Tag Archives: fiction

My Do-it-Yourself Homegrown Self-Appointed MFA

I am never going to get an MFA.

In the first place, the cost of chasing one down is out of my budget–considering I have kids to put through college.

Secondly, even if I had the money, MFA programs have them whattaya-call-em…’standards‘, which means it’s unlikely I’d be accepted.

However, in the spirit of improving my craft, I decided to make 2018 the year of My Do-it-Yourself Homegrown Self-Appointed MFA.

Here’s what I did:

Read. A lot.

I didn’t break any Goodreads records, but I did beat my goal of 36 books this year. I read 40 fiction, motivational, and writing craft books in 2018.

In fact, the idea to earn my Do-it-Yourself Homegrown Self-Appointed MFA came to me after I came across the reading list of an MFA hopeful. This hopeful was pursing an MFA in Young Adult fiction and had been provided a list of ten YA books to chose from. They were supposed to pick three.

I decided to read them all.

Once I finished, I added more YA books to my to-be-read, both new releases and classic favorites. In addition to YA, I read chick lit, fantasy, romance, horror, literature, pulp, and even a few non-fiction.

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellGirls by Frederick BuschBad Girls Throughout History by Ann ShenThe Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa SeeThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Catcher in the Rye by J.D. SalingerSee All the Stars by Kit FrickBone Gap by Laura RubyOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManusSimple Truth by Carol BodensteinerEleanor & Park by Rainbow RowellThe New Jim Crow by Michelle AlexanderThe Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary ChaseThe Hate U Give by Angie ThomasButterfly by Sonya HartnettMansfield Park by Jane AustenBoy Meets Boy by David LevithanAsking For It by Louise O'NeillIf I Was Your Girl by Meredith RussoForever . . . by Judy BlumeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonTurtles All the Way Down by John GreenThirteen Reasons Why by Jay AsherRagtime by E.L. DoctorowThe Color Purple by Alice WalkerA Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le GuinYoung Goodman Brown by Nathaniel HawthorneSon of the Morning by Linda HowardEverything's Eventual by Stephen KingA Game of Thrones by George R.R. MartinSkies of Gold by Zoe ArcherThe Giver by Lois LowryAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

For craft books, I picked up some excellent suggestions after lurking around the boards at PitchWars. My favorite was Story Genius, but I also enjoyed Writing the Breakout Novel. I’m currently reading Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story.

Save the Cat by Blake SnyderWriting the Breakout Novel by Donald MaassStory Genius by Lisa CronBig Magic by Elizabeth GilbertWired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence

The 5 Second Rule by Mel RobbinsFor inspiration, I opened the year with Big Magic. However, for a good old-fashioned ass-kicking motivation, I listened to Mel Robbins’s audio book The 5-Second Rule. Three times.

 

 

The War of Art by Steven PressfieldStephen Pressman’s The War of Art is a favorite for helping me overcome the resistance/writer’s block that follows me like a tall shadow on a late winter afternoon.

I Found a Critique Partner.

Thanks to Wendy Heard, author of upcoming release Hunting Annabelle, I found a CP. Wendy offers a matchmaking service and matches writers by genre and level of experience. I hit the jackpot with my new Critique Partner, Gavin. Not only is he a talented writer full of insight, he’s got industry experience. I only hope I can be as much help to him as he’s already been to me.

I Got Professional Help.

When I started querying my latest novel this spring, I got lots of requests, but no takers. After the fourth or fifth “loved the writing, not the story” letter, I put my querying on hiatus and started getting serious about finding some professional help.

Image result for kit frick

Kit Frick, author of See All The Stars

I decided to go with Kit Frick. Kit is an extraordinarily talented writer. Her debut See All the Stars is a runaway success and she’s got three more books you can look forward to in the coming years. She’s also a gifted editor offering services through Copper Lantern Studio.

