Unabridged Me

JUST ANOTHER WRITER

When writing gets in the way

December 3, 2018

So, I’ve done it. Kind of.

What did I do? I finished a novella, which is lengthier than I ever thought I could write. Now I’m done with the first draft, it’s time to edit and shine it up into a precious gemstone, readying it for cover art and marketing, to have an amazing debut into the world.

At least, that’s what is supposed to happen. The poor file has been sitting in a folder, calling out to me as I go about other things.

Unfortunately, the reality of writing tends to get in the way of, well, writing. Let’s take this blog, for example. I started with the best intentions. Wrote diligently, and I saw progress in my writing style, voice, and other people having interest in what I have to say.

And then I stopped. Why? For several reasons. The most pressing is the need for money. Let’s be realistic. Unless independently wealthy, working while writing is a requirement. I am fortunate with my situation, both in not being the sole earner in the household and in being paid to write.

But this is where writing gets in the way of writing. I write marketing content, blog material, and social media for clients. The work provides some income, and I’m closer to what I like doing than in my previous career. However, writing for clients takes time away from writing on personal projects.

So, client writing comes first. Because it’s money. Second in the priority list, at least for me, is writing for contests. Why contests? I prefer a specific contest by NYC Midnight because of the challenge and feedback provided by the judges. Due to my innate tendency for procrastination, the timed and assigned aspect instigate my perfectionist anxiety, bringing about the best in me.

Or the worst. Depends on who you ask.

Plus, along with Twitter, contests have given me a shallow end to step my virgin writer’s toe in and compare myself to the writers of the world. I know, we hear all the time to not compare ourselves to other writers. On one hand, this is true. I would never compare myself to Dickens or Atwood or King. And different writers have different voices, different audiences, and ultimately different goals for their art.

I have accepted my style of writing is not likely to have a large, commercial demand.

However, despite our tendency as writers to support and praise each other, there are amazing writers, great writers, okay writers, and then stubborn writers who struggle because their audience is nowhere to be found. I am prone to stubbornness as a general personality trait. So contests and Twitter give me a true perspective of how I rate in the overall world of wordsmithing.

Yes, I include Twitter in my priority list, just under contests. Contests occur once a quarter, at most, while Twitter has become my daily writing exercise. Not only do I write to prompts, sometimes pushing myself, but I watch and read writers and wordsmiths who I admire. I take apart their flash fiction. I try to understand what works about it. Also, I understand what I would do differently or how I would have written the piece. All in attempts to push myself to be a better writer.

On a side note, this can be a dangerous endeavor if a writer’s voice is not fixed. My voice is not fixed. In fact, I can mimic most writing styles pretty well if given enough exposure. While this is a great trait for client writing, it’s a horrible trait for a creative writer. There have been times when I’ve lost myself, and I see it in my stories.

Also, there is the unfortunate marketing aspect as a writer. A lot of new writers are in love with being discovered by a traditional agent or publishing house and making it big with their first book. Why? Well, the prestige, of course. Whose ego doesn’t need that? But aside from that, self and other forms of publishing require a large amount of marketing by a writer.

In fact, I would argue traditional publishing requires a large amount of marketing by a writer. And marketing does not mean blasting your published book in regular timed frequencies on social media. Traditional marketing meant book signings, traveling the country, making yourself available to the public.

Social media has made that a bit easier, in that there is more public readily available. But to be successful, a writer has to interact and engage. Which is a huge weakness of mine. My strong introverted nature, combined with social anxiety and a private nature, puts me at a disadvantage. So yes, Twitter is a priority.

As a quick recap, I have client writing, contest writing, and Twitter writing, all which seem to come ahead of my short story and novella writing. While some might say Twitter should come after my own writing, I disagree for the two above stated reasons.

Which brings us back to my novella. In an ideal world, I would set the piece aside. I would come back to it and begin my editing, putting on lipstick for it’s debut. And then I would begin querying or submitting it to literary journals.

Instead, my priority list takes, well, priority. So I reverted back to my innate flowchart. In my attempt to be more business-like in my approach to submissions and creative writing, I found a contest in a literary journal that accepts excerpts of longer pieces. Waiting until the last minute, and knowing my first draft needs a lot more than red lipstick to be acceptable by literary standards, I focused on one part of my novella as a submission.

Which I completed three days ago.

Will I get back to the other parts of my novella, editing and preparing them for a reunion with the submitted piece? Yes. The resting time is nearing completion, and my mind is ready and willing to make the necessary changes.

In fact, I’m looking into various options for publication. One option I came across is serial publication online, with authors receiving portions of the membership price if individuals subscribe to their writing. I’m hesitant about taking this approach with my debut, but on the other hand it will be a great learning experience.

And it’s time for this project to get bumped up the priority list.

 

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… continued…

I look at the three workers, each one lost in their thoughts of what I am implying, as my mind quickly reviews all the things that happened before the primary smudging.

The first night was sleepless, as usual when in a new environment. I rarely sleep in general, and new environments heighten my senses to a restless awareness, and I was prepared for the unknown. The master bedroom had previously been an unused attic, free from human contact, and now filled with more electrical wiring and fancy lights than I knew existed.

Despite anticipating some discomforts and interactions, mostly due to the horrors I had just left in our previous house, I did not foresee the white mist slamming into me, leaving me gasping and cold on the bed, aware of how exposed I was to the yawning wide staircase. 

