Where I play with words. I can't promise it'll make sense.
|During the awards gala last night, a certain realization hit me.
What if . . .
The agent I pitched to not only wants to see my first three chapters, but asks for the full manuscript, and terror of all terrors, agrees to represent me.
You'd think I'd be excited. After all, isn't this one step closer to what I've been pursuing since I wrote my first novel back in 2001?
The problem with dreaming is it never take into consideration the work involved to not only make the dream come true, but what happens after.
In this case, while I wrote (and wrote. And wrote) the only expectations I had to meet were my own. Once an agent decides to represent me, I not only have to meet her expectations, but the expectations of whichever publisher decides to buy my manuscript, and my readers.
What if . . .
I fail to meet those expectations? And it's not only the quality of the story, but the quality of the writing, and everything I can (and need) to do to promote my book.
What if . . .
I have no more books in me left to write, or I can't write them in a timely manner?
And those are the big what ifs. There are many minor ones too, such as what if I don't get along with my editors, and/or my agent and I have irreconcilable differences.
Do I really want to take those chances? Am I unwilling to take the chance that any or all of those things happen?
How important is fulfilling my dream?
Is it even about me?
Or is it about my stories, and not me at all?
Truth is, I don't have a choice. When I set my "fleece before the Lord" about pursuing publication in 2010, he told me under no uncertain terms that I should. This is what he wants from me (and for me). To fear moving forward means I don't trust him enough to know that he's got this. I'm not saying that all of the above won't happen. It all still could. All that means is I would have to work harder, trust more, and at worst, start over. That's not going to kill me, and it won't kill my dream -- at least not if I don't let it.
|I am currently in Nashville, TN attending the ACFW Writers Conference. It is over half over, but my brain has tried to absorb so much information, it feels like tapioca pudding. That's a good thing, because I'm learning a lot. I've discovered I don't suck as a writer - at least not completely. In the two classes I took so far, I do more things right than I do wrong.
I still have to go through at least one manuscript (the first few chapters anyway, but more on that later) to make several modifications, but luckily not too many. I could have those done tonight - if I'm motivated enough, that is. It's a bit iffy considering my tapioca brain.
Because I didn't want to chance missing an entire day of the conference due to delayed or cancelled fights, I decided to arrive a day earlier than most. Just in case everything went well, I signed up for an early bird session with Donald Maass, the literary agent and author of "Writing the Breakout Novel."
This seminar was titled "Writing in the 21st Century", which is also based on his newest book of the same title.
Did you know (LK Hunsaker , you'll be pleased to hear this), that literary fiction paperback novels remain on best seller lists for nearly ten times or more longer than any other genres, including hard cover and non-fiction? Donald was a bit surprised by that, and read the top books to look for what those books had that others didn't.
Literary fiction does have a bit of a misconception surrounding it, namely that they're slow and detail versus plot oriented, when in truth, that's not always the case. What literary fiction strives for is to make every paragraph, every page make an emotional connection to the reader. It's intent is to draw the reader in, to immerse him or her into the author's world.
Me writing science fiction and fantasy, that's also what I long to achieve. As I've said before, I'm not detail/description oriented. I prefer action, and my greatest strength is dialog. When it comes to detail, I groan and moan, and have to almost tie myself to the computer to force me to put it in.
What Donald revealed, however, is it's not the detail and description that's important. Description is by definition objective, and even cold. It is another form of telling. The trick is turning that detail and description into an experience. We don't just see the sunset. There's an emotional reaction to that sunset, that mountain scape where three people died in an avalanche, and that dark room that your parents always told you to stay out of.
Donald may have converted me into writing more literary fiction. Is there such a thing as literary science fiction and literary fantasy? At the very least, because of everything Donald shared (and I shared with you not even a half a page of the eight pages of notes I took), my readers will have a better, more fulfilling experience.
Today I attended a workshop called "How To Think Like Your Editor."
