The Crooked House

Here I present my second entry in what apparently is going to be a series of writing prompts courtesy of my tribe. This one had two options, and while I fully intended to incorporate them both, I ran out of time. Again this is unedited (obviously) and very, very raw. Enjoy.

I’d always been wary of the crooked house, sitting there across cul-de-sac, perpetually empty. Everyone who moved in never stayed for more than a few weeks, and yet the bank kept on trying to sell, refusing to demolish the building. Dad said it was because “they’re a bunch of stingy bastards” but I’m not supposed to repeat that.

I’d tried exploring it once, opening the rusty chain-link fence and actually stepping foot on the dirt lawn, but Jennifer caught me before I could make it much more than a few feet inside and yelled to Mama.

“Abagail Margarite Terbilcox! You DO NOT go in that yard, how many times do I have to tell you?”

“Sorry mama.”

“You’re gonna be sorry. Get your butt in here for dinner.”

I could have killed Jennifer for snitching. Ever since Mama has been watching me like a hawk, saying if she finds out I went over there she’d tan my hide. But I don’t really believe it, she’s never laid a hand on me. Plus, it only makes me want to go over there more. I want to look inside its crooked door, explore its crooked rooms. Maybe there’re even some crooked ghosts inside.

Today’s the day. Mama’s off shopping and Jennifer is at her friend Kiersten’s house. Kiersten with the stupid yellow bows in her hair, I don’t get what Jennifer sees in her. But no time to think about that now. Now’s my chance.

I creep across the street, trying my hardest not to look guilty of anything. You never know, one of the neighbors might see me and report back. But it’s all clear. The gate is latched like normal. A quick flick of the wrist and it swings open, creaking all the way. I glance around again just to be sure, then bolt up the sidewalk to the front door. Once I’m on the porch I’ll be safe, no one can see me from there.

It is way too dusty up here. And the boards creak with every step. Front door. Here we go. I try the handle.

Writing Prompt Results

Thanks to my writer buddy SolHom who provided a very interesting prompt today. I’ve never done this before, but it seemed pretty simple. At least as far as I could discern. The rules as I understood them were to set a timer for 10 minutes, then incorporate each of the three items on the prompt into the work. Here was the prompt for today:

And here is my result after ten minutes (unedited):

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I felt normal until the life began oozing out of me at an alarming rate. I glance to my left. A box half full of rocks sits on the dirt ground. I have no one else to blame; it was my choices that led me here, no one else. The sun burns my face, the wind dries my throat. Above me stands a dark silhouette, huffing and puffing as if he had just finished running a race.

Floyd. Son of a bitch.

I should have known I couldn’t trust him. He’d been too easygoing about the whole thing, too willing to jump on board and ride shotgun. I should have chosen my friends better. No, I should have chosen my enemies better.

My throat hitches as I try to curse his name.

“What’s wrong Ethan? Cat got your tongue?” He laughs and it sounds like a brain-damaged frog hiccuping. I want to reach up and rip that tongue from his mouth but my arms are restrained, not that I’d have the energy to lift them anyway. I am dying, and it is taking an absurdly long time.

“Bet you wish you’d checked the back of the truck now, huh? Them rocks is heavy.” Sandpaper. His voice is sandpaper against my ears and I just want it to be over so I don’t have to listen to his stupid voice anymore. I close my eyes, hoping my brain will take the cue and finally shut down so we can get on with it already, but my body clings to life, intent on prolonging this torture as long as possible.

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Big thanks to SolHom for the prompt, that was fun!

On Being Prepared…

Sunday is typically my get things done day. Laundry, chores, calling Mom. But I’m also finding it is a good day for blog posts. Though I don’t want to commit to doing one every Sunday because I tried something like that on my last blog and it didn’t work so well. No more long-term commitments, posts come when they come.

I heard something yesterday that I thought might be good for writers who don’t always prepare as well as we should (like me). I tend to only prepare when I need to, but what I heard yesterday might just turn that around.

I was listening to Comedy Central radio and Chris Hardwick was doing this bit where he talks to his audience. Lo and behold, he happened upon a writer. And oddly enough, he stayed with this writer longer than anyone else he spoke with. And what’s the first thing he asks? “What do you write?” Of course. And the guy hemmed and hawed a little. The entire time I was thinking “Elevator Pitch! Elevator Pitch!” But the writer just didn’t do it. Then Hardwick asked the guy to describe the plot, just in case any lit agents were in the audience. He was trying to help the writer out as he’d just received his very first rejection that day. The writer responds with “Well it’s about this lawyer…” and immediately Hardwick yells “Boring!” partly for laughs. But isn’t it true? How often do we start our pitches with “Well it’s about this man, or this girl, or this cheetah…blah, blah, blah”? Finally, after about a minute the guy gets the basic idea out. And without missing a beat Hardwick says: “So it’s like John Grisham meets It’s a Wonderful Life”.

