Easter: What Does it Mean?

30 03 2013

Easter: another holiday that can inspire aisles of candy in WalMart. Is it just another excuse to eat to much or indulge in chocolate?

Plenty of children grow up searching for colored eggs hidden in the grass, under trees, beside vehicle tires and tucked among flowers in the windowbox. These days, the festive egg hunt doesn’t have to include dye-stained fingers or weeks of egg salad sandwiches. After all, you can buy two dozen plastic eggs for a buck. Stuff them with candy (or money for the older kids) and the hunt is on.

My family will have a structured dinner on Easter. It will include ham, buttered noodles, vegetables (probably not asparagus, my favorite), salad and dessert (sounds like cheesecake this year). We’ll laugh and play games together.

Of course, we’ll be in church first. Easter means resurrection day to me and my family. There will be songs about Jesus Christ defeating death by raising from the grave. I’ll reflect on what his power over death means to me in the future.

I’m not getting any younger. The closer I get to death, the more I revel in the fact that death is not an end. The conqueror of death lives and promises eternal life to me, as well.

I love chocolate as much as the next person (more than some, like my husband), but the true meaning of Easter surpasses a lifetime of chocolate fixes.

What does Easter mean to you? Do you have any special Easter traditions?

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Crushing Critique

27 03 2013

“Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it,” Clint Eastwood’s character says in Heartbreak Ridge.

A few weeks ago, I was flattered and honored when a writer (and editor) whose work I deeply admire and respect offered to read five pages after I commented on her blog that getting worthwhile critiques seemed impossible.

I really wanted to send her the first five pages of my work in progress. After I spend five days scrubbing the vomit into a semblance of writing I would be willing to claim, I still didn’t feel it was ready for an editor’s eyes.

Instead, I sent her a short story (previously published here) that I submitted to the literary journal at SNHU. Of course, it had been rejected, but the reviews and comments were so contradictory that I had no idea what was really wrong with it.

Aside from giving me her brutal and honest critique (for which I’m grateful), Kristen also used my story for the basis of one of her blogs. Read what she had to say here.

My reaction was comical. I was afraid to read her comments. Then I saw the blog and became defensive.

“I had to write the story in less than 1200 words. I didn’t have time to set the stage.”

We’re great at justification, aren’t we?

The truth: my writing lacks depth. Even though I feel like I have a handle on basic story structure, I’m not able to convey that same sense through my story.

The worst thing was the redundancy. I literally cringed each time she pointed out “you already said that.” I do the same thing on student papers. How did I miss this flaw in my own writing?

Seriously. This story had been written, critiqued, re-written, graded, revised and re-worked, but I still missed the redundant use of words. What do I mean? For example, “ineffectual thrashing” is a phrase I used. Her comment: “Most thrashing is ineffectual.” Duh. What was I doing? Think of the extra words I could have used to set up my basic situation if I hadn’t been wasting them repeating what I already said.

I didn’t agree with all of her commentary because some of the repetition was for effect (but it must not have been very effective, so what did I do wrong?)

I’m glad to know some weak areas to focus on (in the rewriting stages), and I happily ordered one of the books on story structure Kristen recommended. Do I wish she would have liked my writing? Sure. Would having her compliment me have truly been helpful? Not in the least.

Thanks, Kristen, for taking time to give me the constructive feedback I’ll need if I’m ever going to improve my writing to a publishable level.





What is a Writer?

23 03 2013

In the many years since I first began to form my thoughts into stories (age 9) and poetry (age 12), I’ve often vacillated between considering myself a writer – or not.

When I check out dictionary.com, I see there are five separate definitions for the word:

writ·er  [rahy-ter] Show IPA

noun

1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

2. a clerk, scribe, or the like.

3. a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.

4. (in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.): The writer wishes to state….

5. a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.

I obviously qualify under definitions three through five. I write my thoughts down, have written prose using first person and am able to write. I believe I even fit the second definition, since I’m the clerk for my church.

It’s that first definition that gets me. If it weren’t for the qualifier “especially as an occupation or profession,” there would be no doubt that I am a writer. I have written a few books, many stories and some articles.

Should the distinction be made at “author” rather than “writer”? I write, therefore I am a writer. Until I’m published, I am not an author.

What is the consensus from my readership? Does it take publishing to make you a writer? Or is that what it takes to become an author?