During the first part, the presenter, Erin Healy, told us to read our first chapter, not as an editor, but as a reader. She told us to write down our emotional reactions as we read. I was intrigued by the prologue, but when I started on the first chapter, I felt a bit of boredom and frustration. I knew instantly why. I had added a few chunks of description for the sake of description. It was like reading a school book on architecture. While some of the description is necessary, I have to write in such a way to make it an experience.
When we enter a building we've never been in before, sure we notice the sights, but what else do we notice? We take in the smells, the feel of the air, and even its mood - often created by our own expectations of what that room should feel like. Sometimes the room meets our expectations, sometimes it doesn't. The writer's job is to show that experience.
Here's the rub.
I met with a literary agent, and I showed her my one-sheets. She asked for my pitch and I said, "I too easily get tongue-tied, so can I read it to you instead?"
She told me to go ahead. She liked it, and when I mentioned the other two I brought with me, she was open to hearing my other two. She seemed impressed at my "world building," and the fact I had three complete manuscripts. She asked me to send the first three chapters of all three.
Two are ready. The third (the one with the icky, boring detail), needs a bit of tweaking. Thankfully not a lot, so I bet I could tackle it tonight, let it sit until I get home, go through the first three chapters again, and send them off. While she's perusing them, I'll go through the rest and hopefully elevate my writing, and make it more literary.
I'm sure you're dying to know why I chose "Sharpen Your Trigger," as my title. It doesn't make sense, since it's an obvious mix of metaphors. It's one Donald Maass used during his talk (which he noticed right away), and I liked it so much, I had to use it.
|A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting with fellow writers. We discussed a lot, but one thought we had is how writers need to constantly and consistently look at all sides of an issue or argument.
We must see from the perspective of our antagonist as much as our protagonist, otherwise our characters appear flat instead of three-dimensional. No one likes paper-cut characters. It's nothing new, either. Even in the classic novels written hundreds of years ago, the antagonists were just as human and sympathetic as the heroes.
In a sense, we are our characters' advocate. They can't speak without us.
While I wrote my fantasy, I tried to be the advocate for all my characters -- to take even the side of the antagonists at times, because no person (or at least an extreme few), have the motivation to do evil for the sake of evil. They often act with the belief they are righteous, and that the end justifies the means.
For instance, one of my antagonists feels the need for revenge after he saw all of his family massacred. For years his hatred festered. It so blinded him that he wanted and needed to avenge that long-ago evil on the people who merely represented those that murdered his family.
His actions are wrong, but completely understandable.
There was one point when two of my characters exchanged a heated argument. I had to argue both sides equally, even though I knew who I wanted to "win." A few times the antagonists almost won the argument, and it took a long time before my protagonist found a way to win the argument. That ended up one of my favorite scenes in the book, because it was so darned challenging to write.
What I hope is that the reader will also wonder who will win the argument, because I myself wasn't sure while I wrote it.
Advocating for my characters is the main reason I write. For much of my childhood, I had difficulty expressing myself. I always say that God didn't connect my brain to my mouth very well. Writing, however, gave me the voice on paper that I lacked with speaking. Writing, in a sense, became my advocate. How can I not want to advocate for all the voices in my head that want and need to be heard?
|Back in May, I decided to submit a short story to the 85th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Even with the $25 entry fee, it’s not much to lose if I don’t win. I didn’t think my chances were good, because every year they receive well over ten thousand entries. Even taking the different categories into consideration, I would still be competing with thousands of entries. I wasn’t even interested in the prize money; I was looking for bragging rights.
I submitted my story a day before the deadline, and of course, I took one more look at the story after I submitted it and found one spelling error. I knew that one typo would toss me out of the running, because considering the number of competitors, the judges would look for even the tiniest reason to toss the entry aside.
A few weeks after I entered the contest, I signed up for the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) annual conference. Part of what gains a prospective agent and/or publisher is writing credits which include any writing contests. Unfortunately, win or lose, I wouldn’t find out how I fared in the contest until long after the conference.