Boom. I almost flipped over the pizza I had in the car I was so excited. In less than a second Hardwick managed to boil this guy’s entire premise down to ten words, and it totally captured the plot without going through all the nonsense. If the writer had just said that at the beginning, it would have been so much clearer. Obviously he was not prepared to pitch his book that night, but it got me to thinking. Shouldn’t we always be prepared? If we have a finished manuscript we should always have the one-sentence elevator pitch on the end of our tongues. Because even years later, I am hearing that guy’s pitch hundreds of miles away. You never know where an opportunity might strike.

Now I am guilty of not doing this. If someone walked in my front door right now and told me to give them my pitch I could do it, but it would be messy, like the writer in that audience. Six weeks ago I had it down cold for DFWcon. And in another two months I’ll have it down cold again for WDC17. But what about all that time in-between? How many times do I tell someone I’m a writer only for them to ask “What do you write?” and then I have to scramble a bit? I guess my point is, maybe I should always be ready for Chris Hardwick to come ask me about my book.

You never know, it could happen 😀

On Being Productive…

I was recently encouraged to create more personal blog posts, so here we go. Two in a row.

Today’s topic concerns being productive and how it affects us as writers. Personally (see, personal), I struggle with productivity. Not because I don’t have it, but because I never think it is enough. If I manage to write 2000 words in a day I will automatically think I wasn’t productive enough because if I really tried I could have thrown down 3000.  And if I get 3000, I expect I should have done 4000. The bar is always inching away. It will never be good enough, no matter how hard I work, and yet I keep pounding away anyway. Funny enough, there is a particular limit to word count in a day though, inspired by a writer I met at last year’s DFWcon. Somehow, this writer managed a 10,000 word day and so I automatically decided “Well, if she can do it, then it can be done. Also, if you hit that goal, you’ll have a book done in eight days.”

Yeah, right.

I know it’s unrealistic. I know it’s foolish and in a way counterproductive. But that is my mind. I think many writers think the same way. “If I could only get one more chapter done.” We are plagued with unrealistic expectations.

I have not had a good week. Personal life and forces beyond my control have thrown things into a tailspin. And my work has suffered as a result. I should almost be done editing my current MS at the moment, but I’m only at about 75%. And I should have about ten more queries out by now.

But you know what? It’s okay. I am allowed to fall behind. I am allowed to have my personal life interfere every once in a while. Not everything has to be done today. There is a quote from my youth that my father used to love: “Why put off for tomorrow what you can accomplish today?” And for a long time that has driven me. But I think I finally have an answer: “Because sometimes you need to take some time for life. To experience what is happening around you instead of keeping your nose to the grindstone. Because things are fleeting and you will miss them if you’re working all the time.”

I know I will struggle with this for a while. I don’t adapt to rapid change easily. But I’m working on it. Try not to work too hard my friends, don’t miss what is precious for the sake of meeting your deadlines.

Why Write?

So I don’t do many personal posts, but for some reason today, I felt like maybe I should. It’s Sunday, why not? And I wanted to talk about why I decided to become a writer.  That’s pretty basic, right? What could go wrong?

Many people will tell you they became writers because it is in their blood. They started writing when they were young, or they graduated from college with an English degree or they retired from their career and decided to pen the great American (or English or Brazilian or Polish) novel. But for me it was none of those. I started writing for one reason: money.

And before you start laughing, hear me out. When I started toying with the idea of writing in the summer of 2014, I didn’t know the first thing about the business of being an author. I didn’t know about agents, conferences, none of it. I genuinely thought I could write a story, get a few people to read it, polish it, and then somehow magically get it published. Screw the details, I’d deal with them later. I’d heard the community was small, and if I could just finish a manuscript, then I could probably get it out there. At the time, I didn’t even know if I could write a book, but I was dying to try. And I was having some issues regarding money. Not trouble necessarily, but I thought if I could provide a supplemental income, all the better.

Believe me, I know all this sounds unbelievably naive and shallow. And it was. I was. I didn’t care about the craft itself, I cared about getting paid.

So I spent seven months penning my very first novel. And yes, I finished it. Around 80K words. When I was writing I wasn’t even sure I’d make it, but somehow, it happened. And then I spent another month editing and cleaning it up.

And then I gave it to a few people to read.

