Crying Out Loud

I had lunch with a good friend today. (She’s the one who’s always encouraged me and continues to support me during the roller coaster ride of trying to become published and I love her for it. ) We started talking about the fact that we both seem to cry more over fiction (books, movies, tv, commercials) than we do over reality.  I joked that it probably says something horrendous about our psyches, but this afternoon I looked into it and found articles that suggest otherwise.

My friend and I aren’t monsters who fail to care about our loved ones. For one thing, we’re both moms and have had our fair share of being strong for our children and husbands and families. It’s hard to cope with a situation when you’re having to stop and wipe the tears. So, in reality, we suck in our emotions and deal with whatever emotional situation that’s arisen, be it the death of loved ones, or kids in trouble, or financial hardships or exhaustion. Whatever the case, we are present for the moment. Usually the tears will come later.

Tears over fiction are immediate. Earlier today I finished my favorite author Jennifer L. Armentrout’s THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER. It was released last year, but I put it off because I knew, I knew it was going to make me cry based on the subject matter alone. But I wanted to read it for several reasons: I adore her writing, I need to read more contemporary work, and my recent manuscript touches some of the same subjects as this one does. (Though in a much different way.) Luckily I have learned to finish books in the privacy of my own home. Where the tissue boxes are plenty and the gaping uncomfortable stares are few.

I was right. I bawled like a baby off and on for the last fiftyish pages of the book. But it was a good cry. This book had an amazing ending. It was very well done. And that’s why I cried so much. I FELT it. I felt what the characters were feeling and it knocked in the gut. This is most certainly a nod to her talent as an author, as well as evidence of my ability to connect with people who aren’t real.

Research shows fiction, in both literary and cinematic forms, greatly improves people’s capacity for empathy. It has to do with the production of oxytocin in our brains. I read an article listing an experiment on oxytocin production. To sum it up, when the participants were exposed to a video depicting an emotional scenario (child speaking about his cancer) their oxytocin production increased 47% over those who were shown a scenario in which the same child visited a zoo. The experiment went on to reveal that those who’s oxytocin had increased were shown to be more generous to strangers and give money to charity.

I find that all very fascinating.

And a bit validating too. I mean, anyone who’s seen a movie with me can testify that I will likely be a blubbering mess. And as I read the last half of ALLEGIANT? Please. It took me almost an hour and half to read Four’s POV chapters after [SPOILER HAPPENED.] I had to stop and wipe away my tears too many times.

I think the tears we cry over fiction can be our emotional release so that when an emotional crisis arises in our reality, we can deal with it. That doesn’t mean we won’t cry when bad things happen in real life. I do. Frequently. But I think my ability to connect with fictional characters and feel their pain (especially when I’m reading an amazing author!) makes it easier for me to deal with real life emotional situations.

Now before someone starts throwing bananas at me (because that would be a far worse fate for me personally than throwing tomatoes), I’m not saying that crying over fiction makes us the superior of the species. I know many people who don’t feel emotionally connected to fiction who are loving and empathetic people. I married to one of those people. But as I said to my friend today, I kind of feel sorry for those who don’t feel emotion that stems from fiction. I am encouraging everyone who is worried about being ridiculed for crying over books or movies (Young adult books, even? GASP), don’t. It’s okay to let those tears flow. Increase the oxytocin. Let it out. I’ll be here with my ample supply of tissues.

BOOK REC: If you’re looking for something to increase your oxytocin, I will wholeheartedly suggest THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Even though I passed high school age many moons ago, I still FELT with these characters. It’s not typically the type of book I’d read, but I didn’t put it down once I began reading. The subject matter is dark and unfortunately all too real, but this hit all the right emotional notes with me. Jennifer is amazing and this book is worth the time.

For more info about Jennifer and THE PROBLEM WITH FOREVER, visit her site here.

My research source article can be found here.

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Query Trenches

I’m in the query trenches again. This is what it feels like:

happyscared

Most days I’m feeling pretty good about my manuscript, then suddenly I’m hit with the thought that I sent it out and it’s wrong.  IT’S ALL WRONG!

Of course, the panic passes, but boy does it feel real in the moment.

I’m not sure why it’s called the query trenches. That phrase conjures up images of war, guns, and olive green clad soldiers either clinging on for life or lobbing ammunition. Querying doesn’t have to be as bad as all that.

I’m approaching querying a little differently than I have in the past. Not in the process itself, as that has stayed the same for me, but in the way I’m thinking about the process.Going with the soldier theme, there are a few things I’ve discovered that writers must have in their arsenal when querying.

