Tag Archives: Writing

The stakes are a lie

Bloganuary: What’s a lie you tell yourself?

Well, this one’s a bit salty.

For me, it’s this idea that sometime in the misty future, I’ll be able to earn a living with my fiction writing.

This notion is so ingrained I’m not sure I can completely rid myself of it. But I’m trying to. Not because I dislike making money from my writing. I enjoy that.

But it was never my original motivation for writing fiction in the first place. I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past several months. Interestingly, writing these prompts every morning has helped clarify some of the thinking, even those prompts that don’t relate to success or goals.

Or maybe especially those. It reminded me that I love to write. That my first motivation for doing so was to have stories I couldn’t find anywhere else.

When I started writing, I recognized the gap immediately. What I was writing did not match what I was reading in published novels. This frustrated me.

So I used publication as a way to gauge my progress. It was a great way to work with editors and learn.

At some point, instead of being a means to an end, publication became the end. Back in the days when traditional publishing ruled, the author with the most contracts (or awards or bestseller lists) won.

And I was—frankly—miserable. I maybe didn’t show it, but deep down, I was.

Then indie publishing came along. For a good couple of years, I had so much fun—again, learning and making progress. I love creating books, from the wispy first ideas to the finished project.

But then sales and money became the markers of success, to the point where it’s binary. If you aren’t earning “good money” (however you define that) with your writing, you should quit. Or at least, this is what it feels like. The notion permeates so many conversations about writing and publishing. It’s the water we swim in. (Which is why I’ve opted out of most of those conversations.)

For me, at least, it’s not a binary choice. Perhaps this is unique to American culture. But holy cats! We don’t need to monetize every last thing we do. Writing has worth. Whether you earn six figures from it or you simply blog for the joy of it.

I’m trying to unlearn this lie. And while I like it when people buy my books, it’s not why I write them.

So I’m searching for a new way forward. Perhaps, if I reach into the past and take the hand of the woman I once was, we can find our way into the future.

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Girl Detective to the rescue

Bloganuary: What was your dream job as a child?

It was my heart’s desire to be a girl detective.

When I wasn’t reading the Betsy-Tacy books, I was probably reading a mystery. I even wandered into the adult stacks at the library and pulled Agatha Christies off the shelf when I was still fairly young.

But the mysteries I loved most were the Trixie Belden ones.

Yes, I read Nancy Drew. But Nancy was so … so … perfect. Trixie? Not so much. Trixie got into trouble, sometimes said the wrong things. To my young mind, the mysteries felt like they really could happen, and Trixie (and her club) really could solve them.

Which meant that maybe there were mysteries out there for me to solve.

I was certain there had to be. For instance, at least one mystery must have been going on in the dilapidated old workshop at the end of a dirt road not far from my house. It stood next to a copse of manicured pines—a strange sight for this part of our town. We had the slough and hills of deciduous trees, but these pines were clearly cultivated, but for what purpose wasn’t clear.

Truly a mystery. And they made excellent cover for spying on the neighborhood, particularly that old workshop. I only gathered the courage to approach the main door once. Then I thought I saw a face in the second-floor window (probably the old man who worked there and whom I was no doubt annoying). I’m not proud to say it. But.

I ran.

So much for my career as a girl detective.

On a positive note, I did not get into trouble for trying to solve mysteries that didn’t exist.

Sometime later, I realized that you could experience mysteries and adventures by not only daydreaming them but writing them down.

What a revelation!

I’m not sure where this early love of mysteries came from. Even now, I love reading (or writing) stories with secrets and mysteries. And I think I may need to go find one. The temperature is below zero, with no signs of warming up, and I could use a good mystery or secret to help me brave the day.

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Down in the valley

Bloganuary: Who is your favorite author and why?

Like Anno, what I’m reading and why depends so much on my mood that I wasn’t sure I could pick a single favorite author.

But actually, I do have one.

It’s always bothered me that Maud Hart Lovelace never received the same attention as that other author who spent time in Minnesota.

