Being Published


Image by Clifton_58 via Flickr

In addition to NaBloPoMo, it’s also NaNoWriMo. How a month short a day and leading up to Christmas became the writer’s New Year, I cannot say, but in my lack of wisdom, I am playing along.

Why not?

I am missing fiction and an idea for my Eubie Blake character has been plaguing me since our trip to Penticton in August, so I will tap it out and see what happens. The worst that could happen is nothing. And since nothing ventured is precisely as much gained, there isn’t much risk involved as I am way over the need to “win” at the end of the 30 days.

It’s time I got back to serious starving artist stuff anyway.

*Just a reminder that the clock is mercifully winding down at the Top 25 Canadian Mom Blogs contest where I cling to the top five. You can vote still and daily, so if you haven’t and are inclined to boast my ego a bit, click here.

kosmic blogging in samsara

Image by ~C4Chaos via Flickr

I should be writing today. I told someone – okay, my editor – that I would. But I am not. I am dorking around while I have three stories waiting on me for the paid gig, but inspiration and desire to write eludes me.

So what do I do when I should be writing but I find it task-like and unappealing?

I spam my own Facebook feed with nonsense.

This is not productive and only serves to remind me that other people are more clever than I am … and have more work ethic. And are more mentally disturbed.

What happened to my work ethic?

Oh, right, I never really had any personally. It was just pragmatism disguised as productiveness.The curse of those born in the shadow of the Valley of the Boomers. We work hard when necessary but we prefer coasting. Just look at President Obama if you don’t believe me.

I was talking about my contribution to the household finances the other day with Jade, the owner of the yoga studio where I teach, I mentioned that Rob smiles fondly at me when I talk about my paycheck. That smile reserved for cute children and pets.

“Awwww … she’s so sweet when she thinks she’s contributing.”

Because monetarily, I am not so much.

My heavy lifting is kind of just that as I make the trains run like the house’s wife should – efficiently and looking quite fetching as I do so.

And it’s not as if my husband doesn’t give due credit or is anything other than appreciative. He just thinks my fixation on my money-making endeavors – the blog stuff in particular – is not worth my worry.

If I write and get paid – awesome, and if I slack, well, then I do. It’s not like the compensation is commensurate with the effort. And that’s the problem. I put in time for a token and though I am not creating a Huffpo empire for someone exactly, I am not creating much for myself either. I am an Internet content serf.

So, I vacillate. One month, I pour it on and the next? Meh.

I was asked recently when I was going to open my own yoga studio.

“No plans for that,” I said. I’d just spent a week holding down the fort for Jade while she was on her yoga cruise, and there is no glamour in running a studio – though the studio itself is glamorous  and I always get a little thrill when I open and close up. It has, frankly, a feeling of purpose that regurgitating news sans personal commentary doesn’t.

But I am not sure I am up to run a business on my own though it would be sort of awesome.

Or I could just go back to fiction writing and pretend that people read my blog.

Poised. I am in a constant state of poised. Where is the tipping point? Poised seems frozen and first runner-up.

If only patience was one of my virtues but then I would probably be a famous blogger if that were the case.

If I were going to write a memoir, that’s what I’d call it and then subtitle it with – Lather, Rinse and Repeat.

I bring this up for two reasons.

The first is that my blog reader is crammed with Eat, Pray, Love crap as the Julia Roberts adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book is opening or has opened.

The reviews are mostly “meh”. No surprise. The novel itself isn’t much. One review pronounced it too “talk-y” as in the character constantly describes how she feels and her observations about every freaking thing. As if a movie about a writer documenting her journey to enlightenment should be somehow more visual than word-packed.

My favorite review so far was written by Helena Andrews at The Root. It took up the theme of Gilbert’s book and named it “white girl problems”. Couldn’t have found a better genre for it.

White girl problems are essentially the non-issues the pale and the privileged focus on in the absence of actual adversity.

When I attempted to read Eat, Pray, Love, Will was just going into hospice. A book by a woman bemoaning her serial monogamy – that horrid pretty girl issue of having always been someone’s girlfriend or wife – while I was losing the only man I’d ever had a long-term relationship with in my entire 41 years didn’t go over well.

Sucks to be her, I mentally eye-rolled as I put the book on a shelf never to be cracked open again until I decided that some of her syrupy half-wit might be useful when I was writing comps for my education masters about six months later. I knew Gilbert was a poser but my professor didn’t.

Andrews though draws this awesome comparison between “white girl problems” lit/memoirs and a line from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. There is a scene where the Mad Hatter observes that in the real world, Alice has lost her “muchness”.

