writing

Voices from the Heart

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It took me some time to come to a workable understanding of what ‘voice’ is in writing.

So when it’s challenged, I get a little panicky. My back arches. My ears flatten. I discover I have hackles. I discover they can rise and point. And I have to circle back over the ground I thought I’d claimed and check all the territorial markers to see if it’s still mine…if I can still work with it and defend it.

‘Voice’ in writing perplexed me for a long time. I’d get the inevitable rejections, but somewhere along the way editors and agents began attaching little notes: ‘Nice voice.’ ‘Interesting voice, I’d like to see more.’ ‘Keep developing your voice.’

It felt as though they were talking about something as tangible and declarative as a fingerprint, but I couldn’t see it, or, more accurately, hear it. Then I was told a writer’s ‘voice’ can change from genre to genre and character to character.

Fingerprints don’t do that. Not without acid and intent, anyway.

So how do you grab this slippery, inaudible thing and wrestle it into submission? It squelches around in your hands and defies examination. I mean, ‘voice’ is ‘voice!’ If it’s so identifiable and individual and recognizable, then why is it so hard to see in the plain light of day?!

Because ‘voice’ is a misleading, kind of crappy word to use for it.

I’m stuck with it because it was adopted and put into use long before I wondered if I had one. Or wanted one. Or had even the vaguest hope of producing something other than the harshest of caws when endeavoring to display one.

But when I realized what everyone was talking about, I also realized it’s not a voice. It’s a heartline. It happens when you’re so immersed in writing that the rest of the world disappears. It happens when the words come from the center of your being without artifice or detour. It’s a direct line from your writer’s heart to the page.

Heartline.

It is as changeable as mood and emotion and the sky. But at its core…unchanging.

So ‘voice’ be damned. Write from the heart.

They’ll hear you.

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Just bitchin'

Midwinter Malaise

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It’s like cabin fever of the soul.

But not quite.

It’s like mental nails on a mental chalkboard

But not quite.

It’s like teeth grating on the tines of a fork.

But not quite.

It’s emotional mid-winter. Grey. No end in sight. Damp and wet and squelching underfoot. Soggy and chill. It’s wanting to stay in bed all day. It’s forgetting to open the drapes, because, really, what difference does it make. It’s watching the sky drip like a suppurating wound. It’s going a little deaf from the endless rattling of the rain, the sifting of the flakes. It’s life bounded by drear, experienced in murk.

But not quite.

Out of sheer desperation you instigate paltry changes, as though doing so will make Nature take notice; will make Her speed up Her calendar and change now, change soon. As though Nature cares that you’ve hacked off your hair, or thrown out half of your possessions, or walked naked in the snow to demonstrate, if not your power, then your indifference.

As though Nature cares.

It’s breaking rules and doing things you’ll regret; regretting even as you do. It’s squinting at displays of red and pink satin hearts that try to deceive you into believing this is anything other than a time of snarling discontent.

It’s February.

It’s midwinter malaise.

It’ll pass.

Too late.

Damn that groundhog anyway.

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Image: Dark Hand In A Dark Place from pulsamedia.eu

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writing

Sell vs. Savor

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Writing is a gift.

Not necessarily for the literary efforts produced, but for the satisfaction of the process itself. I believe everyone who commits to it, knows that inner groan of pleasure when brain and keystroke join in a seamless act of creation. Which brings to mind one of the writer’s quandaries.

Do you write to sell, or to savor?

As you work your way up the rejection ladder, getting more and more substantive feedback, at some point a choice will begin to materialize on the edges of your awareness. It begins to shimmer its way into existence when the rejection asks you to submit more material; when it terms your writing ‘intriguing’ or ‘exceptional’ or ‘delightful.’ BUT…(there’s always a ‘but’)…your style doesn’t blend with the publication’s. Or maybe your subject matter needs tweaking before you’ll be awarded the brass ring of being published.

You’ve been diligent about researching to whom you submit. You’ve targeted publications that seem likely to want work like yours. But with the carrot dangling before you…so, so close…you take a longer, harder look at them…and at yourself. You’re willing to edit and rewrite and do it again and again, as long as the core of the work remains true.

