2012: A Year in Review

I really don’t do the whole New Year’s Resolution thing. I find that “resolutions” tend to be things I wish would happen, but not things I can realistically expect to accomplish. And I think, for me, there’s psychological pressure in the idea that a resolution means I have to accomplish it or I’m a failure.

I don’t like failure.

So I decided last year that I would have goals, not resolutions. Measurable goals, so I could at least see how much headway I made if I didn’t actually reach them. So I sat down and looked at my time, my schedule, and my enthusiasm levels. Because as we all know, if you’re not internally motivated to do something, it’s not going to happen—willpower is not enough to carry something for the long term.

I focused on my writing goals for the year. I had 3 goals:

1) To post on my blog every Thursday without fail.
2) To have at least one novel ready to query agents by the fall.
3) To write at least one short story and send it to several markets.

So how’d I do?

1) I haven’t missed a week blogging. That makes 2 years in a row I’ve maintained the pace!
2) I sent my middle grade fantasy Ozcillation out to agents this fall. Hurricane Sandy kind of got in the way, but I’ll resume the queries after the holidays.
3) I have written 3 short stories and sent one of them to multiple markets. The other two should be ready after the holidays.

So you can see that I’ve accomplished what I set out to do this year—even did a little better in some places. Yay, me! It’s nice to feel like you’ve made positive progress in your life.

Next year’s goals? I haven’t thought them all through, but they currently look like this:

1) Keep up the pace with the blog, and start to use the blog to more effectively connect with my potential readers.
2) Continue to query Ozcillation.
3) Send out at least one more novel by mid-year.
4) Continue to write short stories and send them out.

Those are the writing ones. I really need to add some personal ones like exercise more, eat better, and get more sleep. But I’m wary of them because I rarely have the stamina to maintain those for long periods. Usually after a couple of weeks, I’m back to my old habits. Which doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make them goals. It just means I need to think more about how to turn them into achievable goals, instead of fantasies.

So here’s to reaching our goals in 2013! What goals do you have for the coming year?

GoosesQuill FB

Connecting the Dots: Meeting My Grandfather

This weekend, I came into possession of my grandfather’s sketchbook. Grandfather Gans died when I was four, so I have no memory of him—just “memories” generated by photographs and a stuffed bunny that he (and my grandmother) gave me for my first Easter.

Three of my grandparents died before I was old enough to remember them, and unfortunately the fourth was ill for some time before she died, so I never knew the real her. In all the most important ways, I never knew any of my grandparents. I have always felt the deprivation of this, especially as I have grown older and become more and more interested in family history.

Getting this portfolio had an unexpected effect on me: I felt like I knew something of my grandfather for the first time. Art is so emotive, so expressive of the artist, that something of the person remains long after they are gone. What my grandfather chose to draw, and the style in which he drew it, gave me a peek into his mind and soul.

He drew people:

And scenes:

And ships:

And cartoons:

The style of my grandfather’s drawings are very much like my father’s drawing style. The similarity is rather spooky. The precision of line, the attention to detail, the choice of materials, even the subject matter was all eerily familiar. My grandfather came alive as he never had before.

But among all his wonderful drawings, a small slip of paper, only about half a finger long and a finger wide, spoke most loudly to me. On it was his careful calligraphy:

The name of his wife. Saved for 75 years.

For the first time, I touched my grandfather.

The Horror! The Horror!: Write Your Fears Away

I am not a horror fan. Even in the absence of gore and blood (which will cause nausea in no time), I have never been able to deal with the horror genre. In a discussion in a workshop last month, I finally realized why I don’t like horror – and it isn’t because I’m scared.

As long-time readers know, I have an anxiety disorder. Aha! you say. So you are scared!

Not really. It’s not the fright that gets to me, it is the disturbing images/thoughts that horror deals in so deeply. Disturbing images stay with me far longer than with the average person—sometimes to the point of obsession. I can get trapped in a downward spiral of darkness that takes me to places I really shouldn’t go. It’s not healthy for me, and it’s very hard to break out once the spiral begins. Not only can it lead to disabling physical panic attacks, but it affects my mental state to the point where my daily activities are disrupted.

So that’s why I don’t read horror.

That said, I actually wrote a horror story last week.

Jonathan Maberry, head of our Advanced Novel workshop, had our class brainstorming outside our usual genres in the last class. One of the things he asked was, “What scares you the most?”

My answer was, of course, something happening to my child.

And that opened the floodgates in my head.

Terrifying visions of things that could happen to my toddler are nothing new for me. I shove them away quite often. They pop unbidden into my head, and I must use my coping mechanisms to turn them off and keep them at bay. Even though I know most of them are extreme and unlikely to happen, the terror is there in my brain. So I have no need to go there intentionally.