Writers can hire Kit for everything from coaching to Editorial Blueprints to full-manuscript editing. Her prices are beyond reasonable.

Right now, my novel is in her talented hands and I look forward to hearing back from her before the end of the year.

I Took Classes.

I took classes both online and in person. I enjoyed a journalism class, attended webinars, and attended two workshops at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, including Kelly Dwyer’s Five Elements of a Novel.

It was in Kelly’s workshop that I completely revamped my plot for my novel in progress. The feedback I got from Kelly and fellow participants was instrumental in strengthening my story.

I Got Some Writing Jobs.

Iowa’s Emerging Writers Pick up your copy today!

In 2018, I landed a couple of writing positions. I’m now a regular contributor for HER Magazine and have had stories and articles published in local lifestyle magazine Grande Living.

My short story “Hooked” was published in September of this year in Iowa’s Emerging Writers. I was honored and flattered when they reached out to me to request a submission, and proud to be a part of this project along with so many talented writers.

I’ve also been brushing up on my editing chops at 101words.org. For several hours every week, I wade through the slush pile, give writers feedback, and edit stories for publication.

I Wrote.

I wrote. I wrote a lot and then I wrote some more. I finished my third novel in March of 2018 (The Kwan Factor).

I wrote 72 articles and/or stories for my blog. I started two new blogs.

Plus, I’ve written over 200,000 words on my current work-in-progress–just since July of this year! Some of these words are probably even good. I’ll have muchos editing to do when it’s time to pin down the fourth draft of this untitled novel, but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve averaged 40,000 words a month.

The Year In Review

In 2018, I didn’t land representation for my most recently finished novel. I didn’t win Pitch Wars, I didn’t win any writing contests.

I didn’t land a 3-book deal with a major publisher, I didn’t get a fat option for my last novel, I didn’t land on anyone’s best seller list. In fact, I’ve hardly sold any books, and most days it seems my aspirations of making a living as a writer are as distant as Dan Brown’s aspirations for the Man Booker prize.

However, thanks to all this effort, there’s one thing I can check off my to-do list–I’ve earned my Do-it-Yourself Homegrown Self-Appointed MFA. And goddamn, when I look at all these accomplishments all one place, I’m tempted to name myself valedictorian or something.

If you need me, I’ll be signing my own diploma.

In Defense of Reading

 

IMG_1923Dear Writer,

I’m breaking up with you.

I apologize…it’s not you. It’s me.

I know you stay up late, typing your fingers raw, crafting your rich characters and your clever tales. But you’re smothering me. There were 1,000,000 new books published just last year.

And yes, I must confess: there’s someone else. His name is [Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Twitter, insert-media-of-choice].

Sincerely,

Your Reader

 

Where did all the readers go?

Back before I had kids, the soul-sucking corporate job and the internet handily attached to the end of my right arm, I’d sometimes read book a day. These days, I’m lucky to finish one in a month.

And while I complain that I’m busy, when those open gaps of time come, what do I do? Lately it’s devour episodes of Treme off Netflix like fine chocolate with a cup of Thirty-thirty. And before Treme, it was Black Mirror and True Detective and Breaking Bad. And I don’t have to tell you mid-century Mad Men what I’m up to on Sunday nights.

What the heck. I apologize, dear writer. Here you are staying up nights, polishing your prose, and I’m too strung out on Tivo to charge my Kindle.

Readers before writers

Serial television has enjoyed a renaissance of late. But ultimately, its franchise food, assembled by the entertainment industry. While it might not be charbroiled pink slime, it’s still processed food when our minds crave more raw and leafy things to digest. We grow lazy on easy entertainment.

Books are built with words, the fundamental blocks of stories, but they require our imagination to digest them. Books aren’t prepackaged fare—well generally not. They demand an active ingredient: the reader.

A resolution to read

stack of books

By ParentingPatch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

And so, with this post, I do hereby solemnly swear, from this day forward to cast aside my Netflix marathons and return to you, esteemed writer. I beseech you to thrill me. But first you must tell me how to find you.

