My website has moved!
It’s HERE now.
Sorry to make you click an extra time–but I’m glad you found me! Come visit the new digs and see what I’ve been up to lately.
My website has moved!
It’s HERE now.
Sorry to make you click an extra time–but I’m glad you found me! Come visit the new digs and see what I’ve been up to lately.
So, compiling and editing a textbook soaks up a lot of time (#dayjob). So does finishing the middle novel in a trilogy (#Solynsbody). So does assembling one’s tenure binder (#keepingonesdayjob).
As some of you know, I teach English at a community college, and this year, I am “up” for tenure, meaning that I have to present my institution with evidence of my involvement over the last five years. This evidence takes the form of a four inch binder of certificates of attendance, copies of agendas, tons of emails, and lots of letters. Because I work in a community college, I am able to use my fiction writing as a contribution to the profession (something I wouldn’t be able to do at a research university–only my literary works would count there). This means that I’ve spent the last few months gathering up all of the fiction I’ve written since 2013.
And it’s a lot. Like, really a lot.
I mean, I’m no Emily Dickinson with hundreds of poems or F. Scott Fitzgerald who whipped out a short story in a drunken afternoon, but I’ve been pretty busy for someone with a full-time job, a child, a husband, and many other constraints on my time. I try not to let it happen, but often writing falls to the bottom of the pile of Things To Be Done in a given day. I know what Stephen King says of course–writers write–but he also had lots of drugs to help him out in between double shifts at the laundry and teaching all day while he finished Carrie.
But that’s just excuses–and I’m not here to justify my lack of magnitude. I could have done more, sure, but I’m happy with what I did.
Well, what have I done? It doesn’t seem like much when in the thick of it–a story here, a story there, but taken all at once…it’s solid. I didn’t realize it until I starting working on my binder. To organize my information, I made little sticky notes for each story and put them on the sleeves I would fill with the copies of title pages. As I copied each page and put the evidence of my professional contribution in the proper sleeve, I removed the sticky note. When I was done, it was an impressive little stack of stickies sitting on my desk. Each sticky represented a story, an idea, a thought that I had turned into something concrete, something tangible, and finished, and available online for people to read.
So, to celebrate both my application for tenure and my accomplishments over the last five years, here it is–a list of my works all in one place:
So while it may not seem like you’re getting anywhere when you’re in the moment, take a step back every now and again to see the Big Picture. Ferris Bueller was onto something there.
As Anne Lamott said, “Bird by bird.” Writing happens word by word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. It all adds up.
I know, I know. It took a little while.
But it’s ready now.
And you get to find out what happens after the happily ever after.
A Body torn between two Souls…
the fight for Mind, Body, and Love
A new beginning
When her oldest companion placed her soul in a mortal body, Hannah Tallerin thought her problems were over. No longer a vampire, she is free to live her life with her beloved elf, free from the commitments of her old existence, free to build a new future with her husband in a small town at the edge of the world.
An unexpected arrival
Then the original owner of the body wakes up, so Hannah turns to her oldest friend for answers. As the voice in her head gets more insistent, her once-betrothed offers his help, though Hannah knows that any aid from him comes at a price.
A final battle
The battle for her soul has begun, but when the real enemies arrive, Hannah realizes she will have to fight for her body as well.
Middle novels take forever!
And so, another snippet from the Inkslinger Meeting Exercises.
The chosen words were cramp, unconditionally, and flickering.
“But…but this is my moment!” Cheri mumbled, words too low for anyone to hear, not that they could over the roaring of the crowd, the pounding of the sneakers on the pavement, the rush as Bethany Singleton rounded the first turn a full step ahead of her. She tried to ignore the cramp threatening to paralyze her leg, the agony creeping up her leg and back. Only another ¾ of the track and she could win this thing! But her muscles were fading, her moment of greatness flickering in the flash of Bethany’s fabulous ass as the younger girl managed to get two entire paces ahead.
What were they feeding them these days?! Cheri wondered, pushing against the pain, telling her body in no uncertain terms that she was going to win this thing, that damn Bethany Singleton wasn’t going to beat her by an embarrassing three paces.
Her strength was fading though, distracted by the cramp, and Cheri knew it was useless.
I’ll do anything, she thought suddenly. Anything to win. I will train every day for the rest of my life. I will wash the corners of public restrooms. I will sell my soul to Satan unconditionally…
“Unconditionally, you say?” a voice whispered in her ear. Bethany froze, shocked to hear someone speaking to her while she was in the death throes of the race for Olympic Gold.