No need to tell the workers that. Nor do I need to tell them about the interaction in the kitchen while I was standing at the sink washing dishes. Feeling something behind me, I expected my daughter to grab me around my legs and hug me. Instead, she was playing in the mudroom converted into a TV room. Focusing back on the dishes, a slight breeze brushed my left ear as a woman’s tired, mournful sigh caressed my mind. I spun on my toes, to find a modern fridge and re-purposed kitchen turned pantry door staring back at me. I knew this was not my kitchen, not yet. Despite all the design decisions I’ve made, and all the moving and living I was doing, the kitchen belonged to another. 

“Yeah, I have. Voices and things, mostly at the beginning.” I am regretting mentioning anything, as I see unwanted signs in their faces.

“That would explain the dirt,” Jose whispers to the second worker. 

“What’s that?” the foreman asks, fidgeting his back against the brick foundation, causing red dust to paint his uniform. 

“Well, um, we found dirt in holes we had finished cleaning,” the second worker whispers, scratching a grayscale, tattered American flag. 

“Seriously, we would be finished with a hole, come back, and there is dirt in it. We thought maybe the plumbing guy was messin’ with us, putting dirt back in the hole,” Jose confirms as his hands form shapes of the unwanted dirt, “man, if something touches me I’m calling a stop-job.”

For a moment my mind drifts to the man made box, lined with plastic, and covered with a heavy iron slab sitting in the yard. The plumber found it while excavating the sewer line. Nope, keeping my mouth shut on that one. And these guys don’t need to hear about the bones he is finding with each square foot he digs up.

“You wouldn’t be the first, I guess,” I sigh as I stand up, putting my hands on the header to stop my forward progress, “the sellers had a hard time keeping contractors. Crews would show up for a day, work, then never come back.”

I turn from the basement, tiring of this game. I regret saying anything. Watching them come up the stairs, joking and laughing with each other about the creepy space, hazardous stairs, and even the spooky door hidden by a pony wall in our family room, my mind drifts over all my experiences.

We smudged, my daughter and me, after hearing the sigh in my ear. Really, I wasn’t worried about who sighed. But I was worried about things I sensed coming from the rickety exterior door that rested on the other side of a pony wall in the TV room. Both cats refused to go in the room, though it was where most family time was spent. And the master bedroom continued to buzz, forcing me awake and fearful of my dreams. Swallowing my fear, we began our ritual in the basement. Moving through the house and finally out the front door, Vivian and I chanted, asserted, and owned the house. 

Sometimes I regret that first smudging. Afterwards, the house was dead. Like the power had gone off during a storm. There was complete silence, and an off putting sense of nothingness. Even the crows stopped cawing. Sleep refused to return to me. 

Slowly movement came back, the crows returned, and life felt a little more balanced. I had drawn my line in the sand and claimed my house.

It hadn’t lasted maybe 6 months before things became a lot worse for us. My daughter started having imaginary friends, which was normal for her age. Though there was one friend I took an interest in, named Bossy Boy. She would walk around the house with him, telling me they were witch hunting. Until one day she stopped talking about Bossy Boy, naming her imaginary friends after Disney characters. I asked if he was around, and she said no, he’s upstairs sick.

Which is when they came, her new imaginary people. The imaginary people she only referred to as them, who tormented and caused her pain. Making her cry in the car as they told her she couldn’t love her mommy and daddy anymore. Saying horrible things to her as she tried to ignore them. One day while eating lunch I heard my daughter say, “why won’t she talk to us? She needs to talk to us, why won’t she talk to us?”

Confused, I responded, “baby, what are you saying?”

Her cherub face smiled up at me as she said, “nothing, mommy.” Only for her voice to continue in a low hush,”so she does talk. She talks to her, why isn’t she talking to us?”

After hearing my daughter speak in a creaky, hoarse whisper, channeling something that was not her, I called my grandmother-in-law. A Coloradan mix of Spanish and Navajo, my daughter’s namesake has one foot in this world and one foot somewhere else. She said it was time to smudge again, that my daughter had picked up someone… or something. Harmless sighs were no longer on the board, as these ones would make me go crazy in order to have her. A fight for her soul, as my daughter’s abuelita stated in her superstitious yet Catholic sermon way. Unlike our last house, I would take offensive action. I would not sit by as my daughter became a target, and me a victim.

Once again, we started in the basement as I stared down the full length of the crawl space, blowing sage and taking back my house and my daughter. My waking nightmares became worse until we smudged again, she and I making sure to get down vents and into every corner of the crawl space.  

The final time didn’t get rid of everything, but it forced a treaty. The house is still breathing in its own space, separate from us. Bossy Boy plays in the upstairs bedroom, as my daughter factually states, “he likes you. He feels safe.” On the very few random nights she asks me to perform a “monster get out” routine in her bedroom, I am rushed by freezing air escaping her closet. One cat still refuses to move beyond the doorway into the family room, but my black cat now occupies the space with me, moving halfway towards the cellar door before her eyes go wild. We are no longer in open warfare, though the peace agreement for shared living is tenuous. 

No, no need to share this with the workers as they hurry out of my home. After all, I need them to come back tomorrow and finish the job. I brought it up, hoping they would laugh it off and think me silly, unconsciously supporting my desire that nothing is being stirred up with the cellar ground.

Instead, these three construction workers from a town far to the South have substantiated what I sense but want to ignore: something is riled up by our remodeling. I have fought for my home and my daughter, and I’m afraid I will need to fight again. 

 

 

Communal Living (Part I)

November 13, 2018

“Hey, what can I help you with?” The foreman removes his ear buds and looks at me from his sitting position on the dusty root cellar floor.

I move further down the steep, uneven cement stairs as I look at two of the three workers I can see. The foreman stares at me, like I was interrupting their flow. I understand, clients don’t interact much and get in the way when they do.

