I’ve been reading a lot of dark fiction lately and it’s starting to affect how I see the world.
We passed this old barn driving from Spring Hill to Louisburg, and I had an instant picture of two young and star-crossed lovers–call them Erik and Bodil–dead by Erik’s hand. Living in the late 1800’s, Bodil was promised to another by her parents. She begged Erik to take her away from wherever-that-was Kansas. Instead of eloping, Erik killed her and hanged himself.
But maybe the story isn’t about murder/suicide. What if it’s a hundred years later, and 9-year-old Maria plays in the creepy barn because Momma, busy with the new baby, doesn’t have time for her. Maria discovers the ghosts of Erik and Bodil, and …
But we arrived home at that point, and there the story ended. At least for now.
People sometimes ask where the ideas come from. For me, it’s a matter of looking for the possibilities in the world. Dark possibilities.
I used to sit down at my desk by 7AM and write. I might work on a 1,000-question business proposal, tips on stress management, articles to improve health literacy, or the CEO’s Blog. I’d write for eight to ten hours. Sometimes 12 if we had a huge proposal with a short timeline.
No such thing as writer’s block for me. What I learned was to put something—anything—on paper. If I had time, I’d go back and edit, revising as needed. I usually didn’t have time.
You want discipline as a writer? Try a business proposal worth millions of dollars that HAS to be at the printer by noon.
Writing fiction is totally different. Time doesn’t matter. I spend a few hours on a piece, then tuck it away to ‘chill’ before editing. At some indeterminate later.
The downside? Revision seems to be never-ending.
This morning, I’m struggling to figure out whether to keep chugging away at the latest work-in-progress, or stop and rethink the outline. Meanwhile, the cat is sleeping in the office chair.
I’m thinking about joining him.
Every year since leaving corporate America, I’ve set two goals. One for gardening and the other for writing. In 2017, I followed Ray Bradbury’s suggestion, to write 52 short stories. Bradbury says that you can’t write 52 BAD stories. I set out to prove him wrong.
But no. He was right. I came away from 2017 with 33 short stories, most bad. But what to do with the good ones? I had no clue.
And then, I stumbled on Anna Yeatts by signing up for a Write Stories That Sell course. Halfway through the course, I had to deal with a pantry moth infestation and stopped doing anything unrelated to killing bugs.
Anna sent an auto-reminder to finish the course.
Irritably, I emailed back that I’d get back to it when–someday–I vanquished the pantry moths hanging off my ceiling. And Anna responded with: Pantry moths are the worst! Impressing me with the hands-on touch.
After spending untold sums on books, groups, and programs to learn writing craft, I signed on with Anna. Now–18 months later–I’ve had five short stories accepted for publication, with two already published.
Goal accomplished? Yes, but achievement breeds more goals. It’s fall, a time for taking stock, and as 2019 looms, I count on the two things I learned this year.
- I wasn’t able to write 52 (or 33) bad stories. Thank you Ray Bradbury and Anna Yeatts.
- It’s never too late.
The sun is shining, the air is crisp, the thermometer hovers just under 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Time to put the flowers up for winter. And that means editing.
This morning, I took a break from my mad writing goal of 20,000 words per week–I almost got there–and spent an hour digging out the bed in front of Jim’s barn.
About ten years ago, I planted sedum Autumn Joy there, thinking they’d look green in summer and dusky pink in fall. Turned out great for two years, and then the plants got scraggly. Horse nettle added its nasty self in that bed, along with some pernicious vine I’ve never identified. Then I learned that Autumn Joy–also known as Never-Dies with good reason–needs dividing every couple of years.
I divided the sedum and cut back the number of plants to reduce my work load. But then added iris and daylilies, forgetting that these too need dividing at least every two years.
One of the daylilies is especially gorgeous. That big clump at the far right of the photo? It looks like this in bloom:
If I had places for them, I could get five fans (plants) from that clump. But as William Faulkner said, ‘kill your darlings.’ Just as true in gardening as in writing.
Speaking of, my latest published short story–and warning, it’s a little dark–is at Page & Spine Magazine.