“Hello?” she whispered, breath coming out in hard jagged gasps as she lumbered forward.
“Let’s talk about that soul of yours…”
And another small snippet to keep things going, this time with my favorite charmer, Seth. This exercise is from December of 2015.
The words chosen were:
sink wish murder
Shelly peered at the list in her hand, then looked back up at her lover. “You’re absolutely sure this what she said we needed to do?”
Seth nodded at her, blonde hair curling under his chin in that way she loved so much. She started to reach out to touch it, her hand leaving the list, and then she stopped herself, knowing where that would lead. Focus, she ordered herself. There are important things happening.
“Really?” she asked again, eyes scanning the words on the page. She appreciated Seth’s simple block letters, the no-nonsense way he maneuvered a quill and ink. No blots, no smudges. Her man took pride in his work.
“Yes, dear,” he repeated. “Every word.” His hair was still doing that curling thing, and while she hadn’t reached out to him, he reached out to her, strong hands rubbing her neck and shoulders in the best ways.
“But this is so random!” she blurted, trying to stay focused on the task at hand, but really loving his fingers on her skin.
“Of course it is,” he assured her. “That’s what witches give you. Random prophecies that can’t be followed. I told you this quest was ridiculous from the start.”
“She really said: ‘Wish on the kitchen sink after you see the murder’?”
Seth made a soothing noise, hands moving insistently down her back to other more interesting areas.
“I wonder if maybe she means a group of crows or something,” Shelly mused. “You think?”
“Of course. You know, I am pretty sure I saw some crows in the bedroom earlier today. Shall we go look?”
I’m still in the midst of the headlong charge to the end of book, so to sate your appetite with a little tidbit, I give you a snippet of an exercise from May 2015. This one was fun!
The three words chosen were ember, tragic, and peppermint. (At the Inkslinger’s Guild meetings, we randomly choose words and write a story using them in five minutes.)
“Well, since we lost our last professor in a tragic peppermint accident…”
Beth cut him off, a hand gently resting on his upper arm. “I’m sorry?” she asked.
Scott turned to look at her, surprised by her hand but glad that she felt comfortable enough to touch him. Either that, or his last words had disturbed her enough that she had forgotten for a moment what he was.
“Hmm?” he asked, knowing what she wanted to know, but wanting her to say it. And to leave her hand on his arm while she asked again.
“Did you just say a peppermint accident?” Beth asked, her other hand shoving her glasses back on her nose. A lock of black hair had fallen across her face, and she pushed it behind an ear, face intent on his response.
Scott nodded. “It was a tragic incident,” he explained. “He was fond of peppermints, and he was also fond of lecturing, and one day, he tried to answer a student question while sucking on a peppermint and choked on it. The students tried to help him, but there was nothing they could do.”
“Didn’t someone know the Heimlich maneuver? How does that even happen?” Her hand moved from his arm to her own throat as she swallowed reflexively. His skin still burned, warm like the embers of a low fire, where she had touched him.
“Well,” he said, trying to ignore the way her skin flushed slightly where her fingers touched her skin, her throat moving as she swallowed and breathed. “I guess they would have if he’d been in the science building. Unfortunately, it was Philosophy.”
I was going through some old writing exercises, and I found this short little romp into science fiction. The words listed are the words chosen for the exercise, so I had five minutes to write something that used all three words (this is two separate exercises that ended up being a continuation).
Mercurial current drop
“Sir, with the current orbit, are you sure she can withstand the drop?” First Class Sergeant Miller looked expectantly at his Commander, waiting for the telltale glint in the eye that would reassure him that yes, they would indeed survive even this dire situation, escaping the promise of certain death with a last minute brilliant plan to divert the subatomic particles in Engine B to the Forward Thrusters and usher them to safety just a split second before they crashed into the planet’s fiery surface.
He’d witnessed it before. Many times. He had stood on the flight deck, missiles careening towards them, explosions rocking the ship back and forth, but always had the Commander stood firm, always that glint in his eyes, that mercurial sense of humor, the dedication to his crew, his ship, and their mission.
They would survive, First Class Sergeant Miller knew. They would. He glanced down at his red shirt, then at the dire predictions flooding the monitors before him.
“Sir?” he asked, waiting for the response he knew was coming.
But there was something different in the Commander’s eyes as he stared coolly out the front display window at the planet rushing towards them.
