Fun With Networking

me and vinnie croppedI spent most of this past weekend at the wonderful California Crime Writers Conference, jointly created by the local Sisters in Crime chapter and the local Mystery Writers of America chapter. At left is a picture of me and Vinnie Hansen signing copies of Fishy Business, the latest Guppy anthology,

 

perf6.000x9.000.inddwhich includes stories from each of us. The conference was top notch, with excellent speakers and presentations, good food, lots of opportunities to mingle with and meet fellow writers, but also editors, PR advisors and technical experts. Whenever I go to one of these events, I always come away re-energized about my work, but also impressed with how every one involved in this business is supportive, kind, helpful, warm, friendly and interesting. This particular conference is only held every other year at this point. Luckily, there are many others. My next one will be in Dallas at Bouchercon in October. It’ll be here before ya know it!

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Decisions, Decisions

decisionsStudies have shown that, instead of making us feel richer and blessed, an over abundance of choices actually makes us less happy. We get paralyzed. What if we make the wrong choice? How do we decide between similar, but slightly different options? How do we cope with having to leave so many delightful options behind? This dilemma is certainly true about my abundance of possible writing projects. Should I get back to light verse, one of my first loves? Or should I tackle even a small smidge of the book length manuscript I’ve been working on for several years? Then there’s the lure of responding to calls for essays and short stories that appear every day on the several lists and forums that I follow. Perhaps it’s a matter of focusing on completing the project that is most nearly ready for submission, so I’ll have one more manuscript in circulation? Each choice offers emotional and/or practical benefits. And of course, my decision might be determined by some deadline or other that I’ve already committed to.

In the end, while I can have several projects in various stages of development, I can only work on one piece at a time. The important thing for me is not to get bogged down in trying to make the “right” decision. The important thing is to make any decision at all. Just get started on moving something ahead. My job today will be the one of the smallest, and yet most crucial tasks: coming up with a title for my latest short crime fiction story. A good title won’t sell the piece. But it’s more likely to catch the editor’s eye. And it bears such importance to me, in my own mind, that it feels like a giant hump to get over. If I can do that one thing, I’ll feel encouraged about my work for the day. I wish the same for you, today and every day.

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Note to Self: Stop Talking

stop talkingTo myself, I mean. Or rather, more specifically, stop the mental negative self-talk that doesn’t help and only makes me miserable. Stop saying I have no ideas. Stop saying I have no time. Stop saying my work is too quirky to find a home. Stop saying I’m not good enough to pull off a major project. Stop saying there’s too many other fine writers out there, far better writers than I am. Stop saying all these things before I’ve even get started, before I can possibly have any notion of whether an idea is viable or not. Note to self: you’re not helping! You’re only succeeding in shutting me down. Just stop! I don’t wanna hear it!

not listeningOr maybe I should more profitably tell myself: stop listening. I’ve had a lifetime of practice in not listening to other people (parents, rejected lovers, the fashion police). Why can’t I tune out the voices in my own head? Maybe I can’t. But, I’ve read that brain scientists have shown that you can’t hold two thoughts in your head at one time. So, instead of battling the negative voices, maybe the cure is to fill my brain with thoughts that push the other ones out. Thoughts like: I’m excited about a new idea. Or, I saw a great market for that story I’ve got in inventory. Or, I don’t have to do it all at once, a little progress every day will get me there. Maybe if I can do this routinely enough, maybe if I can make the positive thoughts the default, I can gradually diminish the visitations or the impact of the negative ones. Can’t hurt to try.

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Bragging Rights

AHM_MayJune2019_400x570Every issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine includes a fun contest. They print a picture, and writers are challenged to come up with a 250 word maximum story inspired by or based on the picture. Winners get $25.00. The winning story and the names of the runners up are printed in the next issue. I’m proud to say I was a runner up in the latest contest, with my name in the issue pictured here.

Best of all, it was the most fun I’ve had writing in a long time–a great break from revising, editing, marketing. And even that small bit of recognition gives me the emotional boost to keep going, to do more, to seek out more opportunities. And to encourage all my fellow short story and/or mystery writers to do the same.

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Persistence

I’m excited. My story, “The Wannabe”, is now out in the latest Guppy anthology, Fishy Business. While not quite a “30-Year Story“, it was at least a 10-year story. Still, I kept at it. I kept at it because I had faith in the story. I also had friends along the way who helped. An actress I know helped me shape the “cattle call” scene. I also did research into how long it takes to render a person unconscious by choking and how long they will stay passed out once the airway is cleared. Mostly, I kept submitting. While the story came close to acceptance several times, it never made the final cut. Until the call for the latest Guppy anthology went out, that is. Even then, it was a year between acceptance and the publication of the anthology. But so what? In the meantime, I kept working on and submitting other pieces, plus editing, revising and publishing the second edition of my poetry book, Fault Lines. As writers, we accept the realities of publishing, which include delays and disappointments. But we also get to enjoy the successes and victories. One of the unexpected joys of working on this anthology was getting to know the other 21 contributors, the coordinator and others involved. Sure, I’d seen their names and read their posts on the group list, and even met a couple of them in person at Bouchercon. But this collaborative experience in a small group focused on one project proved delightful. And it’s one more experience to add to this, my writing life.

