Checking In

There is nothing more annoying than discovering a blog you love only to find it is never updated.  I am trying not to be that blogger, so when I hit a dry spell I will post a “checking in” piece.

Last week I spoke with Courtney Carver at Be More With Less.  I was struggling with finding time for my writing and the confidence to label it as a job since it isn’t currently paying any bills.  Courtney gave me a fantastic pep talk and even used our conversation for a wonderful post about the importance of making time for our creative work.

After Courtney got me revved up and raring  to go, I put my nose to the novel grindstone.  I have been moving forward on a new piece in a genre I never saw myself writing.  YA Fantasy.  However, the words have been pouring out of me, so I think I’m on the right track.  I will share more about this story in another post.

I have also been devoting more time to reading.  Awesome books have always driven my desire to write.  The more I read, the more inspired I become.  I have realized that reading is essential to my work as a writer.  Stay tuned for more book reviews.

Until next time…

Wondrous WOOL

The other night I finished Shift by Hugh Howey, the second installment of the WOOL saga.  I decided to hold off my review of WOOL so I could talk about them at the same time.

Howey masterfully created a barren, post apocalyptic world where the remnants of the human population can only live underground in carefully designed silos.  These people are strictly governed by the Order and the majority is kept in the dark about the Legacy-the memories from the time before the world was destroyed.

WOOL tells the story of the people in Silo 18.  From time to time, residents begin to question what is really outside and suspect a conspiracy to keep them in their silo.  If gone unchecked, these ideas quickly lead to civil unrest.  Uprisings soon follow.  Residents must watch what they say or they could ended up being sent to clean.  This means they are booted out of the silo armed with industrial strength wool with the expectation that they will clean the lenses that give those on the inside a picture of that wasted outdoor landscape.  Up until now, every cleaner has done their duty then scrambled a short distance away from the silo, crumpled, and died in a heap in plain view of the cameras.  A lesson for those still safely locked inside.  Then Juliette is sent out, and simply walks away.  Without bothering to clean, she disappears over the hill and out of sight.  This is the lynch pin that finally breaks an already faltering society.

Shift takes the reader back in time to when the world was still green and had breathable air.  A sick plot is afoot disguised as politicians doing what they do best.  No one realizes what is really being built at the new nuclear waste site until it is much too late.  Howey takes the reader through the inception of the silos, the destruction of the world, and the complete and calculated ruin of one man’s life.

Half of this book takes place in Silo 1, command central of all the silos.  Rather than living their lives according to natural biological rhythms, male Silo 1 residents are awake six months at a time to work a shift.  The rest of the time they are frozen only to be woken for their next shift.  Over time this leads to the breakdown of many minds.  During his first shift, Donald begins to have slivers of memories from a different time.  Over the course of his shifts, he witnesses the fall of several silos and his questions only grow.  The deeper he digs, the nastier the answers.

Over in Silo 17, a teenager is hidden in a secret chamber by his father to protect him from the current, deadly uprising.  Jimmy is spared from the mass suicide that takes the lives of almost all the residents, but he is doomed to live alone hiding from pockets of remaining people who have gone feral.  The other half of Shift is Jimmy’s story.

The two threads are tied together when Juliette from Silo 18 escapes and discovers all this time they have not been alone.  And now, we all wait for Howey’s final installment in this saga: Dust

On a side note, my six-year-old has started calling Hugh Howey my boyfriend because I have been talking about him A LOT over the last several months.  I discovered WOOL when he was the featured author on Create Space.  I geeked out when he appeared on the cover of Writer’s Digest.  Not only am I enamored with his writing, I am inspired by his success in self-publishing.  I can only hope to be a fraction of the awesome that Howey embodies.

Research Hurts

Despite knowing better, I thought I could write a book without research.  Research would slow me down, and I wanted to bust this thing out.  So, I started writing.  Then I realized I don’t know anything.  Well, at least not much about football and one of my main characters is a former football player.  I couldn’t create a believable character without knowing more about his sport.

My husband is a football fan.  He played in high school, and follows college ball.  I started stalking him around the house firing questions his way.  I emailed him at work.  I thought he was enjoying being part of my project until he sent me a link to a women’s football clinic being put on by the Washington State University football team and told me to sign up.

