Thursday, May 26, 2016

What a Delight

Now Playing: I CAN FLY ANYTHING by John Williams
Just Read: THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King--Not as good as I hoped. Many stories didn't seem to have much a point, like they were only parts of stories. A few were good though.
Reading Now: WRITERS OF THE FUTURE, VOLUME 28

I had a pretty cool experience last weekend. Last Friday I got to visit my future mother-in-law at her work. She's a middle school Earth Science and English teacher, and she hosts a writing club after school for interested students. She did me the great honor of asking if I would be a guest speaker.

There were about 10 sixth and seventh graders there, and surprisingly they were excited to see me and hear what I had to say about writing. They had lots of astute and familiar questions for me: How do you figure out the best ending? What do you do when the words won't come? How do you know if your writing is good or not? These were all questions I asked when I was eleven years old or so, too.

I answered them as honestly as I could. I wish I had more wisdom to impart, but the message I tried to hammer home was how nothing could substitute for practice. If these kids want to be great writers one day, they had better start writing, and writing a lot. The bad part about that is it means there's no short cuts--no magic formula--no way around the grind of hours at your keyboard (or paper) spilling out words and praying they adhere to each other meaningfully. But the good part is that becoming great is (largely) in their own hands. I felt pretty confident talking to them all that they each had a measure of natural talent, and the passion was obvious--these kids loved stories! All that remained was time and practice (or deliberate practice, if you ask Anders Ericsson).

One of the questions they asked me was: "Are you a writer?" Well I was there as a guest-speaker, wasn't I!?! But honestly it's a question I ask myself sometimes, too. Especially when I'm going through one of my periods of drought. These periods happen for me when my work and life schedules don't allow for much writing time, like when I work several nights in a row and then have to drive out of town on consecutive weekends for wedding errands or social gatherings. The ideas don't stop during those times, but fresh words-to-page production grinds to a halt.

But I told them I was a writer. It may not be what pays the bills, and it isn't even my next goal (that would be the purgatorial mountain that is grad school), yet (to put it poetically) the writer in me is the deep, hot part that's always burning, keeping my soul young and my  vivacious gears turning. It's what I love.

It was truly a delight to speak to those kids and meet them all. I hope I did some good there, and I hope they all go on to write the stories sprouting inside their own imaginations.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Whirlwind Month

Now Playing: NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR TRUTH IN CLICHE by Escape the Fate

I try not to get too hard on myself when my writing output drops during times of "acute busyness" because I have a lot going on in my life that isn't writing--working full time, wedding prep, going to other people's weddings, family events out of town, getting ready for grad school, and enjoying being engaged to my lovely fiance. But DANG I have been a writing slacker this month.

April flashed by and didn't even leave an afterimage in its place. I was away from home every weekend. I worked three nights a week and have another three nights coming up, starting tonight. Unless I hammer out a flash piece on Thursday (unlikely, as I have plans) it's not looking like I'll make my #write1sub1 goals for the first time in a long time. May looks (mercifully) lighter, so perhaps I can double up to make up for it.

The good news is that the ideas don't really stop, ever. I had three or four good ideas for stories hit me this month and find their place in my mental bank of stories, or else in the "Notes" app on my phone. I even brainstormed an intriguing idea for a TV show script with a friend of mine.

I'm imagining a fanciful few nights of feverish writing to get those stories onto paper. Those nights are intimidating. They're demanding. But they're also exciting, and I say "Let them come!" It's been a dry season, but this blog post is like a rain dance--the downpours are coming!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Keep Writing

Now Playing: KING OF THE GOLDEN HALL by Howard Shore
Just Read: FULL DARK, NO STARS by Stephen King--Finally got around to these four stories. Very raw, rough to get through at points. But that's the idea. And noticing it opened my eyes to some of King's characterization techniques I had forgotten (it's been a while).
Reading Now: THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King

Lots going on, lots going on.

The word is "dynamic." I suppose all times are dynamic at certain levels, but it seems that now is particularly so. The climate's changing, Donald Trump keeps winning states, I'm getting married and preparing to start a two-year grinding graduate school program. All this while trying (sometimes succeeding, but far from always) to maintain a satisfactory writing output.

Write1Sub1 is no more, but I've tried to keep up the ethic I built during my years as a member while looking ahead. My revolving goal is to submit to the Writers of the Future Contest until I either win or place out. Considering the upcoming graduate school time requirements, I might not be able to craft worthy stories after August. I'll try to focus my efforts on shorter (though not necessarily easier) stories.

