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.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Waiting on the Sky, by Cheryl Unruh

Cheryl Unruh, former columnist for the Emporia Gazette and one of my favorite authors, has done it again with her second collection of essays on the state I proudly call home.

In Waiting on the Sky, Cheryl describes Kansas--community and people--in a series of essays that remind us of the joy and peril, the love and the heartbreak of life on the ground in a rectangle state.

We who live on the prairie love our sky. It is as much a part of the landscape as the land itself. White the earth gives us roots and plenty of soft grass on which we can curl our bodies and fall asleep, the sky gives us flight, imagination, a place to go with our eyes, a place to go with our minds.

Cheryl once again makes me want to slow down, take more time to absorb the scenery, spend more time watching the clouds that pass overhead. The book takes us back and forth, from the landscape and experience of being Kansan, to Kansans themselves and glimpses of Cheryl's life growing up on the plains to her life now in the Flint Hills.

I was delighted, of course, to find "Tracy's Hometown" within the pages of this book (even though Cheryl revealed my secret childhood run-away spot). I enjoyed her ruminations on the western Kansas tumbleweed, as well, though I think I'm more appreciative of the wind, in general, than Cheryl. 

Waiting on the Sky is the book to keep on your chairside table, full of word morsels you will want to bite and then nibble again, to take with your morning coffee as you contemplate the start of your day, or to sample with your nighttime tea.

If you haven't picked up your copy yet, head right on over to Quincy Press for ordering instructions. 

See my review of Cheryl's first book, Flyover People, by clicking this link.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blog Neglect Does Not Equate With Writing Neglect

Life in July has provided plenty of fodder for topics to write about. I only hope that I have taken thorough enough notes to bring me back mentally to the place where I can eventually get everything I want to write written!

The big event for the month has been the final stages of preparing a book I co-authored with two friends from the Emporia Writing Group. Green Bike is a group novel due to be released the first week of September.

I also got news this month that my short story, Virtual Farm, has been selected for publication in Page & Spine, most likely coinciding with the release date of Green Bike! I made a deal with myself earlier this year that I would submit two new short stories for every rejection letter I received as a way of boosting my output... but I failed to set parameters for the occasion of an acceptance. I'm thinking the same deal -- two out for every response received. This means I'd better get to work!

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Blog Hop

I've been tagged in the #MyWriting Process blog hop by Nancy Julien Kopp, one of my friends from Kansas Authors Club.  I’ve enjoyed clicking back through writer’s blogs and reading about the writing process and I hope there are readers here who will enjoy the connections, as well.

Credit should go to Carole Malone for starting the Blog Hop several months ago.

To participate, a blogger answers four questions about her/his writing world and process, then tags two or three more bloggers. I have linked to my chosen bloggers below.

As for my answers…

What am I working on?

My number one two* project at the moment is a personal one that has absorbed what little free time I have had for the past several months. My mother passed away in 1997 and when her oldest grandchild, my niece, graduated from high school in 2004, I pulled together my mother’s efforts at writing her own memoir. Mom’s completed story made it to about age 10 and her notes a few years past that. My mother was an impassioned letter writer, however, and I was also able to take bits and pieces from the family stories she wrote to my sister and I over the years. The end result was a spiral bound book full of mom’s words.

This year, my mom’s second and third granddaughters graduated and I got the bright idea of adding to the book. My father unearthed some of my mom’s high school diaries. I’ve scanned photo albums and collected stories from friends of the family, nieces and nephews, my sister, my brothers and their families. It’s a project that could easily go on for years and years, but I think I’m pretty close to figuring out – mentally at least – how I am going to tie up the loose ends. I’m excited to present it to the grandkids in bound form this time, complete with lots of photographs, as well as some new memories.

As for the always ongoing writing projects, I continue to circle between a companion story to Tiger Hunting, a cozy mystery that is somewhere around the second draft of completion, and short story submissions which I have been dusting off and working on circulating once again. I missed all the deadlines for the Kansas area contests in which I typically try to participate, so in my head I have already moved to thinking about what I might submit to those contests next year.

