The Dream and the Reality

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When I first developed this idea that I wanted to be a writer, I was a young mom with three small kids. Let me clarify that I have ALWAYS been a writer in one way or another. My mother still has copies of poems I wrote in kindergarten which I’m certain she keeps for blackmail purposes. In junior high school, I wrote for the school newspaper, which was an honors English class of sorts. In high school I also wrote for the newspaper, but I also wrote for the literary magazine as well. I wanted to be a writer – but I wasn’t certain exactly what that meant, and I also wasn’t sure I could support myself. My dad told me, with all good intentions of course, that I should go into public relations or advertising. That way I could use my writing talent to earn a steady pay check.

It made sense, and that’s what I did. I got a degree in Speech Communication with an emphasis in Business Writing and Public Relations. I spent 12 years writing press releases and brochure copy, video scripts and speeches. It was financially rewarding, but it wasn’t fulfilling me. At night, I wrote in journals. I wrote poetry and short stories and I imagined having the opportunity to follow that dream that had started way back when I was a school girl.

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And then one day, my husband made me quit my job. I hated my job, and it was making me ill both literally and figuratively. I had three little kids and I was making just enough money to cover the costs of their daycare. It didn’t make sense for me to work full-time anymore. So I stayed home with my kids. I wrote them stories that I would tell them at bedtime. Eventually I took a part-time job, one that I could work around my remaining kid in daycare and the year-round school schedule of my other two. I worked as the manager of a ceramics studio – you know the kind where you pay to paint a mug or plate or figurine and the store glazes it and fires it in the kiln for you to pick up a few days later. It was a fun job, not challenging, and in the slow times, I would write.

One morning I woke up and realized that my baby was 6 now, and was in school full-time with the other two kids. I felt the pull of writing in a manner I never had before. But I also felt the insecurity that had long hidden behind my responsible career choices. I honestly didn’t know if I could make a go of writing. What if I failed? What if I wasn’t any good and the only person who liked my stories was me?

I had done some freelance writing for companies like CitySearch, and for a local parenting magazine, but I wanted to write fiction. I wanted to write books instead of articles. I’d gotten involved in a number of writing organizations, and somehow through them I learned about Vermont College and their MFA in Writing. After checking into the program, I knew it was what I wanted, and I have never regretted the decision to earn that degree.

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My dream of writing took on a new life. So many people from that same program had gone on to publish several books, had even won awards! I believed for the first time in my life that I could finally be a successful writer! I dreamed of book signings and speaking engagements. I imagined how amazing it would be to walk into a local book store and see my books on the shelf! I allowed myself to believe this was my future, indulged my fantasies of this new life I would have, and grew heady (and my family will tell you unbearable) with this new persona I would cultivate – the writer me!

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Clearly you can see where this is heading. Despite many years of trying, a lot of hard work and dedication (and if you write, you know it is hard work indeed), I’m this much further down the road, the realities are far different from the dreams. I’ve had 7 books published, numerous short stories and articles, and I’m continually working on new stories. I’ve done quite a few book signings. Some of them have been wonderfully successful, and others I have sat alone or with a friend being horribly embarrassed that no one wanted my books. I’ve done lectures and workshops in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and North Carolina. I teach creative writing for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program, but the biggest audience I’ve addressed was about 150 people – not nearly the packed auditorium I dreamed of when I started. And the closest thing I’ve come to a “writing persona” is that I write under two different names: my legal name for my kids books, and a pen name for horror. But I’m only me. I can’t take on an affectation as a writer because, well, I just can’t. I’ve been me for a long time and I don’t really want to try to be anyone else. I’ve worked pretty hard to like who I am.

I don’t have small children anymore, I have adults and a grandchild where my babies used to be. I don’t have a big name, but I have loyal readers and good friends. I gave up the dream of what I though my writing life should be, and instead I accepted it for how it really is. I’m really a pretty quiet, withdrawn person, and I think this reality suits me fine. I can lead large groups and teach workshops when I need to, but I have no desire for celebrity anymore. The reality is vastly different from the dream, and quite frankly, I’m just fine with that.

