Saturday, December 29, 2012

Writing Time

It's cold and gloomy here in the northeast and a perfect climate in which to write. When it's gray outside I feel more confined and sheltered in my little writing room. With a jazz CD playing softly in the background, my heart stills, the chatter in my head stills, and the pen slips over the blank page like skates on a frozen pond.

I blogged yesterday about my varied tastes in genres, but today focus seems to be my theme. Although I have an unfinished novel  waiting for me. Characters who are waiting for me to tell them what to think and feel and do next. I am into poetry. I'm at work on a poetic memoir. I've written fifteen poems so far in the form of prose poems, haibun and tanka, and have worked with a teacher to help me hone the poems into their best personas. I'm searching for more poems in my stack of notebooks and writing new ones so I can have a 30 to 40 page chapbook to submit.

I love writing poems on quiet gloomy days. The atmosphere seems ripe for metaphor, lyrical verses, lines that sing and thrum with emotion. The joy I find in poetry is trying to tell me something and perhaps this time I will sit up and listen. I do have a writing niche, I just keep taking jaunts down foreign roads better left untraveled. When the road not taken is the road that best fits my life work then I know I should take it.

So why do I resist my passion so heartily? Why do I choose novels that will never be completed? Poems rise in me like ripples in a stream, as I travel down river, the poems become rapids that sweep me away, I need to ride this current more consistently and not get swayed by what I'm reading or what others are writing. This, poetry writing, is where I belong. Maybe 2013 will be the year I settle into the genre that causes my blood to roil and my mouth to turn up in a contented smile. It's where I am supposed to be.

I hope the coming year leads you to where you're supposed to be.

Friday, December 28, 2012

I am Multi-textual

I admit it. I am multi-textual. I didn't have to come out of the closet, just out of my writing room to face the truth. Some writers focus on poetry, or memoir, or novels. I have a slew of writing interests--I write memoir--in essay, poetry and book length. I write poems. I write short stories and flash fiction. I combine poetry with art. And I have a third novel in progress.

Some say focusing on one genre is the way to succeed. Others claim reading and writing different genres keeps the writing fresh and the writer from getting bored. I just figure I have to accept and admit that I like to read and write in several genres and go with it. I want to do it all, I don't want to have to choose.

So as this year drops its velvet curtain and the curtains rise on 2013 I will write in whatever genre shows up at my desk or computer. I will accept I cannot choose just one. And I will do my best to keep a writing flow and to submit my work because no writer ever got anywhere with her poems, stories and novels stuck inside a metal file cabinet.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Midnight Muse

Night is a blue velvet drape outside my bedroom window. Between the clicks of the baseboard heater the muse comes tapping. Long golden tresses flow over her shoulders. She is dressed in pale blue and green chiffon. Her slender hands pull me from dreams and needed sleep, luring me with poetic lines and dramatic scenes with irresistible characters.

I toss and turn, knowing it's hopeless to try and go back to sleep. Now the muse begins to hum, melodious tones spill from her mouth filling the room with the siren's song that calls me to my desk.

In that vaporous alley between midnight and dawn poems rise like mist over the ocean. My pen glides across the page as the muse whispers in my ear. Her hand braces my elbow nudging me to keep writing. All thoughts of sleep vanish in the verses and I keep writing until sunlight glints in the window behind me, chasing away the dark night shadows that spawn poetry and stories. As the shadows fade the muse disappears leaving me to continue the work she injected into my mind in the midst of a dream.

As the room fills with light and the demands of this new day drag me back to reality, I close my notebook, put the pen in its mug, and rise to leave behind the soul of a poem.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Writing Retreat

On a clear and crisp November weekend three members of my writers' group Tapestries venture out to the south fork of Long Island for our twice a year retreat. Staying at Sea Crest Resort in Amagansett we find the time to write and the support of other writers.

As the sun rises in the east I brew a pot of coffee, have breakfast, then go for a walk along the beach. The sand is soft beneath my sneakers. The waves roll softly into the shoreline and the seagulls' cries greet me. As I walk, characters appear in my mind, new plot lines unroll like the waves, and as questions are answered others arise. These will be raised to my fellow writers later today when we have our brainstorming session.

Back in our suite, I shower and get dressed, then settle at the kitchen table, notebook open, purple pen in hand poised above the blank page and begin to write. The time and silence in which to write is a rare gift for a writer, especially the three of us who all have full time jobs and families to take up our precious little time. As I write, Lori is on the couch also writing and discovering where the suspense is in her newest novel. Karen is across the table from me hashing out some new turns in her YA mystery. And around us there is a communal energy that we thrive on and absorb.

Nowhere else, at no other time, am I privileged to have such long blocks of time in which to write. Writing in short spurts works if you have no other choice, but optimal plot building and character development come with long stretches of time.

Over lunch we discuss how far we've gotten in our novels, how much we love this time away to write, and ask questions that help us move ahead in our afternoon writing sessions. Later we'll dress and go out for dinner and relax and talk more about the writing life. We even dream of how great it would be to write full time and have a little house out here on the east end with the background of crashing waves and orange sunsets.

I'm happy to say that by the time I got home I had completed 54 pages of my present novel. Now as I transcribe those scenes into my computer word program I am energized to keep going. I need that jolt of progress and the communion of other writers to encourage me and spur me on.

Looking forward to another retreat in the spring I plan to be working on a new novel. My goal is to finish this first draft by the end of this year. I'll just glance at these photos every now and then to remind me how much writing is possible when you put your mind to it.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

WRITING CONFUSION

In four days I will be driving out to Amagansett to attend a weekend retreat with two women from my writers' group. It will be a welcome getaway after a late season hurricane and an early snowstorm. Thankfully the resort we stay at, Sea Crest, has power, heat and minimal storm damage so they are open for business. Open to welcome us into a little suite with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, 2 bathrooms and a living room and dining area.

We will take our pens, notebooks, and laptops and write away. In between meals and snacks we will create characters, weave plot lines, amp up suspense and tension, and hopefully make significant progress with our novels. We will also spend time brainstorming so we can give each other ideas for plot lines and character development. Writing is a solitary sport but sometimes three heads create more of a story!

So you may wonder why I called this post writing confusion. It's an old tale for me. I've been beating my head against the plot wall of my novel and getting nowhere. I seem to be deep inside the murky middle and the plot problems I worked out have created some more problems--how do I go ahead with this, what has to happen and how do I make the scenes suspenseful enough to keep my eventual readers turning pages? I'm stuck.

Being stuck for me generally leads to switching genres. If my novel is stalled I write a short story, if the short story fails I write poems, if they sound off and lame I revert to personal essays or memoir. It's a conundrum.

In the next four days I have to decide what I will focus on while we are on our retreat. I can't bounce all over the place. I have to have a particular project to work on so I can make solid headway while I have that precious time away from work and home to devote to writing. The novel seems the way to go so I have to set myself up to sit down with my notebook or laptop and write away--get through the middle, build to the climax and resolve this story once and for all!

Wish me luck!

Friday, November 2, 2012

ENTERING POETRY

I enter poetry and find my self. The images and metaphors beat with my heart, the rhythms float on my breath, and the lessons in the verses are my life blood. I found poetry as a child hearing and reading nursery rhymes and soon began to write my own poems. As a more independent reader I discovered the humor of Ogden Nash and the world of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Child's Garden of Verses." In poetry I found my own private Camelot, a place of perfection. Inside the silence and solitude of writing poetry I record my world and learn about my own heart. I discovered Mary Oliver's astute descriptions of nature and Billy Collins' persepective on the everyday world. I ventured into the mystical realm of Rumi and Hafiz.

I travel away and into prose--fiction and essay, novels and memoirs, but always return to the land of poetry. I read it, write it, study it and read about writing it. It is my heart and soul and herein I will always abide.

Monday, October 29, 2012

GIFTS OF TIME

After a four day weekend away at a wedding with no time to write I received a gift. It's an odd gift with a real demon side. Hurricane Sandy is pounding up the eastern coastline and preparing to slam into the New Jersey and New York shorelines. Due to Sandy we have two days off from work. Of course it would be better if there wasn't a natural disaster at the helm of this unplanned vacation but here it is in my lap.

