Q: Fiction or Nonfiction? A: Both.

I spoke to a writers’ group in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after the publication at age twenty-six of my first book, a nonfiction guide to backpacking and camping in developing countries. I described the vagaries of finding an agent and publisher, and revealed to the audience my real dream as a writer. I told the group that while I was proud of my nonfiction debut, what I really wanted was to write and publish fiction.

I made clear in a know-it-all way—as twenty-somethings are wont to do—that while nonfiction was all well and good, I saw fiction as the only true form of writing.

An elderly woman in the crowd was kind enough to not put me on the spot during the Q&A se

ssion that followed my remarks. Instead, she confronted me afterward, face to face.

She told me she was writing a memoir about her family’s roots, and that she’d found her nonfiction work to be extremely challenging and wholly satisfying, even as she was aware that her manuscript—nearly complete after several years’ work—had little chance at publication. Why, she asked me in conclusion, was I disparaging the very type of writing I’d been so fortunate to have published?

I backpedaled clumsily and offered the woman my apologies.

In the years that followed, I poured myself into writing and publishing several more nonfiction books, one of which won the National Outdoor Book Award. I wrote each book with pride and enthusiasm, and always with the woman’s comments in mind.

But I always kept alive, in the back of my mind, the desire to write fiction.

 

Four years ago—twenty-five years after the publication of my first nonfiction book—Torrey House Press published my debut work of fiction, Canyon Sacrifice, book one in my National Park Mystery Series. I’ve written three more installments in the series since then, with book four, Yosemite Fall, scheduled for release by Torrey House in June 2018.

I have thoroughly enjoyed writing fiction these last five years—so much so, in fact, that I had assumed writing nonfiction was forever in my past. But when I ran across a fascinating, true-life historical tale while researching Yosemite Fall, I surprised myself by leaping at the chance to develop the story as a work of narrative nonfiction.

In returning to nonfiction after my mystery-writing stint, I’ve found tha

 

t the woman who confronted me thirty years ago knew what she was talking about. I’m relishing the challenge and satisfaction of writing nonfiction again.

Moreover, I’m leaning hard on everything I learned while writing my mysteries to make my new book as compelling and fully realized and many-layered as anything I’ve ever written.

After three decades as an author, it took my move from nonfiction to fiction and back again to recognize what the woman in Albuquerque tried to impress upon me at the very start of my career: it’s the writing itself that matters. When the question is fiction or nonfiction, the answer, I’ve finally learned, is both.

 

Scott Graham is the National Outdoor Book Award-winning author of the National Park Mystery Series for Torrey House Press. The fourth book in the series, Yosemite Fall, will be released in June 2018. Graham lives in Durango, Colorado. Visit him at scottfranklingraham.com.

Life’s Wake-Up Calls

For the past few months, I've been so focused on my own stuff that I realize I've been missing the bigger picture. Time to reevaluate.

As some of you may have heard, we've been moving—downsizing—and I've been angsting over a variety of things:

1. Downsizing.

How do you get rid of a thing that someone else has saved for you and that goes back generations when it's something that doesn't fit your life anymore, maybe it never fit your life, but the guilt of letting it go is numbing?

Case in point: the secretary desk that belonged to my grandma Esther. She loved that desk, used it daily and thought I would love it. I did, for a while. Then I put it in my daughter's room. She used it, and her sisters used it, all through high school. It had a glass display case above a desk top that folded down to reveal cubbies and drawers. They loved it.

Now, with no place to put it in the new house, I thought one of the girls would want it. Not! However, with the brilliance of the Millennials, one of my daughters suggested I take a picture of the secretary and post it up to a private account on Instagram. That way I could see it whenever I wanted, remember Gram whenever I looked at it, and free myself of the tangible object. We snapped a photo, then she helped me place it up on Craig's List. It sold right away, and I had an anxiety attack! BUT, lo and behold, the young woman who bought it was so excited to get it I forgot all about feeling guilty. It turned out that her grandmother had a desk exactly like it. After her grandmother died, her estate went into foreclosure and everything had to be sold at auction. I now look at the picture I have and am delighted to know that Gram's secretary is somewhere being cherished.

