Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Collections: Beautiful, Meaningful Words

BuzzFeed has a post of 51 of the Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature and it inspired me. I keep a journal of my favorite lines from books I've read. Here are some words that I have collected where I found deep, personal meaning and connection.

"I was a New Yorker, and if you are a real New Yorker, you don’t leave. You want to leave all the time but you don’t. That’s something fake New Yorkers do. The same way that if you’re really part of a family, you don’t leave it. To leave a family physically felt more drastic. Like leaving a self behind."
Fiction Ruined My Life, a memoir, by Jeanne Darst

"Once my family’s strong, predictable safety net, I now felt like the trapeze artist himself, flying from bar to bar, grasping at any line that might swing my way in hopes of staying afloat."
Househusband, by Ad Hudler

"I’d always thought confidence was as permanent as eye color or earlobe size, but it had become clear to me that it was as fragile as cornchips."
Househusband, by Ad Hudler

"It takes time to find the courage to display the parts of yourself that aren’t bright and shining. But you have to see them, have to know they’re inside you, because they will resonate in the landscapes you control."
Sebastian, by Anne Bishop

"I have not survived against all odds. I have not witnessed the extraordinary. I have not lived to tell. This, this is my story."
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal 

"It seems we humans so want to divvy the world up into clean little packages that fit neatly together. But in reality, each package seeps into the next, affects the next. And the pile forever shifts. And, as far as I can tell, no one understands where the contents in the packages came from to begin with. I certainly don’t. It seems to me now that the point of living is less to understand, more to not become dulled to the miracles that are everywhere."
Madapple, by Christina Meldrum

"I don’t know how to rest in myself very well, how to be content staying put. But mother knows how to be at home and, really, to be in herself. It’s actually very beautiful what she does."
Travelling with Pomegranates, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

"The two most powerful impulses of my life have been the urge to create and the urge to be – a set of opposites – and they have always clunked into each other."
Travelling with Pomegranates, by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor

"I began to realize how hard it was to separate out all the voices to hear the single one that came just from me."
Savvy, by Ingrid Law

"Memories and experiences become part of who we are. Kansas seeps into our cells, reconfigures our DNA, claims us as its own. If we leave, it follows."
Flyover People, by Cheryl Unruh

"We never lose this sense of being grounded, of knowing who we are and why we're here, of being nurtured by the soil and the grass and the stars."
Flyover People, by Cheryl Unruh

"I am homing in on forty years old. Another twenty years and I’m looking at sixty, and these days, twenty years seems like next Tuesday. I feel young but pressed for time. I am beginning to get a sense of all I will leave undone in this life. It makes my breath go a little short. I’m not desperate, just hungry to fill the time I am allowed."
Truck: A Love Story, by Michael Perry

"There is nothing further from calm than a shelf full of books. For these are the screams and the shouts and the moans of humanity, quiet only on the outside."
Harvey & Eck, by Erin O’Brien

"But for those hardy tempers who could love great spaces, where one spot was no more important than another, experience of the sea of grass was glorifying. On the Great Plains, a man of strong identity stood always at the center of his world – a king of infinite space."
Kansas Ghost Woman, by James S. Barnett

"It is true I do not speak as well as I can think. But that is true of most people, as nearly as I can tell."
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

"Some people have an inner voice. I have an inner to-do list. And since I'm a glass-half empty type of guy, my list is entitled "Things That Are Wrong With Matt." Whenever I am in danger of feeling too good about myself, that list starts flashing in my head."
American Shaolin, by Matthew Polly

"Who is the real person, I wonder—the ten-year-old being dragged or the sixty-year-old going round full of admiration and appreciation? How many other characters can I expect to be before I die?"
No, I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year, by Virginia Ironside

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It's a work-in-progress that may not see the light of day for a very long time. I got my final 2,000 words for NaNoWriMo in just under the wire. Even after a long weekend away from home, I was too close to give it all up.

Many thanks to my writing buddies for NaNoWriMo 2014, Cheryl Unruh and Marcia Lawrence.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

10,000 Words to Go

The end of November is near and I've just passed 40,000 words on my NaNoWriMo project. It's been going well. Getting the time to write daily has not been a problem, but upping my word count per day has taken some time to get going. I had developed something of a 500-800 words per day habit, apparently. That's the half hour window I've been holding out for writing fairly consistently. It doesn't sound like much, but believe me, a half hour once or twice a day gets me a lot farther on a piece than an 8 hour stretch once a week.

