IWSG- October 2018

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a mighty fine group of people. If you haven’t already signed up, joined in the fun, I’m not sure I can do much to help you anymore.

Check us out and sign up here– 

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This months optional question is-

How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?
Major life events can affect my writing in many different ways. When I was younger, I often didn’t understand my own reactions to events until I wrote about them, which I tended to do during any big live change. Even then it would often take months for me to make sense of what I was writing about and how it related to whatever life event had taken place. I was always grateful for the moment of understanding that came after I was ready, when the writing finally made sense to me.
As I’ve grown (in age and as a writer) I’ve found that when I am in the middle of an event, I really can’t sit down and write about it, or even write about other things besides that event. If the event is a catastrophic one, it might be months until I am ready to sit down and write anything again.
Writing has been very helpful in getting me through unexpected things. The untimely death of a friend for instance pushed me into a different kind of writing. I wanted to leave behind a lot of the more abstract stuff I’d been working on and really get at something concrete, bare and bold. A few months after this friends passing, I started trying to define the experience through poetry, and had to resist the temptation to be vague. I no longer wanted to dance around hard issues or sugar coat them. I missed my friend a great deal and wanted everyone who read my work to have little doubt about that emotion, where it came from, what this friend meant to me.
On another topic, I’m extremely unsatisfied with the direction of this blog and am in the process of evaluating new and different directions. Hopefully I’ll have this figured out soon and my weekly post will return better than the recent stretch of fairly uninteresting entries.
Love and light to you all.

 

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Grateful

My wedding anniversary was Monday. Twenty-five years, which is a shocking number to me. I remember the first time I realized I’d had a friend for that long, or that an album I’d purchased with my own money reached that age. It isn’t new knowledge that the older you get, the faster time goes, but sometimes the realization hits home and staggers you a bit.

Sheryl worked on Monday, so we spent most of last Saturday out and about, celebrating by purchasing new books at our favorite bookstore (The Printed Garden), eating lunch at a delicious Chinese restaurant, and looking for new flooring (puppy claws and hardwood floors do not like one another).

It was a pleasant day, and I was feeling pretty good about things as we drove home. At the intersection of a major highway, I waited for an opportunity to turn right. Traffic on this road travels between 55-70 MPH depending on the time of day. It is wise to wait for a very clear lane before turning as to avoid misjudging the speed of oncoming vehicles. In my old age (wink), I’ve learned some patience behind the wheel, so I waited.

A minivan in the far right lane slowed to a stop, and I concluded the light was turning red. In the moment before I decided to turn, I noticed a white Jeep approaching the minivan at high speed. It wasn’t slowing, wasn’t going to stop.

The impact launched the stationary minivan through the intersection (which was luckily still empty), and I watched in fascination as the crumpled car wobbled past me. I marveled at the damage (the rear end was obliterated), amazed to see the driver still conscious, attempting to maneuver off the road.

I heard my wife next, shouting something like “Use your brakes. Stop.” and I looked to my left.

The Jeep was bearing down on us, rolling at around 20-30 MPH. There was little I could do but wait for the inevitable. The Jeep crushed my driver side door, nearly bending it off the hinges. I may have let loose a swear or two.

With some help from kind people we were able to move all the vehicles off the road. Before I was able to exit my Toyota (through the passenger side door), paramedics were already on scene and the police arrived two minutes later.

Fortunately no one was hurt.

Unfortunately, the driver of the Jeep was very drunk. He spectacularly failed every sobriety test, and a search of his vehicle uncovered an empty pint of vodka. He was arrested and taken away before the first tow-truck arrived.

I spent the next hour stewing about my damaged SUV, angry about what had happened, how it had unfolded, and how unnecessary it all felt. Driving home, most of the adrenaline was slipping away, and my thoughts turned to the absolute luck of it all. Things could have been so much worse. Someone could have been injured or killed. If children had been in the van, they would have certainly been hurt. If the van had not been there and the Jeep had continued through the red light, he would have impacted cross traffic and maybe an unsuspecting Ryan turning right.

The carelessness, the selfishness of one individual angered me.

But something else pushed through- Compassion

I felt (and still do feel) so much sympathy for this young man who had made a terrible choice. I doubt this was his first time driving drunk, but the repercussions of this particular decision will certainly be many- The hefty fine for DUI, the arrest record, loss of employment (maybe), loss of insurance (and the likelihood his insurance company sues him), the driver of the minivan will likely sue; the inevitable guilt.

I don’t know what events in this guys life, what decisions or outside influences put him in the position where he concluded getting behind the wheel was a smart choice, but I feel so sorry for him.

