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Rated: 13+ · Book · Opinion · #1254599
Where I play with words. I can't promise it'll make sense.

I hope I stay within budget

My website: http://www.almarquardt.com
My publication journal: http://almarquardt.blog
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December 29, 2016 at 12:38pm
December 29, 2016 at 12:38pm
A lot of people know the "Serenity Prayer," but here it is anyway:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

According to Wikipedia, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the prayer to use in his sermons at the Heath Evangelical Union Church in Heath, Massachusetts as early as 1934 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer). It has since been adopted by Alcoholic Anonymous and other 12-step addiction programs.

With the 24/7 news media both on television and on the Internet, and a veritable ocean of articles and opinion pieces on all forms of social media, it's easy to feel like I'm drowning.

Too many of them show the world as nearing its end. Celebrity deaths, scary weather, rumors of war, wars unending, death of innocents, hatred and people unwilling to listen or help - if not outright attack and harm - others, for no other reason than political differences, I can't help but ask God, "Enough already. Isn't it about time you come down here and fix all this?" As much as I may pray for that, however, I'm glad he hasn't yet, and hope he doesn't any time soon. But that's another subject for another time.

An even worse reaction is an overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness. I want to be able to do something, but I have neither the power, nor the resources. I am left to continue to live my life in comfort, and watch the world seemingly fall apart around me.

In doing so, however, I miss the opportunities available to me, to see the power I have, sometimes literally at my fingertips.

I belong to a group called "Moms Meeting Moms." The leader of the group is probably the most giving, ambitious volunteer I have ever met. She has a God-given gift that I find both inspiring and envious. She actively seeks out people, groups and charities needing assistance even with the "smallest" of needs. A few weeks ago, she found a children's group home that needed help wrapping Christmas presents. It took four of us just over an hour to wrap about thirty presents. A small thing, but the home, and the children, I'm sure felt blessed and were grateful for such a small effort on our part.

When I'm feeling overwhelmed, I try to remind myself of, and concentrate on, the things I can do, not what I think I should do. Why allow arrogance to enter the equation; the belief that I can solve any one of the world's problems?

I can help a friend, or a stranger in need.

I can volunteer.

I can write to inspire.

I can give money or necessary items to a local charity.

And best of all, I can listen.

If this world needs anything, it's for more people to listen. We don't have enough of that.
November 25, 2016 at 3:42pm
November 25, 2016 at 3:42pm
I started watching a Netflix series called "Black Mirrors." It's a "sci-fi anthology series [that] explores a twisted high-tech near-future where humanity's greatest innovations and darkest instincts collide."

The first episode is about a young woman whose social media rating is at a 4.2, but before she can really get what she wants, she needs to raise it to a 4.5. I won't give much of the details, but let's just say it all backfires on her.

It serves, I think, as a warning to us all. How often to we post something and eagerly await every single like and comment. Even here, we are given ratings on our writing.

In and of itself, it isn't a bad thing, especially here. Ratings help us to improve our writing. The problem comes when we take those same ratings and apply it to how we perceive ourselves as individuals. How much do we determine our self-worth based on how high (or low) our ratings go?

During the last writers conference I attended, I sat in on an agent panel, and one agent said, "If I am to look at two writers, and one has thousands of followers on Facebook or Twitter versus another writer who has only a few hundred, I will most likely sign the first writer."

From the agent's perspective, it's not a horrible thing. As writers, our success or failures in readership will always boil down to the numbers. It may seem unfair, but that is the very definition of fair. Numbers don't discriminate. They are what they are; how we feel about them is never part of the equation.

That said, I don't want to succeed that way, at least considering the numbers first before anything else. I follow people on Twitter and Facebook because I care about what they have to say. I want people to follow me for the same reason. In fact, I have no idea how many friends I have on Facebook. I only know how many I have on Twitter, because it shows me every time I login. If it didn't show me, I wouldn't even care to look.

