I Lost, But –

I submitted a story to a contest. I didn’t win. I didn’t get a notable mention. For a few seconds, I felt as if I would never write again. Then I thought that I should change my aspirations for the future. A few minutes later, having climbed into bed and curled up in my black-covered duvet, I felt a little better and just decided to never share my writing with anyone ever again.
When I woke up from my nap, I stopped being ridiculous.
I may not be good enough to win a fiction contest to which only some dozens of people have entered stories. Alright. But two published authors who have taught me have told me that I will get published. That is exhibit A. Exhibit B is the fact that I’m on a forty-five day streak on the website 750words.com – meaning I haven’t missed even one day in the last month and a half of writing three-pages-worth of words. Sure, some days I had to cheat and write parts of essays or schoolwork within that blank white space, but it was still my original writing in there.
Exhibit C is the discover I made a couple months ago – my mental and emotional state deteriorate when I don’t write for a while. I doubted this at first, but it can’t be a coincedance that I started to feel more on top of things once I began to write fiction again. Exhibit D is that people have been reading my blog for months or years now and have seen my writing develop and improve. Exhibit E is the fact that sometimes, once in a while, on a rare day, even I think that I’m a decent writer.
So. Okay. I didn’t win the contest. Maybe the story wasn’t good enough. Maybe others were just much better. Maybe it wasn’t my time, as one of my friends put it. Whatever the reason, I’m not going to give up. I’m only twenty-one, for goodness’ sake. I’m only just finishing up my sophomore year of college. I’m going to freaking Oxford next year.
Anyway, haven’t I known the reality of my choices for years? When I was in second grade, I began to develop the ambition of becoming an actress. I nourished, cherished and worked at my ambition for years. When my father became ill and I retreated from the world to stay at home with him and my mother, I lost my confidence in acting and the mere idea of being in public in such a vulnerable position stopped being even remotely appealing. Instead, I developed my love of writing, a far more private endeavor that nevertheless connects me to people in its own way.
But the point is that since I was about seven years old, my parents warned me that going for a career in an art would be a long, hard slog. They told me that I may not make much or even any money and they reminded me that there are a lot of talented people out there. They didn’t say this to discourage me – they simply wanted me to be aware of the realities of the world. So my seven year old self began to be aware of the fact that I shouldn’t take my future employment for granted.
For fourteen years I’ve been aware that I may work at some sort of drudge-job that I don’t enjoy or that isn’t “ambitious” (whatever that means) in order to support myself while trying to work at what I love. I’ve decided recently that I’m going to get a bar-tending certificate after I finish college; I want to try working night shifts, and I want to be exposed to people, their stories and their lives in a way that few people get to be as fully as bartenders do.
My grandpa wanted me to be a doctor. When I took care of my father while he was sick, he reinforced the idea that I would make an amazing doctor. You know what? I would. I would make a wonderful doctor. I would be empathic and caring, personable and kind.
But I don’t want to be a doctor, and my not wanting to be one would, ultimately, make me hate my job – and that would probably affect my work eventually. I want to be an author. There. I said it. An AUTHOR. I already am a writer, and will be for the rest of my life if it depends on me. But I also want to be an author. I don’t know if I will be. But I’m going to try my damnedest.

A Pleasant Surprise – A Writer’s Tale

I tell people that I write. Because I do. But I have a hard time calling myself a writer. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone I was an author, either, even though I’m working on my third novel right now.

However, I just had one of the coolest writing experiences I’ve ever had, and one which I’m eager to remember in years to come. Which is why I’m writing a second blog post today, something I rarely, if ever, do. Ready? My tale might not be exciting to anyone who isn’t me, but here goes.

My current work in progress includes some six main characters. I wrote the first ten pages of it about a year ago, in this blog in fact [if you’re interested, search for “Mr. and Mrs. Adams,” “Amanda,” and “Heather.”] During my semester at Sarah Lawrence this year, I took a writing class, and began to write this novel in earnest.

About five months ago, I wrote a scene in which Amanda, one of my characters, is drunk and having a breakdown of sorts. She has never been drunk before, is introverted, is scared of her own passions and hides behind her instincts as a caregiver much of the time. As the listener, she can remain safe and closed off while still maintaining meaningful relationships with people she cares about.

Now, this scene I wrote so many months ago was, I knew, going to fit in only towards the very end of the novel. I haven’t looked at the scene in months, waiting for the right time to go back to it and insert it where I wanted it to go. The day before yesterday, I was writing the scene that I knew would directly precede it, in which Amanda’s friend makes her a drink, and Amanda, for the first time ever, decides to be reckless and takes it.

In the scene I wrote the other day, I had her friend making her a White Russian. The next scene I wrote was about other characters. Today, I wanted to put in the scene I’d written all those months ago, and so I scrolled to the very bottom of my file to reread it and see what I was going to have to change. And here’s the kicker. I’d written there that Amanda was drunk on “milky White Russians.”

!!!