The Betsy-Tacy books were my constant companions when I was growing up. How many times have I read the series? No idea. And I can’t remember when I “graduated” from the elementary school stories and started reading the high school (and beyond) ones. Relatively young, I think—I remember being dazzled.

I grew up in Maud’s Deep Valley (AKA Mankato). My house was in the area known as Little Syria in Maud’s day. And if I trudged up a sizable hill, I ended up in Betsy’s old neighborhood.

In fact, when I was in junior high, I had a paper route where I delivered papers to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s old homes. If you’re of an age, you’ll remember the weekly shoppers that landed on your doorstep—advertising and classifieds held together with a smattering of human interest articles. The route was only once a week (rain, shine, or snow). And I didn’t have to collect any money. Again, if you’re of an age, you’ll remember that part of newspaper delivery.

And it was in junior high that I needed Betsy the most. The progressive school I attended—which was run by the university—closed down when I was in sixth grade. The only other option was the public school system.

So on the first day of junior high, I had no friends. Worse, on the first day of junior high, I already had a reputation—as did everyone who attended the progressive school. Fill in the blank with every derogatory term for mentally deficient, and you’ll have what I was called daily.

By eighth grade, I had a friend group. By eighth grade, I’d spent every quarter on the honor roll, so I was deemed a bookworm, a brain, a nerd.

But in seventh grade, when the days were dark, and I was sore from lugging papers around the neighborhood, I’d pull the Betsy-Tacy high school books off the shelf. I’d escape into her world of picnics and dances, the crowd and crushes. My first inklings that I, too, could be a writer began with watching Betsy write.

There’s much I owe both Betsy and Maud. And that is why Maud Hart Lovelace is my favorite author.

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Published: Field Manual for Waiting

Yesterday, I received my author copies for Issue 29 of the Blue Earth Review.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

It’s been my aim, for a while, to get a piece accepted in this publication. This might seem like a random goal, but I had my reasons. A handful, actually.

The Blue Earth Review is Minnesota State University, Mankato’s literary magazine. I grew up in Mankato, my father taught at the university for 28 years, and my daughter recently received her Associate of Arts degree from there.

It is a literary magazine, however. Normally my writing does not skew literary. I’ve only submitted there once before, with a piece I thought might fit. (Clearly, it didn’t.)

This time, I submitted a piece I wrote during a class I took this past July on writing about grief.

“Field Manual for Waiting” is written in the second person, present tense, and ties together two events that occurred 30 years apart. (And yes, where else am I going to send something like that but a literary journal?)

I’m pleased the piece was a runner-up in the creative nonfiction category of their Dog Daze contest. I’m really pleased with the production values. Again, this little journal is gorgeous, and I’m glad “Field Manual for Waiting” found a home there.

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The fine art of public speaking

Bloganuary: What fear have you conquered?

When I was sixteen, I decided—somewhat out of the blue—that I couldn’t go through life being petrified of public speaking.

Because I was petrified. And I knew that other people would expect me to talk, especially as an adult. Because that’s what adults did. They talked.

So I joined our high school speech team.

Nearly every weekend during the season, I’d hop on a school bus and ride with my teammates to wherever that week’s tournament was. I’d read my piece three times. At the end of the day, I’d dissolve into a puddle.

At first, I was terrible. Really, really terrible. I’d rank the lowest in each of my rounds (a 5 on a scale of 1 – 5). I was okay with that because I wasn’t doing this to win a prize.

But a funny thing started to happen. By the season’s end, I was pulling in solid 3s each round, with a scattering of 4s or even a surprise 2.

The following year? I started at the 3 and 4 ranks and inched my way up. I earned an honorable mention at one of our big tournaments hosted by our rival high school and actually placed third in another.

I didn’t go to the state tournament, but then I didn’t want to. I’d accomplished what I set out to do, and I was no longer the participant everyone felt sorry for in each of my rounds.

And many years later, I wrote a novel based on these experiences.

Make no mistake: I still don’t like public speaking. You won’t see me joining Toastmasters any time soon. But I look back on that sixteen-year-old and marvel at how she could’ve been so prescient … and brave.

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Of brass rings and other dreams

Bloganuary: How do you define success?