At least, that is the rhythm that is working for me now. And through the month of November I've been working to get that number closer to 2,000 words per day, which has often looked something like about a thousand in the morning and another thousand in the evening.

Now I'm looking at an extended family meal for Thanksgiving tomorrow (more finger food and games, low pressure) and travel this weekend for time with more extended family. I'm staring at the last 10,000 word stretch and wondering if I can do it. Can I really get it written now with so much activity on the schedule for these final days of November?

My story has reached that point where I can see the final chapters, I just have not written them yet. I can see, as well, so many changes that need to be made. I got over a hump these past several days where I spent too much time dwelling on all that hadn't made it into the story, then somehow managed to narrow my focus again. For a full 24 hours, the novel morphed into an even bigger project, involving a blog (written by both my fictional character and me in real time) and an online community and more. I have this tendency to want to throw all of life's questions into my fiction. Maybe my subconscious thinks that if I can tether these thoughts to paper, I can get them out of my system, once and for all.

It was an eye-opening moment, however, trying to summarize the direction I was going/had gone with this particular story and seeing that I was pulling in themes from past unfinished novels and trying to cram them into this story, as well. It may be that my December (and beyond) project is already calling to me and I am not yet ready to listen (10,000 words till I'm ready, almost there).

I am determined to bring something to completion before spring. I simply have to decide which piece I am ready to tackle. That box under the bed is full enough. If it were an oven, the fire alarm would be telling me there were several pieces ready to come out now, to get the finishing touches, to have their chance to be served, at least, on the buffet line of books. (This is a more literal reference than it should be -- I do have several printed works-in-progress in binder clips, stored on the bottom shelf beside my bed.)

While I started NaNoWriMo with the dream that perhaps I would be able to write a novel from start to finish, take another month or two to tidy it up, have it edited, get it published.., I am ending November with a better understanding that this is simply not the way my brain works. I have no more hope for this novel, at this point, than I had for Tiger Hunting in 2009 when I closed the file for the final time, having reached my 50,000 words.

Yet, the hope/the belief is there. I do see potential in my current work-in-progress, and I see that getting it this far, so quickly, has been as exhausting as it has been exhilarating.

I will get 10,000 words more by the end of the month. I've come too far to drop the effort now. And maybe one day, a few years down the road, I will be able to share what I came up with for NaNoWriMo 2014.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Regina Sirois Inspiration Revisited

All the way back in August I attended a workshop in Topeka where author Regina Sirois was the keynote speaker. I said at the time that it was quite possibly the most powerful talk I have ever heard about our lives as writers, and it still holds true. I have found myself reflecting on her talk again and again in the weeks since.

Regina compared writing to mountain climbing. She actually told some very moving stories about people who had climbed Mt. Everest. The way she pulled it all together was simply amazing. I was inspired and touched in equal measure. I actually had to pull out a tissue during her talk. I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one in the room who got tearful.

Since there is no way I could ever do justice to Regina's speech, I'm simply going to leave it at this; if you ever get the chance to hear her speak, go! Listen. She's a powerful speaker.

But a little bit of my take-away, the message that grabbed hold of me and continues to echo in my head from day to day, that part I will attempt to share here.

If success in writing is akin to reaching the summit of Mt. Everest, the lesson we writers need to learn from the mountain climbers is that nobody lives at the top of that mountain. It's a thrilling victory, for sure. It's a marvelous view. But life is what happens at the base of the mountain. And as writers, the bulk of our lives is going to be spent working our way up the mountain, and coming down again, and simply living, day-to-day, at the base of that mountain.

We might define success as simply publishing a book, or selling 100 copies of that book, or selling 500 copies of that book, or making somebody's best seller list with that book... whatever success is, it's not a place you live. You don't go and camp on Mt. Success, saying, "I've won. I'm at the top of the mountain now. I have arrived."

The book might be the gold star; the view from the top of the mountain is certainly reward in itself, but where you live, what you choose to do with the rest of your time, that is what really counts.

