Wishing you a safe, happy, healthy, rejuvenating, and celebratory Independence Day.
Happy 4th of July!
Summertime is in full swing around here. Though the longest day of the year is behind us, it feels like the season is just hitting its stride. The kids have only been out of school for a couple of weeks, so we’re still settling into the new routine (or, should I say, “un-routine?”) of structureless mornings, spur-of-the-moment events and outings, and late nights. While our friends on the other side of the world are preparing for winter, here the beach is calling, making it harder and harder to consistently keep my butt in the chair.
It’s an annual challenge to reconcile my daughter’s sense of summer freedom with my reality of summertime work. These are the months when my ability to focus is repeatedly put to the test. I do my best to be responsible, but sometimes the right thing to do is to forget the focus and just get outside.
Take yesterday morning. Though I had a half a day’s worth of work to do (and would usually have tried to get it done earlier rather than later), I abandoned my desk and instead enjoyed a leisurely and mostly aimless morning with my daughter. We walked to the local coffee shop where we read and wrote while sipping our respective drinks – a cinnamon chai for me and a raspberry fizz soda for her. We watched from our window table as a mom in an oversize SUV mangled her parallel parking job, and then we cooed over the two small dogs the woman and her daughter left in the car – a Maltipoo and a small King Charles Spaniel. When mom and daughter passed by on their way out, we asked if we could meet their dogs and wound up having a lovely conversation and learning all about the personalities of the two pooches.
Leaving the coffee shop, we headed toward the local farmers’ market, but wound up spending nearly a half hour on the bridge that spans the river near an in-town dam. Initially, we paused to look for turtles sunning themselves on the rocks below; but our stay was prolonged when we ran into a couple we know and got to talking about her new job and what we were all doing for the fourth and so on. Together, the four of us scanned the shallows, pointing out painted turtles, snappers, and schools of tiny fish. After they left, we lingered, and struck up a conversation with a couple of guys who had spotted a massive snapping turtle on the other side of the bridge. We all watched, fascinated, as this prehistoric-looking beast chased a smaller one of its kind through a maze of algae-covered rocks in an amphibian version of a high-speed car chase.
At the farmers’ market, we ran into more people we knew and engaged in that most delightful of pastimes – friendly small talk. We patted dogs and returned kicked balls to small children. My daughter got a henna tattoo of a crow in a tree. I bought a couple butterfly-friendly plants for the yard. A friend promised to bring some cuttings from her garden. We listened to some local folk musicians and relaxed in the shade.
My point is this – even writers need a break, and the ironic thing is that often when you give yourself a break, you wind up getting inspired. This morning’s walk, for instance, wasn’t just a lovely outing and a chance to spend time with my daughter, it also provided me with a great topic for the column I have to write later this afternoon. Sometimes, there’s a lot to be said for getting away from your desk and out into the world. No artist creates in a vacuum. It’s vital to get out and experience things and talk to people – to be a participant as well as an observer.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there!
I’ve been so busy, I’ve had little time for pleasure reading. I manage to sneak a little in with bedtime stories and audio books; but it’s never enough. I’d dearly love to curl up for an entire afternoon of uninterrupted reading. Such afternoons seemed so easy to come by when I was a kid, but now they seem almost mythical – a figment of my overactive imagination. How is it that I now have so little time to spare?
Once again, short stories come to the rescue. Since it can be frustrating to have to consume the novels I’m reading in such tiny nibbles, I often mix it up with a short story to fill in the gaps and deliver a small sense of having finished something. This week, I read Monica Byrne’s story “Traumphysik” on Tor.com. I recently became one of Monica Byrne’s Patreon supporters (a story I’ll share in more detail on another day), and learned about this story in one of her supporter emails. Byrne’s challenging and fascinating novel, The Girl In The Road, intrigued me, as did her recent TED talk, which was more a performance than a presentation.
