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 movieĀ 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.


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.



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.