I Did It My Way (But Why Would Anyone Want To?)

After more than thirty years of writing genre fiction, I will finally be able to answer “yes” to that irksome, miserable question that all would-be novelists get at cocktail parties, “Are you published?” On November 2, 2016, I signed a contract with Five Star (Cengage/Gale) for publication of my historical romance, Love’s Last Stand. Yes, yes, yes, the publication monkey is off my back forever. I am finally a so-called “real” writer. But getting published took so long I thought I’d also answered that other nagging question would-be novelists sometimes get. “If you knew you’d never get published, would you keep on writing?” Lately, my answer has been, “Well, yes, I’ve pretty much done that already.”

I first started writing fiction in 1981, in the most clichéd manner possible. I heard somewhere that Harlequin would give you $1500 for three chapters and an outline. How hard could it be to write romance? Yes, dunderhead, harder than your thick skull. I didn’t get my advance or a contract, so I went to law school. But the writing bug had bitten, and I simply couldn’t abandon that story I’d started. After graduating and working for the Department of Justice for three years, I managed to finish the book, and without ever taking a writing class, reading a book on writing, or attending a critique group. How good could that book be?

Lo and Behold! My classic story of romance took second place (or was it 3rd) in the RMFW contest, way back when we still awarded places. I was a genius! Fortune and fame were close enough to touch. Ask me about my smug smile, please. Alas, it was not to be. The story, which I still love, violated every rule of fiction writing imaginable, especially those of romance writing, and I invented a few new rules to violate along the way. I shudder at the memory. That manuscript will remain forever buried, not in a drawer, but even further out of reach, in the murky depths of Word Perfect 4.0, where no one will ever find it, except perhaps, Robin Owens.

Undeterred, I continued to write. And, more importantly, I found RMFW and my critique group, not to mention my future wife (thanks, RMFW!). I was still not getting published, but it could have been my fear and loathing of rejection, as much as the quality of my writing. I simply didn’t query much. At least not as much as I should have. Not as much as you should, if you’re not already published. I much preferred the writing and, if I wasn’t going to publish, the one thing I could do is win or final in a contest.

And contests I did with a passion. Between 2002 and 2016, I was a contest finalist twenty-seven times. On top of that, I won the RMFW Colorado Gold Contest twice, and got first place in the Crested Butte Writers Friends of the Library Contest (twice), the Southern Louisiana Romance Writers Dixie Kane Contest, the Land of Enchantment Romance Authors contest, the Central Ohio Fiction Writers contest, and the San Antonio Romance Authors Emma Merritt Contest. I was Champion of the Contest World! But I still wasn’t published.

Eventually, I simply read ten pages for Five Star editor Tiffany Schofield at the RMFW conference, and the rest is history. What to make of it? You tell me, please. Was it as simple as not sending out enough query letters? Was everything I wrote “over the top,” as one agent told me? Was it just plain dumb luck? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time all these years? Truly, I don’t know.

Mine may be a cautionary tale, and I can’t recommend my strategy for getting published. What I can recommend is finding a good critique group, continuing to write come hell or high water, and, of course, never, ever giving up. Sorry, there’s nothing new or innovative in my advice.

I may never get published again, but at least now I know it’s possible, even for me. As long as it took, I’m not ready to rest on my laurels. My smug smile has been replaced by one a bit more knowing and patient.

After all, I’m just getting started.

 

When he’s not writing fiction, Steven Moores is an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In addition to law, he has degrees in journalism and fishery & wildlife biology, and his interests in writing are as varied as his education. He has written contest-winning stories in romance, mystery, young adult, and middle grade genres, and he is currently under contract with Five Star Publishing (Gale/Cengage) for publication of his historical romance, Love’s Last Stand.

Gary Reilly Was The Greatest Writer I Ever Knew

Gary Reilly was the greatest writer I ever knew.

Variety, volume, and quality.

All three.

RMFW writer friends of mine – and anyone writing fiction out there – I ask this: how many writers do you know who put together 25 novels (most of them in near-perfect shape) without ever receiving a word of encouragement for an agent or publishing house? In fact, Gary was discouraged many times. He would query now and then, get rejected, and keep writing.

Twenty-five! And most only need a light dusting, editing wise, to get them shipshape today.