  • Belief in your manuscript. It may seem strange to say that, but I’ve known writers who’ve queried with the idea it isn’t really good enough yet, but I’ll take a shot. I will even go so far as to say I did that myself several years ago just moments I typed THE END. That didn’t get me anywhere. Now, I spend as long polishing as I do writing the first draft. I make sure that what I have is the best it can be. That doesn’t mean that some future agent or editor won’t have ideas for change. It means that I’m no longer revising scenes, substituting words, or throwing new ideas in. I believe my manuscript is good, it’s fresh, and is high concept. I’m not bragging, mind you. I’m believing in the story I’ve told. I’ve enlisted in this army of writers and I think my campaign will be a winning strategy.
  • A thick skin. Rejections aren’t fun. But you will get them. It doesn’t mean your manuscript is bad or that you’re not talented. It means you haven’t found the right agent for your manuscript. It took me a while to get to this point. In the past, I would sink into a depression with every rejection I got. Now, I’m a little bit better about it. Continuing with the theme, I’ve tried to adjust my attitude and look at finding the right agent as a game of Battleship. You know, the one where it was Blue vs.Red and the little plastic ships? ( Totally showing my age there. I think they’re actually electronic now.) But when I’m querying, I’m firing missiles at the board. The rejections, are misses.  Requests are hits.  From there, it’s just a matter of picking a few strategic shots to sink the Battleship. (Partial request, hit. Full request, hit. Phone call, hit.) YOU SUNK MY BATTLESHIP or YOU ARE MY AGENT!
  • Patience. This is tough. I am not a patient person by nature, but I’ve learned that Publishing is a long process and while some things can happen very quickly, the majority of the business doesn’t. I’ve found the best way to handle this is to keep writing. I’ve already started another project and that’s taking up a lot of my brain time. It keeps me honing my craft while I wait to hear back from my queries.

And now, off to practice some of that patience… and read a good book.

 

 

Riding It Out

Today was a good day. Today I:

  • Wrote a query letter for “Boyband” that I don’t hate
  • Wrote a 3-pg synopsis that can probably be trimmed to 1-pg if necessary
  • Researched (AND FOUND) a list of YA agents seeking boyband and/or humor MS
  • Boybanded by listening to One Direction all day (#inspiration)
  • Decided that “boy” and “band” could, in fact, be smashed into one word and used as a noun or a verb
  • Did I mention the query? Because I hate queries
  • Wrote a blog post about all the boybandy things I did today
  • Decided boyband can also adjective if needed

I’m not posting this list to brag or make other writers feel unaccomplished. Because yesterday I:

  • Spent two hours formatting my manuscript and I’m still not done
  • Whined to my Crit Partner about how much my manuscript sucked and how worried I was about it being too long and too over-the-top
  • Removed almost 150 instances of go-to filter words like: just, really, and smile
  • Agonized for far too long over the name of one of my minor characters. I still don’t have it right yet.
  • Considered abandoning my boyband manuscript because I can’t quite narrow it down to the proper genre and category yet

And that’s the life of the writer: up and down and up and way over there to the side, then up again, then down into the pits of despair, then up again.

I’m truly thankful that I’m along for the ride, no matter how crazy it is.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Decluttering

I just deleted twenty-seven emails. This may not sound like a blog-worthy task to you, but trust me, it is.

I tend to be a bit of a hoarder by nature—not one of the obviously-in-need-of-therapy kind that they do television shows about, but more of a save-this-in-case-I-need-it type. That mentality has served me well in the past because I’ve saved things that I did, indeed, need in the future. But oftentimes my “saving things” resulted in piles of (organized) stuff in many different resting places. We had so many saved things lying about our house that when we did need to find something, it took forever, or worse, we never found it due to the massive nature of our “collection.”

Because we had so little space in our cars when we moved back to Arkansas from Nevada, we ended up weeding out of lot of things just to make the trip back. That inspired me to make a major push to clean out some of “saved things.” (I refuse to call my stuff “junk,” okay?)  We cleaned out the garage, had a yard sale, donated carloads of stuff to Goodwill. It was liberating and I honestly feel better about decluttering (most of) my life.

However, it occurred to me that while my home was looking pretty spiffy, my inbox was a big ole’ hot mess.

When I started to seriously pursue this writing thing, I did what I think most newbie writers do—research. I went online searching for the best resources, reading the most popular blogs, registered for message boards and author newsletters, and followed every author, agent, and publisher I could on Twitter.  That resulted in a lot of information.

It also resulted in a lot of email.

