Celebrating 50 Years!

No, not me. (Not yet.)

This month is my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. That’s a long time to spend with the same person. Given that the expected lifespan in America is not yet 100 years, that is more than half of your life. My parents have spent almost twice as much time married as single.

It takes a lot of commitment and a bit of luck to last 50 years. I think we will see fewer 50 and 60 year marriages now, because so many of us are marrying later. I married at 14 years older than my mother did. I would be 86 when my marriage hits 50 years.

I wanted to give a shout out to my parents for the wonderful example they have set for me and my brother. They weren’t TV-family perfect, they had their moments of disagreement, but always there was respect and love—and laughter, too..

Here’s to many more happy years for them!

The Value of Looking Back

This past week I have had characters from the past haunting my thoughts. Way back in the day, in high school and college, my best friend and I cut our writing teeth on fan fiction. Miami Vice fanfic, to be precise. It was the characters we created for this series that kept pushing their way into my mind last week.

Finally, on Monday, I pulled out one of these old stories and read it all the way through. The world and the people leapt to life for me like they had all those years ago. And the thing is, it wasn’t bad. Sure, it had a glaring plot hole, and our POV did some head-hopping, but the bones were there. The plot and subplots worked together, and the characters were strong and real.

I don’t know why I felt so compelled to revisit these stories, these characters, but I am glad I did. I saw how much my writing has improved, for one thing. But it also reminded me of when writing was fun. No deadlines, no criticism, just me and my best friend spinning tales.

And maybe it was my best friend sending a message to me. She died in 2004, and I lost my writing collaborator as well as my best friend. Perhaps she was reminding me of who I really am. It is so easy as an adult to lose yourself in all the roles you play—wife, mother, daughter, volunteer positions, organizations you are involved in. If you’re not careful, you lose yourself in all the noise. I admit to feeling a bit unmoored lately, wandering in the wilderness of busyness and anxiety.

Looking back at old work has a great deal of value. First, you gain perspective on how far you have come craft-wise. Second, it grounds you in who you are. And third, it reminds you why you used to write in the first place—for joy and excitement.

Have you ever gone back and read your early work?

October is Boooo-k Month

October is always a crazy month for me. Lots of personal milestones in there. My parents’ wedding anniversary—50 years this year!—as well as my own. My daughter’s birthday (and the requisite party) and of course Halloween and its constellation of activities: pumpkin picking, hayrides, bonfires, trunk or treat, and school parties.

Oh, and I am running for the local school board, and elections are November 5th.

So I’m always a bit busy in October.

But October is also smack in the middle of book event season, and I have 3 events in the next 3 weeks:

October 5th: Collingswood Book Festival, 9 am – 4 pm, Collingswood, NJ

Collingswood 2017

October 12th: Indie Author Day, Galloway Library, 1 pm-3pm, Galloway, NJ

Indie Author Day 2017

October 20th: VPL FanCon 2019, Vineland Library, 11 am-4 pm, Vineland, NJ

VPL FanCon 2017

Whew! That is one packed month!

How is your October shaping up?

Empathy, Creativity, and Negativity

I am what people call an empath. Not in the spooky Star Trek type of way, but I am a person who is hyper-sensitive to other people’s emotions. I not only read people well, but I am personally affected by their emotions. At funerals I rarely cry until I see those close to the deceased crying. At weddings I cry happy tears when I see the joy of the couple.

Not only do I feel what others feel, but it sticks with me. There’s a reason I can’t watch certain films even though I hear they are fantastic—because I know the emotions will haunt me for weeks, perhaps even triggering an anxiety spiral because of their intensity.

I am not alone in this. Many creatives are also highly empathic. It’s what allows us to walk in other people’s shoes as we write characters different from us, inhabit and perform characters different from us, and envision a world different than ours.

And I know that many creatives, like myself, have been very off their game the past few years. In my case, my anxiety disorder has flared up, and everyone knows that when you are anxious you have difficulty focusing and therefore completing tasks. The past few years have been stressful for creatives, and for empaths in particular.

Darkness is everywhere we look, oozing over everything like a thick oil slick. The anger, the bitterness, the despair, the pain, the rise in hate crimes, the never-ending gun carnage…the list goes on and we empaths suck it all up like a sponge, whether we want to or not, and it infects us like a disease.

I think now that my creative slump is not just from my high anxiety. I realized the other day that I have been seeing so much darkness that I have had trouble seeing any light. My books contain some darkness, but in the end the light always wins. But I couldn’t see the light in real life, and I therefore struggled to find it in my work. I seemed caught in a black tunnel that had no end.

But a few days ago I watched Greta Thunberg’s impassioned speech and I saw hope. And I heard Alex Borstein urging women to “step out of line, ladies”. And I realized that I had been seeing something else these past few years, too. Something I hadn’t really noticed.

