Living in the Future, Singing in the Darkness

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perception, perspective, stagnation of both, and changes in each. One image my thoughts return to is this:

“The Olympus Mons mountain on Mars is so tall and yet so gently sloped that, were you suited and supplied correctly, ascending it would allow you to walk most of the way to space. Mars has a big, puffy atmosphere, taller than ours, but there’s barely anything to it at that level. 30 Pascals of pressure, which is what we get in an industrial vacuum furnace here on Earth. You may as well be in space. Imagine that. Imagine a world where you could quite literally walk to space.”

–Warren Ellis,
How To See the Future

Walk into space. The closest I can get to imagining this is the descriptions of “the Wall” in Robert Silverberg’s Kingdoms of the Wall (a fantasy/sci-fi I highly recommend). And even those wouldn’t come close to what I’m sure must be the awesome reality of Mars’s Olympus Mons.

Unfortunately, as Ellis goes on to say, “manufactured normalcy would suggest that, if we were the Martians, we would find this completely dull within ten years and bitch about not being able to simply fart our way into space.”

There’s a lot of cynicism and snarkiness floating around nowadays. I can’t tell if it’s more intense than it used to be, or if we’re just more aware of it because we can dip into the negativity of a fellow human on the other side of the planet within 5 seconds of their posting their vitriolic rant on their blog. Ah well, at least it’s not a GeoCities page.

But with pessimism and sarcasm just a mouseclick away, I feel as though the negativity is ubiquitous. And it’s addictive. Sunshine unicorns glitter rainbows kittens cotton candy might be just as readily available for consumption as doom and gloom, but we humans tend to down the doom long before we reach for the rainbows.

I’ve written about this before, delving in to the creepy origins of the word “sarcasm.” So I won’t repeat myself here, not about that. But I’m still thinking all of those same thoughts about negativity and cynicism, and I’m thinking specifically of how they affect our perspective on the incredible world we live in today with all its amazing advances and advantages.

Just yesterday, I was reading an article on how women and men all over the world are using the internet and social media to fight back against rape culture. It’s tempting to gnash one’s teeth over the fact that rape culture ever existed and still exists. But instead of gnashing over that, what if we rejoiced at the brilliant and powerful ways in which right-minded people are combating it? If we didn’t live in such fabulous times, all of those beautiful, ringing, truth-filled voices would be silent and silenced.

In his article, Ellis points out a dozen? dozens of? advances in science and technology that most of us tend to take for granted and find boring — even though these things were beyond imagination not many years ago. Not many years ago, these things would’ve been considered “magic.” Not many years ago, the “magic” of uniting voices worldwide for a single would’ve been impossible.

Let’s open our eyes, is what I’m getting at. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts to see all the beauty and the brilliance and the boldness that awaken hope. It’s there for the seeing, and it’s there for the claiming if we want it.

My daughter is almost 9 months old. Sometimes, when we’re out somewhere, I catch her examining her feet. Her eyes are huge, and her mouth is wide open, and she gives me this look as if to say, “Mama! These feet aren’t just at home. These feet are HERE, too! Aren’t they amazing?!”

Yes, my love, they are amazing. And I am amazed to see the world with fresh, unjaded, untainted eyes, through you.

Dream. Think. Do. Marvel like a child at the intricacy and the mind-blowing beauty of this place we live in. And let your heart sing through every darkness. Other hearts will answer.

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yellow flower

BringItClose

5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Being a New Momma

Greetings, my beloved inklings!

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me here. I mean, yeah, I’ve been posting something every week or so, but those recent posts haven’t had a lot of meat to them. I know. What can I say? The reason for my silence is also the originator of this post’s subject matter. Here’s your bonus round before I even get to my five points:

Babies require many, many items.

Babies require much, much time.

So there ya have it.

Plus, I’ve been working on posts for writing advice site Unstressed Syllables, as well as mentoring Josh through his latest novel. (It’s a Weird Western: cowboys, Pinkertons, vengeful ghosts, and demons.) These are excellent endeavors for me to be involved in, but they have caused my own writing to suffer from neglect.

Balance: It’s difficult to achieve when you’re a new momma. And there’s another bonus point for you.

So! On to the “5 Things” I originally sat down to tell you about today. ; )

5 Things They Don’t Tell You About Being a New Momma

1.  It can really, really hurt.

Once upon a time when I was 8 or 9 years old, it was summertime and my parents and I were at the grandparents’ house for our annual visit. My cousins, Amanda and Jonathan, and I were jumping on Grandma’s unfolded sofa-bed, launching ourselves up and dropping down on our butts.

