the kinetic pen

wired by words


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A Flash Fiction First

I have a swelling folder of information on places to submit my writing, and this morning I gave myself a challenge – to not only start helping that folder slim down, but to dedicate today’s creative writing time to a style outside my usual wheelhouse.

Flash fiction.

I’d found this prompt in a Twitter post from @Charli_Mills: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story influenced by a musical score. Where do you drift, hearing the notes? How does it fire you up to grab the story and hurl it into existence? Or is it gentle, and leading you into lyrical pastures of green?

After getting comfy in my favorite chair, I wrote this entry:

Flight by Robin L. Flanigan

Terra presses the wet cloth to her skin, the color of spoiled milk, and closes her eyes, thinking about what it would be like to leave, to sweep herself off the porch and up the hill toward the clouds. Her mother did it. Her grandmother didn’t and look where that got her. She carefully doubles the washcloth and drapes it over the edge of the tub. She couldn’t care less if he will miss her. She can picture only the weightlessness, the smooth waves of her limbs as she dances through the hemlocks on her way to the next.
Written to Anand (Bliss) by Snatum Kaur

It was fun. I feel like I exercised my brain in a new way, I look forward to participating in more of these, and I feel good that I’m doing more than just stockpiling submission ideas.

If you’ve written outside of your go-to style lately, how did it go?

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Dealing With Rejection

Yesterday my manuscript received its first rejection. I found out moments after being fitted for a helmet for a horseback trail ride with my eight-year-old daughter. I’d pulled my iPhone from my pocket to make sure the camera was ready to go, and decided to check my email given that I’d followed up with the agent a few hours earlier.

I read his words – that I’m a “terrific writer” but the story sounded a bit too familiar and he wasn’t convinced he could get a major publisher on board, that he hoped other agents would feel differently, and that he wished me the very best of luck – and had to accept he wasn’t going to be the agent to represent me.

An agent I desperately wanted to represent me.

The wacky part is that I was okay. Even after five years of working on this manuscript, and after all the serendipitous moments that led up to and continued through the writing, I had come to a place where I have to believe that publication will happen, and will happen in a glorious way I simply can’t visualize yet.

I’m not sure whether I’ve got it all together or am delusional. As my mom says, “Time will tell.” But I do know that I couldn’t have been in a better place to receive the disappointing news. My horse’s name was Carl, and for an hour holding his reins through leafy parkland and overgrown fields filled with wildflowers, I concentrated on the sounds around us: the creak of my saddle, the croak of the frogs, the swish of horse tails. I stared at my daughter’s back in front of me. I closed my eyes and meditated (only for a few moments at a time; I was nearly ejected within the first ten minutes of the ride when Carl tripped and hadn’t been the steadiest in my seat since).

Beauty in it all.

I feel blessed to have a manuscript I believe in, that my beta readers believe in. Time to move forward on this project and start the next one.

I do wonder why I’m not allowing myself a pity party. Maybe because that would put my focus on the rejection and not on what needs to happen next to get this thing published. Who knows? Maybe I’ll feel differently at a highly inopportune time and fall to pieces while pumping gas or on my way to interview a client.

For now, I continue to see that there’s more to finding the right fit for my manuscript – to life, in fact – than we’re often able to predict. This morning, for instance, another happy accident. In the few moments I had to glance at Twitter, I clicked on only one link, which led to a blog by London author Jessica Thompson. Her perspective lost after learning some major retailers wouldn’t be stocking her third novel because sales of her second weren’t as good as her first, she found comfort in words from her dad, which I’m sharing here because they’re poignant and altogether true:

“I’m an old man now, but every night I sit in my garden and think, another day, how nice. Another day with my family in my life, and my dog, and that’s really how you have to start seeing things Jess…Readjust your viewpoint on the world, you’ve not failed. Life is a relay race, and every step ahead leads you on to the next level. Nothing is wasted, and everything you do that takes you forward is positive. So what, you’ll probably never be famous, and so what, you’ll probably never be a millionaire, but you’ve done so incredibly well, no one can take that away from you, and the fact that you are a wonderful writer.”

