My Good Excuses

I’ve been on hiatus. On a break. The blog has been dormant. You get the picture. But I have such good excuses!

There’s good reason I’ve taken time off and it’s been months and months since I’ve posted. I’ve been so busy that I have barely put pen to paper (in my personal life). So here are my excuses. They’re good excuses, I swear.

1. I got a job where I’m writing full time! So it’s hard to take a break from writing to write. But I will. It’s officially been a year since I started this job, so it’s time to make the transition.

2. I got engaged…

3. And then I totally got married!

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(How gorgeous is that family?!)

In the span of three short months, I got engaged and married, and have been adjusting to married life with a new husband and my two new puppies and a new house and… yeah, it’s been a busy few months.

4. Did I mention puppies? Two. JACK RUSSELLS. So, they keep me busy, too.

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So those are my excuses. And, you’ve gotta admit, they’re pretty good. But I’m making the promise, right here, right now, that I’m getting back to writing. I’m brainstorming for a new short story and I’ll be putting together new poems and posting regularly again soon. You can hold me to it!

Changing the Topic…

Someone asked me how my novel was coming. You know, the novel I’ve been working on for like 4 years. The one that I resolve to finish EVERY New Year’s. So I swiftly changed the subject to avoid having to talk about it.

But then I went and checked on it. If word documents could collect dust, this one would be inches deep. So I theoretically blew the dust and cobwebs away, and stared at my novel. It’s finished. I mean… there’s an end, but it’s not finished, you know? I need to read it 400 more times. And change a word here and there. And then pack it away again for another year.

So last time I had worked on it, I changed it from third person to first person, but when I opened up the file this time, I saw that it was third person (apparently, I had abandoned the first person revision about 1/3 of the way through). I know it’s a tough change to make, but I really think it would be better in first person. How do you decide point of view for your story? I know there are books out there on the subject, but they have never been much of a help to me, because for me, it comes down to “feel”. It “feels” better as a first person story.

For example, I HATED that the twilight books were written in first person. It rubbed me the wrong way from the opening lines. I don’t know why, but it really did. But some stories need to be more personal, and I think that’s where first person comes in. How do you decide?

Superhero Story Part 6

Read Part 5 here.

Chapter 13 – Lindsay

We had about 10 minutes before homeroom to get all of the newspapers, so as soon as Cal stopped talking, I was off and running.

“Lindsay, wait,” Nick said, jogging after me. I slowed and let him walk beside me.

“We’re supposed to be splitting up to get this done faster,” I said. “You know, so we don’t die at the hands of an evil villain.”

Nick shrugged. “Whatever.”

“Nick!” I said, nudging his shoulder. He rammed into a wall and glared at me while he nursed his arm.

“Sorry,” I said. “Sometimes I forget that I’m a freak now.”

Nick rolled his eyes. “You just need to … harness the power.”

I giggled and let Nick pull me out of the crowded hallway and into a quieter stairwell. He pointed at the metal stair railing. “Do your best.”

“What?”

“Bend it,” Nick said. “Or break it, or pull it up, or whatever you can do.”

I ran my hand along the railing. This was major. I mean, bumping people out of my way was one thing, but bending metal? This was serious.

I squeezed my hand tightly around the railing but nothing happened. I yanked at it with my right arm. Nothing. I looked at Nick.

He sighed. “You’re not even trying.”

I put both hands on the railing, and felt the cool steel under my fingers. I pushed my palms down and wrapped my fingers tightly. Then I pulled up with all my might.

There was no sound, but the railing, it wrenched under my fists. It let itself mold to my tug, like some malleable plastic. I let go and stared at the bulge.

“Whoa.”

Nick smiled at me.

Chapter 14 – Nick

It was maddening! First of all, the girl gets the super strength?! And then she’s too afraid or prissy or whatever to use it?!

But I was curious: exactly how strong was she? I found out, though. Strong enough to bend steel. Good to know.

So after that fun experiment, we decided to see if there were any materials that my special eyesight couldn’t penetrate. I already knew I could see through wood and bathroom doors, so we tried to see if I could see Lindsay when she was on the school’s second story while I was on the first (I could), and if I could still see her if she was on the third story while I stayed on the first (I could).

I was about to try to convince her to go out passed the football field to see how far my eyesight would reach when the bell rang.

“Oh no,” Lindsay said.

“Relax,” I said. “It’s just homeroom.”

“No, the newspapers, Nick,” she whined. Her face got all weird like when a dog thinks it’s about be slapped around.

She ran down the hallway and pulled newspapers out of kids’ arms, shoving them all over the place. It was kind of funny. I followed her and would pick up any pages she dropped.

Then she disappeared into her classroom.

