Experimental Writing

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

I tried an experiment with last week’s Friday Flash; you’ll have to let me know how I did. (You can read it here.) I saw an ad from Jim Butcher (Dresden Files, Codex Alera, Cinder Spires novels) for Mythulu Creation Cards. Near as I could tell, they were a random character generator laid out sort of like a tarot deck. Or at least what I imagine a tarot deck to be; I’ve never used one.

You can look on the website (here) for instructions, and some very helpful videos. The thing that interested me was how the demonstrator would take a card and pull it in unexpected directions. Particularly, what she does with the “traitor” as a co-pilot. So, I gathered my coins and bought the creation cards.

A little back-story here: when I first get the picture for the Friday flash, I inevitably have a single thought. “What the heck am I going to do with this?” Last Friday, before the picture posted, I decided that I was going to pull out the creation cards and give it a go.

There are 6 categories of cards in the deck and pull from differing amounts of cards from different categories depending on what you are creating. Are you creating an illness? Pull one element and one relationship. Are you creating an animal? Pull two textures, one element, one character and 1-2 habitats. Etc. How you use them all is in the instructions. So I decided to pull a regular basic plain old monster. This is what I drew:

Character: The scavenger (picture of a vulture): Symbolizes poverty of mind, lives on the leftovers of greatness because they are unable to create something new.

Habitat: Mountain. Physical space for exploring the internal soul, Holy mountains are meant to be hard to climb.

Textures: Vibrating. (An adorable picture of a kitten) A gentle resonant rumble. Usually felt when some kind of energy if flowing freely, whether sound, electricity, or emotion.

Textures (2): Sigil. Symbols that have power to force or bind. Used in communities to rally groups together.

Elements: Ice. Vital element in state of life-threatening extreme. Symbol of imbalance.  Unsustainable, but in short term can provide rest.

In one way or another, I wanted to put all of those things into my Friday flash. The mountain became the camera itself; the sigil became the “I have the ability to steal part of your soul” idea. Ice was used in both a life-threatening soul steal, and the main character’s need to keep moving around lest he be found out.  The kitten? Hopefully in the flow of the soul fragment from one place to another.  After drafting it, I decided it was too dark, so I also used the adorable little kitten purring as a direction to lighten it up a bit (hopefully I don’t get sued by the Kardashian clan).

If you’re a creator and you are stuck, or at the very beginning of your creation phase, no matter what you’re creating, I think this is a great tool and worth the cost. It gives you a basic framework but allows you to create within that framework as you see fit.  And, of course, if you really hate the card you drew you can always throw that combination out and start over. 

In the end, I’m really glad I bought the cards. I’m not sure I’d do for the weekly Friday Flash. When working with the Friday prompt, the picture already gives me a framework. My job became to fit the two frames together into a cohesive story. That’s tough with a 250 word limit; I’ll let you decide how successful I was.

What would be another cool experiment, and what we talked about in writing group this week, is to give everyone the same cards and ask them to write a short story. Because if you give six writers the exact same prompt, you will end up with six completely different stories. The possibilities for creation are endless.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an awful lot of fun.

I hope you are navigating these most difficult of times with faith, love, and good literature.

Missed Opportunities

I do not know who created this, I’ve owned it for years. If you do, would you please let me know? They deserve credit.

~

A friend of mine once told me a story about an old woman during a flood. She prayed and prayed and prayed to the Lord for help. Soon after this a big truck with wheels high enough to get through the flood waters came by. The woman refused to get in saying, “The Lord will provide!”

The flood waters came, and the woman had to evacuate to the upper level of her house. A boat came by, but she refused to get in. “The Lord will provide!”


The flood waters kept rising and the woman had to climb out the window to her roof. A helicopter came by, but she refused again. “The Lord will provide!”

Eventually, the flood waters swept the woman off the roof and she drowned.


She arrived at the pearly gates and she said, “Lord, I don’t understand what happened. I prayed and prayed. Why didn’t you provide for me?”

“My darling child,” He said as He placed a tender arm around her and ushered her into heaven. “Who do you think sent you the truck, the boat, and the helicopter?”