Quality? Three Colorado Book Award finalist nominations so far. Booklist has raved about Gary's series. National Public Radio has twice talked about Gary's works in a positive light. And Gary's Vietnam fiction has drawn praise from Ron Carlson, Stewart O'Nan, Gregory Hill, Tim Bazzett, John Mort and David Willson, who reviews books for The Vietnam Veterans of America.  The single story Gary had published during his lifetime was accepted by The Iowa Review and later included in the fourth volume of The Pushcart Prize anthology, the best fiction from small presses.

Yes, quality.

For many of his works, Gary Reilly did what writers are taught to do. He drew stories from his life. And livelihoods. For many other stories, he conjured from his quite active storytelling imagination.

So Gary wrote about going to war. He wrote about driving a taxi. And he weaved into his books many of the frustrations about being an unpublished novelist.

Gary, who died in 2011, left behind a mountain of fiction.

Here at the worldwide headquarters of Running Meter Press, we are closing in on the half-way mark of publishing Gary’s works.

Later this month, on Friday, June 23, we will launch The Discharge, the third book in Gary’s trilogy about his experiences during The Vietnam War.

The series started with The Enlisted Men’s Club, set in The Presidio and around San Francisco as Private Palmer (Gary’s alter ego) faced the grim prospect of going to war. Private Palmer drinks beer, smokes cigarettes, and tries hard, during the occasional training run, to imagine what lies ahead.

Palmer touches his shirt pocket for a cigarette, then drops his hand. The smoking lamp isn’t lit. Do real grunts smoke on patrol? The point-man has an incomprehensible look of panic on his face. Lt. Norbert turns him around by the shoulders and shoves him back toward his position. Can patrols in Vietnam be as half-assed as this? Palmer knows he could very well end up in the Infantry and that he is not guaranteed to remain an MP once he arrives in a combat zone, though maybe that’s just Army Apocrypha. He will never be able to separate his illusions from his ignorance. When he was inducted he had expected everyone to end up with nicknames, like Bookworm, Lefty, or Ace. His nickname would be Colorado, as in, “Colorado bought the farm last night, Ace.” Everyone would look like Bart Maverick, Bret’s less-interesting brother. When they got into arguments, they would raise their chins and say things like, “Back off, buddy boy.”

In The Detachment, Private Palmer is “in country,” but he’s an MP and his combat is internal. The Detachment is 154,000 words. It’s a one-year arc and its three parts are beautifully distinct. The war is nearby and Palmer and witnesses its toll, but he’s not fighting out in the jungles of Vietnam.

The sounds of the choppers fade as they fly toward the PX, cross over it, then separate and begin spreading out in a combat formation, their fantails easing back and forth, the Hueys now like tiny fish idling against a river’s current. A circle of light suddenly appears on the mountainside, a white disk that must cover twenty square acres, and at first Palmer thinks it has come from a helicopter. The circle probes the hillsides, slithers along its rills and gullies in search of VC, moves as rapidly as if Palmer himself were twitching the beam of a hand-held flashlight across the far ranges, thousands of meters swept in less than a second….

Tracer bullets streak toward the side of the mountain, the Hueys now like angry spiders spinning endless red threads, raking the gullies, the rills, the folds as the circle of white light stops, creating a bull’s-eye target for the bullets tearing up the earth…

The battle sounds cease, the faint pulse of the earth no longer throbbing at irregular intervals through Palmer’s soles. The massive spotlight begins to drift slowly north along the hillsides, its shape changing as it traces every mound and crevice like a flattened liquid cat in a cartoon sliding off a chair.

And in The Discharge, Private Palmer returns home to Denver and, quite frankly, here’s where I get chills.

I think about all the soldiers who have returned home, alive. I think about how returning soldiers from Vietnam were treated.

I think about how anyone would find meaning in life after seeing so much killing or being the cause of your enemy’s death. The suicide rates among veterans is a harrowing issue to this day and it's no accident that suicides play a major role in both The Enlisted Men’s Club and The Detachment.

Gary’s fiction captured the reality of the mental state of his fellow soldiers—and, of course, his own.

Coming home in The Discharge, Palmer (no longer Private Palmer) faces heavy bouts of ennui and a lack of purpose. The first section is bleak. Hopelessness is right around the corner. What to do? How hard to work? And what will hold meaning?

In the first section of this third novel, Palmer is looking for an anchor and ponders going to California so he drives up Berthoud Pass in a raging snowstorm and gets stuck, dreaming of San Francisco.

