Emptier Nest

It’s not empty yet but it’s getting a whole lot closer. My first born is about to be headed to college and I’m so excited for him and proud to be his mama and sad that one of my skizzlebutzes is heading out into life. (Side note: I have no idea what a skizzlebutz is or how it’s spelled and Google failed me but my mama used to call me that and I’ve always called the kids that so hopefully it’s nothing awful). It didn’t actually seem really real until we had his graduation party. Between that and the growing pile of whatsits and doohickies that he needs to outfit his dorm room, it’s really sinking in now.

He’s excited and I’m excited for him. The opportunity he’s been given, the program he’s in at the school he’s in in the city he’s in, it’s all amazing and I can’t wait to see what he does with it. I know I’m going to miss him and I’ll be a little sad but holy moly, this is amazing.

I’m not worried about him – he spent a big chunk of a year doing a lot of the adult sort of stuff when I was having my first RA flare for all those months. He did the laundry and the dishes and a lot of the housework sort of stuff (not ashamed to say he’s a lot better at cleaning than I am). He’s understands financial responsibility a lot better than I did at his age. He’s never been my wild child and he’s never given me cause to worry about him. I feel a little guilty that I’m not more worried about that sort of stuff.

I’m sure I’ll cry when I go to watch something we would have watched together. I’m sure I’ll cry a bunch because I do that. That doesn’t mean I’d rather he were home. I don’t want to be an anchor, I want to be a lighthouse. I want to be there when it’s stormy and bleak but I don’t ever want to be the thing that holds him back or keeps him down.

That’s not say I don’t worry or won’t worry – I’m really good at worrying about stupid shit that might never happen. I’ll haunt the news sites of his new city and find new ways to worry about him because this is a big scary world and because that’s part of my heart going off on this grand adventure but I’ve got my fingers crossed that his dad and I have done our jobs well enough that he figures out the flying part with nary a glance over his shoulder at us. Fly my little crow, fly.

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Writer Wednesday: People Watching

It goes against everything we’re taught in polite society but one of the best ways to learn to write conversations is by being a third party witness to them, especially with strangers where you have no bias or stake in said conversation. I call it people watching but really, it’s being nosy and eaves dropping. Dialogue isn’t easy. You’d think it would be, given we generally write in the language we’re most comfortable speaking but getting the rhythm and cadence of actual speech is harder than you’d think.

Generally, the lack of contractions make dialogue sound forced, robotic, and unbelievable. People speak with varying vernacular depending on their geographical location but it isn’t all people or all locations and if you aren’t well versed in that vernacular beyond the stereotype of it, don’t use it. Dialect is tricky and goes halfway unnoticed when it’s used well but it should never be so intrusive that it makes a reader wonder what the hell the character is saying. Slang is part of that dialect thing – different people have different words for the same thing depending on their location and culture. Gesticulation goes hand in hand with all of that and also varies depending on culture and location.

I know it’s rude to listen to other people’s conversations but it really is useful. I would never suggest you use that overheard and stolen conversation in a story though – that would be rude. You don’t even need to really listen to the words. Take the Peanuts tv specials. We never hear the adults talk, just this blurred mwah mwah but it sounds like part of a conversation because the cadence and tone feels real enough. Try it next  time you’re people watching, don’t listen to the words, just the cadence and tone, the volume and emphasis, and then try to infer from those things the mood of the conversation. Arguments tend to be faster and harsher but, in public, quieter than regular speech. Sad conversations are slower, softer, almost defeated sounding.

When you write dialogue, are you taking those sorts of things into consideration? If not, you should be.

Most important note about dialogue: There’s nothing wrong with the word said. Use it where you must, use other things where they fit, but don’t just use variations of the word said – said is fine for that.

Happy writing!

(and sorry about last week, I was having a doozy of a day and it just didn’t work out)

 

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The Continuing RA Voyage

I’d started a post about some of this a few days ago that I didn’t post as it was more annoyance than I like to post on my blog and I’m trying to do better at letting some things go, even when they frustrate me. I’m two years in to this journey now, coming up very soon on the second anniversary of my first rheumatologist appointment and all the official stuff. I’ve come a long way but it’s not perfect yet and I’m certainly no where near what someone might call remission. But I’m feeling better today than I have in two and a half years and that’s a lot.