So, I started this prompt maybe three or four times? Each time it was all: delete, delete, backspace, delete.

I think success is so hard to define because we often conflate it with happiness. You can have all the success in the world and still be the most miserable person on the planet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because writing is tied up with publishing, and publishing (whether traditional or indie) is tied up with success. What happens when the brass ring of publishing success only makes you momentarily happy?

You reach for another.

And another.

And another.

And maybe you don’t question whether these are good things to reach for, whether they make you happy or successful.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that people abandon their goals and dreams of success. With the correct alignment, success might help you gain happiness (or at least contentment).

But I’ve been asking myself what makes me happy, what makes me feel successful. I’m working to filter the external, those things that are someone else’s standards, and capture my own.

And that might be a moving target, but it feels like a good one to set my sights on.

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The book that almost wasn’t

Bloganuary: Has a book changed your life?

So they didn’t specify a book you’ve read or a book you’ve written, did they now? The short answer is yes. Yes, a book has changed my life.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated. Some of you might know that my first (and only traditionally) published novel was The Geek Girl’s Guide to Cheerleading. This was a book I co-wrote with my writing BFF Darcy Vance.

Some of you might even know the story behind that story. What you might not know is how Darcy took my “final” draft of GGG (as we referred to it) and started revising it. After I had shelved the novel. Without my knowledge.

Her intentions were nothing but good. She wanted to show me that the novel was marketable. All it needed was some glittery eyeliner (as she called it), like a simple shift from the third person point of view to first*.

Once she revised the first three chapters, she sent them my way.

Reading a story you’ve written in someone else’s voice is, at best, disconcerting. At worse, it can feel like a violation. Darcy was hoping I’d see what she was doing and carry on with the rest of the novel.

And yes, I could see what she was getting at, but I wasn’t into it. I felt the novel had run its course, and it was time to move on to something new. I was, actually, working on something new. So those first three chapters became this awkward thing between us. While it didn’t destroy our friendship—although it certainly could have—there were some cracks in its surface.

Then Darcy’s son was diagnosed with cancer.

Darcy lived in Indiana, and I was in Minnesota. It wasn’t like I could stop by with a hot dish, offer to do the laundry, or help out in any way.

Except. There was a way I could help. I knew it deep down in my gut. There was.

I pulled out those first three chapters and took another look. I decided we could revise Geek Girl together. And if we sold it, Darcy could use her part of the advance to help with medical bills.

Because she was right; Geek Girl did have potential. It had even more once we started working in sync. Darcy changed the point of view (which must have been a slog, but she claimed it was a distraction she needed at the time). We would pass scenes back and forth, refining the prose until it wasn’t my voice or her voice but the main character Bethany’s voice. We worked on it all winter long.

In the spring, while Darcy and her family were seeing specialists and her son was having surgery, I pulled together a query letter. I sent out a couple of waves of queries. We had an amazing response rate, secured an agent, and a year later, a publishing contract.

And all that was wonderful, but not nearly as wonderful as learning to put my ego aside. Not nearly as wonderful as working with Darcy, over IM, in marathon revision sessions. Not nearly as wonderful as having her as a friend, of being able to help her, of learning that her son was cancer-free.

There are days when I miss her so much and wish she were still here. There’s so much I want to tell her. I’m a better writer because of her. I like to think I’m also a better person.

And that’s the story of how a book changed my life.


*This is not simple.

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The gift at the end of the treasure hunt

Bloganuary: What is the most memorable gift you have received?

My daughter worked so hard on this Christmas gift.

As you can see, it has the following:

  • a map
  • a treasure hunt with clues
  • a large glass crystal
  • a keepsake box with a hand-painted coffee cup

And yes, she sent me all over the house searching for my gift. And it was all in honor of the first season of Coffee and Ghosts (long before there was a second, third, and fourth season).

For my daughter, I’ve always been a writer. She witnessed my first novel being published by Simon and Schuster. She saw the ups and downs, mainly because I shared them with her and explained what I was doing and how publishing worked. My kids know how to check print books to see if the book in question is a first edition. This might be an unusual skill to pass along to your children, but there you go.

