Enjoyment and Enlightenment

Once upon a time, I had a librarian.  Her name was Mrs. Priester, and she worked at my elementary school.  Kevin was quite fond of her, because she encouraged reading in him and even took it upon herself to find books that she thought he would enjoy.  She didn’t need to do this for me, because the day I met her I told her, in the bragging way of a 5-year-old, that I already knew how to read, thank you very much.  In fact, I even had a library card already.  (I thought I was hot shit.)  What Mrs. Priester did teach me, however, was the difference between fiction and non-fiction.  I don’t know why the concept confused me so much as a small child, but I kept mixing up the terms, until one day she made it very simple: fiction was Fake.  Non-fiction was Not Fake.  It stuck, I understood, and she further explained that the books I wanted to read were not just called “chapter books,” but novels, and that novels were fiction: made-up stories for one’s enjoyment and enlightenment. 

I tell you this so that we are all very clear on what a novel is, and what fiction is.  I want there to be no misunderstanding, because this is the key piece of the thing that is infuriating me right now.

Let me paint for you a word-picture.  I, a writer, who lives in the Western New York region, and writes fiction, awoke Friday morning to learn of a tragedy that befell a fellow author.  Salman Rushdie was attacked with a knife onstage at the Chautauqua Institute while doing an interview.  I quite literally choked on my iced coffee, and my reasons are twofold.  First of all, Chautauqua?! I live in Buffalo and we just had a grand scale community tragedy about 3 months ago, and now we got crazies rushing stages and stabbing authors just an hour away? Not to mention, I can’t tell you how many times I have fantasized of being some famous writer who is invited to speak at Chautauqua-that’s like life-goal stuff.  And now, that place is marred, too…just like the damn grocery store.

Secondly, and more importantly: violence against a wordsmith.  I know of Rushdie, though his book, The Satanic Verses, sits unread on my shelf because I simply haven’t picked it up yet. But I know a little backstory, like the fact that Iran’s Ayatollah issued a fatwa in the 80s against him, which is basically an edict saying an Iranian should kill Rushdie. The man has been living with death threats for years, all because his book supposedly goes against Islam.  I think it’s because, from what I have read online, one character abandons the religion.  But again, I haven’t read it yet.  The point is that it doesn’t matter, because The Satanic Verses is a novel, and therefore, fiction, and fiction equals fake.  It’s not real; it’s just a story-a made-up situation in a guy’s head that he put down on paper and then an entire country took it the wrong way and decided he needed to die. 

How easily that could be any one of us.

I mean, I just finished the first draft of a book that features an exploration of the concept of religion as a shackle that keeps one from living their authentic life.  I do not expect death threats for the thoughts I come up with in my own head, but I’m sure its gonna piss of an evangelical or two.  But as mad as they get, do I deserve to be stabbed in the face for my imagination?  Absolutely not. 

So, when I head about Salman Rushdie, I was crushed.  I tried to explain to Mark why it was bothering me so much, but I couldn’t find the words.  Maybe it’s just that I am so sad that someone was hurt…just for playing pretend. Because that’s all we’re doing, really, when we write fiction: make-believe, in verse.  And I just do not believe anyone should be harmed over such innocent enjoyment.


The Magic

All of last year, I planned for November: NaNoWriMo.  I was ready to go on Halloween, itching to start the writing process.  Then, I got sick.  Then, I broke my finger.  Then, nothing got accomplished.

This was followed by Christmastime, which was busy even with a pandemic, and also, I had a brace on my pinky until New Year’s.  So, it is only now that I am sitting down to rekindle my love affair with words.

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that you can go on the website each time you write and update your word count.  It keeps me on track very nicely…accountably is key during a first draft, in my opinion.  I could still use the site for this, but I choose not to, because I write in MS Word and there’s a little tally right in the bottom left corner of how I’m doing.  And the truth of the matter is that this book is NOT the little guy I wrote in 2019.  I am over 11k right now, and I have only just started chapter 4 of what appears to be 20, so we’re looking at an easy 60k on the rough draft.  I only easily wrote about 48k on the last book, and then pulled a couple thousand more out of the air in the second go-over.  Your average literary fiction book is around 70k.  I think that’s where this will fall.