“Sir!” He shouted it this time, trying to be heard over the roaring whine of the strained engines, the distant screams of crew members fearing the worst.
The Commander looked at him, eyes calm and sad. “Not this time,” he said quietly. “She can’t handle the drop.”
“But this is the part where you always have the brilliant plan!” First Class Sergeant Miller shrieked.
“I know,” the Commander said. He scanned the control room, aware of all eyes on him.
Firelight sliver window
First Class Sergeant Miller was hurled to the floor, hands grasping at the controls as he succumbed to the force of the huge ship slowing to a stop. Alarms cut off mid-blare, and the sudden silence was broken by some coughing and shuffling as baffled crew members found their footing. Miller pulled himself upright, fingers pressed deep into the metal frame of his display, and peered out the window. The blazing forge that was the planet had faded to a wisp of firelight.
“Sir,” he began in a voice that was way more calm than he felt, “we seem to have stopped above the surface of the planet.”
“It appears so,” the Commander observed. He gave the flight deck a once over, then resumed his normal commanding presence. “Report,” he ordered.
First Class Sergeant Miller wasn’t going to be put off that easily. “But…what happened?” he asked. “How did we stop? You…” he let the words trail off. “You didn’t do anything to save us!” He let the words hang in the air, then added lamely, “Sir.”
The Commander’s expression didn’t change as he considered Miller’s accusation, the man’s steely gaze unflinching. He said nothing.
Miller continued, trying to fill the void, “But sir…you always…always save us! You always have that last sliver of hope we need to save us!”
“We have been saved,” the Commander said. “Isn’t that enough?”
Sometimes I really need a good kick in the ass-especially when it comes to writing. It’s far too easy to say “I will work on it tomorrow…or this weekend…or next summer.” And then another year has gone by and my characters have grown so tired of standing around inside my head that they threaten to leak out into everything else.
So here it is: my list for staying on top of my writing.
And that’s it. That’s what works for me. It’s not fancy. It’s not complicated. But when I do these four things, I produce writing, and that’s the goal. Of course, this list changes when I’m in editing mode, but for straight-up get the words out of my head and onto the page kind of production, this helps get me there.
And this may not work for you. That’s fine! Come up with your own list. Keep it simple. Keep it realistic. Don’t spend valuable writing time tweaking the tiniest details here–scratch down some ideas and get to work.
You can do this.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this book I stumbled on: Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau (it’s actually les Exercices de Style but I read the English translation).
The premise is thus: he tells a short story in 99 different ways. It’s short, like only a few sentences, but each time, he emphasizes something else–the order, the details, the sentence structure, etc. and the results are amazing. It’s the same old story, every single time, the same old story, but each time it’s new. Each time he switches the words around, changes the focus, sharpens the lens in another direction, and boom! It’s new again.
This makes me want to learn to read French, so I can see the original play on words, but I’m a few years away from that kind of sophisticated grasp. Just the way the translation plays with words boggles my mind.
Let me show you what I mean. The bold word is the style that Queneau has designated for the story. Here are some examples of what he’s done:
One day at about midday in the Parc Monceau district, on the back platform of a more or less full S bus (now No. 84), I observed a person with a very long neck who was wearing a felt hat which had a plaited cord round it instead of a ribbon. This individual suddenly addressed the man standing next to him, accusing him of purposely treading on his toes every time any passengers got on or got off. However he quickly abandoned the dispute and threw himself on to a seat which had become vacant.
Two hours later I saw him in front of the gare Saint-Lazare engaged in earnest conversation with a friend who was advising him to reduce the space between the lapels of his overcoat by getting a competent tailor to raise the top button.
In a bus of the S-line, 10 metres long, 3 wide, 6 high, at 3 km, 600 m. from its starting point, loaded with 48 people, at 12.17 p.m., a person of the masculine sex aged 27 years 3 months and 8 days, 1 m. 72 cm tall and weighing 65 kg, and wearing a hat 35 cm. in height round the crown of which was a ribbon 60 cm. long, interpellated a man aged 48 years 4 months and 3 days, 1 m. 68 cm tall and weighing 77 kg., by means of 14 words whose enunciation lasted 5 seconds and which alluded to some involuntary displacements of from 15 to 20 mm. Then he went and sat down about 1 m. 10 cm. away. 57 minutes later he was 10 metres away from the suburban entrance to the gare SaintLazare and was walking up and down over a distance of 30 m. with a friend aged 28, 1m. 70 cm. tall and weighing 71 kg, who advised him in 15 words to move by 5 cm. in the direction of the zenith a button which was 3 cm. in diameter.