I tell you this story because I missed a BIG opportunity this week. I’ve been cleaning up a short story that I had intended to sell to a specific magazine. This magazine loves giving writers their first publishing credit and helping them get on their way. Based on the other work I see in it, my story would have a real shot at getting in, and it would be my first paid writing credit. I’ve finished the story, except for two to three hours for a final pass, then it goes on to my editor. Once she gets it, it will be 6-8 weeks until it’s ready to pitch.

I haven’t finished it for the worst of reasons: something called completion fear. Completion fear keeps me from finishing a project because when I do complete it, I make myself available for judgment. The logic is that if I don’t finish it, I can’t be judged. The fallacy in that logic aside, the idea that I might pass whatever judgement is out there never sinks in beyond the superficial logical level into my heart.

I don’t know when Completion Fear first hit me, looking back, the first time I remember experiencing it was in High School. I was a leader in the high school band, but I was afraid of practicing where *anyone* else could hear me because practicing opened me up to judgement. Now days, I suppose they call it other fancy names, but at its heart, it is the fear of judgement and of found wanting. I have allowed it to cripple me and cripple my writing.

Now that I’ve realized what’s holding me back, and I’ve determined to finish the work, I’ve also received word that the magazine is closing up shop. I missed my opportunity. Now, I can blame this on my ADD, or my unhappy childhood, or the state of politics today, or the color of my socks. But the result is the same: I delayed and lost out. Rather than waiting for the Lord like our hypothetical woman above, I let completion fear get the better of me. But both of us lost for the same reason; the Lord provided, and we let that opportunity go by.

Now that I’ve identified the Completion Fear, sometimes called Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (common in people with ADD), I’m going to face that fear and fight it head on, right?

Wrong. I’m a Ravenclaw, not a Gryffindor.

I’m going to do an end-run around it. In finishing the story and sending it to my editor, I’m not taking the step of having it judged, I know and trust my editor as a person. When that step finishes, then I can face the judgment of publishers with a solid edit standing in support of my efforts.

So much of life is accomplished in the small steps we take. Identifying this fear or figuring out how to deal with it is one, but it is just the first. You may have noticed that I’m starting to put some of my older works online in addition to the Friday Flash Fictions. Opening up in this blog is another small step to sneak around the monster. I’m not big enough to attract trolls, so this is safe. At least I hope it is.

So much of life is accomplished in the small steps we take. Step one- figure out what’s wrong, step two, sneak past it. Would somebody please do a stealth check on my ability to sneak around the monster of completion fear? I’d prefer to not roll for initiative on this one.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. What holds you back and what can you do to either push through it or sneak around it?

I hope you are navigating these most difficult of times with faith, love, and good literature. 

Mother’s Day

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

It’s been a crazy week. No writing done. At all. Sorry about missing the Friday flash fiction, I have something in progress, but I won’t have time to finish it until tomorrow.

I do have a few thoughts I would like to share.  As many of you know, I’ve been struggling with some knee issues lately. I was feeling much better last week, So I put the walking stick down, took off the brace, and went into the busiest weekend I’ve had since the pandemic began.

Can you say, “big mistake?” I knew you could. It was one step forward, three steps back.  Calling the doctor was on today’s list, but it looks like it will have to be tomorrow.

I want to tell you about what I got for Mother’s Day because it’s super cool.

Now, you have to understand something: Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday for me. My relationship with my mother is, well, complicated. Far more complicated than most.  So, when I found out that my husband and I were hosting her alone (as in the rest of my family was conveniently unavailable), I readied myself for what I knew would be a challenging day.

So imagine my irritation and grumbling when my husband asked me to make a béarnaise sauce for the steaks he was planning to grill.  My whining went something along the lines of “I’ve never even made a hollandaise, you want me to make something more complicated? On a day I’m supposed to have off?” I said it to myself a whole bunch, I said it to him once. Oops.

After I apologized for being an entitled jerk, I agreed to attempting a hollandaise with a lemon butter back-up plan.  If you don’t know, hollandaise sauce is that stuff you put over Eggs Benedict. (If you don’t love a good Eggs Benedict, I’m not sure we can be friends. At the very least, I’m never taking you to brunch.)