As a life-long pessimist, I like to tell people-who-call-me-on-it that optimists are never pleasantly surprised. It takes a lot of energy to search out that silver lining when the sky is filled with black clouds.
But early yesterday morning, I was pleasantly surprised—so much so that I lived the rest of yesterday in a fog of optimism.
Another of my stories sold and will be published this month.
Meanwhile, if you’re interested, go to The Arcanist for a quick five minute read, published at the end of August.
I’m at that point with my work in progress (WIP). Time to chalk it up as a bad experience, lessons learned, and move on. Maybe I’ll give up writing altogether–or so I tell my fabulous editor/coach.
No, no, no, she emails back. You’re closer than you think.
And while I’m cogitating, Jim asks me what I want to do with the ‘old tree out back’. This poor thing was a 40 foot cottonwood that has been here since before the acreage was divided and the house was built some 30 years ago. It’s been dying a slow and painful death since we moved in. This spring, Jim cut the tree down and left the stump.
I thought we’d poly it and use it as a garden seat. I neglected to say the words out loud to Jim, and he left it be. As you see, the tree persists in being something. Not the cottonwood it was. Maybe a cottonwood bush. And surrounding the stump are little trees popping out of the grass. Like so.
I have this notion that I should be able to write three or four novels a year. And I have, but not different books. I’ve rewritten the same book, three times going on four.
Now here I am, at the start of the second year, deciding whether to persist. Have I learned to be more tree-like?
Last year, I took on the Ray Bradbury challenge to write 52 short stories in a year. I fell a bit short, only writing 32 and most were bad. But I had a handful of not-half-bad stories, and three that seemed good.
One of the things I learned along the way was how to be another person. Never mind that I’m a–well let’s call it ‘senior’–female. I could be an out-of-work 30 year old male, a mean and murderous female school teacher, a male retiree bent on revenge … you get the picture.
Weeding the mermaid garden this morning, I wondered what it would be like to sing songs to destroy men and ships.
As a more-or-less right brained person, I tend to see wholes instead of parts. Sometimes this is a plus. Like when planning a garden or a novel.
But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty—weeding and editing—I tend to get overwhelmed by all the little pieces. And for me, overwhelmed means immobilized.
I do better when I focus on just this one thing.
This chapter, page, sentence rather than the entire work. This one garden, section, plant rather than the whole yard. When I narrow my focus, I’m more likely to keep moving forward.
We have a courtyard off the master bedroom and the centerpiece is a 15-foot Japanese maple (Acer Bloodgood) that by rights, should not have lived in windy Kansas. During last fall’s storms, branches banged on the roof and gutters until Jim tied them back.
In February, we gave the tree a hard prune—30 percent. The photo? On this branch where we made a cut, the tree focused on just this little sucker today … Pretty.
Do you see that frilly leafed plant at the bottom of the photo? Unless I miss my guess, that’s Nepeta (Catmint) Walker’s Low. It has a lovely blue flower and a musty smell. When in bloom, bees and butterflies will cover it, making it difficult for an insect-phobic human like me to get close enough to weed.
Fifteen years ago, I planted a tiny Walker’s Low plant that in five years’ time grew so large it took over a third of my front flower bed. In the fall of 2008, I spent three days ripping it out. I dug deep and then deeper to get every bit of root.
Or so I thought.
Now it’s 2018 and if my powers of identification are correct, here it comes again. Out of the ground, like the unwanted dead haunting my garden. Not quite sure what I’ll do. Tear it out? Leave it, having learned to prune it back—severely—every fall? Whatever I do, I gotta admire its persistence.
This past year, I’ve had my own lessons in persistence. I’ve been a technical writer for many years but always wanted to write dark fiction.
Fantasy. Horror. Paranormal (gasp) romance.
But I didn’t just want to write stuff and put it away in a box or on a flash drive for posterity. I wanted to publish. In my lifetime.
Last year, I decided it was time to figure out how. Without burdening you (at least not yet) with all the details, I stumbled upon a fabulous coach who taught me what my Walker’s Low already knew. Keep at it. Do the work. Show up. Persist.
After 14 months of alternating between discouragement and determination, I have two short stories, publication forthcoming sometime this summer. Stay tuned…