I had NO IDEA that I’d specified in that scene what she’d been drinking! I didn’t remember AT ALL that I’d already had the idea of what I wanted her to be drunk on! When I’d written the scene a couple days ago, I’d decided to go for White Russians because I thought it was the kind of yummy alcoholic drink that her friend would mix in order to lure Amanda into drinking!

But it seems that Amanda told me ages ago that she wanted her first experience with alcohol to be with this particular drink. It seems that even her friend, a relatively minor side-character, knew in February already that she was going to make Amanda a White Russian for her first alcoholic beverage. It seems that I know my characters even better than I thought, or else that they’ve been driving me to write what they feel is the truth for them.

So. Maybe not the most exciting tale for anyone who hasn’t had the experience of their writing taking on a life of its own. But let me tell you, I’m going to be grinning about this revelation all day long.

EDIT: Another thing – in this same scene, written months ago, I’d mentioned homesickness for her mother. In a scene I wrote about a week ago, Amanda was missing her father and feeling homesick. So yeah, I think Amanda is really quite alive in my mind. Which is exciting.

Carried Away

I’ve recently discovered two authors that I’m falling in love with. The first is P. D. James, the Englishwoman who produces fabulously intricate crime novels; the second is Mr. Charles de Lint, a master of urban fantasy novels. Both of them have swept me up and have whirled me about until I’m giddy with wonder. Their novels have absolutely nothing in common, mind you, I’ve simply discovered both authors around the same period of time.

What they do have in common, however, is that incredible and indescribable magic that pulls me into their worlds from the very first page. The first words of the first page draw me in completely, engaging my senses and imagination from the very start and holding me tightly. It becomes so that I walk around doing everything with my nose buried in the book – emptying the dishwasher, making breakfast, walking to do errands… I can’t for the life of me put down the books. I find myself making excuses to stand around the kitchen making coffee just so I can keep reading instead of turning to another activity.

I love discovering new authors that carry me away completely in this fashion. I get so excited when I realize how many more books they’ve written and how much more I have to look forward to. Have any of you recently discovered anyone new and exciting to you?

Guest Post: J.W. Nicklaus, End of Virtual Book Tour

J.W. Nicklaus was kind enough to stop by on my humble blog for an interview, as promised a month or so ago, at the beginning of his tour! I hope you enjoy the following interview.

SI: First off, just to get things warmed up, I know you’ve answered this question multiple times over the course of your blog tour, but I’d like you to give a short explanation of what your book is about, in case there are readers of mine who have only recently joined me.

J.W.: There’s an old sales maxim that says you must “ask for the sale,” so here it goes: “Buy the book!”

I guess that’s more of a declarative statement than a question, huh? Never was much good at sales.

The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between is a collection of short stories which revolve around the dichotomous themes of Hope and Love. One of the really neat things about the blog tour was seeing how clearly the reviewers picked up on the underlying messages in the stories. Most of them had descriptions for the stories ranging from “love lost” and “destructive love,” to “wishing for love.” One of them hit the nail on the head when she stated the stories weren’t so much about “romantic love, but hopeful love.” So don’t think they’re all sappy love stories. As others are finding out, there’s quite a range between the front and back covers. ;^)

SI: How do you feel now, at the end of your first online book tour? Excited? Let down? Were the responses what you were hoping for?

J.W.: I had way oversimplified the task when it first began. All the writing is done before the tour actually begins, so I thought it would be a snap to simply check the stops and make comments when needed; commenting is one of the coolest parts of blogging, getting feedback on what you’ve put out there for public consumption.

But there’s a lot of other work involved if you stand any chance of having people drop in during the tour. There’s an old advertising campaign that simply states “Know what happens when you don’t advertise? Nothing.” So I had to put the tour schedule on my web site and then come up with some entertaining way to try and convince folks to visit the stops from my blog.

I’m here to tell ya, that takes some work. And I had the easy part. Dorothy Thompson (my tour coordinator) had 4 other authors touring at the same time I was.

I’m excited and intrigued by what the future holds for the book. The tour was a good way to get my name out on the internet. Try searching for “J.W. Nicklaus” and see what comes up. Having all that online exposure now makes it easier to use as a reference as I being exploring other promotional endeavors.

On the other hand, as much work as it was I’m also a little dismayed that it’s over because it was so interesting to see all the different comments and peoples’ takes on the subject at hand any given day. I got to interact with some really nice folks. Perhaps the most memorable responses came from my post at The Bookworm, regarding RIF, and one reviewers reaction to my story 10:18. Lots of people remembered the Reading Is Fundamental organization (they’re still around today!), and the reviewer was angered by 10:18, although she’d didn’t elaborate as to why. I also received a lot of feedback on my article regarding reading devices and the shift in publishing dynamics. I didn’t think that was going to get much readership at all, but it brought out lots of passionate responses. Suffice to say that it appears most readers are definitely attached to their physical books.

SI: You’ve mentioned a wish to finish that novel you’ve been working on. Is it already in the works or are you currently focusing on The Light, The Dark, and Ember Between‘s promotion?

