WOW. Two years? Really?

I’ve been gone for a while from FRESH HAPPINESS, huh? I see that my last post was in January 2012! Why is this?

Well, I’ve been writing books, mostly. I also have a writing website,  so I have been keeping up with that one a little bit more consistently (not really.) The biggest change in my life is that I am no longer a classroom teacher…instead, I’m a high school librarian, which is possibly the best job on the planet.

I get to be around books all day long. I can read any book I want. I can buy books for kids. I am always very busy, so it’s not like I sit around reading or hanging out all day, but I do get to work with words and literature, and graphic novels, and teenagers who love to read as much as I do. In what other job would you get to do the following:  1) teach kids to write and sing blues songs  2) have a discussion about Write Bloody poets, specifically Andrea Gibson, and then make a kid ecstatic by hooking her up with a chance to SEE Andrea Gibson 3) have long discussions about the merits of parallel universes   4) find fans as rabid about Sherlock and Doctor Who as I am   5) have kids arguing over who gets to check out my book OUT next   6) have a mob of kids standing outside the library, angry that I have to close it for fifteen minutes so I can scarf down some food. Seriously, sometimes I have to be a bouncer because the place can’t hold everybody who wants to come in. How great is that?

In other news, I’m writing a lot more. This job lends itself to inspiration and creativity in ways that teaching did not. I am 120 pages into my next book, and 50 pages into a new YA book. So, all is great. Hope your life is going well too. I hope to be back here more often…no, I WILL be back here more often.


When Life Throws Bombs…

An explosion of inspiration, danger, and general mayhem.

Edward had taught me to drive. It had been two months into our relationship, and I was terrified. “You’ll be fine,” he said softly as he drove his battered brick-red Range Rover to an empty gravel lot. “Driving is a lot like living. You just point yourself in the direction you want to go, step on the gas, and go there.”
    “Except living can’t leave you in a mangled heap outside a dirty public rest stop near Fresno.”  
   He paused. “Actually, sometimes it does.” 

                                              Laura Preble, Anhedonia

I’m not in the habit of quoting my own writing, but this little episode from my latest novel seemed very fitting when discussing unexpected curve balls thrown by life and the muses.
Lately, I’ve been on the receiving end of such curvature. In life, my personal relationships have undergone a Frankenstein-like jolt of lightning, which has been both refreshing and terrifying. But you don’t come here to read about the measly life of one humble scribbler.
You’re likely more interested in the writer kind of curve balls…the things that happen during the process of creation that are expected, serendipitous, surprising, or downright scary. The kind of stuff that later, when you reexamine the doings of your life, you realize were junctions of sorts, forks in the literary road where your project could have gone one of two ways. Hopefully, the way you chose was the road less traveled, but also most perfect for your piece.
My example comes from the novel I finished over the summer, <em>Out</em>.

I’d been working on this young adult speculative fiction piece for nearly three years, off and on. I’d been discouraged from working on it by my former agent, who said the idea was too offbeat. I’d given up on it like you give up on a boyfriend you like a lot but who your friends tell you isn’t right for you, even when your heart tells you otherwise.
I couldn’t leave it alone. I had to go back. So after jettisoning the agent, I looked it up again, called on it, brought it flowers, and tried to get to where we started from. I spent a lot of quality time with it, nurtured it, stared into its eyes. Finally, we started getting somewhere. I wrote, wrote more, cranked out fifty pages, and felt well on the way to completing it.
Then life threw that curve ball. I got to page fifty, and something didn’t feel right. That little voice in the ear that buzzes when things don’t work kept nagging at me, and I ignored it. I told it to go away, that I was busy. But the voice kept buzzing.
I found that I took more breaks. I ate more. I suddenly needed to watch television shows I hadn’t been keeping up with. And I strayed away from my book. I let myself get distracted. I let the fire go out.
Eventually, I came back, and my story was still waiting for me, wearing the same shoes it had worn when I left. I came back more clear eyed, and saw immediately what was wrong: I had been forcing the story to be something it wasn’t.
I had to make some tough decisions. Should we break up? Should I change for the story?
Ultimately, I realized that you can’t make something, or someone, be what they are not. I axed almost half of what I had and went back, repaired, rebuilt. I did a lot of soul searching, background work, talking with those characters, and seeking the truth at the core of the novel.
What happened then was magical, and very unlike being left mangled outside a dirty rest stop near Fresno. I got a second chance. I found my way. Because I was honest and honestly dealt with the mistakes I’d made, the story was better for it.
Now it’s finished, at least for the moment. I’ve made more changes, additions, tweaks, adjustments, but the heart, the core of the story, hasn’t changed because I got it right the second time around.
I fell in love with it all over again. I’m driving straight, avoiding obstacles, hoping to avoid Fresno in my travels.
How do you handle unexpected obstacles in your writing?