Dual-Purpose Novel

20 03 2013

Reading thrills me. Books invite me in, feed my linguistic genius and hold me hostage until the last page.

It would be nice to be able to truly revel in the beautiful language Harper Lee uses in To Kill a Mockingbird, but I’ve got another novel (or three) to read before the month is out.

Considering the limited number of hours in my day (and my physical need for sleep), I hatched a brilliant plan. For one class this term, I had to select a prize-winning book to use for all the assignments. (This week I wrote a press release for it). In my other class, I needed to select a novel that had some theme related to loss of innocence written by an American author.

After a quick perusal of the Pulitzer Prize winners’ listing from the past ten years, I settled on a title. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2011. It sounded like the author used ingenuity in the construction of the novel, so I hopped over to Amazon and purchased it.

With a kleptomaniac and a washed-up music producer mentioned in the description, I knew Egan’s book would fit in the loss of innocence category. Score! I just reduced my required reading by one book.

If you haven’t read (or seen or heard of) Egan’s novel, I have to tell you she breaks every rule ever penned about point of view. Additionally, I’m still wondering if the book should be considered literature since I’m having a hard time identifying basic elements, like plot, antagonist and protagonist.

Do you think I made the right choice by getting a novel that could serve a dual purpose? If you’ve read Egan’s books, I would love to hear your insights about it.





Perspectives on Rejection

16 03 2013

Image credit to mrsec.com

After trying to unsuccessfully integrate with an online writing group five years ago, I gave up on the idea that I could get unbiased feedback on my writing. When I took the writing workshops required for my creative writing minor at SNHU, I had high hopes that insightful critiques would be included in these classes.Overall, I have met four other people who view the critiquing process in a light similar to my own. Check out what Kristen Lamb said about this topic. You might notice I commented (along with 100 other people – if I get two comments I’m in Heaven – maybe someday I’ll have as many interested readers) about the lack of useful feedback from supposed “reviewers.”In my first creative writing class at SNHU, everyone said “I like this” or “you have such a way with words” and that was the sum of the feedback. I’m pretty sure that some of them didn’t like what I wrote, and I know there were things that could have been improved upon.

The only worthwhile feedback I got in my nonfiction workshop was from the instructor and that petered out. When I submitted my final story, he said it had “arrived” at the place he had been guiding me toward, but very little else. Again, disappointing remarks since they didn’t help me determine what worked and what needed work.

I didn’t get much in the way of helpful input in my fiction workshop. This is clearly evidenced by the rejection my “approved” story got from The Manatee, SNHU’s literary journal. One thing the instructor told me to change, one reviewer for the journal agreed upon (I still disagree, but I will do it without italics in the future).

Otherwise, reviewers said things like “show, don’t tell” and “too much description; I lost track of what was happening” and “needs more description.” All of this advice is incredibly helpful, don’t you agree?

What I got out of that is that they didn’t like the story. Other raters said “so much action, it was like I was in the river too” and “this was so realistic, I’m never going whitewater rafting.” How can an author reconcile these statements with the negative ones listed above? Not a single specific reference to lines that needed work or passages that nailed the intensity.

I must say that the thing that really steamed me was the response to my two poems. Both of the poems I submitted had survived several rounds of improvements and constructive criticism in my poetry workshop. They weren’t perfect (none of my writing is ever finished), but they had passed the critical inspection of several respected poets.

Should a poem get a poor review because it is about nature “and that’s been done to death”? What about being considered “preachy” when it’s advice about blogging? (Yes, you’ve seen this poem right here – an early
version and the one I submitted to the literary journal.)

I awoke at 3 a.m. the day after being summarily rejected by this student journal. I had read half of the competition and only found a few pieces that surpassed mine. I’m really trying to be objective here. Most of that stuff needed more polish. Anyone who can’t even spell check before submitting something for publishing doesn’t deserve a spot.

I woke up, questioning my writing ability. My heart and soul petitioned God for guidance. Have I been wrong about my calling? Am I kidding myself? Do I really have any hope of becoming a published author?

I wanted to quit. I started thinking about what sort of “real” jobs I could get when I finished my degree.

Words swelled. Now I’m pouring them on the page. I might only have 60 followers (I love ALL of you, by the way) and I might not have a single publishing credit, but ideas keep growing in my mind. As long as that continues, my fingers will pour them onto the page.