Because with 1,000,000 new offerings just in the past year, I daresay it’s hard to find you.

There are wonderful amazing life-changing works being published. But how to find them? Everything, everything, everything has a  4-star review on Amazon. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad? Four stars, 250 reviews. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer? Four stars, 6789 reviews. What to read, what to read?

It’s all so overwhelming, and when the pursuit so often ends in disappointment, the temptation is to drift into the den, hook up my Netflix IV drip and worry about it later.

So tell me: What do I read?

Seriously, dear writer. this is me, your devoted reader, appealing to you:

What shall I read? What has stirred you? What have you read lately that reached into your soul? What stayed with you, long after the book was gathering dust on the shelf?

I want a book so vivid that when I put it down, the world is black and white. I want lines that haunt me for decades, characters that feel like dear friends forever-missed, a story so compelling I want to call all my buddies and say: do you know about this one?

So tell me, my writerly friends, what shall I read?

In the comments below, tell me the best book you’ve read this year and why it touched you. Doesn’t matter if it’s indie or traditionally published, longstanding classic or unsung masterpiece. No judgment here, no bias to genre.

Tell me, tell the world: what to read.

Oh, and cancel that Netflix membership and join me in the Readolution.

2015. It’s more than just the square root of 4,060,225.

Magic 8 ball says: My sources say no

Well how else do you make decisions? Magic 8 Ball says: My sources say no.

So I was reflecting on the year to come and contemplating how to fit it all in. I had paralyzing fear penciled in for the first few months, followed by a six-week self-pity retreat, and I was keeping the summer open for raging self-doubt.

And then I thought: No.

Oh my dearies.

It’s not just that I’ve been keeping secrets from you. Turns out I spend most of my time tharn in the middle of life’s headlights. But enough of that sorry behavior.

Galley copy of HitList

View from the desktop with a galley copy of HitList

This year, I’m going to tell all: about my dream-date query experience with HitList, what Random House said about my book and about those next two novels in the queue.

Look for juicy tell-all posts, good advice on badass queries and how to make agents fight over you. Plus, tips on how to blow it all because you’re going through an ugly divorce.

What’s after that? Who knows. Maybe I’ll even update my Facebook status.

Here’s hoping you are in the midst of your own brave plans for 2015.

Me, the Beast and that B!+*# in Louboutins

Two things:

1. Turns out you can eat too many sugar cookies.

2. Writing sucks. Here’s why: Somewhere between inspiration and completion lies a battle zone, where muse and inner critic wage war. And here’s a glimpse of what it looks like at my place:

She made a disgusted noise—you know the one that starts with a ‘t’ sound and ends with an exasperated sigh. “You aren’t really going to do that, are you? End a scene like that?”

“Um. Sort of?” I say. I realize how lame it sounds. End every scene on an emotional shift. End every scene on an emotional shift. If she’s told me once, she’s told me a thousand times.

“I heard that,” she says.

“What?”

“‘Told me once, told me a thousand times.’ What did I tell you about clichés?”

“That they’re…bad?”

“Hmph.” She bends forward, rests a manicured hand on my desktop and adjusts her glasses with the other. She peers closely at the screen and then turns to me, incredulous. “Did you just use an adverb?”

“Ahh.”

I did. I totally used an adverb. I was in a hurry. I thought it sounded okay. I didn’t think anyone would get hurt. Oh god. There’s just no excuse. Not when SHE’S around.

SHE is inner critic, editor in chief and nothing satisfies her. She’s tall, effortlessly thin. You know the type: power suit, lip-liner and those shoes with the red soles—the-I-can’t-remember-the-name-of-thems.

Louboutins,” she says with a perfect French accent.

“Huh?”

“The shoes. They’re Louboutins.”

“Oh, right.”

“Wouldn’t kill you to do some research now and then, you know.”

