Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Place of Pain

I was going through some old notes and critiques on the first draft of the book I'm revising. I had asked a friend of my husband's to read through it and give me some pointers. He has been trying to write the great American Novel for the last decade. He has lots of life experience that I can't really relate to. His writing style is very different from mine. I respect his ability.

This is one of the things he had to say. "There is no fire and there is no tortured contention lying beyond and below the words on the page. To put it another way, this is the work of someone that has no clear problems. I might be biased in assuming that all writing comes from a place of pain, but to clarify that contention it is more that no writing can come from any place but strong emotion. And this piece doesn't know what it is angry about. It doesn't know what it is trying to fix about the world."

I don't remember reading this particular critique two years ago when he first gave it to me. I would have been devastated at the time. Not only does he think my writing is shallow, but I'm shallow, too. Fortunately, time has leavened the lump and there is something of real value there. I wanted to share it with you.

Writing really does come from a place of strong emotion. It doesn't have to be pain, per se, but it does need to be an emotion. That is what makes it relatable. It's true that I don't have a checkered, angst filled past. I have still felt pain in my life. And love. And fear. And loneliness. And a bunch of other things. Just like everyone else. If I write from that very human part of myself, others will connect to my writing.

So, friends, how does your own experience and emotion surface in your writing?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Going It On Your Own

Over the weekend, I wrote a short story. It was pretty great to be creating something and editing it and polishing it. I plan to submit it to a contest this week. My husband doesn't normally read the things I write. It's not that he doesn't think I am good or anything. He just doesn't like the genres that I do. He read this piece and was pretty complimentary.

Afterward, we were talking and he asked, "Have you ever thought about self-publishing?" He told me that maybe I should polish my first book as much as I could and then put it on Amazon for $.99 or for free and see how it does. His line of thought was that it could build buzz for future books or even help get an agent if I wanted to go that route. I can't honestly say that I haven't thought about it. Seeing my own story in print (sort of) is very appealing, no matter what form it is. But I would be giving up on part of the dream. Holding something tangible and papery in my hands.

I've been following the evolution of the digital market. Sure there are success stories. But would it be worth it? What do you think, Friends?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Going Overboard

So, I entered a blogfest in which you post the first 250 words of a story. (You may have read the entry earlier this week.) I got some pretty good feedback on it. Many people said, "You just need to tighten it up a little and it'll really pop." And then there were a few comments that seemed to say, "You're doing this wrong. Try harder." Granted, that is not what was really being said, but that's how it felt.

I was talking to my husband about it and told him I needed to start over on the whole thing. He said, "Aren't you going a little overboard? You don't have to do anything, if you don't want to." And you know, he was right.

A lot of the time, my first reaction to criticism is to think that I'm not good at anything. I'm obviously missing the boat. The story has started in the wrong place. I need more of something to make it better. And I want to scrap everything good and meaningful and try to make it into something more acceptable.

What is it about this profession that makes us rely so heavily on the opinions of others? Maybe it's the isolation. Maybe it's the lack of visible success. I don't know. What I do know is that I have to do this for myself and not for what other people think. Does that mean I don't listen to criticism? No. Does it mean I need to trust myself a little more? Yes.

So, friends, do you go overboard like me? How do you handle criticisms?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A New Map

It's something that we all go through. I've seen many posts and talked to many people who have expressed the same thought. Comparisons. We do this. We compare ourselves to the people around us. To the blogger friend who just got an agent. To the Twitter friend who has 2000 followers. To the published author who had the bestselling book. To the neighborhood mom who always has a clean house, clean kids, and time to spare. The list is endless. There's always something we wish we could be doing more of or be better at. Just like so-and-so. It's kind of crippling.

Today, I had a conversation with my best friend and she really opened my eyes to something. She said, "At some point, you just have to decide which map you are going to follow." At first, I didn't get it, but she explained the idea and it made sense, so I want to share it with you.

Each of us has a map that we want to follow. We look at other people's maps and say, "Kansas City looks like a nice place. I want to be where that person is." And we carry around a map of Kansas City with us, wishing and hoping to see the sights. Visit the Jazz Museum at 18th and Vine. The Hallmark Crown Center. Eat real Kansas City Barbecue. (And yes, these are all awesome things that are in Kansas City. I lived there for a while.)

The problem with carrying around someone else's map of Kansas City is that we live in Dallas. Or Toronto. Or New York. Or Chicago. The roads that they walk down are not the same ones we do. In fact, trying to follow the map for Kansas City when you are in Phoenix would get you horribly lost and be a real waste of time.

This is what comparing ourselves to others is like. Even if we are comparing ourselves to our "ideal self." That's not the person we are. Trying to follow someone else's path, no matter how appealing it seems, is only going to make us lost and unhappy.