There’s a lot to be gained by reading every scrap of information you can about the craft of writing. I want to be a successful writer. I want my manuscripts to appeal to readers, agents and publishers. I want to “get it right.”  Reading writing blogs and following agents is helping me to craft the best stories that I can. I can say with all certainty that my manuscripts are better off than they would have been if I had just started with no information, blindly jabbing at the idea of writing and occasionally landing on a good idea or well-written sentence.

I’ve noticed is that my writing suffers when I am actively trying to remember every nugget of information I have read on the craft of writing. Instead of writing my story I’m thinking, “Is this inciting event strong enough…does this character’s arc work…is this showing or telling…do I need that dialog tag…does this setting seem unique…” All of that bumbling around my brain when I’m trying to write a scene causes it to stall and it just gives me a lot of stress and doubt.  Instead I should be focusing on my character’s voice and how they’re going to deal with the thing I’m throwing at them.

I’ve had to actively learn how to keep what I know in the back of my head and let it become “white noise” while I’m writing. I wish I could tell you the steps to do this, but I can’t. It’s a daily struggle for me to “just write” instead of “write it, think about it, edit it, reread it, revise it, think about it, ask my crit partner about it, rewrite it again.”

Another issue I’m facing is that I’m working again, so my time is limited. I no longer have hours every day to read the blogs, author emails and spend more hours than I care to admit on Twitter.  I’m forced to make my writing “count” now.

With all that in mind, I decided one way to combat the issue of having too much in my head is to declutter my inbox. The twenty-seven emails I deleted were author newsletters, blog posts and book deals. Yes, I’d love to support every one of those authors, read every one of those books, and consider each blog post. But while I am doing those things, my manuscript is sitting there with a blinking cursor beckoning me.

I’m not going to ignore good advice from great sources, but I am going to attempt to maximize what I read for the greatest effect. Since I’m going to soon be querying a YA Historical Fantasy, I can put that adult romance author’s newsletter on the back burner. Because I’m working on a NA Contemporary Humor manuscript currently, I don’t necessarily need to read that blog about crafting the perfect Sci-Fi setting.  And do I really need to add another book to my TBR pile?

Okay, yes, to that one.

Hopefully the decluttering of my inbox will result in a little decluttering of my writer brain, and in return, yield some fantastic words. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Now I have to go find that box my husband was looking for last night and delete two more emails that came in while I was typing this blog!

 

 

 

 

Water Day

Today I’m celebrating World Water Day. I’m taking a moment to be grateful for all the good things water gives us.

I wrote about the water crisis last week, so I won’t start spewing facts and statistics at you again. They’re available on water.org if you’re interested. I recommend taking a look as soon as you can. Check out the introduction video on the site. I hope it’ll open your eyes like it did mine.

I’ve been aware of water.org for a few years now but only recently after doing some research for a couple of novel ideas that I have, did I come to fully understand what the organization does and how it impacts communities across the globe. They’re doing good work to provide lasting solutions to the water crisis.

Personally, I’ve found myself very grateful for my toilet. Seriously. It’s not something we talk about in civilized conversations, but maybe it should be. Because I have a clean toilet I can use any time I want. (And I use it a lot because I pretty much mainline Diet Coke.) But what if I didn’t have a white porcelain throne and instead had to squat in the mud where seventeen other people have squatted today? Suddenly a new role of Charmin seems more precious than gold.

Millions of people are dealing with this every single day. And it breaks my heart. And that’s why I support water.org and celebrate World Water Day. Because how can I turn a blind eye to something so fundamentally important to every living soul on the planet?

Visit WaterDay.org to celebrate Water Day with me. You can create your own photo to share what water gives you. I’d like to share a couple with you- mine and Matt Damon’s.

 

And because I like to put feet to my words, I’ll share something I was inspired to write after seeing a water.org photo on Instagram. It’s not easy for me to share this because it’s not a complete scene or story, or even fully edited, but it’s what came to me.  I hope it inspires you to do something. Share. Donate. Celebrate. Think. Give thanks. Act.

 

Six hours. Six hours isn’t bad as long as she begins in the morning just as the dew is starting to form in the fields. Six hours over dusty, rock-laden paths beat down by the footfalls of a thousand other women who came before her.

Six hours. Three each way.

Every day.

Without ceasing.

A yellow plastic jug trails behind Darsha, leaving a chalky mist in its wake as she trudged from the outskirts of the slum she calls home toward the place where she will gather today’s water.

As the sun peeks over the horizon creating a hazy golden glow on the fields, Darsha temporarily forgets where she is and what she’s doing. For a brief moment, she rests on the shore of some nameless crystal lake with her toes dug into the mud and the cool water trickling over her shins. But as the odor of the men squatting in the field beyond her assault her nose, she remembers and picks up her feet.