2. My identity.

I grew up in Evergreen. After a few years at CU in Boulder, I moved to Frisco (CO) and became a ski bum for a while, married, had kids, and moved back to Evergreen. We lived in the Country Club neighborhood of Denver for a few years while my kids were in high school, but we always had our house in the hills. Now, for the first time in nearly 60 years, I live in Denver. But I'm a mountain girl, I tell you. Except I now own a home and live in the DTC area. I can see my mountains (notice how possessive I am), but I no longer reside in a house tucked back into the woods. Who am I?

3. My career.

While I was at Bouchercon in Toronto, I met with my editor. To my dismay, he told me that international thrillers across the board just aren't selling very well right now. Even the superstars writing espionage and geopolitical thrillers have seen a drop in their numbers, though you're still hitting the list if you're one of the big boys. My editor told me he wants the next Raisa book, just not now. He wants a "different kind of thriller, perhaps a standalone" for my next book. That means if I want to continue writing for Crooked Lane, I need a new premise.

F*^k! I have a few more Raisa Jordan books to write, and I was deep into plotting Book #3.

On that note, I headed to Maine after Bouchercon to visit a friend who had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. She had undergone chemo, the tumors had disappeared and her blood counts were good. I had planned to visit in July after ThrillerFest, but I ended up with pneumonia then and figured that someone on chemo didn't need to be exposed to me. The fact she was doing so much better had me really looking forward to seeing her. I called her the night before I was scheduled to arrive and she said, "Oh, I'm so glad you're coming. I didn't tell you before because I was afraid you wouldn't come, but the cancer is back with a vengeance. They started me on hospice care last week."

F*^k! I'm not ready to lose a friend. And the world's not ready to lose a New York Times bestselling romance writer, who—despite the ravages of cancer—lamented, "I'm not ready to die. I still have two more books in me." It turns out she'd been stringing her fans along with the promise of something to come in her series, only to run out of time.

Sort of puts it all in perspective.

C

Driving for a Paycheck

I’ve finally figured it out! There are two signs on each car I drive seen only by Special Drivers. (Special, of course, meaning unusual, distinct, specific and obviously run-of-the-mill.)

I’m sure the sign on the front bumper says, “Pull immediately in front of me, proceed really, really slowly, and then wash your windshield.” The sign on the rear of the car has got to read, “Please tailgate.”

And don’t get me started on weekend traffic.

I’m not perfect, and I have vowed to change my ways: turning weaknesses into strengths like…say…cussing at, cursing, or calling other drivers dirty names. Currently, my employment involves driving various vehicles. I had almost made my nearly unachievable goal of being cuss-free for an entire week, but then...

Back up the truck to last Monday and find me buckled in, engine running and sitting at a stop light. With my own eyes I witness not one, not two, but three drivers speed past me and through the intersection—through the red light. What? Only one car was hit and it wasn’t mine. (I was happy as h*ll is hot about that.) Before I realized, words escaped over my tongue and between my lips for God and everyone with a window rolled down to hear. I called all three of the Special Drivers the same bad name.

Tuesday, different intersection and one car length ahead of me, a driver decides to change lanes. Oops—doesn’t see the car next to him. “D*mn, that’s gonna hurt.” The word blurted itself out of my mouth as though my voice had a brain of its own.

On Wednesday, I figured saying Sister and Brother to acknowledge the sobs are children of God too would be a good thing. Plus, and this is a big plus, instead of saying naughty words, I substituted good words. For instance, Sister Wad of Dip, Brother Adam Henry, Sister DS, Brother What are You Thinking? Are you thinking? Sister were you born (insert word of choice) or are you practicing for a contest? That kept the cussing away until a semi truck came inches from rear-ending my 2018 automobile.

Honestly, Thursday began with cussing. An oil truck, complete with a dirty, round tank, (one that either delivers clean auto oil or picks up used oil), was eastbound down Mt. Vernon hill. Rear brake (singular) was a-burnin’. I sped past that driver, who reminded me of a supervisor I once had—round and constantly smoking.

On that very Friday I created fictional—sort of—characters from dippy drivers I witnessed behind their wheels. Not one of my creatures received a dirty name! I know, b*tchin’, huh?