The whitened top of Geary, electric trolley cars every five minutes, the sweet odor of saltwater and green leaves and sandy Sunset Beach. At the beginning of this journey he thought he would somehow find himself at that place in the morning. He put a wine bottle to his lips, but there was no wine left. He set the bottle on the floor and it tipped and rolled and stopped.

He held his beer can until it was empty and he tried to think about the things other than the things which can never be escaped, and all the time he kept promising himself that the one thing he would not do alone in the dark mountains was cry about it. It seemed to him finally the only thing he had any control over, and when it began, he found he could not stop it.

He wept until the morning light turned the road and the forest to red and then to gold as the sun lifted above the far plains and shrank, and the road and the snow between the trees grew white as burning phosphorous.

In the second section of The Discharge, Gary switches to first-person as Palmer goes to Hollywood. In real life, Gary came very close to being hired to write for stand-up comedian Louie Anderson and this middle section gives an idea of how high Gary’s hopes were—and how he managed to deal with the disappointment. Or did he?

And in the third section, back in third-person again and back in Denver, Palmer decides to start driving a cab, just as Gary did. Still, Palmer is looking for routine and a sense of place in the world of work (without doing too much). And we see fictional Palmer "meet" the future fictional Murph, The Asphalt Warrior.

Murph is Gary’s greatest creation, the asphalt philosopher Brendan Murphy, star of eight novels to date. (Booklist has called Murph "a truly original fictional creation and National Public Radio has raved about the series as "huge fun.")

Murph, as fans of the series know, is an unpublished novelist as well as being a cab driver. As a cab driver, Murph wants to earn as little money as possible—just enough to keep his bohemian life afloat. And Murph is bound and determined to never get involved in the lives of his fares, a personal mantra that he violates on a regular basis (for our comic benefit).

But in The Discharge, as Palmer finds stability and comfort in the cab driving business (despite some harrowing moments), Palmer saves himself.

He’s still looking for escape, a way out of the now and the ordinary and a way to deal with what he experienced in Vietnam, an experience to which he “refuses to attach any nostalgia.”

How does Palmer escape? How does he heal himself?

By becoming an artist.

Against the darkness, he turns on the kitchen light. He sits at the table.

He’s got a mountain of fiction to produce and it offers him hope, a way forward. We can feel it.

We've published 11 novels so far. Ahead, a couple of 'noir' mysteries in the vein of Patricia Highsmith, at least one more Murph, some science fiction, some fantasy, and some big, old-fashioned multi-generational literary fiction.

Despite the occasional ray of hope from an agent here or a publisher there, Gary Reilly never stopped writing (right up to the end). He was a writer, through and through.

Gary Reilly knew his place in the world, as a storyteller. And an artist, the greatest writer I ever knew.

++

Join us at The Tattered Cover for the launch of The Discharge:
Friday, June 23 | 7 PM
2526 E. Colfax Ave.

More: www.theasphaltwarrior.com

Gary Reilly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Motivation to Write is Gone

We've all been there. Or maybe we're there right now? In this collective, yet solitary brain-trust known as writing. This hive-mind of almost universally shared desire. It's what we do. Why? Because we have stories to tell. So we spit them out of our heads and onto paper (never mind the mess). But what do you do when the words won't flow? You can call it "Writer's Block" if you want. Soooo cliche. To me, he/she/it (to utilize a sympathetic fallacy) is kind of a mythical super-villain. Not actually real, but we convince ourselves that they/he/she/it, is the cause of all our woes. "I can't write because I'm blocked." It becomes an excuse. And so it rules over our writing lives as an unexploded bomb in the middle of the towns of our minds, soaking up the power that we choose to give it. Well I say, NO MORE...at least for right now.

The fact about writer's block:

Or, as I like to think of it, that irrational, motivational miasma that occasionally slaps you around like a pre-pubescent school yard bully. Regardless of how or when it hits you...it's all in your head. That's right, I said it. IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD! This horrible slump, this unfortunate malaise that stalls the swiftness of you fingers, is...All. Your. Own. Doing. So snap out of it already.

But...why?

Well, I can't really answer that. Not definitively, of course. We're all different people. With our own styles, likes, dislikes, and ways of reacting to the world. Maybe we're tired. Mentally exhausted. Maybe we're bored? I don't know. Bottom's your limit.