“So, I’m taking my daughter to dance class. I was wondering when you guys will be finished.”

I edge myself to sitting on the stairs, barely fitting and aware a slight lean forward would tumble me to where the foreman is crouching. The second worker has his back to the crawl space that extends under 2/3 of the house, looking straight across the basement towards me, and finally I can see the third worker standing by a joist support that isn’t attached to the floor. Inside I shudder at all the times my daughter has bounced across the floor upstairs, unsupported. 

“Oh, yeah, we are just waiting on Jose, slow on filling up his buckets,” the foreman and middle worker laugh as they look towards Jose.

I look at the dozen and a half filled buckets, dirt and concrete the three have been hauling up for most of the day. My eyes travel across the expanse of what could be called my basement, for a lack of a better term. No, there is a better term. More like root cellar with a thin sheet of poorly laid concrete, overhead joists cut by unnumbered, poorly done infrastructure remodels and heavily burdened with HVAC and plumbing. Slowly I take in the 2 x 2 holes pockmarking the floor. In another day the holes will be filled in with rock composite, designed to disperse weight of two floors bearing down on 3 steel beams and 9 jacks. 

“Well, we are better off than I thought we would be, ahead of schedule, so we shouldn’t be here on Thursday but for some clean up or concrete checks,” the foreman begins talking his end of day dispatch talk. I catch every other word, distracted by sounds of my daughter while also mesmerized by what has become of the uneven floors. “So, I don’t think we have much more to do.”

“You guys can stay as long as you want. Just saying I won’t be here with you,” I smile. 

“Yeah, well, we are in a good stopping point and probably need to get checked into our hotel, if you don’t mind us leaving the buckets like this.”

“I was wondering if you would drive back down to Monument tonight,” I comment lightly.

Although there are structural companies and firms by the dozens in Denver, this company is from a town that is on the southern edge of halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs, the two main urban areas of Colorado. I don’t know much about Monument other than it’s a bit of a hill sitting on I-25, away from the mountains, so snow storms pick up speed and slam the small town.

Why did I pick a company so far away? Of all the PMs that came to bid work, this one felt the most genuine, honest, and forthright about all my concerns. Choosing a contractor by intuition? Yes, that’s what I do. Plus, they were all about the same price, and this one could do it without me having to play contractor and hire additional companies to move HVAC and plumbing.

“Oh, yeah, well we were actually going to put up cots here if ya didn’t mind,” jokes the second worker, his full beard still well formed after a day of hard labor.

“Sure, you can stay here. But in full disclosure I gotta tell you I’ve smudged this house three times in two years, and there is still stuff going on,” I meet the eyes of the second worker, expressionless. 

For one heartbeat there is silence. Confused, the foreman tilts his head as he searches my deadpan face. The second worker, his shirt rolled up to show sleeves of black and grey skulls, tribals, and Americana, stares in my eyes frozen. Jose nervously jokes, “that would explain the shadows,” breaking the spell. 

The foreman jerks towards Jose, and the second worker laughs. I laugh and say, “seriously, guys, I was kinda hoping you hauling out dirt would take care of some of this. After all, this has got to be the creepiest basement and crawl space I’ve ever experienced.”

All three voices chime in a harmony of believing disbelief, as the second worker moves quickly towards Jose. Jose laughs, “damn, man, you’ve had your back to that crawl space most the day. You thought you felt sumthin, maybe you did.” The second worker shakes himself as he sits on a bucket of dirt. 

The foreman looks at me, asking,” have you really experienced things?”

“Yeah, I have. Voices and things, mostly at the beginning.”

The truth is this house called to me, before I could even sense it. In fact, the reason we found this house was because I was being driven mad by our last house. In all rational sense, we shouldn’t have bought the house we were living in. We made it six months before deciding to sell. Denver was still in a crazy real estate frenzy, so we decided if we wanted to get away from our poor housing decision with a little bit of money, we needed to move soon.  

Our real estate agent,  unlike the previous one, is a very smart man. I gave him some of my requirements, and he took me to different areas to test what I said. All in all, he knew I was a neighborhood buyer and not a house buyer. What does that mean? Houses are houses, and I can live in whatever. As long as I’m not going mad. But a neighborhood is beyond everything else. For me, the full environment needs to feel right, otherwise the house will never become my home. Plus, houses I like are found in neighborhoods I like. 

After seeing a few houses, and losing a bidding war on a house not far from here, we were getting a little frustrated. Day by day my sanity was wearing away. Until I received a call to meet our agent at a house under renovation. The minute I stepped from the car, I heard the crows cawing and felt this was our home. 

At the time the house was ripped to studs, lath and plaster torn to shreds and thrown into the crawl space below the floorboards. It didn’t matter. This was my home. The potential I saw. The feeling I sensed. This was my dream home.

Though it really wasn’t. My preferred house is a Craftsman bungalow, complete with full brick porches, pane and stain windows, and solid wood bookcases around coal fireplaces. Second to a bungalow is a beautiful Queen Anne Victorian, complete with bay windows, crown and dentil molding, and a solid keystone above every window. Third is a hardy American four-square, complete with wrap around porch, butler’s pantry, and solid wood trim everywhere. So this house, a simple four room folk Victorian with a 1920’s kitchen and bathroom addition, wasn’t even in the running of my dream homes.

That didn’t matter. The crows called. The walls spoke. This was my house, despite my rational senses stating I saw the potential in the blueprints and I could pick my own colors and I could choose the octagon marble floor and subway tile in the bathroom and I could dictate gray cabinets with open shelves true to Victorian kitchens. This was my house bare boned and empty. 