As it turns out, this was quite the poor choice on my part. I jumped up, dropped down, and landed tailbone first on the metal rod running beneath the mattress. Said mattress did not provide an adequate cushion for my posterior. All I remember after that is running through the house, screaming for my mother.

Three weeks after that, while visiting the other set of grandparents, I re-injured the aforementioned tailbone by falling off a horse.

Fast-forward 26 or 27 years, and I’m in the hospital, about to push something the size of a small watermelon out of something the diameter of a shooter marble. When my doctor tells me to, I give my first big push. And from somewhere in my nether regions, there comes a loud pop!

“Well,” says I, “that was fun.”

My doctor gives me a look, and I can see her thinking, You have no idea what just happened.

How babies are born. At least according to our childbirth class.

How babies are born. At least according to our childbirth class.

She was right. I had no idea. I thought that pop was simply the sound of my back popping, which is something it does from time to time.

But no. That pop was the sound of my tailbone fracturing.

I am thankful beyond words that I’d asked for that epidural not quite three hours before.

Nobody told me this could happen.

Apparently, fracturing one’s tailbone during childbirth is not terribly uncommon. It can happen if the baby is unusually big. At 6 lbs 12 oz, my baby was not unusually big.

Fracturing one’s tailbone during childbirth can also happen if there has been a prior injury to the tailbone. Sometimes, one has quite a bit of cause for regretting the foolishness of one’s youth.

I spent the first two months of my daughter’s life sitting on a Boppy and taking 600mg of ibuprofen every six hours. For the first month, someone had to be with me constantly, because I couldn’t sit down or stand up without using both hands to lower or raise myself. Someone else had to hold the baby while I maneuvered.

Also — and here’s some TMI for you, so read this part at your own risk — I was on Percocet for four days after delivery. Nobody told me that Percocet can cause severe constipation.

Percocet + (fractured tailbone) = bad

Really, really bad.

When my baby was four days old, I spent 4 hours at the emergency room getting an enema. Lemme tell ya, folks, you haven’t lived until you’ve had an attractive young nurse pump a tubeful of soapsuds up your rear.

Side note: This took place a day after my first postpartum ER visit. That one was for unusually severe swelling in my feet and legs. They did ultrasounds on my legs. Fortunately, I didn’t have bloodclots. I just couldn’t elevate my feet properly because of the tailbone pain*.

Nobody told me that could happen, either.

2. You have never known this level of tired. Not even in college.

I’m a lifelong nightowl. I knew that caring for a newborn would involve sleep deprivation. But I’ve pulled my share of all-nighters; I thought I could handle it.

Nuh-uh. Y’all, there is no handling this. United States Government, please don’t ever trust me with state secrets. ‘Cause if the terrorists get hold of me, all they’ll have to do is deprive me of sleep for a few days, and I’ll be singin’ like a drunk canary in a honky-tonk.

Seriously. The first three months, the longest I ever slept in one stretch was 4.5 hours. Most of the time, I averaged 2.5 hours between feedings. Itty Bitty is now 4 months 3 weeks old, and since she was born, I have gotten 8 hours of sleep exactly once. There have been times that I was so tired, I just sat loose-limbed in a chair and sobbed.

During her first month, I had hallucinations. Hallucinations, people.

Nobody told me that could happen.

3. Projectile poop is the new black. (Everybody’s wearing it.)

I read about projectile vomiting. I read about poopy diaper explosions. I read about getting peed on while changing a diaper. (Yes, even little girls can sometimes produce a “fountain.”)

But nobody told me that when you lift up the baby’s legs to wipe her and she turns red in the face and pushes, green liquid can squirt out her butt and up over your shoulder and land on the white carpet three feet behind you. And, if you don’t learn your lesson, she’ll do it again several days later. But this time, it will splatter you from chin to knees.

wubbanubduck

4. Your baby might not, in fact, take a pacifier.

Our Itty Bitty will take a pacifier. In fact, as far as she’s concerned, the pacifier is one of her best friends. The problem is that most of the time, she can’t hold it in her mouth by herself.

I don’t know why this is. Something about developmental stage or sucking method or the alignment of the planets. Whatever it is, most of the time she ain’t got it. And if we want her to stay asleep after we’ve put her to bed, one of us usually has to hang out with her for about half an hour, holding the pacifier in her mouth until she falls deeply enough asleep not to notice when it plops out of her mouth.