Since it has no title, I refer to it either as my WIP (work in progress,) or The Ten.  See, it started out in my brain in 2002 with ten characters who would band together and topple a dictatorship by staging a coup.  In 2016, I started to see striking comparisons to my book and reality of the United States, so I abandoned it because I wanted to be neither plagiarizer nor prophet.  Of course, last week, I was watching the news and a dark laughter bubbled out of me as I thought “Didn’t I write this before?”

Anyway, I trashed the plot, but I kept the characters.  I knew them so well, as well as I know myself, and when you’re a writer and you’ve got something so well-developed, you’ve got to save it for something good.

About a year ago, I decided The Ten would be my next big project.  There’s a lot of thinking involved in writing, so I spent several months contemplating new plots and situations I could put the characters I had into.  Eventually, I came up with a scaled down version of the original plot, something made-up and workable and not happening in real time on CNN.  Then, I started the prep work: outlines, character bios, act breakdowns, chapter breakdowns, scene breakdowns, etc.  And research research research: many thanks and good wishes to the Twitter folks who have helped me out with descriptions of the Bahamas or explaining to me how long it would take to row to an island 30 miles away, and why you wouldn’t be able to see that island because of the curvature of the Earth (things I learned yesterday.)  Also, I know more about guns now than I ever intended.  It was a year of research and thinking and planning.

Now is the year of writing.

I was afraid that there would be big gaps in my writing, that I wouldn’t be able to sit down every day and do it the way I did during NaNo ‘19.  Turns out, once I started, I couldn’t stop.  I want to know what happens as much as a reader, and I’m only going to find out if I write it…if that makes sense.  Because all the planning in the world doesn’t prepare you for the magic.

The magic is when you are writing and you are no longer in the room with yourself, as Stephen would say.  It’s when you can’t believe that you wrote the words you’re reading back.  It’s the little character details that you didn’t know you knew, or the tiny ways you describe the sunlight.  It’s the part of the writing that surprises the writer, and it’s the best part…seriously.  It’s like a drug-powerful and addictive and makes you feel like you can do anything. 

So, I will finish this blog and I will go read some submissions, and rest my finger, so I can drop another thousand words into the WIP later.  I don’t have the accountability mechanism that I had before, but I will of course use my blog as a vehicle to hold myself up to my standards, as I have done in the past.

And perhaps, even to catch the magic.

The Sleeping Muse

Sometimes, as a writer, you start to think the muse is dead.

At the end of every three months or so, I prep my poetry submissions for the upcoming season.  There is a site called Entropy that publishes a huge list of journals accepting submissions every three months, and I work my way through it with my seasonal submission and hope for the best.  I haven’t encountered any hiccups (this is since starting submissions in 2018.)  Until now, that is.

I won’t call it writer’s block, because I am writing.  I’m pecking out my bi-weekly blog, and the occasional note or dialogue for the novels, both that in editing and that in planning.  But my poetry has been stifled, somehow.  It’s just not flowing.  And this makes me nervous, because poetry is my lifeline to writing on the whole. 

Usually, it happens spontaneously.  Something will happen, or occur to me, and I will have to write it down in a rush, then edit it, then voila!  A poem.  Bam, just like that.  A few a week, usually.  But lately…nothing.

Yesterday, I made myself write one.  It was about the Out of the Darkness Walk that I do every September.  I decided I would write it as a warm-up…give myself a topic (the walk, as yesterday marked one more month until the event,) and sit down at the computer and write something about it.  I surprised myself, in the end.  Which is a good sign.

Any time I surprise myself while writing, it means it’s pretty good.  If I’m reading back what I’ve written and I’ve forgotten I was the author, then it’s really good.  These are the standards by which I judge my work.  It felt like, for some time, this wasn’t happening for me.  Nothing was surprising me.  I feel very hopeless in these moments, as though the muse has left and will never return. 

