Craft article: But It Really Happened That Way

So, a craft article I wrote back in the dark ages of early 2020 is now up at Women on Writing. And with everything that’s happened between then and now, I have almost no memory of actually writing it. In fact, I had to check my saved emails to see the timeline of the process.

Apparently, in early March 2020, I decided to pitch the article. Why? I don’t know. My motivation for this is lost to the ages. The shutdown was looming, but I was still going into the office, my daughter was in school, and we were all holding our collective breath.

In late March, I got the green light to write the article. We all remember the second half of March 2020, yes? Things got weird, fast. But I was working from home, which meant no commuting, and I thought: Sure, I can do this.

Then I promptly came down with COVID. On April 1st. (Yes, really.)

Did I mention that the submission deadline was April 23rd?

Honestly, I have no idea how I wrote the article and turned it in on time—or how it ended up with actual sentences. But apparently, I did, and it did. And now, nearly two and a half years later, it’s up on the Women on Writing site with a lovely graphic.

So, if you’re in the mood to get crafty, hop on over and read the article I don’t remember writing.

But It Really Happened That Way: Tips for Blending Real Life into Fiction

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Of fallow fields and second acts

This blog has been fallow for a while. And I’ve been thinking. Do I continue it? This is what I don’t know. But here’s the thing.

I miss it.

Or rather, what I miss is blogging from the early aughts, before social media grabbed everybody’s attention. I fell into that time suck along with everyone else—not blaming anyone here. Because initially, social media seemed like it might be a good thing—keep up with everyone in one place. Wouldn’t that be fun? Useful? Unifying?

We all know what happened with that. I find myself (doom) scrolling and not interacting. I miss posts if I’m not on the site(s) every day or even every hour. I know there are ways of finessing feeds, of filtering, and so on. I don’t want to work that hard at something so fleeting. And social media is still far too loud (for lack of a better word). It always has been. What seems like an introvert’s dream is kind of a nightmare.

Blogging, though? Like back in the day? Could that be a way to engage with a community? Everything old is new again? John Scalzi over at Whatever seems to think so. With the dissolution of social media, maybe blogs are coming into their second act.

Maybe I am too. I mean, I am fast approaching that stage of life where I get to call myself a woman of a certain age. Maybe I’m already there.

If I venture into blogging again, I’m thinking less promotion (although I’ll certainly post when I have something published) and essentially ignoring SEO.

Instead, I’d like to do a little more exploring. I’m trying out new things, like signing up for the ProHort Core Course (the self-study version of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Master Gardener Course). Certainly, I could blog about my misadventures with that.

I’m still reading blogs, but I realize that commenting and interacting is a way to find a new blogging community.

I’m still writing fiction, but it’s been a gradual climb back after my mother’s death. I’m still here.

More importantly, I still want to be.

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That Good Night

I’ve been away for a while. I haven’t meant to be, but that’s how it worked out.

Last October, my mom had a major bowel obstruction, which required surgery. (Or rather, it was surgery vs. palliative/hospice care; she opted for surgery).

When I talked to her surgeon—at five a.m., after a twelve-hour stint in the emergency room—he spoke of uncertain outcomes. They wouldn’t know what they’d find once they opened her up. There was her age to consider, her other health issues.

Despite these things, she made it through the surgery surprisingly well. Her incision healed without infection. A different infection, unrelated to her surgery, needed treatment, but her care team found the right antibiotics. My sister and I were cautiously optimistic.

But it was a long winter. One hospital stay led to another. Days before Christmas, it was two blood transfusions in the emergency room. In January, it was fluid overload from the two transfusions in December. In February, it was the three a.m. call from the assisted living triage nurse followed by the frantic drive around the Twin Cities—because no one could tell us which hospital the EMTs had taken her to.

That was the time they had to intubate. My mom spent a week in the ICU. It was then one of the ER doctors turned to me and asked, “Are you a healthcare professional?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that.