Imagine my total surprise when I received the following email this afternoon:
Congratulations! Your story, “Ashella’s Heart,” was awarded Second Place in the Genre category for the 85th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. You’ve won $500 and $100 off a purchase from the Writer’s Digest Shop; more information regarding this will be sent from the competitions department in the next few weeks.
I’ve attached a few forms that will need to be completed and returned so we can get you your prize!
Now you know the meaning of my title. My mouth fell open when I read the email, and I don’t think I closed it until after I read it three times.
The best part, again isn’t the money — although I’m certainly not going to turn it down — is I now have bragging rights, and a mere one week before I leave for the conference.
|Dang. I haven't written an entry in over a month? Where did the time go?
I'd like to say I've been busy. I suppose in many ways I have, but I've also wasted a lot of time, too.
Mostly I haven't written an entry, because my mind has been focused on polishing three manuscripts, and preparing "one-sheets" (basically a back-cover blurb of a manuscript with an author's bio and other information). To my surprise, I'm done with them all. Not that I expected not to finish, but that I would finish with more than a week to spare before I head to the ACFW conference in Nashville. As good as I am at procrastinating, I shouldn't be done this early. Now I don't know what to do with myself.
I know what I should do: Write a few short stories and see if there are magazines that will take them. That'll take research, and a lot of reading. Not a bad way to spend my time versus getting all anxious for the conference.
I have an appointment with a publisher and a literary agent to pitch my novels to. On the one hand, I'm hopeful, but on the other, I'm not. I've pitched before with no results, so if history is my guide, my chances of making a positive impression are low. I'm trying to convince myself that I'm going for the comradery of other writers -- struggling in many of the same ways I am -- and to attend classes to learn more about writing, marketing, etc. Plus I get to spend five days in an upscale hotel built next to the Country Music Hall of Fame (not a huge fan of country music, but I'll still find it interesting if I have the time to see it). If I gain interest in my novels, all the better. I've gone to other conferences with the hope of a sale as my main reason of going, and ended up a few tears short of devastation. I'm not going to do that to myself again.
The last time I went to a conference (back in 2010), I wrote an entry at the end of every day to keep everyone updated, and so I won't forget. I am, after all, getting a bit up there in age. I don't remember things as well as I used to. I may do the same again.
My biggest worry is taking the plane. It's not that I fear flying. I actually enjoy it (although I hate going through security), but my biggest pet-peeve is being late. For anything. Few things get me angry, but being late is near the top of the list. I am placing my trust in an airline and two planes to get me to the conference on time (I am going a day early, just in case, but one still never knows). I don't like having to relinquish control like that. But I either fly, or drive cross-country for two days one way by myself. My flight is also with Delta, and in case you don't know, they had severe flight issues last week that resulted in hundreds of delays and cancellations. That it'll happen again next week worries me some.
Back in 2010 I set a "fleece before the Lord," which means I asked for a specific sign for a specific question I needed an answer to. My son was two at the time, and I was really happy and content with my life. I was writing little with the exception of my blog, and I was okay with that.
I started to wonder if God wanted me to pursue publishing my books, or if I should continue to live my life as it was, writing only as a hobby.
At that time, I had just purchased an annual membership to ACFW, and I received an email describing their Genesis Contest. Contestants submit the first fifteen pages of their manuscript along with a short synopsis. It then goes through a few rounds, and winners are revealed at the annual conference.
I told God that I would submit my novel, and that if I made the finals, I would know he wanted me to continue. As most of you know, I not only made the finals, but I won in my chosen category.
Do I think God is leading me to this conference? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Even so, whatever happens, I need to trust that God is in control. If there are issues with my flights, so be it. If not, even better. Worse case, I'll have to cancel everything, and hopefully get some of my money back after paying all my late cancellation fees.
|I'm not into giving bullet-point advice, because life is often too complex to narrow certain solutions down to a list that, "If you go through these five steps, you will be rich within six months!" Etc., etc.