What is your experience with rejection letters? Do you have any critiquing nightmares or successes to share? Maybe you’re looking for some honest feedback and would like to join an online writing group. I’m interested if you can objectively review my writing and not just the subject matter.





Blood Red Road

13 03 2013

Apparently, the sequel is out (and the teacher I work with has it), so I felt this might be the perfect time to review Moira Young’s debut young adult novel, Blood Red Road. Since it’s a dystopian novel, I volunteered to add it to my reading list – even though I didn’t really have extra time on hand for reading.

The librarian who recommended this book to our book group compared it to The Hunger Games. I see very few similarities. In fact, except for the use of dialect writing, Young’s book surpasses Collins’ best-seller in every way.

First of all, Saba, the 18-year-old protagonist, trumps Katniss. Saba might not have the ability to shoot arrows like Katniss, but she has something Katniss lacks – a determined purpose. Saba’s strong character compelled me to connect with her and read on to learn how she would solve her problems.

Wouldn’t you agree that Katniss seemed driven by her circumstances? Even at the end of the series, she was unsure what would truly make her content. She’d decided to willingly settle for whatever came her way.

Not so, Saba. When her twin brother is kidnapped, she sets out to rescue him. Her only plan is to rid herself of the burden of her 9-year-old sister and follow the tracks of the horsemen who stole him away.

Unfortunately, Saba has no experience with the “real world.” Her father kept them in an isolated area far from the remnants of so-called “civilization.” If this isn’t enough to hamper her quest, the fact that her little sister is just as stubborn as Saba adds conflict and complications.

Even though this is the first book in a series, it satisfies. The main problem in this story is solved at the end. Sure, there are enough loose ends to keep people reading the next book, but it offered its own catharsis. This is something I’ve learned more about during my play writing workshop (perhaps more on this later).

I wouldn’t recommend this book to any of my students who struggle with reading. The fact that Young uses phonetic spellings to add distinctiveness to her prose would hinder their ability to read and enjoy the story. I was able to adapt to the style (though I’m still debating if it served a purpose) and read the book quickly.

I highly recommend it to fans of dystopian novels. Young’s world resembles what “could be” enough that it doesn’t need tons of extra description. When she introduces new places, though, she does so with verve and keeps the action going at the same time. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel almost as much as I’m looking forward to the conclusive novel in Michael Grant’s Gone series.





Merciless Middle Ground

9 03 2013

After spending nearly 33,000 words to begin a tale that in my mind spans a trilogy of epic adventures, I’m finding motivation to continue investing time and talent elusive. From successful writers (unlike me), I’m learning that this malady commonly strikes writers when they reach the middle of a story.

It’s frustrating to me because I know where I want the story to go. There are a few blurry areas, but I’m sure my characters will guide me through those portions. Why can’t I write it then?

You know I’m going to play the “I’ve been so busy” card. It’s a favorite ploy of Type A overachievers such as myself. Our poor, over-inflated and highly sensitive egos couldn’t handle the truth. (Jack Nicholson, “You can’t handle the truth!”)

Time for a reality check. I’m tired. I’m sick of school and work and my creativity feels like it’s abandoned ship. Eking out three blog posts a week feels like ripping out my fingernails and toenails at the same time.

Recently, I’ve seen some advice from other writers (like this one from Kristen Lamb, my blogging guru). I’ve been trying to check out more blogs, hoping some of the creative talent from these successful scriveners will rub off on me. (Or maybe it’s just another work avoidance tactic. My students may be teaching me something after all!)

This is the advice for this “block” that occurs in the “middle” of a writing project:

  1. Write the ending. Once the ending is there, it shines a light, guiding the rest of the story.
  2. Write about the characters or the setting or what will happen in the next chapter until you find the words for the point in the story where you’ve stalled.
  3. Take a break from the story, but not the characters. Journal their thoughts at the moment you left them. Get inside their minds until their psyche pushes the words onto the blank page.
  4. Start something new. Perhaps the story isn’t destined to work. If it is, it will rise up again later and you can return to it then.
  5. DON’T start anything else. Write. Put your seat in the chair and put words on the page. If you delete them all later, no one cares. The important thing is to keep writing – on this project. If you want to be a finisher, you must keep on keeping on.

What’s your advice for writers like me who get stuck in the middle and lose interest in writing their story? When is the right time to give up? When should we push through even if we hate the writing?








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