Writing as a Lifeline

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Luna and Sasha

My last post was on December 12, 2015. I’ve missed major holidays and events. “Happy holidays,” “happy new year,” and “happy St. Valentine’s Day,” by the way. I missed my blogaversary. As of February 4, I’ve been blogging for five years—I can’t believe it.

And while this isn’t the longest break, it’s the first time I’ve seriously considered stopping. Blogging. Not writing. I’ve been doing plenty of writing. No. That’s not completely true. I’ve been writing. I kind of have been on a hiatus from fiction writing, too. For a while I had a technical writing contract, but that’s not why. I’ve also felt too distracted to write.

Why? A lot of life changes. Big and small. Now, the potential for a move to a new state. Away from Maine. Away from Maine? Where I raised two children. Said good-bye to two dogs. Owned two houses. Have lived the majority of my married life. Have taken hundreds upon thousands of photos and videos. Written millions (yes, I’ve calculated), millions of words.

It’s not definite. And if it does happen, it won’t be for a year (or so). But the writing is on the wall. Funny, that particular expression coming to mind. The fact is I can write anywhere—I know because right now I’m writing from a garrison in Newton, Massachusetts, overlooking not a tiny New England town but busy traffic on Walnut Street.

Right now it’s like I’ve stepped into another life—because in essence I have. I’m living with and caring for two dogs while their owners are on the other side of the world for the month. When I walk the dogs, I see first familiarity then confusion on the faces of neighbors. Who is this woman? Not the neighbor they expected. The dogs are the same, the person not. If they look carefully enough they’ll see reflected confusion in my eyes. There are times I feel like I’m not myself. Different house, different dogs (my own sweet dog gone over a year ago), different neighborhood, different people.

I miss my friends, I miss my life and routines. I know that if I moved to this area permanently, I’d meet new friends, I’d develop new routines, I might even get a new dog. This situation is temporary. The problem is that everything in my life feels pretty temporary right now, and it has for a little while.

But here’s what I’ve come to this morning. One thing hasn’t changed: my writing mind. My ideas, my thoughts. My writing. My blogging. Which brings me back full circle to why I will not close down my blog. The opposite. I’ll be blogging more. My goal is weekly (we’ll see).

Writing. It anchors me. It’s my lifeline. It’s what keeps me, me.

Cheers,

Julia

Getting In Touch With my Inner Perfectionist

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A photo from my recent trip to California

“I need to make a change,” I said to MEH (My Engineer Husband), my feet hitting the floor much too early this morning.

“What?” He mumbled.

I have a blog going live on Writer Unboxed today. (You can read it here.) I’d worked on the post all day yesterday, the day before, too. As I always do, I woke up early, especially early knowing I have a post going live.

I used to blog everyday. Everyday. My husband reminded me of that. But I don’t do that anymore. In fact, I’ve neglected my blog a bit lately. Probably because my writing is more varied, a lot going on. I have two novels under revision; in addition to being a contributing writer, I’m also an assistant editor for Writer Unboxed; I’m helping a friend with a tech start-up company (I’m doing the—big surprise—writing; I’m also about to start a part-time gig with another tech company.

What hasn’t changed is that I’m still a perfectionist. I get nervous when any of my work is about to go public—whether it’s on a blog (my own or another), in a published article, to a tech customer, on submission to an editor or agent, and even being read by a beta reader. I want to put my best foot forward, but more than that, I want my writing to make a difference.

For some of my writing—the technical or business—that means helping someone understand a product or service. For some of my writing—the fiction—it means connecting on a more personal, a feeling level. Finding a way to infuse my writing with the feelings I have, with the feelings I’d like my readers to have.

And that brings me full circle. My post today on Writer Unboxed is about just that. Feeling the feelings. Recapturing the feelings. Because whether I’m writing for a technical audience or a more personal one, that’s important to me. Reaching the reader. Getting to the heart. In that way, writing is writing. Bringing me even more full circle—this is why I started blogging (over four years ago), to say this: Words are words. And whatever those words communicate, and for whatever purposed, they better be the right ones to communicate the right thing.