Here comes the big surprise: it was terrible. No, I was not the next Stephen King or even the next Stephanie Meyer. My friends didn’t hate it, but they didn’t love it either. And I got a lot of advice. I needed to join a writer’s group. I needed to educate myself. I needed to learn the business. And all of that sounded like more than I was willing to take on. I was just looking for a paycheck, and I wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision. Money was no longer as big of an issue as it had been when I started, so why not just quit? Why not move on to something else and put my energy where I wasn’t wasting my time?

Because I fell in love.

I fell in love with writing. Not right at first and not all at once. It was gradual. I don’t think I even realized it until I was on my third book. I found not writing difficult, as if I were wasting time when I could be writing…when I could be creating. And I realized I loved crafting stories, and that maybe I had always been meant to do this, and never realized it.

As a kid I was so disappointed I couldn’t draw. I tried, I practiced and I just had a very hard time with it. I longed to create fantastic things on paper, and I couldn’t make it happen. No matter how many times I drew Garfield he never looked right. But writing, writing was easy. It came naturally, so much that I didn’t even realize it. Whenever there was a writing assignment in class I breezed through it, no problem. For fun I wrote stories about magical creatures under the earth. So many words came from my hands that I ended up writing two “books” about said creatures. And then I started writing sequels to my favorite movies. And all of this before I was even in high school. It was all for fun, for no reason at all. Writing was like breathing, it was simultaneously effortless and necessary.

And then high school came along and all of my writing went into reports and analysis and all that crap which only continued through college. And by the time I was done with school I had completely forgotten how much I’d loved creating. How much I’d loved being an artist.

Even though my initial motivation was greed, I consider myself so amazingly lucky that I found my way back. I could have very easily walked through the rest of my life never rediscovering what I loved, and what a miserable existence it would have been. In fact, I remember envying people who had found their “talent” and wishing that could be me. I don’t envy people anymore. I know who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. And even if I never sell a word I will keep writing until the day I die.

Because I am in love. And I will never forget again.

DFWcon 2017 – The Sequel

A second year of this amazing show has come and gone, and I find myself just a little sad because it all went by so quick.

Last year, on the day DFWcon 2016 was over, I purchased tickets for this year. I had two reasons for this: 1) the price was at an amazing discount for a very short time and 2) I knew without a doubt in my mind I was coming back. But life does strange things sometimes and by the time December rolled around I’d realized I probably wouldn’t be able to make it back to Texas in May.

So what happened? Well, the stars aligned sometime around the beginning of April and my schedule opened up. Lo and behold, I was going! And I was so excited. The 2016 show was my very first writer’s convention (and the subject of the very first post on this website) and it changed me. Truly changed me. It opened my eyes to a community I’d only barely touched, and it dramatically improved my knowledge of writing over the course of two days (with one awesome mixer thrown in for good measure). Without DFWcon I never would have written my third book. Or, more accurately, it would have come out a lot worse. And I never would have attended Writer’s Digest’s NY convention, which led to me writing my fourth novel. So in a nutshell, DFWcon began a domino effect that has made me an infinitely better writer. But it also introduced me to a wonderful group of people whom I was desperate to get back to. Texans, ya’ll crazy.

So did my second DFWcon measure up? After all the experiences of the past year, would its influence hold? Was it even worth it to continue to attend a convention halfway across the country? The answer, is obviously, yes.

I realized something this year, something I think last year I was too green to see. A writer is only as good as the people supporting him or her. This job (and it is a job for most of us, we are trying to make money) is lonely, solitary and hard. But it is the community that keeps me going. And seeing all those people I met last year has only steeled my resolve to work even harder. If I had to do all this alone, in a vacuum, I would have given up long ago. But I am now reinvigorated, ready to charge the gates of hell with my sword raised high and beat the ever loving shit out of Satan himself just because I can.

Okay, that may be just a little hyperbole. But you get the idea.

It also helped that I moved my lens a little this year. Instead of focusing solely on craft-related classes, I attended more on how to navigate the life of a writer. Classes like Annie Neugebauer’s Building Your Writer’s Bio and Eric Ruben’s Legal Issues for Writers. And because it wasn’t re-treading what I’d learned last year, everything was still fresh.

But, the people. My friends. They were who this past weekend was really about. This year I was much more confident going in, and I found people recognizing me after a year of interacting online. And I felt at ease…at home. New York was nice, but everyone was all business. This community is like a family in the truest sense of the word. If I could I would spend all of my time sitting around playing FLUXX, or talking about how much 50 Shades of Grey sucks even though I read the entire thing, or even helping a few people get a couple extra minutes with a literary agent. The only terrible thing was it all had to end, and so I have to stretch out a forty-eight hour period to cover the next thirteen months (the next show isn’t until June 2018).

So until then I will look back with fond memories and keep my nose to the grindstone. Maybe that will make the time pass just a tiny bit quicker.