So I've got a few longer WotF works in progress I'm trying to complete this spring for submission in upcoming quarters. Ideally I will be able to finish them and edit my novel "Star Born" before getting married on July 2nd. The time-crunch struggle is real.

Some people work well with deadlines. I'm hoping I'm one of those people.

My sleep schedule lately hasn't helped. I have so much going on, it seems, that my schedule is constantly revolving from night shift (work) to day shift (other requirements). Usually it's a pretty smooth transition. Not rushed. But these past two weeks, as I've been attempting to finish this piece titled "Scouting Trip," have been exhausting.

Writing is hard. I know that, always have. These few weeks have just reminded me. There's only way to tackle it. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.

Keep writing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Net Gains

Now Playing: MEMORYHOUSE by Max Richter
Just Read: RAIN GODS by James Lee Burke--It was okay. I liked the gruff characters and settings but I thought the story ran a bit long and the big climax let me down--set up for a sequel when I thought it should have just ended.
Reading Now: WRITERS OF THE FUTURE, VOLUME XXIV

Back in November 2013 I won NaNoWriMo with my novel "Star Born," a story about a girl on an interstellar ship who discovers a plot to sabotage its upcoming landing, and the steps she takes to try to stop it. I wrote about 55K in one month and was very proud of myself.

What I really took away from NaNoWriMo was what exactly it took to achieve those kinds of gains--the time commitment, having the story constantly on my mind, asking questions to uncover plot holes, and planning chapters out on scrap paper to help fill in said holes. Spoiler alert: It's mainly a lot of hard work. But we knew that already, didn't we?

Something happened then in December, 2013. I had this novel, right? I knew it was basically finished--I figured it was 2/3 at least, as I was aiming for about 75K before I wrote THE END. But after the frenetic energy of November died away, I lost momentum. I stopped knowing where the story was supposed to go. I stopped realizing twists and turns were ahead. In short, I didn't know how to finish it, and I moved on.

That's right. With this massive project so close to completion, I left it unfinished to wallow.

Of course, I didn't stop writing. I just stopped writing "Star Born." Instead I refocused my efforts on the Writers of the Future contest and wrote stories I thought would be good for it. These stories ended up submitted to other places in the meantime, and I had a handful published. Not a lot, and not very frequently, but some success at least came my way.

Still, "Star Born" lay undone, always in the back of my mind like a guilty conscience, prodding me to do the morally right thing and finish the damn story. Sometimes, something in my life would remind me of "Star Born" and plant an idea. Then nothing for months. Then another idea.

Finally, in November 2015, two years after I originally started, I thought I had enough ideas collected that I could maybe pull off completing the novel. I got to work. It was a trudge--a slow, weary walk of a story trying to dig some steam and energy from somewhere and reach the finish line. The heat and passion of NaNoWriMo were absent.

Something else was present, though: the day-to-day grit I had developed in the interim. See, writing gets better with practice--it's a bit like strength training that way--and when I revisited the novel I was stronger than I was two years earlier. All the stories I wrote while "Star Born" sat ignored actually gave me the skills I needed. And this month, at long last, I wrote THE END.

The story isn't finished, of course. One thing being away from it for so long did was help identify parts where massive edits are needed. So now I'm going back through it and making those changes. I'm on Chapter 4 of 18. I think a reasonable goal is to have the edits finished by the end of February.

In the meantime, of course, I'll keep writing and keep submitting. I was a bit embarrassed and ashamed that "Star Born" languished for so long, but in the end I think it's a net gain. I have a completed novel, the best I've ever written. And I have all the stories I wrote since December 2013--at least one per month. I'm not going to be too hard on myself. The point is this: I kept writing, and with patience and persistence, my hard work paid off.

Hard work tends to do that.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year, or The End of an Era

Now Playing: HAVE FAITH IN ME by A Day to Remember


Happy New Year and best wishes for a wonderful, happy, healthy 2016!

2015 was a fantastic year for me. In life news, I got engaged, moved to Winston Salem, and got accepted into grad school at Wake Forest. I had two short stories published and four drabbles, wrote one new story per month to achieve my Write1Sub1 goals, and am currently working on completing a novel, having written about 9000 words toward its end in December.