My rheumy diagnosed me with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia (though that’s more of a catch all for the pain I was still having that wasn’t precisely presenting like RA). I’m on methotrexate and nortriptyline. I’m taking a women’s daily multivitamin with energy boosters and an omega-3 supplement because I don’t eat fish. I’m no longer crashing out at 1pm every day or even really taking a nap. The pain is mostly under control – it’s less pain now and more discomfort. I can finally focus on other things beyond what’s hurting today. I needed to lose about 100 pounds according to both my rheumy and my gp for my health (and to avoid some scary things in my family history). I’d like to drop 120 pounds aesthetically but I’m much more concerned about the health stuff. Having all the extra weight on my joints exacerbates all of my issues.

I am not good at losing weight. I’m certainly not good at it when I’m not paying attention. Food is my happy place and that’s great for my taste buds and horrible for my waistline. This year has had some major ups and downs medically – stupid scary lumps and cyclical depression – but it feels like I’m coasting for the time being and that’s not bad. Because I’m feeling better, sleeping better, and all that, I can really focus on the weight.

I was poked at the other day for using diet as a means of weight control but there’s not a lot of options when the kinds of exercises that are most helpful are hurty and take me days to recover from. Some people just can’t or won’t understand that all the things I do today, I will pay for tomorrow. I am constantly in energy debt, borrowing against my tomorrows. If I wasn’t living a situation where I can set my schedule and not move for extended times, I don’t know what I’d do. So yes, my primary weight loss tool is counting calories. It’s also the only thing that has ever worked for me. And it’s working again now. I’ve lost 10 pounds since I started up again with the MyFitnessPal app (only 90 more to go). I also bought a little peddler because I CAN do that without hurting my knees or feeling like I can’t move for three days (like aerobics or wii boxing or wii tennis or hiking).

Part of my desire to lose the weight is just for me though. I am not comfortable in this skin. Telling me I should be, spouting body positive things at me, aren’t going to change my personal ideal aesthetic. I would rather look like Morticia than Mad Madam Mim thank you very much. That’s a personal preference – my personal preference. I don’t mind being curvy but I do mind that I could probably pass for pregnant without a whole lot of effort. My baby is about to turn 13, I should really have lost it by now. It’s a happy side benefit that losing this weight would be beneficial for my diseases and possible help me avoid some of the scary things that run in my family – type 2 diabetes and heart disease for instance. I’m not wanting to lose weight for other people’s opinion, just mine, so leave me to it thanks. Honestly, I have to pay attention to the calorie intake as, if I’m perfectly honest here, I’m just as likely to eat the whole pizza as I am to have just one slice of it. Counting calories helps me not to do that.

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Writer Wednesday: Bridesmaid Stories

There’s an old adage, always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Every now and again, I’ll have a story that comes back rejected but with glowing comments sometimes from editors who don’t generally do comments. I call those stories Bridesmaid stories. I know they’re solid, that there are good things there but they’re just missing that ephemeral something that no one can tell you what exactly it is.

Sometimes the urge to trunk these stories is pretty hard to resist, especially after you get those rejections from all the best fitting markets for the story but, a true bridesmaid story usually just needs a few tweaks and a couple of really good beta readers who aren’t afraid to explain when something is wrong with a story. I’d go so far as to say that a good beta reader is the most valuable tool any writer can have.

It’s hard to know what writing advice to take and what to ignore, especially when they are story specific. I don’t think there is anything for that but time and experience. As you get more comfortable in your style, in your skillset, it’s easier to understand when an editor explains that a story would have been a sale if not for this one dragging section and a redundancy (that’s an actual example from one of my own bridesmaid stories).

