Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Week I Took Over the Internet

I type this tucked into a high back lounge chair. My feet are up on a leather ottoman, laptop on my legs. The room is wonderfully quiet as most of the 200 conference attendees dutifully returned to the conference center for tonight's keynote address. I, on the other hand, lingered here.

One of the pieces of advice offered at newbie orientation today was to step away when you needed a break from the group sessions. If you feel a compelling need to sit or walk alone, mulling over what you heard, or praying, or writing, do it. That's where I found myself after the last presentation before dinner. My head is full of the information and advice from the experts I've listened to this afternoon. It is both thrilling and overwhelming. My internal reaction is approximately 71% energized and motivated to move forward, 22% discouragement that my manuscript will never ever be as good as necessary to find a publisher, and 7% desperate need to simply write without worrying about where the words will or won't take me.

I've only been here six hours and already there has been an immeasurable amount to learn. I have briefly met publishers and editors and agents. I have shared conversations with other writers, full of dreams and drive. I have both questioned whether my goals are foolish, and reaffirmed that I cannot fathom life without writing. What a day.

This past week (and many other days in the last few months) was filled with focused preparation for this conference: one sheet, sample chapters, amateur headshot photo (thank you, honey), book proposal, researching the publishers and agents I'd have the opportunity to meet, and so on. If I'm being honest, it was all stressful. It's been a while since anything has brought me that level of anxiety. I was suddenly tackling the nitty gritty of this endeavor and I grew scared.

Have you pursued a dream? Not merely imagined pursuing it but really, seriously pursued it. If so, you know what I mean. The closer you get to that dream being fulfilled, the more frightening the possibility that it will stay out of reach. There are no guarantees and that can be terrifying.

One piece of the preparation was setting up author pages on Facebook and Twitter. I'll say it right now, self-promotion is uncomfortable! Even sharing the links on Facebook for my blog posts leaves me a bit embarrassed. It works though, so I do it. These online platforms are among the most useful for promoting your writing and making yourself available for discovery by potential readers. Publishers and agents are keen to know how you'll help promote your work and having these already established can help your pitch.

Attempting to take over the internet this week (yeah, I now have a Twitter page, a personal Facebook page, an author Facebook page, and this blog), was exactly what I needed to prepare for this conference precisely because of how it made me feel. It was the perfect amount of sacrificing my comfort level for the sake of the goal to set me up to do more of the same now that I'm here. It helped me believe a little more that I can manage to network with strangers, that I can speak boldly about my unpublished manuscript to editors and agents, and that I will never stop writing, whatever might come.

Oh, and if you haven't yet, you can follow me on Twitter @carrieinwriting and keep up with me at facebook.com/carrieinwriting. I'll try to make it an enjoyable experience.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homesick

Writing Prompt:
"I want to go home."
"And I want to go to the moon. It ain't happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that."
Writing Time: 15 minutes

"What are you moping about now?" I rolled my eyes at Ginny. No small part of me wanted to slap that pout off her pink lips with my wash rag.

Ginny sank down in the next booth, the one she was supposed to be bussing, as if my question gave her permission to do so.

"I want to go home." She heaved a loud sigh and plopped her chin in her hand. Her sparkly purple nail polish was chipping badly.

"And I want to go to the moon. It ain't happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that."

I finished wiping down the booths surrounding her, hoping she'd get the hint that she was holding me up. She didn't.

"Do you really want to go to the moon?"

"Ha!" I couldn't help but laugh. "No, girl, it's just an expression. I've never wanted to go to the moon."

"Where do you want to go?" Ginny stared at me intently, her bright green eyes fixed on my flushed face.

I could have rattled off a dozen places without even a moment's consideration. Instead  I tightened my ponytail and shook my head. "No use thinking about that, kiddo."