My house per contract at the end of June. A house we didn’t move into until the end of September. We bought the seller’s reasoning that contractors were hard to find, though come to find out that wasn’t the full story. We bought the surface because it seemed reasonable. After all, two years later and Denver still has more cranes in downtown than the four-state area combined. We played understanding because we had no choice. Our house had sold while we were in Panama, a single buyer offering more than asking, and rent back was not an option. Finding another house was not an option. After all, it was a seller’s market. And this house was my house, the decision was out of my hands.

So we figured it out, living in a loft downtown where energy bombarded me 24/7. We took deep breaths, feigned patience, and ultimately moved in before the house was finished. We reasoned the chaos of the workers was less than the chaos of loft living, and at least we were home. Though that first night made me question if moving here was right. Or maybe this house wasn’t mine, after all. 

To be continued…

*** Below is flash fiction I wrote for a contest by NYC Midnight. Similar to Second Life, I was assigned genre, setting, and an object of significance to the story. Unlike Hard Light, which had 8 days, I received the assignment with a 48 hour deadline. Below is my attempt at a political satire, in a child birth class, with a dog biscuit. Feedback is always welcome. Thanks for reading!***

“Welcome to CSP’s childbirth class. Please find a seat quickly,” an instructor with the name tag Piper made eye contact with all the participants, her brunette bob accentuating the rigid line of her jaw. “Please, we don’t have much time.”

The milling group settled, sitting amongst strangers that would surely become friends. Hesitant smiles and gentle rubbing of bellies belied a shy sense of a shared goal. One by one, each face turned towards the instructor named Piper, silently inquiring to the next step in this mysterious process.

“Hello, and good evening. As you all know, we are here because each one of you is expecting a new family member,” a smile to the giggles of acknowledgement, “and you and your partner are part of a group who strongly believes in social stewardship.”

Each pair nodded to the comment, making eye contact with other participants in the room, now filled with a common goal supported by a shared sense of importance and obligation.

“You are here because you believe being a member of society requires awareness, acknowledgement, and a sense of duty to your fellow person. We believe that starts with the birthing process. How a baby is brought into the world will determine their path regarding stewardship and being a good ally to those mistreated and subject to systemic bigotry. Empathy begins with birth.”

A polite round of applause accentuated the instructor’s speech, with the pregnant participants rubbing their bellies and their partners murmuring in agreement. Piper looked at the eager faces while picking up a dry erase marker. She moved towards a whiteboard, which rested on an easel several feet and to the right of the padded folding chairs. Then she wrote two words and underlined it several times: Offensive Pain.

Turning back to the room, she made eye contact with several women before enunciating in staccato bursts, “the drama we put around childbirth is an offense to the strength of woman. To put on a pretend show, screaming and hollering, is offensive to the doctors and nurses who are just trying to do their jobs, and it’s offensive to our partners who show love and support.”

The nods became more vigorous as Piper’s speech became more emphatic.

“Cultural indoctrination gives permission to this offensive behavior. The fake fact that childbirth is painful is a myth perpetuated by men and the system of bigotry. And playing into this makes secondary victims of everyone around us, including our children.”

The seated crowd sat forward on their padded chairs, nodding and whispering the truth of her words. Piper marched around the room, staring into the eyes of each woman attendee as she began to speak faster.

A few women looked towards their partners in discomfort but quickly hid their confusion under Piper’s steady gaze.

“We have been brainwashed. For eons women have been told that childbirth is painful. Why? To make us appear weak. However, as with most indoctrination, women have embraced this myth. Now, we make the poor choice to bring children into an overcrowded world with falsehoods of pain rather than calm empathy for those around us,” Piper held up a dog biscuit, “This is an icon of how some creatures value what others dismiss. With every holler of pain, we treat ourselves and environment as nothing but a dog biscuit.”

Vigorous head nods accentuated her speech, as murmurs became defined exclamations of “yes,” and “that’s right.” One woman in the back looked at her partner and shook her head in disbelief.

“Cultural norms are deeply imbedded in who we are. Only the truly woke can see past their own indoctrination and stake claim to stewardship in the highest order,” Piper exclaimed. The crowd of attendees hummed as whispers became roars of understanding.

All oblivious to the anxious couple, as she held her stomach protectively and he searched for an exit.

“I ask each of you, stand apart in your strength as women. Stand apart and bring forth an empathic being who is aware of the sensitivity of others. Bring forth a child who does not disrespect doctors with screams, and who does not offend nurses with requests for ice chips. Own your body, defy the myth that something naturally yours is painful, and bring forth the newest generation of woke beings!”

He grabbed her hand as they hunched their backs, walking passed enthralled couples unable to take their eyes from the front.

Piper raised her arms, a dog biscuit in each hand, and proclaimed, “take the biscuits from under your chairs. Raise them as your promise to value what all creatures value and bring into the world a child who will not cry at birth. Just as you control your indoctrination, control your child and continue the world in sensitive awareness of others before them! Do not abandon your beliefs in childbirth, like those who abandon in the face of challenge!”

The woman hesitated at the door, pinned by Piper’s direct eye contact.

Unaware of the confrontation, the group of expectant parents raised their arms with dog biscuits in hand, saying as one, “We will not give in to the myth of pain, we will not give offense to others, and we will not allow our children freedom to cry at birth, as they are privileged to live and have no right to cry!”

Gasping with fear and shame, the woman slipped from the room.

Piper lowered her arms and her head, taking a deep breath as the group in front of her swayed and rumbled with a new sense of purpose.

“Class dismissed.”