Do you continue to please yourself, being faithful to what springs from your soul and hope to find a compatible outlet? Or do you pull that spark of what feels like your essence out, and write what you’re told as best you can, ignoring the deep, inner voice that whispers ‘This isn’t me…it’s not what I meant…’?

There are multiple arguments for both sides. There are varying perspectives from which to view each. There is no right answer.

What there is, is ego and that selfish side of the craft that drives you to write in the first place. If these things tip the scales for you, then you’ll resist compromise and say ‘I’m being true to myself.’

If the lure of being published has the greater weight, you’ll do whatever you have to to get something in print. The satisfaction of being published will silence any voice that queries ‘Did I sell out?’

Luckily, there is also the inevitability of change, of maturation and growth. And that’s the saving grace that can lead to a place where the pleasure of savoring the process and the rush of seeing yourself in print can meet, merge, and become magical. That essential internal spark is always changing. So is your work. So is the marketplace. The longer you persist, the better your chances of finding the niche you were meant to fill.

Write for someone else, or for yourself? Sell or savor?

Do both. Strive for that magical moment of overlap.

Just don’t ever stop.

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writing

Niteblade Magazine & The Newbie: A Fond Farewell

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A couple of years ago I stumbled across something sharp and edgy and winsomely wicked. It was inspiring, and it sort of felt like home. It was Niteblade, a magazine devoted to horror and fantasy and sporting an encouragingly feminine…yet sinister…logo.

I’m a newbie compared to the seasoned writers comprising an astonishingly vast subculture that feels like a simmering presence once you’ve discovered the literary haunts of the internet. But newbie or no, I was compelled to submit to Niteblade. I just had to.

When my story was accepted, I gave a fan-girl squeeeee!! and then began to worry about how the editing process might work. Every editor is different. And I had no idea what Rhonda Parrish would be like.

I’d only had a couple of stories published, but for one, the editor rewrote at will, adding his own bits that only came to light when I received my contributor’s copy. It was then I also realized he’d written my bio himself, publishing my full name and the city where I lived. This led to readers tracking me down and coming to my door. A bit unsettling. I moved and got an unlisted land line.

But maybe that was par for the course, my newbie-brain thought. So, drawn by the magnetic lure of Niteblade, and yearning with every fiber of my writer’s soul to be granted a place among its contributors, I waited to see what would happen.

What transpired was courteous, professional, yet painstaking, as Rhonda led me through her editing process. It was like being steered with velvet reins. I learned a lot. I was proud of the final product. It was also the first time a story of mine had been illustrated. I promptly bought the original rendering and hung it over my workspace.

It proved inspirational, because Niteblade accepted a second story.

And soon after, Rhonda short-listed two more for inclusion in her anthology ‘Metastasis.’ The one that made the cut was shorter and tighter and more powerful than at its birth, thanks again to Rhonda’s scalpel-keen editor’s sensibilities.

I’ll miss Niteblade as it prowls off into the wings, but I’m grateful for its edgy, sharp, winsomely wicked influence on me and my writing.

And I have a feeling it might sweep back to the forefront someday, black wings spread wide to foster other newbie-writers…

So on the eve of Thanksgiving it seems appropriate to say….thank you, Niteblade…and thank you, Rhonda Parrish!

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cat image from theinfinityplane.com

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writing

The Workshop Conundrum

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For me, writing has always been a solitary pursuit.

The first time editors got involved, it was a difficult adjustment. The second time, it was a torment. The third and fourth times were also disquieting, but eye-opening and educational.

The difference each time wasn’t so much in the editors as in me.

I was learning to let go; to stop clutching the sentences with which I’d fallen in love to my unpublished chest and, instead, look at them…hear them…through the fresh perspective of another person. And a person who was not a friend or family member operating under the misconception that praise and unconditional support are the same as constructive feedback.

In the end, the process of being edited and published gave me a new outlook on the value of involving others in the creative process. Don’t get me wrong. Writing is still an exercise in solitude for me. I love that about it. But, I’ve begun to open my own mind about accessing those of strangers.