“One does not simply hold the pacifier.”

— the Baby

We’ve even tried this cute thing called a “Wubbanub”: a little stuffed toy that is supposed to help baby grasp a pacifier and keep it in her mouth. It’s a great idea and looks really cute and doesn’t work with our baby at all. She just uses the ducky to pull the pacifier out of her mouth again. So we play the now-infamous Pacifier Game with her and hope that Mars, Jupiter, and Uranus line up properly so that we’re not still doing this when she’s 18.

Nobody told me this could happen.

5. The first three months are really, really hard.

Nobody told me this.

And if they had, I probably wouldn’t have listened.

But I still wish they had.

Instead, all I heard was how wonderful and rewarding motherhood is and how cute and cuddly the babies are.

Well, I’m gonna tell it to you straight. Yes, motherhood is wonderful and rewarding. Yes, the baby is cuddly and cute. In fact o’bidness, as Grandpa would say, I think she’s pretty much the most beautiful person on the face of this planet. I wouldn’t trade being her mother for anything.

But.

And please forgive my language, but this is how strong this truth is.

Motherhood during the first 3-4 months is damn hard.

All of those women who portray it as rainbows-glitter-sunshine-unicorns-blue-skies? I’m not saying they’re lying. I’m not even saying they’re misremembering.

But I am suspicious.

This is hard, y’all. And I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t. I still sometimes sob because I’m so desperate for sleep. Especially during the past week, when my baby has had her second ear infection and needed my constant attention, I’ve longed to fast-forward to when she can talk and tell me where it hurts, never mind that I’d be missing all the supermurgitroid developments in between. The husband and I are still trying to figure out how to be parents and how to be a married couple at the same time. I used to have a relatively organized house, but now it looks like I’m running a daycare that has never once seen a vacuum or the folding of laundry. I still can’t shower regularly. “Alone time” happens only if I give up sleep to get it. (I’m doing this right now.)

I haven’t even talked about the feeling of inadequacy. My daughter deserves a rested, put-together, patient, on-top-of-things, well-relating mother. I’m not so unrealistic as to feel guilty that I’m not Supermom. But feeling inadequate definitely happens a lot.

Month 4 is definitely easier than Months 1-3. But rough patches still happen. And though I know life will continue to get more manageable, if not easier, I also know that rough patches will continue to happen.

________________

If I were a Pez dispenser and you were a momma-to-be or wanting to be a momma-to-be, I’d give you some advice. But I’m not a dispenser. All I have to offer are these truths that nobody told me. They are my truths. Whether or not they apply to you, I don’t know. But there they are for you to do with what you will.

In the meantime, pray for my sanity. ; )

This. : ) (2 weeks old)

She is cramazing. : ) (2 weeks old)

*By the way, I’ve been in physical therapy for the fractured tailbone for two months. My recovery is progressing nicely. The pain level has dropped from 8-10 to a comfortable 0-2 range. The therapy itself is called “osteopathic therapy,” and as far as I’m concerned, it’s brilliant.

OPINIONS WANTED! Win free books!

Hile, inklings!

If you were paying attention last fall and winter (and I know that you were, because that’s just the attentive sort of darlings you are), you might recall that my novel for NaNoWriMo 2011 was a low sci-fi story workingly entitled Elevator People.

Should you require a reminder, do please click here for relevant blog posts.

Unfinished Business

By my calculations, when pregnancy-related woes brought my post-NaNo work on Elevator People to a screeching halt back in January, I had about 20,000 words left before finishing the story.

Since then, I’ve published two more novels:

Stains of Grace, the third book in my paranormal fantasy trilogy Demons of Saltmarch

and

Rethana’s Surrender, the first book in my epic fantasy series Legends of the Light-Walkers.

In spite of the work and focus that went into producing those two books, and in spite of the work and focus that has gone and is going into producing a baby, the somewhat-abandoned Elevator People has never been far from my thoughts.

Finishing the Business

I am under no illusions that I will have time or energy for writing during the first few months of my child’s life. I anticipate having the attention span of a hamster.

But.

It would be really cramazingly cool — it would flip my bangerang switch — it would really swing my verge if I could write the final 20,000 words of Elevator People‘s first draft before the end of 2012.

Seriously. All I’ve got left is the final approach to the climax, the climax itself, and the denouement.