Opening that box in my brain even a little bit, one scenario leapt fully-formed into my imagination. I tried to put it back in the box but it evaded me, growing stronger during the long ride home from class. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was on the verge of an all-out panic attack.

Over the next few days, I wrestled with that scenario, but whenever I closed my eyes it would jump up and laugh at me. My brain could not let it go. So I did the only thing I could do.

I wrote the thing down.

In an hour and a half, I knocked out a 2,000 word rough draft. I poured that horrendous vision out of my head and onto the page, and sent it off to a friend of mine (who was so scared by it, I am surprised she is still speaking to me.)

And, finally, the feedback loop in my head stopped, and the images went away.

I’ll go back and polish it up, and maybe see if I can get it out to the public anywhere, but I can tell you right now any horror stories that comes out of my pen will be few and far between. I can’t live in that place in my head—not if I want to have a healthy life.

So, do you love horror or hate it?

Brainstorming: Inspiring odd connections

I have never been one for brainstorming—just sitting down and pouring out ideas and random thoughts and then looking back to see what interesting connections my brain made. I don’t know why I haven’t done more of this in my writing life. I guess it doesn’t feel natural to me. It was never part of my writing process.

Not to say I have not done unconscious brainstorming. All writers do, because our brains never stop chewing over the details of the story we are working on. Once, while working on a novel, I struggled to explain why a character was acting the way she was. Suddenly, I said, “Well, of course, it’s because she’s his daughter.” Of course, she hadn’t been his daughter until that very second—or had she? Had my brain always known that, and it had only just then come to the surface? Looking back at the WIP, certainly all the hints and details were there to support her “new” parentage.

So I do appreciate the value of brainstorming, even though it is not something I find I can do well on my own. While I do not brainstorm alone, I love to brainstorm in a group or with another writer. My own ideas usually come at a slower pace, but when I have someone else to toss ideas at me willy-nilly my mind leaps to connect all the ideas. New ideas spring to my brain much faster than when I try to brainstorm on my own, and the conflation of two seemingly unconnectable ideas is a challenge I love to conquer.

The way the brain works is absolutely amazing. It fits seemingly random ideas and data together and forms flashes of brilliance, ideas that never seemed possible. I am currently reading Isaac Asimov’s short story Sucker Bait, where they have people called Mnemonics who are trained from childhood to remember everything, to gather any and all data they come across, with the idea that the human brain can and will make connections between data when computers will not–because no sane person would ever ask the computer to pair those particular pieces of data. This is what brainstorming does.

We did a brainstorming exercise in Jonathan Maberry’s Advanced Novel class last week, and my brain hurt afterward. Stretching my mind, breaking out of my comfort zones by thinking up ideas for genres I don’t usually write, and integrating numerous ideas from my fellow workshoppers exhilarated and exhausted me.

Of course, turning on the creativity spigot in class inevitably means my brain will be in overdrive my whole way home. I can’t just turn it off, and my 50-minute drive lends itself to a lot of thinking. This is why I continue to take this Advanced Novel class after all these years – the people stir my creativity, push me to go farther, higher, to be better than I was when I walked in the door.

It’s useful to know that brainstorming works for me in a collaborative setting. I get a thrill, a physical high, from bandying ideas about with people. It can be a tool I use when I need to break writer’s block.

And even better, fellow Author Chronicler Nancy Keim Comley and I are toying with the idea of writing a novel based on one of the ideas we brainstormed in class. We’re at the very start of the idea, and it may come to nothing, or may need to wait until other projects we’re working on are completed, but the energy generated by the brainstorming session will carry me through many hours of work—whether collaborative or alone.

Some people swear by brainstorming – how does it fit into your writing process?

Curtain Call: Storybook Musical Theatre

Everyone has spent at least part of their lives searching for a place to belong—figuring out where they “fit.” Writers especially seem to have struggles with this. Most writers I know have had periods of great loneliness or confusion trying to find their place in the world. To this day I often feel like the proverbial square peg in the round hole. Perhaps this is why most writers make good observers of human nature—we spend a lot of time watching other people.

But there was a time, as my college career drew to a close, where I was a part of something bigger than myself, and found a place to belong. That time was my time with Storybook Musical Theatre.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Storybook Musical Theatre, it is a professional Equity children’s musical theatre. At the time of its founding, it was the only one outside the Philadelphia city limits. They produce 1-hour children’s musicals adapted from fairy tales and other children’s classics. (If you have kids and are in the Philadelphia area, go see a show—they’re fun and fabulous!) But starting any theater from scratch is a huge gamble, and a children’s theater even more so.

Twenty years ago, in spite of all the risks, Patricia and Marc Goldberg broke their children’s theater away from the Cheltenham Center for the Arts and struck out on a grand adventure.