So far I have completed revisions on my flash fiction chapbook in preparations for submitting it to a contest next month. I'm also working on queries for my short story collection so I can send them to publishers. I'm going to target some small publishers and see how it goes.

Next it's back to my novel. I would love to finish a first draft before my retreat in three weeks so I can begin revisions, or put it away and turn to poetry and flash fiction again. I need the quick results of short forms. But at odd times the characters and plot lines of my novel come back to haunt me. I can't shake it. It clings to me like wet sand. Its grains rub and abrade until I respond. Go to the keyboard and get down a new chapter. So I am hoping there isn't too much storm damage and that everyone stays safe and dry. In the meantime I am using the next two days to drive some more tension into the story and get my characters up a tree as they say.

Here's to the gift of writing time. May the next present come with nicer weather.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

TEN THINGS TO DO INSTEAD OF WRITING

Saturday was spent out at the wineries with friends and we had a grand time. Sunday bloomed crisp and sunny and free. A good spread of hours in which to write. But as much as writers love to write, we also seem adept at finding other ways to occupy our free time.

Here are ten things to do instead of writing. Some fun and some not so much fun, but they supply the coward's way out of attacking that plot twist, that end rhyme, that perfect tie up to an essay.

  1. clean out your closet
  2. take photos of your shoes to glue on the boxes so you know what's inside
  3. bake a batch of brownies
  4. read a good novel
  5. make lists of ideas for new novels and stories
  6. walk in the woods
  7. do laundry
  8. take a nap
  9. chat on facebook
  10. enter writing contests (well okay at least this one is related to writing)
After all that is done it's time to tackle that new chapter and figure out exactly why Meghan's twin sister committed suicide on her sixteenth birthday. Or was it really suicide?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

SHORT FORM OR LONG

I just read an article in last month's "The Writer Magazine" that presented writing advice from the inimitable Edgar Allan Poe who died at the ripe age of 40. He lived an addictive and tortured life but managed to create some of the best crafted prose and poetry of his century. Indeed, he treaded the first steps in the genres of mystery and horror. A writer to be reckoned with for sure.

Poe scribed essays about writing for a variety of magazines in between penning his poems and short stories. In one of those essays he talks about the value of writing short. His claim was that a reader needed to be able to consume a poem or story in one sitting so as not to disrupt the mood and tone of the piece. In this way the reader was able to keep the "whole" of the story in his head. He claimed that when reading a novel, where the reader is forced to put down the book in between reading sessions, he loses the thread of the plot and the mood of the fictive world created by the writer.

It brought to mind why I like writing poetry and flash fiction over writing novels. Yes, I enjoy getting deep into the plot and characters of my novels, the same way I enjoy going that deep while reading them. But for me there is something special about the short forms. Not only is the intensity of what you are writing increased by the concision of words and emotions, but I can keep the whole piece in my head at one time. I don't have to keep reverting to previous novel chapters to remember the color of the protagonist's car or whether or not the antagonist had salt and pepper hair or slender streaks of white in his black mane. Writng a short story I have the entire plot in mind as I string words to the end. I like that intensity and the ability to hold it all in my hand at once.

I'll continue to write novels in between the short forms, but now at least I know that the great Poe agreed with me.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

RAINSTORMS AND BRAINSTORMS

There's nothing like a rainy Sunday for writing when you are in the flow. Although I was greeted by the sun this morning, the clouds are now drifting in and I smell rain in the air. I'd already planned to spend today working on my novel but now I am even more motivated and revved up.

At my Tapestries' meeting yesterday, one of the women in our group came up with an idea that has blown my plot out into the open. I am so excited to start writing with this new character goal in mind. It makes the plot stronger, the stakes higher, the conflict more suspenseful. I love it.

I spent the early morning writing pages of notes on this new plot idea and listing modifications to some of the characters to make it work. Now I can get to the keyboard and write. I love sharing this novel writing process with my blog readers and hope it motivates you writers out there to pick up a pen and get to work. Once the fire ignites in the brain there is no stopping us.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

WRITING GROUPS

It's Saturday and the sky outside my writing room window is mottled gray. A moist autumn breeze flickers the pages piling up on my desk. And a chorus of sparrows and cardinals offer background music to the click of keyboard keys. Words flow-- ribbons of ideas onto the white screen. But this isn't just any Saturday morning. This is the special Saturday that occurs each month when my writing group meets.

We were born ten years ago when a small group of women writers responded to an ad in The Network--the journal of the the International Women's Writing Guild. We met in one woman's kitchen, over coffee and cake, to read our stories and share comments and critique. A few months later we named our group Tapestries, referring to the intricate weave of our varied fabrics. We have been meeting monthly ever since then although there have been some women who left the group while others have joined us to add new texture.

It was and remains amazing that our writing abilities, interests, and dedication to the pursuit, as well as our personalities have woven together so nicely. We get along so well and are so determined to succeed at writing that we have been going on weekend writing retreats for the past three years.

There is power in this group. We are connected to each other personally as well as through our writing. We offer considerate yet direct critiques of what each woman brings to read each month. We are here to help each other but we don't retreat from candid comments that push each other to write better, stronger, and more often and to pursue the reward of publication by sending out our work even when we are less than confident. When a writer is ready to submit to a publisher, agent or contest, we help that writer make the work the best it can be.

We are a group of five now and frequently we look to add a new member or two to bring more talent and diversity to our group. That's hard. Finding new writers who click with us is a challenge. But over the past ten years we have been lucky to have women come and go who bring their special gifts to the group, adding to the brilliant colorful patchwork of Tapestries.

So as a rosy glow blooms around those mottled gray clouds, I look forward to this afternoon and three hours of sharing and critiquing and being with these marvelous  women writers. We have shared so much and come so far in our writing and we have also become the best of friends. No matter how much someone cares for you, no one understands this writing passion, the dreams for success and the struggles to get there, like another writer. And no one can relate to a woman's particular passions and struggles like another woman.

Monday, October 1, 2012

BIAM

So what in the world is BIAM? It's a book and a program called Book in a Month and it guides you to creating a simple first draft of your novel in one month. I've decided to take on the challenge and hope I'm not crazy. For me it's not essential that this gets done in a thirty day period, although that would be nice. What's helpful is all the charts and questions and tracking that help you to lay out plot and keep track of characters and scenes. If offers a way to record changes you make mid-novel so you don't have to go back and change all the previous chapters before you finish the first draft.

This coincides with my taking an online class call Writing Your Novel from the Ground Up which also pushes you to answer a lot of questions about the plot and the characters before you begin writing so you go in knowing which paths you are writing down as you go.

Writing is a mystery, even to writers, but I am off to solve yet another mystery of story and see if I can craft a novel people will want to read.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

DON'T BACK DOWN

We saw the movie "Don't Back Down" today and it truly inspired and motivated me both for my job and in my writing life. The story is about a group of parents and teachers who take on the school board in an attempt to make the school more effective. It's based on a true story, one I'm not familiar with and I will do some research on it. I want to know how they changed the school to make it better.

As a school administrator working with a system and bureaucracy that are more interested in saving money than providing services for children, I know what it's like to be frustrated and angered at the powers that be. I know that it isn't easy to make changes. In a time when job security is hard to find it often seems nonproductive to fight the system. How do you risk your own financial security in order to make things better? Better yet, how can you possibly sit back and watch kids continually get short changed? The movie brought a lot of questions. I need time to ponder. But I also know I can't easily step in and go along with things that don't make sense to me.

And therein lies the title, "don't back down" and the connection to my writing life. I believe I am a writer. I have enough publication credits to prove it to the world as well as to myself. So I felt, after this movie, that I can't back down from this dream. I must keep plugging away, finding more and more time to write. I need to be more determined to get this thing I want so badly.