That’s not a lot, y’all.

Delegating the Business

So.

Here’s where you and your opinions come in.

Ready?

As a title, Elevator People is not sufficient. Several fellow writers have told me it sparks nothing in them. Other fellow writers have said it makes them think I’m writing about elevator technicians. Or maybe office workers.

This will not do. After all, this story is sci-fi. And the title should invoke something to that effect.

Therefore.

I want your opinions, people. I want you to re-title my novel. And I shall reward you for doing so.

Why do I ask this of you? Well, mostly because I can’t think of anything myself. ; ) But also, if I know others are already invested in this project, then I am more likely to complete it. It’s like working out: I can rarely stick to an exercise regimen if I’m just working out at home by myself. But give me a yoga class or an aerobics class in which I can see others invested in the “project,” and I’ll step up my game.

Aerobics. Step up. Get it? GET IT???

I crack me up.

Anyway. I hereby formally request that you, my dear inklings, ponder title possibilities for my novel and share them with me in the comments below. Here are a few things about the book that you should consider whilst pondering:

Genre: low sci-fi with steampunk undertones
There’s not a huge amount of science in this story. It’s set in the main character’s present (but our future?). It’s set on multiple worlds, possibly in multiple dimensions. The main character is not tech-savvy but is familiar with Industrial-Revolution-style trappings.

Main character: Wentworth “Went” Banning, male, mid-20s, not from Earth, traveling the galaxy via elevator

MC’s goal: use elevator find his real father, whom he knows only as “Mr. Banjoman”

Elevator: runs on magic in the sense that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from “magic”; one myth about elevator says it was created from music

Supporting characters: 2 Earthling urchins, Jop and Skee; 1 tech-savvy non-Earthling woman, Risk

Main antagonist: galaxy-traveling sociopathic pedophile slave-owner

Other antagonists: 1 wanna-be female slave owner, 1 vampire

ROUGH STORY QUESTION: Will Went Banning find his real father while protecting Jop, Skee, and Risk from their enemies?

If you need more information than that as you ponder your titular ponderings, let me know. I’ll endeavor to answer without spoilers. ; )

Rewarding Business

Okay! Now for the really fun part:

You ponder a title.

You share it with me in the comments below by end-of-day, September 30, 2012. (No more than one title each, please.) Don’t forget to leave a valid email address.*

As my future hamster-like attention span allows, I will pick my favorite and one runner-up.

Whether or not my indie publisher chooses to adopt your title, I will reward you as follows:

If I pick your title as my favorite, I will give you a free e-copy and a free paperback copy of the novel once it comes out.

If I pick your title as runner-up, I will give you a free e-copy of the novel once it comes out.

GO.

_______

*I promise to use your email address for contest-contacting purposes only.

SHADOWS AFTER MIDNIGHT live at Amazon!

Hello, my dears! I know it’s been a stupid long time since you’ve heard anything substantial from me here. I am so very sorry! But it’s because I’ve been working hard to get you this:

The paperback of SHADOWS AFTER MIDNIGHT is now available at Amazon. Click here to buy your copy, and happy reading!

For those of you who want a little more detail:

Peter Townsend is not normal and doesn’t play well with normals. He belongs to the ancient line of auguren, demon hunters with only one goal: Protect ordinary humans from their demonic tempters.

But last year, protecting Holly Idaho shattered Peter’s world. When Dante Mullins, the demon hunting Holly, spirited her away to the infernal realm of Saltmarch, Peter went through hell to save her. Falling in love with her wasn’t part of the plan. Neither was leaving Dante alive.

Now Dante is back, and Holly is missing. Holly’s friends Anne and Owin insist on joining Peter in the furious search. But when a new demon enters the fray, one that makes Dante look angelic, its nightmarish power threatens to consume them all.

The loyalties of friendship might be more help than Peter can deal with. This time, saving Holly might just cost him his soul.

BUY NOW:
SHADOWS AFTER MIDNIGHT (Demons of Saltmarch 2)

Many thanks to Julie V. Photography, Amy Nickerson Design, and model Andy Sawatzky for the cramazing cover art!