Some authors have followed me on Twitter. As soon as I decide to follow them, I get a standard private message stating, "Thanks for the follow. Please see my books and/or other products I have for sale." Out of fifteen or twenty of those, guess how many books I've purchased? One. And only because the way that author asked it was so funny and unique, I had to check it out (I'm glad I did. The novella he advertised for was actually quite good). I know then that they're not interested in my posts. They're out to get a sale, to uptick their own numbers. As a potential reader, I feel more than a little used.

Writing and gaining readership aren't solely about the numbers for me. They never were, and I hope they never will be. As other - especially Christian - authors have said and stressed, writing should be my ministry. For me, it shouldn't matter if my words influence and comfort a mere 100 people instead of 100,000. Nor should any number of ratings or likes on social media determine how I view myself, or even in how others may view me ("Psh, she only got seven likes for that post. Must be crap. I ain't reading that!")

Now this last part may sound like a sales pitch in disguise, but it isn't. I don't want you to follow me -- unless you really care about my words. Also know that if I follow you, it's not to try to sell you something, or increase my numbers and/or ratings. I do so because I want to know what you have to say. It's as simple as that.
November 15, 2016 at 10:56pm
November 15, 2016 at 10:56pm
Not surprising since my house is a mess. And I hate cleaning.

As hard as I've searched, tearing my house apart in the process, I still can't find it. The longer I go without it, the more sad and cranky I get. I'm nearing the unlivable stage - and I think my hubby senses it. He's been spending more time in the garage lately. Sure, he says he needs to finish butchering his deer and make sausage, but I know a poor excuse when I hear one.

I can't blame anyone but me for losing it. I've allowed distractions to so take up my thoughts that I'm not surprised it's gone. Nor can I buy a new one. It's impossible, because it's a one-of-a-kind. Priceless.

So what am I to do now? Continue to wallow in my grief over the loss? Keep looking? Or do I do what most other writers do, and write without that need, that drive and that motivation to write?

I fear it's the latter. No. That's not the right word. I hate that it's the latter, because, dang it, writing should come easy. All. The. Time. I've enjoyed that motivation for almost an entire year straight, so now that it's gone, it feels like I lost an important part of myself. Perhaps I have.

I keep reminding myself of what Jerry Jenkins (who wrote the Left Behind series) says (paraphrased): You need to treat writing as if it were a job. You can't say, "I don't feel like writing today," because no employer on earth will let you get away with saying, "I don't feel like working today, so I'm not going to show up." Not if you want to keep that job anyway.

Even now, after so many years, and with my desire to succeed, you'd think I'd take that advice. Nope.

Part of that procrastination comes from not having any financial need to get my stuff published. It's a dream. A hobby. Something to do when I'm bored. It's wrong-headed thinking, I know, but there it is. Sometimes the first step is acknowledging where the root of a problem lies so a solution is easier to find.

What motivated me a year ago to write and write a lot was kicking myself off Facebook. I did. For the most part. But then the protests started, and I found myself following the Facebook pages of our local news agencies. That in and of itself isn't the issue, because that takes all of maybe fifteen minutes to a half-an-hour a day (at most). My biggest mistake was reading the comments, which I can't tell you how enraging they are. So much mis-information, outright lies, and so few uninterested in the facts.

No wonder I have no desire to write. Following the protests has sucked the life out of me.

So therein lies the root of my problem. Unless the protesters interfere with me directly, I need to stop looking for things that I know will piss me off, especially when I can't do anything about what's happening anyway.

We'll see if I find my motivation then. I'll let you know.
November 8, 2016 at 10:56am
November 8, 2016 at 10:56am
I hate news media. I know I'm not supposed to hate anyone, but I truly despise news media today, especially national media. They don't care about anything unless it "proves" their preconceived notions about a certain issue or incident. If it doesn't, they will ignore any facts to the contrary, and use only the "facts" that do.