Sometimes sitting in a dark movie theatre brings it all to light.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

AT THE BOOKSTORE

I don't normally like to write outside of my little writing space at home. I've created a nice "room of my own" where I have a computer and a separate desk to sit at and write longhand scenes in my spiral notebooks. I have soft instrumental music playing, not the slam bam of what they play at Barnes and Noble these days. In the past, when I went to Barnes and Noble, soft classical music followed book lovers as they perused the shelves. Now, not only do they play pop music, but shelves of music CDs and DVD movies and a huge bank of nook e-readers have overtaken the space that used to hold books. The books have been pushed back making room for today's vast array of media materials.

Today however I learned something. Barnes and Noble is not a bad place to rack up pages of novel scenes and outlines for chapters. A cup of decaf at my elbow and my laptop opened on the table in the cafe I was prisoner of my thoughts. I couldn't take off and clean, or go watch tv, or make art journal pages like I do at home to avoid writing. Of course there are books to distract me, but I sat and wrote. It was a lesson in perserverance.

I created an outline template for act one of my novel "Megan's Gift" from materials in "Book in a Month." Outlines and synopses are harder to write than the actual 60,000 word novel, but faced with the questions in the template I pushed myself to answer them based on my novel idea. I learned that I know more about where I'm going with this book than I thought I did. I'm sure if I had tried to do this at home I would have felt challenged and then looked for some way to procrastinate over that task. Now I have a better direction for my writing,

I also mangaged to write a draft of my jacket cover copy, which is the first exercise in the novel writing class I'll be taking online. That's also a challenge but the process helps clarify character goals and points of conflict and tension so essential in novels of the 21st century.

I was resistant to going to the bookstore today because I thought I would be distracted from writing. But my husband wanted to go to get a cookbook for his son so I agreed and found by surprise a writing focus I didn't think I had. Maybe I can actually get this book finished this time around.

Stay tuned. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, September 28, 2012

NOVEL EVOLUTION

I've had a novel-in-progress for three years now and it's time to commit to finishing it, revising it and sending it out into the world. I am grateful to my writers' group, Tapestries, for reading and critiquing my evolving chapters, commenting on characters, and helping me find direction. Now it's time to put aside all other writing and be done with this.

I just enrolled in an online writing class on www.Wow-women-on-writing.com. They offer wonderful classes in many genres. I've taken a couple of helpful and inspiring ones on flash fiction and poetry. But now it's novel time.

To keep up my commitment I am going to blog about my writing progress and post bits and pieces of the novel here to tempt whomever might be interested. It's a struggle to write a novel, creating fascinating characters in suspenseful stories and written in an alluring way. But it's also great fun to get into the heads of people you've created. It's magical to get lost inside a story you made up yourself. And it's heady business to share that. So I hope you'll read along and share my story as well as its progress.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

STALLED IN THE WRITE LANE

I believe that writer's block occurs when you face the blank white page or monitor and no story ideas flow from your fingers. No characters march, or stroll, or jog leaving plot footprints. No inciting incident startles you, no turning point shows its dramatic face. So I can't say I have writer's block. I prefer to think of this thought bare state as a stall in my novel.

I have characters and plot, the inciting incident has run its course, I know the main character's goal and I know some of the obstacles that will befall her. But still I am stalled. I've revised this story several times and suddenly that goal has shifted. Usually I know where I'm going but have to find the ways to get there that provide a good read. Right now I'm not sure where I'm going. I'm trying several exercises to figure that out.

I'm writing more character profiles and trying to rework the plot trajectory, but I'm not getting too far.

It's at this stalled point in a novel when I have to decide whether to let the story go and begin a new one or struggle over this hump and find my story's flow again. It's a hard decision and the lure of a new plot and new characters hangs over my head. But I like my plot and I don't want to let it go, but I can't grab onto to it tight enough to keep writing.

But I will keep writing, because that's what I do.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Lost Notebook

I have been working on  a novel, temporarily called "Megan's Gift," for three years. Of course it's off and on so not actually representative of three years' writing. The story itself has changed several times and was down to it's last incarnation up until today. I've gotten up to chapter 25 in the first draft of this present version. Right now I am trying to refine it's final core story so I can finish the darn thing, though I have a few ideas for changes brewing in my mind. The thing is I'm on my fourth day of a four day weekend and just sat down to work. But . . . I lost my notebook.

Don't feel too sorry for me as everything in that notebook has been typed out and backed up. But I prefer to write first drafts in longhand in spiral notebooks and I hoped to pick up where I left off and get a new running start. Now this is my excuse for procrastination.

Losing three longhand chapters, plus the chapter typed out whose pages I stuck into the notebook, is like a mountain in front of me halfway through a long journey. I was about to take the scenes from chapter 25 and rewrite them as my new chapter 8. Now I have to start from scratch.

The lost notebook is like "The Lost Weekend." An ephemeral missing piece of time in my writing life.

It's not the lost words but the idea that I can't find the darn book that bothers me. There are only a few places it could be, but of course it's not in any of those places. Now I don't know where to look.

I suppose the best thing to do is start writing in a new notebook and not waste time searching for the old one. That sounds practical. So off I go to get more words down. Chapter 8 here I come.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

COMMITMENT

A commitment to writing is a dangerous animal. It roars and breathes fire that licks at the brain even when you are sleeping. It never leaves you alone and yet it adds a dimension to your life that warms the heart and stresses you to the nth degree. I've written before about my constant genre jumping but lately I feel a pull into a more committed type of writing. It takes work and perseverence which is difficult to do when I already have a full time job, but I have no choice. It is in me and it is what I do.

I have had enough success with short stories recently to know I need to concentrate on that as my writing genre. Of course poetry will still abide as it is my first reading/writing love and my true passion. Why waste all that time on trying to finish a novel that has been in progress for three years now when I have written at least 20 stories this year, and numerous poems. I need to put some time into revising and submitting all that work. Nothing gets publsihed sitting in a binder on a shelf.

It's time to make a commitment to study, read, write, revise and submit short stories and poems. As September blooms cool and welcoming I will move ahead toward more success.

Today I resubmitted a story that was just rejected and I sent two queries for my short story collection to agents. I am now searching all resources for agents and publsihers of short story collections and researching markets for individual stories and poems.

Wish me luck my blogging and writing friends.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

More success

Did you ever feel like life was handing out all its joy to you and you alone? That's how I've been feeling. So I have a new car and a new computer. I am married to a wonderful man who adores me and I have a good job, despite the fact that my license plate says, "I'd rather be writing." Who could ask for more? I have more though. Besides cooking and laundry my husband works hard to pave the path for me to get to my writing and it is beginning to pay off.

In the past year I have published two more short stories and a poem. I now have 30% of the stories in my short story collection published and that means I can legitimately submit queries to agents and publishers. I am in the process of refining my query letter with the help of my writng group, Tapestries and Melanie Faith, a teacher I have taken several online classes with. I hope to be sending that query out this week and waiting for responses. It's a long wait, I know, and I want to fill that time with more revisions and more writing.

It's September, summer is winding its way out and school begins next week. I will be busy at work but I also want to establish a solid writing routine. It means more focused writing in the morning before work and skipping my fave television shows at night-- Jeopardy and Seinfeld re-runs.

And, oh, a quick aside, I made lifetime at Weight Watchers this week as well.

Life is good, really good.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

WRITING AT DAWN

It's just before dawn when I open my eyes and tiptoe from the bedroom. At 4:30 the sky is still a deep steel gray and even the birds are still nestled, beaks tucked beneath their wings. Early August, summer in full heat, and already daylight comes a bit later each day. At my writing desk I switch on the Ott-lite and watch the blank white page glow like a rectangular moon. Writing in the morning is a habit and a treat I look forward to.

The short story collection is complete. I have only to compose a titilating query and send it off and see what happens. In the meantime I began an online poetry class yesterday. The class involves reading contemporary women poets and then using some of those poems as launch pads for our own writing. This morning, as the sky outside wavered into a pink and blue watercolor I opened a collection of Mary Oliver's poems. She is the first poet we are studying and one of my favorites.

