Tag Archives: writing life

Settling Your Palate

As parents, it is our jobs to worry. My oldest child hated to read. Every word that made it from paper to his brain was a fight. Oh, he’d listen to me read all day long, but getting him to pick up a book on his own was akin to torture. One exception was C.S. Lewis and other classics like White Fang. Tough books for a little boy with dyslexia.

But this wasn’t the first time I’d had to worry extensively about him or my other kids. Like any good mom, my kids’ eating habits were of utmost concern.

When Eldest was about a year and a half old, all he ate were strawberry Poptarts and bananas. And I do mean this literally. My lovely doctor assured me it was just a phase and that Poptarts were heavily fortified enough to see him through to the next love. My Dear Daughter, on the other hand, was a yogurt fanatic. She loved all things dairy to the point of refusing infant formula. She went straight from mama’s milk to moo milk at six months old–and Lord, did that cause a stir. Seven years later Youngest devoured oatmeal by the gobs. He had a bowl every morning and one every night before bed, often times supplementing his daily menu with a snack or two in between. If I had a penny for every time someone told me he would get fat from all the carbs, my Dear Hubby could retire

The only one who didn’t have a phase was our Middle son. At about eight months old, Middle had gotten so sick that he nearly didn’t make it through the severe dehydration caused by his multiple-infection diagnosis. For the next few years, he subsisted off of McDonalds’ shakes just to keep his calorie intake up and help close the growth gap created by the side-effects of his illness. Doctor’s orders. As you can imagine, he was a seriously picky eater. (Right, Dave Homann?) Not to mention, we were seriously concerned parents. All despite having other children with quirky eating habits not only survive, but thrive.

I have no idea if Eldest eats Poptarts or bananas, though I suspect many of the former and few of the latter. He is a college kid, after all. DD can’t stand the texture of yogurt, and Youngest still uses oatmeal as a bedtime snack more often than not. Middle likes anything not from McDonalds–with lemon peppered asparagus & brussel sprouts as a current fave.

Tastes change. Or not. And that’s okay. But what we don’t’ have to do is stress over the evolution. Change can be good. The journey even better.

We are blessed with a lifetime to try new flavors and textures. Opportunities abound to stretch our experiences and fall in love with new foods. So, too, are readers capable of changing literary loves.

As a voracious reader of mysteries in my childhood, I still appreciate a good thriller with a tangled web of deceit and a healthy dose of red herrings. I’ve also grown to love nonfiction. But only medical or history based nonfiction. Give me a 1,000 page tome on the history of rabies and I’m like a kid with the whole candy store at my disposal…or should I say consumption?!

Crime novels were once my Poptarts and bananas. While most romance novels are akin to the goopy texture of Greek yogurt.

My bookshelves are filled with a  vast palate of literature ranging from the classics to YA to pulp fiction. And that’s better than okay. Diversity is good, even if we have to go through picky phases to get there.

So, don’t be too harsh on your children for not eating their peas or not loving to read. Tastes change. It is our job to support the journey and expose ourselves and our  kids to unique and continuous opportunity, be it music, food, athletics or literature.

Once upon a time, Eldest struggled to read. Now, he is rarely without a book.

How has your palate changed? What are your current faves (of anything) and why? If you are a writer, how has this affected your writing journey?

Curious minds want to know.

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Does Writing From Home Affect Your Worth?

The other day, a fellow writer lamented that she’d been brushed aside at a social gathering simply because she was an author, not an employee. Not surprisingly, this sentiment is echoed by many Write at Home Moms.

WrAH Moms are given the hand wave, the shoulder shrug and the scrunched-in-disgust face by women who nine to five it off the homestead. They acutely feel the disdain of the working. As if being there for their kids while writing, editing and marketing a novel equates sitting on the couch watching Family Ties reruns while downing copious amounts of soda. As if their contribution to their families and to society is somehow inferior–less than–the work these other women do.