This is what we writers need to trust: that we have succeeded because we are doing what we love to do. Because of this project I have developed close friendships, experimented with a more creative writing style, and received validation from a professional I greatly respect.

How can I be sad about that?

If you’re up for sharing your rejection story (and aftermath), I’m all ears. What we have in common makes us stronger…


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When a 104-year-old Doesn’t Want to be Interviewed…

It’s not every day you get the chance to interview a 104-year-old woman. So when that chance came to me yesterday, I brought along my 8-year-old daughter. After passing on what I knew – that this woman was feisty and none too thrilled about being asked a bunch of questions – she looked at me and said, “I’m scared.”

The story was this: Two women in Upstate New York had started a crowdfunding campaign to help Nona Schurman, a former professional modern dancer, remain independent in her own apartment. She has no immediate family, lives almost exclusively on Social Security, and uses her savings to pay for part-time, in-home aid workers who help with personal care, shopping, cooking and cleaning. By the end of 2014 her savings account will be depleted and she’ll be forced to enter a nursing home.

I learned about the campaign through an email blast, pitched it to my local newspaper, and showed up yesterday to find out more about this woman who canoed well into her eighties and is writing a book on choreography.

Though her tone was gruff, she welcomed us into her home and showed us our seats, explaining that the top snap on her housecoat never wants to stay closed. Then I took a notebook and pen out of my purse.

“I don’t understand what you want,” she said. “You’re a reporter?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s disappointing. Go ahead.”

I turned to my daughter and let out a surprised chuckle. I began to talk to Nona about her situation, but she interrupted me to argue that she was not in danger of losing her apartment, that the management said she could live rent-free for as long as she wanted, and that people should get the story straight. I wasn’t going to tell her she’s confused and wrong. Immediately I dropped the notebook and pen back into my purse and apologized for any inconvenience. I’d heard that it had taken a lot for her to agree to a story about her in the first place, that she was a proud woman who didn’t want to accept help from strangers, and it certainly didn’t feel like my place to push the issue. Over her stream of objections, I stood up, motioned for my daughter to follow, and apologized for any misunderstanding. That’s what she needed to hear.

Then her voice changed.

“Will you do this snap for me?”

Her face had softened, too, and as she stood there, bent over her walker, looking at me hopefully, my heart ached. Here was this woman who wanted nothing more than to be in control of her life, yet she needed someone – anyone – to help her get dressed. When she shut the door, I said, “I need a hug.”

I called my editor and told her the story was a bust. But I still feel a need to share it, so here it is, as well as a link for more information:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-dancer-s-dignity-at-104-support-for-nona-schurman

I’d love to hear what you think.

 

 

 

 


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“Our task is to say a holy yes…” (Go, Natalie Goldberg!)

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp’s half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer’s task to say, “It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a café when you can eat macrobiotic at home.” Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within


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3 Ways to Make the Most of Every Day

“By the time I woke up I was already behind.”

My friend laughed when I said this. It took me a second to realize why it sounded funny, because it was so TRUE. I started something new this week – something that has made a tremendous difference in the way I approach my day and the people around me – and on this particular morning, this FIRST morning, it had gotten off to a rough start.

The “something new” began when I was searching for a journal in my office and came across a book titled, “10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children – and Ourselves – the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happier Lives.” When I realized it had been on my bookshelf for years and I hadn’t read it, I thought about some of the other books scattered around my house.

“The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families.” “365 Dalai Lama.” “Cries of the Spirit: More than 300 Poems in Celebration of Women’s Spirituality.”

Then I felt like a poser. Unlike the “10 Mindful Minutes” book, I had actually read these, but in fits and starts, and it suddenly became clear that if I had a practice that made daily use of the things I’ve amassed to make me a better person (my books, my yoga mat, my favorite prayers), I may very well be a better mother, wife and friend. So I created a “Mind-Body-Spirit” file on my computer to keep track of the things I do in each category, each day. 