I try to catch the Beast’s eye, but he’s reclining on the other side of my desk, feet up, examining what appears to be a booger at the tip of one filthy finger.

She clears her throat and taps one crimson nail on my monitor. “Are you with me, Karen?”

“Yes.”

“Then fix this,” she hisses, her finger underscoring the adverb.

She pulls back. “Oh my God. Did you just attribute my dialogue?”

“Ahhh.”

She throws her arms up and storms for the door, pausing long enough to mutter to the Beast before she leaves: “I can’t work with her. She’s hopeless. Don’t waste your time.”

The Beast does nothing. The door slams and I spend a few moments staring at my hands lying limp on the keyboard.

Finally, I look up and try to snag his eye. “That’s good, right? We can finally get some work done.”

He leans forward and wipes the booger on the underside of my desk. “Maybe,” he says. “If you’d get your ass off that blog.”

Sigh.

Here’s hoping you win your creative battles today.

 

 

Thank You Fred Colton

FullSizeRenderI know it wants to kill me. To you it looks like a plastic sack, innocuous but for the strange fact that it sits at the end of the Miller’s driveway, open and empty—gaping like a set of hungry jaws.

I saw it on my run this morning. Back then it was down at the corner, stealthy in the shadow of a blown street light; watching me.

It didn’t follow. No, not then. But I saw it listing west, as if sensing a coming breeze. I knew the second my back was turned it’d be spurling after me—a manmade tumbleweed with a deadly mission. They can kill, you know. It’s not hard to imagine. Three micrometers may not seem like much, but when it’s slicked against your face like some unholy caul, leaving you with only one-half a miserly breath, well then—you’ll know.

After I dropped my son off at practice, I saw it again. This time closer—three driveways down—sitting still. But open. Plenty of room for a head in here, it says.

I could pull over, grab it, crumple it into a bland ball and stuff it into the recycling container. But even if it stayed there—I know better. Like an army of damned, like countless minions, they’d issue from the very bowels of the landfill to come after me.

You could have stopped it, they’d chant. And it’s true. The plastic ban was up for referendum nine months ago. I didn’t go. I didn’t vote. Not my problem, I thought. I use cloth bags. I sashay into the HyVee every Sunday toting six of them. Right now they’re lying flat in the back of my mom-car, ready to do their duty to produce and the environment. I didn’t cause this.

But now. I look outside. The plastic bag—it’s there—skulking in the shade of the sugar maple, next to the hydrangea I put in last spring. Grinning wide and waiting. Come inside, it says. It’s warm. And then cold.

Very, very cold.

Dear God, I should have voted.

NOTE: If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out the inspiration for it: Fred Colton’s Of Course He’s Going to Kill Me.

The Working Parents’ Guide to Winning NaNoWriMo

It’s November 26th, do you know what your word count is? If you’re competing in NaNoWriMo you undoubtedly know what it is now, what it was yesterday and what you are aiming for tomorrow.

NOTE: if you’ve already won NaNoWriMo, congratulations! This post won’t be of any interest to you. January is just around the corner so you’ll want to get busy polishing that manuscript for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel contest in 2015.

Okay, great. Now that the overachievers are gone, let’s talk.

Writing is hard. Work is hard and so is that overtime job turning runny-nosed static-urchins into productive citizens. But we love a challenge (obviously) and so here we are: X days left of NaNoWriMo and XX,XXX words to go.