*As project priorities often go, things shifted even as I was working on this blog hop. Slipping into priority position is work on a novel I co-wrote with two members of my local writing group a couple of years ago. We are in the end stages of preparing this book, which began as a group writing exercise, for publication. More news about that project will be available soon.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well if my work is Tiger Hunting, my only published novel at this point, I would say it differs in that it is shorter than most mainstream women’s fiction and perhaps takes itself less seriously. It is not a girl-finds-boy, lives-happily-ever-after in the end book. The point of the book isn’t falling in love, the point is finding the satisfaction of standing on your own feet independently.

I would like to say that the overall theme of most of what I write is that it manages, in some way, to capture the everyday normal. In fiction and non-fiction, I write often about being a mother, about losing a mother, about living under a big open sky, and about appreciating Kansas living, and the kinds of people who live in Kansas, in general.

Why do I write what I do?

So let’s say, for the moment, that the answer to what I do is, “I write fiction.” Because honestly, fiction has been the dream from the start, and everything I’ve written up to this point, if not literal practice for writing short stories and novels,  has taught me something about words and connections--on paper and in life--and I’ve learned most about my own ability and personal challenges, as well as creative need.

I haven’t always written fiction. My first success in publishing was in personal essays and non-fiction articles. Twenty-some years ago, exasperated with the sheer enormity of the task of writing a novel, I got the idea that I should back off from the big dream and start small. I started writing pieces I could finish in an hour, then I moved on to work that might take me two or more. Writing has taken me down many paths, and the paths I am drawn to have led me to writing about many different subjects and in many forms.

I think I return to fiction because I enjoy the freedom of pure imagination. Anything can happen when it isn’t real, yet there is sense and order in good fiction that you can’t necessarily duplicate in real life. My stories often start with a question I have about something I’ve heard or a person I’ve observed. Why does that person behave the way they do? How could they possibly get into that situation? I think I figure out the things that puzzle me most by crawling inside imaginary minds and working through the steps that might explain a person’s actions. The process doesn’t always result in a good story, but I generally feel that I’ve learned something from it.

How does my writing process work?

Looking at the big picture, I can divide most of my writing life into two modes. I am either fast-track writing, full of ideas and story starts and too many projects in progress to list, or I am in what I call finishing mode. In crazy writing mode, I have two or three journals nearly always at hand, each designated for different types of idea catching (or actual diary keeping) and my computer hard drive grows full with folders titled things like “book starts” and “fill-in-the-blank stories” and “inspirations” and “what ifs.” In finishing mode, I become more methodical. I comb through files and journals looking for the next piece to finish, work on it relentlessly until it feels polished, and then decide where it should go. When a novel becomes my focus, I might write and rewrite and polish for days or months before moving on to the next project. These modes have lasted for weeks or months… and probably even years at a time. It doesn’t sound like the most efficient way of getting things done, but I find that when I take time away from a project, the next time I look at it I can often see exactly what needs to be done to move the project forward.

Someday I imagine myself writing full time, with grown children and fewer job responsibilities and volunteer distractions. Taking time for writing is a luxury at this point in my life, but it is a luxury I continue to prioritize. 

Now for those I am inviting to play along...

Here are the questions:
1. What are you working on?

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

3.  Why do you write what you do?

4.  How does your writing process work?

And I look forward to reading answers from...

Lindsey Loucks, author of romance and other scary things. Lindsey published her first book, The Grave Winner, about the same time that I published Tiger Hunting. I met her via my niece while I was selling my books from my hometown of Dodge City. Lindsey was nice enough to buy one. Her books are always fun to read. 

Visit Lindsey's website.

The next author I am tagging is someone I've never met in real life. The Middle Munchkin and I were searching for books about China since she (my daughter) is planning a trip there very soon. We came across
Sihpromatum; I Grew My Boobs in China, which turns out to be one of the most intriguing travel memoirs I've ever read. My daughter enjoyed it, too. I am looking forward to reading the second book, due out soon!

Visit Savannah Grace's website.

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