Lifted Up and Walking Tall
A month or so ago, I met with a gentlemen in the writing industry. I confessed to him that I lacked confidence in my writing. Everywhere I turn, I am told that an author must attend workshops and conferences, must be part of a critique group, must do this and that. While I wholeheartedly agree, I am unable to participate in such things right now. My husband is a pastor in a small town, and I stay at home with the kids. Conferences are expensive, and there are no active critique groups where I live. (I am currently seeking one online, though...)
I've been seeking a literary agent and facing rejection after rejection. I cling to the idea that the writing/publishing industry is subjective. That gives me hope and helps me to carry on. (Isn't that a line from "You Light Up My Life"?) But of course, my doubts turn introspective, and I begin to wonder if my writing may not be up to snuff. If I could just attend a conference... If I could just get that feedback from a critique group...
But then, a great big spotlight of encouragement flickers on, shines down, and warms me from within! I received a phone call today from Thomas Nelson/Westbow Press. I had entered a writing contest they sponsored, and I am one of the top ten finalists. I am so pleased and excited! Just making the top ten is a huge honor to me! And it certainly ups my confidence level. Just like that, I now know for certain that my writing is good. So I'm back to hanging onto that subjectivity hope. And I'm ready to try again.
Don't get me wrong. I still long to attend those conferences. I still desire a critique partner/group. But I'm secure enough to know that this is what I need to be doing. I love writing! And I can't wait to share my stories with the world.
My mountains are on fire. I am in shock. Today, the winds gusted 65+ miles per hour at the top of the canyon, blowing the flames down the hill. Houses started to catch fire, and now, most of the west side of Colorado Springs is burning. It happened in a matter of moments, too. Frightening.
I'm praying. For rain. For protection. For a miracle. I'm feeling a little lost and overwhelmed right now. Join me in prayer, won't you? We need a miracle.
Lord God Almighty, please watch over our beautiful city tonight. Please comfort those who are displaced. Please strengthen and gird the firefighters. Keep them safe and protected. Guide our leadership and grant them wisdom. And above all, Lord, PLEASE show Your mighty hand. Stop these flames. In Jesus' precious name. Thank you.
Last night, we had our first round of auditions for the summer melodrama. I am so excited! There is nothing that can compare to the feeling of elation when one's work comes to life. Seeing the characters that came from my brain up on stage, the actors speaking their words...so awesome. I've been fortunate to experience this a couple of times - even playing one myself! I love doing this stuff!
Totally unrelated to that - early this morning, I had a really cool dream that I think is leading into a story. All the pieces aren't quite there, but they are coming. I can feel it. I think this one will also be a YA, so I'm wondering if that trend is overtaking my writing. Fine by me! I just hope I can do it justice.
Give Me My Headset!
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
Sorry. I had to say it.
But really, a long time ago, I was a stage manager. For those of you who might not know what a stage manager does - we basically manage a stage production. We're in charge of the cast, technicians, crew, and yes, even the directors (although they'd like you to think that they were in charge.) A good stage manager will be involved in the show from the planning process to the very last curtain call. Stage managers record everything that happens in the planning process. During rehearsal, stage managers record all the stage movements and needs for the production, as well as take care of the cast and directors. When tech week comes (adding lights and sound to the production), a stage manager takes the reins from the director and becomes the head honcho. The stage manager will give the cues to the technicians and the crew, take notes regarding the performance, and yes, take care of the cast.
It was great preparation for becoming a mom.
As this summer's melodrama sets into production, I won't be in full-swing stage manager mode, but there is a bit of it there. One thing I prided myself on when I was a stage manager was knowing my director's favorite candy. I'd bring them some every so often, which made their night. And made the rehearsal process happier. Today is the director's birthday, and I happen to know she loves Twizzlers. So I made her a Twizzler birthday cake.
It's little things like that that make productions so much fun for all involved.
I miss stage managing, but in this season of life, I'm glad I'm not in full-swing stage manager mode. It takes up a lot of brain space. There's simply too many other things for me to fret about. But I am happy to have a little touch of theatre in my life. It's a wonderful outlet.
And besides, there's Twizzler cake!
I have been riveted to my computer screen today. Where we live, we get news from Denver. I want news from Colorado Springs, as I have family from there. With the fire burning, one of the news stations in the Springs is streaming their broadcast, which has been on the air since yesterday afternoon. So I've been watching it.
Today, I wanted to write. I wanted to clean house. But I couldn't tear myself away from the mass info dump gushing from my computer. Between Twitter, Facebook, and the stream, I was in a constant flow.
I tend to do that when there's tragedy. I remember when I was in the 6th grade and Challenger exploded. I sat in front of the TV and took notes. Don't know why. It made me feel better - like I was contributing somehow. 9-11 was the same. I couldn't get enough information. Perhaps somewhere in my head I thought I could figure it all out. Make sense of it.