What to do about it:

Now here's a good question. What DO you do about it? The most obvious piece of advice is: Keep writing. Write anyway. Real writers get words to paper no matter what. They don't wait for inspiration, for the good feels or the muse. They make it happen on their own time and in their own way. There's merit to this, obviously. And this is probably the best advice I can give (even if it can be incredibly hard to follow at times). In fact, I've let myself fall prey to the motivation vampire as I've awaited word on publishing interest in one of my books. But it was, and is, a huge mistake we're all capable of making. Time is not our friend as writers. We need to work. We need to blast words onto paper, and pretend like, above all else, that we know what the hell we are doing.

Visualize:

This one might seem odd. It is a bit esoteric. But visualization is one of the best ways I've found to break myself out of a mental funk. What I mean by this is putting yourself into your character's head and allowing yourself to react to specific situations in the same way your character would. So sit back, think about that character, and really get into how they would react in that instance. Play the scene out in your mind. Don't think about it too hard, just let it unfold as if you are this character. I think you'll be surprised at the new ideas that come up, and the fun and interesting ways it can change or open up the story.

Get excited:

Here's something you probably haven't considered (and I mean really emotionally considered) in quite a long time: You're writing that story for a reason. Something about it, the characters, the situation, the underlying idea, or the motivation behind your drive to write it. Something about that story is so AWESOME!!! (note the triple exclamations) that you just had to get it on paper. This is something we often forget after we've spent long and often torturous hours slaving over the same things, the same ideas, the same characters and situations...over and over, and yes, over again. We forget that there was something so cool and exciting about these characters or ideas that made them worth putting out there for other people to read and invest themselves in. So recapture that! Sit down and ruminate about what makes your story special. What idea, what character, what situation? Really dig into it and remind yourself just how amazing these ideas are, and (here's the key) let yourself get excited about it again! Get back into those ideas and investigate them because they're worth investigating. And this will lead directly into the next point...

Generate new ideas for your story:

Similar to the visualize option above, when you get excited about a story again after you've carefully gone through and thought about some of its elements in a different way from their original conception, you'll surprise yourself by starting to come up with new ideas. These can be simple additions to the direction you're already taking the story, or they can be wholly new and interesting navigational changes, seeing things from the eyes of different characters or entire groups of people. Use these ideas! Write them down. Stay excited about them, and let them pull you back into that story so you can do what you need to do: WRITE!

You know what to do.

Deep Work

This topic was suggested by Patricia Stolty, who recently stepped down as our blog administrator after years of hard work and dedication. She will be missed, but is moving on to focus on her own writing, so good luck Pat!

One of the challenges writers face, especially those just starting to focus on their writing over other professional pursuits, is sitting at the computer for such extended periods of time as it takes to churn out the roughly 60k-100k words to make a novel. They find themselves eager to answer the phone when it rings or leaping to read emails whenever the alert pops up at the bottom of their screen, or simply playing solitaire instead of writing. It's true, writing requires the ability to settle in a focus for considerable amounts of time. That is if you want to write more than a book every five years or so. For many, sitting still and typing for that long is an excruciating challenge.

Beep Work by Dr. Cal Newport"Deep work" is a term coined by Cal Newport, PhD., writer and professor, and the topic of his book of the same name. It refers to, in his words, "the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task." In his book, he talks about the ever shortening of the American attention span, all of the demands on our attention, and even the tendency of people to simply not attempt or to give up on activities that aren't almost immediately rewarding.

Dr. Newport explodes the myth of multitasking and offers studies and interviews showing how the most successful among us are able to focus and persevere in tasks before them in ways the rest of us rarely do. He shows how deep work can actually render more thorough and solid results, and in less time than splitting your attention between several activities at once.

Finally, he offers tools and techniques to exercise and develop your own ability to do deep work, to quit flitting around from one thing to the next without ever actually completing any one of them, to churn out deeper, more complete and satisfying work product than you've been able to before. Even if you are one of those able to focus for long periods, I think there is much to learn from Dr. Newport's book.

Look, I'm no fan of self-help books. I think many of them simply restate the obvious or that which is obvious to me, anyway, in creative ways so you feel like you're learning something new. Self-improvement, to me, falls into the category of diets - if you can't stick to it, it does you no good.

But this book, I think, offers some compelling arguments for learning and putting into practice the precepts it sets forth. At the very least it's worth a look.

Let It Percolate!

Let it Percolate!

