their journey toward acceptance of their mother’s death becomes as important as their journey to understand each other and themselves.

Like all my favorite books, this one had a touch of magic, but it was the kind of magic that is firmly based in real life. That is, perhaps, the best kind. I enjoyed the story and the characters. The language is, as many reviewers have said, “lush” and has a lyrical quality that is heightened by the poetic perceptions of Olivia who has a condition called synethesia. Another very enjoyable read and one I recommend enthusiastically.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin magic in writing

I hope each of you found a little magic in this past week, and I hope each of you gets to have a little adventure in the one coming up. Keep those creative larders well stocked! 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Ahhh, summer. We’ve discussed what the summer season means to us, but what does it mean to our writing practice and our reading habits? For some, summer brings more leisure time. For others, the pace picks up with kids out of school and vacations to work around. What does your summer look like in terms of time to write and read?

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I recall the summers of my childhood with great fondness. They seemed an endless stretch of days in which to read and sketch, write and wander, daydream and create. As an adult and a mother, my summers are somewhat less idyllic. More than at any other time of the year (except, perhaps, the holidays), the approach of summer fills me with both happy anticipation and anxious dread. On the one hand, I love the idea of spending some quality time enjoying less structured days with my daughter. On the other hand, I know from experience that having her out of school will amp up the challenge of balancing my freelance work, motherhood, and my own writing projects.

If I’m going to be honest, I sort of give up during the summer. It isn’t that I’ll walk away from my writing practice or my ever-growing stack of to-be-read books, but I definitely lower my expectations. There are only so  many hours in a day, and – more importantly – only so many summers to be spent with a daughter who still enjoys my company (most of the time). So, I’ll allow myself to be a slacker. I’ll sacrifice some productive time in favor of more personal time.

I don’t think I’ll regret it.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: Summer doesn’t seem any different to me than other months. Work keeps me busy during the week and I may get out more on the weekends in the summer, but I can’t really say that my reading or writing habits change. With no kids or partner to work around, every day is always what I want it to be – the balancing act doesn’t change unless I want it to. Having said that, I just realized that in July I have a few trips that will take me away from technology for 2 or more days at a time — so that will mean reorganizing a few week days to balance the work so I won’t stress about it while I’m playing! (but the same is going to be true for Aug, Sep, and Nov right now, too!)

 

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Summer does change things for me, but I think it balances out because when my husband is on vacation with me, as we are this week, I can get some writing time during the day if he is occupied with our son, but there’s sometimes less time because this particular week my husband is also caring for his mother so I’m in charge of outings with Joey while he’s busy with his mom.

My son still goes to preschool (only they call it summer camp and they go swimming every day) twice a week, so on weeks we are home I still have my regular schedule.

I’ll be driving with my son to PEI, Canada, to visit family later in the summer and I don’t expect to get any writing done that week except a little journal writing at the end of the day. Summer is so short and beach days or park days are so precious, I usually opt to give up writing time to spend more time with my son (and the rest of my family.) Right now my son is napping so we can go see fireworks this evening so I used the time to finish my blog post for tomorrow.

I have to say I used to love sitting on the beach and reading or writing in my journal. But now, I’m happy just to be on the beach, although I always bring my journal and I usually get to write at least a little bit. Reading and the beach will be back when my son is older and interested in other things besides building construction sites and castles in the sand with me and his dad. You know what they say, the days are long but the years are short. Everything changes so I don’t begrudge the time I don’t spend writing right now. The days are coming when I’ll have plenty of time to write.

dll2013_124x186Deborah Lee Luskin: Last week, I sent copies of Ellen to ten readers, so I’m momentarily untethered from a project that has anchored me to my desk for the past three years. I feel light and giddy and a bit unfocused, which I’m enjoying! I’m also tackling some long-deferred projects, like updating my clips and cleaning my house. Then, I’m heading out for a week in Maine, and taking the novels of Virginia Woolf on my Kindle, already starting to think about my next novel . . . Other projects include updating my website and preparing to start my own blog. But these will all take back seat once I hear from my readers. I expect to dive back in to a final draft by mid-July and to keep my nose to the grindstone, so I can turn in a book to my agent in September. These are subjects I’ll be covering in upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

Susan Nye: After seven years working as a chef at a private club in July and August, I now have my summer back. Or at least I’ll have a little more free time. When it comes to schedule, my summer now looks a lot like the rest of the year. I have weekly, monthly and quarterly deadlines along with a new, part-time job. Plus more members of my family are around so there is often something fun going on. So there will be crazy, busy days and weeks as well as a few relaxing afternoons to read in the shade or kayak on the lake.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Summer, ah the double-edged sword of summer – so much to do, so little time. I have to consciously work on carving out a schedule between the kids’ activities. They are older but they still require guidance and rides to and from work and friend’s houses. In the summer, I tend to religiously rely on my to-do lists in order to get done all that needs to get accomplished (*highlighted* on today’s list is an article that is due by 5 p.m.) My reading changes in the summer, much as I eat lighter food, I tend to read “lighter” books. More stories and more inspirational materials are on the menu – books that can be picked up and put down at a moment’s notice.

I recently bought a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein, for my son. He’s 4 and he loves to rhyme so when I saw the book I thought he’d love it.

He does.

You know what? I love it even more.

I remember seeing the book around but it didn’t come out until I was finishing high school, so I never read it.

Reading it out loud to my son makes me remember reading other poems as a child and the joy of words spoken aloud just to hear how they sound.

When I opened the book to read to my son, I came to a poem called “Joey.” Read these lines aloud (about how Joey knocked down the sun) and see what you think:

And whoosh! it swizzled

Down so hard.

And bloomp! it bounced

In his backyard.

And glunk! it landed
On his toe!”

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I love the silliness of the poems but I don’t think, as a child, I would have appreciated that silliness, as I was a more serious child. But now I love the silliness and the alliteration and the onomatopoeia.

I have tried to write poetry many times over the years, and enjoyed the attempt, but never wrote anything I thought was worth much. But reading from Where the Sidewalk Ends reminds of the epic poem my brother and I wrote about a school cafeteria food fight, and the spoof I wrote, in verse, of the place I waited tables while I was in college. The restaurant (lounge and bar) was called Pete’s Dream and, of course, my spoof was Pete’s Nightmare.

I think I might start writing poetry again, if only as a creative exercise. And allow it to be silly, as silly as I can make it. That sounds like fun to me. Unlike a poem I wrote many years ago that was cathartic, but not really any fun. You can read it here on my website if you’d like.

I’m also wondering what other children’s poems I might like. I’ll have to go on a hunt, especially as my son asks me to read from Where the Sidewalk Ends all the time. I bet he’d like some other children’s poetry.

Do you read poetry? Who are your favorite poets, especially children’s poets? Please share in the comments.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother, and stepmother. I’m excited to tell you that I’ll be hosting a one-day writing retreat in September for 12 fellow writers who’d like to spend a day writing together in a comfortable setting. It’ll be structure writing time, a little time to discuss craft, and a whole lot of coffee! Click here to find out more information.

 

 

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