But I learned not all idiotic things happen while driving.

There I was delivering paperwork to the Jefferson County Courthouse (not my own). Alas, I was NOT in the now, not focused on the job at hand, head in an imagined book… I lost the one and only key to my employer’s new car. Wait—there’s more. Wearing out my shoes, I repeatedly raced to the parking lot to ensure the car was still there. The last time out, I ran into one of the sheriff’s deputies—he was on duty—Sh*t! Armor is stiff. In my defense, he stood on my side of the walkway.

I’m humbled now and mending my ways. However, I’ve enrolled in Cussing Anonymous because I still drive for a paycheck.

Why is it at least 60% of gray or white vehicles being driven in fog are done so without headlights on?

Why do people signal after they’ve changed lanes? Why do so many new vehicles have broken blinker bulbs? Why do blinkers not shut off after people have turned?

How in the world is it possible to read a Playboy Magazine and drive at the same time? (rhetorical question only)

I find my morning commute to work is indicative of the rest of the day.

When there are three lanes headed in the same direction, why can’t some drivers pick one—just one?

The Black Bourgeoisie and Acting White

For those who don’t remember learning about Marxism, the Bourgeoisie were those who stood at the top of the economic ladder because they controlled the means of production. They were the land owners and factory owners. When discussing African-Americans, the “Black Bourgeoisie” are the very top of the socio-economic period. They are the doctors and business owners. The ones who attended traditional black colleges and joined traditional black fraternities and sororities.

For many people, the idea of acting white seems odd. How do white people act? Is there a secret handshake or something? Do all white people act the same way? The answer is, of course not. But one way African-Americans have traditionally defined themselves is in opposition to the dominant, white culture. When a black man or woman becomes economically successful, they usually take on the cultural norms of the peer group they associate with. In my opinion, this is only natural; if you want to be a successful lawyer, you hang around successful lawyers. However, once a black person begins to acculturate with their new peer group, a group which is probably sparsely populated with other black people, tensions can arise within the black community and family they live with. More on this later.

There has always been a black bourgeoisie. Going back to before the Civil War, there were community leaders in the free black community that owned business, owned farms, even owned slaves. (Yes, it was legal for free blacks to own slaves in the American Antebellum South.)

When the Civil War ended, abolitionists went south to start colleges for former slaves who showed the drive and the ability to better themselves. Colleges like Morehouse and Spellman, private schools that opened in 1867, were followed later by dozens of segregated schools of higher learning, both public and private, throughout the American South. It was here that the elite of the African-American community learned, socialized, and prepared themselves for leadership in the black community. They even formed their own fraternities and sororities.

Alpha Phi Alpha was the first black fraternity, formed at Cornell in 1906. It quickly spread to traditional black colleges across the south. Its members include W.E.B. Dubois, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Justice Thurgood Marshall, to name a few.

Middle class African-American women attending a women's club, circa 1950s

Through traditional black colleges and the exclusive black fraternities and sororities, leaders were molded throughout Reconstruction and most of the 20th century. These leaders, while clearly middle-class by American standards, and affluent by the standards of the black community, were always aware that their position was precarious. That their wealth or political clout within the black community did not shield them from systemic racism. I believe this began to change in the early 1980s.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s took a turn toward the radical with the rise of Stokely Carmichael and the Black Power Movement. While previous generations of African-Americans tried to work within the system with legal proceedings and civil discourse, some in the Black Power Movement argued for separation of the races and a consolidation of black people in their own communities, with their own schools, with the power to physically defend themselves. (In light of 100+ years of lynching in the south, as well as police violence nationwide against peaceful leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., self-defense was seen by many as the only option.)

They began to separate and distance themselves from traditional organizations, like the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Paralleling to Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panther Party, as well as Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, began to mirror, roughly, the same message of self-reliance, self-restraint, self-discipline and segregation from the greater American community.

These people began to openly criticize the traditional Civil Rights Movement. They also criticized the traditional leaders of the black community, the black bourgeoisie. They mocked them for “acting white,” for selling out and for playing Uncle Tom. They might even be called Bourgie.