“You were much more … muchier.”

White girls in the real world then are searching for their muchness.

Gilbert’s muchness turned out to be the exact thing she thought was her problem – love and being in a relationship – because her journey ends when she meets the man she is now married to.

So much for issues.

Which brings me to my second reason, and it is related to the loss of muchness. My memoir. The one that’s pretty much written and is screaming to be edited and shopped.

I can’t.

I know. I have been saying that for a while now, but I am sure of the reason behind my reluctance. And it goes beyond my belief that books about overcoming tragedy by being plucky, witty and boot-strappy are so common place that they’ve become clichés onto themselves.

Rob followed a link to a widow blog and the author was describing her experiences at a Blogher style convention for widows complete with keynote speakers, author panels and how-to workshops. A couple of her encounters with people who’d mined literature from their experiences and turned them into books and/or workshops had left her feeling removed and as though she was possibly doing widowhood and grieving wrong.

And then I knew why I haven’t finished my memoir.

I can’t give people their muchness back. I could write a memoir, package it and sell it out of workshops and conventions, but a person’s muchness comes from within not from without.

I felt/still feel sometimes as though I didn’t do widowhood right. The way I felt, and the things I needed to do for myself, were often so out of step with other widows, books on grieving and even memoirs of widows that I wondered how I could be so far out in the weeds when everyone else seemed to know where the paved road was.

I can’t do that to someone else. Lead them to believe – even inadvertently – that I know the way.

Especially since I really don’t believe there is a process to grief or a one size fits all way to navigate the first year or that the whole honoring of someone’s memory should even be numbered in the top twenty of a person’s priority list.

The blogger mentioned how pleased some of the authors seemed with themselves, their lives and this opportunity to basically headline a conference. And I can totally understand her and them.

It’s amazing when people read what you’ve written and tell you it meant something to them. It would be easy to let that dominate and forget that the subject matter makes you more responsible to your readers than that of a fiction writer.

If what I write inspires someone, wow, but if it makes someone feel inadequate, wrong, or persecuted by the fates? Ouch. It would bother me the same way that the kid in my 3rd hour English class who’d given up because he’d never gotten a grade above a D used to bother me. Even though that wasn’t really my fault, I had to fix it. It was my job.

Memoirists open their lives for reasons that are far different from that of a fiction writer. It’s more than telling a good story. My story and opinions as a blueprint for grieving would be a responsibility like the one I took on as a teacher. And it would mean never fully closing the door. The pain would always have access of sorts to my now. A liberty that it doesn’t deserve and that I don’t owe it.

Besides, I’ve written my story – here and in a hundred different places all over the webosphere via comments and guest posts.

Purge, Pack and Move would be an awesome title though.  Sigh.

Today marks the official end of the race. I have 7 chapters and about 15,000ish words. Not the 50,000 one needs to be a “winner” but that wasn’t the point of it for me this year. I have proved I can write that and more in a month. There was no need to do it again. This year was about a decent fiction novel.

Of course life got in my way in a big way. There is the writing gig which is more like journalism than I thought it would be and consequently requires more time and effort. There was flu which I am only just, finally, getting over (secondary infections get me every time). We took a holiday and I wanted to live the time rather than spend it at the keyboard.

I won’t be publishing any more of The Fenns online for general consumption. I will move it soon to a private forum and if you want to continue reading you can let me know via email or leave a post.

Not sure about blogging in general. I have slacked quite a bit this month and found I didn’t miss the personal blogging all that much because I have two grogs – 50Something and Care2 as outlets. And the memoir and novel. I also do a lot more of my radical opinion spouting off on Facebook. I have found that people there are more likely to comment on things and engage in conversation.

I made the decision to go ahead on the yoga teacher training and have my application in. I start in January and will be done by June. 200 hours of training all together. My current instructor told me she’d love to have me teach at her studio once I am done. I like that idea a lot.

I am published in an online magazine of late and was picked up for syndication again through 50 Something.

Life feels full to bursting.

I can’t imagine a better job than writing a weekly newspaper column. Being paid to comment on life as it swirls around me?  Could employment be more intellectually and creatively stimulating?

Not in my opinion.

For my birthday, Rob gave me a book on the art of writing columns that a columnist I know recommended to me. It is one she uses in the writing course she teaches. I have read just the first few chapters and find it quite helpful.