I've always known news media was biased, but until I started paying attention to the North Dakota Access Pipeline news, I didn't realize how bad it was. While our local news agencies did present most of the facts (some are better than others), but national news coverage ignored all points of view except the so-called "protesters." It's nothing less than journalistic malpractice as far as I'm concerned.

For example, although two court cases proved the protesters wrong in that the pipeline does not go through reservation land, and no burial grounds or other historically significant sites had been disturbed or destroyed, almost every national news article left those parts out. They also never considered Law Enforcement's point of view; only how the protesters are [allegedly] being mistreated and injured, and how Law Enforcement continues to violate the "protesters" civil rights. Not a word about the laws the "protesters" broke.

Yesterday I read the ACLU's letter to the Department of Justice, and their cited sources included articles by Salon, Democracy Now!, other magazines or newspapers from other states - even blogs. They included not one local news source.

You can read the letter here: https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-standing-rock-letter-justice-department

With today's election I have decided to engage in a complete news blackout, and that includes all social media. The news media has proven time and again who they want to win, so they will cite only certain counties and states that are all but guaranteed to go to Hillary. They will throw at us exit poll after exit poll that also "proves" their desired results in the hope they will discourage the other side from voting at all (in an attempt to repeat what happened in Florida in 2000).

Truth and facts not only don't matter to them, they are like garlic and sunlight to a vampire.

I will wait until tomorrow to find out who won and who lost, both nationally and locally. News media talking heads pretending to know everything - including the future - are nothing but sirens screeching in my ears, and I refuse to torture myself.

Maybe by then I will no longer give a rat's ass.
October 27, 2016 at 10:09pm
October 27, 2016 at 10:09pm
WARNING: This is a long rant, so you best make yourself comfortable.

I live in Morton County, North Dakota where all the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are taking place. Thankfully, so far, I've seen little of it out my front window.

We've all seen riots in other cities. Percentage-wise, few of us have seen a riot up close. It's easy to say from hundreds or even thousands of miles away how people should respond, but -- at least for me -- it's difficult to understand the fear, the hatred, the anger and uncertainty of everyone who experiences it first hand. Even for those who don't participate, and merely want to go about their day in peace, but can't.

The protests started because many of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe believed the pipeline was encroaching on sacred land, and thereby destroying many of their sites, including burial grounds. Time and again, and through multiple federal, state and local agencies, the claims have proven false. The pipeline in fact doesn't even enter reservation land, and is going in the same easement as another pipeline built in 1982.

After Standing Rock lost two court cases, they changed their tactics to claim it's about keeping the Missouri River free of oil contamination, and to protect our drinking water. Again, through multiple agencies, the pipeline design has shown to be well above current regulations with regard to safety (I have to add that all the water we drink is filtered, processed and cleaned of all forms of contaminates before it ever enters our pipes, so that argument is disingenuous at best).

Even that's no longer the issue.

All day today, I've had this hard, dark, and sick feeling in my stomach. A sense of dread that refused to go away.

It stemmed mostly because I knew the police would be removing the so-called protesters from private land. They spent almost an entire day yesterday and this morning asking them to disperse, and return to the camp set up on Corps of Engineers land -- which they have permission to occupy, and remove all the barriers they set up on state and county roads.

Many did leave, but enough remained that the police had to round them up. Sixteen were eventually arrested at that time, but not before they continued to block the roads and set fires to tires to create a black smoke which -- I believe -- they hoped would delay the police even further.

No one was harmed during the arrests (as of now 117 today, so we're well over 300 total arrests since August). The police have shown remarkable restraint and professionalism. No one has been seriously injured, police and protesters alike.

Aside: Several weeks ago when my husband, Dave and I went out to lunch, six officers from a neighboring county who're helping with the protests sat next to us. We chatted with them for a bit about some of their standard equipment including a tourniquet that's no bigger than a pocket knife.

Before we left my husband said, "Thank you for all you do. We really appreciate you."