The first day, however, as I said, had gotten off to a rocky start. Because I was up too late the night before to get up at 6 a.m. for yoga (the “body” portion of the practice, obviously), I made myself do it when I was supposed to be starting to edit my manuscript. “It’s non-negotiable,” I repeated to myself as I rolled out my mat.

Fifteen minutes later (I know it’s not a huge amount of time, but it’s better than nothing), I sat down to read an interview with holistic physician Amy Saltzman (hello, “mind” portion!) who integrates mindfulness into her work with children and teens. Her belief that children’s greatest stress comes not from school or peer pressure but from “parental stress” was eye-opening. Her tip for demonstrating to young people the “Still Quiet Place” within is to say, “Honey, I’m really frustrated that you did X again. I’m going to take a few minutes and then we can discuss this.” Not always easy, but brilliant.

Next, for my “spirit” quota, I read a Bible verse I’d come across in an e-mail earlier in the morning: “And I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling.” (1 Corinthians 2:3) This was helpful as I got down to business and began editing – particularly after a post-conference funk in which, instead of staying pumped from the positive feedback from agents and editors, I stared at the start of every scene and wondered whether it was gripping enough.

I’m only on day four, but what I can report is that making the development of my mind, body and spirit just as important as scheduling an interview or taking my daughter to a playdate has changed the way I view – and react to – the world.

Even if I have to coach myself through it sometimes.


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Why Literary Agents Are Like Argyle Socks

This is how I imagine it going: I’m at the San Francisco Writers Conference next week to find an agent for my book, one (or more) of them really like my pitch and have requested my manuscript, and I have enough time before the conference ends to relay a little story.

When my husband and I went to a weekend retreat of sorts to the adoption agency we eventually used to find our daughter, one of the speakers told the room, filled with couples who’d gone through all sorts of medical procedures and losses over the years, that from now on, it would be a matter of when – not if – we had a baby. She said a former client, a man in his sixties who’d sat where we were sitting now, once wondered whether anyone would want him to be the father of her baby because of his age. Turns out the birthmother who chose him did so because in one of his pictures, he was wearing argyle socks. Her grandfather used to wear argyle socks. She felt her baby would be safe.

There’s so much about relationships we can’t plan. Sometimes a little faith and serendipity (there’s my favorite word!) play their part. I want the literary agent I eventually work with to give me that same sense of security those socks gave that pregnant woman.

Yes, I want the agent to specialize in narrative nonfiction and have an impressive track record and feel as passionate about my book as I do. But I also want to look at him or her and just know.


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The Obsessed Writer’s Guide to Pitch Conferences

My husband’s the one with the insomnia. Not me. That’s what I keep telling myself at 2 a.m. (or 3 a.m., or 4 a.m.) when I can’t fall back asleep. 

I’ve never had a problem drifting off to dreamland. People used to say I’m like a cat. Curl me up and I’m out. But since last week, when I signed up to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference to pitch my book to agents, my thoughts haven’t stopped racing. There’s the pitch to prepare for – three precious minutes to sell myself and my manuscript. There are agents to research, a first chapter to perfect, and a title to finally commit to without obsessing about wanting to change it later, among a long list of other tasks.

So night after night, I wake up and hear my rapidly beating heart against the early morning stillness. I take deep breaths and remind myself that all these thoughts can wait. I relax my eye muscles. I flop into another position and try to empty my mind. Then I look at the clock. Again.

I’m beyond thrilled to get the chance to fly across the country, stay in a swanky hotel, and have the chance to network with people who love words as much as I do. My challenge is to let that excitement overshadow the pressure that comes with wanting something so desperately that it starts to eat you up.

Though I got only five hours of shut-eye last night, this weekend has been a blessing. My friend Sue, who is also working on a book, has come to my house for an overnight retreat. Yesterday we wrote for eight hours before admitting we needed to say goodnight. This morning I’m reading over my first chapter before deciding whether to go with a new design for my business cards.

Time for a break, though, to walk my dog. I’m fairly certain I know what I’ll be thinking about along the way.

Have experience with pitch conferences? If so, please share!