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Dancing in the Dark

If you had asked me just a few years ago about the horror genre, I’d have admitted it was my guilty pleasure to read, but I would never consider writing it. I would have doubted both my ability and my qualifications. Goodness! I wrote for children! Wouldn’t that be some sort of sacrilege? But the intervening years have caused a shift in my perspective, and recent events have caused me to look at my writing self in a very different, and much darker light.

The first shift came in writing Beautiful Monster:monster

I’d never written anything like it, and to be completely honest, I never thought this book would be published for so many reasons. But it was, and there it is, and I’m rather proud of what it represents for me. It marked a milestone in my writing, it represents a change in both my attitude toward writing and in my perception of myself as a writer. I’ve come to love the characters and the book in a way I didn’t think was possible.

Not long after that, I was encouraged to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I dug up an old attempt I’d written years before and polished it to the publishers specifications. I was actually astonished when my story “Rita” was accepted to the Axes of Evil: A Heavy Metal Anthology.

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And coming very soon, my story “Groupie” will appear in Axes of Evil IIAxes II

And just released, my short story “The Lamb on the Tombstone” became part of the Utah chapter of Horror Writers Association anthology called Old Scratch and Owl Hoots.

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I haven’t left children’s writing, and in fact, I’ll have a new young adult novel out in July of this year that has been waiting a long time to see the light of day. The interesting thing is, you might notice that the horror writing may be rubbing off on my children’s writing just a little bit:

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For something that I never thought I could do, I think I’ve done a decent job of it. But I have zillions of stories that are waiting to be written – not all of them for kids, and not all of them horror. For me, it’s just fun to go dancing in the dark sometimes, to know that I can do it and be successful. Who knows? Maybe I’ll tackles Sci/Fi next?

It’s That Time of Year . . .

At the end of each year, it has become my tradition to review the goals I set and see how I did, and then to create new goals for the new year. I’ve been doing this for 8 years now, and I find it helpful for keeping my focus throughout the year – usually. Life happens when you’re making plans for something else, right? So, let’s see how I did:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

Well, I tried. I did begin to submit to agents again, and while I had favorable comments, I haven’t landed one just yet. So, we’ll be seeing this one again, I’m certain.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

That was very ambitious of me! And I did pretty well. The Afterward has been revised, I finished a novel called “The Year I Went Invisible” (though it needs a great deal of work still). I wrote (and sold!) two new short stories, and I’ve started a new novel that is moving along nicely (it doesn’t have a name yet, though). While I didn’t actually write three two new novels, I still feel pretty good about my accomplishments.

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month. 

I came so close on this! I did find new places to market my work! And I took full advantage of every opportunity! I managed to be involved in 10 events this year! And for some of them, I was even paid! This one might be tougher with only one new book coming out this year, but hopefully, I’ll find some new resources as well.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

I have to cheat a bit on this one, but to me, it still counts. In April, I was one of the presenters at the Writing for Charity event in Provo, Utah. However, I took full advantage of the times I wasn’t presenting and attended as many workshops as I could fit in during the day. Then in September, I joined the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and attended their three-day conference in Denver. It was amazing, uplifting, and something I very much needed to do for myself and my heart.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

And here, I exceeded my goal significantly. I began teaching for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program again after not having taught for them in over 12 years. It is a wonderful, rewarding experience, and I look forward to the classes and my students each week. This coming spring, I will be teaching a class on Flash Fiction, and I have gained so much insight by reading in this area, so I’m very excited to share this with my students.