Character Versus Plot: Which Is More Important?

August 23, 2018

In general, humans do not like ambiguity.

Though there are a few people who can handle a gray existence, their number is far less than those who proclaim to have that comfort. And this tendency extends to everything within comprehension. The need for labels, definitions, categories, and boundaries was necessary at some point for our survival, and these layers are an extension of the black and white, binary trait of needing to know yes or no.

Will I live, or will I die.

And without survival stressors, at least for most of us in the Western world, it’s moved into existential sensibilities. How we view ourselves and our identities.

Just as humans are incapable of conceptualizing reality and layer levels of labels for understanding, writing has it’s own labels, categories, and boundaries. We observe complex humanity, yet we cannot resist falling into camps with a dichotomous structure.

As with most labels, I resist limiting myself by placing boundaries on or categorizing what I write. However, there comes a time when I realize there is a grain of truth despite the exaggerated discussion I usually come across.

One of the dichotomies that has slightly more truth than others, and notice I said slightly, is character versus plot driven writing. The reason I say slightly is there isn’t a true dichotomy. As with any other human trait, there is a complex, dimensional continuum to cover all that is entailed by stating character versus plot.

But in resisting the rabbit hole, I will simplify by stating yes, there are writers who begin their writing with characters. Likewise, yes, there are writers who begin their writing with plot, or external events.

As with most discussions, people like to group up in one camp or the other. Almost any discussion board will have most writers arguing plot based writing is poor writing. In order to entice a reader and have depth of writing, one must develop and build complex characters.

I disagree.

First, poor writing can be found everywhere. In fact, I produce mass amounts of poor writing to create a small gem that I read and reread, amazed the words came from my mind. Whether a writer is plot driven or character driven has very little to do with quality writing.

Second, there is some amazing literature that we all know and love that does not have complex characters.

Third, plot driven writing does not mean characters are not developed or well-thought out complex beings. To be a plot driven writer means the primary focus of action is external events. Usually found in genre writing, such as Mystery, the plot is the device which causes the character to act. Things happen to the character, and the character responds.

In fact, I would argue that most novels and writing is plot driven. Of the categories of conflict, there is only one category that would not require external events precipitating a sequence of decisions in the character. Namely, man vs self.

That is not to say character driven writing excludes all conflicts except man vs. self. That would be a simplistic, dichotomous view of writing. Nor am I stating plot driven writing excludes man vs. self. Again, simplistic view of writing.

Rather, character driven writing focuses on the internal world of a character as primary. Their drives, their motivations, their backstory, and ultimately the progression of the story is tied to exposition of or change within the character.

There is no question as to where I fall in the complex plane of character and plot writing. I am a character writer.

That is not to say I don’t write plot driven stories. I do, it’s inevitable, but the first step in writing for me is to understand my characters. Who they are. My least interesting stories, at least to me, are stories where I haven’t developed a complete profile of my MC’s internal world before writing.

Since I do not outline, my characters decide where the story goes. Their personality decides how the plot develops. Rather than forcing my characters to fit the action of the story, my characters tell me what happens in the story.

In fact, I delayed writing on my current WIP because even though I knew my character, I had no plot in which she could engage. I had nothing for her to do, no canvas on which I could display her and tell a story.

Of course, then I delayed another month because I wasn’t in the mood to write her. The forms procrastination comes in.

But at the end of the day, there are three things stories must have: character(s), plot, and setting. Without any one of these three, a story does not exist.

The degree in which character or plot plays importance for the writer is entirely subjective. And neither one or the other is indicative of poor writing.

*** First, I realize my blog appeared to be another abandoned platform. While this was the case temporarily, I am back.

Second, currently I am participating in a flash fiction challenge through NYC Midnight. I had 48 hours to complete a story no more than 1000 words in length. My assigned genre was Sci- Fi. Required setting was a dental office, and I had to use a hard drive in my story. Please read, enjoy, and always I love feedback***

“Second Life”

A dental practice gains new life by partnering with a data storage firm, only for the doctor to discover she made a mistake.

Miriam Young was standing at the receptionist desk, discussing server and disk space with Stacey, who was her file clerk, receptionist, IT helpdesk, and back office staff all in one. Deep in debate about compliance and storage issues, neither of the women noticed the man until he coughed.

“Can we help you?” Miriam inquired, embarrassed they had been talking about the issue in front of a potential client.

“I think I can help you,” said the man, handing over a business card.

Miriam paused a minute, looking at the dark hair on his knuckles, before reaching for the card. Her dental practice made enough money to pay the bills with little remaining, so she rarely entertained salesmen. A peek at the card peaked her curiosity, though.

“Henry Wright, Sales. Data Storage, We Pay You to Mine your Files,” Miriam read as Stacey’s brown eyes strained to read the card.

Miriam looked towards the man, seeking answers from his expressionless face.

“At DataRet Services, we know compliant storage of medical files is costly. Do you have a moment to talk with me somewhere more private?” Henry asked, glancing towards Stacey.

After a moment’s hesitation, Miriam nodded and led the man to her office. In an hour-long conversation, the man explained DataRet Services’ proposal for small medical offices. Since 2035 all digital medical files contained DNA signatures along with medical and familial history, causing compliance regulations to throttle medical offices. Combine regulations with storage issues due to manufacturing shortages of both glass and aluminum, creating significant price increases in hard drive and storage options, small practices like Miriam’s have been hampered. DataRet’s R&D department specialized a cloning process, which allowed the company to create individuals for the difficult colonization process of other planets. Small medical practices stored files of deceased individuals with DataRet, receiving money as the DNA signatures were used as the company saw fit. All files would be available in the case of regulation audits, and DataRet was in good standing with all regulatory agencies regarding their storage methods.