Reading her lines is like walking into a field of wildflowers. Between the rigid stems tiny wildlife skitter. Background music is provided by singing birds, and the hum of summer insects. I am no longer at my writing desk, but on a foray to the outdoors. Oliver's words enter my skin and my soul. Her detailed descriptions of Mother Nature's gifts stir my muse. Before I know it I am scrawling my own poems across that blank white page.

I can't reach Oliver's excellence, not yet. I've read that she rewrote her poems hundreds of times, getting them quite perfect, before she let them venture out to publishers. The smooth sounds of her lines belie all those revisions, but the utter beauty and magic of each poem is witness that Oliver spent many lonely mornings creating her perfections.

I will use this time to make poems, to look skyward toward Mother Nature's abstract designs, and listen attentively to each tiny sound made by the little creatures of the world. And I will hope that in some way I can come to write poems as magical and reverent as Oliver's.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Looking Through Windows

"Looking through Windows" is the title of my short story collection. No it's not published yet, but writers have to reward and brag about the steps taken toward completing a project. I'm almost there. Two stories to revise and send out. They claim you should have 30 to 40 percent of the stories in a collection already published in jounrals so I'm close. Two more acceptances and I will have four out of ten published. In the meantime I have commited to getting this done.

Over the past five years I have worked on and abandoned this project--back and forth and getting nowhere. Now I've promised myself to do no other writing but what I need to do until I can start querying agents and publishers about a collection.

The title is symbolic of what I, and other writers, do when we create settings, plots, characters and dialogues. We pretend we are looking through the nightime windows of other people's homes. Backlit against the warm golden lamp light we watch silhouettes glide around their private rooms and pretend we know what they are doing, what they are thinking, to whom they are speaking. We pretned we know their inner joys and turmoils. We have to. How else can we create the fictions we love to weave when we are alone, silhouetted against the writing lamp on our desks?

I love writing short stories. The intensity of action and language make for engrossing writing. I like making a whole life evident in 2,000 words or less. I like being able to see a project completed and sent out in a time frame I can grasp in one hand. Short stories and flash fiction are so much fun to write.

I also, like writing novels for the chance to go deep into the plot and the characters' lives. The time to meander through the story. The time to delve deep. But--I have to finsih these stories first. Once "Looking through Windows" is done I can return to my novel. Hard to pick betwee novels and short stories when choosing a writing project. But that's a topic for another day's post.

Friday, July 20, 2012

NECESSARY

Writing is just something I have to do, like eating, sleeping, breathing. When art journals, collage and paint distract me, when I want to hide inside a new novel, or just stare at the television, writing calls me. I suppose it's the voice of my muse and her gentle hand, that pushes me to the desk. I can't get away from it. It can be morning pages, an idea for a new short story, a prompt for a flash fiction piece or some line of poetry that latches on, whatever--it calls and I must answer.

I ask myself often, perhaps daily, why I write. Why does the feel of a pen in my fingers and the slick smooth surface of a blank page on the heel of my hand make my heart beat faster? why can I never ignore it. And not just writing itself, but things related to writing--classes, conferences, books on writing, lists of writing prompts, articles online about how to put together a chapbook or a short story collection. They sing like the robins and sparrows whose lilting warbles wake me in the morning.

I may resist it, but eventually I must start again. I have a short story collection that is nearly there. A few more stories to revise, a couple already published, and then the queries have to go out to agents and small presses.

Like the squeal of a siren, the cry of a baby, or the whimper of a puppy--it will not be ignored.

If only they made velcro pillows for my writing chair that would keep me there until I finished. I have to follow.I have to commit. I have to do what I must do.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

JUST A POEM

MOTHER AND CHILD

It was the hum of your voice
That etched the first smile on my face.
The beat of your heart
Against my own
That made me feel safe.
The touch of your cool hand
On my fevered brow
That let me know
I was loved.
And the release of your hand
Setting me free in the world
That let me grow.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A VERY SHORT STORY








SEARCHING FOR STORIES

I walk across the quilt of glistening snow. The dying sun casts blue, white and yellow gems on the crust beneath my booted feet. The air crackles with cold. My breath billows, furls in the air, then disintegrates before my eyes.
Miles and miles of white marble headstones line up in straight rows. I turn and they all sift into diagonal arrangement. I search for Mom’s grave and hope I’m not too late.
Years have passed. I was away from home, trying to find myself. I didn’t know my womanhood, my selfhood, lived in the stories I didn’t stay around to hear.
I find the headstone.
Margaret Leah Peters
1918-2009
Beloved wife, mother, daughter, sister

            I kneel and trace the carved letters of my mother’s name. I press my ear to the frigid earth. Silence. All the stories are gone.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A NOVEL START


DEATH BE NOT PROUD


The sparkling July sunshine mocked the somber funeral participants. A semicircle of mourners curled around the open grave and watched as a smooth ebony coffin was lowered into the damp earth. Away from the crowd, huddled beneath the shade of a maple tree, three women looked over the proceedings. Tears studded their flushed cheeks and sweat bloomed beneath their black dresses.


“It’s so sad,” Lenore muttered. “Celia was so healthy and then this heart attack out of nowhere.”


“I know, “Paula agreed. ”And look at Warner he looks so lost and bereft.”


“And handsome too,” Corinne whispered. “He’s still a hunk. Celia was lucky to have him.”


“For sure. She was a wonderful, big hearted woman, but not so hot looking.” Corinne wiped her face with the back of her hand blending tears and perspiration. “Even in college she was the least good looking of the four of us.”


“Well,” Lenore said. “Age sure levels the playing field. Now in our sixties I think we are equally hot looking.”


“Or not so hot,” Corinne said.


“Oh we’re hot,” Paula said. “It’s ninety degrees out. Why did she pick such a steamy day to die?”


“Oooh, how cruel,” Lenore said with a catty smile.


“What’s sadder?” Paula asked. “Celia’s death or all those years Warner wasted on her.”


“Any one of us would have made a better match for him,” Corinne said.


“Well we had our chance to lure him,” Paula reminded the women as Warner walked to the gravesite and dropped a handful of dirt into the hole in the ground.


“Yeah,” Lenore said. “We all had a crack at him. We all slept with him before they got engaged.”


“Yes, but after they started dating. We were pretty sneaky. Amazing Celia never found out.” Paula said.


Corinne elbowed the other women.


“Shhh, here comes Warner.”

The tall slender man, his dark hair frosted with gray at the temples, approached the little group. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief and attempted a smile that just wouldn’t come.


“Thank you for coming,” he said. “I appreciate your sympathy. Besides just watching you huddled together here reminds me that I picked the right one of you to marry.”


He walked away and disappeared into a shiny black limousine.


Corinne, Paula and Lenore watched with their mouths drooped open.




Saturday, July 7, 2012

A NEW CHALLENGE

Never one to completely give up I am giving myself a new challenge. I have just completed two five week long online writing classes. One in poetry and one in flash fiction. These are my preferred genres as I love the intensity and brevity of the pieces. These writings are small but make a huge impact on the reader. I also like being able to work with each poem or story as a whole unit rather than bits of scenes in a continuous long stream that I have to handle when penning a novel.

My new challenge involves posting a poem or the opening of a flash story each day for the rest of this month. Let's see how this goes!

Monday, June 11, 2012

CHALLENGE FAILED

No one likes to admit she failed, but in failure there always sleeps a lesson waiting to be aroused. I set out to post every day for the month of June based on one writing prompt or another. I wanted to write twenty minutes a day--a story, poem, or essay--and post it here. But as John Lennon said so well--life is what happens while you're making other plans.

What lesson was asleep in this recent failed challenge of mine? Of course, the lesson is when you commit to something you need to follow through, but we all know that. And it is significant to the writer because you can't publish if you don't write. But there is another lesson that perhaps slept a little more deeply. The lesson, or question, of finding time to write so I can follow through on my commitments. I did find twenty minutes a day to write--exactly where I'd left them each morning.

