NaNoWriMo!

Hello, friends!

We survived the frights of Halloween night, yes? Now we’ve reached November, which is the month of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), wherein writers of all stripes try to pour 50,000 words into a project by the month’s end. Holding a carrot in front of a writer and making them run for it can be a great motivator, especially if they have trouble carving out writing time or struggle with focus. I enjoy the camaraderie in NaNoWriMo as writer friends cheer each other on to reach goals. For me personally, I love seeing the graphs light up as I move closer to reaching my goal. That visual representation is a good driving force even on the days when the words are a struggle. Ten words is more than zero words. Ten words is still ten more words than what I left off with the day before.

Sometimes it’s not about increasing the word count in a project. Writers approach NaNoWriMo differently. Some just look to fall back into a productive writing schedule. Get the butt in the chair and write for an allotted time each day, doesn’t matter how many words you create as long you develop the habit. Others seek to fall in love with writing for the sake of writing and not let whether it’s any good stand in their way, drafting to get out a story and know that you can fix it later through revisions (because, oh hell no, the work’s not done at the end of the first draft).

This year, my approach to NaNoWriMo has been different. In the past, I’ve sought to add words to a project I’d already begun drafting. Sometimes it’s worked. Sometimes it’s been more of a headache than worth because I wasn’t focused enough on where I was going with the story. So this year, I’ve spent about six weeks pre-writing. I wrote up character sheets with their motivations, conflicts, what they want to achieve, backgrounds, what their role is in this story. I did the same with the setting. Creating a beat sheet gave me a loose outline to follow. It’s not about planning so intensely that I’ve locked myself in and given myself no wiggle room–rather I made sure I have an idea of how point A flows to point B and so forth. It still gives me the freedom for creativity and spontaneity that can be the exhilarating part of drafting while still knowing what the point is of the story. I have a plan. I know where I’m going in my story, and I’m excited to be purposeful in my writing while working on craft.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to participate in NaNoWriMo as long as you know what you’re setting out to achieve by month’s end. Good luck!

Until next time,
S

For my daughter, on her birthday

For Gwen…

I nearly lost you.

Then you nearly lost me moments after you were born. The world went gray and hazy. The doctors had to tell your father to come look at how beautiful you were because he was afraid the first minutes with you would also be the last with me. You entered the world with the theme music to “Halloween” playing in the background, close to midnight.¬† I laugh about this now. My cell phone was ringing and your grandmother and aunt were both worried because it had been so very long since there’d been any update. And then when it was calm again, I got to hold you and stare into those dark eyes that already knew me.

Somehow, we came home from the hospital together, you looking very pink and promptly introduced to our pugs. I should’ve known that you would be a dog lover like me. I did not sleep the first two days that you lived in our home, not until your dad said I had to sleep. He stayed awake with you. The first movie you ever saw was “Rambo.” I also laugh about this.

You’re twelve now and pulling away. I’m excited to see who you’ve become. A writer. An artist. An astronomer. A chemist. A photographer. An equestrian. A figure skater. A musician. A Girl Scout. An acolyte. A niece. A cousin. A granddaughter. A daughter. A sister. A soul full of compassion.

Just when I think I couldn’t love you more, I do.

Happy birthday, my lovebug.
~Mom

Giving Back as Much as You Take

Hello, Friends.

October is upon us in all its gray-skied glory. Archon has come and gone for another year, and it was another weekend of reconnecting with friends and writer-friends and all the familiar faces that you get to know after a time in the convention scene. I really enjoyed myself, and it’s always wonderful to catch up and hear what other people are working on and delving into.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on the aspect of writing that surrounds the give and take writers share with each other and share with their readers. We give these stories to our readers and we take a sense of accomplishment or joy in knowing the work is read. I think it’s a fair trade because it’s not asking anyone to like what you’ve written or to somehow provide you with validation of what you do. You merely give and you take back that breath of relief that says, “These words are going into someone else’s thoughts.” It’s not out of balance where one side weighs heavier than another. There’s a risk in skewing that balance. If the only reason you write and share your work is for people to laud it, then you’re trying to take more than what you’re giving. What happens if you don’t receive that attention from others? It can mess with your sense of self and self-value. Admittedly, it’s very touching when you find out that someone has really loved your work, but that sense of purpose or validation doesn’t need to come from outside sources. It lives in each of us if we recognize it and accept it.