But then I wrote a little poem, and it’s kind of good.  Then, I wrote another…not as good, but the fire was there.  I wrote a third.  And a fourth…

By the end of the day I had my fall submissions ready to go.  Yesterday morning, I had nothing.  I had the feeling of self-doubt that consumes the writer who doesn’t know what to write about.  I had the voice in my head whispering that it was all crap.  But, last night, I had a full submission packet and several new poems. 

The muse is not dead.  Sleeping, perhaps.  But not dead.


I am maybe 12 and sitting at my desk and writing a story about god knows what when I decide that I will be an author someday.  It just…fits.  Cut to…

Thursday, May 28, 2020.

I awoke early, as usual, and felt that terrible nausea that I pray will pass each day. I get sick on the way to take Mark to work.  I think I can probably get to his work and then the hospital if it gets too bad.  Fortunately, it doesn’t happen again, so I go home and take a Zofran and try to get some more sleep.

I wake up around 11:30, feeling a little better.  I check my phone.  A text, a Timehop, an email.  I click on the little envelope icon and find a message from my publisher with a link to an Amazon page.

My Amazon page.

For my book.

Any and all feelings of sickness evaporate, or perhaps are pushed out of the way by simple shock and surprise.  I immediately text my parents and my besties the link, and when I hear nothing from Mom, Dad or Bern I call in a panic and ask them why they can’t check their GD text messages?!  A phone celebration, as I tell my dad that I am finally, blessedly, truly a published author.

Around noon, Mom comes by to take me for a cup of coffee.   She tells me she’s going home to post my link on her Facebook, and when she does, she accidentally posts to my page as me.  “Oh no!  Can you delete it?”  I go to do so, but there are already likes and comments.  Eh…so what if people think I’m talking about myself in the third person?

After we get home Mark gives me a big hug and congratulates me.  I still don’t feel like it’s real.  Friends and family start telling me that they placed orders.  I still don’t feel like it’s real.  Mom tells me she got 6 copies for her friends and she wants me to sign them.  I still don’t feel like it’s real.

When Moms’ books come, and I hold them in my hand…then what?  Will it be real then?  My final proof sits on my desk, staring at me.  It is no different than the copy I will see when Mom gets hers, aside from the fact it has “Not for Resale” written across it.  But holding it didn’t make it real, even…maybe a little more, maybe a little less shock, but thinking that there are people out there that are paying for my words?  Words on paper, scribed in ink?  It is mind-blowing.

Anyway, this is my official blog plea for you to buy my book and make me feel like a real author.  A Lovely Wreckage is a collection of poetry centering around living with chronic illness and depression.  You can find it on Amazon.  If you are kind enough to purchase a copy and you enjoy it, I urge you to leave a review there, and I thank you from the bottom of my still-in-shock heart.

That little 12-year-old girl sitting at her desk and scribbling has been waiting for this for a very long time.

And So It Begins.

At the end of August, I finished the assembly of my chapbook.  I thought, as I always think with these things, that is was crap, so I sent it off to be read by my few trusted readers and the reviews came back raving.  So, the bravery that lives deep inside me came out to play, and it sent my little book off to a few prospective publishers.

In my search, I came across one company that I particularly liked.  They’re local, which delights me, and have published a couple books by a poet I like.  I did a little research on them and found that they were accredited though the Better Business Bureau, and a member of the Association of American Publishers.  The reviews I found were all 5 stars.  The interviews I read with the editor were good.  The articles I found about upcoming releases were great.  So, in October, I sent an inquiry to them as to whether or not they published chapbooks.

In January, I received a response, telling me that my book sounded interesting and to forward my manuscript for review.  The review process, they said, would take about three weeks.

Months passed.

A little over a week ago I decided to write an inquiry letter, which was stressful as I have never done such a thing.  Usually I log my submissions and let them sit there until I hear back, but I was on pins and needles over this particular publishing company.  I figured out how to sound polite and professional and sent a little note asking if they received my book and were still reviewing it, and wishing them all good health.

On April 20th, I received a reply: “It would be my pleasure to help you publish your poetry.”