I could give you some arbitrary number of rejections that means your story is never going to sell but that’d be ridiculous and untrue. I will say that sometimes we are not always ready to tackle certain ideas. I’ve been poking at one particular short story that I absolutely adore for 15 years. It’s had some of the most favorable rejections I’ve ever gotten, but it wasn’t right and now I can tell you that it was because I wasn’t ready. I take this story out every couple of years, shake it off, give it a read, and tweak it. Sometimes I send it out again if there’s an antho I think it’d fit, sometimes I tuck it away again. It’s currently sitting in my “When I have time” pile again and is what made me write this post (that and another glowing rejection for my newest looks like it might be a bridesmaid story).

Over the years, some of my favorite story publications have been bridesmaid stories but I have fewer of them as I get better at what I do, mostly because I’m better at spotting holes and drags and inconsistencies. I’ll write more of them, I’m sure. I’m not always good at figuring out just how weird a premise can be for a particular market and sometimes, I hit ideas at exactly the wrong time as said publication may have just accepted something similar. You never know how close a story came to that marvelous yes so don’t give up. Keep trying.

Happy writing!

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Writing Wednesday: Fun with Science

Fact checking is one of those things that gets overlooked sometimes. Maybe there’s a tight deadline or a tighter budget. Who knows. I do know that nothing throws me out of a story more than wrong facts. I’ve put together a few resources for the easy access, simple to understand, interesting things to know anyway sorts of science facts. I’ve been known to use these sorts of sites purely for inspiration – you never know what’s going to start the threads of your next story.

Not all writers have a doctor or a nurse on call but we all have the Internet. I’d recommend a good anatomy book if you’re writing touches on any descriptive gore as well. WebMD might be interesting but it shouldn’t be your primary source of information if you’ve got a character with a particular disease or malady. There are medical related things not all writers would think to check about as well – things like what color blood should this alien race have?

Everything is made up of chemicals. All the things we use on a regular basis are too. Compound Interest is a huge site with easy to understand infographics about pretty much any chemical subject you could ever want to know about. Need to know about different poisons for your crime novel – it’s there. There’s a few posts on crime scene chemistry and weaponized chemistry also. It’s a great little quick reference (not very in depth but a great jumping off point).

Maybe you’ve got a crime novel and no police officer to grill – apart from finding one on Reddit, here’s a site on crime scene protocol, and the Justice Department has some interesting pdfs on different types of investigations (if you aren’t writing a crime novel yet, maybe some of these will spark an idea or twelve…).

Maybe you’re all caught up in the current Space trends, with the anniversary of the Moon Landing being everywhere and some of the science related channels playing an entire week of space related programming (which was pretty interesting). NASA has a Basics book online. Maybe you’d rather explore their deep space exploration section.

On a last note: there is no such thing as fresh formaldehyde.

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Writer Wednesday: Coping with Rejection

If you’re a writer who is submitting stories, essays, poems, novels, or whatever else to publishers, agents, anthologies, magazines or whatever sort of market, rejection is a thing that is going to happen. It may even happen a lot. It sucks when it happens at all but it’s wicked discouraging when you get a long string of rejections that just doesn’t seem to give up even though you’re thinking that what you’ve submitted is some of the best stuff you’ve ever written. If you have writer friends who are constantly posting their acceptances, it can jab that knife in just a little deeper. I promise though, everyone goes through a bit of that. The key is to keep plugging, keep writing, keeping submitting. The tides will change, you’ll get better at both the writing part and the finding the right market part.

The number one thing to remember about rejections is this: one editor’s opinion of your work is just that. One editor’s opinion. That doesn’t mean that the next editor won’t find your work to be exactly what they’re looking for. Just because I’m not a fan of country music doesn’t mean there isn’t any value or merit in it (just don’t tell my husband I said that or he’ll make me listen to it). Every editor has a different vision for their publication. If every publication was looking for the same stuff, there wouldn’t be so many different publications. It’s a matter of finding the place where your words fit and sometimes that’s really hard to do.

The super successful writer, especially of short prose and poetry, is a master of networking, connections, and understanding the market. They have a feel for what certain editors like, they read what’s current in their genre, and they keep writing, constantly honing their skills. These are all things anyone can do, they just have to do the work.