Miriam felt a slight discomfort between her shoulder blades as she listened to his calm voice. “So, the government knows what you are doing?” she asked.

Henry paused, “DataRet is contracted with One World to provide clones for colonization efforts. They don’t look too deeply into how we get our DNA signatures for cloning.”

But his words didn’t ease her anxiety. “I provide you medical files of my dental patients deceased more than a year, and you make clones of them to go live on other worlds. Is this right?”

“Yes.”

She sighed. “How much would you pay me?” Miriam asked, glancing at her desk as if not interested.

Henry wrote down an amount on the back of another card and slid it across to her. Put off by what felt like 21st Century mobster movie formula, she looked at the card. And gasped. The discomfort between her shoulder blades seemed not as important now as the number stunned her. Miriam began reviewing benefits of agreeing while her discomfort with cloning receded.

“These people you make, these clones, they are guaranteed to go to other planets?” Miriam asked.

“The families and friends of the deceased will never run into their loved one’s face, if that’s what you are worried about,” Henry smiled.

She stared at him. After a minute’s hesitation and looking at the number again, Miriam nodded. “Send over a contract.”

*

Miriam stretched her back after she finished deleting the files from her internal hard drive. The external hard drive was sitting on her desk, prepared for DataRet’s courier to pick up later that day. In the past year, Miriam sent files monthly and DataRet paid her just as regularly. Business had never been better for her dental office.

“Miriam, something really weird is happening, and I need you to come here,” Stacey said from her doorway.

Miriam gave one more look towards the external drive sitting on her desk, then nodded and stood up.

“What is it?” she asked Stacey as they moved towards the front of the office.

“Just wait.” Stacey’s voice shook as she walked ahead of Miriam.

As they turned the corner, Miriam looked across the receptionist desk and into the eyes of a man who had been a patient for ten years. She knew this man’s teeth better than her own, having created his dentures as well as seeing him twice a year for regular cleanings.

Until his death 3 years ago.

“Hello, I was wondering if you are accepting new patients? I just moved into town and need to find a new dentist,” the man inquired.

Miriam felt a stabbing between her shoulder blades.

Writing and Rejection

April 4, 2018

It’s inevitable. Rejection is a way of life for authors.

Once in awhile an author has an amazing, unbelievable debut novel that blows everyone out of the water. These novels are published immediately to great acclaim. I can’t think of one now, but I don’t want to exclude the possibility.

However, for most of us writing means rejection.

Last week writers around the world received results in Round 1 of a short story contest. I entered, along with 4000+ other writers. And all but 700 received news they would not be moving forward.

Me included.

During the six weeks between submission and results, I vacillated between absolute certainty I would get into Round 2 and complete belief I would not progress. The second belief proved accurate.

I won’t lie; I was devastated at first.

After talking with friends who write, and people who care, I slowly processed my disappointment. I worked my way through the pain of hearing you are good, but not good enough.

The contest provides feedback from the judges, giving an opportunity for growth and development. The additional information gave me data points of strengths, as well as ways I can make the story stronger.

Also, I came face to face with an aspect of me. My perfectionism gets in the way of trying, of putting myself out there. Constantly. In turn, I am sensitive to critical feedback and rejection of my writing.

Critical feedback and rejection will be an aspect of my life for as long as I write.

There is no going back regarding the choice to write, so I will have to grow up a little. Work on my sensitive nature. Review rejection stats until they are ingrained in my head.

That will take some time.

The important piece is to keep bitterness at bay, remaining open to any opportunity. For now I will look for more contests and continue on my WIP: a short story collection.

Self-Doubt Loves Language

March 9, 2018

It happens to all of us.

Well, maybe not all of us. From all I’ve read, sociopaths and psychopaths do not struggle. Nor do grandiose narcissists. But those extreme examples aside, it happens to all of us.

I’m talking about self-doubt.

It varies by person, by personality, and by occupation. Some occupations leave little room for self-doubt. Namely those that save lives or are involved in split second decision making.

And then there are occupations such as writing, which seems overflowing with those who doubt their abilities and talents. Show me a writer who doesn’t once in a while throw a tantrum, papers flying everywhere (metaphorically in the almost purely digital world), screaming this is shit to anyone who will listen, and I will show you someone who has not really invested in writing. Or hasn’t received a rejection letter.

I know, bold claim.

The reason I say this is because similar to any other combination of art and skill, writing takes a lot of work and is highly subjective. While a writer may develop strong ability to combine words in whatever rules dictate that particular language and form, there is subjectivity in the writer and the reader.

In essence, writers try to pull people into their imaginations, their realities, the way they view the world. And in turn, readers bring their own experiences and understanding. And somewhere in between is language.

A highly imprecise, inexact, difficult combination of symbols and meaning that often fails at its one purpose.

So, taking skill out of the equation, writers will often find themselves deep in the flow of an idea. Spitting out words. Building immense structures of thought and dry walling with all the tricks we are taught. If language is on our side in that moment, we end up with a stable structure we design and change to a more suitable vision.

If language is not on our side, we struggle with a building that lists and tilts no matter how we prop it up. Often ending in abandoned stories and paper flying tantrums. Whether a novice or an expert, self doubt during these times can creep into an ear and take up residence in the back of a writer’s mind.

Speaking horrible thoughts like “that doesn’t make sense.”

“No one wants to read that.”

“What’s the point in that?”

Some writers push through self doubt, post tantrum. Start a new story. Begin a new idea. Or obstinately pound out words until language is malleable. Of course, these are the wise and diligent practitioners of the field.