I suppose it comes from the idea that respect is tied to a paycheck, and that being home is as old-fashioned as June Cleaver’s hair-do.

“You just stay at home,” says the working mother of two with a cleaning lady, a nanny and her summers off.

Yep. Just.

Compounding this feeling of failure is the fickleness and speed (or lack thereof) of the publishing industry. Not every great manuscript gets published. In fact, many never find homes as publishers navigate the technology rush that has changed the face of book marketing. And even when novels earn a contract, it can take up to three years before they hit the bookshelves–cyber or otherwise. To the paycheck mentality who doesn’t understand the nuances of the literary world, this is a whole lot of wasted time and a lot of reruns.

So this post goes to my fellow WaH Moms. I believe in you. I understand what it’s like to be looked down upon for pursuing your passion. I get how hard it is to carve out time to write while balancing the volunteer activities you do, the families you raise, the business mind you must have to market yourself, the part time jobs you keep and the disdain you endure for doing most of it quietly behind the closed doors of your home–all for paychecks that might take years in the making.

Your time is worth something. Your words do matter. You are a viable thread in the tapestry of the world. Without you, picture books could not be shared between parent and child, schools would have no material with which to teach, vacationers would have no beach reads, scholars would have no way to enhance their learning and countless editors, marketers, publishers, illustrators, designers, carpenters, architects, store clerks, librarians, CEOs, janitors, teachers, etc, etc, etc, would be without jobs.

The written word has power. It can be responsible for cultural movements. It graces humanity with possibilities. It is vital to our society’s success. And you are a part of that–sitting on your couch, agonizing over word choices, disseminating fact from fiction, sharing your thoughts in only the way you can.

To hell with the naysayers and dust bunnies. Take pride in your work–and even more so, the process. Writing is some of the hardest work I have ever done.

If you have encountered similar situations, how do you handle them?

Readers Are Like Phone Companies

I recently got a new phone, as my old one wasn’t functioning as well as it should–not to mention, I hated it from the start–but had to stick with it because…well, two-year contract and all.

Anyway, I love my new phone as much as I hated my old one. Sticking with it for the duration of my contract will be a pleasure, whereas my last one was a pain right from the get go.

Kind of reminds me of books…

Back in the day, I read anything and everything–always finishing what I started. Always. I was easily amused and had a lot more down time with which to fill with words.

Alas, my time is shorter now, as is my patience. Books, unlike cell phones, do not have restrictive contracts. If a reader hates the first chapter, first page, first line, he doesn’t have to keep reading. He can discard the old and buy a new one without paying a penalty fee.

As I’ve gotten older and my down time shorter, I have resorted to this method myself. In fact, I recently read–and loved–the first novel in a trilogy that everyone was raving about. Seconds after finishing the first one, I picked up the second. The writing had slipped and the characterization was a mere shell of what it had been in the debut. Yet, the storyline was enough to hold me to the end.

However, by the end, I was so exasperated I wanted to send both books and a crabby note to the author voicing my disappointment that the second book was a bridge book between the first and final in the trilogy–and a poorly done one at that. I didn’t, and I won’t. But, I didn’t purchase the last book.

My time is short, and I certainly didn’t sign a trilogy contract with the publisher. I didn’t have to stick with the story just because I had started it.

And this is what terrifies me about being an author. It’s what should terrify us all. Our readers do not have to stick with our writing. Rather than them having a contract with our book, we have a contract with them. As authors, it is our job to deliver a good story, page after page. It is our duty to fulfill the promise that engaged our readers in the first place.

Our readers are Verizon and T-Mobile and AT&T. They hold the contract. We, the writers, are bound by their expectations for the duration of our books. If we break this contract, the penalty fee we pay is in lost readership.

So, dear readers, what types of things make you break your contract with an author?

Curious minds want to know.

Sealed Lips Sink Ships: pushing away support

So, I had an eye-opening experience this past week. With two novels under contract–one due out in a week and the other next year–I was feeling a little put out that my Dear Hubby wasn’t flapping his gums about my impending success.