I was lucky enough to go with them, and be a small part of building a wonderful, innovative, and warm theater company.

For those of you who have never been part of a live theater company, it is difficult to explain the level of camaraderie that builds between members—especially when the same people carry over working from show to show. It does become like a family—a place where you can be bold, be confident, be yourself…and be safe.

The people of Storybook (cast and crew alike), were always friendly and open. Other theater companies may experience backstabbing and the like, but in my time with Storybook nothing ugly like that reared its head. I could be my awkward self and be accepted. They valued intelligence and hard work, which built my confidence enormously. We sweated together, laughed together, and created entire worlds together.

I had finally found a place where “fitting in” didn’t mean pretending to be something I wasn’t.

I eventually parted ways with Storybook, seeking more financial stability than the theater life could offer me. My path led through video production, administrative positions, writer, wife, mother. I do not regret the road I traveled.

Yet, when I attended Storybook’s 20 year anniversary, I could not help but want to jump back into the theater. The dinner and revue was held at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts, where Storybook had been born all those years ago.

Walking in those doors was like coming home. Normally, an affair like that would bring on a panic attack, but this time I was confident. I explored the backstage area, slipping through the stage door I had entered so often—the stage door that always had made me feel special, because I was a part of the show and those on the other side of the door were not.

I stood for a few moments hidden in the dusty black curtains of stage right. Breathing the familiar air. Wrapped in the comforting darkness.


Once upon a time, there was a place where I belonged…

Reading: Funk-buster Extraordinaire

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I was in something of a writing funk. I just couldn’t get up the energy to dive into my projects. I knew I should. I had time (if I worked to find it). I even knew the scene I wanted to write and what should happen in it. But I couldn’t do it.

I figured out the source of my funk. After all, I had a number of very productive months just prior to my funk. I was merrily juggling all the balls in the air and making progress on all fronts of my life.

Then the holidays hit.

The holidays are enough to knock anyone off their routine. We all know this. But this year something more hit me. I got sick. My daughter got sick—and stayed sick for more than a month. A cousin died. Two days after his funeral we drove 10 hours to my in-laws for Christmas week. We came home. My sick child was still not sleeping well—so neither was I.

Finally, February rolled around and things got back to normal. Except that I couldn’t write. My juggling act had fallen to the ground and I just couldn’t seem to find the coordination or energy to get all the balls back in the air. So I finally decided to just write my way out of the funk.

Except that’s not what happened.

I read my way out of it.

I need to read more in my genre. I need to read more, period (aside from toddler books!). But it was a constant battle between writing time vs. reading time—and reading usually lost. So I decided that since I wasn’t writing anyway, I would read.

I’ve read seven books and counting in the last 2 weeks.

And I am writing again.

Reading did two things for me. It gave me permission to not write, yet still feel I was doing something to work on my writing career. Therefore I didn’t have that panicked frustration of not writing. And it reminded me why I love to write. The books pulled me in and sparked my creative mind with their stories, letting my own story soak up their energy. (Check out what I read on Goodreads.)

Reading recharged my writing battery.

The funk is over.

(As an aside, this is my 100th post!)

Inspiration: The Paths Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood…
–Robert Frost,
The Road Not Taken

I find paths winding through the wood irresistible. Not that I go charging down every one I see on a whim, mind you, but the image of that path stays with me for a long time. They call to me with the voice of the past, luring me away from the loud, crowded, connected present to the quiet, expansive solitude of a time long gone.

Paths like this appeal to my sense of adventure. (My husband is now snorting water out his nose as he reads this, because I am, shall we say, less than adventurous in my travels.) But the adventure of wooded paths is one of the imagination, not just geography. As my feet follow the pathway, I wonder about those who have gone before. Who were they? Why were they here? What were their lives like? What trials did they face? What triumphs did they celebrate? What were their stories?

Paths like this inspire me; they fire my imagination. They bring me a welcome release from the hectic pace of the normal world. They allow me to breathe, to be quiet, to think—to feel. Where they lead me to physically is almost irrelevant. But most times, I get the added gift of vistas like these: 

How can I pass up a path when it leads to a reward like that? And how can I as a writer help but get new ideas when a path leads to a house like this:

What’s it like to live in a house only accessible via water? It must cut down on unwanted visitors, that’s for certain!

The other day I drove past a wooded area. At one point two pillars stood. Once a gate—I picture wrought iron—had stood between them, but now one pillar lay half-toppled and a large branch blocked the way between them. Beyond the pillars stretched a path between the trees. Yellow and orange leaves lay thick on it, covering it and reclaiming it for the woods that surrounded it.

It called to me, but I could not follow it…that day.

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

–Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

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