She scowled at me. She hated when I called her that. Ginny was 19 and I was 41. I was old enough to be her mother. In fact, she was the same age as my daughter would have been. Something about this girl, homesick whenever she was tired at the end of a shift but earnestly, optimistically independent the rest of the time, something about her wouldn't let me forget that fact.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Prompted

On the occasions I venture onto Pinterest, I tend to seek out four sorts of pins: fashionable outfit ideas, dinner and dessert recipes, workout guides, and writing prompts. I virtually pin each one on the assigned virtual board then continue on the virtual quest for more. I make use of the workout guides regularly. I try out the recipes here and there. I sometimes pick out a few fashionable ensembles to inspire me when I go clothes shopping. Rarely do I take time to use the writing prompts.

So, why not employ this blog to prompt me to use my prompts! Stay tuned as I begin a commitment to use every single writing prompt I have at some point felt compelled to save for later. Silly, strange, vague, specific, fun, and dark - the gamut shall be covered! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

It's Okay to Love Your Country

For months now, thoughts about my homeland have been crossing my mind. The events that take over the daily headlines have me contemplating America in what she used to be and what she has become. With these thoughts, mixed feelings are felt and levels of hope and despair fluctuate.


On Sunday, I watched a lot of football. Three times I stood in my living room as dozens of individuals stretched out a flag covering the entire square footage of the playing field. Three times I listened through a moment of silence for the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks followed by a performance of our national anthem. Three times I got choked up.

Only two times I felt embarrassed. When the feelings of silliness began to rise during the third occasion, they were sent packing with one simple thought: it's okay to love my country.

I've noticed a tendency toward extremes in people's statements on America lately. So much of it goes all the way back to our collective reaction to September 11th. That attack felt intensely personal even to those of us who did not know individuals lost that day. I remember the sensation of protectiveness, of "how dare you hurt what is mine!" A new era of patriotism was ushered in, justifiably and beneficially so at the time. The experience awakened in many of our hearts a hibernating bear of attachment to our country.

As is perhaps bound to happen though, the fierce plunge into patriotism was taken to an extreme by some. A refusal to hear a word against America and its culture; a disdain for most other nations and nationalities; a fear of anything that appeared outside the realm of what we now held so dear about our homeland. Then the last 10 years or so saw a whiplash reaction; a violent swing to the other end of the spectrum where a high regard for our nation is ridiculed as blind and foolish.

The extremes frustrate me. I see patriotism as a genuine love of home and country. Genuine love is unconditional but it is not naive. Maybe the extremes are rooted in a misunderstanding of unconditional love. To love someone unconditionally is to love them through anything and everything. Highs and lows, achievements and mistakes, rights and wrongs; love them through it all. Unconditional love is not dependent on the other person earning the love. It is dependent on the giver of love choosing to offer it no matter what. However - and this is an important 'however' - unconditional love is not a refusal to recognize flaws. It is not turning a blind eye to what needs to change in the beloved. It is loving them despite the existence of those flaws and seeking productive ways to help them make changes in their best interest.

The extremes aren't authentic love. One is claiming that because you love your country, anyone who has anything to say against her be damned. The other is a refusal to love her so blindly but then just as blindly treating her as wholly unlovable. Neither are true patriotism.

It's okay to be moved by the sight of soldiers, firemen, policemen, and athletes all holding a football field sized flag. It's also okay to look at the political system with a critical eye. It's okay to oppose a federal law that contradicts what you know to be morally good. It's also okay to teach your children to be proud to be American.

It's okay to love your country.


Friday, September 9, 2016

The Willow Tree 4.0: In the End

When I got a good look at William after his return, I could see that the boy I knew was gone. There was no youth left in his face. He was still William though. A little sadder, perhaps, a little more tired, but still him. Tommy took to his father immediately. No fear or reserve. Carly had seen to it that the boy already loved William with all his innocent heart.

The wooden swing was used until it broke. By then Tommy was much taller and he pried the split piece of wood from its ropes and began to use those ropes to still swing as high as he could.