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At Last

Fault Lines cover final jpeg2 (2)1000After a long slog, I’ve finally issued the second edition of my poetry collection, Fault Lines. Perhaps it took longer than it should have. Perhaps it took exactly as long as it needed. There were three things that slowed down the process. One was my own foot-dragging when it came to the hard work. And my foot dragging came from two impulses: fear (that I wouldn’t be up to the task) and a simple dread of the drudgery of endless editing and proofreading. A second cause was the steep learning curve, in regards to cover design, formattting, uploading, dealing with ISBNs, vendors and all the rest. While there are hundreds, if not thousands, of books, articles and blogs available to teach me all this, none of them were quite adequate for the job. There was always some missing step, or fuzzy explanation, combined with the fact that it all changes by the minute and much of what I read no longer applied. The third factor was my own near-perfectionism. I really wanted to get it right this time, and not end up with the typos, omissions and other issues with the first edition. I wanted a product I could be proud of, now and into the future. Of course, with all my efforts, there are still a few things I now would change, a few steps I would (will) do differently next time. That just means I’ve learned something (well, many things, actually). Hooray! Anything I learn, any hard work, just better prepares me for the next challenge. So, here it is. I hope you like it.

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The Simplest Cure

sleeping babyYesterday my life was awful. I felt discouraged, stuck, overwhelmed and unlovable. Yet, nothing had changed from the day before, when everything was fine. Today, I’m upbeat, tackling chores and creative projects with verve, hope and confidence. Nothing in my life has really changed. So, what happened? For me, it’s a simple but all too often overlooked answer. Two nights ago, I stayed up till 2:00 AM talking to my friend and critique partner, Stephanie on the phone. So, only 4 hours sleep. Last night, I made up for it with 9 solid hours. So, my advice to all my writing and non-writing friends: GET SOME SLEEP!

Sometimes problems in our writing can also be fixed with simple but overlooked options. One of my favorites is this: Just leave it out. If you’ve reworked a sentence or paragraph repeatedly and it still feels awkward, jarring or doesn’t lead naturally to the next, if it’s out of place and you can’t figure out where it fits, well, can you just leave it out altogether? Do you really need it? Is there a scene that drags? If you cut it, will it be missed? Or perhaps reduce it to a sentence or two. At least stop fretting about it, let it rest and see if it looks or feels different tomorrow. “Rests” in music are part of the whole conception of the composition. They should be part of our lives and our writing as well.

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Sex, Love and Writing

hearts naturalWhen I was in college, the sexual revolution was just getting started. Woman still hid the fact that they weren’t virgins, if that was the case. Magazine articles still quoted sexually active college women anonymously. One quote said this: “you can tell how much sex a woman is getting by how much knitting she gets done.” This says that women who had no love interest sublimated their energies and filled their time with needlework. But it also hints at the reverse. That women who had a love interest or partner neglected their other pursuits. Yes, even schoolwork. I neglected schoolwork for a variety of reasons. One was I had no clear motivation for being in school, other than to get away from home. Two, I was more interested in acting in school plays, an extracurricular activity, than in doing the work for which I was actually enrolled. And three, I’d never really learned to power through anything that was hard or boring, which, let’s face it, describes a lot of college course work, at least for me.

So, what does this have to do with my writing life these days? This: I, myself, have a new love interest in my life. I’m all too aware of how this might draw me away from my writing goals, ambitions and vision. It’s happened before. I’ve been in previous relationships with men who drained my time and energy, distracted my thoughts, or outright sabotaged my work with criticism, competition, or a frivolous attitude towards my work. But not this time. This time, for some reason I can’t articulate, my new romance has fostered, enlivened, promoted my writing. He actively and vocally admires my efforts and respects my writerly needs.

At this stage of my life, I had vowed never to let another romantic entanglement get in the way of my writing career. I was willing to forego having a romantic partner, if that was the price I had to pay for a commitment to writing. Luckily, I don’t have to choose. We all want love in our lives, both to give and receive. Sometimes, for some of us, that means giving up something else. My wish for you, my fellow writers, is that you too can have both.

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Honestly, Once Would Have Been Enough

two gunsI was delighted when so many of my online writer friends got last minute holiday gifts in the form of acceptances in late December. It was the opposite for me. I got not one, but two rejections–for the same piece!!

 

How did this happen? The first rejection was a form rejection, common enough, no surprise. But then the editor, for some reason, didn’t like it that form rejections were sent out. Perhaps she felt potential contributors deserved better. Anyway, she took it upon herself to send out more personalized rejections. This was about a week after the initial rejection letter. When I saw the sender in my email, at first my heart gave that little leap. Aha, they realized they made a mistake and are accepting my piece after all! Well, no. Having been primed by the first rejection, it wasn’t much of a letdown. But, kind as the editor was to personalize bad news, seriously, I would have been fine with getting that news only once. Still, it’s a reminder that there are conscientious, hard-working editors out there. So, on to the next project.




 

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A Clean Slate

clean slateI got my last rejection of the year a few days ago. It was kind of refreshing. Everything else I had submitted had either been rejected or accepted. Now I can start a fresh batch of submissions from scratch. Sort of like cleaning out one’s junk drawer. (No, I don’t equate my work with junk.) Some years, on the first day of the new year, I’ll look back at what I’ve accomplished with my writing and try to pinpoint: what worked, what didn’t. Nah, not this year. I just want new ideas, new markets if possible, a new approach to creativity. Of course, the “new year” is totally a human construction. The trees, our pets, the universe doesn’t have any idea that this day is different from any other. And I also know people (only a few) who don’t see this day as any reason to take stock or attempt to make plans for the future. They truly live in the moment. I admire that, but haven’t figured out yet how to apply it in my own life. So, for now, I see today as a clean slate, a chance to start over with no leftovers from the year just passed. That is, I did, until my CP Stephanie, when I was telling her this, said, “But what about . . ” naming a piece I still have out that I had forgotten about. Oh, well. Clean slates aren’t always, and don’t have to be, perfect. Seems like there’s always some little thing left in the junk drawer that you can’t figure out what to do with. So, I’ll just go on doing the best I can. I hope all of you have a great writing, and personal, year.

 

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