So, friends, I am resolved today to be a little more focused on my own map, where ever it takes me and however long it takes me to get there. I'm pretty sure it will be a lot of fun, if I stop trying to get to Kansas City and start seeing the sights around me.

How about you? Where are you in your journey? What is on your map today?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Show Me the Voice Blogfest/Contest

I haven't participated in many of these, but when I read about Brenda Drake's Show Me The Voice blogfest/Contest and who was judging, I thought AWESOME! Natalie represents Fairy Tale retellings and there aren't many agents who specifically list that, so this could be great...

Here's how it works: Sign up on the Mister Linky at Brenda Drake Writes . . . under the influence of coffee.  Post your first 250 words of a completed manuscript on March 20 and 21st, then get critiques from followers and friends. Email the polished piece to Brenda on March 22. (Get her email address from her blog.)

So here's my entry from the story I was getting ready to query back in the day before baby girl things started happening at our house.

Name: Kayeleen Hamblin
Title: Sleeping Beauty and the Beast
Genre: YA Fairy Tale Retelling

A delicious fear settled in her stomach. She put a hand against the rough, lumpy bark of one of the tall trees in front of her, letting the quiet of the old wood calm her sudden nerves. She stood that way for several moments, the tranquility working its magic on her. Trying to muster the courage to push forward, she stared hard at the shadowy undergrowth. She glanced back over her shoulder for the fifth time. He’s still asleep. I’ve got to go now. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and put one foot forward to cross the invisible line that marked the forest’s border.

A breeze wafted through the shade and chilled her bare arms. She opened her eyes, expecting to see some kind of miraculous transformation. It looked exactly as it had when she stood on the other side of the tree. Silence pounded at her ears. The crack of a branch as she stepped on it seemed deafening.

Her footsteps stirred up the musty aroma of decaying leaves on the damp ground. The hem of her skirts clung to her legs as she pushed her way further into the deepening shadows, passing bushes and roots that grabbed at her hands and feet. A skittering sound in the bushes made her stop in her tracks. A small gray squirrel broke from the cover of the undergrowth. She heaved a sigh of relief at the retreating back of the little animal and laughed at herself before setting off into the gloom again.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

And there you have it, friends. Critique away. I'm interested to see what you have to say. And remember. The contest is about voice, so if you have suggestions for helping develop the voice in this piece, lay it on me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Like a little seed

Not too long ago, I started working on a new idea. It's a real departure for me, so it was exciting and strange and all things shiny. I've blogged about it a few times before. I am in love with the idea. It's amazing and unique. But right now, the words aren't coming. I get little flashes of scenes and dialogue, but there isn't a real solid direction for me to go. I was trying to just pants it, but the results are only so-so. I've poured a lot of energy into it so far and even more thought.

It reminds me of a thing my son is experiencing. He got a little plastic cup filled with dirt and a tiny corn seed in it a few weeks ago from his Sunday School class. We put some water on it and waited a few days. It sprouted! The roots grew so long you could see them wrapping around the bottom of the cup. It shot up four or five inches in just a few days. And then, it got too much water. Before too long, the poor little stalk had that little white fuzz that says "I'm rotting." It couldn't support itself and now, it's withered away into nothing.

I think sometimes our ideas are like that. In the first mad crash of excitement, we put too much into them, too soon, and they never really take off. We don't put in the time to let the little seed of an idea germinate and grow into something strong enough to stand on its own. Ideas in their earliest stages need careful attention and lots of time before they can really become what we envision. The minute we pressure ourselves or push too hard, the idea dies a little and we have to back off any way.

So, recognizing this, I'm going back to revisions of my other pieces and letting shiny new idea grow a little more in my mind before I kill it off completely.

Now, friends, how are things going for the rest of you? Are you pieces growing the way you hoped they would?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Back In The Day

I've recently watched several episodes of Glee recently. You know, that one show that takes the high school experience and chronicles it. I was interested in it at first because I was a show choir junkie and love the song and dance thing. The first season was fun and frolic-y. This new season is--for lack of a better term--issue ridden. Drug use. Alcohol use. Indiscriminate sex. Teen pregnancy. Bullying. Yeah, it's still a funny and rollicking show, but kind of a downer. It reminded me of that "dark and edgy" thing that is so big in the YA book scene.

It makes me feel a little out of touch. High school wasn't full of that level of angst for me. I had some negative experiences, sure, and they could probably fuel some pretty decent contemporary stories. I just had a clean, decent, mostly boring kind of existence. I went to football games. I played volleyball. I was in the drama club. I knew people who got pregnant. I knew people who partied. It didn't feel like I was in the middle of a drama series. Maybe it's been long enough since I was in high school that I don't remember how it felt any more.