Technology has made it so much easier to receive information. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. Right now, I'm grateful for it. I'm able to watch without getting in the way. It's also bad because I really want to go help, but there's nothing I could do if I were there. So...here I am, now at a point where I'm trying to ignore it. Trying to find some kind of distraction.
Think I'll go cook supper for the Dingoes.
Home Fires Burning
There is a wildfire burning in my hometown. I grew up at the foot of Pike's Peak. I played all over Rampart Range. Climbed rocks. Rode motorbikes. Inspected moss. I love my mountain childhood. There's an earthy scent standing among the pine trees that can't be found anywhere else. It's the scent of home.
When my mom called to tell me about the fire, I wanted to cry. In the many years I've been alive, that area has never seen fire. There are homes up there. Tourist attractions. Hiking paths. And it all contributes to the fantastic view.
There are other fires burning in Colorado. I heard that there are six. And a couple of years ago, California was ablaze. I should have cared because I used to live there. I should have cared when I heard about those other fires. Sure, I felt badly for the people they interviwed on the news. The ones losing their homes. Others who had to evacuate when the flames came too close. But I didn't feel the sense of worry that I feel with this fire.
It was never real to me. It's real now. To hear the sense of concern in my mom's voice as she describes the plume of smoke concretes that. The other fires - being on the news - it was just another TV show in my head. Just like when we hear about hurricanes or earthquakes. We are removed from that, so it doesn't really matter to us. But when friends and family are losing homes, it becomes very real.
So with that, I must say that I hope in the future not to dismiss it so easily when I hear of fires or other disasters. I will pray for the brave men and women risking their lives to protect buildings, land, and animals. How truly grateful I am for those folks. I will lift the families who might lose everything.
Because who's to say that I may not one day be in that situation?
The Reason Why
Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I started thinking about this blog and its purpose. Many people use blogs to vent. Others use blogs to teach (and to those who teach about the writing/agent/publishing industry - I am most grateful!) Well, I don't want to vent here. I can find other venues for that. And I am working toward credentials to be able to speak professionally on writing, but as an unpublished, unagented author, I don't feel like that's something I should do right now. Still in the muck and mire, as it were... But I CAN blog about what I know, and I KNOW what I write.
Just before I had my son, I was searching for something to do. Something to keep my mind sharp. I memorized the periodic table. I learned the list of presidents. I learned British kings and queens, books of the Bible, weights and measurements. I created a journal with all that information in it and carried it with me everywhere I went. Okay, so I was really bored. I had gotten married in March, and by December, I was a mom. My identity had shifted from a single career woman to wife and mother. Not to mention, I moved across the country, away from my family and home. It was a wacky time. I had looked for a job, but no one was hiring...
One afternoon, I pulled up some old files I had kept from my online role playing days. The characters started whispering to me. Their stories were changing, evolving from the world they knew into a completely different place. And a couple months after my son was born, so was Valor. Somewhere in there, we moved, because I remember completing the 90,000+ word novel in a different house. Writing became my therapy. It gave me identity. It gave me purpose. I finally was in control of something. I just didn't realize at that point how big this whole thing would get.
Valor is the story of two very different people coming together for a single purpose. My ideas always start with the characters. I wanted to put a little of myself in it, so the main character's name is Selah. Yes, that's from Psalms, but it's also the majority of the letters in my name - Ashley - rearranged. Her counterpart - Gray - is an anagram of my husband's name, Gary. Throughout this book, I used anagrams of names for minor characters. When I needed numbers, I used birthdays or other familiar combinations. It's so neat to be able to put those little secrets in there!
The solar system I created - the Circeae System - also has meaning behind the stellar and planetary names. If I ever do get these books published, I would like to offer a compendium of "anomalies," as I call them. I have started to employ this in most of my writing now.
Valor needs to be rewritten before I can even think about putting it out there. It was the first novel I had written, relying only on what I had learned in high school and college English. Of course, I thought it was brilliant...and then I started trying to get it published. Ha! I then found a wealth of information online tha tled me to find all the terribly wrong things I had done. I knew nothing about point of view, telling versus showing. Ugh. It's ghastly! But I am confident in the story...so once I rewrite, it's going to rock!
The others that followed are stronger and more polished. Each one is a stepping stone. And as I write, I have to go back and tweak things in the others to make them all work together. Did I mention that I don't write chronologically? I start with my characters, build a scene and grow from there. Somehow, it all comes together for me. I started with the fourth novel in my series (although as I said, at the time, I didn't know it would be a series!) Then I wrote the second. The seventh. The ninth. The first. I have the majority of the fifth. The eighth. The third. The tenth has a few scenes. And the sixth consists of notes. But they're all there. And I can see every one of them in my head, like I'm watching the movies. (They would make awesome movies, by the way!)