Women. Women coming together for a purpose. Women moving outside their comfort zones to make things happen. Women finding their voices and taking up positions of power. Women saying, “It’s our turn now.”

A change is coming. I do not know exactly what it will be, or how it will play out. But I feel it. A wave is cresting, sweeping in something new.

Maybe that is why I’ve seen only darkness for so long.

Because the darkest hour is always just before dawn.

A Bookish Week

This is one of my favorite weeks of the year—the Spring Book Fair! This year’s theme is “Chill Out at the Book Fair”. Given that it’s still pretty hot here, that is appropriate. Our library looks like the North Pole, with snowflakes, icicles, snow blocks, and a polar bear.

While the youngest grades are the most work, they are also some of the most rewarding to work with. Today, as I helped a group of 1st graders fill out their book lists, they would eagerly ask me, “How many more can I get?” over and over, as they brought me book after book to add.

The kids pick their books in all different ways, too. Some kids want every book on the shelf, hardly able to make any sort of choice. Some browse through each book very carefully before they decide whether to add it to their list. There’s no right way to do it—they always end up with a good list.

The Book Fair began Monday, and will wrap up on Friday. But my Bookish Week doesn’t end there.

I have my first book event of the season this weekend!

On Sunday I will be at the New Providence Book Festival. I enjoyed myself the first time I was there in 2017 and look forward to hanging out with the authors in the pretty area around The Salt Museum in New Providence. The weather seems like it will be quite nice, so I’m hoping for a good crowd of book lovers.

New Providence 2017

I will undoubtedly be exhausted by the long week of bookish events, but I revel in it anyway. Spending time with book lovers, whether they are in Kindergarten or are fully grown, is always a pleasure.

Please support your school’s Book Fair, and if you are in New Providence, stop in and say hello!

9/11, A Generation Later

So yesterday was 9/11. Anyone above a certain age in America, and in many countries around the world, knows what that means. A day of horror and grief as terrorists attacked America, flying commercial airliners filled with passengers into buildings. The day the Twin Towers of Manhattan became twisted rubble, the Pentagon lost a side, and a plane full of heroes plunged into a field.

That was 18 years ago. Almost a full generation. I remember it like it was yesterday. The horror, the pain, the tears, the rage, the grief. My daughter is 9 years old. She’s in 4th grade. This is the first year they really talked about it in school. Honestly, I don’t know how the teachers do it, as I know they all feel the same emotions I do when I think about it.

My daughter came home and started asking questions about my experience, but it soon turned to the events themselves. She was very impressed with the people on Flight 93. “They didn’t fight to save themselves, but to save other people.”

And we talked about why the Towers eventually fell, and why they didn’t right away. We talked about why the firefighters and other first responders kept going back in for more and more people even as the likelihood of structural collapse rose.

We discussed why the terrorists targeted the buildings they did (“Why didn’t they crash into the Statue of Liberty? That’s a symbol of America.”). The heart of our military and the heart of our business sector. And why they attacked America and not other Western countries.

For all that we talked, there were some things I did not tell her.

  • I did not tell her that people jumped from the Towers rather than burn to death.
  • I did not tell her there were babies on Flight 93, and likely on others.
  • I did not tell her that even today people who were at Ground Zero are dealing with the illnesses contracted from the toxic debris.

I did not tell her because she is only nine, and there are some things she doesn’t need to know yet.

Some things I wish I could un-know.

So instead, we talked about other parts of 9/11.

  • The rescue dogs that patrolled the debris searching for survivors.
  • The motley flotilla of boats that raced to Manhattan and ferried people to safety.
  • The generosity and compassion of Canada as they took in flights full of frightened and bewildered Americans.

We talked about those things, because that was the progression of the day: Horror. Grief. Pain.

Hope.

Hope for a better future—a future I see in the face of my daughter and all of the current generation. We will never be able to fully transmit to them the terror of that day.

But we can give them the hope.

Lady Liberty’s torch shines on, and they are the ones to carry it next.

Beginnings in Autumn

I have been thinking about beginnings lately. Which may seem strange in September, as summer comes to an end and the earth slowly goes inert throughout the fall and winter. But for many of us in the USA, September is also a beginning.

Yesterday I helped out at our school’s Kindergarten orientation. That is a beginning for so many. For some families it is their first child in school. For others their final child has finally flown the nest. For the kids themselves it is often the beginning of their schooling. Even if they had been to preschool it is a new school with new teachers and sometimes many new classmates. A world of beginnings.

