It’s Groundhog Day…again…and that must mean we’re out here on Gobbler’s Knob. Oh wait, no I’m in my office. And it’s February 3rd. And I’ve never had the unique pleasure of visiting Gobbler’s Knob; something I hope to rectify in the coming years. But! I have made a habit out of watching the Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell comedy each year, as I’m sure many people across the world do. However this year was a bit different, as I watched it through the lens of a storyteller, and in much the same way I deconstructed Christmas with the Kranks, I couldn’t help finding myself looking a bit deeper into this already dense film.
It’s the holiday season! And I thought I’d put into words what has been mulling around in my mind for a few years now so I can stop thinking about random Christmas movies and get back to working on my current WIP.
Who is a writer who doesn’t write? That question has been plaguing me for nearly a month now. I’ve been very quiet on the writer side of things lately because…well I’m not sure how to describe what’s been going on. A lot has happened, sure, but a lot of it feels like an excuse. An excuse for why I haven’t been doing my job. For why I haven’t been sitting down at the computer every day like I told myself I would and get words down. Or if not that, at least research agents, or work on my platform or any of the other million-and-one things authors need to do.
But I’m not an author…yet. I am merely a writer. Which means I don’t need to work hard, I have to work harder. I can’t sit around and lollygag with my time. Didn’t I say in another post that time was such a finite commodity it should never be wasted? So where did I go wrong?
For the first time in my writing career, I rewrote one of my novels from scratch. And it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Apart from being confusing with prior versions, I had such a difficult time getting the story out once I was done I shoved it away and didn’t want to look at it for months. And typically what I would have done was start on another project immediately. But that didn’t happen. I’ve gotten to the point where I have four novels I’ve completed for which have done no better than a couple of requests for pages and I felt like perhaps I should revisit one of them first before starting anything else new. But instead I retreated into my hobbies, a little too far I suspect. It’s like snuggling deep within a heavy blanket on a cold day, you get so comfortable it hurts to come out. But it is what I must do. If I ever hope to achieve my goals, I have to go out into the cold, and do the job that needs doing.
So here we go. One foot out, and maybe it isn’t as cold out there as I thought.
Inspired by yet another prompt, I present Clown.
“Jesus, Frank. What are we going to do? They’re right behind us!”
Frank glanced back, their pursuers hadn’t yet entered the tunnel. Good, they had a few minutes to set a trap. His green hair rustled in the wind.
“Okay, we’ll have to surprise them. They can’t think we’ve stopped running. Crouch down behind those crates over there.”
“And what about you?” Charles asked.
“I’ve got a secret weapon. We get them trapped in here and they’re dead, both of them.”
“Whatever you say man,” Charlie squeaked and ducked behind the crates.
Frank surveyed the area. The tunnel entrance was twenty meters ahead of them. The exit five behind. If he timed this right he’d catch those bastards off-guard and their troubles would be over, for a little while anyway.
Footsteps and a distinct clang, clang came from the front of the tunnel. They were almost here.
“Frank, get down! Hurry up man, those commie clowns are coming!”
“I’ve got them.” Frank ducked behind his crate and yanked the little red bulb off his nose. The one that once-upon a time would have been made of foam and inspired children to laugh. But there were no more children. And instead of foam it was a tightly-packed plastic container of C4. Nose in one hand, lighter in the other. Ready.
They appeared around the corner. Faces pale as snow with their own little red bulbs on their noses, and dressed all in red with their long shoes flopping as they walked. One holding the sickle. The other holding the hammer. Both of them clanging on the concrete as the Commie Clowns made their way down the tunnel.
“I’ve got them dead to rights,” Frank whispered. Charlie hunkered down. “Brace yourself.”
Frank lit the nose and tossed it to his Russian counterparts, the ball landing between them.
The world exploded.
Another day, another prompt. This one is short and I actually managed to finish within the 10 minute time-limit! The prompt was: When he tried to attack me with ______, I couldn’t help but _______.
