A Few Words

Scrounging up confidence, battling insecurity, and facing internal and external opposition is a day-to-day struggle for some writers. Myself included. And it’s not only with writing – it can bleed into other aspects of life, as well.

It has been difficult lately to sit down and write and work on queries. Nagging “what ifs?” and an abundance of pressure settle on my shoulders whenever I open up my MS, and I can’t stop worrying about whether or not it’s good enough to put out there. It’s self-sabotage, I know – but it’s like black clouds converge upon my brain and I can’t shake them off, and it spoils all of my efforts.

20180916_2142191762263572.jpgBut sometimes, all it takes is a few words to fend off the cold shroud of discouragement. I found this little note, from an old friend of mine, tucked into a book on my bookshelf the other day while cleaning my room.

And it was like a small dose of sunlight, scattering the storm. I pondered the words, mulling over them like a stream over pebbles, and thought, maybe the world does need my voice. I want to share it – and really, nothing external is stopping me. The only one holding me back is me – so I need to push myself, if I want my voice to be heard.

Sometimes, all it takes is a few words. One little post-it note can pack a lot of power. Now, when I look at this little green reminder tacked above my desk, I can battle those “what-ifs?” with renewed confidence, and remember that I have support.

Hopefully, a new story is on the horizon. I can’t wait for you all to read it.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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Jury Duty

Parking garages should not be so full this early.
The clock says “7:11.”
And the paper said be here by “8.”
I knew I should have stopped at Starbucks.
Though the world’s strongest latte could not prepare me for this.

No phone, no computer, no internet, no outside contact.
Just a room, 200 strangers, and a series of uncomfortable chairs.
We have no names, only numbers.
I am 0075, a badge pinned to my chest.
Hours pass, but feel like eons.
Endless, with the insistent buzz of idle chatter.
And incessant, whispered whining.
Book #1 is finished by lunchtime.
An hour and a half for a burrito and some chips,
and an iced coffee to battle fatigue.

At last, a list comes through.
42 numbers are summoned,
but not mine.
I remain in my chair, listless and tired.
Book #2 conquered before the clock strikes 4.
At dismissal, we stream from the doors, eager for freedom,
like cattle after a long winter.

Day 2 begins much the same.
My back aches, my legs are stiff.
Two lists are called before lunch,
but 0075 has not yet surfaced.
At this point, I pray for a taste of variety,
of a different room, and a different scene.
How random is it, really?
Book #3 is knocked out over a PB&J.

After lunch, we are subjected to a comedy/romance film from 2005.
I focus instead on book #4.
I don’t know how much more I can take,
of crawling time, and a rock-hard chair.
One more list passes through,
but I don’t make the cut.

The third day arrives,
but nervous tension lingers in the air.
My fellow number and I wonder,
What if we are called this late in the week,
and must return on Monday?
Such hell would be unbearable.

Five days of this would be too much,
no matter how important it is to learn,
how our judicial system works.
Really.
I’ve seen enough Law&Order and Forensic Files to know,
the importance of justice.

A list does not come through until after book #5,
a dramedy film from 2007,
lots of tears, and tissues passed around,
and another burrito, no chips.
This time, I do not yearn for change as the microphone drones.
Number, after number, after number.
Groans, and trudging feet leave the room.
No, not mine I pray. Please don’t call mine.
It’s Thursday, dammit.
I want to go home.
My neighbor is called,
and I wish her luck as she disappears.
My number does not ring out.

Midway through a family comedy from 2003,
New faces enter, with a basket of envelopes, and an empty box.
Could it be? we wonder.
Anticipation ripples through the room.
And the magic words are uttered,
“You are dismissed for the week.”
We cheer, deposit our badges, collect our envelopes,
and flee for the parking garage.

I am not 0075 anymore.
I have my name back.
I performed my civic duty.
I had no hand in justice.
Yet, that’s probably a good thing.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

My Reading Routine

This one was suggested to me, and I thought it would be a cool thing to share!