J.W.: Currently I’m steeped in promotional efforts for Ember Between, and likely will be so at least through the end of this year, and most likely for the foreseeable future. I already have one event scheduled for November with another author.

In the meantime, when time permits, I’ll dabble with the novel here and there, I’m sure. There’s another short story I really want to finish, too. But I’ll tell you what . . . if you and your readers hang around a while I’ll post a chapter or two of Eden when I feel it’s ready. That’ll be waaaaaay in advance of any manuscript submission. So you may get to see it in its raw form. I would really love to have it ready for submittal within two years, but there’s a lot of life to take care of every day, and only a precious small slice of it to dedicate to writing. I will get to it though, I promise you that.

And now, some lighter fare . . .

SI: Do you prefer writing by hand or with a keyboard?

J.W.: My penmanship leaves much to be desired. Does that answer your question? LOL!

When there’s no keyboard handy (I don’t tote around a laptop) I will resort to using old school technology?pen and paper. Here’s a little something for those still paying attention: The last piece in my book is titled In the Name Of Love. It’s a piece about love for one’s country. I wrote that all by hand after walking around Washington D.C. all day. Wrote it upon the banister of the north stairs leading to Capitol Hill. Of course I later typed it, but its initial incarnation was done the classical way ;^)

SI: Do you like to write at home or outside somewhere?

J.W.: At home I have all the comforts and distractions you could possibly ask for. Food or drink is never far from reach, nor is music. The surroundings are (obviously) very familiar, so it’s comfortable. I think I tend to be more focused and contemplative when writing away from here. I’ve traveled with a laptop a couple times and found it very interesting to sit in a hotel lobby and write while immersed in foreign surroundings. I’ve even sat in two different Business Centers and wrote. Simply being up and about stimulates creativity for me, so I think that plays into my external writing focus.

SI: Where would you travel to right now, if you could?

J.W.: I would love to go pretty much anywhere that would have me in for a book reading/signing. I’m  far more inclined to be attracted to areas of greenery, though, and of course, large bodies of water. I wouldn’t mind traveling to Minnesota, or New York, or even Texas (I could visit my brother). I think it would be a blast to travel to Boston and visit Fenway with my son. We’re not Red Sox fans, but it’s a classic ballpark . . . Wrigley would do nicely, too!

And finally, a couple questions about your perspective on writing . . .

SI: Writers are a self-criticizing bunch, just like other artists. Were there times during the writing process when you couldn’t stand something you wrote? Were you pleased with the final outcome of each of your stories?

J.W.: I think all of us are our harshest critics. I’ll give you a concrete example: There are a couple of stories in the book that I think are a little weak, but I also think they’re entertaining, so I’m willing to overlook my critical perceptions of them. In both cases I did some re-writing, and they are stronger for it. I could have spent months doing continuous revisions, but there comes a point when I have to step back and ask “will the reader enjoy this, or is my nit picking getting in the way of what may be a good story?”

And no, I won’t reveal which stories they are . . . evil, huh!

If ever I write something I really can’t stand, I just don’t return to it. I won’t finish a story that I think isn’t working or isn’t up to my standards. No point in it. As for the collection as a whole, I am truly proud of them. For me there is no denying that, at a minimum, this book will be one tangible thing I leave behind which will give people an idea of the kind of person I truly am. To that extent, I have to temper my desire for perfection with the acceptance that nothing in this world is perfect . . . and I’m genuinely at peace with that.

SI: Finally, has the long and grueling process of writing and putting together this book had a negative effect on your daily life, or are you ready to jump back into the fray and keep on writing?

J.W.: It’s been the furthest thing from negative. It has assuredly kept me busy, and sometimes up past my bedtime (I enjoy my sleep!), but the rewards have been worth all the effort. It’s a whole different kind of scary when you put your words and ideas out for all to see and consider?but to see people really embrace the book and enjoy it, man, is that one heck of a payback.

There really isn’t any way for me to not write on a daily basis, whether e-mails or blogging. On those occasions when I don’t write, I am always reading. Most times that means I’m reading your blog, or Joy’s, GBU’s, Laurie K’s, etc. There’s also a group I belong to that shoots stuff back and forth every day, so there’s always something interesting going on.

I once remarked to Joy that I read her blog more often than I comment, and she told me to go ahead and leave a small comment, just so she knows I was there. She adores getting comments, and she has the readership to prove it. The one thing I didn’t tell her is that I don’t comment if I don’t feel I have anything of value or interest to say. It doesn’t mean I don’t like this post or that, but I just wasn’t feeling like I had an opinion worth sharing. And that doesn’t hold for just her blog, but all blogs or sites I visit. I don’t know how some of these folks keep up with their blogrolls!

Ms. Slightly, thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to guest post and do this interview with you. Both were a lot of fun, and I hope your readers will enjoy it (and I hope my book!). I know that some day I will get to return the favor. Those who may not read my blog can find a link to it at the right in your blogroll, or they can also visit my site, http://www.avomnia.com to learn a little more about me or get a signed copy of the book!

Thank you, J.W., it was a pleasure having you!