Because I’m a perfectionist that way.

Summer, How I’ve Grown to Love Thee

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“It’s gonna be a hot one,” he said as he stepped onto the boat.

I’m not a summer person. What I mean by that is I don’t like the heat (usually).

But I grew to love summer when my kids were young and they played outside all day long, soaking up the summer warmth and fun. I loved it even more when they were school age and teens, when summer meant long vacations, sleeping in (for them), leisurely trips to the beach, long summer car vacations. In short, I loved summer with my kids.

My kids no longer have summer vacations (not long ones anyway, they both work full time)—although they’ve both been to Maine for a taste of summer—and I’m rethinking how I feel about summer, in general… Last winter was the winter from hell. It was colder and snowier than any winter we’ve had in a long time, and now I suddenly find myself a fan of summer. I can’t even seem to mind the heat. And I don’t want it to end.

Yesterday we—and by “we” I of course mean MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I—went to take sunrise photos on the dock at Littlejohn Island (that’s one of the photos I took at the top of the post). As we stood and watched the sun rise, a fisherman walked down to the dock and stood with his gear, waiting. “Mornin’,” he said as he walked by. Across the water, we could hear a boat approach from Chebeague Island. As MEH and I watched, the commercial fishing boat pulled up to the dock and the fisherman got on board.

He looked up at us as he stepped onto the boat and said, “It’s gonna be a hot one.” He smiled and waved as the boat pulled away. He was right.

This summer I’ve found lots to do. I haven’t blogged (here on my blog) for almost two months—the longest break I’ve taken ever from posting a blog. I’ve been doing other things during my summer break…

Writing. I’ve revised one novel (cut over 15,000 words and wrote a new first chapter), and now I’m querying. I’m also 20,000 words into a new novel; it opens with four kids graduating from high school and starting summer vacation. It’s sweeping me away.

Reading. I’ve read a lot of books this summer. I really loved middle grade When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. And Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor—which I just wrote this review about for Great New Books.

Editing. At the beginning of this summer Therese Walsh asked if I’d be an assistant editor for Writer Unboxed. I was honored. I’ve been working for Writer Unboxed, coordinating guest posts, for about a year and a half. I’ve also been blogging there for about three years (how is that possible?). I had two posts there this summer, one about why I’m rethinking my spying ways, and last week, I posted one about my writing rules (and why I have only one).

Watching. MEH and I just finished binge watching Alias, which I loved. I also watched HawthoRNe (not about the famous writer, which is why I started watching in the first place), which I didn’t love. VEEP, which we loved and laughed through, and I strongly recommend. We watched movies. Spy in the theater, which we loved and laughed through, and also strongly recommend. We went to see Paper Towns which I wasn’t crazy about (I read the book, too, also not so crazy about it). And last night we watched The Rewrite on DVD and it was (yes) about writing and was a good movie although not deep in the least.

Gardening. But not enough. The weeds and woods are taking over the garden. And the deer ate most of the beans and a good deal of the Swiss Chard, and about half the potato crop was eaten by some kind of grubs. It’s the way life is as a backyard farmer in Maine. But we still have lots of tomatoes and kale. And we have a lovely volunteer pumpkin (the plant reseeded itself from last year). And we’ve been going to the Portland Farmers’ Market every Saturday where we’ve bought the best blueberries we’ve ever eaten. Summer makes eating local so easy and good.

And that’s what I’ve been doing on my summer vacation, how about you?

Cheers,

Julia

I Always Cry at THE END

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I took this photo a few years ago, but it seemed right for today…

This is one of those mixed up blog posts. I haven’t posted anything for a while, and yesterday I thought I should. I should blog, I said to myself. But I didn’t feel like it, I just didn’t. I dug around for a while (in my mind) to try and figure it out, and here’s what I came up with.