The looks on their faces when they said, "Thank you," almost brought me to tears. It was obvious how much they appreciated being appreciated. Considering all the vitriol, hatred and outright threats they've received non-stop on social media alone (seriously, it'll make your blood simultaneously turn cold and boil -- if you don't mind the cliche), I'm certain they don't feel that appreciation enough.

Many of the Sioux Tribe aren't even involved in the protests, and want them to stop as much as the other locals. Especially the farmers and ranchers who only want to get their livestock and crops in and taken to market in a timely manner, and not have to fear protesters trespassing and molesting their property, including livestock.

I had hoped that after all the arrests, my sense of foreboding was nothing more than an over-reactive fear (that happens with writers sometimes. We can't help ourselves).

I was wrong. In the last few hours, a woman was arrested for shooting a firearm at the police line, a man was allegedly shot in the hand (don't know the details on that), and our news agencies released reports of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police.

Someone asked on Facebook when all this was going to stop.

I responded thusly: "It won't. Not even after someone dies, and I fear it will come to that. It's not about water or oil anymore. It's about hate and contempt, and feelings instead of the rule of law."

I can't help but wonder if these protests (read: riots) will soon spread to my town (because it's also the county seat), and I am seriously considering carrying a firearm with me (don't worry, it's legal for me to do so, as long as I don't carry concealed [I don't have a concealed carry license as yet; I'm thinking it's time I did]).

I hate that I'm thinking this way. I hate that it's even possible in a state with a population of 600,000, and a county with a population of less than 30,000. I hate that I want to glare at every single person driving an out-of-state vehicle (of all arrests so far, less than 15% are from North Dakota). I hate that when I see a Native American, I wonder if they're only here to protest (I still smile and say hello, though, because it's the right thing to do. I just hate my initial reaction and assumptions).

For example, a few days ago I had to run to the City building to pick up a plat. I walk because it's only four blocks away. At the same time, over 100 people were protesting for the release of a journalist (the judge eventually dropped the charges) at the County building which is right across the street from my destination.

When I stepped out of my office, I saw a Native American riding a bicycle.

My first thought? "Dude, you're going in the wrong direction. The protest is the other way."

As I approached, he stopped and asked where he could find social services. To quote, "I'm only here to look for work." He didn't even know people were protesting until he saw the police lights. Nor did he seem to care.

I asked him to follow me, and I'd show him where to go. He smiled a lot, thanked me more than once, and kept calling me "ma'am."

I couldn't help but wonder if anyone passing us would take a second glance: A white girl and a Native American walking side-by-side toward the protests. I'm sure they all thought we were going there to add our voices to the protesters'. We definitely made an odd couple that day.

Will tomorrow be any better? If these riots (and they are riots as legally defined. See below) follow the same pattern as others, I sincerely doubt it. I can only pray for the safety of everyone involved, and those figuratively and literally caught in the crossfire.

Legal definition of a riot: A disturbance of the peace by several persons, assembled and acting with a common intent in executing a lawful or unlawful enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner.
September 29, 2016 at 3:11pm
September 29, 2016 at 3:11pm
A fellow writer posted this on Twitter:

Just keep writing. Doubt wants you to stop. Don't do it. Punch it in the face with more words, and it will shut its bitchy mouth.

I wanted to post this on the newsfeed, but didn't want to chance incurring the wrath of the Powers That Be for writing "bitchy."

I'm going to print this out and hang it in front of my computer.
September 27, 2016 at 2:13pm
September 27, 2016 at 2:13pm
I received comments back from a fellow writer on one of my novels last night.

Truth was, the timing couldn't have been better. You'd think after giving it to her about a month ago -- not long at all -- I wouldn't feel a certain amount of despair.

But I did.

I started to think it was taking far too long, which meant she either couldn't finish it because it was so badly written, or she needed that time to bleed all over it, because it was so badly written. Yep, more of those teeth-grinding "what ifs", Nada .

Part of her email said this:

"I finished!! I made notes throughout and then a short summarizing comment of my thoughts on the entire thing."