Right? I mean, I’ve worked so hard to perfect my craft and piece together stories worthy of public consumption. Shouldn’t he be hanging from the streetlights with a megaphone?

Okay, part of that is a silly fairytale dream, but equal parts are true. As spouses, we support each other publicly and privately–except in this one small area. So, we sat down and had a heart to heart. Turns out, I’m the one who sealed his lips from years of being so guarded with my writing.

Scenario 1

  • Him: Whatcha working on?
  • Me: Nothing. Just stuff.

Scenario 2

  • Him: What did you get done today?
  • Me: Not enough.

Scenario 3

  • Him: What’s your new story about?
  • Me: Hmmm, it’s kind of hard to explain…

Scenario 4

  • Him: walks by as I peck at my computer
  • Me: covers screen in embarrassment

I could write a thousand and one more scenarios, but the point will always be the same. I. Am. Terrified.

I’m terrified to talk about my writing, to share my writing, to articulate where I’m at in the process. I am insanely scared of being judged when my work is incomplete. Once I’ve finished a piece–and by finished I mean polished to near perfection–I’m tolerably okay with sharing.

The problem is that by sitting behind my writing wall for so many years, I’ve shut him out. Him and probably other people as well. Not a good place to be when you’re gearing up to throw your baby onto the world’s bookshelves.

So I ask you, dear writers, have you locked your writing and your writing process behind fences and walls to the point where you feel isolated from those who would otherwise love to support you? If so, it’s time to throw the gates wide. The question is how…

If  you’re one of the smarter ones and have been open with your writing from the get-go, please share any tips you have so the rest of us can learn to gracefully and graciously accept the support we so desperately want, but so completely push away.

Curious minds need some help!

The Absolutely True Secret to Success in Writing and Life

This morning I awoke to a blanket of white. Snow on May 1st. May Day. You know, the day we’re supposed to bounce around the neighborhood bearing little baskets of goodies for those we love?

And it’s snowing.

My first reaction was, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?”

Then I looked closer. Fat flakes drifted to the ground, covering the grass but not the hardscape. It’s beautiful. Even for May 1st. And it got me thinking. Too often, I–we–let that initial rush of emotion make the statement for my day.

So, I put on my writer’s cap and asked, “What if?”

What if today was the last snow I would ever see?

That made me feel better until I realized “what if” isn’t really good enough. It implies that the only important thing is the event and not the person in the middle of the event. It is passive and emotionless. It’s boring in the sense that every moment of our lives is a what if.

It isn’t the “what if” that’s important. It’s the “what will.” The “if then.”

If today is the last snow I will ever see, then…

  • I will grab a cup of coffee and sit on the front step, watching the flakes cling to the tree branches, creating beautiful ice sculptures.
  • I will put on my boots and run in the yard, lobbing tiny snowballs at my little boys.
  • I will stand in the middle of the sidewalk, stretch my arms to my sides and catch snowflakes on my tongue.
  • I will revel in the feel of melting snow on my cheeks.
  • I will live.

It isn’t what happens that matters. It’s what we do.

This is absolutely true in writing and in life. If our characters–if we–sit around waiting for the next what if, all we have is a series of events strung together by a common character. If they act–if they live–then our stories can move forward in a satisfying way. And so can our lives.

That said, I’ve got a cup of coffee and a snowfall waiting for me. What about you?

Curious minds want to know!

 

Looking Forward One Step At A Time

In two days I get to go white-water rafting for the very first time. In five days Eldest turns eighteen. In nine days he moves into his dorm room and two weeks after that, I send my littles off to school.

It doesn’t matter what we have in front of us, as long as we have something to look forward to.

In life, it’s getting an education, securing a career, raising children and retiring comfortably. In writing, it’s writing a book, sending a query and getting published.

Yet, amid the myriad of dreams, goals and expectations we have for ourselves, things can get off track. I’m here to tell you that this is perfectly okay–as long as we keep something in front of us to motivate us. By our very nature, humans need emotional fulfillment. We need to accomplish things–large or small. We need to succeed.