Winter. My next thought was about winter, of course. My next thought is always winter these days. The wind is howling outside. It’s cold and I’m really really grouchy about it. Right now, March 18, it’s 18F degrees. I’ve given up checking, searching the web, to see if we are having normal temperatures. I don’t care anymore. (I know we aren’t, I feel it in my bones.) I just want it to be warmer. I don’t want to wear a fleece jacket in the house anymore. I got an email from an (out of state, WARM state relative) who said he’d heard spring was coming to parts of the east (SOUTHeast, I told him). No. Not Maine. I was grouchy. We haven’t had a spring day since a year ago, last spring. We had snow showers yesterday and we’re getting more this weekend. And next week.

This blog is not about winter. (I think my last five are plenty.)

Reading drought. I love reading. I always love to curl up and read a good book. Sometimes I get so lost in reading that I need to lie on the couch and ignore everything else and finish in a rush. Last year I read a book that I loved so much I slowed it down. I couldn’t stand to read more than a few pages a day because I knew it would end soon. And it was a short book. When I finished reading, I cried. Cried and cried. It was a sad ending, a hard ending to read, but more than that, I loved that book, and it was over. Since then, I haven’t been able to read a book that I really fell in love with. And this year in particular I’ve barely read. I keep telling myself it’s because I’m so focused on writing (more about that later). I keep telling myself it’s the winter. I can’t stand to sit for so long. I’m antsy to get going. I tell myself it’s the books I’m reading. I’m picky. I need the right balance of good, unpredictable story with amazing writing. I like minimalist writing (usually) and sometimes books are overwritten for my taste. Anyway, I’m not sure why, but I can’t really stay engaged with any book. Most recently I’d been looking forward to reading a book (in a big way, I pre-ordered it), and I could barely finish it.

This blog is not about reading (but if you can recommend a book you love, please do!).

Experts. I’m a journalist by training. And one of the things that was drilled into my head when I was in college was the source. Find the right expert. Find the correct information. Be accurate. By training and by nature this is the kind of writer I am. I want to know. I want to know that I’m portraying something accurately. My current WIP (more about that in a minute) has a lot about horses in it. One of the horses gets injured (it’s integral to the story and the arc of the main character). Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I’m being accurate. I have a good friend who is helping make sure all the general horse information (behavior, care, tack, riding, etc.) is accurate, but I need to talk to a veterinarian. I have another good friend who is a vet, but she’s a small animal vet and has recommended I talk to a large animal vet. I haven’t been able to find someone, and it’s frustrating me.

This blog is not about experts (but if you know a large animal vet who might be willing to talk to me, please tell me!).

THE END. Back to that WIP. I just finished a major revision of one of my WIPs—the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo in 2013. Yes, that’s not last year but the year before, so I’ve been living with this story for a long time. In some senses, I’ve been living with this story for even longer because it’s loosely based on a real-life thing that happened to me (you can read about that here), a sad thing. Anyway, I miss those characters. I know I have to move on, but in a way I don’t really want to. Kind of like that book I loved so much. I know I’ll write another story (I’ve started a few), but it’s going to take a little time. As I type the words THE END, I always cry, every WIP I write, but with this book I cry every single time I read and reread the end (and believe me I’ve read it a lot of times). I miss those characters as though they were real-life best friends.

This blog is about mourning. Mourning THE END. I cried. And I always do.

Writing friends, do you cry when you write THE END? Everyone, please recommend books you love, large animal vets I can talk to, and please, please, think spring!

Cheers,

Julia

9 Questions: How I Write

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“Am I?”

Last month my writer friend Kristen Ploetz asked a series of questions in a blog post called Nine Things I Wonder About Other Writers. I answered Kristen’s questions in comments to her blog, but two of my other blogging friends—Nina Badzin and Lindsey Mead—answered the nine questions on their own blogs, and I liked the idea so much, I decided to do the same.