So, I’ve mentioned in a previous post that during college I sort of fell off the reading wagon due to the extensive amount of academic-based reading that was required for my major. Reading became a chore for me, but since getting an e-reader, my reading for pleasure/leisure has been considerably enhanced. I aim to read at least 100 books a year, as you can see by my yearly reading lists on this site, though my goal this year is 110.

I used to read for at least an hour before bed every night, but that is no longer my standard reading ritual. These days, I do the majority of my reading at the gym – either on the elliptical or the treadmill. Occasionally, if those machines are full, I’ll take a crack at the bike. This is simple to accomplish, because I have a nook and can prop it up while I’m exercising. Sometimes, if I’m reading a particularly good book or only have about a hundred pages left and don’t want to put it down, I’ll even stay at the gym longer than originally planned in order to finish the book – thus, I end up getting an even better work out. It’s a win win! It motivates me to keep working out, and stimulates my brain all at once.

Some folks have mentioned to me that they find it difficult to focus on multiple things at once – reading while exercising included – so this might not be a realistic practice for others. I also listen to music at the same time, in order to drown out fellow exercisers who seem to enjoy having loud conversations across the room with no regard for others around them. Fortunately, it is the one “multitasking” endeavor that I actually succeed at. I quite enjoy my time at the gym because I get my daily reading in, and I tend to feel pretty good about myself afterward. As such, I go to the gym about 5/6 times a week, for anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

Though that is where I get the bulk of my reading in, I do read at home – if I’m cooking dinner and have to wait for something to boil or cook, I’ll knock out a chapter or two. If I’m eating alone, I’ll opt to read during my meal rather than watch television. If I’m waiting to be summoned for an appointment, or waiting in line at the DMV, or something similar, I try and sneak in a small reading session. All those tiny instances do add up after a time, especially when my schedule is crammed and I feel like I’m not making a dent on my reading challenge based on my gym-time alone. I love reading while traveling and used to do so all the time, but I have developed an unfortunate tendency for motion sickness during long car/train/plane rides that I have to combat with anti-nausea meds that often make me sleepy. But, if I can manage it, I do try, because a good book can make a long journey far more enjoyable.

That’s pretty much it for my reading routine. I’m curious to know, from fellow avid readers – what is yours?

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

One Shot #2: Darkest Hour

Though I had an overall so-so opinion of Joe Wright’s 2017 Winston Churchill biopic, one aspect of the film stood out to me just as much as Gary Oldman’s spellbinding lead performance – and that’s Bruno Delbonnel’s brilliant cinematography.

And part of the reason is this one shot, right here:

dh

Even if you haven’t seen the film or know nothing about Winston Churchill’s tenure as the British Prime Minister during the chaos of WWII, this image tells the story. The entire sequence is evocative – as many sequences throughout the film are, thanks to effective lighting techniques and superb directing – but this one shot perfectly encapsulates the way Churchill is portrayed this movie. He is a man alone, and restricted, facing a terrifying, unknown darkness. But there is a single light – he can’t clearly see the path, but continues to forge ahead.

In the film, Churchill faces an endless onslaught of doubt and opposition – much of it justified, due to his somewhat checkered track record – as he leads the nation against the ever increasing threat of the Axis powers. And though it’s a position of prominence, he is still effectively in a cage. Bound by law, bound by those who fear him and those who loathe him, bound by indecision, bound by the threat of being deposed. He grapples with what to do in the face of the Dunkirk evacuation, and how to handle a nation – and a world – at war. Asserting you cannot reason with a tiger while your head is in its mouth.

This is what that still means – this is a man with his head in a tiger’s mouth. Alone, restricted, and facing the unknown.

Any suggestions for more films/shots, message me!

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Writing Techniques: Feedback

There is one aspect of writing that I have always feared the most, and that is receiving feedback on my work. It’s a dangerous beast, one that can either make your spirit soar, or tear your heart out. Any time I send any piece of writing out for a fresh opinion, the butterfly factory never fails to start pumping in my stomach. And though it’s an integral part of the writing process, it also raises a relentless battalion of “What ifs?”