As a proud Ravenclaw, the first thing I do is research, research, research. Or at least find a recipe. Clarified butter? Something else I’ve never done before. It can’t be that hard to do, you just melt it and…. strain it through FOUR layers of cheese cloth? What am I, Alton Brown? Ok, don’t find a recipe, find a beginner’s recipe. Boil it for a while and remove the fat with a spoon. I can do this. Grumble, grumble.

There I was, stressing out over having my mother over, unduly irked at having to put forth fifteen minutes of effort on “my day,” and facing my new role as the family saucier chef. I apologized for whining again and loaded the dog into the car for a trip to the grocery store. Bum-knee walking in a grocery store. More grumbling. At least with my face mask on people couldn’t see my judgmentally pursed lips.

Thank heaven I bought a dozen eggs and not the six I was originally planning on. My first batch failed when I put all the lemon juice instead of reserving some of it for the back-up lemon butter.  Speaking of pursed lips! Wow. The second batch was so salty that my tongue shriveled up and screamed out in protest. The third batch?

The third batch was worthy of gracing my gravy bowl. If I’d been served that at a restaurant I wouldn’t have complained (at least not to the waiter). My mother and husband paid me compliments. Given my attitude, I’m not sure I deserved them, but I sure appreciated them.

With mother safely back home, the dishwasher running, and a glass of wine in my hand that was… shall we say…. healthy…. My daughter who lives an entire time zone away called a second time so we could talk some more. We joked about the difference between judging a restaurant based on a properly emulsified hollandaise sauce and making a properly emulsified hollandaise sauce. The next time we go to visit her I have a standing order for homemade eggs benedict.

Oh boy…. Now I need to learn how to properly poach an egg so that the yolk is perfect, and it doesn’t have fly away threads of egg-white making it look like an alien invasion.

I know, I know. I told you I wanted to talk about what I got for Mother’s Day. Did you catch it in there? No?

Thanks to my husband’s insistence, I got a new ability. Thanks to perseverance (ok, fear of judgment), I got affirmation. And thanks to my daughter, I have a new adventure ahead of me.   

That, my friends, is a wonderful Mother’s Day.

I hope you are navigating these most difficult of times with faith, love, and good literature. 

The Small Everyday Deeds of Ordinary Folk

Last week’s Flash Fiction Friday was a larger accomplishment than just the 250 word story. So you will excuse me if I celebrate for a moment. Maybe I’ll give you a reason to celebrate something in your life?

When I posted the link to the group the week before, I added a note that while we appreciate the likes we get in the Facebook group, it would help us authors build our platform if people “liked” the posts themselves. One helpful member pointed out to me that the way my website was set up- a long scroll of one story after another- made it impossible because it was all one page, and he couldn’t like a page more than once.

So last Friday I looked at my site thought it would be an easy fix. An entire weekend later….

Yeah. I started tinkering with the site, and quickly discovered that I was not only doing it wrong, but every time I tried to fix it I was spamming my followers with email saying “Hey! I’ve updated the site! Again.” So I took the entire thing off line and went to work without a single idea of what I was doing. I got some help from my Saturday morning writing group, I dug through YouTube, and my husband gave me a couple of Linked-in Learning pages to watch. As it turns out, I was misunderstanding a couple of things about the menu setup. Once I got that fixed- sometime Sunday night- everything snapped into place. Of course by then, I was dead tired, my neck and back were sore, I hadn’t spent more than an hour all weekend with my family, and I still had last week’s flash fiction to complete.

When it was all said, done, and posted, my husband asked, “Was all that really worth it?”

I think the answer to that question is an unqualified yes. Not because it’s now easier for me to engage with readers on a deeper level, but because going through all that, sticking with it to the end was a validation of my drive and ability to create.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about validation and rejection. Rejection is a topic for another day, but validation is the idea that something we have done or some aspect of our life is worthy of acceptance. We can get validation from other people, I often do. My husband is supremely supportive and validating of my creative works. A woman in my writer’s group recently said she really likes this website. People in my circle of faith make it clear to me that they’re happy I’ve joined them. And it’s all lovely. But in the end, if those external validations don’t match up with my interior image of myself, then I’m not as likely to see their kind words as truth.