During all this, I could hear the voice of that first surgeon, his words a continuous loop in my mind.

Uncertain outcomes.

He was right. Everything was uncertain. Except for one thing.

Did we see what was coming? Yes. And no. Maybe we didn’t want to admit it, not completely. There were talks, often with compassionate palliative care team members. There was a chasm between honoring my mother’s wishes and what was—as everyone else was telling us—realistic. Bridging that gap felt impossible.

Because my mother was a fighter. It might be cliché, but those lines from the Dylan Thomas poem sum it up so completely:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And yet it wasn’t enough. In the end, she had to stop fighting. In the end, we had to tell her it was okay to do so. In the end, we had to let go.

On April 26th, we started hospice for my mom. On May 2nd, she died. 

I want to write more about this past year. At the same time, I want to look forward, see what’s on the horizon—for me and my writing.

But for now, I leave you with my parents’ trees at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

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Super Free Book SFF promo

So many authors! So many books! All free!

If you need something new to read, this is where you should go.

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Fairy tales at Smashwords!

Smashwords has kindly included Straying from the Path as part of their Once Upon a Time promotion.

If you’re in a fairy tale sort of mood, head on over between now and February 4th.

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What I learned from posting a story a week for an entire year

So, I meant to write up and post these thoughts last year. Really. I did. I have longhand notes and everything. Then, well?

2021.

I may be a year late, but I think what I learned still stands the test of twelve months. I hope you think so too.

In November 2019, I conceived of the idea of posting a story a week for an entire year. With the upcoming presidential election in the US, I knew it would be rough going. I wanted to do something kind; I wanted a distraction; I wanted something to focus on other than the news. I even called the challenge The (Love) Stories for 2020 to remind me of my aim for love, compassion, and kindness.

Then, of course, 2020 actually happened. Oh, my sweet summer child—you had no idea, did you?

I’m not the sort of writer who could write and post a short story a week for an entire year. That’s not how I’m wired. (If you’re wired that way, more power to you; I am brimming with envy.)

That being said, I thought I’d share the things that helped me get through this challenge. I offer them up in hopes they might be useful.

Party like it’s 1999: Focus on what you love and what’s fun, what you’d do even if you never got any recognition or payment. This is essentially the dance like no one’s watching advice. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it does for me.

Plan like it’s 2020: If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that things happen. Things will continue to happen. They may be external things well beyond our control, like elections and pandemics. They may be other things, like graduations and weddings, all the joyful things in life. Peer into your crystal ball as far as you can and plan accordingly, which brings me to…

Scheduling is your new best friend: I blog on WordPress, but I imagine most platforms have a draft and scheduling function. Scheduling posts several weeks in advance gave me breathing room. It allowed me to work on new and not-quite-there-yet stories.

Inventory on hand: Related to scheduling is having a fair amount of inventory on hand. Again, I’m not a fast writer. I might be able to write a story a week, but I’m not sure I could write a story a week that’s ready for prime time, so to speak. Also? In April 2020, I got Covid. Between inventory on hand and scheduling, I continued the challenge until my body and brain were back online.

It will take more time than you think it will: Always. Trust me on this one.

The takeaway:

A challenge like this is a way to create and/or preserve a body of work. The content is evergreen and can have more than one use. When you own the rights to your work, you can do any number of things with it.

There are those external rewards, such as blog traffic, SEO, comments, and finding new readers. But for me, the results went far beyond the external.  

I loved discovering what resonated with readers. Some of my “just for me” stories resonated so strongly with others that it helped me trust my inner voice a bit more, which spilled over into Season Four of Coffee and Ghosts. I’m not sure I would’ve written that without completing this challenge first.

I loved spending time with my own voice, rediscovering patterns and themes in my own writing.

In a world that’s always so loud, both online and off, it’s easy to miss what’s surprising and unique about your own voice. My 2020 challenge helped me reconnect with that.