A particularly poignant part of Regina's speech was when she talked about the people who die trying to climb Mt. Everest. In fact, reaching the summit doesn't seem to be the hardest part. It's the coming down again. So many people who don't make it down from Mt. Everest, actually make it all the way to the top before they are defeated, often somewhere along the road on the way back down.

With writers, I think it is the same. I've met so many people who have published books, and in some small way, I hope most of them recognize that publication as at least some sort of victory. But far too many stand there, book in hand, saying, "I've done it. I've written my book. Why am I not standing on top of the mountain? I don't like the view from where I'm at."

It would be easy to be that person, standing somewhere on the path, not really going up or down, wondering how it is that I've packed my gear, I've done some hiking, and yet I really can't see from here the view I was hoping to see. It would be easy to see my work as having failed.

If I am to become the writer I would one day like to be, it's going to be a series of trips up that mountain and back down again. Maybe, it's going to be understanding that this is a little mountain I have crested, and the view from the top of it was wonderful and brief and now I need to learn how to climb a bigger mountain.

In a recent email exchange with a yet-to-be-published author, I wrote, "I am convinced that writing is a profession of constantly becoming."

Becoming what? That's entirely up to each individual writer, I suppose.

I've been censoring myself here, I've come to realize. I've had lots of blog posts and thoughts on writing to share, but now that I'm a published writer, I've been doubting much of what I've come up with to share. I didn't want to sound like a novice, you see. I didn't want to defeat my previous victory--the published book--by admitting that I still don't always feel like I know what I'm doing.

I've been hesitant to say, "Yes, I've seen the view from the summit, but I'm not sure my mountain is the mountain you are looking for."

Everyone climbs their own mountain.

Everyone defines success in their own way, and if they are lucky, in my view, that definition is fluid and changing.

My new email-pal returned a note yesterday morning saying that my "thoughts were so affirmative" and that my advice was "a vital green light" that she was on the right path. For just a moment, while reading that email, I caught a glimpse of the view again. It felt good to know that I was part of giving someone else at least the belief, the possibility that they were on the right mountain, and that getting up it was possible from where they stood. Maybe someone's journey was easier, for at least a moment, because I was there, willing to extend a hand.

I am a writer, and I am still becoming the writer that I would one day like to be.

If you are a writer, too, I say welcome to the mountain. Don't give up. Don't wait for the perfect Sherpa to come along and show you the way, or be your guide. Just write. Learn. And write some more. Enjoy each success, and keep going, up or down the mountain, or camping out at the base for a while, it's all good. It's all about living.

Monday, November 17, 2014

FinWeeBloEnt (Finally, a Weekend Blog Entry)

It’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I am participating with gusto for the first time since 2009, the year that Tiger Hunting was born. This year, I actually started with a little warm-up – I’ll call it WriMoOct (Write More in October) – wherein I was getting about 500 words a day head start on the WIP (work in progress).

With all this writing going on, one would think that I could have managed to write a little more about the writing life here. I certainly have a list of a dozen or so entries I intended to complete… alas, the time I have to spend writing per my calendar does not always jive with the time I spend writing in reality. And while I had high hopes for the month of November, I think the truth of the matter is that I kept piling tasks on to the post-twice-per-week-farmers-market schedule that now that I have arrived in only-twice-per-month-markets schedule, I haven’t really felt that there is that much more time on my hands.

Or maybe I have. I have upped my WriMoOct accomplishments to something closer to the 2,000ish words per day rate. You won’t hear me complaining.

What is adding to the fun of NaNoWriMo this year (aside from the two pages… I’m not kidding… two pages I spent writing about a woman picking up giant dog poo from her lawn) is that I’ve got two friends who are working on big writing projects this month, as well, and we are sharing reports daily. It’s one thing to log your words at and be a part of a virtual community, but being a part of real life cheer sessions and the casual banter that goes along with in-person relationships is just the extra bit of motivation I seem to sometimes need to actually sit down and focus on this project rather than one of a half-dozen others on my list.

My two friends, quite frankly, are pretty much kicking my butt on word count right now. I’m about 5,000 short of the ½ way goal to 50,000 words for the month, but well within range to complete the task.

