Monday, September 16, 2019

You Are Not a Bulldozer

Every once in awhile, my writing life starts to feel like an assembly line, like my stories are widgets I'm just churning out. This happens when I stop paying attention – attention to the craft, to creativity, to passion and to purpose. And, to my regret, I haven't been paying attention for longer than I care to admit. 

But this past summer, I found my way back to myself and to my writing, and earlier this month I read an excellent blog post by Annie Neugebauer over at Writer Unboxed - "Advice to Writers Who Are In It" - that reinforced a lot of what I recently realized. Here are a few highlights that struck me: 

On working harder"What matters is that you do your best work as often as you can without burning out. When you're mid-project, you need to be deep, deep in your high-effort zone every work day for a good chunk of time. It's not about what other people are doing or can do; it's about what you can do."

On thinking more deeply"Thinking is valuable. I'm not trying to sound condescending, but we often forget that. In a society that tells us we have to be proving concrete output to be productive, it's easy to bypass that nothing-to-show-for-it part of the process where we stop and really think. Think hard. Think deep. Think for a long time, if you need to. It's what ultimately makes your work great. Thought. Don't let the word count bogies convince you you don't have time for it."

On not barreling through"Sometimes we need to "power through," yes . . . But for the love of all things literary, stop barreling through. You're not a bulldozer; you're a writer. Writing isn't always a thing you can muscle. Willpower, maybe, but not the craft . . . Sometimes slow is faster in the end."

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How's your writing life? Are you working harder, thinking more deeply? Or have you been barreling through? Can you guess what the tortoises' favorite part of this post is? 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

September IWSG: I'm Back, Baby! I'm Back!

Way back in June, I set out to have a Summer of George, three months of fun and joy and remembering what it was like to be a kid in the summer. I hoped to find my mojo – creative and otherwise – again, to find my way back to myself. 

And you know what? It worked. 

But not the way I expected. 

Instead of turning outward to activities and people, I ended up turning inward. Some of this was due to the heat – oh, how I love air conditioning! – and some of it was due to conversations that showed me some unfortunate truths. I retreated into my shell, into books and TV and movies, and . . . into my writing. 

Slowly but surely, I'm discovering my stories again. This is giving me the spine I need, the strength, to say enough to some of the negative in my life and to embrace more of the positive. Like brainstorming ideas in prep for NaNo! Subbing stories! Taking care of my mental and physical health! I'm ready to rock this fall!

So to bookend these summer posts, let us once again turn to the immortal words of George Costanza -




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How was your summer? Have lots of fun and/or any serious revelations? What are you looking forward to this fall?   


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Monday, August 19, 2019

The Books of Summer 2019

I know summer isn't quite over yet, but let's talk about those books we read sweating on a beach, sitting in the shade by a lake, sipping iced tea in a cafĂ© or, if you were anything like me, curling up in a chair with the air conditioner on high. 

I read a lot of really good books this summer, more than I can list here, so I'm focusing on the ones I read between May and mid-August that I gave "5 stars" to over on Goodreads.  

These four fall into my go-to genre - mystery/suspense: 


THE INVITED by Jennifer McMahon - Jennifer McMahon is one of those authors where I don't even read the description of the book, I just buy it. 




SOME CHOOSE DARKNESS by Charlie Donlea - If you haven't read Charlie Donlea yet, you are in for such a treat. You won't go wrong with any of his novels.




DEAR WIFE by Kimberly Belle - You might think you know what's going on . . . . 



THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware - Old-school gothic horror set in a new "smart" house, this story not only has scenes so creepy, they made me shiver (and it was not the air conditioning) but also twists that left me gasping for breath.


This next batch is a mix of middle grade and young adult: 



HEROINE by Mindy McGinnis - Mindy writes across genres, but this is my absolute favorite of her contemporary YA.



AUGUST ISLE by Ali Standish - I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love this book. 



WE WALKED THE SKY – by Lisa Fiedler - This historical fiction novel reminds me in the best way of Sara Gruen's WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. I'm also a sucker for a dual storyline, especially when both – past and present - are told from the points of view of female tightrope walkers. 


I actually read these next two earlier this year in ARC form, but since they came out this summer, I'm including them here with my reviews from Goodreads.


AFTER THE END by Clare Mackintosh - "This story will shred your heart but will also stitch it back together. The process won't be pretty, and it won't look or feel the same, but it will be whole again in its own way. This is a story of so many things - marriage, family, choices, grief, hope - but at its core, it is a love story, through and through." (I received an ARC through a giveaway on Goodreads.)



NEVER HAVE I EVER by Joshilyn Jackson - "Joshilyn Jackson takes her much-loved Southern fiction voice and her women's fiction genre and edges them with a sharp darkness that is absolutely thrilling. This is not a flip-the-pages-as-fast-as-you-can suspense novel. This is a sit-inside-the-story tale where the twists and turns are slow and subtle yet leave you shaken by their power. As a long time fan of Ms. Jackson's, I am thrilled to see her take on - and thrive! - in this new genre. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next." (I received an ARC through a giveaway on BookBrowse.) 