Because here’s the thing…Kristen hit a nerve. With me. With a lot of others, too. Many have answered in blog posts, and I’ve read a lot of those  posts, too. They make me feel more connected to the online writing community and help me understand what it is to be a writer, to call ourselves writers—because, here’s the thing, just like Kristen (her incentive to the post), sometimes I struggle with identifying myself as a writer.

For me it’s back to that old question. What is a writer? I’ve worked as a technical writer and a freelance writer, and now I write fiction, blogs, and essays, yet, I do sometimes wonder if I have the cred to call myself a writer…which goes back to the question of what “other people” think of when they hear the word writer, i.e., a novelist? A traditionally published novelist? A newspaper writer? Aren’t we all writers?

Ironically, this was the topic of my very first blog post, published  February 6, 2011. Yes, I’m approaching my fourth blogiversary. In that post, I wrote this:

As a long-time technical writer, by training and profession, I’ve often been told “you’re not a real writer.” I remember the first time someone said that to me, I’d just finished writing a 400-page technical manual. Let me tell you, I certainly felt like a writer. Still, even as I branch out to business, creative non-fiction, fiction, those words ring in my ears. But, when I really think about it, I come back to this: words are words, writers are writers. As a cross-over writer, going back and forth from technical and business to fiction and creative nonfiction—I’m blurring the lines. This blog examines those writing lines and the people and pieces that blur them. Writers are writers, regardless of genre or specialty, we’re all putting words together. As Maya Angelou wrote: “We are more alike, my friends,/ than we are unalike.”

I still feel that way! And that’s why I’m chosing to revisit this question through Kristen’s nine questions. And here they are.

1. Do you share your work with your partner or spouse? Does it matter if it’s been published yet?

Yes. I (almost) always share with my husband. Sometimes in draft form, sometimes even as I’m writing.  In fact, MEH (My Engineer Husband)—as he’s known in this blog—is one of my trusted readers.

2. How much of your family and/or closest “friends in real life first” read your stuff…let alone give you feedback about it?

This is complicated. Some of my friends are also part of my beta reader circle. For fiction—my WIPs—four friends have been part of that circle for one or all of my novels in progress. As for family, I have one aunt who’s read three of my novels in progress. I also have one self-published mystery novel. A lot of my friends and family have read this.

As for my blog, I can’t say for sure. My gut reaction is that almost no one I know IRL reads what I write—but I’m not sure. I’ve had comments from unexpected people, like random people I’ve run into at the grocery store, someone I met at the gym, one of my daughter’s college friends…my mother-in-law. Sometimes people will tell me they “keep up with what I’m doing” by reading my blog, and it makes me cringe because my blog is NOT necessarily representative of my life.

3. What do you do with the pieces that continually get rejected–post on your blog? Trash? When do you know it’s time to let it go?

I have lots and lots of words and articles and essays and multiple novel manuscripts in “the drawer.” Sometimes an essay I write and submit will end up on my blog (more usually a blog post I write might be expanded into an essay I’ll submit elsewhere). Fiction, which is what I am focusing on almost exclusively right now, never winds up on my blog. Anything that I write that gets rejected continually (there’s a lot, by the way) goes into the drawer. I view this as my training ground. Everything I write makes me a better writer, I know that for certain.

4. Are there pieces you write for one very specific place that, once rejected, you just let go of, or do you rework into something else?

Everything I write gets reworked some time, some how. It may just be a feeling or emotion, maybe a character, a scene I’ve witnessed, a conversation overheard. The specific passages I’ve written for one thing are rarely (I can only think of one chapter I ever pulled out of a past WIP to rework for another), but the feelings of a piece are definitely used at times for the bones of other scenes…everything is always stored away in my mind for future work.

5. What is your main source of reading-based inspiration (especially you essayists)? Blogs? Magazines? Journals? Anthologies? Book of essays by one writer?

Novels, short stories.

6. What tends to spark ideas more for you: what you see/hear in daily life or what you read?

My biggest inspiration is what I see (and hear) and what I imagine. I have a crazy insanely wild imagination.