I wandered around the hallway a little bit, keeping an eye out for any stray papers. But I wasn’t going to like, kill myself trying to get them. I’d thought about it all night, and this was the conclusion I’d come to: the guy, the freezer-sweat creepy guy, he probably only knows about Cal, right?

Let’s piece it together. Creepy guy somehow gets his gross power that night. He thinks back to the tower. He knows there were other people there. Maybe he heard us, or maybe he’s just wondering, or maybe he only found Cal’s jacket, so that’s how he knows. But he sure as hell never saw us, because he didn’t recognize me that day in the office.

At best, he thinks Cal is the only other person with powers. At worst, he heard voices and thinks it was Cal and a girl. Either way, he knows nothing about me.

So what do I care?

Chapter 15 – Cal

By lunchtime, my locker was filled with newspapers I’d confiscated.

“Hey,” some girl said, standing behind me, while I shoved some more papers into my locker. “Can I have a copy?”

“NO.” I said. I slammed the locker door shut and she frowned at me, but left.

At lunch, I was happy to see Lindsay’s arms full of pages. She dropped them on the table, and Nick even had a bunch.

“Do you think we got them all?” I asked.

Nick shrugged and Lindsay looked optimistic.

“Everyone was asking me about them,” Lindsay said. “They said they couldn’t find a paper anywhere. That’s good, right?”

I nodded. “That’s good.”

But even as I looked around the room, I still got a glimpse of a student holding a newspaper. I took a huge bite of my sandwich and stood up.

“I have a couple more to get,” I said.

Lindsay looked around and nodded, standing with me. Nick took a moment, but also stood. By the end of the period, we’d confiscated all of them in the room.

I didn’t even see another paper in any of my afternoon classes. In fact, I didn’t see any more papers at all. Until I walked out of school at the end of the day.

And there he was: the man Nick had seen in the office that day. He was standing at the end of the sidewalk, holding a newspaper in his hands and staring at each kid that walked past.

I didn’t see him until it was too late, until I couldn’t turn around without drawing attention to myself.

And so, as I stood motionless on the sidewalk while all the other kids pushed and shoved to get around me, I watched him see me. I watched his eyes flick back and forth from my face to my huge, dumb picture on the front page of the newspaper.

Then he was walking toward me.

How had I not seen this coming?

To be continued….

Writing/Publishing Resources

I took a creative writing class last year at a local college. I highly recommend taking a class – no matter what level or style of writing you practice. It was really beautiful to have a collection of like-minded people brought together. We were different in many ways, but we all had a love of words and appreciation of language.

I learned many useful and practical things in my creative writing class, but the best thing – by far – was learning about Duotrope’s Digest. Has anyone else used this? It’s a searchable database of literary magazines. It lists submission requirements, styles accepted, payment methods, etc. I’ve used it countless times to submit to just the right venue for my work. The database links to the actual magazine’s web site for further research, which I highly recommend. I’ve only used it for my short fiction work, and not for poetry (I don’t think I’m quite there yet — submitting my poetry for publication).

I don’t think I would have had my two short stories published without this database. I wouldn’t have known where to begin to look for the appropriate magazine. This is a great resource for writers. It’s as updated as possible, I think (it’s quite a large database), so just make sure to visit the web site of each magazine prior to submitting, to make sure it’s still in existence.

What writing and publishing resources do you use? Have you used Duotrope’s Digest? What did you think about it?