I might feel differently if I’d been injured, or if someone else had been hurt, but I hope my compassion would remain intact. I’m not naive and certainly believe there should be consequences for actions, especially those that adversely impact others, but I really hope this kid gets his life together, and that this one bad choice doesn’t ruin his life completely.

Hope is a good thing, right?

Also, these events have caused me a great deal of introspection, made me reevaluate every time I’ve been out with friends, had a few drinks.

But that is what life is supposed to be about, learning not only from our own mistakes, but from the errors of others.

As of today, I’m still feeling grateful, thoughtful, careful. I hope that continues.

 

 

IWSG- August 2018

I had the pleasure of driving my 90+ year old grandmother to the doctor this morning, which means this lovely IWSG post is seeing the light of day a bit later in the day than I’d like. At 47, having living grandparents is pretty cool. I’m grateful for the opportunities I have each month to visit with her, take her shopping or to the doctor.

What I should do is sit down with her and record a ton of stories, memories, stuff like that. Knowing her, she’d be resistant at first, then once I got her talking, she’d be excited to talk.

But that can wait for at least one more day. For now, on the the IWSG fun. You know the drill, check us out and sign up HERE.

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I didn’t even check out the optional question for the month as I’ve had a busy month on the writing (and beta reading) front.

I promised myself I would enter two story contests and submit to at least one small press in July. Mission accomplished, just barely. I entered a Glimmer Train contest early in the month, but felt I didn’t have a super clean second story to submit. I pondered writing something brand new and hopefully feeling confident enough with it, but that didn’t work out. The story is mostly done, but without any editing or breathing time, I didn’t trust it would be solid.

So, yesterday I pulled out option number 2, gave it a pretty good look, and determined it was ready. The contest deadline was yesterday, and I pressed send with a few hours to spare. Now the waiting game begins, and I do hate the waiting game.

As for the small press- A local publisher had liked one of my pitches during PitMad and several weeks after I sent in my query and sample pages, requested a full manuscript. Of course I was unsure if the novel was edited well enough, so I spent the last three days doing a quick read, cleaning up stuff I’d been unsure about since the third draft. The manuscript was actually tighter than I expected. It seems all that editing paid off.

Fingers crossed that this opens some doors for me.

Also, I’ve had the great pleasure of helping a friend by beta reading her memoir. Man, she can write (quality and quantity), and at times I don’t feel up to the task, but I’m loving the sneak peek into her truly unique life. The hard part is focusing on the writing and not getting absorbed in the stories. I hope I have some helpful advice to offer.

What about you clowns? Got any good stories brewing, tales begging to be out there in the universe? I’d love to hear what you’ve got going on.

Impermanence

The idea occurred to me several times before, but I’d never had the courage. And honestly, this was the first time an opportunity presented itself when I was actually in a relationship, when any initials I carved wouldn’t have been and exercise in imagination. Cowardice disguised as confidence. One day, RSC hearts KEC or ABC or HIJ will mean something more than a long list of letters inferring a long list of never been lovers. 

Which is exactly as pathetic as it sounds.

But she was different. Or I was different around her, which might be saying the same thing.

She liked winter rains, the sort that iced your eyebrows and lashes, made walking dangerous, filled with ankle twisting, bottom bruising obstacles. And she preferred silence when given the choice, her feet up on the sofa, across my lap while I read a book, no words shared for hours.

I also liked the rain, but preferred the October variety. As for silence, well, I didn’t believe it existed. There was always some little noise, a scratching in the back of my brain, which I trusted, if only because it helped me feel substantial, genuinely present.

*

One warm afternoon late in September, we hiked into the woods along a favorite trail for almost an hour (autumn leaves scattered across the ground, reds, browns, and my favorite yellows piling up, begging to be stomped or kicked about), rarely speaking, until we came upon a massive oak, somehow left unmarked among the aspens and elms lining the path, all etched with layer after layer of scribbles that stood out like scars on skin.

We stood in front of the tree, marveling at its unlikeliness.

“I can’t help but think,” she started, then paused. “No, you’ll think I’m being silly.”

I shook my head, somehow stopping myself from adding phrases which would only detract from the moment. I adore words, but I often say the wrong ones at the wrong times.

“I feel like this tree appeared out of nowhere, in this moment, in this place, just for us.”

I pulled my knife from its leather sheath, then walked forward, keeping my eyes on the tree, convinced she was right and if I looked away for even a moment it would disappear. With my free hand, I touched the bark. Deep, rough grooves touched back, and for an instant I thought the tree quivered beneath my fingers. I pulled away, looking up at the branches far above my head, swaying gently in the light breeze. A pale blue sky seemed impossibly far away. I tightened my grip on the handle of the knife, turned my attention back to the trunk, and selected the location to make my first cut.