That said, I do believe a person should do three things each day:
1. Learn something new.
2. Do at least one good deed.
3. Do something silly, and make sure other people know about it.
Three is important, because I think we take ourselves too seriously. We need to laugh at ourselves at times, because it keeps us humble.
At 8:07am this morning, I did a doozy of a silly (and actually qualifies as a stupid). I put a breakfast sandwich in the microwave, and when I returned, I noticed the microwave was still running. I thought someone had removed my sandwich and was cooking their own, but after looking around the kitchen, I couldn't find my sandwich anywhere.
Then I smelled it.
I opened the microwave and out billowed a cloud of smoke, and the originally white paper towel wrapped around the sandwich turned a not-so-lovely brown. I threw the burning hot coal of a sandwich into the sink and turned on the cold water. It sizzled and steam and more smoke filled the sink. Which soon filled the kitchen.
Either the smoke and smell wafted throughout the building, or it has permanently permeated into my skin and nostrils. Now almost 40 minutes later, I can still smell my burnt-to-a-crisp breakfast sandwich.
Turns out, I had accidentally set the microwave to ten minutes instead of one. If I hadn't gone back into the kitchen after six minutes, I might have set the microwave on fire. Good thing I caught it when I did, because I wouldn't want to tell my boss how I burnt down his building.
So that's my silly act of the day, although it might also qualify for the stupid act of the week, month, even year.
|I noticed I hadn't written an entry in two weeks, so I figured I should write something.
Except I can't really think of anything. Certainly nothing funny, interesting, scary or otherwise.
So what is one to do except write about how I have nothing to write about?
How boring is that?
Instead, I am going to do a copy and paste of some of my favorite Tweets.
Just so you know, some are political in nature. Consider yourself warned.
I wish I had telekinesis so I wouldn't have to get up from my chair to grab the TV remote.
Liberal logic: Criminals want to follow the law, but we simply haven't passed enough, or the right laws. Once we do, they'll be good.
Parenting is 10% planning and 90% frazzled, terrified and instantaneous reaction.
We live in a society where victimhood is the new heroism, and real heroes are considered monsters and/or criminals.
The worst part of finishing the first book in a series is waiting for the next book to come out.
The future is frightening, because it's unknown. But God knows, and is in control. That should be enough for us to quit worrying about it.
"Sometimes we lose things even when we're organized." Timeless wisdom from my 8-year-old son.
I want people to read my writing, not because I'm white, a woman, a mother, or a Christian. I want to be read 'cuz I'm a damn good writer.
I told my son, "A day will come when my very existence will embarrass you." He was genuinely shocked and refused to believe it. He'll learn.
The most important and long-lasting lessons I've learned have come from my failures, not my successes.
I don't like to swear, but there are days when I'm surrounded by such stupidity, I want to scream the kind of profanity that will melt paint.
For too many on the Left, George Orwell's 1984 isn't a novel. It's a how-to manual.
Never confuse silence with approval. Sometimes a person doesn't have all the facts, so to speak too soon is to prove one's own ignorance.
If you don't want an honest answer, don't ask the question.
One of my weaknesses is impatience. I want to know a lot of things, but I don't want to take the time required to learn it.
Complain all you want about how God does things, but since he created the universe and all that's in it, he has the right to make the rules.
The truth may set you free, but not before breaking all your bones, ripping out your guts, and setting you on fire until only ash remains.
If you want compassion, be compassionate.
If you want respect, be respectful.
If you want to be heard, listen.
A profound truth I discovered as I grow older:
Smile more. Your face sags less.
|I volunteer a lot at my church, mostly for the Kid's Ministry. We have a check in/out system for the kids. I help print name tags for the kids, and stickers for parents with a corresponding code that I compare when the parents pick up their children after church services. Parents like it, because they can be assured their kids won't run off and get lost, or in the case of divorced parents, they don't have to worry about their ex-husband or wife taking their children without them knowing.