At the same time, a social movement called Black is Beautiful sprang up in the late 1960s. The people involved were black artists who tried to embrace black skin and kinky hair. If this makes no sense to you, please understand that many of the original members of the black bourgeoisie were the descendants of slave owners; they were mixed.

The racism of the time was mimicked by the black community; lighter skinned African-Americans felt superior to their darker skinned brothers and sisters. African-Americans tried to emulate white people by dumping chemicals in their hair to make it straight and wavy. They put harsh chemicals on their skin to bleach and lighten it up.

I am a mixed race child. My hair is dark and curly. When I was growing up, all my relatives said I had good hair. Why? Because it wasn’t kinky. This is institutional racism. Hair isn’t good or bad, it’s just hair!

The Black Power Movement fought against that. It openly mocked black people who tried too hard to emulate the dominant culture. Many of the Black Power leaders (though not all) came from severe poverty and single-parent homes. Consequently, if embracing “Black Power” meant rejecting those who emulated the dominant culture, it also meant embracing, in many ways, the culture of poverty.

This tension is strongly related to the tension felt by middle-class black people with relatives still in poverty. When it comes to wealth, the tension is: How and when do I stop helping those in the community I feel some responsibility for? When dealing with the issue of acting white, the question becomes one of identity and authenticity.

What is authentic for me? Am I more authentic when I’m around my professional peers and my fellow hobbyists? Or when I am around my own people?

Are these speech patterns I use around my professional peers authentic to me? Is this how I sound when I think to myself? Or am I mimicking speech that will make me fit in?

Do I feel like I don’t fit in when around other African-Americans? Or when I’m around white people?

OK, why is this important to your character?

If you’re writing fiction set in today’s world, and your black character has a white collar job, chances are they struggle with the transition from the culture they’ve grown up in, and the culture they now inhabit. Conversely, if they grew up middle-class, how do they interact with other African-Americans who are poor? Do they mimic the language of Black Power? Do they reject cultural differences? Do they look down on other black people and adopt the dominant culture? Are they ashamed of their success? Defensive?

If they are artists, musicians, love something quirky like ballroom dancing or they read steampunk; if they worked at the Renaissance faire, or voted Republican; if they loved comic books or ballet; they had struggles within their community or their family about being a sell-out. They might be accused of being fake. They might be accused of being a sell-out, even by those they help. They might get called an “Oreo” (black on the outside, white on the inside).

Fortunately, my own experience with these issues has led me to believe that things are changing. As more African-Americans claw into the middle class and stay there, a new hybrid identity develops that takes the best of both worlds. A new black bourgeoisie that is aware of black history and black struggles, while unashamed to participate in the broader culture on their own terms.

 

Here are some writing exercises.

#1.) Write a scene where your black character is surrounded by his professional peer group at a restaurant, a sporting event or wherever. Have your character run into a friend they grew up with, or know from a long time ago. How will your character react? Will their speech patterns change? Will this person’s presence make them feel uncomfortable? If so, is your black character embarrassed because her peers see her black friend? Or, is she embarrassed because her black friend sees her peers? How will your character get out of the situation?

#2.) Write a scene where your black character is explaining to his white friend a confrontation they’ve had with family or friends. They’ve been accused of selling out because of something they love to do. (Ballet, opera, comic book conventions, acting, etc.) Make a point of having the white friend not understand the issue. Will the black character be able to explain it? Or just give up?

 

Follow me on Twitter @evans_writer

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Check out my website at www.jasonhenryevans.com

Writing Romance: The Inciting Incident

Last month, we compared and contrasted WANT vs. NEED. Again, we’re using Jami Gold’s beat sheet as a basis for these articles. This month, we’re moving on to the Inciting Incident.

If you research “inciting incident,” you’ll find that most definitions include the idea of thrusting the protagonist(s) forward into the main action of the story. It’s the event that hooks both the readers and the characters. Note: The term is most often used in the Hero's Journey plotting.  In the beat sheet it says, “Give a glimpse of how right the characters could be for each other (Essence), but they’re not ready yet (identity)."

In a romance, this is usually the first time the hero and heroine cross paths, the first time they meet. It is generally found in the middle of Act One.