So that's the introduction to my history as a writer. Well, it's not a complete history, but it's how my novel writing got started. I've been at it for...oh...seven years now. Seriously at it. And I will keep at it because now, it's part of me. I couldn't quit if I wanted to. I love writing. I just hope that someday, I'll get to share my work with the world.
Once upon a time, right smack-dab in the middle of the Harry Potter series, I worked for Barnes & Noble. I loved that job. I started out as the lead in the children's department (can't tell you how very many picture books I own from that time...) and wound up as the Community Relations Manager. Working with books was a blast! Alphabetizing, organizing, merchandising...right up my alley. I even got to plan a midnight release party for Harry Potter #4.
Who knew that the young adult market would boom the way it has? Everyone, it seems, is reading YA novels. I work with high school drama kids now, and a couple years back, one of them was reading Twilight. I picked up a copy simply out of curiosity. Whoa. One week and four books later, I understood the attraction. The same thing happened with the Hunger Games. I had heard the hype and knew that the movie was coming...so I snagged it on my Kindle. Yup. Glad I did.
So what's the draw to YA novels? Obviously, the target audience likes to glom onto the latest trend. But I think it goes beyond that. My mom always used to say that my dad liked movies made for 14 year olds. I think there's a part of us that never really matures. A part that clings to those feelings and experiences of our youngers selves. I can tell you, I don't feel any older than I did in high school. Sure, I'd love to think that I am the most mature person on the planet, but I know better. And I proudly read YA novels.
Now I'm wondering if I should rewrite/revise my books to fit the YA market. So many agents represent YA, and YA only. I don't think it would take too much to transform my books. My style is simple. I stay away from explicit scenes, mostly because I don't like them anyway. I do have some dark events occurring, but what's darker than kids killing each other in a government-controlled game? As far as word count, I'm around the same amount as the more popular YA novels. The only thing would be to change the ages of my characters and adapt their stories slightly to fit that. It's something I am seriously considering.
This isn't to belittle what YA authors do. Even though I already knew the answers, I checked out the definitions for "middle-grade" and "young adult" fiction tonight. As I read the middle grade definition, I thought, "Man, that would be hard. As you're writing, you'd have to be in the psyche of that child character - react to things the way a child would." I can't imagine that's an easy task. I admire those who write MG/YA.
To YA or not to YA - that is the question. I have stumbled into the "genre" with another story I've started, and I'm really like it. So we'll see whether or not I attempt to join the YA ranks with my sci-fi series. I can only hope to find a smidge of the success the Big Names have enjoyed.
My Big Mistake
While that title is one of my favorite songs from Will Rogers' Follies, that's not what I'm talking about. I am so sad! I've been sending out queries all over the place. Well, actually, I've sent them to a select number of agents that I believe might be a good fit for my writing and genre. I tailor all my queries to match the various agents - when I can find information on them. When I can't, I try to make it sound professional.
But at the very bottom, I discovered that I said I hope said agent would consider my manuscript for PUBLICATION. I should have used "representation." Agents don't publish books. I know that. They represent books. Oh, I pray that this one little foul-up won't destroy my chances with the agents I've queried! I can't believe I wasn't more careful.
The Moral of This Story: Check EVERY stinkin' word of your queries! Even when you think you've got it in the bag!
Pulled a Hundred and One Ways
I am a little relieved today. In just a few days, we have auditions for our summer melodrama. I am writing it, so I had to get the script done. Finished it last night! (*cheers*) I also sang in a ladies' trio. I say "sang" because I quit last night! (*cheers*) It was time. Every time we got together for a rehearsal, I found myself not wanting to go. Nothing against the ladies - I just didn't want to devote the time anymore. And when I told me kids, they thanked me.
So now, the only thing standing between me and some serious writing time...is me. I'm still Mom and Wife, so I will fulfill those duties first. But during rest time and times when Hubby will watch the Dingoes, I plan to write. I've been away from it too long. Sure, I've done little things here are there - written down ideas, worked on the melodrama, sent queries, blogged occasionally. There's just so much more I could be (and should be) doing as a writer.
I want to try my hand at short stories. I need to finish my series, including the tedious revision process. My YA is in pieces, and I have to get it strung together. And of course, the queries. I feel like I've sent out a hundred and received two hundred rejections, when really I've only sent out a handful and heard back from a few. It's time to start taking it seriously, because I am serious about it. I want my published book in my hand!
Award-winning sci-fi author * Christ follower, wife, and mom * broadcast content producer. And yes, I am a real duchess. http://amzn.to/2eLTlH3