“Traumphysik” was, as are many short stories, a tale that left me with more questions than answers. I used to detest short stories for this reason, but the older I get, the easier it becomes to hold ambiguity without flinching. I love the way this story loosely weaves together the ideas of lucid dreaming, solitude, and alternate realities.
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PUBLISHING & MARKETING
THE WRITING LIFE
Earlier this year, Audible released an April Fool’s recording of professional narrators reading the encyclopedia. I’m not sure how I missed it until now, but I am glad that I found it and took the time to listen. As an avid fan of audio books, I have a great respect for the skills of these voice actors. This particular showcase of their talents was both funny and also a little awe-inspiring because of the way their individual styles put completely unique spins on simple encyclopedia entries. Hysterical. The piece also includes some behind-the-scenes Q&A that’s pretty interesting.
Here’s to getting out into the world to collect our stories.
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’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.
Today’s question is: Where do you come up with names for characters in your writing?
Wendy Thomas: I don’t write a lot of fiction but when I do I agonize over my characters’ names (much like I did when it came time to name each of my 6 kids.) I tend to like unusual and “old time” names and I’ve been known to pull out maps to peruse names of roads.
In one particular piece of fiction that I did write, I used the name – Dunloggin as the protagonist’s name (I had read that story to my kids and they still ask me about Dunloggin.) Another character in that story (it was fairy tale-ish) was Knotweed.
I have yet to use any of my friends or family member’s names in my writing (unless of course it is non-fiction memoir writing.) In that instance I think it would be too difficult to divorce the character from the actual person. – Although I do know of a writer who patterned a character in her book after someone who had bullied her son when he was young. The author ended up having a very satisfying demise for that particular character.
Deborah Lee Luskin: I read names wherever they appear – graduating seniors, phone books, gravestones – and keep lists, often mixing first and last names. Sometimes, I use historical names, like Ransom Blood, because you just can’t make up anything that good. Other times, I do seek revenge (as in the story Wendy tells above), but in a way that’s not obvious to anyone but me, like changing a Margaret to Maggie or a Smith to Smythe. But as is so often the case with fiction, the characters usually tell me their names, just as they tell me what they’re going to do.
Jamie Wallace: Names are one story element that seems to come to me out of the ether. Most of the character names I’ve come up with have simply “occurred” to me as though I knew them all along, but had forgotten them. I like to imagine that I actually did know them – that somewhere in a past life, different dimension, or alternate reality I actually knew these characters … that I’m not making them up as much as I am remembering them from another incarnation. How amazing would it be if storytellers were actually conduits between different times and realities – not fabricating, but channeling? Hmmm … perhaps there’s a story in that idea.😉
Lisa J. Jackson: Jamie and I are sharing a similar wavelength. Most times the character names ‘come to me’ when they need to. When I first started writing, I had neutral gender names for female leads – Sam for Samantha, Jo for Josephine, Max for Maxine. There have been times when I’ve written stories and something has felt – off – and after letting the stories sit, on occasion it’s been because of the character name. The right character name is so important in my stories.
Carina Press has made two big calls for submissions recently. Carina is the digital first imprint from Harlequin. They publish books in a wide variety of fiction genres including contemporary romance, steampunk, erotic romance, gay/lesbian fiction, mystery, science-fiction, and fantasy, among others.
In the past, Carina has required a completed manuscript and a detailed synopsis for submission. Recently, Carina announced their first-ever call for proposals. If your book meets a few important criteria, you could be in luck, but hurry! The deadline is July 13th and there are a few conditions:
That’s it, so what are you waiting for? Submit your proposal today!
Carina has also announced a call for submissions for 5 anthologies to be released in 2017 both as anthologies and as novellas. The requested word count is 25,000 to 40,000 and genres:
Submission dates vary by anthology but start August 1st with Too Taboo and end October 4th with the Capers and Heists anthology. Decisions are offered approximately 3 weeks after submission.
Good luck and make sure you let us know Carina accepts your work!
What are you working on this summer?