There’s another dynamic that happens as a writer with the give and take, and it usually involves having other writers help you navigate the publishing path. It can be anything from having critique partners helping you develop your voice and technical skill to friends helping in your agent/publication quest to others just providing a listening ear. And these are all good, useful people in your life, but you have to give back. If you’re that person who always wants crits from your CPs but never has time to turn one around for them, you need to reassess what this relationship is. You have to be there for them, too. I know I’m guilty of maybe not always having all the time someone else needs from me, but I keep the door open and try. And if I don’t have the time right then or can’t make a deadline, I let my CPs know, “Hey, life got hairy and I’m not going to make it. What else could I do in its place to help you?” Writing can feel very lonely at times, so it’s important to have a strong support system to help you through it. But then you also have got to support others when they need it. If you see a newer writer going, “I don’t know how to handle x,y,z” and you do know what that situation is like, offer an ear. Share experience. Because someone somewhere along the way will do that for you.

Kindness matters. People remember when someone is kind to them. People remember when you’ve taken your time and given something to them.

Talk to you all soon,

S

When You’ve Gone Off-Course

Hello, friends.

It’s the start of fall today, and I tend to feel better in the fall. The wind has those brisk notes that lets you know winter’s coming and soon we’ll be nested in blankets. It’s a time of birthdays in my family, camping, and visiting the woods, which is much easier to enjoy when it’s not blazing with heat and humidity.

I still feel a bit stunned that it’s already this far into the year. Didn’t 2017 just begin a few weeks ago? It’s been a busy year with working on my health, starting a whole new career path in my private life, and finishing out some writing projects. Recently, I had a conversation with my agent during which I told her that I really didn’t know what to do next. I had a lot of ideas but nothing quite clicked. Some things have been in limbo, and while you’re always told, “Write the next story,” sometimes figuring out what that next story should be isn’t so simple. My agent, in her wisdom, gave me some exercises to work on designed to stimulate the creative mind. One of my biggest faults is, when trying to explain what a story is about, I try to tell all the parts instead of distilling it down into its simplest components. I’m not terribly good on homing in on the barest essentials of a story because I want so much to tell you about the setting, the characters, the theme…so the plot gets a little lost.

My agent said, “I want you to take a bit of time and come up anywhere between 5-20 concepts. This is shorter than an elevator pitch. It’s one sentence designed to make yourself and others desperate to know more about the story.” Take the movie¬†Titanic. It can easily be summed up as: Poor boy falls in love with a rich girl while sailing on the ill-fated Titanic. It begs questions: what’s going to happen, will they survive, and more. You have something to root for and know that there are stakes involved.

It’s not just coming up with a great hook or a high concept idea. It’s trying to find the essential story that gets you excited. The list of concepts could be as off-the-wall, terrible, things you know you’ll never write, things you’re desperate to write–it’s all designed to narrow your focus. You’ll see recurring themes and figure out just what kind of stories you’re drawn to tell. Somewhere in that list, you’ll find some gold. It can take time and it can take practice to find something you’re really enthusiastic about. But as with anything, it becomes habit after doing it often enough and that, in turns, makes it easier.

And, yes, I have found what I’m working on next.

~S

What’s Success, Really?

Hello Friends,

This is the time of year where I tend to be busier both privately and publicly, and I enjoy it. September is my second favorite month, lagging only slightly behind October. The change in seasons creates a kinetic energy that moves all the way through my soul with crackles and embers, and so much anticipation.

September is my birthday month, and by month’s end, the Lucy story will head off to production with others in the anthology. ARCHON will be upon St. Louis, and one of the panel topics I’ve got in how to gauge your own success as a writer. It’s interesting because, when you start out, you think, “Okay, getting my book on the shelf in a store means I’m successful.” And it’s a wonderful success, but your idea of successes changes over the course of your career. It becomes fluid. MQM’s gotten starred reviews. I’ve earned out my advance. My book’s made lists. These are successes and achievements that deserve some happy feelings, but what’s the greater success to me? I take more heart in sharpening my craft, developing richer characters, or hearing from readers that something in what I’ve written touched their mind.

It’s easy to feel Imposter Syndrome, this idea that somehow success is so precarious and artificial that it can entirely slip away and people will find out you’re not as good as others have been led to believe. It’s sad, truly. I have friends who’ve had six-figure deals who still feel dogged by shortcomings or unmet expectations. It’s so easy to feel like you’ll never be enough. Except you are enough because you aren’t one published book, one story, one query. You are enough because you’re here. In this moment, you are a success. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not.