I don’t really know where it happened…in a church, a dustbin, a charnel-house? A bus, perhaps? There were…but what were there, though? Eggs, carpets, radishes? Skeletons? Yes, but with their flesh still round them, and alive. I think that’s how it was. People in a bus. But one (or two?) of them was making himself conspicuous, I don’t really know in what way. For his megalomania? For his adiposty? For his melancholy? Rather…more precisely…for his youth, which was embellished by a long…nose? chin? thumb? no: neck, and by a strange, strange, strange hat. He started to quarrel, yes, that’s right, with, no doubt, another passenger (man or woman? Child or old age pensioner?) This ended, this finished by ending in a commonplace sort of way, probably by the flight of one of the two adversaries. I rather think that it was the same character I met, but where? In front of a church? In front of a charnel-house? in front of a dustbin? With a friend who must have been talking to him about something, but about what? about what? about what?
It was neither a boat, nor an aeroplane, but a terrestrial means of transport. It was neither the morning, nor the evening, but midday. It was neither a baby, nor an old man, but a young man. It was neither a ribbon, nor a string, but a plaited cord. It was neither a procession, nor a brawl, but a scuffle. It was neither a pleasant person, nor an evil person, but a bad-tempered person. It was neither a truth, nor a lie, but a pretext. It was neither a standing person, nor a recumbent person, but a would-beseated person. It was neither the day before, nor the day after, but the same day. It was neither the gare du Nord, nor the gare du P.-L.-M. but the gare Saint-Lazare. It was neither a relation, nor a stranger, but a friend. It was neither insult, nor ridicule, but sartorial advice.
And I have to include this one, in honor of the Inkslinger’s Guild exercises we do. Here, he has chosen several words at random, then worked them into the story:
(Dowry, bayonet, enemy, chapel, atmosphere, Bastille, correspondence)
One day I happened to be on the platform of a bus which must no doubt have formed part of the dowry of the daughter of a gentleman called Monsieur Mariage who presided over the destinies of the Paris Passenger Transport Board. There was a young man on this bus who was rather ridiculous, not because he wasn’t carrying a bayonet, but because he looked as if he was carrying one when all the time he wasn’t carrying one. All of a sudden this young man attacked his enemy–a man standing behind him. He accused him in particular of not behaving as politely as one would in a chapel. Having thus strained the atmosphere, the little squirt went and sat down. Two hours later I met him two or three kilometres from the Bastille with a friend who was advising him to have an extra button put on his overcoat, an opinion which he could very well have given him by correspondence.
You can buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Exercises-Style-Raymond-Queneau/dp/0811207897
This book makes me truly appreciate the versatility of language, not just English, clearly, because he wrote it in French, but because you can actually translate it into English and still have the effect. Words are amazing things.
As I gear up for the school year to begin again, I find myself juggling my new schedule in my head. I teach a lot. That means a lot of time in front of students, but it also means a lot more time spent grading papers.
And I wonder when I will find time for my writing.
It’s the age old debate: work vs play. The delicate balance of the things I have to do and the things I want to do–and don’t get me wrong here. I love what I do. I love teaching. I love explaining words to students and reading their words. But I also love the characters who live in my head, and I want to give them a chance to stretch their legs on paper and screen.
I know, I know. I had an entire summer to get writing done. And I did! I am nearly finished with the second book in Klauden’s Ring. I just have to tweak a few more things. But when my classes begin on Monday, I worry about getting sucked into the whirlpool that is the semester–when other people’s words become more important than my own.
I just need to manage my time a little better. Focus more. Wander less. Have a schedule. Say “No” to extra obligations. Make it a habit. Work in brief spurts. Even a few minutes counts!
I’ve heard all of those things. And I’ve tried them. And sometimes they work. And sometimes they don’t.
I know I’m not the only one who struggles with the juggling act–work, play, homelife, family. I know that when I was in grad school I managed to teach and take classes and still had a brain leftover to spend time at home.
But I was younger then. And I didn’t have a child. And Netflix wasn’t around yet. And I didn’t have so many apps on my phone. (Back then, I was just excited to have a cell phone at all!)
Ah well. I’m happy to have such problems. And it will work itself out. It always does.