And do click to embiggen. It’s way cool. : )

The Cat Looks at You Upside Down

IM IN UR GARAGE SCRAMBLIN UR EGGZ

My dearest, most venerable inklings,

Yesterday was Memorial Day. To celebrate this, the husband and I spent four days together with family members, installing hardwood flooring in the husband’s parents’ house. Here are a few moments that happened during that time:

  • My brother-in-law practiced his baseball swing by hitting wood bees with a 2×4.
  • For the first time ever, I cooked scrambled eggs on a griddle. Nothing bad happened. Yay!
  • I deepened my recently acquired addiction to “Angry Birds.” *sigh*
  • There were copious amounts of homemade blackberry cobbler. With homegrown blackberries.
  • We celebrated a high school graduation.
  • We ate our meals at a picnic table in the garage.
  • I chiseled pieces of flooring down to size, which reawakened my slumbering love for wood cuts.
  • Flying roaches and cups of coffee are not a good combination.

    All of that to say: This is my Official 50th Blog Post. One would think I’d mark the occasion by crafting something of cramazing brilliance.

    But, nay. As far as substance, that list up there is about all you’re gonna get on my blog today, because after being out-of-town with sketchy Internet service for four days, I am now in the process of catching up with my life.

    We’re entering serious hypocrisy here, kids. Do as I say, not as I do:

    Write yourself a cushion of blogposts, that you might not be without substance when comes The Day of Greater Catching Up Busyness.

     
    I don’t have a cushion of blog posts.

    Instead, here’s a picture of my older cat, Pippin. Yippee!

    Peregrin 'Pippin' Took Cantrell

    My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

    There is a children’s book which, sadly, I have never read. It is Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

    Although my English teacher mother and my bibliophile father kept me in English-language books whilst I was growing up in Germany, they seem to have missed this one somehow. I arrived at college in Oklahoma in 1996 to find fellow students referencing this little book all over the place. This book, and the film The Princess Bride. I didn’t know what anyone was talking about.

    In the interim, I’ve seen The Princess Bride about a bajillion times — but I’ve never gotten around to getting my hands on Alexander’s story. For my purposes today, however, all I need to know about his story is the title and the cover art. I can extrapolate pretty well: Alexander’s day is starting out sucky and it’s just getting worse.

    (On a side note, my fingers keep wanting to type “Aleksandr.” Apparently, I am Russian today. Yeah, baba.)

    My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Wednesday

    Yesterday, I could relate all too well to Alexander’s story. It all started when I poured my coffee, zested it up with Truvia, and then opened the fridge — only to discover that there was no milk in any form. No cow, no goat, no almond.

    I cannot drink coffee without some form of milk. My tastebuds haven’t the constitution for the purely black stuff.

    So. No coffee for Courtney. If you know me at all, you know that this was pretty much THE harbinger of Doom.

    The doomish trend continued when I settled in to work out our monthly budget, which I do at the start of every month.

    NOTE TO SELF:

    Never do a budget without having fortified self with coffee.

    I shan’t divulge my budgeting details, ’cause that’s nunya. ; ) However, I will say that upon close review, the finances looked worse than I’d anticipated. In fact, I’d been anticipating good stuff. There wasn’t any. Just bad stuff. I slumped in my chair, rubbed my eyes with the heels of my hands, and plodded on.

    Things got worse when I opened a bill, and it was medical, and it was unexpected, and it was for several hundred dollars, and I don’t think I should have to pay it. A phone call confirmed my fear that the only way to get out of it will be to haggle with the insurance company that hasn’t provided our insurance in almost a year.

    The only haggling I enjoy is the haggling one does with European vendors who don’t speak one’s language.

    Yes. I would rather stand in a dirty, open-air market and argue over trinkets at the top of my lungs with an irate vendor who is trying to cheat me and whose language I don’t speak than have a phone conversation in English with an insurance company.

    But that’s beside the point.

    The point is that by now, I was bawling in horrid frustration over my budget forms. This was followed in quick succession by slamming the back of my head into the corner of the kitchen cabinet and then poking myself in the eye with a fingernail.

    My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

    In Which Things Get Better

    Since Judith Viorst’s book was published in the more innocent, less snarky age of 1987, I’m assuming Aleksandr’s story has a happy ending and a Moral To The Story. (Word.)

    My happy ending came in the form of a phone call from my mother. (How do mothers always know?) She said, “Daddy and Grandpa stopped at Sonic on their way home, and Daddy paged through a Gazette while they ate. Here’s what he found… .”

    What Daddy found was an article in the Oklahoma Gazette. And the article was about my book.

    As a placeholder for what you’re reading right now, I posted the following on my blog yesterday:

    Odds bodkins and gadzooks! My novel is in today’s Oklahoma Gazette!