Crying in Metaphorical Beer

So, I’m about 2/3 of the way through OUT, and I’m getting to the good stuff, which is really the bad stuff. Last night I spent about 20 minutes crying, with my poor husband asking, “What’s wrong?” How to explain that I’m crying over something that doesn’t really exist?

I’m at the point in the story where my main character, Chris, is about to embark on a part of his journey that I know will lead him to pain and suffering. He is about to do something that will cause him guilt, but he has little choice (or at least that’s how it feels to him.)  So, why am I crying?

It’s bringing up a lot of memories for me, believe it or not. What’s weird about writing is that even when you don’t think you’re writing about yourself, you are. I have little in common with Chris, my character: he’s a teenager, I’m definitely not; he’s in love with a girl, and I’m definitely not; he is a Perpendicular in a Parallel world (straight versus gay) and he is a deviant outcast, while I’m a straight person in the majority while gay people are ostracized. But he is also the victim of a forced relationship, expected to be married off to a powerful man who will bring his family prestige, and will bring him freedom from financial worry, as well as a path to a prestigious college.

My parents never tried to marry me off to anybody. But I did have an issue with someone when I was younger, an issue of a forced relationship that has dogged me ever since. Just when you think those things are resolved and buried, here they come again, in the form of a stranger in a fiction. The mind is a marvelous and terrifying thing.

When I’m crying for Chris, I’m crying for me. I wish I could’ve been in his position, in some ways, knowing that at midnight, a certain crew of rebels would sweep in and take over and free me from what could be emotional imprisonment. But in real life, that doesn’t often happen. Instead, we endure what we must, come out of it, and use makeup to hide the bruises. (FYI: I know I’m being pretty obtuse here. This had nothing to do with any family members, so you can rest at ease on that score if you happen to be in my family.)

When real emotions and feelings are tied up in fiction, the way sometimes becomes murky and blurred. I am taking a break when I need to in order to stay clear on what is Chris’ story and what is mine. I think my own experience makes the writing stronger, but I also don’t want it to cloud the true path of the story as it reveals itself. I guess I have to be patient, take it one day at a time, and trust that it will all come together for the best, both for Chris Bryant and for me.

Ghost Ranch rejection

Perfect tiny snowflakes combine to make an avalanche.

I applied for this amazing writer’s retreat that happens in New Mexico every summer. It takes place at a spot called Ghost Ranch, and it’s sponsored by a group called A Room of Her Own (AROHO), a writing collective for female authors. I desperately wanted to go there this summer, for peace, for quiet, for a community of fellow writers. I was pressing my fairy godmother for a heavy favor on this one.

So, I got an email from the coordinator. “We were pleased to review your excellent application for a fellowship to attend the 2011 AROHO Retreat.  The strength of your writing made you the runner-up for the Touching Lives Fellowship; and,  although we are unable to offer you a fellowship this year, we want you to know how impressed the board was by your application.”  As rejections go, that one was pretty sweet. But the fact is, I didn’t get chosen.

Here’s the reason I’m writing about this today: I didn’t flip out. I didn’t take it as a sign that I suck. I didn’t slip into a deep depression and vow to never write again (yeah, I’ve said that about a million times. It never happens.)  Instead, I read the very nice rejection, tucked it away in my file of things that didn’t quite work out as I would have hoped, and went on my merry way.