I've been a writer of "morning pages" a la Julia Cameron's suggestion in her book "The Artist's Way" for many years. Taking out my spiral notebook and filling three pages of curlicued blue letters and words is as much a habit as brushing my teeth, washing my face and eating oatmeal. Over and over in those pages I have complained about not having time to write my novel, or start a new short story, or work on my memoir. I complained about other things too. And I wrote many pages about what my goals were, what genre I wanted to focus on, where I was going with my writing--was it for publication or just for fun? But this morning I took that sleeping lesson and woke her up.

Instead of three pages of rambling thoughts and complaints, I started a new short story to submit at the end of this week in my online flash fiction class. In twenty minutes I had four and a half pages of the story written. And this is flash ficiton, so that means a first draft is just about finished.

How did I complain all those years about not having time to write when all those mornings I was writing--just the wrong things. Twenty minutes every morning can create a first draft flash story every day. It can be three to four pages more of the novel. Or it can be the opening of a new personal essay. How stupid could I have been all those years? Using my writing time to complain about not having time to write. That alone should make me ashamed.

But I am exposing that fault right here on my writing blog to prove--to my readers and to myself--that with a little flash of thought I can solve this dilemma. I am challenging myself, yes again, to start a new flash story every morning from a prompt or an idea and to complete and revise that story at night. If this works it could become as much a habit as morning pages were. And at the end of the week instead of pages and pages of whining and moaning I will have at least 7 first drafts of stories to polish and send out to journals.

I'm off on a new challenge! Wish me luck!

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Story Behind Every Face

Writers are frequently asked where they get their ideas for stories or poems and the answers seem endless. Sources range from dreams, to news stories, to the ephemeral muse, to strange voices in the night. I never know the original source of my story ideas but I don't go looking for them, they seem to seek me out instead. They find me, grab me, reside in me, until I finally agree to write the story. I have notebooks filled with ideas for stories, poems, essays and art pages and if I had 24 hours a day, every day I'd never have enough time to write them all. Ideas are everywhere, at least for me.

There are stories behind every face I see. Faces of family and friends. Faces of strangers in coffee shops and colleagues at work. No one is storyless. As the stories around me reveal themselves I see that this world is filled with stories. You never know what dramas--triumphs and defeats, joys and sorrows-- live behind the faces you see each day. Sometimes the stories come out of hiding and nudge me to pen and paper to write them down. Sometimes they need to be coaxed out of the darkness where they can be dressed up and sent out to teach, entertain, support or enlighten.

I've taken to scouring crowds looking for people who appear to have a story. If someone I know has a story I will investigate, get to the heart of it and turn it into fiction. If it's a stranger then I create a character and make up a story, because somewhere, someplace there is someone who owns that story. It's a wild ride and I hang onto my pen for dear life, coasting across the page marking tracks that will hopefully find their way to readers.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

CHANTEUSE

This poem was inspired by a true family story.


Her father sent her to Paris

to make money as a chanteuse.

She boarded a plane, baggage in hand,

and hummed a few bars on a flight over the Atlantic.

While in Paris she learned to sing like a bird.

She went nightly to cabarets and wore

the finest silk dresses in the colors of jewels.

One night she met a tall dark man

who offered her his love, a kiss and a ring

that made her eyes light like sapphires.

She accepted the ring.

She silenced her song.

She stopped answering her father’s letters

asking when she would be coming home.

One night, on a flight back over the Atlantic

With her tall dashing husband, she returned

To New York, where she and her young man

started a farm in the Catskills.

And she never heard from her father again.

But her song can be heard in the wind that

races through the trees and over the sharp pointed

mountains---and she is happy as a lark.

Friday, June 1, 2012

PROMPT: looking back it was the eggplant that caused it.



            “What are you doing?” Alice yelped.
            Her husband, blonde ponytail knotted from an afternoon in the wind, looked up.
            “What do you mean? I’m planting eggplant seeds.”
            “They’ll never grow. I told you to stick with tomatoes and cucumbers.”
            Tony laughed and wiped sweat off his forehead leaving a trail of moist dirt.
            “Of course they will,” he said. “I need a change. We always plant tomatoes and cucumbers. I wanted to be innovative. Can’t do the same things all the time. Break out of the box. Fly the coop. Don’t be so boring.”
            “Boring huh?’
            Alice snapped around and stomped back to the house. Eggplant will never grow in this tight earth. They need loose sandy soil. He’ll see come August when this garden is barren.
            In the bedroom she pulled the blanket down to the foot of the bed. Then she showered and anointed herself with musk scented body oil. When Tony came up from gardening he took one look at his wife posed erotically on the bed, nothing but her pink skin as a covering.
            “What’s all this?” he asked.
            “I’m not being boring,” Alice drawled.
            Tony stripped, took a quick shower and joined Alice on the bed. They spent hours making love and sleeping, making love and sleeping, until the sun rose on a new day.
            In August the eggplants were thick lush plants, purple bulbs of pungent flesh hanging from thick stems. And Alice’s taut belly was beginning to soften.
            Nine months later, when Alice gave birth to an adorable blonde haired baby she told everyone the eggplant caused it.

A NEW WRITING CHALLENGE

Today is the first of June and as good a time as any to begin a new 30 day challenge. In the month of April, in honor of National Poetry Month, I posted a daily poem and art piece on my sister blog http://www.amarriageofpoetryandart.blogspot.com/. Now in honor of Short Story Month I am challenging myself to post a daily story on this blog. It will be a 20 minute free write from a daily writing prompt.

The inspiration for a twenty minute a day writing challenge came from my online writing teacher Len Leatherwood and her blog http://www.twentyminutesaday.wordpress.com/ Len is an amazing teacher and seeing her daily writing encouraged me to do the same on my own blog. My prompts will come from Melanie Faith. Melanie is a fabulous flash fiction and poetry writer and teacher. I've taken several classes online with her. Today I began a new flash fiction class with her. Melanie provides daily prompts to her students so I will use those for my free writes for this blog.

I'd also like to share with my readers my newest publication success. My short story "After the Ball" will be published online at http://www.metrofiction.com/  on Sunday June 3. Now I have 3 published short stories and am on my way to creating a short story chapbook or collection. "After the Ball" is a spoof on Cinderella that was great fun to write. If you wander over to the site on Sunday I hope you enjoy reading it.

I'll post my first free write exercise later today. Hope to see you all here following my daily stories.
Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

ONLINE WRITING CLASS ADDICTION

Some women are drawn to slabs of dark chocolate, some to the glitter of diamonds or the opalescence of pearls but what does it for me are online writing classes. Over the past two months and into the upcoming two months I have taken, or will take, a total of 8 online classes in essay writing, poetry and flash fiction. When I find classes being offered I hone in on those that intrigue me, those genres that I actually write in.

I get updates from Story Circle Network, WOW-Women on Writing, Writing It Real and from writer and teacher Jordan Rosenfeld. I also explore on a regular basis classes offered by Gotham online classes and Writers' Digest.

So what's the intrigue?
  • motivation to write
  • honest and professional critiques
  • exposure to writing I might not discover on my own
  • connection with other writers going through the same challenges
  • prompts and exercises that get me writing and give me direction
Just creating my pocket folders for each class, with neatly typed labels in violet print, gets me excited and eager to write. I most love classes that have lots of materials whether presented online or in books required for the class.

Some of my best classes have been offered through Story Circle Network. The classes are geared toward women writing about their lives but other topics like blogging and promotion also crop up. The instructors are top-notch and the content of classes is amazing. Genres from poetry about mothers, to haiku and other Japanese forms, to essays and journaling and memoir. There are mentors and instructors who also will work one-to-one with writers to get them through long term writing projects which is one of the programs I start on next week.

I admit my addiction. I don't want a recovery program to get over it either. I prefer to hang on to this one. It gets my writing done and it doesn't add on pounds like dark chocolate, though honestly--a bit of chocolate while writing can be a wondrous thing and can even bring the muses out of hiding.

Monday, April 30, 2012

RETREAT

On Thursday April 26 my writing critique group, Tapestries, set off for a twice yearly retreat. On a brisk partly cloudy morning I drove to Amagansett on the south fork of Long Island, almost to the tip at the Montauk Lighthouse. I met one of our members at Sea Crest on the Ocean where we stay and we went to lunch.

