Thursday, October 29, 2009

The messy parts

Lately I've been writing a lot of creative non-fiction. It's completely new to me and a big departure from what I'm used to writing. As a result, the process is, well, let's just tell the truth--it's painful.

In fiction, there are fewer limitations. If the plot's not working this way, switch a few things around and viola! Problem solved. Not so in creative non-fiction. Even though it's creative there's still the sticky problem of The Truth. While taking some creative license is okay, fabricating entire plots, characters, etc. is not (or at least not in my definition of non-fiction.)

In addition, writing the truth hurts. It forces you to confront emotions and situation that are hidden under happier, more pleasant memories. That's not to say that you can only write angsty, depressing non-fiction, but let's face it, life is messy and messy is interesting. Or at least it is to me. As fiction writers, how many times do we hear, "Conflict! Your work needs more Conflict!" Where does that conflict come from? The easy, sunshiny parts of life or the ugly, messy parts?

It's the same for creative non-fiction. Conflict=interesting. Without it, there's no story. The difference with non-fiction is, the conflict comes from the painful parts of your life. And those parts aren't always easy to write about. But those are the parts people want to read about.

Why? Well, my theory is, reading about someone else's messy life gives us a feeling of connection to that person, and humanity as a whole. Even with Facebook, My Space, Twitter, blogs, etc., we're more isolated than ever. We're only getting headlines from other people's lives. So, you might know that a friend has cancer, but you don't know how it felt when her hair fell out in clumps. Or what it felt like to have your body fold in on itself under the strain of the treatments that were almost worse than the disease. Life seems so much more sanitary than it really is, leaving us unprepared when disaster strikes in our own lives.

This is where creative non-fiction comes in. Reading about other people's lives helps us to deal with our own. And that's why it's so important to write the Truth. To write the ugly parts. The messy parts.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Must be genetic

Halloween is fast approaching and my six-year-old son, Zach, has decided he wants to be a butterfly. Not just any butterfly, but the King Butterfly. Now you have to understand that for the past two years, he has spent his summers running through the neighborhood, net in hand, capturing any poor butterfly that had the misfortune to fly too close to his net. He has become quite good at it, and often has a trail of kids running after him, wielding their own nets and capturing their own butterflies.

Most of the butterflies he gets are the little cabbage white butterflies, but once he got a yellow swallowtail. Zach plopped the swallowtail into a cage and christened him the King Butterfly. The rest of the day Zach spun elaborate yarns about the yellow swallowtail. The King lives in a certain tree at the edge of the woods that line our property and if you knock, he'll come out (this actually happened once.) There is a Queen butterfly, a prince, and a guard butterfly.

The stories went on and on over the summer until the neighborhood kids started building cardboard houses for the King and his entourage. Some mornings I'd walk outside and find little plates of food under our butterfly bush, gifts someone left for the King.

So of course, when Halloween rolled around, Zach wanted to be the King Butterfly. What else would he be? So while I was cutting out yellow fabric to make wings for my son, I started thinking about the myths he created around the King Butterfly and the way he passed those stories on. He spent so much time chasing butterflies and telling stories about them that no one is surprised that he wants to be a butterfly for Halloween. Really, what else would he be?

We have four kids, but Zach is our only biological child. He is always coming up with weird interests which is the way I was when I was young. I was the weird kid in my class, and now I guess I've passed that on to my son. I don't think this is a bad thing, my dad was the same way, it just makes me wonder. Is there something in our genes that pushes us toward writing? My dad was a chemist, but he also wrote poetry and creative non-fiction.

So many of us are compelled to write. We don't do it for fame, or money. We write for the joy bringing our stories to life. Even without the promise of publication we write. Even when we've been rejected by every publisher or agent out there, we write. It's hard, exhausting work, but we keep at it. We are like Zach, chasing butterflies and spinning tales about the King. And I wonder, is there something in us that pushes us to write? Is it that inner weird kid still pushing her way out?

What do you think? How many of you were the weird kid?

Zach in the garden

Monday, October 19, 2009

My first writing award!

Amidst all of the swine flu drama, I got some good news. The short story I just got accepted for publication, Modeling Life, has won an award! I am the first recipient of the Echo Ink Review Writing & Editing award! YAY!

I'm one of those people who never win anything so this is a Big Deal for me. Not only is there a small monetary prize, but even better, I have a six month assignment as an Assistant Managing Editor for the magazine. I am very excited about the opportunity to work on the journal and learn all of the behind the scenes stuff that goes on in putting together a literary journal. This isn't the first time I've worked on a literary journal, I was one of the editors for NKU's Licking River Review, but this will give me some more experience outside of a University setting.

In totally unrelated news, this is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time! It even got a laugh out of my husband. Since watching it, he's been walking around the house cracking Kraken jokes.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Short Story Stats

Swine flu seems to be on its way out. Sarah went back to school today and the boys are out in the kitchen making up words to the Wonder Woman theme song. Their conversation goes something like this:

Zach: In your satin tights, fighting for your Caleb! (giggles)
Caleb: That's me!
Zach: Can you imagine if you were Wonder Woman? (more giggles)
Caleb: I want to kissy kissy her!
Zach: Get us out from under Wonder Caleb!

Yes, I get the Good Mom award for letting my kids watch endless TV while we were all sick. Thus, my boys know all the words to the Wonder Woman theme song (and trust me, their version is much better.)

Anyway, now that everyone is feeling better and I feel like getting up off of the couch, I thought I would post the stats on my recent short story submissions. When I started sending stuff out, I was always curious about how long it took to get something accepted for publication. I submitted Modeling Life to 14 literary journals. I got 6 rejections and after it was accepted at Echo Ink Review I had to withdraw it from 7 journals. I started sending the story out in April and it was accepted for publication in September. (Echo Ink Review had a very fast response time. I sent the story to them on September 16 and they responded on September 22.)