When Tommy was the perfect image of William when he first brought Carly to my field, Tommy brought a girl, too. A sweet, quiet girl with corkscrew curls and a wide eyed way about her. They visited me all summer long and I was content to watch it all happening again. In the last stretch of heat that summer, after the pair laid in each other's arms on the dewy grass, talking, kissing, and dreaming, Tommy strode over to my trunk with a purpose in his step. He took something from his pocket; unfolded, it was a small knife, and he used it to carve something into my bark. It stung a little but I am a large, strong tree and he only cut a tiny piece of me. His girl came up beside him and lifted her face for another kiss when he finished.

The next spring, Tommy returned and used that same knife to scrape away the carving he so carefully made. That hurt a little more, but no more than the sight of the tears he brushed away furiously while working at it. I saw him less and less after that, and I have so often wondered where his road took him.

William and Carly grew old beneath my boughs. He built a bench on which they sat through
countless sunsets. Year after year, they returned; peace on their faces and light in their eyes. They began to walk more slowly. I would see their approach at the far corner of the field and by the time they reached me and sat on their bench, the sun would have shifted to another side of me.

It is spring again now. I expected them to come several sunsets ago, but they have not. There's been no sign of my dear friends

Instead, there are machines. Not like the ones in another time that used to churn up the field in spring or harvest its grains in the autumn. These are different; rougher and louder. They have cleared and flattened the field. Trees that stood for all or most my life are gone from the other side of the meadow. New machines are coming each day now with loads of wood and other materials unknown to me. I am afraid. Their movements get closer and closer and I can only wonder if I will be in their way in the end.

This is why I am gladder than I can say to have told even a few of my stories. I needed to share them and I knew this might be my last opportunity. Thank you ever so much for listening.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Willow Tree 3.2: The Homecoming

The one day I wished I could weep. It was autumn again. My browning leaves danced in a strong wind. The field was harvested and the sun was spending fewer hours in my sight. Tommy sat upon the wooden board suspended from one of my thickest branches. An older man, white hair and a knowing face, came with them one day in the summer to string up the swing with two thick lengths of rope. Tommy called him Papa and was his shadow as the man worked. When I was holding the swing securely, Papa placed Tommy on it and showed him how to work his little legs to propel forward and backward. It took some practice but soon Tommy could do it without aid. He'd reach the limits of the swing's arc and stretch his toes out to tap my strands of leaves hanging in front of him at that height.

That day, Tommy rode the swing while Carly laid on her back in the sunshine just outside my circle of shade. I saw her shiver a bit in the wind, wrapping her yellow sweater a little tighter around herself. She'd roll her head to the side to check on her boy then back toward the sun directly above her. Carly looked sad more and more in those days. She was quick to lift her pretty mouth into a smile when Tommy came to her. She did not know that I watched her face in between the smiles.

When she saw Tommy slowing the swing, scuffing his shoes on the grass beneath him, Carly announced it was time for lunch. She set about unpacking the basket they brought along but Tommy didn't hop off the swing as I expected him to do when the food was in sight. His eyes were fixed on some distant spot along the edge of the field. Carly called to him twice before walking over to see what kept his attention. She turned to follow his gaze and he lifted an arm to point.

A figure was coming into view, a man. Slowly, slowly. I saw Carly's mouth form a little circle; then a gasp and tears before the man was even close enough to see with any clarity. It didn't matter; she knew. She knew and she ran. A sprint along that grassy path, one shoe slipping off with no notice from its wearer. By the time she reached him, I too could see that it was William. Our William. He was home.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

August At Its End

As far as this blog goes, I have been slacking terribly. As far as everything else though, I have not. August was a highly productive and enjoyable month.