7. Who have you read in the past year or two that you feel is completely brilliant but so underappreciated?

Last year I read a book written in 1986 that I think is the best novel I’ve ever read, certainly my favorite by a long shot: The Blind Corral by Ralph Beer. It is out of this world good. It’s the only novel he ever wrote. I also love Tim O’Brien’s writing in The Things They Carried, and think it should be essential reading for content alone, but the writing is brilliant. I also reread The Scarlet Letter last year. I think Nathaniel Hawthorne (though well read) is not appreciated enough in the current day. His writing is incredibly modern in thought.

8. Without listing anything written by Dani Shapiro, Anne Lamott, Lee Gutkind, or Natalie Goldberg, what craft books are “must haves”?

I really liked the first half of Stephen King’s On Writing. And the other craft book that is indispensible for me is Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Burroway and Stuckey-French, editors.

9. Have you ever regretted having something published? Was it because of the content or the actual writing style/syntax?

I’m not sure “regret” is the right word, but if I had it to do over again, I doubt I’d have self-published my mystery novel.

As I said to Kristen in comments to her post: “Long story I’ll tell you over coffee someday.” If any of my writer friends make a trip to Maine (or I travel to wherever you are), we can meet up. We can talk about why I’m not so sure I’d self publish again and much, much more about writing—I’d love that.

Now it’s your turn. I would love to see how you answer these questions—in comments to my blog or on your blog (if you do answer on your blog, please link back to this post and of course to Kristen’s).

Happy Writing!

 

Confessions of a Constant Writer

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It felt a little like this. Darkness with light around the edges.

Last year I had a writing crisis.

That’s not completely true. I had a blogging crisis. Based on a cascade of events that I don’t fully understand, my blogging fell off. Almost off the edge of the world, or that’s what it felt like.

I was writing like a demon—don’t get me wrong—I finished one manuscript, started another, edited a third. But I was blogging shy. It started with a bad comment experience, then my confidence and blogging interest started freefalling. The experience soured me. (That’s all I’ll say about that.)

I’m back now. And truth is, I was never gone. Not really. Not in my mind. Here’s the thing. My first confession. When I started my blog almost four years ago (then called Wordsxo), I wrote a post a day. I loved it. Because I write everyday. I’m not talking “butt in the chair time” or fiction or even words on the page/screen. I’m talking head writing. Mind writing. Constant and unceasing and incessant writing. In the background. All the time.

Have you seen the movie Stranger than Fiction? It’s kind of like that. I almost hear a narrator in my mind.

My second confession. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about how I’ll write something. The event that’s happening.

So when I went to the library on Saturday and ran into my sometimes-I-go-to (okay I’ve been twice) knitting group, my first thought was about writing…the characters (of course).

When our dishwasher broke down, I wondered how’d I turn that into a blog.

Saying good-bye to my kids at the airport, wiping a tear away, I confess I truly thought first about my breaking heart…then my very next thought was how would I write this heartbreak, how it might translate into fiction.

Yet, here’s where I stumble. In fiction I don’t “go there” (very often).

In blogging it’s the same. I’m a very private person. It’s hard for me to be open up about my personal life, my feelings. I want to blog about things, but sometimes I hold back (it’s why I took my semi-hiatus after all—the very hurtful thing that almost stopped me completely from blogging is still too hot to touch).

It’s a paradox. When people leave comments on my blog or on my posts at Writer Unboxed (like my last one called The Lonely Writer), I get comments about how open I am, how brave, how transparent. But I hold back. Is it because I’m open and transparent about what I do reveal? Or am I good at making things up? Embellishing? I’m not quite sure.

Here’s what I do know. My final confession. I have a hard time being open. Transparent. I want to go there. To stop being afraid, to stop holding myself back. I wrote about this last year in my post about Pushing Through, after our beloved Abby dog died.