This same writer friend also urged me to simply begin asking after writing opportunities via my local papers. This is a bit of a problem. There are two local papers. Both are free and more ad than news or other content. The Post is owned, written and published by one man. I have tried to submit to him before and was informed that he only takes letters to the editor. He does not need anyone to help him with content – of which there is precious little. The Post is the newspaper equivalent  of a vanity book. The only difference being that it is read. I think as many people read The Post as read The Record, which is the “official” newspaper of Fort Saskatchewan.

I prefer dealing with the editor of The Record. He is a nice kid. Always happy to get tips on feature stories and never ignores an email.

I needed to find out if The Record would be interested in running a story about my writing group’s anthology project and decided that since I was contacting the editor anyway, I would ask about column opportunities. Specifically I wanted to know how a person went about becoming a columnist.

The book I am reading is a wealth of information on what columnists do but makes the path to a regular column sound a bit like pulling a sword from a stone. Not one of the columnists the author interviewed, and she includes herself, could pinpoint the steps to achieving this lofty thing called “a weekly column”.

The editor responded to my query in less than an hour. They didn’t have money to pay columnists was the first thing he wrote. I wasn’t surprised. It’s a free newspaper. He also went on to inform me they weren’t looking to expand their stable of columnists at the moment but were always open to new ideas and pitches but – isn’t there always one? – they liked columns written by experts.

Experts. Sigh. I am not an expert in any field. Frankly, I don’t read that type of column unless I am in need of information. Usually it is just easier to google information than follow an advice column in the hopes he/she one day writes about what I need to know.

The Record’s columnists include a couple of ministers and a woman who I think works in the mental health field. She is always writing about depression. There are many, many forms of depression and just as many ways to write about it.  Somehow she manages to write nearly the same thing every time however. I don’t know what the holy men write about because neither are very good writers.  Oh, and I’m not holy inclined to waste the minutes required to find out what concerns them enough to write about. Okay, that was unkind.  They are “technically” good, can’t fault their mechanics, but they are boring and that is just wrong.

I am glad I included my query in the email. I am not at all surprised to be politely sent back to my own little corner.  Now I can check this possibility off my list and look for others.

I do think it is a little sad my own local paper errs on the side of informative rather than enlightening or entertaining but when you have only a tiny bit of space for local politics, news and sports between the ads, the stuff which makes people think or smile is often sacrificed.

Sometimes I am informative. Mostly I am just someone whose writing about life is something others can relate to and, in a world where people feel alone more than part of humanity at large, this is important too.

Globe and Mail writer, Christie Blatchford, was moaning about blogging and bloggers in Thursday’s paper, so in her honor I have decided to write the most banal of all blogging pieces – the update on my life.

I find “real” writers’ abhorence of blogs and their laments about the decline of “real” writing and journalism amusing. Newspapers long ago succumbed to the tabloidy tricks that placed selling above content. Print will never be able to compete with cable news channels and the Internet for timeliness of delivery, and when it comes to depth of topic, the political blogs have the edge and the freedom. Everything evolves. Just ask Darwin.

Besides journalists with blue-blooded leanings make lousy bloggers anyway.

So read along as I squander my finite word bank* by committing to the blogosphere my “most idle thoughts and mundane obeservations”**

My funked up mood from earlier in the week has cleared up thanks to a near complete abandonment of my schedule. No gym. Late lunches. Later suppers. No manuscript.

I just did as I pleased, and oddly it pleased me to reorganize the bathroom closet and search out the source of the fouler by the day odor in the cabinet where the dry goods are kept. The former is still awaiting final purge approval from the husband and the latter turned out to be a sack of something that had reached the gelatinous stage of decomposition therefore defying labeling attempts by both Rob and I.

I attended writing group on Tuesday evening and managed to be racially offensive to a potential new member of Cree descent. I didn’t do it on purpose but as I was explaining more of my novel to the group after reading the first several pages, I mentioned that one of the stories my main character tells is based on a family story. My grandmother’s great- uncle was the source of much concern when he was a toddler because a local native woman took quite the shine to him and hovered about whenever they ventured into town. The family, like most white immigrant settlers of the time, mistakenly thought she might snatch him. I could see the new member tightening as I told the story – even though I explained its origins and how it fit within my novel. I hate having to weigh words. I hate more that when people are offended they often fume instead of speaking up.

I finalized my writing course picks for the fall. Made out my yoga class schedule.

I prepared a new dish for supper.***

BabyD and I shopped. For her. She is quite the opinionated little clothes pony. While trying on a variety of pants, she jumped, pranced and wiggled – admiring herself in the full-length mirror as she did so. One pair of leggings left her standing completely still and not smiling. When I inquired about this, I was told,

“This pants don’t make me dance, Mom.”