~S

 

Finding Quiet

Hello friends,

It’s been a busy week, mostly with finishing up “Lucy Light, Lucy Dark,” editing another writer’s short story, and doing many, many things around my home. I’ve spent more time working on art–sculpting, painting, and graphics projects as well. As all the hustle and bustle tends to wear on me after a few days of run, run, run, I took some time for myself and drove out to my friend Angela’s farm not far from where I live. It’s beautiful. Tranquil. Many animals. Woods, water, and fields. It’s a small patch of everything I love having grown up in northern Illinois finding myself quite often wandering farmland. I was able to hold a bunny less than a week old, and what a soft face that seemed blissed out when I stroked my thumb across its forehead. Angela introduced me to all her pigs, her sheep and goats, the cows, so many cats and dogs. These aren’t all pets. They are working animals, but they know great love, too. It feels good in my soul today. I’ll take it.

I hope the coming week treats you all well. For those recovering from Hurricane Harvey or bracing for Hurricane Irma and the wildfires, you’re in my heart. I’m actively working with some relief groups that will bring aid to those affected.

Soon,
S

What’s Coming

Hello, friends,

The summer slow down becomes the end-of-summer speed up. I have a couple more things on the horizon. Late in September, I will be at Archon, which is a large con for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fans and professionals. I’ve participated on panels the last few years and really enjoyed myself as I talked with other writers and readers about craft and fandoms. It will be September 29-October 1 at the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville, IL (right outside St. Louis, MO). It should be a great time.

Also, my short YA horror story “Lucy Light, Lucy Dark” will be featured in an upcoming anthology that should be available in time for Halloween reading. Details are coming on that one . . .

This summer, I’ve finished a middle grade novel written with my eleven-year-old daughter, and it’s mysterious and puzzling. My daughter (for now, at least) leans toward the dark and creepy with her own work. She’s spent a great deal of time working on craft, voice, and figuring out who she is as a writer. Some of it brings up memories of when I was younger and starting to find my path. My mother was the first person who ever read my work. That encouragement was more valuable than any coursework I later took in college. She was the first person who said, “You can do this.” It takes drive. It takes a lot of determination and discipline as you force yourself to study not only your work but others’ to learn technique and voice and HOW DID THEY MAKE THAT CHARACTER SO REAL?! The other lesson that’s important for my daughter to see is that rejection is simply part of the industry. How I react to rejection or difficulty teaches her. Do I give up? Do I let the situation sink in and consider how I want to handle it? Do I try to fix it immediately? It’s all a learning process, and growing ourselves is a massive part of growing as a writer as well.

There are more stories I’m working on, more things I’m keeping a little closer to my heart for the moment as they’re forming.

Fall is coming, and it’s my favorite season, the one where I feel the most grounded against the earth and there’s a peculiar energy as we race to accomplish all the things before settling in to the stagnancy of winter. Let’s see how much we can get done.

~S

A Year in Progress

Friends, I looked at the calendar and still can’t believe it’s already in August.

Waaaaay back in January, when I posted about Louise Gornall’s wonderful book, I didn’t know that two days later I was going to become very, very ill. I hadn’t been feeling well for several months. The later part of 2016 was a slide into my anxiety and panic disorder, all of it compounded by knowing something was wrong and not being sure what that something was.

A gallbladder is something you never think about until you have to. Mine decided it was going to poison me. The surgery to remove it was delayed. I continued to get sick. Once it was gone though, I started to get better.

Sometimes it takes a really painful, frightening moment to make you take stock of things.

Without going into all the details, I have put my health first this year. Mental, physical, spiritual, creative. I made some massive changes, and it’s led to me finding an overall positive headspace. Twenty-five years of anxiety disorders and chronic pain because of a traumatic neck injury and all that comes with living amid those issues don’t go away overnight. But the care I’ve given toward working on them has honestly made a difference. I’m in an upswing.

I’m writing, and I’m having fun while writing. Mysterious things. Murdery things. Witches and folklore and trapdoors and swamps. There are more stories coming. So sit tight and hang on. You’ll hear more soon.

~S

Louise Gornall’s UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES

Hello to all my dark and lovelies! I hope 2017 treats you all well, and let’s start it off with some excitement, yes?

On January 3, 2017, Louise Gornall’s UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES hits store shelves, and if you watch my video below, you’ll find out why this book means so much and why I hope you’ll want to pick up a copy for yourselves.

I live with OCD and panic disorder. There have been times when it’s been such a challenge to even get out of bed and leave the house because the world outside seems so frightening. It can be easy to think you’re the only one going through it, but if you take away nothing else from UNDER ROSE-TAINTED SKIES, I hope it’s that you know you’re not alone. Other people live with these struggles and people love you.

See you all soon,
~S