I was a sucker for the light-hearted story with a happy ending then. I still am. It's one reason why I write what I do. The whole point of a fairy tale is to get the happy ending. You kind of expect that the story will end a certain way. Granted, there is any number of things that can go wrong before you get to the happy ending. And maybe that is where the story becomes real.

Something like Glee or the really out there YA Books seem on the fringe of real to me. There's just too much of something there. I still read them and they definitely have a place in the world. But a little bit of shadow, or just a touch of an edge. That's where things feel the most real for me. That's what I remember experiencing in my own life.

In the end, we all have to write from our own perspective and experience. Mine is a pretty carefree and happy one. And that's okay.

So, friends. What was high school like for you? Do the things you experienced during your young adult years find their way into your writing?

Monday, March 14, 2011

What's Next?

I know you aren't supposed to compare yourself to others. We are each individuals with unique things to offer, right? It's hard to remember that when it seems like the market is saturated. What do I mean? When I first started blogging over a year ago, there were not as many writer blogs out there. I mean, there were still tons, but not nearly as many as there are now. I started following the powerhouse bloggers like Elana Johnson, Nathan Bransford, Natalie Whipple, and Kiersten White before they had even hit 500 followers. And they always had (and continue to have) pertinent and meaningful things to say in their posts.

In the face of all these bloggers, new and old, someone has said everything I might say at least twice. And they've probably said it better than I would. I can't tell you how many times I go to write a post and read that someone else has all ready covered the topic the day before. And it leaves me feeling inadequate, a little.

In all the proliferation, friends, how do you differentiate yourself? How do you make a unique contribution to all the other things out there?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are you a Mormon Blogger?

Last year, a group of us from around the blogosphere participated in the first Mormon Writers Blogfest. (You can see my entry here.) This year, we are doing it again and it will be bigger and better than before. At least we hope so. If you are a Mormon Blogger and would be interested in participating, shoot an email to me at kayejazz(at)gmail(dot)com or to Krista at Mother.Write.Repeat at kvandolzer(at)gmail(dot)com for more details. And everybody, Mormon or not, is invited to come back and check out all the blog posts on April 12th. Meet other Mormon Bloggers. Get questions answered. Make new friends. I hope you'll join us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Everything is complicated

Well, I've spent the last little while trying to get back into the swing of things, and it's a little more complicated than I expected. Baby girl still wants to be held a lot. (She's gotten one cold after another from her older brothers.) When holding baby girl, I only have one hand to type with. When not holding baby girl, everything else that needs to be done has to get done, like laundry and house cleaning and feeding the boys. It's a real balancing act and there is very little room for all things writerly.

I guess what it comes down to at this point is that I still want to be writing and the ideas are flowing, but the timing is off. I'm still going to write whenever the opportunity arrives, but trying to enforce a regular writing schedule in the craziness that is my life is like swimming upstream in a river of tar. And equally unpleasant, I might add.

A wise woman I know once told me, "There is a time and a season for everything in your life. Right now is your time to be a mom. Other things will come in their season." So the upshot of this, my friends, is that I'm not going to continue to put some huge "writer" expectation on myself and feel bad about it when everything else gets in the way. On the good days, writing will happen. On the bad days, when writing doesn't happen, I won't feel bad about it. Other things are more important right now. I'll still be writing and trying to post, just not with any kind of expectation of when or how much. Hope you all have success in your ventures. And you never know. Things may change when there aren't three kids under the age of four at my house. (I anticipate having at least some time when oldest son starts preschool in the near future.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Isn't it a little dark in here?

This should have posted yesterday, but didn't.

I've noticed a few things recently and it leaves me wondering. An agent that I follow just opened up to YA and listed what she is looking for. She said fairy tale retellings,  which got me all excited. After all, I have two of those with unique twists in various stages of polishing. Then I read these two words: "dark and edgy." Dark and edgy? Shoot. I'm not really a dark and edgy sort of writer. I sat and thought through my projects and, for the life of me, could not figure out how they could be darker or more edgy.

I've been reading a lot lately. Lots of books have those two words associated with them. "A dark take on ..." "An edgy new story from ... " Is this what people want to read? Maybe the world is darker for teens than it was for me. I wanted to real about happy endings and things gone right, so that's what I tend to write. I have to admit it. A cold fear went through me. Will any one want to read my "things aren't dark or edgy" stories? And if no one wants to read light, carefree, happy stories, then what will I do?

So, friends, what do you think? Is dark and edgy the way to go? Do you write with that in mind? Do you read books that fit that bill?