  • Manuscript Revisions: Completed! I know that I will find additional changes to make and mistakes to correct as I do an out loud read through this month. However, the intensive round of revisions that began in January is finished and I am quite pleased with the results.
  • Miles Ran: 36.5! In July, I began running regularly. At first, it was intervals of walking and jogging. Eventually, I transitioned to steady running after a warm-up. I have spent August gradually increasing the distance of my runs plus improving my pace. This is a completely new endeavor and I am loving it! I feel stronger and healthier than possibly any other time in my adult years.
  • Blog Posts: 8; A small number compared to July, so this one isn't as celebratory of a comment as the others. Still, I enjoyed writing The Willow Tree series and the final two pieces of that story will be posted soon! The proverbial ball shall keep on rolling for my readers.
  • Writers' Conferences Scheduled: 1! Hip, hip, hooray! A few weeks ago, I registered for my first professional writers' conference. It will take place at the end of September in southwest Michigan. Until then, I will be preparing my "one-sheet" for the editors and agents I have the opportunity to meet there, as well as writing a draft of a proposal for my novel in case any of them are interested in knowing more about it. I'm thrilled at the idea of immersing myself in the world of writing for a few days.
  • RCIA & Adult Confirmation Classes Completed: 0, technically; One more class left in September before the candidates I've been teaching all summer will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. I'll be stepping away from teaching these classes for the foreseeable future in order to focus more on writing, so it's a bittersweet close to this journey. 
  • Dishes Washed, Laundry Folded, Meals Cooked, Hours Worked, Toys Picked Up, Children's Books Read: Countless. My way of saying that there are so many pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of my life beyond what I talk about here. Life is good, and busy.
Now we enter September. Oh, happy month! It is my favorite of all the twelve. I plan to savor it and, God willing, be even more pleased with its results than August's.
September's First Rays of Sunshine (photo taken in Cleveland, WI)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Willow Tree: 3.1 The New Boy

He learned to walk in the clearing between me and the creek. Carly brought him as she promised to do. Those first few cycles of the seasons, when I witnessed him transform from that round, sleepy bundle in her arms to a giggling baby scooting on his hands and knees to this scrappy, ready-to-go boy, were the best of my years. Nothing could surpass the pleasure of it. I guarded his perfect face from the glare of the sun. I watched with anxious hope as he took his first steps then, in what seemed like no time at all, began to run and tumble over the bumps of the earth that surrounded me. I swung my boughs in the wind, inviting him to grab hold and lift his little feet from the ground.

I saw his father in his eyes and smile; heard his father in his laugh. His mother noticed it, too, of course. Bittersweet and beautiful, her still waiting for William's return, she'd set down her papers and pen to watch him play. On picnic days, she talked of nothing but William while the new boy chewed his sandwiches and apples. Stories to make him smile, make him laugh, make him listen in wonder. Always when she finished came the question, "When will Daddy come home?" Always the same answer, whispered into her boy's blonde curls as she hugged him, "Soon, my dear, soon."

The new boy was Thomas William, as that was what Carly called out when he wandered from my side. The rest of the time though, he was Tommy.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Completing Our Masterpieces

Oh, my friends. My dear reader friends. I am inching ever closer to the end of my intensive revisions of the manuscript. Every week I add another stack of pages to the "finished" pile and watch the "to-do" pile shrink. I can see the end. It's out there; up a few small hills, hugging the horizon, waiting to greet me. Not that it's the true end. It's only another necessary phase of the work. Next up: an out loud reading of my novel to find mistakes and weaknesses overlooked by the eye but noticeable to the ear. Still, it is an end. It is a finish line I've been striving for since the start of 2016.


There are times I tell myself to calm down about it all. I fill my brain with warnings about expectations and hopes and dreams. They're dangerous.

Wasted warnings; it can't be helped. This manuscript is my masterpiece and I have to treat it as such. I don't know if it will be a masterpiece in anyone else's eyes but it is in mine. That fact means it needs to be offered to others. That's the latest lesson I've learned.