    Read article “Write-hand view” by Danny Marroquin.

    Cramazing!

     

    Every Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Has Its Silver Lining

    And that, my dear inklings, is your Moral To The Story.

    Are you having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?

    I’ve minimized a lot of my worries through witticism and sarcasm in this post. I won’t minimize yours. If you’re struggling with something more serious than budgeting woes and bumps on the head, my prayers and good thoughts are with you. I understand that there is darkness so deep, silver linings aren’t visible. (I’ve been there.)

    But if you’re just having a bad day — what’s your silver lining?

    It doesn’t have to be something like your first novel’s cover art in the newspaper. (Although that’s pretty freakin’ cool, lemme tell ya.) Your pick-me-up might be a literal ray of sunshine. A smile from a stranger. A call from a friend.

    Or maybe it’s chocolate. I ate a lot of that yesterday, too. ; )

    How do you turn a bad day around? Let’s talk.

    Remarkablogger and El Edwards Told Me To Write This

    Universe? Is that you?

    I talk a lot about synchronicity. That’s when a bunch of unrelated stuff happens, but it’s all pointing toward the same thing, and it happens and points over and over again until you turn your stubborn head and open your eyes to it and say, “Okay, I get it!”

    And then you do something about it.

    The Synchronized Universe Hits You in the Head (Ouch)

    I guess this is what people used to call “serendipity.” But I prefer synchronicity, because I like the idea that a bunch of coolness in the universe gets synchronized in order to get a person’s attention. I think synchronicity affects every single one of us every single day — we just don’t pay enough attention to realize it.

    I also believe that synchronicity is a conscious force that rejoices in our every breath and wants to permeate our every moment with beauty, truth, and goodness.

    (At this time, I’d like to insert yet another plug for Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, the book that taught me to pay attention to synchronicity.)

    I walk through life as half asleep as the next person, I guess…but sometimes, synchronicity slaps me upside the noggin and says, “Yo! Human! Get your heart and mind out of this befuddled daze you’re in and look! I’ve got all sorts of cramazingness waiting for you — all you have to do is reach out and embrace it!”

    You get hit in the noggin often enough with love like that, you’ll eventually start looking for it.

    I’ve been looking for it. And this week, I found it. Without further ado or adon’t, here’s what synchronicity plopped into my lap this week.

    Remarkablogger

    In comments on his post WARNING: Perfectionism will Kill You, Michael Martine and I had the following exchange:

    Michael: Do what feels right to you but be aware of the edges of your comfort zone, your self-censoring and your perfectionism. …Being a little scared to hit Publish because you were raw or personal or opinionated is a good thing. : )

    Courtney (that’s me): You really do hit the nail on its proverbial little head, don’t you? ; ) It’s true, I do censor myself too much. I’m still overcoming lifetime of training that says, “Don’t say that; you’ll offend someone. Don’t say that; you’ll hurt someone’s feelings.” Not that I want to hurt anyone’s feelings — but I do want to write truth, no matter how gritty it gets.
    Oh crap. There’s another new blog post to write. *sigh* ; )

    Impassionate

    Every morning, I listen to El Edward’s Impassionate, audio posts designed to start your day with a little kick of joy and optimism. A few days ago, El talked about going big or going home. She encouraged her listeners to get out of our ruts and get out of our comfort zones. If there’s something we feel passionate about — or something we could become passionate about, if we’d only allow ourselves — then it’s time to stop dithering and worrying. It’s time to get out and do.

    Go big.

    Dream or Nightmare?

    Sometime along in there, between impassioned audio posts and admonishing blog comments, I woke up one morning from a very disturbing dream. I’ll spare you the rather awful details, but here’s the gist of it:

    I dreamed that I was marooned on an island with a large group of people. Most were strangers; some were acquaintances. But while I was on this island, the whole group — strangers and non-strangers alike — regularly attacked me. I endured the torment for weeks before I managed to escape. “Escape” consisted of submerging myself in a pond beneath a dock by day, then creeping around at night to find food.

    Eventually, the dream switched to a later time at which I was accusing some of my attackers — the acquaintances. Through tears, I demanded to know why they had treated me so horribly. I never got an answer.

    Unstressed Syllables and Twitter

    You’d think that by this time, I would’ve been getting the message. But no, synchronicity had two more nudges for me…and they came in the form of my own unexpected self-expression.