Stephanie Reisner

It's happened to all of us. We're someplace horribly inconvenient and a great idea pops into our heads. We do our best to record that inspirational thought for later when we have time to sit down and write. Then, when we show up at the computer to type it all up, the moment is lost, the excitement is gone, and we end up staring at a blank screen. Or, even worse, that beautiful idea only generated two hundred words, and that was that. Certainly not enough for an entire novel let alone a single chapter.

This has happened to me more times than I can count, and I imagine it has happened to many of you. I have something for you to try next time that great idea shows up on your doorstep. First - go ahead and welcome the idea by jotting down a few fevered notes, but don't rush to the computer to try to flesh it out. Not yet. I know - it sounds completely counter-intuitive, doesn't it?  We've been told most of our careers that inspiration is fleeting and that you need to take it and run with it when it shows up. Especially since we’ve all had the experience of sitting in front of the computer staring at a blank page and that taunting, blinking cursor.

Here's what I propose: Instead of rushing to try to throw down ten thousand words on your fantastic flash of insight, stop. Let the idea percolate. Sit on it for a few days, weeks, or months – however long it takes - and let the idea grow. Right now, it’s just a seed. Not every flash of inspiration is a solid, healthy seed though. Sometimes these inspirational seeds are too small, and may only grow into a sub-plot or just a story point in a current or future project.  But if it's a really good idea and big, a solid, healthy seed -- it's going to grow. Those are the seeds some of us want because they are the fuel for those intense ideas that often grow into multiple books.

Five Tips to Help Your Ideas Grow:

  1. Talk the idea over with a friend or family member.
  2. Mull it over and flesh it out in your mind before putting pen to paper. I often put the idea through various scenarios just to see how versatile it is. I often discover that the more versatile the idea, the better.
  3. Start some pre-writing. This can include character descriptions, outlines, notes, and even locale descriptions. For fantasy or sci-fi authors, this could take the form of world-building.
  4. Start a storyboard or mind map. Large whiteboards are perfect for this. For those of you who like to visualize your story – the storyboard or mind map can be just the inspirational mana you need for a strong start.
  5. Read. It helps fuel the imagination.

When you let ideas percolate, you may just discover that the big ideas will stick around and grow until you have no choice but to write them down. By the time they demand to be written, chances are you'll have built more backstory, more plot, more characters, and so on, which is going to make the pre-writing or initial writing smoother. Finally, follow-through. By telling you to let ideas percolate, I’m not saying you should put them on the backburner forever. At some point, you will need to commit pen to paper and get it out of your head and onto the written page. Stories can’t just stay in our heads or they can clog the mental plumbing. So be disciplined, be vigilant, and write. Good luck and happy writing!

***

Stephanie Reisner began writing at the age of ten and never stopped. Under S. J. Reisner she writes fantasy, romance, and YA. She also writes erotic and paranormal romances as Anne O'Connell, occult/paranormal thrillers and horror stories as Audrey Brice, and non-fiction books and articles under yet a different pen name. Her most recent releases are Saving Sarah May (S. J. Reisner, Romance), Ascending Darkness (Audrey Brice, Supernatural Mystery), and Taming Trish (Anne O'Connell, Erotic Romance). When she's not writing she's hiking, gardening, or just hanging out with her husband and cats. To learn more visit: www.sjreisner.com

 

Completely Annihilated

No, "completely annihilated" does not mean this a column about drinking.

This is about something Mario Vargas Llosa once said.

Okay, I’ll back up.

Last week I had a cool opportunity in New York to moderate a panel at the Edgar Symposium. This is a day-long event prior to the Edgar Awards, the annual prizes for the best in mystery and crime fiction.

The title of my panel was “The Author’s Life.” My panelists were all finalists for one of the top Edgar Awards—best short story, best paperback original, best novel, etc.

Left to right: Tyler Dilts, Reed Farrel Coleman, Wendy Corsi Staub, Megan Abbott, Patricia Abbott, yours truly.
My panelists were Patricia Abbott (“Shot in Detroit,” best paperback original); Megan Abbott (“Oxford Girl,” best short story); Wendy Corsi Staub (“Blue Moon,” Mary Higgins Clark award); Reed Farrel Coleman (“Where It Hurts,” best novel); and Tyler Dilts (“Come Twilight,” best paperback original).

In prepping ideas for the group, I thought it might be fun to pose the same questions to my panelists that were also asked of famous writers by The Paris Review.