Over a tasty chicken salad sandwich on rye bread we relaxed into the few days of peace, quiet and writing as winds blew across the sandy coastline.

For three days, four writing women read, wrote, brainstormed and walked on the beach searching for stones left by our muses. Picking up these invisible stones of inspiration we fondled them in our hands, turning them over and over in search of a unique character trait or edgy plot twist that would make our novels rise above the slush piles in editors' and agents' offices.

At the end of our peaceable retreat I had revised two short stories and a chapter of my novel. A quite productive opportunity to be the writer I know I am. A chance to be as authentic as I can be without having my time competing for my attention. I drove back home on a warm sunny Sunday morning knowing this is who I want to be, knowing that I can only be content when writing is upmost in my mind and I am not distracted from the task at hand, be it a poem, a novel chapter, or a flash fiction piece. I long for the time when each day can be mastered by writing. I long for the warm and windy contentment of a beach house, with sun pouring through the windows lighting the pages of a spiral notebook or the monitor of a computer.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

TIME OUT

I am just begging for someone to ground me, send me to my room and put me in time out. "Time out" as a behavioral intervention for preschoolers is frowned upon and in many cases prohibited. But I believe for adults--mothers, teachers, therapists, and especially artists and writers--it should be implemented frequently and for long periods of time. The formula for "time out" is one minute for each year of the child's life. For me that would be 62 minutes of glorious peace, quiet and creative time. I prescribe it for myself about three times a day so that morning, noon and night I can hide away and get something created. Unfortunately I cannot self medicate so I am doomed to wait patiently until some physician discovers that this is the best treatment and it has only healthy and positive side effects.

In time out I could read quietly, absorbing poems like mist on my skin instead of gobbling them up without a chance to fully appreciate the rhythm and the message. I could set out my paints and brushes, spread out some choice images and create a mixed media piece that could be the backdrop for the poem I would write in that third time out of the day.

Send me to my room, please, and lock the door. Forget about me for a while so the similies and metaphors, plots and resolutions, color and images, can gather inside my head and array themselves in the most beautiful way. Leave me a fragrant mug of herbal tea, perhaps a small bit of dark chocolate, a CD of relaxing music and a scented candle. Set a vase of fresh lavender on my desk beside the notebook and pen. Turn off the ceiling light so the small natural light lamp on my desk creates a halo around me, sheltering me from the outside world, leaving me alone with my muse to explore and discover the next collage, poem or flash fiction. And if you forget about me for a while I won't mind. I won't even tell anyone. I'll be too busy writing.

Monday, March 19, 2012

GOOD DAYS/BAD DAYS

Progress in writing is like the weather, especially if, like me, you write in several genres. Sometimes there are sunny skies and the writing goes well, I am focused on a project and moving along at a good flow. For instance, Saturday was one of those days. I typed out several pages in my novel and stashed them in  a binder to await revision. Then I wrote one and a half new chapters in longhand in my ever present spiral notebook. I also made a few plot notes and created a new character. It was writing bliss.

Then Sunday came, and not so good. The weather itself was warm and sunny--a glorious day for winter in the northeast. The writing weather was a disaster. I did a lot of reading, got some errands accomplished and enjoyed the warm sun, but the only writing I achieved were my three morning pages--which I didn't write until 5:00 in the evening.

Not feeling very productive I ended the weekend grateful for what I got done on Saturday. Sunday night I made a commitment to make this a better writing week. If I can write three longhand morning pages I can certainly write three pages a day in the novel. I know I can do it. I've written many poems, short stories, essays and two completed novels. Writers have to stand on their past accomplishments in order to be confident they can continue to write. And, oh yes, the writing weather needs to be sunny and calm so the muse will show up.

PROMPT FOR TODAY
What writing commitment will you make this week.

Monday, March 12, 2012

WRITING AT 30,000 FEET

I discovered a writing secret on my recent trip to LA. In the 757 aircraft the pressure equalizes, the lights dim, and the white noise of the engines is so loud it feels like it's coming from deep inside my own body. I've heard the safety instructions, eaten my take on board lunch, since sandwiches on the plane are too costly, and I've drunk enough water to keep me from getting a dehydration headache. I have also read several chapters in the novel I brought along on vacation and listened to Adele's album on my i-pod. There are several hours left of this cross country flight.

I take out the spiral notebook I am using to write first draft chapters of my novel and here is where the secret reveals itself. Stuck in the plane at 35,000 feet about mountains and streams, nestled into the narrow, even for me, seat of the plane, strapped to my seat with few distractions, the story comes to me like a film on a 3-D screen. My characters' voices speak in my head, the movements shift in my inner vision and their conflicts spark a flow of writing I don't often find at home.

In my writing room at home I can find all kinds of diversions from writing. I can go get a snack or a drink, pick up a book, check email or writing websites, go outside and take a walk, or sit on the couch sharing a pot of tea with my husband. But up here above the clouds all I can do is write. Twelve pages of longhand drama flow from my pen. Conflicts resolve and new ones are born. My main character chooses to follow a path I never expected she would turn down. The writing comes easily, albeit rough and in need of revision, and I have another chapter done.

On the return flight back to New York I finish ten more longhand pages. I do some revision on chapter two so I can read it at my writing group meeting this week. It's a writing miracle. As the plane makes a smooth landing, I land another critical plot turn and close the notebook. I feel prolific and successful. If only I could travel cross country every day this novel could be finished in record time. But I take what I can get and I'm thankful for a safe flight and some uninterrupted writing time.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

WRITERS' BLOCK

I am not so arrogant to say I never get writers' block but I'm learning to call it by different names. Some days it's just laziness and lack of interest in my project. Other days it's strong resistance to work and thinking. Resistance is like a stone wall I have to barrel through--it hurts my head but releases me from the bonds of idleness. I've read that "writing begets more writing," and I believe it's true. It's like priming the verbal pump with a trickle of good sentences. When the block comes in the guise of procrastination there's only one thing to do--sit at my desk, whip out a spiral notebook and my favorite purple pen and start writing. When I encounter the block of badly written sentences and characters that fall flat I have to force myself not to quit writing. If I keep going, tossing my lack of confidence out the door, I find dialogue, characterization, and settings building and scenes stretch out over several pages. Maybe not all keepers but definitely something to work with.

Now I just have to fight through my blocks against revision!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

LIGHT ON A GRAY DAY

Saturday was rainy and gloomy but I was happy to be indoors and sheltered by the quilt of gray clouds and the light of my muse. Sometimes it's just delightful to stay home all day and gather my poems into a notebook to await revisions. To leisurely lounge in bed, have a lovely breakfast and relax with that second cup of coffee while discussing politics with my husband. Then read without thinking about where I have to go, or what I have to do next.

I need these points of stillness in my life in order to let the muse in. She's shy and doesn't like to appear in the midst of noise, people or chaos. Somehow these rainy days, with soft music in the background, and the comfort of hot tea, beckon her out onto my shoulder where I can just sit, stare into space, not thinking, and let her guide me in the right direction. Lately she's been nudging me toward poetry, but the other night she gave me a significant push back toward my abandoned novel.

I could use more days of soft silence--so much more would get written this way. My days off from work are when my muse comes out to play. Someday when I retire she is going to be very playful.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WADING THROUGH WORDS

Yes, writing is wading through words. First they hunker behind the gray convolutions of the brain. I nudge them out with a long walk outdoors, maybe some instrumental music, hot tea and candles, perhaps a dip into some good poetry or an exciting well written novel. Then all those anxious words begin to tumble around in my head like so many schools of krill. I toss my net into the chaos hoping to catch the train of a plot, an image to turn into a poem, an exciting character to build a story around. As I string the words across the page the magic happens. Scenes build, sentences become doorways into new worlds, characters spring to life before my eyes. I am compelled to keep going, it brings me back to the notebook again and again. It seems the more ideas I have for poems and short stories, the more ideas I get. Once all those words get loosened up there is no stopping them. I feel free. I believe I am a writer.