But it’s hard. And I’ve accepted that like my writing I’m a work in progress. The very things I want to write about, so I can touch people, make people think and feel, are the very things I skirt. (Part 2 of my final confession: Sometimes I wonder if it’s why I haven’t gotten published yet.)

The very first thought after I wrote the paragraph above, was how would I write that? In a character. My second thought was, what would I tell a writer friend? I like that question more. Because I’ve had writer friends lament that fear to me. And to them I say what I need to say to myself.

Be gentle and kind and patient with yourself. Don’t get me wrong: Write like a motherfucker. Never stop writing. But don’t be so hard on yourself. You can do this. Keep the faith. And when you’re afraid, come find me. I’m here for you. We’re in this together.

Have you ever had a writing crisis? (I’m here for you.)

 

 

 

 

Great New Books Favorites

2014 GNB Favorite Books copy

One of the best things I’ve done this year was to become a contributor to the Great New Books blog team. When my writer friend (and Great New Books founder) Jennifer Lyn King visited Maine last year, she contacted me and asked me if I had time for a cup of coffee. Instead, Jennifer and I took a tour of my little corner of coastal Maine. Jennifer and I both love photography and the day we went out was absolutely gorgeous…we had an amazing day and both of us posted photos on Instagram before Jennifer headed out for a sunset lobster dinner with her family (who I also had the happy opportunity to meet).

I digress. Before we parted ways, Jennifer asked if I might be interested in joining the Great New Books team—if an opening came up. I quickly said yes, and I was thrilled when just about a month later she emailed and said she was expanding the team and asked if I would like to join.

When I joined Great New Books, I became a part of an amazing group of readers and writers; in addition to founder Jennifer, they’re Hallie Sawyer, Nina Badzin, Jessica Vealitzek, Lindsey Mead, Stacey Loscalzo, Cathleen Holst, and Katie Noah Gibson.

Great New Books is all about weekly sharing of a new book one of us loves:

Our passion is for recommending quality books which keep us turning pages long through the night, great books which have the potential to touch hearts, and lives, and open doors to a better world.

But Great New Books is so much more than that. We’re nine women. All from different backgrounds, at different stages of life, but our lives intersect at a passion for reading and writing. And I can now happily say that I call these eight remarkable women friends. We share our lives through weekly emails, something I count on every week…continuity in my life that’s a little discontinuous of late. For that I’d like to say thank you. To Jennifer for the invitation to join, and to the other women in the group. Thank you for being a part of my life and for allowing me to be a part of yours.

This week’s posting on Great New Books is even more special than usual because we each contributed to it (Jennifer did an amazing job compiling it, too!). Each of us picked the favorite book we read this year, and that’s what this week’s post is all about.

Over the past several weeks, the nine of us on our GNB team — Lindsey Mead, Nina Badzin, Jess Vealitzek, Hallie Sawyer, Stacey Loscalzo, Cathleen Holst, Katie Noah Gibson, Julia Munroe Martin, and Jennifer King — have worked hard to each try and pick our favorite book from 2014. Between the nine of us, we’ve read over 450 books this year. It hasn’t been an easy task to choose just one book apiece. But here, after long deliberation, are our favorite book picks (old and new) we’ve read this year …

So please head over to the Great New Books blog. Read about our favorites, and sign up to receive the weekly posts while you’re there, too. I can promise that every week you’ll read about books that we feel passionately about—and isn’t that what reading is all about?

Happy New Year,

Julia

 

 

 

Saturday Six

Here’s what’s happening this week in my world…keep reading for how to enter a giveaway for an ITunes gift card!

1. Fact or Fiction? Today I’m on Writer Unboxed with a post called Gender Bias: Fact or Fiction about three things that got me thinking about whether men have an edge over women in the publishing and writing world. Here’s the beginning:

 Lest you think I’m a ‘man-hating feminist,’ let me assure you I am not. In fact, I like to think that in my day-to-day life mine is a pretty equal world—all things considered. But when I hear things that make me think that women aren’t equal (for whatever reason), I pay attention…

A huge thank you to my wonderful daughter for taking time (on very, extremely short notice) from her busy job to give me her insight and help in editing this piece.