Six hours for her family.

Six hours for life.

Only six hours.

The day has twenty-four. 

 

The Tides of March

When I first hopped onto the internet today, I was met with several “Beware the Ides of March” posts and references. And that was great because it’s absolutely the first thing I thought this morning when I saw the date. Who doesn’t love a good Shakespeare reference? In fact, I was going to blog something about the Ides of March today, but I changed my mind after I saw this video.

Hey there, Matt Damon, most talented and brilliant actor in the world, whatcha talking about?

Please allow me to explain.

In September 2015 the UN General Assembly set 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) meant to further the gains made worldwide in stamping out poverty and injustice. You can see the complete list HERE.

It includes things like eliminating poverty, ending hunger, quality education for all, renewable energy, sustainable cities and communities, good health, and economic growth. All lofty and worthy goals that we NEED to support.

As I was looking over the list of SDGs something struck me. Most of the goals on the list are not really obtainable without first conquering SDG #6 – Clean water and sanitation.

With a background in education, I’m invested in seeing quality education for all. But how can we teach children if they aren’t in school because they have to travel miles every day just to reach a clean source of water? Moreover, how can we end hunger when there’s no water to grow sustainable crops? Or how can we keep everyone healthy when entire communities live in fear of the bacteria invading their water supply?

We can’t.

If you’ve ever taken a Gen Psych or Sociology course, you’ll remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. (Are you picturing a triangle? You should be picturing a triangle right now.) Maslow stated that people are inherently motivated to achieve certain needs. At the very base of the triangle lies BIOLOGICAL and PHYSIOLOGICAL need. It includes air, food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep. If those needs are not being met, there’s no way anyone is moving up the triangle where you find safety, love, esteem and self-actualization.

Did you catch it? Access to clean water and proper sanitation is a basic human need. According to water.org 1 in 10 people lack access to clean water. And 1 in 3 lack access to sanitary toilets.

I’m not okay with those numbers.

I know I’m starting to sound “crusadey” with this. (And I’m okay with that, by the way. I will never apologize for who I am and what I think.) But I’ve been researching the water crisis and specifically water.org for months now and it’s given me a new perspective that I want to share with as many people as I can. While I don’t have the fans that Matt Damon has to bring awareness to this cause, I do have voice. And I’m using it.

Think of it as trying to change the tide on the water crisis. (See what I did there? Tides of March. *nods*)

If you’re interested in more info, check out water.org

And join me in celebrating Water Day next Tuesday. Water Day

And you can help for FREE by donating a photo here. Johnson&Johnson DonateAPhoto

 

Inspiration in Every Day Things

Last night I was half-paying attention while we were watching tv. A local commercial for insulated windows came on and I happened to look up at just the right time to see a photo of a house that had been covered with a gray filter whiz by the screen. The purpose was to show how terrible these windows were, but LOOK at these crisp clear insulated windows in this bright shiny photo next to it! You want them for your house!

I was struck with inspiration for my work in progress.

Now, insulated windows have absolutely no place in a fantasy based on the ancient Mayan culture, yet a very cool scene materialized itself in my head because of that photo-shopped picture in a modern commercial.

I am often asked “Where do your ideas come from?” And the simple answer is everywhere. For example, window commercials.

My brain has been conditioned to find inspiration in the most random, sometimes insignificant, and always unpredictable places. I believe you’ll find this is the case with most writers and creative types.

I think this has been the case most of my life, but since I have actively started pursuing publishing my stories, I have trained myself to see things and find inspiration all around me. Yeah, sometimes I get the occasional odd stare when I whip out my notebook to write something down or inadvertently shout, “Oh, I can use that!” But in the end, I hope my lightning bolts of inspiration produce stories that people want to read.

Since I’m a fan of lists and to show you how easy it can be, here’s my list of things I have found inspirational in the past week.  Maybe you’ll be able to spot them in my published stories one day!

USA Women’s World Cup Soccer Team

The poetry of Robert Frost: Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Matt Damon’s ponytail

Rainbows

Flipping an omelet without breaking it

This:

hate is easy

The finish line

Baby toes

Thunderstorms

Seriously, have you seen Matt Damon’s ponytail?

Four leaf clovers

The first word typed on a blank page

Dew

Norman Reedus’ cat

Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor

A brand new box of crayons

May you find inspiration in every day things!

ponytail

(See what I mean? Although, now that I look at this closely, I’m not sure it can be counted as an every day thing. This is a special occasion ponytail to be certain.)