And then there are others. Of which I am included. We throw our tantrum. We have words with language that would make our grandmothers blush. Then we quit. Let self-doubt have room to take up shop. Build its own workbench of malevolent statements.

I believe this is where writers’ block emerges. Our inability to come to terms with language. Our frustration with disparities between our minds and the expression tools available.

While some might quit forever, others of us are haunted. The urge to write is stronger than the pain of creating meaning with crude cudgels instead of fine carving tools. So we return. At some point we return.

Just as I always come back to writing.

And inevitably we are stronger. Those of us who come back. Our muscles have been worked by tearing apart self-doubt’s workshop. We find new mechanisms of soothing or find opportunities to test the waters in safety.

Or we complete a post that has been sitting in our drafts folder for two weeks.

Regardless, the words always return. The goal for any writer is to become one of the veterans. The time tested writers who know when to set something aside and move on with something else. The ones who do not let tantrums sideline them.

Because for all its crudeness as a tool, language is the only tool available to a writer.

Self-doubt will never leave. So instead we fight. We write drivel. We practice using prompts. We cry and complain to those who listen. And with enough force the inertia recedes and we move forward.

In my experience? My mind is flooded with ideas I refused to create while hosting self-doubt. And I’m left to wonder what amazing things I’ve lost, giving time and space to self-doubt.

Subconscious Weaving

February 16, 2018

I’m a little behind on these posts.

But here we go anyway. Day 2…

02.08.2018

The night was spent in a low to mid grade motel room. Although I can’t say it was absolutely awful (that was for the drive home), it wasn’t exactly pleasant.

The motel room smelled okay, which is the first aspect presented when I open a door. Lights go on, seems decent and not too run down. Though, my Hollywood fed imagination began to run scenarios.

Namely drug deals gone wrong, prostitution busts, and all kinds of down on their luck characters with alcohol and drugs limping along some form of reality avoidance. A world David Lynch explores in his movies.

Meh, it was for one night. I can handle this. Besides, the smell still seemed reasonable.

My eyes will close, shutting out the poorly patched hole in the bathroom door. My vision will no longer view, with an obsessive-compulsive focus, the shoddy handyman work. Such as the towel bar hanging upside down, with the screw on top. Or the failure to sand walls before repainting, causing new paint to flake and peel. My optical organ will miss all these details.

But my sense of smell will continue to feed my brain with non-stop information the entire night.

So, exhausted from a long day driving through semi-arid desert (not my favorite of regions) and having dinner and wine with a relative, I fell into bed.

And slept very little. Not the room’s fault. I rarely sleep well in a new environment. Takes me a few days to feel settled enough to sleep. After a rough night of tossing and turning, punching a motel pillow, I opened grainy eyes to a room that did not benefit from sunlight.

Side note, I have decided I will become one of those people who travels with her pillow. Hotels and motels do not think about stomach sleepers when they stock pillows. Understandably, we are a minority. But my neck cannot handle another too fluffy pillow.

I ran through my daily routine, a muscle memory dance of shower and grooming. So mindless is my routine I don’t usually start waking until halfway through my shower.

When at home all writing ideas come flooding through my neurons at this point.

Since I was not at home, all the details of the shower seeped into the crevices of my gray matter, settling in a twitch between my shoulder blades. It’s not the shower was unclean, but the handyman work scratched my consciousness. Not to mention the essence of down on their luck Hollywoodness.

I’m almost positive I still had conditioner in my hair when I hurried into a bare thin towel and a chilly room. A room still smelling decent, I might add. Though cloying at this point. Must have been the air freshener.

All four of us hurried through a barely there continental breakfast and into the car.

The decision was to head north from Gallup and east at Window Rock, driving through the Navajo Nation since the drive was not as arduous. For those not familiar with American history, Navajo Nation is a sovereign nation within the US, though the executive branch of the US government does have some control.

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Visitor Center, Hubbel Trading Post

We stopped at Hubbel Trading Post, a still active trading post that has been in place since the Navajo were allowed to return home. While it’s not difficult to find houses in Colorado decorated in Southwest style, it was fascinating to learn how integral the art of weaving was and is in the Navajo culture.

Watching the woman weave a rug in the visitor center, I was almost tempted to take up rug weaving. Certainly not to that level. The artistry takes a lifetime to develop. But watching the weaving was mesmerizing, meditative.

Unfortunately, I know myself too well. I would take it up with a passion, to just as quickly lose interest.

I did not purchase a Navajo rug. My art tastes run surreal, and I’m not one to purchase something just because I’m there.

While Vivian played with a shop just her size, I learned how respect can overcome cultural differences. Treating people fairly will always outweigh what governments choose to do, what military enacts. Individuals can overcome group think.

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After our picnic lunch, we moved onward. A quick stop at another monument, pueblos in cliffs, before heading down the canyon to Sedona, AZ.

Living in Colorado my whole life has given me a skewed perception of geography. I have lived in or within view of the Rocky Mountains all but four years of my life. Most of our drive was flat flat flat and desert. So much yellow and sage brush for days. Although I would appreciate the sky on the drive back, the drive there felt blah.

Until I realized we were on a high plateau and everything was hidden from view. Rather than driving up into something, like we do in Colorado, we ended up driving down into. I realized my eyes might have been missing mass amounts of beauty, only because my eyes didn’t know what to see.

I cannot say I will ever live in the desert. Still not my region of choice, but I understand the draw for some people. Cut under the yellow yellow yellow and sage brush is layers and layers of red and orange. You only need to know where to look.