And so for next year? Well, I’m continuing to try to stretch a bit, but I’m also trying not to set myself up for failure or disappoint. Let’s be realistic: I have a full-time job; I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, and the giant furless mommy cat in my family. I have responsibilities and demands – but I also have a need to write, so I’m trying to find that balance between the real world and my writing ambitions. My family is supportive and willing to compromise (which is easier now that my baby is 19 and only lives here on school breaks), but I need time with them, too. In that realm of balance and ambition, here are the 2015 edition of my goals:

1. I will submit to no less than 5 agents each month.

2. I will write a minimum of 7,500 words each week.

3. I will participate in a minimum of 10 events which allow me to promote my books.

4. I will attend at least one writing event where I am NOT speaking or presenting.

5. I will continue teaching creative writing courses through Lifelong Learning.

Now, I’m adding a new twist: I have printed off my goals and stuck them to the wall next to my desk so that I can see them each day. I am inviting you to ask me at any time to provide a public update on these goals, which I will do. I’m inviting any encouragement, support, chastising, or harassment that you may feel is appropriate throughout the year. And I will thank you now, in advance, for doing so.

Here’s to the new year: may we all follow our dreams and continue to flourish and grow!

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Stories and Writing and Books – OH MY!

I openly admit that summer is my most favorite season. I love being outside, I love nurturing my garden, and I love taking my laptop out to my patio to work.

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But of course, there are some wonderful aspects to autumn as well. All the time spent tending to my garden rewards me with the harvest of raspberries and nectarines, and this year with watermelon! The cooler air is wonderful for taking my dog for a walk. And of course, Halloween, the Autumnal Equinox, and Day of the Dead are all part of this season! Fall is a very productive time for me in a creative sense as well For some reason, my brain begins to process things in a different way. I begin to see story ideas in new and inventive forms, and I feel the pull to spend inordinate amounts of time writing things down, polishing existing work, and focusing on the goals I set at the beginning of the year.

This is not to say that I am not focused during the summer; I definitely am! But it’s as if my creativity and my desire to write go into overdrive! I know that for a lot of people who write, winter is a very productive time for them. But I suffer terribly from Season Affective Disorder, and the winters where I live are often marked with temperature inversions the turn the air into toxic oatmeal. The view from my window becomes like the view from inside a fish bowl that hasn’t been cleaned.

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I struggle during the winter to do anything other than curl up in a ball and pretend I can hibernate like a bear. So here we are, early into the changing season, and my imagination has already begun to run riot. It seems as though every day I have a new idea for a book or a character or a short story I want to write I wake up in the wee hours with energy and thoughts that I have to write down so I don’t lose them when I return to sleep. It’s a wonderful, invigorating time. But then all this new energy has to work with the restraint of having commitments to projects already. I have revisions headed my way for Death’s Kiss, a young adult novel that should be making its debut quite soon. I was invited to submit chapters to an agent I met at a conference. And I have already started another novel that is being forced to wait for these first two projects to step aside.

But this is a good problem to have! It is an embarrassment of riches and that makes me very happy indeed. So I will do what I can to pursue these many inspired ideas and try to maintain some sort of balance in the process. I know what ‘s coming, and I know it will be hard.

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For now, I’m going to focus on taking advantage of all this energy, all these ideas, and try to make the very most of them I can. Hopefully, if I do this the right way, I’ll have lots of exciting, positive announcements when spring rolls around!

Lost in My Own World

One of the great pleasures of writing is the ability to get lost in your own world for a while. You have the opportunity ditch the “real world” for a while and play God as you build your own universe and manipulate the lives of the critters who occupy it. Sometimes I only get to spend a brief time immersed in my alternate reality, and sometimes I get lost in there for days. Yes – days. I get so wrapped up in my characters, in their conflicts and their challenges, that even when I’m back in my own reality, I carry them around with me, worrying about them, fretting for their issues, listening to their conversations.  My characters are very real to me, and their dilemmas – even though I created them – are also very real to me. I dream about them, I wonder about them; they are like friends and sometimes family to me. I become detached from where I am because where they are is so much more interesting. While I love the experience, it sometimes annoys my family just a little.

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Recently, I’ve been working on a sequel to Beautiful Monster, and I was so wrapped up in getting my main character through a difficult scene that I completely tuned out my environment. My oldest daughter had been talking to me about helping her out and watching my grandson when I left this universe for the one I’d created. She continued talking to me for an extended time, but realized that I was no longer part of her reality. At that point, she began reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb to me, and I didn’t actually clue in until she started singing it. Without even realizing it, I had agreed to babysit for the better part of two afternoons before my daughter realized I’d checked out. Naturally, she held me to my promise to watch her son.