But we often set humongous goals for ourselves and keep those so tightly focused in our minds that we forget all the baby steps along the way. We get so overwhelmed by this seemingly untouchable dream that we lose our spirit, our motivation and our passion. We let this unattainable goal press down on us to the point where it forces our failure rather than leads to our success.

Last week we vacationed with Dear Hubby’s family. All twenty-one aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents were there. During the course of the week, Eldest must have heard 2001 pep talks about his upcoming college endeavor. One had a huge impact on him and he relayed it to me on our way to his orientation.

His uncle pointed out that college is like a trip to California. You know where you will ultimately end up, but you can’t focus on that. You can’t look at the map of California and expect to arrive safely from across the country. Instead, you have to concentrate on what is directly in front of you–what you can see in your headlight beams. Because if you’re only looking at pictures of the beach, you’re going to crash right into the deer standing in your way.

When you feel overwhelmed by your life path, what do you do to slow it down? How do you keep focused and keep moving forward?

Curious minds want to know.

Don’t Assume Anything: Ask Everything

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting with my little sister over lunch. We made our way to Dear Daughter’s must-visit eatery: Buffalo Wild Wings. Ordering was easy, as our tastes run so similar.

Getting the right order was not.

Instead of receiving traditional wings, our waitress had brought us boneless. In our mind, all parties were to blame. We never specified which type of wings we wanted, nor did the waitress ask.

We all just assumed: us because we only eat traditional, and she because the boneless were on sale.

An honest mix-up that was quickly remedied.

Yet, not all assumptions are as easily taken care of. In writing, assumptions can get us in a boat load of trouble.

  • Never assume you know something as fact. Ever. Remember how people used to believe the world was flat? They assumed, and they were wrong. When I write, I check and double-check even simple things like how many kids play on a baseball team. I don’t want to lose readers because I didn’t have my facts straight and therefore lost all credibility with them.
  • Never assume you know what a crit partner meant by a comment–especially those that sting. If appropriate, ask for clarification, particularly before doing a rewrite based on the comment.
  • Never assume you know what an agent or editor meant on something that seems a little fuzzy. Agents don’t bite. Well, some might, but I hear rabies’ shots are required for the higher-ups in the publishing biz. It’s okay to shoot off a quick email as long as you do so appropriately.
  • Never assume all agents and editors are the same.
  • Never assume submission guidelines are the same across the board for all houses.
  • Never assume that a rejection means you’re a crappy writer.
  • Never assume that selling a book means you can quit your day job.
  • Never assume you know anything, let alone everything, about the world of writing.

Instead, check things out. Ask around. Read yourself sick on the topics you write about. Become besties with professionals who know what they know and can make your writing accurate.

And probably the biggest and best advice I can give: research your options and topics from all sides, not just from the POV you want to be true.

On our way home from lunch with Little Sister, DD and I talked religion. She finds it infinitely intriguing that (in her experience) people who don’t believe in God are more well-versed in the Bible than the people who live their religion on a daily basis.

There’s a lot of truth in her observation. Those who cut their teeth on Faith typically assume what they’ve heard in church and in their homes is correct. Those who were never immersed in it as a way of life will often seek to find the truth behind the Faith.  They actually dig into the nitty-gritty of it all. They ask questions and challenge the answers. They research all points of view and probably have a more well-rounded understanding of religion as a whole than those who have never read outside their Faith teachings.

We can learn a lot from this method of asking, not assuming. We have a better chance at succeeding in the publishing biz if we research our options and make informed decisions.

In what ways have your assumptions been challenged as you’ve walked your writing (or life) path? What things did you really know and which assumptions were proven faulty? How has this changed the way you’ve approached your writing/publishing (daily living) endeavors?

Curious minds want to know.  And if you’re still curious, you can check out my post on From the Write Angle regarding bios and bylines.