In my head, I imagined the task already complete. I could see each letter already formed, rising out from the wood, tangible evidence of our connection, hers and mine, our shared adoration and affection. I wanted to say one word out loud, shout it, but it came as a whisper- love- because I did love her, and I believed she loved me.

I imagined other outings we’d take, coming back to this tree, staring up at the crudely carved initials somehow meant to represent us, hoping our love would last as long as the tree itself. Someday, we would bring our children, spread a blanket on the ground, share a picnic lunch and stories about the inevitability of our meeting, the permanence of our devotion. Our timeless love.

I wanted to cling to this image, but before I could lock it away in my head, store it like a memory my heart sunk and I knew.

What a ludicrous notion. I suddenly wanted to be anywhere but here, in front of the magnificent tree.

Before I could compose my thoughts, she stepped up beside me and put her hand on my shoulder.

“I don’t want you to do it either,” she whispered.

I slid the knife back into the sheath, put both hands upon the oak and wished it well.

Without looking back, we headed down the trail together,  towards the parking lot where we’d left her car. A cooler in the back seat held cold water and some good chocolate.

Fifteen steps down the trail, she slid her hand into mine.

 

 

 

 

 

IWSG- July 2018

A day early for the monthly blog hop of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We get the 4th of July off, and I imagine the members outside the United States are wondering if they get their national holidays off as well. Nope. Sorry.

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If you aren’t already a member of IWSG (and I honestly can’t understand why you wouldn’t be), check us out and join HERE.

The optional question for this month-

What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

From the time I was 11 years old, I’ve dreamed about being a published writer, being famous. My early stories were science fiction tales including my friends and love interests. My parents claimed to love them, and the one friend I dared to show really liked the part where his bully died. I liked writing about relationships, I was terrible at writing romance. That hasn’t changed much. I keep hoping something will click and I’ll suddenly figure it out, but at 47, that seems unlikely.

In high school, I switched over to poetry writing, and I tell you, If anyone ever wrote a collection of poems more sappy, more over the top, more ridiculous, I’d like to meet them. We could break the universe together. Even more surprising, I honestly thought there was a career to be had writing poetry. Silly Ryan.

I was sure once someone in publishing (magically) read my poems, I’d be an instant sensation. Even as I aged and my poetry matured, I still expected someone to just discover me. I made almost no effort to enter contests, submit to magazines (even at university, which should have been so easy and obvious). When my efforts and heart returned to writing fiction, I was so out of practice, my stories were pretty awful, but I had a wonderful professor who saw some talent in my writing and encouraged me. Still, I didn’t seek out opportunities, take risks.

I’d like to say I learned my lesson and submit like crazy now, but I don’t. My 30’s passed by in a rush and not until I finished my first novel (at the age of 42), did I finally take the plunge and seek out representation.

I still want to be a published writer, and still believe it is a matter of getting my work seen by the right people. What has changed- at last I understand that for that to happen, I have to put myself out there, take risks, be bold. I’ve entered two contests and queried several agents recently. I’m about ready to approach some small presses, ones that take unsolicited submissions. I remain hopeful, and while 11 year old me thought he might be famous one day, 47 year old me knows that is irrelevant.

Short Fictions

The query edit continues. I’ve found a few kind persons willing to aid in my efforts to create a solid bit of writing and I’m super thankful to them for their help. My hope is to have these paragraphs polished and ready by the middle of July. That would be swell.

Next on the agenda, getting the courage to submit short fictions. I’ve always struggled with knowing where to send stuff, what contests/publications to approach, and if paying an entrance fee is a good or bad thing.

And of course, the super hard part- feeling a story is polished, presentable enough to get attention. Like most writers, my confidence in a text varies from day to day, read to read. Today, most of what I’m editing feels right, feels good, and what I should do on days like this one is find someplace to send something right this moment.

Maybe I should do that, end this post, seek out someplace to send that one story I’m really liking.

Am I brave enough?

Looking

Hey IWSG friends- I’m sorry to have not commented or returned comments for this months posts. Soon after publishing my blog, I came down with a lovely fever/cold that knocked me out of commission for five days. I’m just getting back into the swing of life, and might finally get to returning comments later this week.

I hate being sick. But so does everyone else. I’m not special.

This week, I’ve been going over my query letters, submitting to a few nibbles I received during #PitMad. I realized I haven’t really tested these letters out on any beta readers, and wondered if anyone would agree to help me out with that?

I’m looking for some honest feedback, and ways to make these letters pop off the page. If anyone is interested, please get in touch. I really feel it is time to submit more and in order to do so, I need to have top notch queries.

I am more than willing to trade for reviews, beta reads, whatever. Let’s help each other.