The clinic was yesterday, and I was thrilled that I ended up knowing quite a few ladies there.  We were served lots of wine and beer and then sent to the indoor practice facility (it was a cold and windy day on the Palouse).  They divided us into groups and we rotated through stations manned by the players. Each station had some sort of drill.  Thankfully, most of them did not require footballs.

In my defense, I was the girl who always got socked in the face by balls on the playground and in PE class.  Apparently nothing has changed in the last twenty years.  The last drill I participated in had a ball.  We were to shuffle sideways, then run backwards and catch a pass.  Okay, there is no nice way to say it.  I. Was. Drunk.  This wouldn’t have gone well sober either.  I shuffled.  I jogged backwards.  I saw the guy pull back his right arm and launch the ball.  I think he must be used to throwing to taller people because that ball ended up drilling right into my nose.  Blood gushed everywhere and I was escorted to the trainer on the sideline.  I got to put in a nose tampon and one of the player’s wives helped clean me up with baby wipes.  Needless to say, I decided to stay put for the rest of the event.

This morning I have a fat nose, a fat upper lip, and a story to tell.  I don’t know that I learned that much about the game of football, but I did get to talk to some ladies whose lives are governed by the game.  My journalistic spirit was alive as I asked questions and began to rethink my story based on their answers.  My writing will be better because I took the time to do my homework.

Do you have any colorful research stories?

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

This title sat in my Kindle for over a year before I got around to reading it.  I purchased it on impulse after hearing rave reviews from some of my dog loving friends.  Really all I saw when I skimmed the synopsis was that it was about a race car driver, and I’m really not into car racing.

Enzo, one of the coolest dogs ever-maybe even cooler than Marley, has an instantly captivating voice.  I was immediately drawn into the story, fascinated by his point of view.  I will never look at my dog the same after reading this novel.  I honestly wonder what he is thinking now and hope he loves me and my family as powerfully and completely as Enzo loved his.  I also hope he will protect me from any evil zebras that may be lurking in our house.

As for car racing, well that is just a minor detail.  Enzo’s owner, Denny, races cars, and his in-laws don’t like it.  In fact, they don’t seem to like much about Denny at all, which becomes a problem when his wife is diagnosed with cancer.  They move Eve into their home and do everything they can to get custody of Denny and Eve’s daughter, Zoe.

This story is deep and I cherished every word.  It was one of those where I was sad when I reached the last page.  Stein really tapped into the lengths love will drive people.  He leaves the reader wondering if some choices are driven by misguided love or something else.

The Art of Racing in the Rain will leave you a better person for having read it.

Playing Nice by Rebekah Crane

This debut novel by author Rebekah Crane really slammed me between the eyes.  All my life I have been a Marty, pleasing and helping anyone and everyone.  It wasn’t until my late twenties that I met my Lil.  I’ve never had a friend like her.  She shook up my quiet, structured, perfect world.  We all need that person who will rattle our cage and bring us back to center.

Playing Nice tells the tale of a typical small town high school.  You find the standard cliques and expected adolescent behavior.  Marty is in charge of the New Student Welcoming Club, and ends up paired with Lil when she moves to town.

To Marty, Lil is downright frightening, but at the same time dangerously intriguing.  She can’t help but pursue a friendship with the most unpopular girl in school.  It doesn’t take long before tongues are wagging all over town.  Vicious rumors spring up that threaten not only the girls’ friendship, but Marty’s spotless reputation.

Lil is shocking and worldly.  She’s done things Marty has only daydreamed about.   Savvy to the nastier side of human beings, Lil does her best to protect Marty from herself.   She is drawn to Marty’s kind and honest spirit, but is careful about dropping the tough girl shield she has constructed to protect herself and her mother.

Fully capturing the spirit of a teenager, Crane took me right back to high school and reunited me with the lusty, passionate emotions of fifteen.  This novel rings true if you are thirteen or thirty-three.  Though it may have been written for the younger crowd, adults can sink their teeth into it just as well.  I look forward to getting my hands on Crane’s next novel, Aspen.

You can find Playing Nice on Amazon.com in both Kindle form and paperback.