2. Diary of the Fall. This week I also had my first post on the Great New Books blog! I wrote about Diary of the Fall by Michel Laub and translated by Margaret Jull Costa. It’s about three generations of diarists, and it’s an interesting book on many levels—for me it was most interesting in its structure: nonlinear in nature and very short chapters. I hope you’ll take a look at the post, here’s an excerpt.

Lately I’ve been fascinated with nonlinear stories—in fact I’ve been searching them out. That’s how I stumbled onto Diary of the Fall written by Michel Laub and translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

This story of three generations of men—all diarists—is told through the eyes of a single narrator: a forty-something (unnamed) man, who relives and retells the story of a dangerous prank he and other Jewish thirteen-year-olds at an elite school in Brazil play on their one non-Jewish classmate, João. At João’s thirteenth birthday party, the boys decide as a group to drop João during a ceremonial “13-bumps” tradition, and João is seriously injured in “the fall.”

3. That giveaway. I’m putting together a new play list for the WIP I’ll write during NaNoWriMo. If anyone can guess what I’m writing about based on this playlist, you’ll win a $10 gift card from ITunes. Here’s a screenshot of the songs I’m listening to in repeat while I’m in planning mode.

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Not that this will necessarily help you with your guess, but my favorite song so far is “Cool Kids” by EchoSmith. (I never was one of the cool kids, by the way, maybe that’s why.) Seriously, leave a comment and if you guess correctly (or even close!), I’ll send you that gift card.

4. It just goes on and on. We’re still in the midst of one of the most prolonged and beautiful falls I can remember. In fact, we’re just about “at peak.” The colors are dazzling and distracting and stunning…I can’t think of enough descriptors, so how about another photo?

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This sugar maple next to a neighbor’s house is what I’m talking about…dazzling right?

5. King Tide. I missed the lunar eclipse but caught the “King Tide,” the year’s highest astronomical tide, and it was something. I stood on the tiny piece of remaining shore on Cousins Island Beach and let the water wash over my sandaled feet. Yes, it’s still been that warm here…in Maine…in October. It’s amazing and wonderful.

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This is all that was left of the beach during King Tide!

6. Can’t break the habit! MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I gave up cable TV a few years ago—actually right around when I first started blogging. Now, instead, we binge watch TV. (No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either, except that we no longer have a cable TV bill.) We’ve gone through Rescue Me, The Guardian, The Mentalist, Castle, The Mindy Project, and now we’re about to wind up Chuck. Any suggestions on what we should start next would be greatly appreciated. Clearly we like an eclectic mix but tend to like quirky and shows that have (at least some) humor and a lot of mystery.

How are things in your corner of the world? What are you writing and watching and listening to? Don’t forget to guess what my new WIP is about, and you could win that ITunes gift card.

Cheers,

Julia

My Writing Process: blog tour

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“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” Zora Neale Thurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I’m not sure how, but all of a sudden it’s the beginning of June. It seemed like forever to get here, but now the sun is shining, boats are in the water, the lilacs are in full bloom, and our garden is a weed patch waiting for tending.

Meanwhile, there’s writing to tend to as well, and I’d like to thank my friend Jamie Miles for inviting me to participate in the “My Writing Process” blog tour. With a million things going on, I’m not sure I’d have gotten around to blogging this week at all. So thank you Jamie! If you haven’t visited Jamie’s wonderful blog, you should go take a look—she’s one of my favorites: lots of humor and life observations and full of heart. Well worth the read!

What are you working on?

I’m finishing up the ninth draft of my latest novel—I call it near-historical fiction coming of age. The seed of the idea came from a real life experience you can read about in another blog post. A teenage girl falls in love with a young man who is about to leave to serve in the Vietnam War, and after he deploys, she learns about and forms ideas about the war based on interactions with four other young men in her life. I wrote the first draft of this novel during NaNoWriMo last year.