    In this week’s edition of What I Learned About Writing This Week on Unstressed Syllables, I wrote on Allen Ginsberg. He said something really stunning about following our inner moonlight. In WILAWriTWe, I respond by taking myself to task for not having the guts to speak truth in its bluntest, basest form.

    Later, “out of nowhere” (ha ha), I tweeted this:

    Sometimes, the loudest rejection you can hear is another’s silence. Ignore it! Listen instead to the supportive voices who rejoice with you!

    Egad and zounds, Watson-by-George, I think she’s got it.

    Let’s Recap

    Remarkablogger Michael told me to stop self-censoring and start saying what I really need to say — but be respectful of the consequences.

    El’s Impassionate reminded me to stop dithering around in my comfort zone, get out, and go big.

    Less than a week after I published my first novel, my dream revealed that I’m feeling vulnerable to strangers and acquaintances. (Me, feel vulnerable after publishing a book? Shocker.)

    Allen Ginsberg admonished me to revel in being different, in being a little crazy, in being a little dark.

    My tweet knocked me on the noggin, saying, “Hello? Helloooo! Anybody home?”

    “Okay, I get it!”

    The creative, benevolent, loving force that rules my life is sending synchronicity my way.

    I am determined to open my arms and receive it.

    I will speak the truth.

    I will speak the fears, the loneliness, the rejection. I will speak the joys, the all-encompassing wonder, the acceptance. I will not hide these things from others. I will not secret them away for fear of the consequences.

    I will not hide my heart.

    And that is why I wrote this blog post. : )

    P.S. A shout-out to Judy Dunn of Catseyewriter for inspiring the title. ; )

    Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

    5 Reasons Why Your Novel’s Getting Nowhere

    Writing a novel is hard.

    Writing a novel makes your fingers hurt. It makes your head hurt. It makes your heart hurt. It puts you in a place where you have to acknowledge certain truths — about reality, about other people, and, most of all, about yourself. Writing a novel is like being an actor filmed in a low-definition movie and suddenly projected in hi-def on a screen the size of a football field.

    All of your tiniest flaws are on display to the world. You can no longer hide the grime, the sweat, or the over-sized pores. You can no longer hide your heart, and you have to hope and pray that nobody laughs at it.

    So when you’ve made this commitment to laying your naked soul on a sacrificial altar for the world, what really kicks you in the gut is when the novel, this lifeblood-spilling work, just refuses to go anywhere. You’ve risked all, you’ve let them film your grit and tears — and right before they show the film, somebody packs it into a container and hides it away in the bunker from the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

    All that sacrifice, all that heartache. For nothing but a screeching halt to everything you hoped. Some of the thoughts that go along with this screeching halt sound like this:

    Every time I sit down to work on my story, my mind goes blank.
    My characters took the story in a new direction, and I don’t know what to do now.
    I don’t feel like writing — the inspiration just isn’t there.
    My writing feels stilted.
    I’m just no good at this.

    Here are a few reasons why that screeching halt happens — and a few hints on what to do about it.

    5 Reasons Why Your Novel’s Getting Nowhere

    1. You haven’t started writing it.
    This one’s kind of a duh, right? Of course, it’s impossible to keep a novel going if you haven’t actually written any of it yet!

    But that blank page — whether it’s lined or unlined paper, a notebook, or a word processor with blinking cursor — it’s awfully intimidating. It jeers and sneers at you. It knows your fear of failure. It speaks doubt into your mind and despair into your heart.

    In Stephen King’s Misery, writer Paul hears a question every time he sits down to write: Pauly, can you? Every writer hears that question (most of us minus the “Pauly” part) — and too often, faced with getting started on that new story, our answer to that question is, “No. I can’t.” And so we don’t.

    The solution to this problem is complex. Each of us has reasons for our fear of the blank page. Failure. Rejection. Ridicule. The belief that we don’t have the right to write. And a myriad of other mental/emotional buggaboos. Overcoming these fears can take years of dedication (and a lot more heartache). Sometimes, whether or not we overcome these fears depends on just how far we’re willing to go in knowing ourselves.

    But the answer boils down to the simplest of phrases: Just write. Sit down, pull out your pen and paper, open your word processor, and just write. Write anything at all, even if it’s not your story. Engage in the simple act of getting words out of your head and into visible, tangible form. The rest might just take care of itself.