So she also witnessed my transition to indie publishing. I explained my reasons for that as well. How no publisher (in their right mind) was going to publish a series based on the slim premise of catching ghosts with coffee*.

When I reached the end of the treasure hunt, she told me why she created this Coffee and Ghosts-themed gift.

Because when everyone said no to you, you said yes to yourself.

And that’s a gift I hope will continue to linger—for both of us.  


*To be fair, “The Ghost in the Coffee Machine” was part of the Coffee: 14 Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic anthology. It was also produced in audio by The Drabblecast.

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Peering into the past

Bloganuary: How far back in your family tree can you go?

On my husband’s side of the family, they can trace their tree back to the Safavids. (Cool, yes?) On my side of the family, not quite so far.

Both my parents did work on pulling together the family tree. Most of these notes are handwritten or on an old laptop. I’m the keeper of all this now. It’s occurred to me that if I don’t keep them, they’ll be lost forever.

So, yes, genealogy is on my list of things I’d like to tackle this year.

A few months back, I fell down an internet rabbit hole. I knew my grandfather (mother’s side) emigrated from Sweden. He died young—when my mom was six—trying to save another firefighter in a furniture factory fire. This story is part of our family lore. In searching for more information on that, I found a news article listing the names of people who gained citizenship due to their service in World War I.

My grandfather’s name was among those listed. And I was all:

Wait. What?

Considering I spent six years on active duty in the Army, you’d think his service would have come up in conversation. After all, I knew the uncle who flew in WWII. Plus, there’s a story about a German ancestor who fought for the Union during the Civil War.

Now I wonder if my mom even knew about this. Or if the firefighter part of her father’s persona and our family history (her grandfather was a fire chief) simply eclipsed this part of his life.

I’ll never know the answers to those questions. Still, I hope to uncover more about his time in the service. If I can piece together some fragments, I might have a clearer view into the past.

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Blame it on the rain

Bloganuary: Write a short story or poem about rain

I don’t have a short story or a poem, but I do have this snippet from my work in progress (which may or may not end up in the final draft).


Rain greets us in the morning. We stand in the doorway and inspect the downpour. It’s fierce but not too unusual for early autumn.

“How infected do you think it is?” Agent Darnelle asks.

My impulse is to say not at all. After yesterday’s freak attack? This could be the aftermath. Mixed in with innocuous raindrops could be plenty of residual toxins.

“One way to find out.” Already, I’m tugging on my rain boots, which I keep by the door. They are pink, with polka dots, nearly a match for my umbrella.

“Agent Little, stop. I insist—”

I halt his words with a pointed look at his shoes. They may be hand-tooled and lovely. But if he steps outside in this downpour?

They’ll disintegrate.

I take up my umbrella and bound out the door. I only venture a few feet down the walkway. No matter what mixture is falling from the sky, this is no day for patrolling. The muck in the housing development will be ankle-deep.

I stick out an arm and feel the cold pelt of raindrops against my skin. When I turn to race inside, a gust of wind catches my umbrella and brings a shower of rain beneath it. I am soaked, my T-shirt clinging to my skin, jeans plastered to my thighs. I run for the door.

There, Agent Darnelle stands. In his hands, he holds a huge bath towel. I rush straight into the waiting terry cloth, and he closes it around me.

“You’re drenched,” he says, the towel skimming my arms and fluffing my hair.

It’s warm and chaotic, encased in the towel and his embrace.

“Tea,” he commands before frog-marching me toward the kitchen. There, a steaming pot of tea is waiting for us.

“I know you’ll want to change,” he says, “but we should assess the damage to your arms. Do you mind?”

I shake my head. It’s what I’d do on my own. He seats me and drapes the towel around my shoulders. While I sip the tea, he inspects my right arm. He does this by pulling out what can only be described as a monocle and peers through it.

“It’s infected.” His lips compress in concern. “Actually, if the rain weren’t so heavy, the damage would be worse.”

“It’s a small advantage King’s End has,” I say. “We get good rain.”

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