I’m talking writers’ workshops. They can be extraordinary, depending on what you bring with you. Writing-wise and outlook-wise.

So I began searching my urban surroundings for likely workshop prospects.

That’s when I ran across one that had me laughing so hard it hurt. And for all the wrong reasons. Let me reiterate that this is my opinion. Only mine. I might be w-a-a-a-a-y off base. But…decide for yourselves.

The come-one-come-all cry for this particular workshop was issued by a woman who proclaimed herself the author of an astonishing number of ‘published’ books. She claimed thousands upon thousands of reviews. She brags she holds the title of being ‘one of the most popular authors.’

The first red flag popped up as I read her description of the workshop. It was a horror. Not the workshop…the description. Vocabulary, syntax, grammar, sentence and paragraph structure…all seemed to have been bypassed. Even giving handicap points for colloquialisms and artistic license, it shriveled my pelt and puckered my mouth.

Then I looked into her claims of fabulousness. She does have a great number of books out. All self-published. She garnered the claim to be one of the site’s most popular authors. It reminded me of some latter-day TV ad vaunting ‘Volume!! Volume!! Volume!!’ Put a thousand books out there and, for a brief time, you’ll probably be the most read writer on the site when compared to the author who has put up one well-thought-out publication.

Then I looked for the multitude of reviews. They were on Goodreads…not exactly professional. I didn’t delve past the first few dozen. They were cringe-worthy. More like hate mail than literary assessments. Some were very insulting. There were a few that gave lukewarm praise, but I saw none that could qualify as raves.

By now I was laughing. But the guffaws came in earnest when, in her workshop invitation, she said that writers don’t need to know grammar or spelling, because that’s what professional copy editors are for.

Oh, lord…I still feel the mirth bubbling up.

Anyone can self-publish. Anyone. And then, she’s right: literary quality doesn’t have to matter. But just try submitting something to an agent or a professional editor in the publishing industry with the attitude that someone else will clean up your mess because your work is that incredibly worth it, and…well…you’ll probably end up self-publishing a few hundred books, manipulating stats to make yourself look good, and leading workshops for writers where grammar, a vital part of your main tool…language…doesn’t matter.

Oh, God…I’m still laughing!

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writing

Season of the Writer

autumnfantasyThey say writing is a vocation you can pursue anywhere, any time.

There’s some truth to that. Thanks to technology, you can live among the dunes of the Mojave or the ice caps of Antarctica and still find your readers and meet your deadlines…internet connection permitting, of course.

But I honestly believe every writer has a season. Not talking about success here; not saying you’re ‘in season’ when something you’ve created is snapped up and lands on the New York Times bestseller list.

I’m talking about when the calendar flips a page and some gentle change in the atmosphere links to your primal spirit. You wake up literally and figuratively. An energy that’s been slumbering beneath the surface begins to froth and bubble and foam. And you just know…

…this is your time of year.

For many it’s winter when dark days and solitude invite long hours weaving tales.

For some the spring, surging with life and fresh, new possibilities, is the call to convert that energy into the written word.

For others, summer’s heat is a slow, sensual burn that spews literature like lava.

But for me, it’s autumn.

I don’t want to inspect the magic too closely. It’s enough that it exists. It’s enough that it feels like waves cresting, tossing more…and more…and too much…up into the crisp, silver-gilt light. It’s breathing air like cider and being alert, pounce-ready all the time.

It’s autumn.

Welcome to my season…

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writing

The Dispersion Factor

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No one is an endless fount of pithy comments, scintillating ideas, and inventive ways of expressing them.

It’s a scary thought that we’re not.

I once read a story about a little girl who talked too much. Somewhere along the line she was warned that each of us has a finite number of words to spend. When you reach the end…that’s it. No more. Silence. If she squandered her stock of words, she’d be left to finish her life in wordless isolation.

If that’s true, it becomes imperative that you spend your words wisely. Choose them with care. Focus them toward your goal.