    2. You don’t know where it’s going.
    Ack! This plot! I had such a fantastic concept for how this book would go. But first the main character quit talking, then that supporting character just up and died, and then there was a major plot hole I didn’t know how to fill, so I changed direction somewhere around the middle, and now I’m getting to the climax and it doesn’t make any sense in the context of the beginning of the story, HELP!

    *ahem*

    You’ve been there, haven’t you? Please tell me I’m not the only one.

    Not knowing where the story is going will kill your novel. The fix? Figure out where you want to go before you start. This means work, my friends. It means prewriting: outlines, character descriptions, synopses, and the like. You might not need all of these; you might need only one of these. You might need pre-writing in a form unique to your writing and working style. But you need to figure out your roadmap before you start the story, or you’re going to end up in a sticky rut.

    If you’re already quagmired in the middle of your story, all is not lost. It’s going to take some tricky effort to extricate yourself, but you can do it! Sit back, plot it out, outline it, and take a close look at your story arc. You’ll figure out where you went wrong. And who knows? You might discover some side paths you overlooked before, and they might just lead you to something sparkly and grand.

    3. You’ve forgotten the whys.
    Why is he walking down the street with a machete in one hand and a lemon meringue pie in the other? Why is she standing in the middle of the market with nothing on but her hair curlers — and a smile?! What turned him into the kind of person who picks at his cuticles every time someone mentions faulty wiring?

    If you don’t know why your characters do what they do, then eventually they’ll (a) do nothing the story needs them to do, or (b) do nothing at all. You must, must, must know their motivations, and you must know these motivations on an intimate level.

    And once again, this means prewriting.

    You need solid backstories for these people. These backstories might never make an actual appearance in your novel; your readers might never know about them. (Unless you become wildly famous and all your fans clamor to hear so much more about your characters that you have no choice but to broadcast their life stories to the world.) But you will know. You should know. Because that personal history is what makes your characters who they are today. And who your characters are should be your story’s driving force.

    4. You’re not getting any feedback.
    Oh, I know. You’re not writing this story for other people. You’re writing it for you — so why should you need feedback? You should be able to figure the whole thing out on your own, right?

    Wrong.

    We writers are blind. Every last one of us. Yes, yes, we see the world in ways that others might not, and we see things in the world that others might not. But when it comes to our own writings, we’re a bunch of blind mole rats. We fall in love with our characters, plots, and turns of phrase — and we’re incapable of seeing their collective flaws.

    Fellow writers, there are a bunch of sighted people out there. They are called beta readers, and we need them like a blind mole rat needs…well, whatever it is a blind mole rat needs to get along. I’m guessing it’s more than a cane and a seeing-eye cricket.

    In other news, I seem to be digressing into a really bad metaphor. The point is, we writers need objective feedback on our work. Our characters and stories deserve it. Without it, our craft will stagnate, and our stories will die. And if you’re stuck in the middle of your novel, the wisdom of an objective beta reader can get your novel started again in cramazing ways.

    5. You’re waiting.
    I have sad news to share with you, my friends: Inspiration doesn’t strike. Inspiration’s not an ethereal, graceful lady clad in something sheer, whispering the right words into your ear at the right moment. And inspiration doesn’t just show up out of the blue to help your novel along when you get stuck.

    Inspiration, sadly, is a greasy little creepazoid twerp who’s never going to show up at work unless you show up there first. And if you expect him to do so, he’s just going to sit back in his worn-out, grimy easy chair and point at you and laugh.

    Okay, so I lied. Sometimes, inspiration does strike — but you can’t count on it, and you can’t wait for it. If you’re waiting for a random hit of inspiration to get you out of your noveling rut, you’re going to be waiting for the rest of your life.

    There’s just no way around it: You’ve gotta put in your butt-to-chair time. You’ve gotta make yourself sit down and write, even if every single word strains your mind and makes pulses visible in your forehead. It’s hard work, and it hurts. (Hmm, where have I heard that before?) But if you want your novel to go somewhere, butt-to-chair time is the price you have to pay.

    And sometimes, the creepy inspiration dude won’t even show up then. Sometimes, you have to wrestle him into the chair beside you, hold a knife to his throat, and tell him to start talking.

    The great thing is that once you’ve got him in that position, the guy usually won’t shut the heck up. And that’s when it turns glorious.

    So, there we have five reasons for our noveling woes!

    What other reasons have you experienced?

    How did you turn the problem into a solution?

    Are you still stuck? And what do you want to do about it?