When he tried to attack me with chopsticks, I couldn’t help but defend myself. I grabbed my fork, blocking his parry and forcing his weapon of choice to the side. He grunted in pain, as if I’d cut him deeply, but I knew better. It was a defense mechanism; he was trying to make me feel sorry for him.
Instead, I grabbed a second weapon: my spoon.
He regrouped, coming at me full force yet again and I barely had time to throw up my defenses, the clang of wood on metal as his stick met the curved edge of the spoon, throwing his balance and giving me the edge for once. But he wasn’t as stupid as I thought, and he’d split the chopsticks between his two hands, and I didn’t see the second one hurtling toward me like an arrow until it was too late.
It impaled me and I had no choice but to break it off, I’d dig the rest of it out later. He was on the ground and I was bleeding, but I still had the upper hand. As it were.
“How dare you?” I yelled at him. “You don’t deserve to use the mighty sticks of chop. Only those who earn the right through patience and skill may use them. And you have neither.”
I brought my fork down on his remaining stick, breaking it in half and he yelled in horror, his connection to this world gone.
“Now, never return to this realm,” I said, covering my wound.
“One day, Dionysus. One day I will claim my rightful place as the master of all cutlery!” He yelled, fading away into the ether.
I glanced around. Food strewn everywhere. Blood on the ground. And two broken chopsticks. I had stopped him for now. But next time my utensils might not be enough. Next time, it would be war.
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.
**Edit. I went back and finished the story after mulling it over a bit. So at least now it is finished, if not polished.**
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?”
“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.
There’s nothing inside, the whole house is empty. I try the light switch. Nothing. No wonder all those families moved out, the house is older than dirt. But I’m not about to waste a chance to explore.
Nothing in the kitchen.
Nothing in the living room.
Nothing in the backyard.
Maybe I’ll have better luck upstairs. At least I can choose my room. I could bring some of my stuff over here, hang out when Jennifer gets too annoying or Mom starts yelling.
Top of the stairs, there are four rooms. One ends up being a bathroom. The other three are bedrooms. And the one I want has a great view of our house across the street. Yep, this is gonna be my room.
Twenty minutes later I’m back in my own yard and no one is the wiser. I can’t help but give the crooked house a couple of looks every now and again, keeping the window to my room in view. I just love looking at it. It is such a pretty old house.
Mom comes home with Jennifer from Kiersten’s.
“Abby, you hungry honey?”
“Yep.” I head inside; my stomach is rumbling like crazy. I worked pretty hard today.
“Stop right there, young lady.”
I freeze. The young lady is never a good sign.
“Did you go in that house across the street?”
How could she know? Did one of the neighbors call her? Wasn’t I careful enough? I turn and face her without answering.
“Oh Abby,” Mom says, seeing my face.
“You’re in trou-blllle,” Jennifer teases, giggling. I shoot her the evil eye.
“Jenny, in the house right now,” Mom orders. She stares me down. “Let me see your neck.”
I scrunch up my face. My neck? She moves closer and rubs two fingers behind my hair, right where it hits my shoulders.
“What’s wrong Mama?” Now she’s frightening me. What is she doing?
“Abby. Oh, Abby. I wish you’d listened.”
“Mama, I’m scared, what’s going on?”
She turns around and pulls her own hair up, revealing a black symbol etched into her skin at the base of her neck. It looks like two triangles connected by a circle. I feel behind my hair. There’s something there that wasn’t there before.
“I made the same mistake when I was your age. I explored the crooked house too.” She says. “And now I can’t get rid of it.”
“Wh—what do you mean?”
“Wherever I go, wherever we move, one always follows. And now one will follow you too.”
I don’t understand. Follow me? How can a house follow me?
Mama glances back at the old house. “They use us like diseases use mosquitoes. It’s how they multiply.”
My heart is hammering in my chest and I swear now the house is smiling at me.
And the window to my room is winking.
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):
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.
Big thanks to SolHom for the prompt, that was fun!
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 😀
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.”
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.
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.