I am halfway through revising short stories for my collection. As I finish each one I will send it into the world hoping to find a home for it. Even as more story ideas get jotted in my inspiration notebook I am turning to poetry. I just finished one of Roger Housden's anthologies, "Dancing with Joy," and in my car is the anthology by Marilyn Sewell titled "Cries of the Spirit." I am wading through those words too, setting free my poetic spirit. Once these short stories are done and out and about, a binder full of poems awaits my revisions. They too will find homes I'm sure. Some may even end up here or on my other blog http://www.amarriageofpoetryandart.blogspot.com/.

Like wading into the foaming breakers of the gray-green ocean, I continue to wade into words, my own and those of other poets and fiction writers, and my heart swells like the waves at sea. It's a magnificent way to live.

                                                     ENTER POETRY

                                                In the crook of three evergreens
                                                I perch a book of nursery rhymes
                                                on my sunburned knees.
                                                I sit, criss-cross-applesauce
                                                on cool summer grass.
                                                My lips move as I read to myself;
                                                a conductor
                                                warming up that splendid
                                                synchronicity of sound in my head.
                                                Lyrical images
                                                mingle with an avian chorus,
                                                the swagger of noon breeze,
                                                the squish squash of children’s sneakers
                                                on hot pavement.
                                                I am in
                                                a world of poetry,
                                                at the ripe age of six.
                                                I will never leave.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

WRITING UPDATES

Okay, I had resolved to write every day, complete a short story every week, and start sending some things out. I'm getting there. Life nudges our resolutions out of view, giving us other things to do or think about. Stress in the guise of disappointment threatens to wipe all writing commitments aside while I hide inside the pages of a novel. But that won't get me anywhere. It was a tough week, not getting what I thought would be mine, but I had to shake it all off and hunker back to work. So, 3 haiku and two stories have been submitted, three stories were revised, making my short story collection halfway on its journey toward publication. (well submisison anyways.) Now it's back to some daily writing and getting those poems revised and sent out.

As the afternoon stretches out in front of me I am flagging but it's time for a shot of caffeine and some real work before this day ends.

in time for lunch
the muse settles in
pen slides across paper

WEEKLY PROMPT

Write about your ideal day

Thursday, February 16, 2012

SOLITUDE IN AN ELANTRA

My car is only several yards away from the chaos and stress of work but inside its red shell I find solitude. At lunch time I sneak out to the parking lot and hide in the front seat. My mp3 player whispers soft melodic music in my ears as I watch rain drip down the windshield like tears. I am sheltered, at peace and alone. There is much to be said about solitude, about not hearing the words of others or dealing with others' wants and needs. Here by myself I can read or meditate or just stare into the gray wet afternoon and let its cooling breath cleanse me of strain. As I sit and listen to the patter of rain and the occasional whir of an airplane words come to me. Lines of poetry tiptoe through my mind like tiny mice leaving little footprints of metaphor, similie, imagination. Characters emerge in the shapes on the glass or the billows of clouds. Story lines weave in and out of the strains of the music. Free of phone calls, visits to my office and the chatter of colleagues I can absorb the thoughts that gather into short stories, letting my brain infuse itself with ideas. None of this can happen unless I create this empty space for ideas to slither in. None of this can happen unless I find my way out here ever afternoon where my muse can emerge from her hiding place and whisper in my ear.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SANCTUARY

It was small as closets go, with bi-fold doors painted shiny white. The doors were louvered as if to provide ventilation to something alive that resided within. But over the ten years I played and slept in that bedroom no living creature ever emerged.

My little sherbet colored cotton dresses with their long sashes that Mom tied in big bows at my back only reached a short way down from the closet rod, leaving lots of space for the really important pieces of my childhood.

Born a rigid little girl, I’ve never had tolerance for clutter or disorganization and apparently that trait began way back then in the confines of that closet. To the left was a neat stack of boxes that held all the clothes and accessories for the dolls that sat on the top of my bookcase. Next to that was the pink vinyl tote box that I took to dancing school. It carried my leotards, ballet and tap shoes and in its corners dreams of prima ballerinas and bouquets of red roses offered to me center stage. Next in line were stacks of puzzles, board games and art kits. Venus paradise colored pencil kits and paint by number oil paint kits. And to the far right was a stack of coloring books and paper doll books. Well, not the far, far right. Despite the midget size of the closet I was able to leave a small corner for a silk baby blanket, a silk pillow from my crib that had my name embroidered in the smoothest of dark pink thread and privacy as rich and decadent as an Ebinger’s blackout cake.

It was in that corner that I huddled when I needed sanctuary from the noise of large family gatherings, or just to browse through picture books by myself, even when the house was quiet and still. Later it became a hiding place from dark secrets, broken hearts, and unkempt promises.

I’ve never outgrown that need for my own private small space. Over the years I’ve found it in far corners of my backyard, a rocking chair in the corner of my bedroom, and during lucky years a whole room just for me to hide in. I’ve found it in a stretch of sunwashed beach, a park bench, a cafĂ© table; anyplace I can carve out a space devoid of people or noise.

In these caverns of solitude I have penned poems of sadness and joy, short stories of complete fiction and novels threaded with more truth than I care to share. I’ve painted my fears and depressions in both bold and subtle acrylics or transparent watercolors. I’ve created dolls that become my muses and scrapbooks that preserve the love of family. I’ve been frantically creative or silently pensive in these sanctuaries. I need these spaces and have even used hotel bathrooms for journal writing while on vacation.

No matter where I find my little corners of solitude, when I am in them I can still smell the musty floorboards from that closet. I can feel the silk of the pillow and blanket on the tips of my fingers and I can hear my heartbeat the way it echoed in my ears while captured in that small space.

I believe no matter where I go I will always be able to find the solitude and space I need in which to just be me. I know I would never live anywhere that didn’t afford that small corner of some room, or even a whole room. I think Virginia Woolf was right. A woman needs a room of her own, even if it’s only the back corner of a closet, where no one can find her except her own soul.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

SNOWY SATURDAY

It was snowing when I awoke and I was happy to see a gray day. I needed a day to unwind slowly and sleepily over morning pages and then bacon and eggs for breakfast. And then I actually accomplished something writerly.

I took all the stories for my short story collection and organized them in a binder. Then I created an index of titles and comments on the status of each---"published," "revise based on notes," "revise or write new version." I feel settled now. I even whipped off an email to my two writing instructors for suggestions on how to get this collection out into the publishing world. Plan to have this done by end of April before our Tapestries writing group retreat at which time I will start planning my "memoir in poetry."

I also took all the other short stories I have, put them into a second binder, also with a table of contents of titles and status of each story. I feel so productive!

Now off to do some free-writes, revise a story for class next week, and clean my closet. Will surely do a new art journal page before this day is over.

WEEKLY PROMPT

Write a 500 word story, but write it backwards. End with the scene just before the inciting incident and back up to where the story starts. GO!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

ACCEPTANCE AND REJECTION

I returned home yesterday after a stressful and busy work day to find two familiar envelopes had come in the mail. When a writer finds an envelope with her own return address label on the face it means one of two things---a poem, story, proposal or whatever has been either rejected or accepted for publication. Yesterday I found two such business sized envelopes from the same literary journal. In one was an acceptance letter for a poem I'd written, VOICES IN THE CEMETERY which appeared a few weeks back on this blog. I'm taking bragging rights here. I was so honored to have an editor like what I'd written from the heart enough to publish it.

It was, seconds later, tempered by a rejection, from the same editor, of a short story I had submitted. I can't let the rejection overshadow the acceptance so I am bragging about it to everyone I know. And the lesson here is to go back to the drawing board, or writing desk as it were, and make that story so good that the next editor who reads it will send me that ever prized acceptance.