My Writing Recipe

Anyone who is just starting out as a writer knows that you have nothing to show for all your time right out of the chute.  Writing is a process, and intellectually I know this, but I want to be seen as productive.  I want to prove my worth in this field.  I want to show my supporters and my naysayers that I can be a success at this as quickly as possible.  I want others to recognize writing as my career, but with nothing to show it just looks like I am spending all my time on a fun hobby.  So, I impose rules on myself and my writing that end up hindering my progress and making me crazy along the way.

I try to just go straight to work on my manuscript or blog piece without warming up with a free write because the free write takes too much time.  I cut back on my reading because I should be working, not having fun.  My best writing happens when I just sit down when it makes sense in my day, rather than forcing a particular time on the task.  Next thing I know, I’m stressed out.  My self-imposed schedule implodes.  I feel like a failure because I can’t live up to the rules I created to “make me successful faster.”

Writing is a beautiful process.  Natalie Goldberg captures this in her book Writing Down the Bones:  Freeing the Writer Within.  Writers must fill a lot of notebooks with a lot of words before they spin the tales that will eventually put food on the table.  Writers must write for themselves and no one else.  Otherwise their work becomes forced and flat.  Our passion must be allowed to run free.

When I scrap the restraints I put on myself my soul is at peace and my creativity flows.  Suddenly I’m immersed in my notebook or on the laptop and the pressure I created worrying about productivity lifts.  I’m producing.  It just may not always look like what I envisioned, and it is good.

Free writing and reading novels are the two main ingredients in my writing recipe.  Without them I have no inspiration, and my prose has no energy.  Every writer’s recipe is unique, but each one contains one or two components that cannot be eliminated without wrecking the process.  I am blessed to be in a situation where I have no deadlines and I can do whatever it takes to make my writing ready for the world.  Now, where’s the laminating machine?  I need to protect this recipe from myself.

What are the essential ingredients for your writing recipe?

Letting in the Fear

Last Friday my daughter and I set off on a spring break adventure to see our family in Southern Idaho.  I packed my laptop and journal.  I even brought an extra journal, as I knew my current one was almost full.

We spent our first night with my mother-in-law.  Dear daughter was bunking with her, so I giddily snuggled into my bed and began pecking away at what I hoped would be a productive late night writing session.  Within half an hour I couldn’t even keep my eyes open and had to stop.  The five-hour drive, champagne with dinner, and social time with my awesome mother-in-law wore me out!

Sadly this was the beginning of my writing cycle for the week.  I have taken my journal everywhere and managed to log a few words here and there, but nothing significant.  Wednesday afternoon was the first time I powered up my laptop since last Friday.  Needless to say, my anxiety has been running high.  Not because I’m on a deadline, but because writing is my release.  I have to get out the words or the tension builds until I feel like I’m going to explode.  Once my nerves are on edge, the real fear sets in.  Its name is I Can’t Write a Novel and sometimes goes by You Are A Terrible Writer, You Should Give Up.

This week I learned that if I stay away from my craft and allow my focus to wander, fear and doubt have room to enter and take hold of my confidence and shake the hell out of it.

As I delved into my work yesterday and today, I felt the fear begin to melt and I remembered something I heard Courtney Carver recently say, “The work quiets fear.”  This is so true!  The more I write, the better I get.  The better I get, the more confident I become.  I am able to say, “I am a writer, and I can write a novel-a damn good one too.”

We stayed with my middle sister for most of our trip.  She is working on breaking into the horse world and beginning to practice photography.  Like me, fear is a huge deterrent to chasing her dreams.  I told her Courtney’s theory about work calming fear and she totally agreed.  There isn’t room to be scared if you are completely focused on your work.

So, my words of wisdom to my readers is not to let a day go by without at least touching your craft.  Write a few words, take a few photos, get on your horse and ride.  Let the joy of creating and doing work you love wash over you at lest for a few minutes.   Remind yourself that you can do anything, and your creations are valuable to you and most likely to someone else as well.

My aim is to write a minimum of twenty minutes a day.  That was working well until we left for vacation.  My next lesson is to figure out how to successfully take my writing habit on the road.  Really, there are always twenty minutes somewhere in the day if one takes time to carve them out and claim them.

“When you start the journey upward, you need to avoid all downward thinking.” Chris Hogan