I think it’s with internal validation that self-confidence and self-worth spring from. Confidence is gained through experience, and your estimation of how you handled that experience. Thus, people who don’t have self confidence may struggle to recognize their achievements, while the arrogant may not be able to match their words with their deeds.

Which brings me back to my flash fiction page. I can look at it now and know that I took something I didn’t know how to do and learned how to accomplish my goal. I got it moving in the direction I want it to look. It was a small project, just a weekend, but it was an accomplishment.  I struggle with self confidence, so being able to claim an accomplishment is kind of a big deal.

I may be wrong in this attribution, but I think it was author Joyce Carol Oates who fed me the idea that we need to celebrate our smaller works of creativity because they feed into our internal sense of both accomplishment and validation. Or, more eloquently, as Gandalf said of the Hobbits, “It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.” So too, it is the small everyday accomplishments that gives me the internal validation I need against my lack of self-confidence.

Also, remember that external validation is highly dependent on the morality of the moment. Your most beloved family member may be distracted or grumpy, or worst of all- the dreaded hangry. If you try to build your platform you WILL run into Internet trolls, hatred, rejection, and you may be cancelled thanks to this shifting morality. Internal validation, that sense that you are enough even if others may not agree, is a fortress to keep the haters and trolls outside the gates. So go out and validate yourself in some small way today. You’ve earned it.

I hope you are navigating these most difficult of times with faith, love, and good literature.  

Risk, Reward, And A Really Bad Haiku

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay

My husband laughed at my writing yesterday.  Yes, laughed. No, that’s not nearly as mean as it sounds. Frankly, I deserved it.  This week’s flash fiction had me trying out a haiku (you can read it here if you dare), that Japanese poetry form that involves nature,  and seventeen syllables. The picture has a squirrel in a tree.

Haiku has been sort of waiving itself in front of me lately. Poetry scares me in general, because every word counts. In Haiku, every syllable counts.  I’ve been reading about it on other blogs, and hearing about it in podcasts.  How hard could it be? 

Matsuo Basho I am not.  Rather,

~~

Matsuo Basho

I am not of your fine skill

Poetry is hard

~~

See what I mean? Totally worth laughing at.  And my squirrel in a tree was no better. Frankly, it deserved the one star review and the laugh. Did I mention it was wrong? Instead of the 5-7-5 structure, I inverted that and went with 7-5-7.  And yes, I’m leaving it up for you to judge and laugh at. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Why am I leaving an erroneous and horrible piece of work up for all to see?  

It’s no secret that fear of being judged is a real fear for artists.  Sticks and stones may break our bones, but hurtful words will scar us forever. Yes, we can try to develop a thicker skin, or whatever you want to call it. The best advice on this I’ve ever received was from author Dan Wells who told me if I doubt myself to go out to the internet and look up all the one star reviews of my favorite author. I’ve done that. But this thicker skin is not as easy as it sounds.

Why? Our job is to hack into the emotions of our audience and manipulate them.  To do this, we must be willing to experience them ourselves. We have to create a scenario where those emotions can flourish, and then we share our joys and our pain with our readers.  I remember a phone call with a friend several years ago and he was in tears. Why? He’d just killed off a character. This wasn’t a main character by any stretch. But the character lived inside of him just as much as any real person, and his emotions were just as real.  We took moment to mourn that character and talk about what it meant moving forward. The emotions we tinker with a real, and this work is not for those who are unwilling to risk baring our very soul with our audience.  What does the meme say? “I’m an emotional wreck at the hands of a paperback?” That is the goal. To think through all your ideas about love and hate, happiness and sadness, victory and loss,  and then to put those ideas out in the world for consumption by whoever wanders by, whether it be devoted fan or Internet troll. Risky? Very much so.  

Of course, now we also have the Cancel Culture to fear, and it truly is something to fear. Upset the wrong person or don’t change your morality fast enough to keep up with Twitter, and you can find your career shredded in moments.  That’s one thing if you’re JK Rowling, but it’s entirely different if you’re just starting out.  The presumption of guilt, the online shaming, the deplatforming,  the ever-changing standards of morality, it’s all a tsunami that make no allowance for personal growth. Said something that was ok fifteen years ago when you were a stupid kid? Too bad. The cancel culture simply judges, hates, and ostracizes. And it doesn’t matter what side of the political aisle you’re on; I see just as much hatred coming out of one side as the other. It cancels freedom of thought, freedom of speech and entire careers.