For instance, in 1957 Truman Capote was asked “Do you like anything you wrote long ago as well as what you write now?”

In 1996, Richard Price was asked, “When you’re writing a book do you tend to avoid reading other books?”

In 1993, Don DeLillo was asked: “Athletes—basketball players, football players—talk about ‘getting into the zone.’ Is there a writer’s zone you get into?"

In 2013, Ursula LeGuin was asked, “Did you ever catch yourself thinking about potential book sales when you were considering a project?”

And in 1968, John Updike was asked, “Are you conscious of belonging to a definable American literary tradition? Would you describe yourself as part of an American tradition?”

After we went around on the panel hearing answers from Edgar Award nominees, I read a portion of the answers from what the writers said in The Paris Review. It was interesting. There’s not enough room here to include the Paris Review answers or what my panelists offered up, but it was fun.

Llosa was asked: “Do you choose the subjects of your books or do they choose you?”

(Great question, huh?)

I highly recommend the entire interview, but his answer to this specific questions prompts Llosa to make a great case for the “irrational” elements of literary creation.

Llosa says he wants to write novels that “read the way I read the novels I love.”

And then he says this: “The novels that have fascinated me most are the ones that have reached me less through the channels of the intellect or reason than bewitched me. These are stories capable of completely annihilating all my critical faculties so that I’m left there, in suspense … I think it’s very important that the intellectual element, whose presence is inevitable in a novel, dissolves into the action, into the stories that must seduce the reader not by their ideas but by their color, by the emotions they inspire, by their element of surprise, and by all the suspense and mystery they’re capable of generating.”

Yeah, who doesn’t want to write a novel that is capable of “completely annihilating” all of a reader’s critical faculties.

Just a new standard to shoot for.

I thought I would share.

Sometimes you have to put technique aside and let the imagination go.

Right?

++++

PS: The guy who ultimately won for best paperback original (Adrian McKinty, “Rain Dogs”) was unable to sit in on my panel due to personal issues, alas.

PPS: Megan Abbott and Patricia Abbott are the first daughter-mother combination of writers to ever be finalists for the Edgar Award in the same year. How cool is that??

Perspective Lost and Found

Sometimes, if you take a break from your current WIP for an extended period of time, you lose focus on it. The next time you sit down it becomes hard to recapture the tone, the pace, the perspective on the work that you had when you started it. This can sometimes be especially true for those who write series, between books. This is what I'm struggling with now.

The first book in the series was so much fun to write, and I had all the time in the world to play with it, make it fun and exciting and frankly just wing it. That one was a phenomenal success. Now, faced with the daunting task of writing the second, having taken a few months off to write two other books (one a part of another series, the other a stand alone) I find myself struggling to make this one meet and, to some degree, exceed the first.

The problem is tone and perspective. There is a particular mix of chaos and complexity to the first thriller that made it so popular, the sense of not knowing what was going to happen next. But also a sort of Romancing The Stone pseudorealism to the action, things a little too fantastical or whimsical to ever happen in real life, but still fun to read. That's what I want to recapture in the sequel, while upping the stakes.

Here is how I got past the block.

First, I reread the first book, taking notes on things that I might revisit in the second book. Not just big things but little things that might make the reader chuckle to see reprised. Then I outlined the second book. While I've sometimes done this in the past, I usually just wing it. In this case it was absolutely essential that I outline the book, to help me with pacing. Lastly I watched several of my favorite pseudorealist action movies; the aforementioned Romancing The Stone, The Man With One Red Shoe, Knight and Day, the Indiana Jones flicks, etc.

When it's time to write, I set my Pandora to music conducive to the mood I want to cultivate, certainly not brooding or mellow, but not hard and driving rock either. Something strong, but also quick and exciting. For me, often, soundtracks to other movies help.

Lastly, I sit and before I touch the keyboard, I take a brief moment of meditation, wiping my mind of any ancillary concerns or stresses, concentrate on the feelings I want to put on paper. Then I write. I don't stop, I don't take breaks, I don't go back and edit myself. I write. I push away any other thoughts that may stray in, and I keep writing, building a momentum that will hopefully stay with me when I do walk away from it for a meal or whatever.

I know I'm doing it right if I find it hard to walk away, if even when eating or running errands or watching TV, I keep thinking about my book and feeling excited about what I'm writing, eager to get back to it.

So that's what works for me. Let me know if this helps you, too.