The year ended on a high note--one accepted shorter story to be published in Perihelion on January 12, and eight drabbles accepted to be published over the next three months in SpeckLit! It's exciting to have publications right out of the gate, and I feel as though it provides a lot of momentum.

Like most people I have many high hopes for 2016, and goals I'm resolving to achieve. Among them are to finish this novel and edit it (maybe even query it?), read 50 books, and continue to write and submit at least one story per week.

That last goal has been one of mine every year since 2013 as a member of Write1Sub1. Beginnings and endings have a way of going together, and this New Year marks the end of a great era. The Write1Sub1 blog, which I had the honor of moderating for the past two years, is closing. The participation waned recently while the workload for us moderators seemed to increase, and I think we mutually wanted to dedicate more time to our writing projects.

It's hard to explain just how much good Write1Sub1 has done for my career. I'm sorry future young writers won't have it to inspire them, direct them, and drive them to further their writing aspirations. But I'm also hopeful that the next generation of beginners will come together in their own way, like we did, and support each other in an awesome community of optimism, togetherness, and hard work.

All isn't over, though. The members of Write1Sub1 may be going their own ways, but the spirit of it lives on in each of us. Like I mentioned, I plan on continuing the goals of writing and submitting one story per month and sharing my accomplishments on Twitter with #Write1Sub1. I'm sure a lot of us will take the work ethic and productivity the blog provided and keep it up moving forward.

This will be the toughest year ever to meet those goals--between planning a wedding and starting grad school in August the demands on my time will be huge--but I'm up to the challenge. I'm ready to work. I'm ready to tackle some great new stories and send them to amazing magazines. Let's get 2016 started strong. Here's to greatness in the year to come!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Electric Again!

Now Playing: THE HOBBIT by Howard Shore
Just Read: THE BAT by Jo Nesbo--Greatly enjoyed it. Not a perfect detective, but I liked that about the case. Definitely dark, and made me pick up the sequel in B&N tonight.
Reading Now: RAIN GODS by James Lee Burke

I had a story published last week!

It had been a long drought--something like a year, which is a long time for me--but I have had a short story accepted, edited, and published in Electric Spec Magazine!

The story, titled "A Walk Among the Ivy", takes place at an old manor house in rural North Carolina (where I grew up . . . the rural part, not the manor house) and includes characters from Georgetown University Hospital (where I once worked as a travel nurse). I like that I was able to include little details I knew from experience. I think those details helped make the story more rich.

This is my second story to appear in Electric Spec's pages. The first one was called "Tom the Sheller" and appeared in 2009. The links to both are now available to the left. Head on over--I hope you enjoy!

I've been averaging something like two publications per year. If I include my four 100-word stories accepted this fall, I have met my average. I'm always trying to get better, though, and have some stories lined up to help achieve that mark. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

100 words

Now Playing: SHOT IN THE DARK by A Day to Remember
Just Read: PARASITE by Mira Grant--Didn't realize this was going to be a zombie apocalypse book when I started it. Usually not a huge zombie person but I liked the twists in this story.
Reading Now: THE BAT by Jo Nesbo

I recently had four 100-word stories accepted at a magazine called SpeckLit. Woohoo! My second acceptance for this year. My averages seem to stay pretty steady at one story written per month, two acceptances per year.

SpeckLit only publishes stories that are exactly 100 words in length--kind of a challenge to get a complete story in such a small amount of words, but also a lot of fun. You can do a lot of random things that don't come as easily to longer stories, and play around with style and syntax and tone in new ways. I really enjoyed writing those "drabbles" as they're called over at SpeckLit.

The magazine does something pretty cool where they archive their work by author name. So, you can go to their website and look my name up on the right hand column and click to read all the stories of mine they've published. Or, simply click on the new link on my blog's left-hand side.

In other, life-altering, non-writing news: I GOT ACCEPTED INTO GRADUATE SCHOOL! I'm going to start the Nurse Anesthesia Program at Wake Forest School of Medicine starting in August. My fiance is in the program now, and from her I've learned just how little time is available to students once they start. But, they recommend keeping up one hobby that doesn't have anything to do with school. No surprises here: mine will be writing. That's why finding SpeckLit was so fortunate. Stories of 100 words can be tough but because of their brevity they don't take very long. I'm hoping I'll be able to manage my time well enough during school to maintain some kind of writing output, and now that I know I have 100-word stories as an outlet, I believe that to be an attainable goal.