That’s not to say that you will succeed doing all the right things. Sometimes you can do all the right things and still fall short of your goal. It’s sad, it’s depressing, is horribly disheartening, but the super successful writer is mostly successful because they didn’t give up, even when they most wanted to. When that happens, take a day, throw yourself a pity party, cry in the shower if you must, then let it go. Rejections should never be taken personally.

As you grow and get better, you might even start to agree with those early rejections (or even current ones). Always be learning, always be willing to take criticism without arguing, and most importantly, keep writing.

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New Events!

I’ve got a few events coming up, one more local to me than the other.

Next weekend, Saturday, July 27 I’ll have a table at the 5th Annual Striplight Community Theater Arts Fest to support my local community theater. So, if you’re local to Weirton, West Virginia (or in driving distance), come out and support a good thing.

Also, Saturday September 7th, I’ll be at the Beaver County BookFest in Beaver County, PA.  This will be my first year there and I’m really looking forward to it!

I’m working on filling out my dance card a little more but that will come in time.

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Writer’s Wednesday: Routine

Routines are important to progress with nearly anything – sleep cycles, child rearing, writing, working, exercising. Routine makes it easier to remember to do a thing and easier to prioritize a thing. I’m going to use my husband as an example. Most mornings he gets up at stupid o’clock to go to the gym before work. It was hard at first but he’s been doing it for two years now and I’m super proud of him. Now, it feels weird for him to not go to the gym. When you’re used to writing every day, it becomes harder not to do it than to do it. That’s not to say there won’t be off days, no routine should be so inflexible as to not account for emergencies or sick days or vacation.

Routines are also good for breaking when you’re in a rut. There’s no faster way to hit reset than change up all the things you’re accustomed to. It’s similar to how a fresh coat of paint in a room can go a long way to making a room feel like your own space. A little change can open doors you didn’t realize were shut.

Find a time that suits you and plan for it. Maybe it’s getting up a few minutes early to get in a few words before work or maybe it’s staying up a few minutes and getting them in before bed. Maybe it’s less 24 hour news cycles and more creativity. Find a time and stick to it, put it in the planner, on the calendar, set an alarm if you have to, but put words on paper (or the digital equivalent, whatever).  It’ll get easier as you go and, eventually, it’ll feel weird to miss your appointment with your story.

This is one of those places where I need to take my own advice instead of getting pulled away by my artsy projects (even if they’re coming along swimmingly and I’ve got events coming up for that). I’ll start this evening, after Jeopardy. 30 minutes of headphones on and fingers to keyboard to get some words down on one of the Old House stories in my head. No time like the present! Schedule yourself an appointment with your story and see what happens.

Happy writing!

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Sleep or Story

This is the old girl – forgive the potato quality – the image is off an ancient business card as I can’t remember where I put my good pictures.

Sleep has always been a mercurial frenemy. Some days, she loves me and other days, she turns her back on me completely. It’s always been this way. My brain has too much to do to sleep and it’s always telling me stories. Very loudly. It’s one of the reasons I can’t sleep when it’s quiet, I need noise to drown out my brain for a while. Last night, while I was struggling to fall asleep, I was not being told stories but memories. Apparently my brain is very much turning the funeral home over and over, finding all the nooks and crannies, shaking things loose, and finding things I’d forgotten.

I was young but not too young. 7 I think. It was the first summer my grandparents were living above the funeral home instead of in a separate house (the former owner’s wife lived there until she could no longer live alone). I was visiting for a few weeks during the summer. It was hot and muggy as Pennsylvania gets in July. I was missing my mom who was several thousand miles away to the point of crying myself to sleep. I was sleeping in the same bed as my grandmother because it was the only room that had both air conditioning and a bed.

