Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Writer's Progress...

is changing a word in a work-in-progress because it occurs to you that you wouldn't feel comfortable saying the word out loud... like at a reading, perhaps... then changing it back again because you figure you have plenty of time to learn how to pronounce it correctly.
~TMS

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Long Overdue Tribute to Writing Friend, Dorothy Masters

Dorothy Masters: January 9, 1936-February 21, 2014
Photo Courtesy of Carol Yoho

Dorothy wrote me a note after I published my first book, Tiger Hunting. I could always count on Dorothy for kind notes. Often by email, sometimes by snail mail, she always took the time to say hello, to acknowledge my efforts, and to thank me for my time.

When I think of the kind of person I want to be, Dorothy is a role model. She once told me that she wrote her stories for her family, to leave something of herself behind. I collected Dorothy's books, though we were not relation, and I enjoyed reading them, too. Dorothy's stories were about making connections and nurturing relationships. They were fun stories and always full of the sunny view of things. One of her books was titled, in fact, Keep on the Sunny Side of Life. In her professional life, Dorothy was a nurse. She lost her husband in a farm accident at a young age and spent many of her younger years as a single mother. Dorothy wrote a column that was published in several rural Kansas newspapers for many years. She published several volumes of her memoirs and some short stories, as well.

The second year I was editor of the Kansas Authors Club yearbook (2008), Dorothy submitted The Rose Bush Theory as her entry. I am sharing it here, with permission from her family.

The Rose Bush Theory
by Dorothy Masters

I relate life and death to a big, beautiful rose bush. Picture a large blooming rose bush and you can see your family or circle of friends. Some of the roses are in full bloom with gorgeous color and perfect shapes. Some roses are starting to form buds. Some of the buds never complete the full growing process, and remain undeveloped on the bush. some of the roses are dead and remain on the bush, while others are starting to wither.

Now, relate each and every one of those blooms to different members of your family or your circle of friends and you can see the living and dying process. Life is a process with death being the final phase. Please do not wait -- live life to the fullest each and every day.

Keep in mind, to maintain that rose bush (loved ones) big and pretty, it must be fed, watered, nurtured, pruned and protected from the elements and given gentle caresses, plus some tender talk. The care is even more essential when caring for people.



Friday, January 2, 2015

What's on the To-Do List for 2015?

Found this on Shelf Awareness on Facebook. Neil says it so well. Happy New Year!

Once upon a time I considered myself the queen of New Year's resolutions. I was one of those freaks who made and actually kept them. I was building habits, most of them good, and at some point I reached a point where I couldn't bring myself to make another resolution. More of the same, became my mantra. One day at a time, one moment at a time... I rarely stick to one project at a time, though I still wonder if that might be good for me. Mostly, I try to remember that I can't allow myself to become devastated or distraught over all that I have not done because, let's face it, there will always be things not done.

Starting out the New Year, my big project is completing the yearbook for the Kansas Authors Club. I am feeling a bit behind on this project, but remain optimistic that I will get it done on time. It also helps that I am really itching to get to my next completed novel. I've been reviewing my stack of first drafts and have selected the target. It's going to take some work, but I will get there. There is no option other than optimism.

I am also working on plans for the next book in the works for Meadowlark Books. Watch for an announcement. There will be a call for entries by the end of this month.

Momma always said I could speak your reality into existence. I've written it. And now I've read it aloud. It will be.


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.

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