This scene can be a reflection or bookend to the Final Image/Resolution of the story. It can happen in the same place, or use similar words. Note: How much fun is it to actually see that Final Image that was used in the beginning and see how perfect this pair of lovers is for each other? If you’re thinking about doing the reflection/bookend thing, feel free to write both scenes right now. That doesn’t mean that last scene is set in stone. It probably isn’t.

Remember, this scene is all about the possibilities. Why should these two be together? What attracts them? Why might they want to fall in love?

I hate, hate, hate to throw this monkey wrench in here. But I have to. Since we’re using Jami’s beat sheet, I’m sticking with the point-by-point within it. But don’t get me wrong. It is not the ONLY way. How many of your favorite romance novels have the inciting incident be volatile and negative? Before they get out of the room, these two detest each other? That’s certainly a valid “inciting incident” as well. Then, they have a mountain to overcome right off the bat.

But let’s say you do it Jami’s way. Does that mean there’s no mountain? Well, shoot, no. There has to be a mountain. It just comes a bit after that first meeting, that first inciting incident. After they’ve met and smiled at each other and left that place with that warm, fuzzy feeling. After they’ve maybe even smiled for the rest of the day and fantasized about that perfect person.

It won’t be long until they find out who that person is - the guy that holds the mortgage to the ranch - the girl that got the job he wanted. Conflict! But for now, there’s that amazing moment in the coffee shop when they are perfect for each other. The realization that crashes the dream is so much sweeter then.

This inciting incident will be a scene you want to work hard to get right. Whose Point-of-View should it be in? What will the characters remember from this moment? The lighting? The music that’s playing? What he’s wearing? Her perfume? It’s important to get the details right. The takeaways for each character.

Craft this scene. Make it sing. Is that easy? Not really. But who told you writing a great book was easy?

Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to get it right the first time. You can write that scene and keep going - as a matter of fact, you should. If you get hung up with your inner editor making that scene perfect the first time through, you may never get the book written. Just know that it’s an important scene to get right.

Your homework is to take a few favorites off your keeper shelf and study the “inciting incident.”

Until next month - remember, Campers, BIC-HOK. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.

Jax

 

Thrillers, Part 2 of 4: Heroes

HeroHeroes in thrillers can be anyone: male, female, any walk of life, any level of expertise in solving crimes, spying, or thwarting villains. Heck, in the long-running television series Dexter, probably the single best example of genre-bending fiction, the hero was a serial killer. (If you haven't binged this series, I submit it is among the top ten indispensable for any aspiring thriller writer.) In my own series of books starting with Rogue Agenda and continuing this fall in a title yet to be announced, the protagonist and heroine is a phone-sex girl.

A common trope of the genre is the washed-out, disgraced ex-professional, usually an ex-cop/detective/soldier. Usually a guy, he is usually an alcoholic heavy smoker with a harridan ex-wife, an embittered child, and a long-suffering girlfriend. He's wracked with guilt and self-recrimination, all of which usually eventually turns out to be undeserved. I see the attraction of the trope; these can often be great, complex, layered characters to write. The problem is it's been played and played out. I would encourage aspiring thriller writers to reach deeper, find other ways to make your protagonist interesting and complex.

Some scholars of fiction will tell you that the hero must have some personal stake in the outcome of the conflict. It isn't enough that he/she is just doing their job, investigating a crime or seeking to thwart a villain. They must be under threat themselves, seeking to clear their own name from suspicion, prevent the death of a loved one, etc. It is the only way, they argue, to justify the hero moving forward against obstacles and resistance. Otherwise, why would they bother? Why suffer through depredations, torture, and possible death for the sake of something less? I agree that this often makes a compelling plot, but I think it is extremely dogmatic and cynical to try to maintain that this is the only way to impel a hero and their story forward.

I think it is just as compelling to witness a hero risk life and limb for higher ideals than self-preservation, to read about the patriot soldier willing to stake his life for his country, experience the conviction of an advocate undergoing agonizing trials in the name of just doing the right thing. To me there is no more noble sacrifice than one that saves the day in such a way that no one will ever know, for which the hero will never gain notoriety or gratitude.