My church hosted VBS (Vacation Bible School), and for the last three years, I helped with registration and check in/out. This year, however, they were short on group leaders, so they asked me to be a leader for elementary-aged kids from 1st-5th grade. I ended up with seven kids, two boys and five girls. Volunteers must have been really short, because while most groups had a high-school age helper, not me. Trying to herd seven kids, and make sure they pay attention, it was enough to exhaust this little old lady.
Just remembering their names was enough to stress me out, especially since some were so similar: Kenley, Kinley, Avery, Harper, Bella, Ben and Grant. I finally got all of them straight yesterday -- the last day of VBS.
And because they had (naturally) such short attention spans, I admittedly got frustrated a few times. I forgot more than once that the children's parents raise them differently from me, and that I should have been more aware and sensitive.
For instance, yesterday during the outdoor games, my group got extremely wet (they had to place a wet sponge on their head, and walk a certain distance without touching the sponge, otherwise they'd have to start over). Because it was so hot, my group was more interested in pouring water over their heads and on each other than actually playing the game.
As such, when we re-entered the air-conditioned building, they complained quite vociferously about how cold they were. I had very little sympathy for them. They did, after all, get themselves wet.
My youngest girl, Bella, finally told me to call her mom to get her dry clothes. I told her at first that it would take a while, and she would probably be dry by the time her mom arrived. If she were my daughter, I'd tell her to suck it up, honestly. But seeing she was near tears, I had someone call her mom. Luckily, her grandmother lived close, so she came by within five minutes, and Bella was a dry, happy girl the rest of the night.
Since I have only one child, and him being so easy-going and independent, by the second day of VBS, I felt ill-equipped and over my head in trying to take care of seven children of different ages and wildly different personalities. Because of that, I don't think I gave them the best experience of VBS that they could have had. And because they ran a little rough-shod over me, my group distracted the other groups enough that they, too, didn't have the best experience they could -- and should -- have had.
Come next year, if they need me as a group leader again (and I sincerely hope they don't), I may either decline or tell them I will need a helper. Based on this experience, I will (hopefully) do a better job, but at the same time, maybe not. I'm old and set in my ways. I fear I will forget that not every child is like my son, and not every parent parents the way I do. That's not fair to the other children at all, especially since I'm supposed to be there for them, not for me.
Add my VBS fatigue to the fact we had a severe thunderstorm with pea to nickel sized hail at four this morning, and a neighbor who let her dogs out at 5:45am to let them bark for a half-an-hour makes me one grumpy lady. I feel like a puddle of goo -- hence the need for a mop.
|While it may sound odd, I really do hate when I finish a book or story. Sure, there's always a sense of accomplishment, but after that, I feel a bit sad that it's over. After spending so much quality time writing, when it's done, I have to ask myself, "Now what?"
The same thing happened when the blog contest ended. I still want to write entries, but write about what, exactly?
I'm a thief, but writing -- especially blogs -- requires a bit of thievery. A thievery of ideas.
For instance, I noticed a few bloggers writing entries using the following prompt:
Write about a scent you remember from your childhood. What aroma brings back pleasant memories when you smell it?
When I think about memories tied to smells, only one comes to mind.
First I’ll start off with an excerpt from http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/human-nature/perception/smell3.htm... written by Sarah Dowdey:
A smell can bring on a flood of memories, influence people's moods and even affect their work performance. Because the olfactory bulb is part of the brain's limbic system, an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the "emotional brain," smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously.
The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren't for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory -- associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. Chlorine might call up a specific pool-related memory or simply make you feel content. Lilies might agitate you without your knowing why. This is part of the reason why not everyone likes the same smells.
Makes sense, because my husband doesn’t mind the smell of skunks, whereas me, I’ll plug my nose and move away as fast as I can, thank you very much.