I didn’t have my record player with me so I had nothing to listen to while trying to fall asleep. Instead, I was laying there, crying, listening to the rhythmic hum of the old window A/C unit and the sounds of small city nightlife, cars and sirens, music and shouting, clinging to a framed picture of my mom and I, my brain whispering stories of all the things lurking in all the shadows in the large room on the second floor of a building built at the turn of the century that had been a funeral home since the 1950’s. 30 years of mourning, grief, and death leaves a mark on a place but not in a bad way, just a profound one. All the shadows have stories there and my imagination wanted to tell all of them instead of sleep.

That night (or one precisely like it) was the second time in my life that I know of that I went for a walk in my sleep. Nothing bad happened but I did wake up in the casket room (the showroom where families pick the color and style of box for their loved one to be buried in) in the wee hours of the morning. At least I was under one and not in one I suppose. I’m not sure if anyone noticed as I was always an early riser and settled in my Pap’s office with the betamax and Music Man.

Last night, I was struggling to fall asleep, listening to the rhythmic drone of our window a/c unit and the sounds of whatever crazy RV show was on because it creeps my husband out to try and sleep through Forensic Files. All I could think about was being back in that room, trying to convince myself to go to sleep and not stare at the very man shaped shadow the full length mirror cast against the edge of the closet door. I would still give anything to talk to my mom, just like then, but now, I’d also give anything to go back to that building again (as it was, not as it is), and say hello to the old girl. I’ll have to settle for telling her stories and I think I know where to start the next one, staring at shadows in the dark as the world just keeps going on the other side of the glass, all distant noise muffled by a century’s worth of shadows.

 

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Back to Words

I’ve spent this last week working on some artsy things, one of which I ended up really loving and it’ll go up in my etsy shop as soon as it’s sealed properly, the other I’m not quite sure about yet. But, while I’ve been working on that, I’ve been percolating something else too.

Now that my funeral home is basically gone, nothing more than a shadow of what she was, I got to thinking about how I would have changed the purpose of the building without losing her history or her beauty. If it couldn’t be a single family residence or a combination business/residence, I think I would have divided her into apartments. It wouldn’t have actually been that hard to do really. The top floor was already an apartment, probably about 800 square feet with a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and separate bedroom, and a huge storage closet. The second floor would be pretty easy also, as the original bedrooms were situated more like suites with bathrooms and sitting areas. With the additional rooms, it could easily be 5 apartments there. The bottom floor would be a little tougher to remodel, adding in kitchens and bathrooms, and there would be two multipurpose community rooms and a mudroom that would be turned into the mailroom and two larger apartments and one small one. The basement would have another community room, a laundry, and massive storage areas. That’s what they should have done with it. They could have made it beautiful and kept all the old woodwork, the beautiful fireplaces, and even the amazing butler’s pantry (would be an excellent walkthrough storage closet/pantry in one of the second floor apartments.

All this to say that I’m working on a series of short stories. So far, all of the ideas lean hard towards horror and I’ve started on the second floor but, when I’m done, it’ll be the whole building. It could take years, it could take weeks, who knows.

This won’t exactly be the first time my funeral home has given me inspiration. A lot of the layout of the Inn in Christmas in Bear Ridge comes from there and certainly the Blue Room where Toni stays is based on the master suite that was my grandparents’ bedroom. The basement where she finds the Valkyrie armor is definitely the cavernous basement of my youth as well. It wasn’t big enough for the whole Inn so there’s additions in places but the heart of her was there.

I may use a little of her actual history to form this new incarnation because it’s quite interesting. The top floor was once inhabited by sisters who were often jealous of each other. When one had a suitor visiting, the other would climb out under the eaves to listen in on their visit. I can see many ways in which this could lead to horrible ghost worthy things. The entrance to the eaves was also a place where bats liked to roost. I opened it once and the bat and I scared the crap out of each other. They also came down through the chimneys sometimes. I found interesting things in the nooks and crannies of that house but no secret passages. I always wanted there to be one. Perhaps, since she’s mine in my head, I’ll give her one now. In any case, I’m taking a short break from longer projects until I get the bones of these stories down. I have no idea what I’ll call the series when it’s done but by the time I’m finished, it’ll probably let me know.

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