So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and concoct your own challenge. But remember:

Always plan like it’s 2020 (or 2021).

But party like it’s 1999.

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Looking back, looking forward and Happy New Year

So in 2021, I managed the following:

  • Wrote 103,000 words (mostly on Season Four of Coffee and Ghosts)
  • Read 103 books

I liked the symmetry of that so much, I purposely didn’t finish reading a book on the 31st.

And while I’ve had better writing years, I’ve had much worse. Considering the state of everything in 2021, it could’ve been much, much worse. Not only am I really pleased with how Season Four of Coffee and Ghosts turned out, but I also had a lot of fun writing it.

I also started a Little Free Library this year. Traffic’s a little slow now that the snow and cold have arrived, but readers are slipping in new books and taking others. In the spring, I hope to do more with it. It will be easier for all once you don’t have to mount the snowbank just to peek inside.

What didn’t work in 2021: Weekly writing check-ins. Lately, I’ve found I don’t have much to say, at least not about my writing progress on a weekly basis.

I’ve been blogging in some form since 2003, and I’m certainly not going to stop now. Okay, I just did the math, and that’s nearly twenty years. In that time, I’ve changed platforms and formats, what I write about, and a variety of other things. I think it’s time to change and grow again, but in what direction, I’m not sure.

It may take all of 2022 to figure that out. But for now, I’ll wish everyone a Happy New Year. May 2022 bring you the peace and joy you need.

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Weekly writing check-in: Stuck in the middle with me

I may have mentioned that I have a time travel series idea that’s been knocking around inside my head for about … four years now.

I never claimed to be a fast writer.

Or thinker, as the case may be. I pondered season four of Coffee and Ghosts for a good four years before I sat down to (seriously) write it. True, I did do a trial run in 2020, but I jettisoned it because … 2020.

When I tried again this year, it only took me six months to write 100,000 words. That’s not a bad pace, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The entire story includes pondering and note-taking and letting it all simmer.

Instead of being frustrated by this, I’ve decided to embrace it and make it fun. Because it’s not changing. How do I know this? I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried. I have learned that I’m not one of those zippy writers who can write a book a month.

I’ve attempted to adhere to the pithy writing advice of Don’t think, write.

Guess what? It doesn’t work for me. What I get is a mess of a draft or a story that’s anemic.

I also don’t outline. I take lots of notes, create a framework or a roadmap, but I don’t go beyond that, either. And yes, I’ve tried to meticulously outline as well. When I do that, I overcomplicate the story.

So here I am, plotters to the left of me, pantsers to the right, stuck in the middle with me.

Only now, I’m owning it.

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Weekly writing check-in: sweeping up

I spent this week doing a bit of clean-up. I finished adjusting my prices on Ingram Spark (for their price increase). I’ve been adding print book URLs to all my Books2Read links.

This is a manual process, and while I’m thrilled about having print links, It. Is. Tedious.

I’m really pleased with the release of The Ghosts You Left Behind. Early reviews are in, and the response is heartening. One of my biggest fears with this season was making things interesting and fresh while keeping the promise of the series.

What’s next? I’m not sure. I have several projects simmering on the stove of my mind. I visit each one, stir and taste, maybe add some spices, and set it back to simmering. (I’m not sure this makes sense to anyone but me.)

I’ve come to accept that I’m not the sort of writer who plans books and series in advance, with a calendar and project management software. One of those simmering stories will come to the forefront and let me know it’s ready to be written.

In the meantime, I have books to read, Photoshop tutorials to complete, and any number of writing-related things I can do.

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Little Free Library: spooky edition

We got spooky this past weekend with the Little Free Library. Not only that, we had some little free pumpkins as well.

I feel compelled to point out that all the candles are LEDs, not wax and flame. Before Halloween, I bought a handful of spooky children’s books, which went fast.

Then on Halloween, I added the candles and the table with the pumpkins and the candy.

After that? Well, as you can see, it was spooky.

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