But that’s hard to do in these times when writers are told to keep a public profile. To blog and tweet. To maintain a constant presence via tumblr, facebook, instagram, ask.fm, and a host of other venues.

I understand. I really do. But all the time and energy invested in those adjuncts to a writer’s ‘real’ work have a draining effect. You’re taking a big, ol’ handful of your limited supply of words and tossing them into the wind. Instead of focusing them, aiming them at a target where they might find a lasting home, you’re dispersing them to fall at random. In random patterns. On random ears. Before random eyes.

Wasted words? Or are they dispersing like dandelion seeds; their purpose being to find new ground where they can take root?

Hard to say.

Only time will tell if they’re flourishing elsewhere, or simply gone; victims of the wind.

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writing

Cooking Up a Story

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Comparisons between creating on the keyboard, and creating in the kitchen keep popping up.

Unusual, since I’m more likely to use my oven for storage than food prep. Nonetheless…

A good chef will tell you, ‘If you can’t be proud of it, don’t serve it.’  That philosophy has been behind many a late dinner service. But the end result is that all is forgiven once the diner digs into his perfectly produced, delicious repast. He’ll likely deem the meal worth the wait.

The “If it isn’t ready, don’t offer it” philosophy becomes more problematic when applied to writing. Our hungry, hopeful patron may be the editor or publisher, but we have to contend with an intractable extra ingredient.

The deadline.

For most of us who are submitting to calls that will draw hundreds or thousands of entries, we can’t expect to deliver the goods late and justify our tardiness by pointing out how it’s worth the wait. The diner at our table won’t bother sampling. There are no extensions in our kitchen.

Getting a manuscript in on time is a perfectly legitimate, understandable expectation.

But then, you stumble across the call for submissions that stills your world because it seems tailor-made for you. Right up your alley. Posted with your name all over it…

…and it ends in an hour.

So. Do you rush to pound something out with no time for anything other than a quick proofread, and shoot it off to this perfect destination where you just know you belong?

Maybe. It’s a gamble. It’s taking a chance on leaving a bad taste in someone’s mouth. Maybe it would be wiser to let them go dinner-less.

The deadline is an ingredient in the writer’s world that can trump all the other lovely things on the plate. It looms and we are under its gun.

I don’t think chefs suffer that fate quite as stringently. But I could be wrong. After all, my oven is used for storage.

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writing

The Description Duality

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I am a bona fide description junkie.

Can’t get enough.

I dive into pages of language paying homage to the precise angles of parquetry; the multi-hues of honeyed sunshine pouring through jewel-toned panes of leaded glass; the wealth of colors and textures in a garden lush with twining, scented blooms.

These things make my toes curl. As long as they’re about environment. As long as they allow my imagination to follow their path and build, layer upon layer, a space of some sort. But pay that much attention to describing characters and you’ve lost me.

It’s the difference between world-building and backstory.

To me it’s the difference between being a participant or an observer.

Once again the concept of show vs. tell rears its quixotic head. Show me a place I can inhabit as a reader and I welcome infinite detail. Use that same level of description to paint a character and I’ll wonder why I should be interested in this passive creature who wavers into view via words instead of his own actions, or feelings, or thoughts.

As a reader, I know what I like; able to scan a dust-cover or blurb and instantly discard or covet.

As a writer, I fall into the trap, carried away on the tide of my own creation.

It’s difficult to read your own work without making the unforgivable mistake of falling in love with it to the extent that you’re blinded to its faults. That’s why everyone tells you to lay the story aside for a few weeks, months, years even. However, if you don’t have that luxury, if a deadline looms…you have to develop the skill of being able to split from your work.

Because the only way your opinion of your own work counts, is if you can confront it as a reader plain and honest.

No patting yourself on the back for a particular turn of phrase.

No thinking cleverness can disguise a lack of heart.

It’s hard. I’m not sure if anyone can do it consistently. But it’s the only way to know if your backstory is as enticing as your world-building. And for those of us who are unusually description-susceptible, it’s a necessary sort of schizophrenia.

Otherwise, we’d sink beneath the surface, sucked into the creation that will never be anything but a playground for one.

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