Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reality? Really?

I received (another) rejection in the mail today. It comes at a bad time emotionally, but I remind myself of what I've learned in sales, which is the same thing Ann Hyman wrote about in the July/August issue of Writers' Journal. That is, every rejection is one step closer to an acceptance. Maybe I'll write more about that when I'm not feeling so...well, rejected.

Yesterday my husband and I went to see Knight and Day for our anniversary. It was a great flick, highly enjoyable and fast-paced, and completely unbelievable. It got me thinking more about a topic that's been on my mind lately. The nature of reality.

I'm not talking about quantum physics or anything here. What I am talking about is the reality we each experience every day, as well as the reality we portray through our writing. Every person's reality is different. The real difficulty, of course, is to portray--communicate, establish, get across--your reality in a way that is meaningful and comprehensible to your audience.

When I was in college, my boyfriend at the time came to visit me in Eastern Oregon for a week in August. He is Japanese, as in actually from Japan, so let's just say there was some culture shock. While he was here we went to a nearby American Indian art gallery. He stopped me in front of a certain painting. I don't remember the whole painting, but I remember it showed a treeless horizon, a brown slash of hill cutting across a flat blue sky. It was an accurate artistic representation of landscapes I've seen hundreds of times here in EO. Toppo, though, pointed to the painting and said, "Before I came here, that would have looked fake."

The reality he came from was not my reality. My everyday was his fake, my understood was his bizarre.

So what does this mean? Do we have to write not only about what we know, but also only about what our audience knows? Of course not! Talk about limiting your readership. What it points to, though, is the need to carry your readers into your reality with you.

I don't have Orson Scott Card's On Science Fiction and Fantasy (Writer's Digest Books) in front of me, more's the pity. It's packed in a box in storage somewhere. I do remember that he, and many other writers, emphasized the need to create a reality that your readers are willing to enter, to keep it consistent within itself and believable within its own context.

When I watched Knight and Day, I was willing to suspend disbelief and invest myself in the plot. Sure, James Bond and Superman combined had nothing on Roy Miller, but the plot pulled me in and made me accept it within it's own context. Tad Williams, a fantasy writer, wrote The War of the Flowers and made me believe in changelings and an industrialized version of Faery. In The Wild Road, Gabriel King showed a world in which animals, domestic and wild, traveled primal highways at super-normal speeds...and had me believing it so much, I checked my backyard for primal animal off ramps.

All this rambling is to say that, no matter what you write about, you have to take your audience with you. Everyone has different tastes. Some are willing to suspend disbelief more than others. Readers of speculative fiction make it a habit to suspend disbelief quite a lot, but all readers have to do it to some extent whenever they pick up another person's words. Whether you're a verbal artist painting a rural Oregon landscape or a horror writer scaring your readers with a megalaturtle, you have to pave enough of the road so they can follow you. It's not enough to say, "This is my reality; believe it." You have to make it real for them, too.

Easy, huh?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writer as Gardener

The other day I made a salad from the first of this year’s lettuce. This particular lettuce was a bit special, because it was volunteer lettuce. For those who aren’t gardeners, “volunteer” plants are those that seem to sprout and come up on their own…useful plants that grow in neglected corners or pop up in the middle of cultivated rows. They’re beautiful, tasty surprises; the fruit of labor you haven’t actually performed.

But that’s not quite accurate, either. The lettuce that has scattered itself throughout the garden didn’t come there completely by accident, nor did it pop into existence from nowhere. (Mendel disproved spontaneous generation centuries ago.) In years past, myself and my mother scattered seeds and weeded and watered lettuce plants to produce leafy harvests. Hard work has gone into that garden. The volunteer plants—though they seem to come from nowhere—are really the result of that hard work in years past. The lettuce plants that so delighted us this year sprang from dormant seeds we had planted but long ago forgotten.

And why am I writing about volunteer plants on a writing blog?

Sometimes in a writing life, writers experience happy accidents…emails with work offers from seemingly out of the blue. Phone calls that display new horizons. Chance meetings that open previously closed doors. Often, writers see these things happen to other writers and get lettuce-green with envy. Why does she get all the good luck? we wonder. Why can’t I get a lucky break?

Why does volunteer lettuce grow in my garden but not in yours?

In writing, as in gardening, there is no harvest without labor, no vegetable that doesn’t spring from a seed. The seed may have been planted long ago and forgotten, but it’s been there, waiting for the chance to grow and bear fruit. If you can’t understand why you’re not getting any breaks, think about the work you’ve put into it. You don’t get long-term results in two weeks. You don’t get a harvest without planting and watering and weeding. You don’t get assignments without queries. You don’t get book deals without books…or, at least, book proposals. The query you sent out months ago may come back with surprising results, long after you’d given up and moved on. That won’t happen, though, if you never sent it in the first place.

If you’re serious about this writing thing, start examining your cultivation methods. Are you scattering seeds wherever you go, or are you sitting back and waiting to be “discovered”? If it’s the first, the harvest will come…eventually. The second isn’t likely to provide much lettuce, volunteer or otherwise!

So, what are you doing to cultivate your writing career today?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Creative Marriage Proposals Update

Creative Marriage Proposals is on KINDLE! Check out's Kindle Store to grab a copy today...only $6.95.