A girl with her priorities straight.

While at the cute children’s clothes boutique, which is actually in The Fort, I overheard the owner mention she was looking for part-time help and I inquired. I nearly danced myself when she asked me to bring in a resume. Until I remembered that I don’t want to work for someone and that I dislike “service” work. Oh, and I am none to fond of the constant flow of humanity in the real world and that I find most things SAHM-ish incomprehensibly dull.

In fact now that I am sounding a bit more mommy-bloggish than I am comfortable with- let’s get back to me, shall we?

All deck work stopped this week. Rob and I are slightly fried around the edges and have just taken a step back from all the reno for this week. Sometimes one needs to surf the web and watch pointless movies in bed.

I got back to contributing at Moms Speak Up. Wrote a piece on Texas teachers being allowed to carry concealed weapons on the job. I won’t go into why this is the worst idea ever but if you knew some of the people I have worked with over the course of two decades, you would just take me at my word. I have yet to meet the educator who hasn’t uttered the phrase “It’s a good thing I wasn’t carrying a gun” at least once in their career – out loud and in the presence of witnesses.

Oh, and I have been reading. A novel.

Finally, I finished tagging my earliest blog posts from mid 2006 until about the time Rob and I started dating. Mostly very depressing widow stuff, but if that kind of thing interests you or you would like to know where I started my blogging journey, I am now easy to search under widowhood or grief. They can also be found under remarriage or long distance relationships or YWBB. Enjoy.

* Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated believes that writers have but a finite number of printable word combinations in them and to blog is to basically piss them to the wind.

** To quote Ms. Blatchford

*** That deserves its own paragraph. I am sure my husband can attest to the wonder of my attempting to expand my meager repertoire.

Yesterday’s meme veered off onto the current fixation in my life which is how to harness myself, my creative energies and move forward as a person with tangible dreams and goals. It’s nothing to do with my personal life. I am quite content with husband and love and children, but a year out of teaching, I recognize that I need to work “at” something.

There is the bookstore idea. However I am not spending that kind of money on something that I haven’t given serious thought to or researched. I am not my mother who took her 2001 Malibu into the dealership for an oil change and left with a 2008 model. It’s not that I haven’t “jumped” when opportunity knocks – as Sondheim reminds us “opportunity is not a lengthy visitor”, but I can’t jeopardize my family’s financial outlook on a whim.

Writing is my true love as far as career goes. I spent time reading sci fi/fantasy magazines while recouping from my illness last week and, as I told Rob, this is the genre that most attracts me. Even though I am not a science geek, there is an element of the fantastic about some ideas that lures me. I also love to incorporate mythology and folklore elements into stories if for no other reason than it is fun. And I like to play with ideas that are hard to understand – like string theory – through fiction.

While tag surfing (again) at WordPress, I ran across a writer’s blog where he was discussing the need to plan and organize BEFORE beginning to write. Caging the muse so to speak as opposed to let her flit about and then wander away when the going becomes work and she is bored. Rob marvels at my ability to generate ideas and wonders from where some of them derive, but the ability to generate what seems to be an endless stream of ideas sometimes is not always a blessing. It can lead to chaos and a lot of unfinished stories. At least for me.

I currently have three short stories and one finished novella in need of a few changes and additions (from years ago) that I need to finish and submit by the time school starts in the fall. The shorts are all sci fi/fantasy/horror. I know where I want to submit. Apex and Analog. There are two other magazines in that same genre that I need to contact for guidelines and then comb my existing work for submissions.

The novella grew out of a seminar I attended one summer. It came from a story starter – Harris Burdick – which I am sure some of my teacher readers recognize. It’s a good story. Solid. Based more than a bit on my father’s family and the stories I grew up listening to but mixed with the Irish mythology I was reading at the time. I have never been satisfied with it despite the fact that it is not a bad story, but recently a way to fix things came to me and I think once I apply my ideas I will have a book ready to shop around. I have no clue where or how to do this and I need to do research. Worst comes to worst, I will self-publish and sell it myself.

One recommendation I have had through my reading is to map out my goals on a white board. To that end I priced a few options at the local Staples. I am torn between 90 or 120 day maps, but I like the idea of having everything I want to accomplish written in one place and visible.

I do really need to go back to Marsha’s post on organizing and employ some of her ideas too. They were wonderful.

One of the things I have come to realize recently is that my job is me. I am the thing that I have to sell and therefore I am what needs organizing and motivating and teaching.