I Can’t Believe it’s Been a Year Already

Wow, remember this post? Back when I was still young and green and full of hope? My how the time flies. But guess what. DFWcon starts in three days! *Head explodes from excitement*

But in all honesty I am so very grateful and excited to be attending DFWcon two years in a row. This year marks the 10th anniversary, so I know it will be something special. Last year was such an eye-opening experience, not only by what I learned but by who I met. It is as if my life is split into two, pre-DFWcon and post-DFWcon.

Without this convention, I never would have had the courage to attend the Writer’s Digest Convention in New York, never would have written my third (and fourth!) novels both in under a year (well, I may have, but they would have been as shoddy and haphazard as the first two), never would have had the confidence and resolve to continue to push on despite the lack of interest from agents and I never would have met such a wonderful group of friends who now make up a majority of my writing life (writer friends are the best because we’re all introverts, lol. Well, most of us).

I can’t even imagine where I would be without this show. So not only am I incredibly excited about departing for Dallas in two days, I am so very grateful for everything his show helped me accomplish and pushed me to become. Because without this first domino, none of the others would have fallen into place.

I can’t wait to see what this year will bring.

It’s That Time of Year Again

It snuck up on me! The Writer Conference season is here and it’s coming up quick! Last year my experience began with DFWcon in Fort Worth, Texas. Unfortunately this year I thought I wouldn’t be able to go due to other commitments, but last week my schedule opened up! Texas here I come!

This has also put me into something of a scramble to get everything ready, but I already feel much more prepared since I know what to expect. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces as well as a few new ones and honestly I cannot wait. This year the show is in Dallas, which I only got a taste of last year and I hope I carve out some time to do a little exploring. All in all, I expect it to be a great show.

Oh yeah, and there’s the Gong Show and a bunch of Agents there or something but who wants to hear about that 😉

New Year, New Stories

You know, I wanted to do an obligatory New Year’s post, but I just couldn’t bring myself to write one. I’m not a big fan of new year’s resolutions as a rule; I tend to believe if you want to change something in your life, you shouldn’t wait until the new year to do it. So that being said, nothing has really changed for me 😀

I’m still charging forward with all the writing I can manage, and just a few days ago finished my fourth novel (rough draft only). This is the one I alluded to in my last post (see: Lightning Has Struck My Brain) and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. I did more prep for this one than any other book I’ve written and I feel like it definitely helped. I was able to finish the rough in approximately six and a half weeks, and I more or less stuck to my initial outline, with only a few major changes.

This was also the first time I followed a true structure in terms of beats for the book, incorporating things like: Point of No Return, Re-dedication, and Darkest Night. Incorporating these elements has really made a difference in how I structure the story, and I believe it makes for an overall stronger presentation. I will definitely be using these in the future.

So now it is back to editing for a while and preparing for Conference Season. It looks like I may only make it to one out-of-town con this year, but you never know. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is never try to predict the future.

Lightning…Has just Struck My Brain

Do you remember this iconic quote via the imbecilic Smee in 1991’s Hook? It has always stuck with me, the moment when Smee is trying to imitate his Captain which leads to dire consequences for Peter Pan’s son.

Movies do this to me a lot. A scene or a bit of dialogue, or even just an action will stick with me for years and years, and come up at the strangest times. So today (well, actually a few days ago) I am like Mr. Smee where I feel like I’ve struck gold.

Coming upon a new story for a novel is a strange process, especially because I am so new at it. I keep a list of ideas (as I’mrip-robin-williams-hook-tumblr_n4wx5bzofk1qg4aloo1_500 sure many of us do) from which I plant seedlings of ideas occasionally when something strikes me. And now, while I have one book out for editing and other off to Beta Readers I am finding myself in something that amounts to downtime. So I was perusing my list of ideas and nothing really stood out at me. Nothing “spoke” to me and that was fine. I was content to play video games or build something out of Legos instead.

But then…I was complaining to a fellow writer (love ya, KLE) about having to read a book my mother gave me about life as a nurse–my mother is a nurse–and how much I did not want to read it. Then, from out of nowhere, the idea hit me. An idea that I can’t get out of my head; an idea for which I have already put close to 5k words to paper about just on backstory alone. I know this will be my next book, and I am so freaking excited about it. The story is there, calling to me, and it is that pull we writers feel, the desire to transform this story from its place in the ether to the page where it can be shared with everyone, that drives me.

Not only that, but I’m scared. This is a little outside my norm and I have no idea if I know what I’m doing, but I’ve heard that if you aren’t a little scared then you have no business doing it. Nothing great ever came from being comfortable. So with that, I am officially working on novel number four. And I couldn’t be more excited.