When she said that, I realized I wanted the summary more than the line-edits. I've said before that bad writing can be fixed (it is a skill after all), a bad story can't.

She sent me her critiqued manuscript back to me yesterday afternoon, but my courage failed me to look at it until about an hour ago. I didn't look at the individual edits; instead I scrolled down to her summary.

Here's what she said (in part):

"Overall, I think your basic story is good—interesting, engrossing, maybe not quite as original as some would like but definitely enough here to work with. But your style needs work! Edit like crazy—watch for repeated words and phrases, places where you can use more vivid terms."

One word stood out to me. Can you spot it?

I'll give you a minute . . .


The death-knell to me -- and most other writers, I'll wager -- is when a reader says a story is boring, that he or she couldn't finish it for whatever reason.

That my manuscript engrossed her, that's all I need to know. The rest is detail.
September 19, 2016 at 9:22pm
September 19, 2016 at 9:22pm
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time.

Not necessarily to avoid a certain pain, or to prevent a terrible mistake, however. Those I don't want to go back for, because those pains and those mistakes molded me into the person I am today. And I like me.

I want to go back to the times when I wrote solely for myself. Then, the only person I risked disappointing was me. I didn't feel the need to censor myself, and I didn't have to worry about what others would think, or fear that they would hate me for being me.

Part of me hates the idea of publishing, because I feel I now have to write less for me, and more for others. And how am I supposed to know -- while I'm writing -- whether or not I meet their expectations? How will I know beforehand if those words I spilled out onto the page have angered, insulted or otherwise broke some rule of writing that will, in the end, push them away?

And yet, it was that "writing for me," that attracted readers in the first place. I've always written better when I write without fear of consequence, when I wrote naked (figuratively speaking).

As a reader, I prefer honesty above all else. Even if I may disagree with what a writer says, if what they say is written with honesty and passion, I'll never hate them for it. I may get angry, or frustrated, but that can also be a good thing. I like to be challenged, to see things from a different perspective.

I can't be alone in that.

I don't want to disregard my readers. Never that, but at the same time, I can't allow my fear of what readers will think simply because I'm being honest. If I do, all that's left is to lie.

I can't do that either.

I'm reading "Writing 21st Century Fiction," by Donald Maass, and the basic premise is for writers to quit holding back. What readers are looking for these days is no-holds-barred stories. Stories that make a person cringe, cry, infuriate, and want to sleep with the lights on, as well as laugh and go "Awwww."

Because I want to write for a particular market, I'm trying to write stories that will meet their expectations. But what if my biases -- and expectations -- of that market are wrong, and they want to see the kind of writing I'm longing to write, but afraid to?

I go back to Jesus and his stories. He told stories that convicted and angered as well as inspired and comforted. He didn't hold back, and if I am to live how he lived (which is what he asks of all of us), I can't afford to. Not if I want my stories to make a real difference.
September 13, 2016 at 7:09pm
September 13, 2016 at 7:09pm
Often when I experience a series of good things, I soon find myself standing in the equivalent of a dark valley. Or at least a shadowed one.

Since it happens so often, you'd think I'd expect it, or be used to it. Try neither, but I've at least convinced myself to endure it – hopefully with a smidgen of grace.

The highs came from placing 2nd in the Writer's Digest contest and the agent asking for the first three chapters of my novels during the conference.

The low I'm in now is partially due to coming down with a cold (yay), and giving one of my manuscripts to a fellow writer. She likes the story, and her edits so far are quite accurate and will only make me a better writer – which is why I asked for her critique in the first place. I'm far too close to my writing, it's sometimes near impossible to look at it objectively. That's why critiques are so important.

Those infuriating voices, however, those ones we're all familiar with that try to convince us how awful we are, and that we should give up writing. They won't leave me alone.

A few weeks ago someone asked how others fight off the uncertainties of being a writer. This is how I responded:

Realize those thoughts do not come from God. And since they don't come from God, who do they come from?