This may not seem really remarkable to most people. However, being a lapsed Catholic with a tendency to mentally flog myself at any sign of failure or inadequacy, this attitude was a major move forward for me. I was able to read the email and focus on the positives: namely, that these amazing women thought my writing was excellent, that they took the time to write me a personal note, and that they encouraged me to keep on keepin’ on.  This was definitely a change for me.

What has happened? Have I suddenly become a sunny, funny Valentine who sees the world through rose-colored contact lenses? Uh…no. I still have days where depression dogs my every step, where blackness lingers near my soul like the shadow of the Grim Reaper waiting to sop me up like sauce on a biscuit. I definitely don’t have this whole outlook thing licked quite yet. But I am making progress.

Progress. Small, incremental steps that, over time, lead to major breakthroughs. The tiny drops of water eroding the Grand Canyon. The grains of rice that accumulate and feed a nation. The small, perfectly formed snowflakes that combine to create an avalanche.

Small steps that create great journeys.

Scratching surfaces

I played the lottery today, one of those $3 crossword cards. (I won, too!) The way you do it is this: you are given a bank of letters, and you scratch off the letters you have that appear in the crossword. If you make a word, you get a point, and the more words you make, the more you win.

Then today when I was working on OUT, I had this sudden flash that I was scratching off the surface of an underlying, fully formed work that already existed. It felt as if I were excavating something at an archaeological dig, an artifact or treasure buried under the weight of possible words and sentences. My task is to chisel, chop, sand, and burnish the debris around the artifact to undercover what is truly there.

I’ve never thought about writing int his way before, but it was a real epiphany: the idea that a work exists in some future and that I am simply uncovering it. If I am in tune with the work, I will uncover its true form and it will be successful (whatever that means…not sold or bought, just successful in its own right.) If I go astray or get distracted from my purpose, I might take a wrong turn, hit the sledgehammer in the wrong place, chop off an essential portion or leave something precious buried, distorting the true image of what is there.

I am practicing being still with my writing, listening to its infinite whisper and trying to feel a resonance when I get it right, or to follow my instinct when something doesn’t quite fit. These are small, still voices, so it is difficult work. I am hopeful that I am excavating precisely, and that when I’m finished, I’ll have found something worth keeping.

My Lady Gaga Poem

So, I found this odd poetry contest called the Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest (link here to get the details.) 

Basically, people write humorous poems, often in the form of other poems by more famous (and usually dead) poets. So, here I give you my take on the old favorite of mine, Richard Cory (sometimes spelled Corey).  I think it is a succinct and elegant poem with a dark twist, and I like it very much.  Following it, please read my entry into the Wergle Flomp contest, a poem in iambic pentameter about Lady Gaga. Sorry for the weird formatting. I can’t fix it.

RICHARD CORY by Edwin Arlington Robinson

WHENEVER Richard Cory went down town

We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed, 5
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace: 10
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, 15
Went home and put a bullet through his head. 


Lady Gaga Via Richard Corey by Laura Preble (apologies to Edwin Arlington Robinson)

Whenever Lady Gaga took the stage,

We peons on the benches cheered for her:

She dripped of jewels and paint, and blessed sage,

Wore meat as the antithesis to fur.

And she, with breasts and navel on display,

Did beg of us to poke her in the face,

To dance, just dance, and in this dancing say

“It’ll be okay” and thus we’d gain her grace.

So we spent all our bucks on concert tix

And humbly sought the queen to seek her pardon.

And Gaga, sick of fame, did hit the bricks,

Went home, and got a job at Olive Garden.

The Great Silence

Hey…so I posted that excerpt from OUT in my previous post, and saw that a lot of people looked at it but only a couple posted comments. I wondered…were people confused? Too busy to comment? Disgusted? Dismayed? Didn’t like it but too afraid to say so? Didn’t want to hurt my feelings? Freaked out? I’m just kind of curious…whatever feedback you have, I will not take it as an affront, I promise. And if it’s confusing because there isn’t enough backstory, let me know. Within the context of the novel itself, I think it’s very clear, but in isolation, it may be disorienting. So, talk to me! (PS>>thanks to Jon, Sam, and Laura B. for their comments. And no guilt if you other peeps were too busy…I just want to identify any issues.)

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