After more research and discussion, it came to my attention that this was a hybrid press.  Meaning, it’s sort of a cross between traditional publishing and self-publishing.  I do have to pay certain fees, which bummed me out at first.  But then I made a pros and cons list.  Yes, it would cost a little money, but it’s a good way to get your first book out there, and establish your portfolio.  Plus, I have complete control over the design and layout.  And on top of that, I look at it as a learning experience-I’d pay for school, wouldn’t I?  And in the end, I will have my book, and be able to sell it, and make that money back.  I went to Mark with my concerns, afraid to ask him to finance me when we have so many other things that need our financial attention.  His reply?  “I’d pay anything to hold your book in my hands.”

So, here is my official announcement that I am in the process of publishing my chapbook with the press I wanted most.  I am already working on it and learning about the development.  I am excited.

I asked my goddaughter if I could use a photo she took for the cover, and she obliged.  When the publisher sent me the mock-up of the cover and interior document, that was probably the moment that the shock finally wore off.

See, I didn’t really believe it for a bit.  I didn’t believe that someone wanted to publish my stuff.  I was trying to talk myself out of it (“well, it’s a hybrid press so do they really like it, or do they just want my money?”) while Mark was trying to talk me into it (“people do not publish books they cannot sell and make money off-they think it’s good enough to sell.”)  Sahar helped, too, pointing out that I was getting more for my money, given the services offered and the effort and cost of self-publishing.  And it should be noted that submission periods for chapbooks are few and far between, so theoretically I could be querying this for years.  No.  That’s too much.  And yet, even after the decision was made, I didn’t believe it.

I didn’t believe it until I saw the cover.  Until I saw the page layout.  Then it became real.

Still, there exists that unbelieving part of me that just knows something will go wrong.  The money will fall though.  The finished product won’t be what I see in my head.  No one will buy it.

I talk myself into these worst-case scenarios, and I know it’s because of my anxiety.  I know it’s false, because mental illness is a liar, and everything will get worked out in the end.  So, despite my fears I will make this happen, and actualize one of my dreams.  The whole book is about fighting depression and anxiety-maybe I should take a note from my own page, and fight against all these voices in my head that tell me it isn’t good enough.  There is another voice, quiet yet persistent, that insists I am doing the right thing.  She is joyous and excited, and I hardly ever let her out to see the sun, but I hear her nonetheless.  It’s that voice I have to listen to, not those loud and demanding ones that say I’ll never do anything I set out to accomplish.  Those voices are wrong.  It is the small voice, always pushing me, always celebrating my accomplishments, that I need to pass the microphone to.

Anyway, in closing, I’m publishing my first book.  I’m scared, I’m excited…I’m hoping you buy it.

A Year in Writing

Usually, I’m not big on hyping my accomplishments.  My mother wants me to post every single thing I write to Facebook.  I don’t.  I use Twitter for this.  On Facebook, there’s 400 people who know me personally.  On Twitter, there’s nearly 4k who don’t know me from a doorknob.  I am far more comfortable sharing my stuff with strangers. 

Now, should my real-life people happen upon my works, or should I be proud enough of something to share it to FB, that’s great.  I always receive positive feedback from them, so that’s very appreciated.  I just don’t feel comfortable selling myself to my friends and family, and that’s what it feels like I would be doing if I posted all my blogs and poems and everything on FB.  I never felt comfortable selling myself.  I remember back when I made a profile on some dating website, and found that bragging about myself was not one of my strong qualities.  It took three people and two hours to make a decent-sounding dating profile. 

I just don’t like selling myself.  But I need to learn how, and to break through that fear, if I ever want to consider making it in the writing industry. 

So, here’s me hyping myself.  This year, I have accomplished some serious work in my writing life.  First of all, I composed my chapbook of poetry about mental and chronic illness.  This took a lot of time and introspective thought, and I am proud of the result…though I must admit, I have considered turning it into a full length, too.  Time will tell.

Also in 2019, I had four poems published.  I wrote a children’s book about a teddy bear called Super Joe, and even found someone to illustrate it for me.  And of course, I did NaNoWriMo, which gave me a little novel about a girl who wakes up in a depopulated world and must go on a quest to find people.  Then came December and the gift of FIVE poems being published this month.  The first three come out at Queen Mob’s Tea House today.