Now, granted, I’m not risking cancellation over a bad haiku. But I am going to set the standard of not being afraid to admit that I have things to learn.  I think there’s a freedom in staring down your fears. That’s a freedom I want to develop in my life. In a year, ten years, I want to look at this horrid thing and be proud of how far I’ve come.  

So with this whoppingly bad and definitely one star reviewed (by someone who still loves me anyway), I shake my tiny fist at the Internet trolls. Come at me ‘bro. At least I was willing to swim with the sharks.

I hope you are navigating these most difficult of times with faith, love, and good literature.  

Bring on the dreaded red ink!

Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay

Ok, so it’s been a while since I’ve done a blog post. It’s not that I have no thoughts on anything, it’s the reverse, I have too many! I’ve had some terrific conversations with people lately, and I need to focus and get some of these down in ink… or maybe ones and zeros. To be fair, I haven’t been invisible, I have been doing the weekly flash fictions, which I encourage you to read through if you haven’t.  I have been having tremendous fun with them.

Some medical issues have cropped up, which has taken some time away from writing, I will say it again, aging is not for the faint hearted.

I have been working hard at a short story I’d like to sell. My local writer’s group gave me some great beta reading feedback, and I want to finish the story this week and ship it off to my editor.

Yes, I’m hiring an editor.

And yes, I’ve confirmed this editor is not a predator. I’ve crunched the numbers, and if I sell the piece at standard SFWA rates, the overall cash flow is still going in the right direction, which is always a concern when you’re starting out.

Back-up a second, for those of you not familiar with the terminology I just threw at you.

Beta readers These people happen to be people in my local writing group. We all read and critique each other’s works before we publish them. Beta reading can be anything from “I don’t get this,” to “Grammar Police coming at you!” It all depends on what you as an author want. I usually like generalities for my feedback: “This part confused me.” “This part made me sad.” “Maybe if you moved this part earlier it would make more sense.”  I don’t want: “Do this.” I want to know how you feel, where you get lost, and where you liked it.  I can take it from there.

Editors and Predators This was a website where you could vet the various freelancers involved in the writing world to make sure you didn’t sign on with some who would take advantage of an unsuspecting author. I’m not sure what happened to that particular website, but the Facebook group is still active. There are a lot of other websites that do this, you can find some great ones at the SFWA website.

SFWA?

SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, one of the largest and best resources for genre (Sci-Fi, fantasy, horror, that kind of thing) authors. They have of resources for authors, including links to learn about good editors and bad. If you’re a genre author, you seriously need to check them out and support them as you can. SFWA has no governing authority over anyone, but they have influence. Lots and lots of influence.

They recommend a basic rate of pay for authors, and publications will tell you if they follow that or if they pay a different rate.  There may be good reasons to submit to a publisher who pays less than the recommended rates. But…

Unless you’re doing someone a personal favor for a specific reason, never EVER EVER give your work to someone who pays in exposure. “I can’t pay you, but you’ll get great exposure!” Yeah, thanks for that, but the bank won’t take your exposure for my car payment. Also, never EVER pay someone to publish your work. I know this should sound obvious, but independent authors who need a place to churn out your book in physical form may have watch this carefully.  Just remember, if the overall cash flow isn’t coming towards you, it’s not worth it.

So, isn’t my hiring an editor cash flow going out? Well, yes, and no. I found a magazine I like that I would like to sell my current short story. I took a look at what they pay, then looked at my editor’s price and did the math.  Sweet eh? And they say authors aren’t good with numbers…

Here’s the other reason: I love my beta readers– they are all part of my local writing group and they ARE FAB. But except for one flash fiction podcast, I’m unpublished in the normal sense of the word. It’s worth my while to take a slightly less income to offer a more polished and professional product as I look to enter the market. pix

So, there you have my writing progress. I hope to have the edited story done by the end of the day, and I’m going to ask a couple of friends for one last beta read before I send it off to my editor.  Then, it will be lather, rinse, repeat.

I hope you are navigating these most difficult of times with faith, love, and good literature.