So, in the spirit helping frustrated and exhausted writers everywhere survive the 50,000 words in November challenge, I’ve pulled together this concise list of handy tips:

  1. Unplug. Completely. Unplug your internet connection, your phone, your cable. In fact, go outside with some hedge clippers and cut the cord completely. Avoid Twitter, Facebook, all forms of social media and blogs. In fact, what are you doing here right now? Seriously, don’t even answer your door. Trust me, you’ll be glad for this later.
  1. Set aside a quiet time every day to write. Note that this might be at 3:00 am. You should try to be awake for it. Do not rule out the use of ear plugs and duct tape.
  1. Clean laundry is overrated. Look, kids don’t care. My daughter would wear the same pair of dirty pajamas for the entirety of summer break if I let her. And as far as you go—by the time your coworkers catch on that you’ve been wearing the same pair of black pants since Veterans Day, this thing will be all over.
  1. Clean anything is overrated.  Housework will wait. How many people have actually died from a cat-hair embedded sofa? I suppose maybe someone…but those people just need to steer clear. Remember, you’re not answering the door (see item #1). Handy, eh?
  1. Ignore your kids completely. C’mon, it’s only a month. Of course I’m not talking anything that would merit a trip to the ER. But that spelling review? The book report on Divergent? Reading them Llama Llama for the 4,987th time? All that can wait until December.  After all, what’s more important? Well actually, it’s your kids. But still, what are they gonna do about it? You’re the parent—you’re in charge.
  1. One word: Depends. As in the undergarment. I know right now you’re probably thinking gross, but really, it’s better than some of the medical interventions I contemplated. This is also where not answering the door comes in handy. Just think of all the time you waste on any given day. Bahaha! Ah well, I guess it all Depends on how bad you want to win. (The puns practically write themselves! Ahem, as opposed to my manuscript.)
  1. Yes, you can all survive on carryout. Leftover pizza keeps indefinitely and consists of all the major food groups. Breakfast, lunch and dinner–all solved! Theoretically, I suppose someone could call the authorities on you for feeding your kids pizza for ninety consecutive meals. But you’re not answering the door, remember? Those people can’t get in. I told you you’d be glad you weren’t answering that door.

There you have it, that’s not so hard, right? And if all else fails, remember: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. After all, it worked for Jack Torrance.

The Forehead-Smacking Moment I Figured Out NaNoWriMo

There are two kinds of writers in the world: those that do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and rise to the challenge of producing 50,000 words in November, and writers that spend the month coming up with excuses why this is not sensible, practical, rational or useful.

I’ve always been in the latter camp.

I mean sure, I could write 50,000 words in a month. But who wants to read a book composed of “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” repeated 5,555 times?

Then, the Beast showed up. “Best Friends for Never,” he said in a phlegmy whisper.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ll write it. Someday. Like when it’s warmer. When the bills are caught up. I’ll take some vacation time—next year maybe. When I’m caught up on my sleep. And laundry. Better yet, when my youngest is out of elementary school and I don’t have to haul my oldest to band practice at 6:30 am. Or when I’m retired.

“Write it now,” he said. He let out a stale stream of cigarette smoke and flicked some ashes on the rug.

“I don’t even know what happens. I mean it’s just an idea.”

“Write.”

Fine.

I was late out of the gate, starting on November 5th. For a few days, I juggled 400 words at a pop and questioned the point. And then: BOOM.

I got it. I got what NaNoWriMo is really about. And no, it’s not a contest. And no, it’s not about discipline and it’s most certainly not about perfection. It’s about opening the door wide. And in the process of opening that door, you need to slam your inner critic hard against the other wall. (Mine left a long lipstick streak down the door jamb before she fell unconscious.)

And when that door is open, well that is when the story happens.

As of today, I’ve got 20,000 words. And while it it’s pretty unlikely I’ll win NaNoWriMo this year, I have to say I’ve already won. I’ve got a story that’s making me breathless and I can’t wait to finish it. And the fact I won’t get done by November 30th isn’t because it’s not there—it’s because there’s not just enough time. So when November goes and December comes, I expect to be still happily click-clacking away on Best Friends for Never.

Congratulations to all of those who have completed NaNoWriMo and to any and all that have taken the challenge. Best of luck in taking your novel to the next step. And to those writers who always put entering NaNoWriMo right up there with pushing a shopping cart to the top of Mount Everest, consider this: what have you got to lose?