I’d like to write about them, as I rarely share about my poems themselves.  Let’s start with…

4th of July.  Probably the one with the most “story,” it tells the tale of me and my brother-from-another-mother, Kevin.  For me, the 4th of July was always “our” holiday, and it is a retrospective look at our lives.  Read if you like tales about friendship.

Inbetween.  This is what I like to call a “filler” poem.  It’s one that I wasn’t particularly thrilled with but someone else read and liked, and I added to the file because why not?  This bad boy is about depression and it’s grasp on people who have it.   A lot of my poems are about that, but I like how this one starts: “I tried to clean my office, but it’s as messy as my head.”  Read if you enjoy reading about serotonin imbalances.

Finally, Broken Watches.  This one is pretty old, actually, but I have always liked it.  It’s about a broken heart, more or less, and the pain of loving someone when you know it won’t work out.  It also features some of my views on the church.  Read if you are a lapsed Catholic with relationship problems.

The other two coming out this month are Dead Nerves and Unfathomable.  Dead Nerves is about neuropathy and ageing.  Unfathomable is about reproductive rights.  That one should be fun to share.  I’m sure it will summon forth at least one old white man with an opinion on my uterus whom I will have to promptly shut down. 

So, in closing, my year in writing has been pretty darn good, in my opinion.  And it’s looking like next year might be good as well, now that I have three projects I am working on that could provide dividends in the future.  We shall see what it brings.  I hope all my writing buddies are having a productive year as well, and good luck to you in the next.

“Future Author”

Over the past year, my mother has gotten me a couple of poetry books.  One was called Fragility, by Sinead Tyrone, and the other was Tailgating at the Gates of Hell, by Justin Karcher.  They have VERY different styles, but I loved both books, and I loved that they came from my mother, who has been my biggest fan since day one.  It was for her I wrote my first story, and it was her praise that made me write the sequel. 

Recently, I sent my chapbook into the world to be examined by both friends and strangers.  My mother read it first, not even because I meant her to, but because she was the only person who asked daily about my progress.  I was reading the books she gave me and having moments of panic, because both had such beautiful lines that made me feel inferior as an author, and it made me think of the time we were in a store and I saw a pin that said “future author.”  I asked mom if I could get it, and she looked at me, puzzled.  “You’re already an author.”  I mean, technically I was.  I had written two plays that had been performed.  I’d had a couple of poems published.  None of this made me feel like an “author,” though.  She bought me the pin anyway, and it is stuck to the corkboard in my kitchen as a constant reminder that the bar is always rising.

The other night I went to a poetry reading.  This was a big step for my anxiety.  It was an even bigger step than expected, actually, because we all sat in a circle and shared our work.  I couldn’t just hide in the back.  Some people read from their already published books.  One guy was brand-new to poetry.  Some people read something they had written that day.  I read one of my favorites and one of my mom’s favorites.  It was nerve wracking but wonderful, and I wish my anxiety had held off a little longer and let me mingle afterwards.  Anyway, about halfway through the evening I realized that one of the women sitting in the circle was Sinead Tyrone.  This is interesting, because I put great stock in the universe sending me signs.  I’ve already met Justin Karcher-we were seated next to each other at a cast party many years ago, before his book-so I’m surprised by this new development wherein the other author I recently read is now a player in my world.  Or will be, should I get the guts to go back to that poetry group and tell her I liked her book.

I came home and saw my “future author” pin.  I would consider myself to be such now, I suppose.  I’ve had several poems and a short story published.  But I haven’t seen anything in print yet, and that’s where I am setting my bar.  Actual ink on paper is my goal, and will make me feel like a real author.  Or will it?  When Sinead and Justin put their words into print, did they suddenly feel like authors?  Did they feel like one before their first book?  Or do they feel like there’s work still to be done to attain that title?  I don’t know that seeing my book come to fruition would really make me feel like an “author.”  Or maybe I just have some terrible imposter syndrome.

You know who believes I’m an author, though?  The woman who buys me poetry books.  The lady that told me I deserved the Newberry when I was in 3rd grade.  The biggest fan I will ever have, even when she doesn’t understand what the hell I’m writing about.  My Momma.