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Have you read any of these? Plan to? Did you read anything this summer that blew you away?  Are we Friends over on Goodreads? (If not, let's fix that! Click on the Find Me On Goodreads link in the sidebar.)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

August IWSG: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

My husband and I have been watching some old favorite sitcoms lately and, in my opinion, one of the best theme songs ever is from Cheers. And although we don't serve drinks around here (to be honest, we'd most likely serve chocolate and coffee anyway, or banana and basil if it was up to the tortoises), the theme song makes me think of this blog and all of you. 




In my June IWSG and July IWSG posts, I mentioned some things I was struggling with, and let me tell you how nice it was to have a place to go, even if it was "only online", where I felt encouraged and heard and supported. 

Please don't ever underestimate the power of a simple line of recognition or a handful of cheerleading words. It might just be the boost a person needs to get over that next hurdle. Or, in my case, drag myself under it. (Hey, I never claimed to be graceful.

So in this IWSG post, I want to say thank you to all of you. Not only for all the great advice and suggestions for the posts where I need an emotional pick-me-up, but also for coming by in general and commenting, for offering congratulations on my published work, for reading my stories and telling me how much you enjoy them and/or how much they creep you out. (And we all know around here that's pretty much the same thing.)

*** Thank you!!! *** 

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Who or what are you thankful for today? In your writing life? In your life in general? 

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Monday, July 15, 2019

For Inspiration, Look Up

Inspiration is definitely all around us, but for the purpose of this post, we're looking up.

Last month, daredevil Nik Wallenda and his sister, Lijana, performed a high wire act in Times Square. It was exciting and emotional. During a practice a few years back, Lijana fell from the wire. She broke every bone in her face and was not expected to survive, let alone walk (on the ground!) again. So while it was amazing to see her up in Times Square, it was more thrilling to me to watch her take some of those early steps right above my head.

Wallenda makes some of his wire walking practice sessions free and open to the public.  My husband and I went to the first one. The crowd was silent as Lijana got up on the wire, but the desire for her to succeed was practically thrumming through all of us, as if we were screaming on the inside. It wasn't until she made it all the way across that the crowd breathed a sigh of relief then erupted into applause.


It all starts with one step. One step toward a dream. One step toward better health. One step toward freeing yourself from whatever chains hold you back, hold you down. It's okay if the step feels terrifying to you, but easy and normal to everyone else. It's okay if you need a harness or a safety net, especially in the beginning.


And even though most of us don’t have a crowd of people cheering for us and taking our photos (thank goodness for that last part!), we usually have at least a few special people rooting for us.


And, if it helps at all, please know that from this tiny corner of the blogosphere, I am wildly applauding your progress.

*****

Who or what has inspired you lately? Why? Let's put some positive energy out into the world!  

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

July IWSG: STEMMING THE TIDE OF STAGNATION

Once, when the tortoises were small, my husband and I put a parsley plant in their space. The idea was for them to nibble at their leisure. 


A (very!) short time later, we were greeted by two very full and happy tortoises . . . and a bunch of sad looking stems.


Much like that first imagined scenario, I've had a problem nibbling at me for years. It's affected everything in my life, from my confidence to my writing. It's insidious and subtle and left me doubting myself, blaming myself. But like the actual scenario, I've recently been torn down and ripped up. I'm like those stems - limp, exhausted, exposed. It's scary, but now I have clarity. It's not my fault. I'm not crazy. I can finally see what's been happening, and what I can do about it. 

To paraphrase Maya Angelou – When you know better, you do better. Just like my husband and I now know to keep the parsley plant away from cute (but greedy!) tortoises, we also now know to keep ourselves away, as much as possible anyway, from negative and toxic influences. It won't be easy but with careful tending, a new plant - and a renewed passion for creativity and writing – will grow, healthy and strong and thriving! 

(Side note: The Summer of George is not going very well, but I haven't given up! There is still a lot of summer left!)

*****

Have you ever experienced that moment of clarity, that relief it wasn't you, it wasn't all in your head? Any suggestions for self-care and building back self-esteem? How's your summer going? 

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

June IWSG: The Summer of George 2019

Okay, it might not be the whole summer, and my name is not George, but The Half Summer of Madeline sounds strange. So I'm declaring it The Summer of George 2019! *

To be honest, I'm struggling. Creativity is fleeting, elusive, like the fireflies I tried to catch as a kid, while anxiety and minor health issues seem heavy and never-ending, like the sidewalks I used to roller-skate on.

Summer used to mean freedom, filling my days with things I loved. I need some of that back. And so that's what this summer is all about.

Binge-reading. Eating ice cream. Going to the beach. Watching scary movies. Doing arts and crafts. Playing with ideas for July's Camp NaNo.

It's not all fun and games. I still have grown-up things to do, of course, so I'll get those done. Other stuff? Not so much. It's about the attitude.

This might all seem silly, and it might not work, but my creativity and my spirit demand I do something before they become too dim to be seen in the summer dusk.

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What was your summer like as a kid? What's it like now? Have any suggestions for fun activities? (Traveling isn't easy for me so closer-to-home ideas are appreciated!) What are you looking forward to this summer - a trip? a project? a book? a movie? 

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* If you're not familiar with Seinfeld's The Summer of George, or if you just want a good chuckle, check out the clip (it's less than a minute) below -




And if you know The Summer of George storyline, please join me in hoping my summer turns out better than George's . . . .

*****

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Please stop by and say hi to my fellow IWSG co-hosts: Diane Burton, Kim Lajevardi, Sylvia Ney, Sarah Foster, and Jennifer Hawes.