Most of my submissions were electronic and I used Duotrope, which made keeping track of everything much easier. (I used to keep Excel Spreadsheets but then our computer crashed and I lost everything. Duotrope is so much better!)

Currently, I have two other short stories making the rounds (and a third I'm putting the finishing touches on.) Once I find homes from them, I'll post their submission stats.

Hope this was interesting and hope everyone has a Swine Flu free weekend!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Life happens, writing suffers (or is postponed)

So the week started with Sarah developing a fever and cough on Sunday. It progressed to Steve getting sent home from work on Monday with the same symptoms. An hour after he got home, I got a call from Gracie's school saying she had a fever and was crying. Since she's non-verbal, it's really hard to figure out the problem when something's hurting her. After all, it's not like she can tell us. She just screams, which could mean anything from "I'm hungry" to "I'm having a seizure."

Anyway, I took her to the doctor (where she threw up in the car) and she was swabbed for swine flu and strep. Both were negative. So home we went. She stops crying and is her normal happy self.

Come Tuesday, Steve and Sarah are still sick so they head to the doctor where Steve is swabbed and the winner is....SWINE FLU!!! It's like winning the lottery (that is if you like your lottery Shirley Jackson style.) At the same time, I start a fever. Three of us are down.

Now it's Wednesday and Grace and Caleb wake with fevers. Swine flu for all! Zach, the only healthy one, is at school. Or rather, he was until we get a call from the school nurse. That's right, he's sick.

On the plus side, Steve and Sarah are getting better. On the down side, I'm getting worse. Sigh, this is the downside of parenting. No curling up in bed with a good book and riding it out when all FOUR of your kids are sick.

And that folks, is why I struggle to find time to write.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Especially for the writing moms

I've been thinking a lot about what I wrote in my last post about making time to write being like an affair. For the lucky few who don't have this problem, feel free to skip this post and pop over to HULU to catch last night's episode of Heroes.

For the rest of us who have to write between kids, spouses, jobs and the general messiness of life, read on.

I don't know about the rest of you (especially you writing moms out there) but finding the time to write is my hardest challenge. It's harder than writer's block, plotting, characterization--basically, for me it's harder than everything else combined. I think it's especially hard for moms. After that first kid comes along, it's like a switch is flipped and your world shifts from being all about you, to being all about this new little person. Even when you make time for yourself to see a movie, go out to dinner without the little bundle of joy, or whatever you do for fun, somewhere in the back of your mind a large portion of your brain is occupied with The Baby. You pull out your cell phone to make sure you're getting proper reception just in case the babysitter calls. You plot the fastest way home if there's an emergency. You call home, "just to check."

I have four kids, ages 12 - 4 and still have trouble turning my Mom Brain off. Even as I write this, part of my mind is on my kids--two of whom are in the other room watching Ratatouille. My thoughts go something like this:

They've been watching T.V. a long time. Should I stop blogging and make them do something productive? Maybe I should make them go outside and gather leaves?

I don't really know what we'd do once we have the leaves...I just have a vague impression that gathering leaves is a more Mom-like activity than blogging about writing.

So this summer, I struggled over hiring a baby-sitter to do something as self-indulgent as write. I worried about the expense, I worried about the time away from my kids, I worried about their safety, I worried that the house would burn down and they wouldn't get out in time....You name it, I worried about it. But there was a small part of me that said I needed to do this. So I did, and it was wonderful. Each day I came home happier and calmer. And I was able to spend the rest of the day playing with the kids without thinking, I need to write. I need to write. I can honestly say it was one of the best summers we've had.

For me, writing is about more than plot-lines and characterization. It's about taking time for myself to feed my soul. There's a part of me that shrivels when I don't write. I become less than my best when I don't feed that part of me. My kids notice it, my husband notices it. And honestly, my kids don't mind when I take time to write. My husband doesn't mind, in fact he encourages it. (I'm much calmer when I take a little time for myself!) I am the only one who worries about it.

So my advice to you is to make time to write. Do it however you can, at night, during nap-time, in the morning. Whenever. Just find the balance that works for you and get writing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Short Story News

As usual, it has been a long time since I've posted, but I have a good reason. I've been writing. As a mom in graduate school with four kids, something's got to give. Since social services will get involved if I don't feed or bathe the kids, and my professors are picky about little things like turning in homework, the blog drew the short straw.

But what about the summer, you say? Couldn't I have posted then? Well, yes, but over the summer I indulged my wild and wacky side and hired a baby-sitter to watch the kids three days a week so that I could write. It was better than an affair (not that I would do that...Steve wipe the last sentence from your mind.) Sitting at Starbucks with a toffee-nut latte and my laptop. No one asking me to wipe their nose or other body parts. I wrote and wrote. It was wonderful. Sigh, the memories...

But never fear, here is what's quickly becoming my semi-annual post. In writing news my short story, Modeling Life has been accepted for publication in Echo Ink Review. It should be out in February. So mark your calendars and buy a copy!

Also, back in May I won a critique by an editor and agent of the first three chapters of my novel. The chapters are with the editor right now and as soon as I get them back, I'll be sending them on to the agent. Hopefully they will fall in love with my beautiful prose and make me an offer...(sorry, faded out into my fantasy world, I'm back now.) In reality, getting an honest critique by people in the industry is invaluable. No matter what comes of it, at the very least I'll be getting feedback on my writing which can only help.

Let's see, other news on the writing always I'm working on several different projects--novels, short-stories and as the result of a class I'm taking, I'm tinkering with creative non-fiction. It's a stretching process but fun.

So that's all of the news from the writing front. I will do my best not to let months go by without posting again.