Friday, April 19, 2024

Clouds that Form a Hurricane

It'll storm later today. A spring rain. April showers and all that. The dark clouds are moving in. It feels a little like dusk although it's 6 o'clock in the morning. 

For some reason this week, I've been seeing a lot of social media posts about how little people read. (BTW, thanks for reading this; readers get so little recognition these days.) This has me thinking about how difficult it can be to carve out time to read and to write. The pressures on daily survival surmount my best intentions to give writerly pursuits the time of day. And, yes, it doesn't help to see posts about how few of us take time with a book. Why bother writing one?

The last book I read literally was blown from my hands. A few weeks back, I downloaded an ebook on my phone to pass the time on a two-hour plane ride. The story -- a whodunit detective story with a female protagonist -- was kinda outside my normal genre of choice (literary). I'll come back later here and put the name of the title and author (Unbreakable Bond by Gemma Halliday and Jennifer Fischetto). I was impressed by the hooks. Good character development, an intriguing storyline, not too heavy of a subject, and no grotesque violence. Then the plane hit turbulence -- my phone flew up out of my hands and landed in the aisle one seat behind. It was the kind of turbulence that has a person clutching your seat mate's hand without the benefit of introductions. It was terrifying and was an exclamation point to two very difficult weeks.

I'm not a praying person, but that didn't stop me. Wouldn't it be a shitter if life had come to a screeching halt just then? Leave my parents and kids behind? Shudder to think. When I got off the plane, I literally looked white and wanted to fall prostrate on the tarmac (we actually walked across it to get to the terminal). I'd like to say that the experience shook me so much that I re-evaluated my entire life. It didn't. People do that, you know. Have life-changing experiences from trauma or fright. What I've found is that it isn't one event that turns me. It's the clouds that gather and eventually form a hurricane. 

Lately, there are just so many clouds. The world is fraying, and the uncertainty and cruelty and disconnect turn my stomach. Sad situations on every channel. What is the answer? To do something inward? Make peace with yourself, cultivate Zen? Or make an outward motion? Run for office, raise money for charity, hell, start a charity. What I should do is go back to writing. I have no conceit that it makes anything better except that it does. It does with me. And I'll give money. To people and animals. I'll continue to love. My family and friends and cats and sweetheart. And, I'll write, plant seeds of hope and identity, here and elsewhere, and tell it like I see it.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

From A to B

Do you remember how you learned how to read? Actual details, like how old you were, where you were, what you read and who you were with? I can't. By all accounts, I should have never ended up calling "writing" my profession because reading and me had a difficult start. We weren't pals.

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Hampton or Mrs. Washington, my memory fails, was a strict graying woman outta the '50s who wore stern-looking muted dresses to our classroom and had seating charts. This would have been around 1973. If my memory serves, I wasn't one of her favorites. I do recall a sweet little girl who sat by me, named Jackie, who was a pixie and wore the most enviable shiny white knee-high boots with heels. I was more interested in those boots than the alphabet. She wore them in our class photo.

One afternoon, the teacher pulled me into the hallway (this wouldn't be the last time) and sat me down with flashcards of the alphabet. Maybe terrified, I did my best to give her the answers she wanted though my responses had to have missed the mark a few times. I knew the basics, A, B, C, those early letters were a breeze, but the farther down in the alphabet, my familiarity dropped off like a sugar cube in black coffee. Plop. The U, W, Y, all looked the same to me. Can't you see a resemblance?

Not too long after our hallway visit, my mom started quizzing me in the car about billboards. What can you read there, honey? while pointing out the window. And I'd do my best to answer. Again, I have no idea what I said or if my interpretation of the Sinclair gasoline or the tires at Sears ads were right. If my mom had a heart-to-heart with me about my shortcomings, I can't recall that either. I just wasn't really interested in reading or writing. I was interested in my friend Jackie, her boots and playing at recess.

Feet on hopscotch box
Mrs. Hampton/Washington kept me back from recess once. It was an ordinary day and didn't have anything to do with reading lessons or the alphabet. We were assigned an in-class exercise, and instead of following directions, I recruited another friend, Monica, to play a game. It could have been Candyland or Operation. We had just gotten out the game, and pulled our seats together, when the teacher stormed over and leered down at me, calling us out for failing to follow instructions. I got a paddling in the hall. I hope Monica did not but I was so humiliated, that part of the story is lost. It was extremely painful, and I still have a bad word or two for my kindergarten teacher floating in my head today about her choice of discipline. 

My efforts at reading probably, most likely, almost certainly didn't improve after that point. I caught up somewhere along the way. Though to this day, I couldn't tell you the title of the first book I ever read. It would have been along the lines of Flat Stanley or Judy Blume or somesuch. Reading never gave me the joy my teacher promised. It wasn't Mrs. Hampton/Washington's fault. I just got behind, and it took me decades to catch up. I'm still catching up. 

The fact that this didn't hold me back from learning how to write is a miracle. How is it possible that a half-hearted kindergartener with little interest in letters and books became a writer later? Other teachers, a poem or two, some speeches I wrote, helped. At one point, the letters started to click together easily. It all comes so easily now. It is a gift not taken for granted. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Doing the Work

Montana sunset by JFulford June 2023

If you wanna be a fiction writer, you gotta do the work. It doesn't really matter where you work, like from a gorgeous spot out in the Montana wilderness, but you gotta dedicate the time and the headspace. You'll need uninterrupted stretches to: 

--Think about your story, AKA plotting

--Write, write, write

--Re-read and check your inner critic. Revisions come after the draft. (Are you editing while you're drafting? Ahhh, I see, you're one of those.)

--Capture thoughts about changes (I do this in a spiral notebook.)

--Think some more, AKA plotting

--Wonder what the hell you're doing

--Keep writing

--Resist, resist, resist major editing (Unless you're one of those.)

--Finish a draft

A draft is the newborn phase of your story's life. You don't have anything without a draft – a complete draft with a beginning, middle, and end.

All the other stuff, pacing, voice, character development, world building, proper spelling/grammar, dreams of fame, those can be tackled in the editing phase. Don't get me wrong, editing is essential. But getting the draft down comes first. Everything else can be fixed.

Whatcha waiting for?