I’m trying to decide if I want to make the month of December a TaDraNoCoDu (Tackle that Draft of a Novel Collecting Dust) month or a MaHe2BooPu (Market the Hell out of the 2 Books I already have Published) month.

As much as I want to make room on my calendar for all of it, I’m not quite there yet. I’m making the most of the time that I have. And most importantly, I’m having fun doing it.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Virtual Farm: Short Story

I guess I was too distracted last month with the publication of Green Bike to share the news that my short story, Virtual Farm, was published at Page & Spine.

"Ed reluctantly lifted the goggles and held them up to his face. It was as if the world immediately tilted. He felt a little dizzy. The rich and vibrant greens of the forest around him nearly pulsed. Small fairies flitted back and forth, their feet not even touching the ground. He pulled the goggles away and examined the people, real people, just like him. He lifted the goggles again, feeling his breath catch. Flitting fairies came into view."

Read the whole story at Page & Spine.

Monday, August 25, 2014

In the Company of Other Writers

I am a homebody at heart, but am almost always willing to get out of the house for a gathering of writers. Sometimes I will try and talk myself out of it at the last minute, but the hubby usually reminds me that spending time with other writers tends to leave me energized. In fact, on Saturday, when I almost ducked out of an opportunity to go to the Local Author Workshop in Topeka, he said, "These are your people. Go. Have fun. Enjoy your day."

And I did, of course. I did all of these things.

I enjoyed the ride (with my writing friend, Cheryl) and I enjoyed the speakers. I even came home with a new author crush. Regina Sirois, author of On Little Wings, gave what was quite possibly the most powerful talk about our lives as writers that I have ever heard. I hope to write more about her amazing keynote speach soon.

Tonight I enjoyed yet another gathering of writers. Our local group gets together once per month. There is typically somewhere between two and ten members. More seem to be coming these days than fewer. We are growing, bit by little bit. It is a diverse and very casual group. We take turns leading each month and have covered a variety of topics in the last few years. Tonight we talked about tips and ideas for marketing our books. We had five returning and two new members, a lot of good energy, and it may be several hours before I make it to bed!

Now I am looking forward to several weeks of schedule-free evenings and perhaps even a few semi-free weekends so that I can devote more time to my most recent endeavor, a book published with co-authors
Kevin Rabas and Mike Graves. The Green Bike launch will be here soon!

Let me provide a teaser:

Emporia authors Kevin Rabas, Mike Graves and Tracy Million Simmons, will host a launch party for their new novel on Saturday, September 6, from noon to 2:00 PM at Town Crier Bookstore, 716 Commercial, Emporia, Kansas.

Green Bike follows the lives of three couples, using the McGuffin, or shared symbol, of a classic Schwinn bike to link parallel tales. Authors Kevin Rabas, Mike Graves and Tracy Million Simmons wrote the three tales of the novel independently, but collaboratively as they read each other’s work as the story progressed.

“Green Bike reads like jazz improvisational solos: each author works the narrative threads, making them distinct yet seamlessly interwoven to create a layered novel. Like the classic Schwinn of the title, this book will lead you on a wonderful adventure,” says Hardy Jones, author of Every Bitter Thing.

Rabas called the novel “a wild campus romp.” He said, “It’s at once a love story, a love triangle, a kunstlerroman (artist’s way novel), coming of age tale, wild college days tale, and tale about losing an aging loved one. How can it be all of these things? Because it’s a novel of parallel tales. We’re not just in one narrative. We’re in three.”

The book will be available at Town Crier Bookstore in September, as well as online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Learn more at


Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State University and edits Flint Hills Review. He has four books: Bird’s Horn, Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book and Nelson Poetry Book Award winner, Sonny Kenner’s Red Guitar, and Spider Face: stories.

Mike Graves teaches Intensive English and TESOL courses at Emporia State University. His writing has appeared in Thorny Locust, Flint Hills Review, and elsewhere. He has recently finished a novel about a private detective set in 1937 Wichita. When life conjures its riddles, he turns to back roads and baseball for answers.

Tracy Million Simmons is a freelance writer with more than 500 articles in print and the yearbook editor for the Kansas Authors Club. Her novel, Tiger Hunting, was published in 2013 and was the winner of the 2013 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book award.

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