If you'd like paperback format instead, we have a special offer for you. You can get 10% off (that's $13.85 instead of $15.39) through June 30th. Just go to and enter SUMMERREAD305 at checkout.

Happy reading!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Stories: Find the Fascinating in Everyday Life

Stories are everywhere.

I was reminded of that fact when I went into the bank recently to open a savings account for Baby M. In her information gathering, the woman helping me asked where Baby M was born.

“Norfolk, VA.”

“And where were you born?”

“Here in Heppner,” I said, with my usual disclaimer, “when the hospital still delivered babies.” (They haven’t delivered babies in my hometown hospital for 30 years. That’s all I’m saying about that.)

“Oh,” she said. “Me, too. I was a switcher.”

Ummm…a what?” I mumbled.

“One of the babies who was switched at the hospital up here. Did you hear about it?”

I had. In fact, I heard about it when the story made national news about a year ago. I was way more than a day late and a dollar short in my discovery, since a reporter from the East Oregonian broke the story first. Still, I was fascinated to find myself sitting across a desk from a woman who, quite literally, grew up in the wrong family.

(Oh, and I’m not making this up. You can read the story here.)

While I may not be able to dig any submissions of my own out of this tale—or a book, since the reporter is now working on a manuscript—it still served as a reminder that ideas really are everywhere. How many times during the course of a day, a week or a month do we interact with people who have marvelous, wild or just plain unbelievable stories? Is it the bank teller? What about your hair dresser? Or the young man sitting next to you on the bus?

Sometimes I feel I just don’t have enough good ideas. Not enough fodder for the mental grist mill. After an encounter like I had today, though, I realize that’s just an excuse. It’s an excuse I won’t believe any more. I won’t believe it when I hear it from my own lips and I won’t believe it when I hear it from yours. Instead, I’ll recognize it for what it is…a career-killing combination of lack of imagination and laziness.

Stories like Kay Rene’s are a wonderful jolt. They’re a reminder to dig a little deeper into our own lives and the lives of those around us. If you think you can’t be an author or a journalist because you can’t come up with ideas, you need to give yourself a good slap...mental or physical, whatever does the trick.

Because stories are everywhere. Sometimes they fall into your lap. More often, they require energy to dig up and dust off. Either way, they’re right there. They’re in your own history. They’re in your next-door neighbor and the girl who babysits your kids. They’re in the banker sitting across the desk from you.

Go out and find some stories today.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Time Lost and Found

Not a long post today.

I was flipping through the April issue of Sunset magazine in the dentist's office this morning. It's a publication I don't subscribe to and don't usually pick up, since the destinations and decorating tips are usually far outside my budget. Anne Lamott's essay, "Time Lost and Found," may just make me a more frequent reader.

Perhaps you read my recent post, "Time Changes...Nuthin'." I felt this essay went along with that theme perfectly. It's well worth the read.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Are You Committed...or Should You Be?

In my last post, I mentioned time’s ability to change absolutely nothing…at least, not unless accompanied by some kind of effort or forward motion on our part. I now realize I left out an important component.


How committed are you to your writing career? Committed enough to get up at 5:30 in the morning to glean an hour or two before the kids or hubby get up? Committed enough to put down the how-tos and actually write? Committed enough to risk rejection by sending that writing to an editor? Committed enough to…

You get the idea.

For years, I didn’t have that level of commitment. It was far easier to work an eight-to-five I loathed than to risk my mortgage by gambling on my talent and self-discipline. Far easier to plop on the couch after work and turn on the TV “just for a few minutes.” Far easier to give in to exhaustion and hit the snooze button every morning. Far easier to go to lunch with coworkers (wet or otherwise) instead of spending the time researching markets or writing for them.

It wasn’t talent I was lacking. That sounds arrogant, but it’s not. Moderate talent combined with hard work and endurance can survive in the writing business. Dozens of published articles and books prove that (okay, just my opinion). It wasn’t self-discipline I lacked. Not completely, anyway. I grew up on a farm, and I’ve spent much of my life getting work done without supervision. No, I lacked commitment. Committing to my writing career felt like stepping off a ten-story cliff, and I wasn’t ready to do that.

In this week’s The Prosperous Writer newsletter, Christina Katz compared the writing life to a relationship. True, and more. For me, making marriage vows to my husband of almost eight years was the easier of the two commitments, even though I’d known my writing habit at least ten years longer. In a way, that’s understandable. Committing to another person only requires faith in them; committing to a career in writing takes faith in yourself. I’ve never been good at that.

Commitment takes courage. Commitment takes faith. And, once you’ve taken that ten-story leap, commitment takes the daily struggle to work through disappointment, to find points of compromise, to turn around and send that query out again instead of running back to the retreats where you used to find solace. Remember Jane Kirkpatrick’s definition of commitment as a banking term? “To make a deposit against which you can later draw.” Commitment means showing up, day after day, to put your pen to paper, fingers to keys, and an investment into your life.

So, before you can put the time into writing, you need to commit to your writing. Only you know how much of a commitment you can make. The level isn’t the same for everyone, because everyone’s dream is different. Without that promise, though, you never will find the time. Not consistently and not for long enough to matter. Until you commit, your writing is only a dream. And you can’t take that to the bank.