My almost three year old son often returns from the sitter's house with a new piece of artwork. He is invariably proud of them. This includes those that are purely his, that don't show evidence of how much the sitter helped him but rather look, plain and simple, like the work of a toddler. I arrive home from my workday and he hands them to me with his head held high and a hint of wonder in his voice as he announces, "I made that!" They are his masterpieces. Even when I have to ask him to interpret the picture before I can see the train or the truck or the dog, they are his masterpieces.

Masterpieces aren't meant for the maker alone. They are meant to be held up for anyone to see. At risk of rejection and criticism, indifference and even cruelty, they are to be offered. Because maybe my masterpiece might make another person's day better; maybe it could plant a seed of faith in what is good and true and beautiful; maybe it could edify the heart and mind of a person brought low by lesser things. It could make someone laugh deep in their gut like we all love to laugh. It could bring joy or insight or inspiration. You never know. You never know.

We're all capable of masterpieces. We were designed to provide masterpieces to the rest of our human family. Each unique; each requiring vulnerability and courage. When we create them, we know it. As we are filled with the urgent need to show it to someone, risks be damned, we know what we have created. Want to know why Facebook and YouTube and Instagram are so absurdly successful? Because we long to share our masterpieces with the rest of world. That's not what we are doing most of the time in those mediums but it's a large part of what drives us to use them at all.

My masterpiece might end up only being a masterpiece in my eyes. Or, at most, the eyes of those who love me dearly, much like a toddler's indecipherable depiction of a train. In the end, that's not what matters. What matters is the completion of the masterpiece and it simply is not complete until it is offered to others.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Willow Tree 2.3: The Woman and the Child

Spring began with the wedding. Afterward, only several sunrises passed before Carly found her way back to me. She came alone. I expected to hear William call to her as he arrived; I watched the field and listened over the noise of the birds. He did not come. She sat alone against my trunk, her fingers splayed over the damp ground covering my roots. Perfectly still, eyes focused on the creek, she was silent at first. Then she cried. One sob escaped her throat and her hand, adorned now by a simple band on her finger, went to her mouth to muffle the next one. I watched her shoulders shake.

I have never felt more helpless. Oh how I ached to bend down to hold her. I could only stand beside her, willing her to draw strength from my solidity.

She quieted eventually, lying down below my swaying leaves and falling asleep for the rest of the afternoon. She was a splendid sight: her hair fanned over the grass, one hand tucked beneath her cheek, knees curled toward her stomach. She slept until the sun set and the breeze turned chilly enough to bring on a shiver.

Carly returned often, usually with papers in hand. Some were covered in writing that she read eagerly and clutched to her chest. Other pieces were blank when she arrived and her time was spent filling them to their edges.

It was nearing the close of summer by the time I noticed the swelling of Carly's stomach. The meaning of it was apparent even to me, as I'd spent my years observing the mothers in the forest. After finishing her reading or writing, she would lie down on her back on the smoothest patch of grass under my cover and run her hand round and round the little hill of her belly. One foggy morning, I watched as the child within kicked Carly's hand. Carly sat up, a grin spreading across her pretty face even as tears rapidly filled her eyes.

When she had grown too large to lie on her back, she rolled to her side and held her stomach protectively. That was around the time she began talking to the child.

"Are you going to look like your daddy, little one? I bet you'll have his smile. Yes, I'm sure you will."

"We're in your daddy's favorite spot in the whole world. Did you know that?"

"We got a letter from your daddy today, little one. He is tremendously excited to meet you."

As everything changed to browns, reds, and oranges, and leaves floated off their branches, and the sun closed the days earlier and earlier, Carly walked more slowly through the field. She stayed for briefer bits of time. When the first snowflakes of the season fell from fat, gray clouds, Carly leaned against me and sighed.

"It'll be a while before I come back, I think."

It took a moment for me to emerge from my confusion and realize she was speaking to me. A first in all my years.

"I will come back though. I'll bring my little one, I promise. And someday, I'll bring William with me again."

The winter didn't seem so terribly cold with that promise held beneath my bark.