Everything Is Broken

I hate it when things aren’t working right.

Last week was a doozy.

First, it was the microphone I use to record podcasts. (Yes, RMFW, the microphone you purchased to help start the podcasts– all $50 worth. It worked for two years & 77 podcasts and then pfffft.)

It looked the same as always. Nothing rattled. But, busted. Gone.

I spent 3.5 hours online with a tech service trying to see what was wrong with my computer.

Turns out, it was the microphone.

Then, our refrigerator started making an annoying rattle.

$850 later, we had a new compressor.  (I can’t show it to you; it’s tucked inside the refrigerator now, doing its job).

These guys came to my house twice in one week!

The next day, one of the flaps in the dryer’s tumbler thing came loose. Whump-whump-whump.

The credit card took another $208 hit.

No joke.

(Bob Dylan was ringing in my ear …. Broken lines, broken strings, Broken threads, broken springs…)

What else breaks?

Sometimes, it’s our words.

A word. A sentence. A paragraph.

George Saunders (Lincoln in The Bardo; many, many killer short stories) has a terrific piece in The Guardian about writing. It's called 'What writers really do when they write.'

He talks about evaluating the words he has written “without hope and without despair.”

George Saunders says he imagines a meter mounted on his forehead as he reads his own stuff, with “P” on one side for positive and “N” on the other for negative.

“Accept the result without whining,” he suggests.

Then edit, he writes, “so as to move the needle into the ‘P’ zone.”

There’s a lot of good stuff in this piece.

It’s long but entirely worth absorbing.

I won’t come right out and say a sentence is “broken” or a paragraph is “broken."

I mean, you’ve got something work with--that's a huge accomplishment.

Those words on the page. You can’t edit thin air.

But there might be a way to make those words work better.

To make them, well, work.

There’s P, there’s N.

Fix them!

No whining.

Final thought from George Saunders: “Any work of art quickly reveals itself to be a linked system of problems.”

Green … by Rainey Hall

In kindergarten, my teacher read the class Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. She then treated all of us to—you got it—ham, scrambled green eggs, fried green potatoes, green milk and green biscuits. Ah, those were the days.

That night after regurgitating green stuff, I swore off eating, touching and smelling anything that resembled mold. Ten years later, hunger summoned the courage to ingest green beans, lettuce and fresh peas.

Can you believe green-colored food and drink showed up again during my teen years? Do you know some people actually drink green beer? No. No, I don’t touch the stuff, green or otherwise. I’ve come to the conclusion people ingesting said color of beer must have had the same kindergarten teacher as me.

Here’s another thing about green: summer meadows with rainbows. I was actually at the end of a rainbow. No gold. No leprechauns. My big brothers finally noticed my disappointment and eagerly encouraged me to investigate the opposite end of the bow because, “You’re at the wrong end.” Bums! Foiled again by siblings, I learned two ends do not a pot of gold make.

Maybe that’s when I began writing as a form of therapy? But I digress.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to have been pinched only once when I accidentally-on purpose forgot to wear green to school on a bleak March 17th. Sort of an experiment gone haywire. Who made up that little gem of a game? With that one and only pinch and accompanying bruises, I promised myself, all my stuffed animals, and the family dog, Zipper, to wear green every day of the year. Since that day, I have never utilized pliers or wire cutters, or eaten crab and lobster. Of course being within close proximity of a Doberman is out of the question too. I can guess the capabilities of those K-9s.

Was Saint Patrick even Irish? Did he ever wear green clothing?

Corned beef and cabbage? At the risk of sounding like a spoiled American, are you kidding? I’ll stick with grass fed beef and carrots—both dishes lacking green. Speaking of cabbage, my grandmother used to make sauerkraut in the basement, (around the same time I was pinched, discovered the truth about rainbows and learned how the Grinch stole Christmas.) Amazing I can smell anything now, let alone eat Brussels sprouts.

Okay, here’s the point: how about a new March holiday like “Don’t Fly a Kite Because the Wind Will Rip It to Shreds Day”, or “Take Time to Smell the Celestial Blooms of Spring Hyacinths Day”, or “Irish Soldiers in the Civil War Day”, or “Irish Soda Bread—even though it may not have originated in Ireland—Day”, or “The Best Irish Authors of the 20th Century Day”. I’ve got a million suggestions.