What if they don’t like it? What if they tell me I should change everything? What if they say I should just give up? 

Of course, the big one is the first one, and, well… maybe they won’t like it. So what? Not everyone is going to like what you write, that’s impossibly idealistic. And sure, a critique partner or editor or beta reader might tell you that there are things that don’t work, or things you should change, or things that need to be cut so others may be salvaged. But most of the time – if they’re truly trying to be helpful – they’re also going to tell you why they think that. They’re going to give you reasons to back up their criticism, whether you ultimately follow it or not, and it might help you realize flaws or recurring issues in your writing before it reaches a wider audience.

Basically, feedback – positive, negative, and the in-between – is vital, no matter how nervous it makes you to ask for it. And trust me, the very thought of someone else reading my unpolished writing makes my anxiety rocket through the ceiling, every single time, without fail. It’s natural – I’m certainly not the first to feel that way.  But without a handful of outside opinions to steer you in the right direction, can you really improve your writing, or recognize what can be changed for the better?

Though it’s not quite the same as a beta reader, I have worked on my current MS (YA fantasy) with a freelance editor who has been immensely helpful. I was terrified to do it – to have someone I don’t know look over my work – but once I received her feedback, I knew I’d made the right choice, and I’m so grateful she was willing to work with me. She pointed out inconsistencies, pinpointed areas that needed clarification, and advised me on certain tidbits that needed anything from a complete overhaul to some minor tweaking, and she did so in a professional way and had reasons to back up each point. Plus, she told me what did work, so it didn’t feel like a laundry list of errors being hurled at me. I didn’t feel torn down or attacked by her critiques, I felt inspired to fix what needed to be fixed, and I have much more confidence in the current, more focused version of my manuscript than the first one I sent her, all thanks to her valid guidance.

I also sent off my MS to be copy-edited my my godmother, who is a retired English teacher. She not only taught me the proper use of a semicolon, which has consistently eluded me, but sticky-noted and marked all of my errors and then explained them. Plus she gave me her overall opinion and impression at the end, so her feedback was doubly helpful! I’m super happy to have her in my corner, and her support means the world to me. Now, I can recognize recurring grammar pitfalls and tread around them instead of tumbling into them.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had any luck finding a writer’s group in my area (maybe I should start one?) that has fellow YA writers, so mostly, I deal with my writing solo. I haven’t had a solid “workshop” group since college, and even then it was mainly for class. I don’t like inconveniencing people by asking them to read my work, an issue I need to work on, and I’d like to reach out to fellow YA writers online and build or join some kind of writing circle. But, in an effort to grab some fresh opinions, I’ve recently asked for feedback on my query letter from two friends of mine from college, whose work I’ve admired and opinions I value. And it was so incredibly helpful to have their feedback I can’t believe I didn’t think of asking them sooner. I’ve even asked one of them to take a look at the first few chapters of the manuscript, and I look forward to hearing back from him.

As someone with a history of (extensive) dabbling in fanfiction, and who has released an independent book, I’m not a stranger to feedback, though I am still looking to broaden my horizons before any future projects are released. Some feedback will be helpful to writers, some won’t – but it’s worth it to glean fresh opinions, no matter how fearful you are of what they’ll say. It’s still difficult, at times, to put myself out there – a feeling I’m sure that many writers share, because not all feedback will be glowing praise of your work. Some folks will gladly kick your ass rather than kiss it. But I firmly believe that constructive criticism is a necessity if you want to improve your skills, and write the best story you can.

On a side note, if you’re a fellow YA writer looking to possibly connect with a freelance editor, please drop me a line and I’ll let you know how I went about it!

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Bursting in Air

I have never been an outwardly patriotic person. I don’t wear flag tees, I don’t have an American flag banner displayed outside my house, I don’t sing along to the national anthem at sporting events, and I stood during, but didn’t recite, the pledge of allegiance during junior high and high school. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my country. I could go on a long rant about my feelings on patriotism versus what certain people seem to think patriotism and national pride is, especially in our tumultuous and occasionally hostile economic, political, and social climate, but I’ll tell this story instead.