Reunion Story: Part 2

Read Part 1 here

In the morning while I showered and got dressed, I went over the possibilities for the author of the notes. First, the person would have to know I was in town for the weekend. Unfortunately, that didn’t narrow things down too much. Anyone who graduated with me would know about the ten year reunion. Plus, there was my father, the Frees, Ann, and anybody who had spoken to any of those people recently. Ann said she’d heard from my father that I would be in town, so he probably had told others, as well.
The tasks, however, pointed me to my father, Ann – the only neighbor I knew who had a piano room, and Keri. My father could not be the note-sender. Not only was he asleep when I received this note, but there was also no way that he could have kept it such a secret over the years. Plus, the task-giving thing was not really his style. It was too fun, too creative. It was something my mother would have done to make boring chores seem more exciting. My father just would have ordered us to get the job done.
I didn’t think Keri was really a possibility because she could not have kept the secret for so long, either. Also, though, the timeline just did not match up for the notes to be from her. I started receiving them when I was fourteen, when Keri and I were close friends. But then once high school began, we drifted apart and were in different crowds of friends. We did not really talk much, and there was a time when we even avoided each other. But I still received notes through all of that.
So that left Ann as my prime suspect.
I was downstairs by nine, and I hoped to get a jump on the whole “breakfast with dad” thing but when I entered the kitchen, he was sitting at the table, reading a newspaper and sipping coffee with an empty plate in front of him.
“Oh,” I said, slightly taken aback.
My father snapped shut the newspaper. “Morning, Sammy. What’s on the agenda today – errands for the big reunion tonight?”
The reunion began at 9pm at a bar down the shore. It was the kind of place that we scammed our way into with fake IDs when we were in high school, but now it seemed like a cheesy place for our reunion.
“Not really, no,” I said. I stood in the kitchen and stared at the empty plate in front of my father. There were a few crumbs littered on it, and I wondered if he might still be able to eat, just so I could check the task off the list.
“There’s coffee on the counter,” my father said, pointing. He had noticed my gaze.
“Yeah, thanks.” I poured myself a cup of coffee and then sat down across from my father, who had resumed reading his paper.
“Hey, Dad?”
“Hm?”
I cleared my throat and waited. He looked up from the paper.
“You think we can eat breakfast together on the porch?”
He glanced at the crumb-lined plate and quickly folded the newspaper over it. “Sure, sure,” he said. “Let me just, uh, put on some eggs. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds great,” I said. I got plates and utensils out of the cupboards and set the table on the porch.
Our screened-in porch was one of my mother’s favorite features of the house. She often said that she knew this was the house she wanted when she saw the porch. She and my father bought the house when they were pregnant with me and Jim was a toddler. At the first sign of spring, she insisted we eat dinner on the porch. She always made our last dinner on the porch for the summer into a special occasion, and we would talk about our memories of that summer over a candlelit meal.
My father came in with the eggs. We ate our breakfast and drank the coffee and talked about work and sports. When the food was gone, we sat silently. I looked out into the backyard. Buddy’s old doghouse was off to the left, and on the right side of the yard was the clothesline where my mother hung our clothes out to dry until she was too sick and my father finally bought a dryer.
“I’m glad you came home, Sam,” my father said, breaking through the quiet. “It’s been too long.”
I kept my eyes on the clothesline, and I thought back to pulling up in the driveway yesterday, seeing the rocking chair on the front porch. I thought about our summertime dinner traditions on the porch. I thought about checking the mailbox with my father and discussing the notes, and how my statement to him about thinking that Mom had written the notes seemed to slap him across the face.
“It’s too hard,” I said. “It’s too hard to come back here and see it all. She’s in everything.”
I felt my voice give in and I stopped speaking. My father lowered his head. The secondhand of a clock ticked off the silence.
“I know,” my father said.
I swallowed and spoke again.
“I can’t even walk around without thinking of something. I don’t know how you can stay here.”
My father looked at me, and I shifted my gaze.
“It’s okay to remember, Sammy,” he said.
“No,” I said. “Not for me.”
I stood up and picked up my plate. I walked toward the kitchen, and paused.
“Why didn’t you tell me? How could you let me go so long without knowing?” I couldn’t look at him as I said the words.
He did not respond.
I put my dishes in the dishwasher and went upstairs. I got my keys and wallet and returned to the porch where my father still sat.
“I’m going out. I’ll see you later.”
My father nodded, his eyebrows frayed with grief.

TO BE CONTINUED.

My YA Book: A Work In Progress

I have written and rewritten and rewritten (and am still rewriting!) this beginning literally tens of times. I switched it to a snappier, more eye-catching first sentence (then back to the normal one); I switched it from third to first person; I started the story by foreshadowing a theme (then deleted all of that); AND I constantly question whether I need to start the story later (like… a month later into the plot). But here’s how it is now, which is remarkably like the FIRST DRAFT I EVER WROTE FOR THIS STORY!
Revisions are frustrating.

What am I doing here?
I check the clock on my computer monitor: 10:16. Too late to still be at work.
I lean back in my ergonomically-approved office chair and rub my eyes, run my hands through my already messy brown hair.
Papers lay like scattered leaves, dead on my desk. The obituary can wait until morning, I tell myself, and I shut down my computer. I stretch, letting the aches of the day fall from my bones, and I half-heartedly straighten my notes.
My cell phone rings, cutting through the wintery stillness in the office building. It’s Jake, my best friend from childhood and old college roommate.
“Dude,” he says. It might as well be my name: Dude. “Where are you? Come to Rusty’s Pipe tonight.”
Dude, I’m at work,” I say.
There’s a pause. “Gray, for someone who hates his job, you sure do find interesting ways to spend your Friday nights.”
“I don’t –“ I lower my voice, even though I haven’t heard a sound from the surrounding cubicles in hours. “I don’t hate my job.”

oh… I don’t know about the present tense. No! It works! I have to keep the entire story in mind. It works! But I’m deleting the “ergonomically-approved” description. There’s a less boring way to describe the boring.

I just read a really good book that was written by a female, with a main character who is male, written in first-person and present tense. It made me feel better. That story was Split by Swati Avasthi, by the way. Incredibly well-written and well-developed. Characters are multidimensional, multi-layered. Really good story.