Now for my own pleasant memory.
There is only one smell that brings back strong memories of my mom. It’s not what you would think, either. It’s not a particular food that she made all the time, nor is it a perfume or soap.
It’s Hoppe’s No.9.
For those of you who don’t know, it’s a cleaning solvent made to clean firearms.
I didn’t realize how strongly it brought back memories of Mom until I smelled it while my husband was cleaning one of his firearms. I couldn’t help but laugh at the realization, because other than my sister, I doubt anyone remembers their mother based on the aroma of gun-cleaning solution.
Now for the why.
My mom liked her firearms, and she had a fair selection of mostly revolvers. She kept all her cleaning gear inside an old suitcase made out of 7-Up cans. My sister has it now.
Every six months or so, whether my mom had used her firearms or not, she would bring them and the suitcase out, and clean them in the living room. I remember watching her, asking what each part of the firearm was, and why she cleaned each part the way she did. She even let me help a few times, and for a long time afterward, my hands would smell of a combination of Hoppe’s No.9 and gunpowder. Good times. Great memories.
My question for you is, what smell brings back memories of your mother?
|Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I like to brag. Who doesn't?
Remember how I said we writers are a sensitive bunch? It's a door that swings two ways.
Sure we go all blubbery when our writing is criticized, but the door swings to the other direction and slams into the wall when we receive praise, too.
For instance, when I found out yours truly won this installment of "Invalid Item" (perhaps you'll notice the new cyan AwardIcon shining brightly next to my title. If not, look!), my first reaction was total surprise (more on that in a second), but another part said something like this:
"I won! I won! Go me! I'm so awesome. I'm better than everyone else! In your face! Ha!
Okay, maybe that's a little over the top for me (not really).
Truth is, I didn't expect to make it past the second round. I read all the other competitors' entries, and they were truly outstanding (I didn't envy lazymarionette having to judge them all).
I've won a few contests, but winning this one means a bit more than others. Not much more, mind you, but enough for me to question as to why.
1). The competition. Who I came up against are all outstanding writers. That's not a complaint, because they forced me to work harder on mine.
2) It was hard! Coming up with an entry for a specific prompt can be intimidating. All those questions kept parading through my mind about how I would answer the prompts in a timely manner, and if I could write entries simultaneously entertaining and informative. I know my writing can sometimes appear both pragmatic and preachy, and I have been accused more than once of trying to make people look stupid so I can appear smarter. It's not true (at least not on purpose), but I can see (usually after the fact) how my words can seem that way.
At least with this particular contest, I managed to avoid "nose-in-the-air-I'm-better-than-you" entries.
I watched a movie the other day about Mother Theresa called "The Letters." It was about her life, but it also focused on letters she wrote to Father Celeste van Exem (played by Max von Sydow). In the letters she expressed a deep loneliness because she believed God had abandoned her.
The movie also pointed out how she unwaveringly refused praise for her accomplishments. She told everyone who tried to compliment her that she was God's instrument, and only he deserved the credit. I don't remember the exact quote, but when a reporter tried to interview her, she grabbed his pencil and said, "I am like this pencil. Do you praise the pencil for writing?"
I couldn't help but wonder if that constant refusal played a part in her loneliness.
Regardless of how small our accomplishments might seem to ourselves and to others, we still need recognition for them. No one can work in a vacuum. If we never receive acknowledgement for a job well-done, what's the incentive to continue? Wouldn't we at one point think we're wasting our time and want to quit? I know I would.
So to be recognized for writing a few good entries, that's something that'll keep me writing in this blog for a long time to come. Lucky you (read that with a hefty dose of sarcasm).
Whether or not I'll continue to write "quality" entries -- well -- that's actually a guarantee. Notice how I didn't place "good" or "excellent" in front of "quality?" That's because I know I'll write a few bad quality entries, and no one can accuse me of lying.