What makes the hero compelling is conviction and the lengths to which they are willing to go to defend their ideals. These can be every bit as personal and precious as his/her life and limb if written in an engaging, interesting, and exciting way.

Who are some of your favorite heroes in fiction, thrillers or other genres? What is it that impels them through the story? I'd love to read your comments below.

The Subtle Art of Similes and Metaphors

We’ve all read them—those little would-be jewels of description that make us pause, furrow our brow, and say “Huh?” We’ve all been guilty of them, too, especially in the early stages of our writing careers.

They’re bad similes and metaphors, and they stick out from a manuscript like a sore thumb—but it can be difficult to pinpoint why they aren’t working. In this post, let me count the ways in which a well-meaning simile or metaphor can turn ugly. To help you follow along, I’ve taken some cringe-worthy examples from my own first novel (the one that’s been living in a drawer for 10 years—and you’ll see why).

 

It’s clichéd. This goes without saying, but it’s so common in similes and metaphors that I had to mention it. Resist the urge to take this easy, and often eye-roll-inducing, route.

Example: The creature’s face was like something out of a nightmare.

Not only is this a cliché, it doesn’t tell the reader anything new. It suggests the creature is scary-looking, but it doesn’t provide any specifics to help the reader envision it.

 

It’s unnecessary. If the action it’s describing is straightforward, the comparison may not enhance the reader’s understanding. Adding a simile or metaphor where it isn’t needed takes up valuable word space and makes the writing feel like it’s trying too hard.

Example: Her mouth fell open like a trapdoor.

This simile doesn’t work for a number of reasons, but really, do we need a simile at all? We all know what someone looks like when their mouth falls open in surprise; adding a comparison doesn’t enhance the story in any way.

 

The items being compared are too similar. Using a simile or metaphor to compare two nearly identical items doesn’t enhance the reader’s understanding, and ends up feeling redundant rather than illuminating.

Example: He swung his fist like an enormous club.

Our forearms are shaped like clubs, and in hand-to-hand combat, we use them essentially like clubs. Thus, this simile is almost as useless as “He swung his arm like an enormous…arm.”

 

The items being compared are too different. Although the two parts of a comparison must be fundamentally different in order to enhance the reader’s understanding, they must also be similar enough for the reader’s mind to connect them smoothly. If they’re too different, the reader will be left slack-jawed and confused.

Example: The melody floated through the air like a great butterfly.

Butterflies don’t make noise, and we generally associate them with visual rather than auditory beauty. Melody engages our sense of hearing while butterfly engages our sense of sight, causing this off-key insect to crash and burn.

 

It doesn’t suit the tone or voice. Even the best similes and metaphors can pull readers out of the story if they don’t mesh with their surroundings. If you’re writing a scene with a spooky, dark tone, you don’t want a simile that feels too lighthearted or comical. Similarly, if your protagonist has no sense of humor, a funny simile won’t feel authentic to his voice.

 

It’s crowded by other similes and metaphors. I once read a manuscript where the writer incorporated several similes per page; some paragraphs even had one per sentence. My brain felt like it might short-circuit trying to envision one comparison after another, with no breaks in between. Plus, the narrative dragged because I kept having to pause and think about the next simile.

Example: Her eyes shone in the moonlight like glass marbles. He stretched his two fingers and pulled her eyelids gently down over them, like shades drawn one last time over two windows on the world.

This one kills multiple birds with one stone. Besides having two similes in as many sentences, it compares eyes to windows on the world, which is a cliché. Plus, the comparison to something as mundane as window blinds doesn’t fit with the tone of this scene, in which a main character has died.

 

It’s too difficult to convey. Say you get a great idea for a simile or metaphor. The comparison is spot-on! The imagery is stunning! It’s rich with thematic symbolism! But if you can’t find the right words to convey it to the reader, it won’t work.

Example: Their faces were like something carved out of molten lava, similar to those of men but warped, misshapen, with eyes like burning embers and gaping black holes for mouths.