Admittedly I get more rejections than acceptances but I am waiting for the day that ratio is reversed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

WRITING PRACTICE

It's Friday and I just ordered yet another writing craft book from amazon.com. Why do I believe that reading all these how-to's will teach me to write? Why do I complain about not having time to write when all I need to do is clear away the stack of books on the coffee table and go to my writing desk? Many of these authors recommend doing a daily writing practice.

Writing practice is the process of choosing some random prompt and writing stream of conscious sentences for a set time, like ten minutes. Using a timer the writer has to race to finish some complete idea before the buzzer startles her from her writing trance. Almost every writing book suggests this, except one or two I've seen recently. And of course when you read conflicting information you have to decide which is more correct, or which is right for you.

"The Memoir Project" suggests that writing practice is not only unnecessary but hampers you from getting to the real work of writing a book, short story, or essay that can be marketed someplace. For all the ten minute timed writings you've done, you could have been doing some "real" writing. Makes sense. All those half hours spent writing morning pages could have added up to several novels of 80,000 words or more. They could have been used to create enough poems to fill several collections. In all these years of writing morning pages and doing timed writing practice, I could have written my memoir, revised it, and had it published.

So why waste the time?

Sorry to say I haven't solidly answered that question for myself yet. I'm getting closer. Maybe I'll find the answer in my three long hand pages tomorrow morning. Maybe I'll find it in a ten minute writing session based on the prompt, "why write morning pages?"

The answer to writing dilemmas is not an exact science like mathematics, but then that's why I've chosen this literary path. I like the open ended question that piques my imagination. It's a balancing act and I am midway across the tightrope.

WEEKLY PROMPT

Start a flash fiction with this first line:  
The first thing she saw when she opened the old scrapbook was . . .

Monday, January 30, 2012

THE MONSTER UNDER MY BED

I couldn't see it but I knew it was there. It burrowed with the dust bunnies, orphaned shoes and lost socks.

At midnight, it would speak and wake me from my dreams. "Do you really believe you can do this? Aren't you too weak to handle it? Don't you know it might kill you if you even try?"

I didn't want to listen but the monster voiced my own fears about my ability to write and get published.

"Your fourth grade teacher was right. You can't succeed at writing. Go get a real job."

I tossed and turned and tried to shut him out. He persisted night after night until I would sit at my desk, pen hovering over the blank page, unable to scrawl even one sentence.

Then one day I took the broom and swept up all that lay beneath the bed. I tossed the unwed socks, the worn shoes and the dust bunnies into the trash. That night I waited to hear that voice, but he was silent.

When I awoke I filled a school girl's spiral notebook with story after story, poem after poem.

I never mourned the death of that monster.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Weekly Prompt

Write three pages on the following: If you could live one day of your life over and over again forever which day would it be? GO!

AM I A WRITER

It's 5:00 AM and the sky is a dull cast iron gray. I'm sitting at my desk, a spiral notebook open to a blank page, my purple pen in hand. After entering today's date I rip into "Morning Pages," essentially three longhand pages of moaning and complaining about my life. My biggest complaint is not having time to write, even as I sit at my writing desk doing just that! The stillness around me is so conducive to mining that rich territory of the imagination that I feel I could fill this whole notebook in one sitting, but of course after my twenty minutes of kvetching is over it's time to go to work and my writing life is aborted like a failed space mission.

So my question for today is "When do I get to call myself a writer?" Do morning pages count? Does journaling count? Do free write exercises count? Do I have to be published to call myself a writer? Oh yeah, I am published, several times in fact, and still I don't feel like a writer. I think it's because I spend two hours a day commuting so I can spend another 8 1/2 hours each day being a school administrator. I don't feel like a writer because of all the unfinished work in my file cabinet and because I don't consistently submit my stories, poems or novels.

There's a disconnect here and I can't make the connections. I have two lives, one much bigger than the one I really want--the life of the writer. I'm writing a blog post, so maybe I can call myself a writer. Well at least I will for these few moments when the words fly across the screen and fill up space. Maybe what it takes to legitimately call yourself a writer is to actually have people reading what you wrote. So thank you readers for bringing me closer to my goals and dreams.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

MORNING PAGES

The light through the window blinds is silver. It's 3:30 am and technically I have an hour before I have to wake up. Knowing I will be awake I shut off the alarm, as I do every day, so it doens't wake my husband. But this morning is a new story. I drift into a dream filled sleep and waken at 5:00 am. Very early for most, but for me it's late and I now have a decision to make. I only have enough time to either wash and blow dry my hair, or write my "morning pages." What will it be? While brushing my teeth I glance in the mirror. The hair will have to suffice for the day. I cannot give up my writing time.

Julia Cameron, in her book "The Artist's Way," recommends three longhand pages of writing each morning. I have been doing this for years. It's a mind dump and an entrance to my writing voice. It also gives me a chance to communicate with my gut and intuition and to resolve questions and issues. With few exceptions I do this every morning.

Cameron also suggests two other "tools" for connecting with our inner creative child. One is an artist's date, done weekly. You simply go off for an hour by yourself to a park, a book store, an art supply store, whatever you fancy, and spend time with yourself. The third tool is a daily 20 minute walk and an hour walk once a week.

Ah, to have time to do all that and still work full time, and be able to sleep and eat on a daily basis. And then---still have time to write. I guess I met up with my inner creative child this morning, choosing writing over vanity. But the morning pages work to get me focused on writing and that's worth that early morning wake up to silver lighting and my muse.

Monday, January 23, 2012

ON A ROLL

After a long day of work it's difficult to get to the page to write. Much as I love the process my mind is tired and weary. I want to watch mindless television and scan magazine articles. At this time of night I'd rather read about writing than actually write myself.  But how does someone call herself a writer if she isn't writing? So I pushed ahead today. I did a free write in hopes of mining the gem of an idea for a new story. I sent a short story to an online journal. I revised two stories for my class this week. And I spent twenty minutes doing the next exercise in my guided journal book. A successful writing day--plus I got in twenty minutes of exercise too. I can now go to sleep feeling content and productive.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

SNOW DAYS

Today was a writing day. With three inches of snow on the ground and driveways and sidewalks replicating the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, I chose to stay indoors. After a hip fracture and hip replacement, the possibility of sliding on the ice wasn't something I wanted to risk. I spent the cloudy cold day reading flash fiction stories, critiquing flash fictions from the members of my online writing class, and creating some new story germs from prompted free writes. All in all a creative day.  I even revised a couple of stories and finally, finally sent out a short story and three poems in hopes of getting them publsihed. I feel relaxed and productive even though I didn't get to organizing my art supllies in the plastic bins I purchased last week.

Productivity and creativity are measured by numbers of words on the page. I'd say about 1,000+ today. And I am confident my genre jumping days are narrowing. I am so focused on flash fiction now I can even put aside poetry for the moment--at least until my two online flash courses are over. I feel a new respect for this tiny literary form. Though I love novels, the concision and intensity of flash fiction make these stories deeply rewarding in 1,000 word or less. to think one free wirte of 800 words could be the entire first draft of a story. Ahhh, bliss.

I hate winter and long for summer days in warm sunshine and cool shade. I count the months until I can retire and move to warmer climates. But in the meantime I will use these cold snowy days to fill more notebooks with story drafts and to send off my literary babies to find fame (though not fortune) in the pages of literary journals.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

FAIRY HOUSES




The house fit in the cup of her five year old hand. The pink mound of flesh on the heel of her hand made the perfect front porch. She’d found the house, a tangle of twigs and leaves, tucked inside a chipmunk’s burrow. Holding her hand as still as possible the girl veered off the dirt path and into a clearing in the woods. She sat, legs twisted like a pretzel, on the cool grass. Sunshine bounced off her long curls that were the color of corn silk. Her eyes, the color of woodland violets, darted back and forth making sure she was alone.
 

She always knew one day she’d find her escape route and here it was--- a tiny unoccupied fairy house left in the woods just for her. She set the house down in the grass. She squeezed her tiny fists hard as she could against her head, squeezed her eyes shut and tightened all her muscles like piano strings and waited. It only took four seconds for her body to become fairy-sized and in a wink of time she slipped through the door of the fairy house and lived there forever.