Here’s to just a few (20th century) Irish authors—get it out of your mind—I have never been green with envy over, but have admired and enjoyed the wonderfully varied talents of:

Oscar Wilde

Bram Stoker

CS Lewis

Anne Enright

Jonathan Swift

If you have the opportunity, please visit irishtimes.com and check out an article written in ‘The Guardian’ by Justine Jordan on Irish authors.

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A Colorado native, Rainey, (writing as L. Treloar), has been a RMFW member since 2012 (or so), and is happy to belong to one of the best critique groups ever: The 93rd Street Irregulars. She has self-published The Frozen Moose, is currently re-editing the first manuscript in a political thriller series, and has entered two contests with her 2016 NaNoWriMo Historical Fiction novella. In her spare time, she enjoys organizing anything from closets, to military family retreats, to rodeos and parades. Along with teaching her cat to retrieve, she volunteers at church and The Horse Protection League. With an Associate degree in Applied Science/Land Surveying, she learned she far prefers words over math.

*The Frozen Moose, a short story is available on Barnes and Noble in e-book.

What Is This Blog Post About?

Into The DistanceSometimes an idea for my next post on this blog comes to me in a flash, all at once, all written in my head. Other times I struggle. Sometimes the struggle is to come up with an idea, sometimes the struggle is to pick from way-too-many ideas teeming around in my head. Today the struggle is that I have all kinds of disjointed thoughts about writing flitting around back and forth like an unruly flight of starlings, some near misses but never a collision, and no single thought amounts to a full and complete blog post. I'm trying to decide if any combination of thoughts might amount to one. Let's explore together, shall we?

One thought came to me as I binged on several movies and TV shows in rapid succession during a recent convalescence, interspersed with news coverage of the recent "peaceful" transition of power in Washington DC. No, this isn't a political post, as such. However, I saw vast numbers of people who desperately clung to their own paradigm of the world, so consumed with insecurity in their own beliefs that they simply - and quite publicly - flat-out refused to accept any reality that clashed with what they so desperately wished to be true, in the face of facts quite to the contrary. Often making up things out of whole-cloth in a shocking attempt to negate reality, and convincing themselves fully that their made-up things were true.

This got me to thinking about those who read what I, as a novelist, write. They are not reading my stories in a vacuum. They bring their own paradigm to the experience, as had I when I wrote it. To the degree that their paradigm clashes with mine, there is a sliding scale to which they are willing to continue reading. Some might accept my paradigm and still enjoy the story, perhaps even altering their own to some degree because of what they read. Some perhaps not, but still appreciating my vision of reality. Then again some, if the shift between my paradigm and theirs is too right-angle, might reject my story out of hand, some not even finishing it. Some who, I submit, are insecure in their own strata of beliefs, might feel threatened by my outlook, to the degree that they feel compelled to pen a particularly acid-laced rant in a review of my book.

I, myself, have only been unable to finish two or three fiction books because I couldn't tolerate the premise, but there was at least one book that I literally threw across the room in rage before I even knew what I was doing. Others I have put down it disgust, only that one gave me such a visceral reaction.

The point is, each reader who comes to peruse our work is diverse from any other at the margin, and in a spectrum those differences become vast. Can we predict what any one person is going to think of our writing? In some extreme cases perhaps, but at the margin I suggest it's impossible. There are just too many variables.

I often make the point that market chasing is a fool's games. Trying to read market trends and writing to what's currently selling is the quickest way to insanity, especially given how fast our market shifts. It's why the term "sell-out" is spoken with such disdain - people who attempt to do so fail more often than they succeed and often in the process lose sight of their own original motives for writing.

Just ask any published writer who sold the first book of a series that they wrote after years of market chasing. It's exciting at first...until they realize they have to write a sequel, and another, and yet more, all based on a premise they shopped for, not one for which they felt any real passion or love. Suddenly they're locked into a vortex of having to churn out book after book on a story line they feel no real connection to and invariably grow to hate. This also consumes all of their writing energy and time and leaves little or none for them to pursue the writing they always wanted to do from the beginning.

I have always encouraged other writers to write what they like to read, write what they love to write, write for themselves. The readers will come. The right readers. The ones who will love what you write because they can sense the love, the integrity, the heart with which you write. You will be much happier writing what you enjoy, and that will come through as well. You will write better because it's what you love. And you'll save yourself a lot of tail-chasing, teeth-gnashing, and head-to-brick-wall contact.