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You’d think by now my family would be used to this, but I guess used to it or not, they still get annoyed by it. I’d like to tell them I can change, but the truth is, the only way I’m going to change is if I give up writing . . . forever . . . and that’s about as likely to happen as a tidal wave in the Sahara. I’ve given up writing once. By choice even. It wasn’t a good outcome. I’d much rather have a root canal without anesthesia than go through the pain and withdrawal caused by not writing. Just the thought of not writing makes me anxious and jittery, so you can imagine how bad it would be to actually stop!

I’m trying to stay a little more grounded though. It would be bad to drift off into my own Never Never Land while watching my 2-year-old grandson. That has disaster written all over it.

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I’m also trying to be present with my family. Even though I’m really not choosing my own reality over them, they don’t necessarily understand the distinction. I can appreciate their feeling that they somehow take second place to my make-believe friends and family, even though that clearly isn’t the case. But they’ve all compromised a great deal for me to follow my dream. The least I can do is give them my full attention. Well, to the best of my ability anyway.

So if you happen to come by for a visit, or we meet up somewhere at a conference, don’t be offended if I suddenly go glassy-eyed and appear to be deaf. It’s not you. It just means I’ve slipped into my own world again. I’ll be back soon. Or if you can find your way in, you’re welcome to join me! 

 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Mimi has had a rough year.

My former writing partner and I have parted ways. Mostly amicably, but I’d be lying to say that on my side of the fence it was easy and without anger. Frankly, that’s all I’m saying about that. I disappeared for a while, but I couldn’t stay invisible for long. There’s far too much mischief for me to get into!

This year marked the one year anniversary of Beautiful Monster – a fine accomplishment of which I’m fairly proud. But it’s now part of the past and it no longer holds the meaning for me that it did in the beginning. I’m moving forward – but more about that in a moment.

In August of this year, my horror short story Rita was accepted for the Axes of Evil anthology that will be coming out in February of 2014! Chuppa Cabra House is the publisher, and they are FUN! to work with! Hoping to do a bit more with them at a later date.

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And even though it was written under my kinder, gentler moniker, I will take a little credit for Death’s Kiss being accepted for publication. My name won’t be on the cover, but I’ve been assured of a hefty acknowledgement by the author! This one comes out early in the new year, but no specific release date yet!

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Kind of an up-and-down year, but I’m looking forward now, and things look good from this vantage point!

First up is finishing another short story entitled Snow Queen. This is a bit of horror and a bit of naughtiness rolled into one rotten main character. It’s one of those “Be careful what you wish for” stories, and I’ve so much fun with it thus far. It may find a home in another anthology edited by my friend Alex S. Johnson. We’ll see. For now, I’m just enjoying the thrill of really giving this character what she deserves.

Now, that project I mentioned before. I’ve been working on a sequel to Beautiful Monster, but told from Brenna’s point of view. If you’ve read the book, that makes sense. If you haven’t – well! Why haven’t you? Brenna is a very different girl these days, and there are some interesting twisties and turnies in this story. Yes – Sterling will be there, but he isn’t the main character. And for those of you hoping for more – sorry. This will be it. We’re gonna stick a fork in this one.

Another horror novel is swimming around in my head and taking on a life of its own. I love studying phobias, and I’ve always wondered what would happen if a phobia ceased being irrational and became something real! I’m mapping out the story and the main character, and I’m trying to give this one a good ending – believable and desirable. Sometimes, what I want to do personally isn’t really what’s best for the story. Don’t let my sweet appearance fool you. I’m vicious to my characters.

So tomorrow I way farewell to the dregs of 2013 and I welcome the promise and excitement of 2014. It’s like meeting a new lover before you’ve ever touched! Just the promise of something new serves as the aphrodisiac! Welcome 2014 – I anticipate a delicious time with you!

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