We also “chalked the walk” yesterday for all the kids starting back to school today. Words of welcome and encouragement. A bit of beauty to brighten the morning. A new grade. New teachers. New challenges. For some kids it’s a new school, with new social pressures. Another beginning.

My daughter is back to school today, in a new wing because she is no longer with the “little kids”. It seems somehow more serious this year. She was still “little” last year. Third grade, still in the 1st-3rd hallway she’d been in for 3 years. She gets a locker this year. She’s been in this school for 5 years now, but this year seems transformative. New. A beginning.

For many adults, this is a time of beginning, too. Teachers and aides are back to school. Parents adjust to a new schedule now that the kids are back in school. I, too, am adjusting to the new schedule. It is a beginning. The beginning of my writing season. I hope I can make the most of it.

I expect many of you are experiencing a beginning, and if you aren’t, perhaps you can take this time to begin something new.

Rebirth in September. Who knew?

Summer’s End

This time next week my child will be back in school, and I will have 6 hours a day to get work done in peace.

Of course, it never ends up being 6 free hours. I do errands and sometimes chores, and other things that require concentrated time. And naps. I admit to naps.

However, it will be a relief to have some space to stretch, some flexibility. Summer is a time of squeezing writing into the nooks and crannies of life. While this may work well for some writers, my brain struggles to work that way, and it leaves me frazzled and exhausted.

I love the time I get with my daughter during the summer. I enjoy the family adventures when we travel. The slower pace of life is a welcome change from the often-hectic school year. But I confess to relief in getting my “me time” back.

I have several projects I want to work on, so my ambitions are high, as they tend to be. Sometimes unrealistically high. But for the first time in several years, I feel like I might be up to the task. We shall see what the school year brings for me.

Does the end of summer bring you more or less time to write?

3 Reasons Sailing is like Reading

I have family up on Long Island, and we’ve been visiting them up there for most of life. And for much of that time, my cousin has had a sailboat. Yet, I have somehow never been sailing.

I’ve been out on motor boats, but this past weekend was the first time I have ever been sailing. The day started out cloudy, but once underway the day became delightful. Gradually, I have become aware of three ways sailing is like reading.

1. It is peaceful.

Out on the water, without a motor running, it’s quiet. Sure, you have the breeze and the waves against the boat, but these natural sounds are not grating like the cacophony of human noise that surrounds us each day. Reading is often similarly peaceful, as you find someplace quiet and secluded to curl up with your book.

2. It is intimate.

Unless you are quiet wealthy, a sailboat is rather small. The cabin is tight, and the outside seating area is cozy. This lends an intimacy to the excursion, as you are in each others’ pockets the entire time. When reading, you immerse yourself in a character’s POV, sometimes even privy to their thoughts. You can’t get much more intimate than that!

3. It is freeing

Skimming about on the water, with the breeze and sun on your skin lets the worries of daily life slip away. Reading is the same way. When you fall into a book, reality vanishes. Time vanishes. Just like our hour and a half boat ride became three.

Eventually, we docked the boat and clambered back onto land. The breeze died, and the relentless humidity weighed us down as we stood, blinking and disoriented, slowly coming back to the real world.

Exactly the same feeling as coming out of a good book.

Do you have any good sailing stories to share?

Celebrating Your Milestones

Writing a novel is a slog. It’s a marathon. It takes a great deal of perseverance and guts. It can feel like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture.

Because it’s such an arduous process, it’s a smart move to celebrate different milestones along the way. What you celebrate and how you celebrate, will be unique to you, and that’s fine, because it’s about motivating you to get to The End.

So, I finished Veritas a while ago. And I sent it around to agents. And got one who was interested, but wanted some edits done. After some soul searching, a lot of ice cream, and a chat with my friend Kathryn Craft, I saw a way forward with the edits that I could get behind.

My first step was reworking the main character’s POV. I chipped away at it and finally finished. But I still had 2 POVs to go, and I seemed unable to find the time I needed to dive into them.

The stars aligned this month. My daughter went to sleepaway camp and I was able to take off from my usual blogging duties thanks to fellow Author Chronicler J. Thomas Ross. So I threw myself into my work.

And I did it! All three POVs are finished. The breakdown went like this:
Jinx: original 30,200 words, new 38,700
Ace: original 39,900, new 30,400
Kit: original 9,700, new 4,100

It also dropped the total words from original 79,900 to now 73,300. That seems a touch short for YA scifi, but it’s very probable I will be adding things in as I go through the next few passes, so hopefully I will be closer to the golden 80,000 number by the time I am finished

As I mentioned above, I’m not finished with the rewrite. I need to go through it at least two more times for continuity and tone and see if I need to add in anything else to make the new version smooth.

While there is still more to do, I feel like the heavy lifting is done. So I am celebrating!

What are you celebrating today?

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