Aug 18, 2014

The Circular Process of Growth

There are moments in acquiring any skill where progress can be achieved and feel like it is stagnant or falling back. It's part of the knowledge spectrum: people who don't know what they don't know are often quite bold. As knowledge is acquired, it becomes clear that what is known about a subject is less than previously thought.

And so it is with writing. When writers first start out, they often consider characters and setting, and the problem that needs to be solved. That's what they know. But then they attend classes, read books, study the way other writers write, we notice things. We start to know what we don't know.

But sometimes, that knowledge sneaks up on you, shouts a truth and runs away laughing as you come to recognize a key component you missed.

If you are like me, you probably don't like being scared. I usually react with anger. And so it was when I had such a moment a few days ago. This essential component of writing was something I should have noticed, but didn't. It was probably a contributor to the reason I got rejected in many queries and contests. And now that I can see it, I can't believe I didn't see it.

So, anger dissipated, reason took control again, and the answer, though hard to swallow, is clear.

The book I had almost 40k written in needs to be completely restructured, rethought, rewritten.

And so does the book I was querying.


Lucky for me, I grew up in a family that taught me the value of work. Lucky for me, I'm not afraid of a challenge. Lucky for me, I figured this out before there were two full books to rewrite.

This is the way it goes, knowledge. The only variable is what we plan to do with the growing pains.

For me, I plan to write.

Aug 15, 2014

On Trust: Reality and Characters

Every year, at the beginning of school, the district I work for has an opening institute. It is the time when we celebrate people who have been working in the district in 5 year increments (had one this year at 40 years - whew!), discuss the vision for the new year, that kind of thing.

Then we have a speaker of some kind. It is usually someone who aligns with what the superintendent wants us to consider, start on the right foot and so forth. This experience over the last eight years has elicited various reactions from me. But this year it hit home.

The conversation was about trust. Do students trust their teachers? Do the teachers trust their administration? Does the public trust education and vice versa? And through the entire presentation I found myself volleying between "This is brilliant and I know how to be a better teacher/wife/mom/friend" and "Wow, would this ever be a great exercise to utilize in character development".

And it got me thinking about how someone knows they can or cannot trust another. Sure, we've all see the movies, read the books, attended the plays where there is a gross violation of trust. We gasp, raise hands to our mouths, flip back pages to see if we really did see it coming and so forth. But how do we know when a character can trust another?

When we can trust someone?

When someone can trust us?

As I have considered this for a few days, I've determined it all comes down to actions. We can create characters who were Eagle Scouts, donate time at soup kitchens, fundraise for the less fortunate all we want, but that doesn't elicit an aura of trust. That can only come from that character doing what they say they will do.



Which brings me to reality. I've been in a writing funk lately - one that is different than what I've experienced before. The blog suffered, my novel suffered, social media suffered. But a large part of the funk was that I didn't trust myself. I said that writing is important, that connecting with people who uplift and inspire was important, but I didn't have the actions to back it up.

I was betraying the trust in myself.

This isn't often a violation in trust that we consider, but it is probably the most important one for us to maintain.

And same thing with our characters.

Aug 12, 2014

Farewell Mr. Williams

I'm not one to get caught up in all things Hollywood. I don't know who is married to, fighting, dating, divorcing, babying whom - it rarely shows up on my radar. And I don't often know about movies coming out unless my more movie inclined friends start buzzing about it.

But every once in a while, I do make a connection with a movie that for whatever reason, strums the chords of my heart, tickles the regions of my brain, makes me sit up and pay attention to the art on the screen. And when that happens for me, it is something that lingers for a long long time.

And rarely does it happen in proximity of the same actor.

Except once.

Dead Poet's Society came out a few years before I started high school, and it was several years after the release before I saw it. It didn't take long for me to recognize that this was a movie that would give me the experience that was rare. And, being a teenager when I saw it first, I related to those kids. They were rich and male and had an upbringing that I didn't understand, but they made a connection to literature, something that if they had attended my high school, would have made them quite unpopular. But they felt a connection, an elevation in their lives (both literally and figuratively) and they knew that the experiences they had with people who had been dead for hundreds of years was undeniable, permanent and strong.

When I watched it again, several years later, I felt something stir in me again, something brought about by my own life experiences, maturity, and quest for meaning. I watched as the boys again went through their learning processes, and again fell in love with literature. But this time my connection was with their mentor. The way Mr. Keating broke the status quo, allowed himself to be strange and quirky and himself left me in awe. Once again, I was seeing the world from a different view, an elevated view, enjoying a glimpse of a world I hadn't known before, but desperately wanted to embrace.