I have those thoughts myself, all the time, and it usually happens right before a breakthrough. Time to put on the armor of God, my friend, because only with Jesus can you fight the enemy. You're in my prayers.

I don't always take the above advice. Sometimes I prefer to wallow in self-pity.

Speaking of self-pity …

But first off, a warning and apology to my gentlemen readers: I will mention a certain female function you might want to skip over.

It seemed every time we went camping or on a long trip this year, it happened during that time. Attending the writer's conference was not an exception.

In fact, I was pissed at God that he would allow it. Why? Because it happened two weeks later than normal, to the point I wondered if I was either pregnant or officially entering menopause. Almost the entire four days, I came close to cursing God for cursing me. Especially during a time when I needed to focus on the conference. Instead, I worried about whether or not I would end up having to take an emergency bathroom break.

I mentioned the conference to fellow writers during a get-together we have once a month last weekend. We talked about how not knowing anyone else there, we end up standing on the fringes. One of the ladies in the group mentioned how since every writer likes to talk about themselves, it's important to ask other writers about who they are and what they write instead of talking about ourselves all the time.

I realized then how much my attitude affected the way I treated other writers. I stood on the fringes along with other writers who didn't know anyone. Since I felt gross, sad and frustrated, I didn't want to talk about myself or my writing. I instead approached others standing by themselves and asked them questions. Unless someone asked, I avoided talking about myself.

Turns out, I ended up talking to mostly first-time attendees who I'm sure felt out of sorts – much like I do every time I attend a conference, first time attendee or not.

If I didn't have my – issues – I kind of doubt I would have been as interested and accommodating as I was. Until I talked about it last weekend with the writers group, I didn't consider that perhaps God intended my attitude to be subdued to help other attendees – especially first-timers – and not necessarily myself. If that's the case, I kinda like how God chose me to do that. If nothing else, I'm not cursing him anymore, because something positive came from it.
August 29, 2016 at 9:19pm
August 29, 2016 at 9:19pm
What often drives me to write this blog is you. You make me laugh, you make me cry, and you make me think. Whenever I see a new comment, I can't help but smile in eager anticipation, but also a smidgen of trepidation.

It's one thing to spout my opinions all over this page. That's easy. The challenge comes is when you make me think - to see things from a different point of view.

Enter Nada who commented thusly on my last entry:

I suppose it all boils down to how much you want the dream. It seems to me you have a passion for writing, and only YOU can make this happen...if you really want it. That is the true question.

I read the comment before I left for home, and I considered the question during both plane rides. That's a lot of thinking time.

How much do I want to publish? I can easily say I want it more than anything, but am I being completely honest when I say it? Does every fiber of who I am want this?

Yes, I have a passion for writing, but is that passion enough? Sure if not for that passion, I wouldn't have the motivation to hone my craft, but have I worked hard enough? Do I still have a lot more to learn?

Aside: I will always have a lot more to learn. I will never be the best I can be, and that's a good thing. As with any art, there will always be room for improvement. The moment I think I've reached the top of that mountain, my writing journey has nowhere else to go but downward. That's no place for any writer to be, especially one who wants others to read what she writes, and for them to enjoy reading those words.

Have I not yet "paid all my dues" to get where I need to be?

As for the last question, I can't answer, because that's a matter of time. I can't know when I've paid my dues until after I've paid them.

The only way to answer the question about how badly I want to see my books published is by asking the opposite question. Can I give it up? And be happy about it?

Try holding your breath. No one can do it for long without the body soon screaming from the top of the head to the tips of the toes for that life-giving air. Soon, no matter how long you fight it, the body wins. It will get its air, even if you hold your breath long enough to pass out.

That's how much writing means to me. To not attempt to publish my words would be akin to holding my breath until I die. It's simply not possible.

As another aside, I sent off the first three chapters of my manuscripts off to the agent today. I admit to a short bout of nausea when I did. Now that I've taken this step, this dream is (for now) out of my hands, and in the hands of someone else. Scary, but I'm not holding my breath.

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