There’s a lot to digest in this one sentence—molten lava faces, burning ember eyes, black hole mouths—making it too convoluted for easy reading. In many cases, it’s just a matter of trimming the fat and rearranging the words until it works. But if you can’t get the idea across without a run-on sentence, multiple clauses, and a pair of parentheses, don’t force it. Keep brainstorming until you find a comparison that’s more conducive to the written word.

 

These are some of the most common pitfalls when it comes to crafting similes and metaphors. Avoid them, and you’ll be well on your way to similes that sparkle and metaphors that mesmerize.

Why I Belong

Belonging has always been hard for me. I’m not a team player. In high school, when phys-ed was a team sport like softball, I asked to run the track instead. Yes, I was happier running laps alone for 50 minutes than playing with a group. My best sport was, unsurprisingly, track and field. Sprints. I was on the relay teams only because I had to be (but I didn’t like it).

I don’t do group aerobics because I don’t do groups.

I’ve never put the words “enjoy working with internal teams” on a resume because, honestly, I’m happier knowing if something is screwed up it’s my fault and no one else’s.

I am a planner, and I’ve found that people generally don’t like being planned. My kids and husband occasionally put up with it or pretend to, but still, think they should have some say in said plan.  Although they are happy that when attending “spontaneous” events, all required condiments, chairs, fire starting materials, and other needful things are there when needed. (We need not discuss the hours of pre-spontaneous effort this requires because it’s not germane to this blog - Corinne O’Flynn may relate to this.)

But when I get together with RMFW-ish people, it’s like sinking into that really squishy, comfortable chair that everyone keeps trying to throw away. I know I belong in RMFW. I know RMFW members accept me. I know I’m really one of them. I don’t have to plan where anyone’s writing is going, except mine – and that’s subject to sudden “U” turns if I decide I want to.

I also know that if I need writing advice, have a question, don’t know where to look or who to ask, someone at RMFW will help me. Someone will know someone, or has done something, or been where I am and got through it. Or they just see me looking like I’m lost or uncertain, and they ask me what I need.

That's me, third one down on the right, kinda behind all those other guys or, um, gals?

I’m a dedicated introvert, like most writers. But when I’m immersed in this group, I see all of us managing to step just a bit out of our usual space and allow ourselves to belong, to befriend, and to be writers. (No, I’m not going to launch into another To Be or Not To Be thing, although it was tempting.)

So that’s why I belong. That, and I always wanted to be part of a seahorse herd, at least ever since I heard Susan Spann’s great speech. For those of you who are members, I’m so glad you belong, too. And for those of you who aren’t yet, think about it. And to everyone, Write On!

Two steps from scattered–to focused!

I've been experiencing a little post-conference paralysis. Have you, too?

The rosy conference glow has started to fade. Have you harnessed the energy and inspiration of the Colorado Gold, or, like me, have you slipped into the Dreaded Distractions?

Stay focused. No one will make your dreams come true but you. Only you.

You know them --

Email

Youtube

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Pinterest

…even Google Earth.

All useful when harnessed, these websites and services have a dark side. Yes, they may produce useful information that can boost your creativity or provide key marketing information that may help you in your writer’s journey.

Or they may burn through that most precious commodity:  time.

Because you’re on the Internet right now, reading this blog, I don’t want to waste your time, so just do these two things:

One. Applying what you learned at the RMFW conference, make a checklist for what you know you should be doing. What you should be doing today, not in some vague, distant future. Two or three goals--don’t make it overwhelming. Add a box for your reward—one of the websites above.

Examples:

Set new goals based on tips/insights gained from conference workshops.

Complete character sketch for my villain.

Write X new pages in my WIP.

Two. Scan the following checklist. If you answer “No” to any of these questions, GET THE HECK OFF THE INTERNET!

/__/ Do you have a specific reason to go to [name of website]?

/__/ Can you name the writing goal that visiting [name of website] will help you achieve?

/__/ Can you set your timer for fifteen minutes, and exit [name of website] if it hasn’t helped you toward one of your writing goals within that time?

Once today’s two or three tasks are checked off, treat yourself. Give yourself a half hour on one of those “rabbit hole” websites---then check it off.

Repeat Steps 1 and 2 above, and keep working toward your dreams.

I hope this is helpful to you, and I’m cheering you on!