I recently read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and while it is a book intended for “creative souls.” It really hits home for writers. She talks about creativity and harnessing the spirit needed to bring forth a creation.
In her book, Elizabeth tells the story of having a great idea with a South American plot for a book. This was an idea that had never been covered before (involves people from Minn., murder, and developers) and she “just felt” it would make for a good book. Problem was she kept putting it aside, things interfered and the story never got told.
One day she meets Ann Patchett and they embrace – soul sisters in writing. A few months later, they have lunch and Ann tells Elizabeth she is working on a new book about South America.
“Well isn’t that funny,: said Elizabeth, “I was working on an idea like that, but then let it go.”
Ann asked Elizabeth to describe her plot line and it turned out to be the *exact* same plot line that Ann was working on.
Co-incidence? Trends? Timing? Who knows? But you have to admit, it is a little woo, woo hair raising.
Elizabeth uses this as an example of Big Magic (as in there is a creative force that surrounds us.) She puts forth the intriguing idea that creative ideas can “visit” us and then choose to leave if we don’t nurture them.
I’ve seen this in my own writing. I’ll have a great idea for a story, not be able to devote the time to give to its “birth” and then I’ll see that someone somewhere else picked up the ball and ran with it. In a way, this philosophy of “visiting ideas” makes it easier – it falls into the “if you love something let it go, if it was yours…” It’s a way to make lemonade out of lemons – guess that idea was never really mine to keep.
But it’s also a cautionary tale. Great ideas need to be nurtured and they need work, lots of work. If you have a fantastic idea then you absolutely need to set the time aside to work on it so that it can grow and mature.
Because if you don’t it’s very likely that someone else will.
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) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.
I once heard Malachy McCourt begin a commencement address memorable for its brazen wisdom. “If you’ve got one foot in the future and one foot in the past,” he said, “it means you’re pissing on the present.”
I was reminded of this vivid image as I was lamenting the tasks still on my To Do (set up an interview, draft an article) while anticipating a visit from my nieces and their kids. Lamenting the past or lamenting the future wasn’t going to help me get this post up. Writing requires being present in the here and now.
Over the years, I’ve developed three fail-safe strategies to bring my mind to bear on the work on my desk regardless of what’s going on at home.
2. The second method is to go for a walk. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that shakes loose my ideas and empties the noise in my head so I can hear the voice that will inform my prose. I’ve walked thousands of miles in pursuit of concentration. Walking has the added benefit of keeping me fit.
3. In the past year, I’ve been learning a third and highly effective method of calming myself into focus: meditation. I’d failed at meditation many times: I could barely sit still and I could never empty my mind. And then, in an outgrowth of my yoga practice, I’ve learned that I didn’t have to see a blank screen behind my eyelids; all I have to do is pay attention to my breath.
We breathe from the moment we’re born until the moment we die; it’s how we stay alive. Most of the time, we don’t pay any attention to our breath– until we notice we’re holding it, uncertain what to write next. That’s when we run low of oxygen, starving our brain and robbing our blood, paralyzing our lungs and forcing our pulse to gallop until we gasp.
But meditation – simply paying attention to inhaling, then exhaling – is naturally calming.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Meditative breathing brings me back to the present. In the absolute present, I don’t worry about what I’m going to make for dinner, even though there will be fifteen of us at the table tonight. Instead, I can think clearly and mindfully about the task at hand (crafting this post) and make the best use of the time I have at my desk.
Do you have a method for focusing your concentration?
If your muse is like mine, it enjoys exploring other creative outlets. There’s something about doing a different type of creative activity that can enhance creative energy. Being creative in more than one area of our lives can enable us to use creative energy throughout our day.
I feel that my writing improves when I do something that requires the right side of my brain. Some creative ventures lead to new story ideas, others help with a work in progress.
I find it’s all about being in the moment of creating something that enables the muse to jump up and down with excitement and churn the creative pot.
Here are some other-than-writing creative outlets I have tried:
What creative outlets do you enjoy to keep your creative energy moving and flowing?
Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.