If we fast forward a few years, I found myself encircled in the chaos and sorrow of a miscarriage, unable to reconcile what I was feeling with the person I had been before. Tears appeared without warning and lingered longer than they had before. Once again, the rarity of movies changed my life. My husband and I sat on the couch one night, watching the speculative beauty of What Dreams May Come drift across the screen. I wept repeatedly, my own sorrow matching that conveyed on the screen, and simultaneously experiencing wonder and hope that the possibilities.

But sorrow is a funny thing. I've experienced it a few times in my life, never to the depths I know many feel, but enough that it permeates my mind, distracts from what I would prefer to be doing, creating a feeling of lethargy and a wish to fade. Thinking I was going to embrace a movie to bring about laughter and add some color back into my life, I turned to the comedic. I didn't know anything about Patch Adams when I sat down to watch it, but quickly found it provided the connection I was seeking.

I felt like that movie gave me the chance to laugh in the face of sorrow, even if it was only a patch, something small to fix the problem for now.

Last night, after hearing of Robin William's passing, my heart broke. He was the actor, the person with the insight, who motivated me to pursue my passions as a teen, to seek a career that would allow me to impact others, who gave me permission to weep and encouraged me to heal. 

And this was just the start. 

I am so grateful that he shared his vision and passion and lessons and laughter with the world.

With me.

Mr. Robin Williams - I hope you have found an eternity of peace and laughter. 

Apr 11, 2014

From Cliche to Authentic

Not too long ago, I sat with my sister in law, letting her peruse through our family’s old photo albums, explaining to her who everyone was. We laughed at my larger than life forehead as a baby (seriously, add an arc to the Coneheads…you get the picture), at how some of my sisters look the same from 1-31, and she got some quality exposure to what 80’s and 90’s hair really looked like.

But then we turned to the page that held a photo of my grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary. Grandma and Grandpa have been gone for over a decade, and had a longer than we would have liked decline before that. On that night, looking at the two of them when they were still healthy, Grandpa wearing his grey suit, Grandpa in her bright red lipstick, a knot started in my stomach, crept up through my throat and tried to emerge from my eyes.

Grandma and Grandpa, still side by side.
Grandma died first, and forever sealed in my memory is the image of Grandpa, being supported by his children as he leaned over to his wife, lips trembling, and gave her the last kiss. And then he sobbed.

For a long time I was in denial that I liked romantic stories. I get really tired of the formula – boy meets girl, they are attracted to each other, there’s some sheet time, real life makes them break up, they realize life was better with the other, reunite, confess love, marry. Usually within two weeks. Three if they were more mature.

But I love romance – the true soul penetrating, self-exploration that takes place when another life is added. I love seeing characters slowly lower their tough kick-A attitude and become a person again, susceptible to disappointment and questions and wondering.  I love that way that love – true love – can change people, help them refocus, make them long to be a better person. And I love when this is so deep that weight gain and balding and stressful days at work and recognizing there is no way possible for love to always come first continues to deepen the quality of the relationship.

For me, time is the difference between something that is romantic and something that has romance. Time is what makes someone long to be supported by his three grown sons so that he can give his newly departed wife one last kiss. Time is what makes the couple look beyond the wrinkles and grey hair and sagging middles, allowing them to only see the quality of person they are in love with, noting not the physical changes, but the sanctity of emotion. Times allows the love to move beyond the cliché and into the authentic.

Apr 9, 2014

Women's Fiction Wednesday - The Kitchen Daughter

This week's featured novel is The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry. 

I can't remember if I heard the premise of the book first or saw the cover, but I remember knowing I would do anything to get my hands on this book. And, in a moment of rarity in my life, the library had it. I dove in with some decent expectations and found, within just pages, they had been met and exceeded. 

Synopsis from Goodreads: After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Ginny has Aspergers, something I didn't know going into the book, but I felt like it was shown in a way that is both cautious and honest. The situation with the home increases with tension knowing this fact, and then weaving in the ghosts that appear, the courage that Ginny manifests to call them, made her as a character even more endearing. The language is lush, descriptions of food left my mouth watering on more than one occasion, and the resolution brought me incredible satisfaction. It has been out for a few years, but if you haven't spent time with Ginny, I recommend you do so soon.