The canyon into Sedona was beautiful. The next day we would get to see the full light set the canyon on fire. But for this day, it was food and bed.

And a realization I might have under dressed for the entire vacation. Stay tuned.

For more pictures, my Instagram.

Ready, Set, Go

February 11, 2018

I do not write a travel blog. Rather, I attempt to write a writing blog since I am a writer (at times). But this week traveling is my experience, so I will write about traveling. A family road trip to be precise.

02.07.2018

Today began the road trip. This is an experiment, to see how well Vivian travels. My mom has been biting at the chance to take her only grandchild traveling. Of course, Vivian has only recently been okay away from mom for more than a few mandatory hours. So this trip was to see what kind of traveling Vivian could do.

Plan was to leave at 9 am. My mother was late. Entirely expected. Fortunately, Vivian is not of an age yet where time matters. And I decided this was a vacation. Time does not exist for me.

So into the car we piled and headed south out of Denver. Our destination? Sedona, Arizona. I don’t really  know what to expect, and I think that is a positive. Expectations lead to disappointments, as well as a failure to see what is offered.

The drive down was split into two days, giving credence to the limited capacity of toddlers for containment. The plan is to spend the night in Albuquerque, NM, and drive the rest of the way on the second day. So far so good.

I should note I have been accused of being addicted to my phone. Namely Twitter. While I admit I am more inclined than not to scroll while bored, I don’t think addiction qualifies. However, I stepped to the issued challenge and agreed to not pick up my phone other than to take pictures.

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Pike’s Peak, Colorado 

It was about halfway past Colorado Springs when I realized what was being asked. Not that I mind. For the most part, I skip a lot of what is written on Twitter other than a few favorites. However, I have substituted Twitter for a notepad. I use the platform as a stream of consciousness writing tool.

I had snippets playing through my head all day. Ooo, I should write that. Oh, I need to remember that. Wow, that sentence is awesome. Of course, I forget them as soon as I finish editing in my head. Thus the attraction of Twitter’s nature. I can quickly write them down, record them, and move on with my day.

Oh the gems I lost.

Then again, maybe not gems. Until there is a form of validation for our words, there is no sense of their value.

Writers can, and will, argue this all day. I write for myself, I hear people say. I don’t care what people say, I hear writers discuss. Who cares about opinions of others, writers will lament. Myself included, depending on how I feel about my writing.

But validation is an important piece to any art. Yes, we create for ourselves. Because there is some demon that has taken up residence in our head, haunting us with words. Not just words, sounds. Rhythm. Flow. Context. Meaning. Requiring us to install layer of layer of thought and meaning via words.  Not to mention the obsession for the perfect sentence.

We cannot not create. This is a truth.

However, there is diary writing if it’s just about letting the demon loose from time to time. Artists, writers, musicians… we are so obsessed we choose to try living by way of our demon.

Which requires skill development. And how do we know we’ve mastered a skill? Validation. Feedback and acceptance by our community. Our community of writers who know what we live through, what we exist within, what we struggle with daily.

Not necessarily consumers. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Patrons and consumers are needed to put food in the fridge and heat in our houses. For those of us crazy enough to try and exist by way of the demon, patrons and consumers are necessary. And their purchases are a form of validation. The most important form, if taken in a pragmatic view.

But validation from the writing community provides feedback as to where our skill rates. No one can pick apart a sentence faster than a writer.

So while I was staring out at the semi-arid desert of Southern Colorado, what I thought were written gemstones could have been, in truth, nothing but drivel. Without validation, I know not which I had created. Well, since it was not recorded I didn’t create anything.

Merely passing thoughts as flat barren landscape passed my eyes.

Vivian did well this first day. The great experiment seems to have the desired results, though after the first two hours excitement of traveling had worn off. On all of us, not just Vivian.

At hour three it was time for a long break.

We stopped for lunch in Trinidad, CO. This allowed the toddler to run while the aging adults to stand and creak about, lamenting how stiff our muscles had become. While my mom was focused on telling me where to drive, and the backseat passengers were focused on getting out of the car, I was noting small details.

Trinidad is an old town that has seen a recent influx of population, as has most CO towns. This meant the historical downtown buildings are being renovated, and the narrow streets are made more narrow by construction cones, equipment, and flaggers. While the town on one side of the freeway looked like any number of small towns in Colorado, downtown appeared to have a new lease on life.

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Downtown Trinidad, CO

Colorado is dotted with small towns, from east to west and north to south. As time has moved on, some small towns have dwindled to nearly nothing. A lot has to do with migration away from agriculture towards urban living, though not entirely.

Some small towns are falling by the wayside because they are on the wayside.

Freeway travel has allowed us to drive further faster, goal oriented as we look forward to our end destination. Small towns a few miles off the freeway offer little for distraction. No travelers to buy gas or eat in cafes, and nothing to keep the young around.

I admit, we took freeway the entire way to Albuquerque.

Where we ate a home cooked meal of lasagna at the house of my mom’s cousin. Vivian ran out her energy, and we relaxed while drinking wine and admiring my cousin’s quirkiness. Women of a certain age who live alone are allowed to develop their oddness, and I get to admire and enjoy said oddness without it affecting my life.

Onto one of the local motels, which resembled the Bates Motel. Not in physicality, but in vibe. Oh so many vibes.

Checking in through bullet proof glass by a woman who looked like she couldn’t get rid of us fast enough. Rooms maintained by a handyman who did not know screws of a towel bar go underneath the bar. And badly patched holes in doors and walls.

Only one night. Then we can move on. Across the desert. Notepad-less. Stay tuned.