On the night of the 3rd, I tagged along to the local fireworks show with my best friend and her sister. I’m not big on fireworks, especially due to the adverse effects they have on wildlife, pets, and folks (especially veterans) with PTSD, but hey, it got me out of the house and I got to spend time with people I care about. We got snow-cones and snagged excellent seats with a stellar view, at a table up on a patio area right outside our old high school.

As soon as we sat down, there was a drastic shift in the weather. It’s been broiling hot in PA this week – it’s felt like 100+ degrees the last few days – and just the walk from my friend’s car to the high school had me dripping sweat. But when we got to out vantage point, the wind kicked up, and we could see a froth of grey clouds swirling on the horizon, encroaching on the fading blue-gold sky. A few droplets of rain splattered down, but we still had about a half hour before the show would start, so we got a bit nervous that they’d have to cancel.

Then, the first rockets launched into the air – fifteen or so minutes early, likely an effort to beat the oncoming storm. The cloud-filled sky was full of sparkling, glittering colors, explosions and showers of radiant light, crackling gold dust, like stars bursting into the air then fading to ashes. We could feel the intensity of the ear-shattering ‘booms’ and ‘bangs’ down in our marrow. Many people view fireworks as a celebration of national pride, a joyous reminder of our independence, and I get that – it is a marvelous sight to behold. I found myself smiling throughout the display, enjoying my time with friends.

The rain held off, but the lightning didn’t. There’s be a pop of golden light and arcing beams of red and blue, and then a flash of lightning. The crowd would “ooh” and “ahh” at all the splendor, then cringe as the gray clouds were illuminated by flickering white and the growl of approaching thunder. Almost as though the fireworks were at war with the elements, battling for dominion over the sky. And it struck me, then, just how appropriate it was. Our country, and our freedom, fending off the ever-present threat of a storm – a storm of our own making. What is meant to be a celebration, or a moment of pride, eclipsed by something growing and festering beyond our control. The image of what patriotism is meant to be in conjunction with a force that shaves some beauty from it, and sends shivers down the spine.

I hope everyone had a Happy 4th – or just a good week, whether you’re American or not.

(Ant Man and the Wasp review coming Monday!)

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Yawp!

Back in college, in order to complete my English major I had to take what is known as a Major Authors course – a class focused on the works of one or two major authors. Admittedly, I first had my eye on a Poe and Hawthorne course, but the timing for that class didn’t work for my schedule, so I found myself in a Walt Whitman course with a professor who had a profoundly positive influence on my academic career. In short, that class was the highlight of my college experience.

If you’re not familiar with Walt Whitman’s poetry, well… you should be. I now have a well-loved copy of Leaves of Grass in my possession and it’s one of my favorites. Anyway, after that class I also took a creative writing course with the same professor, and my time learning about ol’ Uncle Walt directly inspired one of my final poems for that class, which is below:

 

Yawp!

Walt Whitman could stand on rooftops
and he could sound his barbaric ‘Yawp!’ to the world.

I have stood on rooftops, but the most I have ever managed,
is a decidedly anticlimactic ‘squeak.’

Walt Whitman marveled at the splendor of a noiseless, patient spider
while I crushed their silken threads with a boot.

Walt Whitman made a promise to California,
but I have never seen those distant, golden shores.

Walt Whitman could hear America singing,
but it’s a tune I’ve never been able to carry.

Walt Whitman sang the song of the open road, a call to all the world,
I have stared down empty highways, fearful of where they lead.

I am no Walt Whitman.
But someday, I should like to lay in leaves of grass
beneath a splendid, silent sun
and the song of myself will take shape
and I will come out from behind this mask
set sail upon that sea of time
and while I am roaming in thought,
I will find that all is truth.

The world should take good notice
of men like Walt Whitman.
And the world should hope to see
many poets to come
who heard his song of the universal,
and learned well his lessons
and they shall sound a carol of words
to the kosmos.

 

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.