I am also working on my next novel idea. It’s about an adrenaline junkie—so I’m challenging my fears by doing some of the things that I’ll write about in the book.

How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

This is a tough question because most of what I write is cross-genre. I’ve written mystery that has elements of women’s fiction (I self published Desired to Deathas J.M. Maison). I’ve written historical fiction that is combined with magical realism (I’m querying this novel); and my current novel is near-historical fiction (1960s), but it is also coming of age with elements of literary fiction.

Why do you write what you do?

I’m almost always drawn to stories of loss and change and themes of home, probably at least partly because I moved around a lot as a kid. I’m also the product of a broken family: my father walked out when I was only two years old. I often write about family and parental problems that I believe have a profound effect on children for their whole life long. Hence (regardless of their age) many of my characters are trying to figure out how to cope with the hands dealt them in childhood. I also tend to address topics that produce fear for me in my life (for instance writing about an adrenaline junkie or being forced to say good-bye to a friend or lover forever). These explorations help me make sense of my own life, fears, and limitations, while at the same time helping to distract me and make me feel less alone with my problems and fears. My stories also always include at least one love story—I love to write about love and relationships—often the foundation of life’s greatest joys and biggest heartaches.

How does your writing process work?

This is an interesting question because my process seems to be constantly evolving. It used to be that I’d always write a (pretty detailed) outline prior to starting to write. Then with my last WIP, I started writing and wrote about two or three chapters before I even started to outline—then I outlined the entire book. With my current WIP, I didn’t outline at all before I started to write and after I was finished with the first draft, I pulled the entire book apart, outlined it, and restructured it.

The one thing that hasn’t changed in all my outlining and writing process changes is that when I’m writing a first draft, I write every day. I like to write first thing in the morning, but I can write anytime. I think the reason NaNoWriMo worked so well for me is that I usually write fast and hard. During first draft, I’ll write between 1000 and 7000 words a day. I almost always go into “the writer’s zone,” and I barely notice what’s going on around me. When I’m in the zone I can write anywhere. In the past two years, I’ve come to realize that I can force myself into the zone with music related (in my mind only) to the story I’m writing. Ever since then, I’ve created a playlist for every WIP, and for the hour or so leading up to writing I’ll listen to the music, and I also listen to the music (but don’t really hear) while I write.  As I write, I become completely and totally immersed in the world I create.

Next week…

I’ve invited my blogging friend Jackie Cangro to participate in “My Writing Process.” Jackie and I met several years ago via Twitter and/or mutual blogging friends (I can’t remember exactly how)—you know how these things go. I absolutely love Jackie’s posts. She always delivers something entertaining but thought provoking, too, and I love her writing style. I also enjoy hearing stories and updates about her amazing dog Reggie.

What’s up with you this early summer? Writing? Vacationing? I’d love to hear!

Cheers,

Julia

 

My Shrinking World

photo copy 5

The photo that started me thinking

In my last post I wrote about how addicted much I love Instagram. If anything—since I wrote that post I’ve become even more of a fan. But that’s not what this post is about.

The other day (for the first time ever) I met an Instagrammer in person (@montaukpete)—someone I’d never met before nor do I “know” on Instagram. A guy was getting ready to kayak on the river I pass each morning on my walk. I asked him if I could take a photo of him for Instagram and that’s when he told me he was on Instagram too!

That’s not what this post is about either—not exactly.

I’m also on Facebook where I’m “friends” not just with people who are friends in real life but also (probably like a lot of you reading this blog) lots of other writers and readers, too, most of whom I’ve never met in real life. The other day I posted one of my photos on FB instead of on Instagram (the accounts are not linked and I plan to keep it that way)—

That’s when it happened—and what this post is about. My worlds collided.

First things first: right before I posted the photo, I became friends on FB with two Instagram friends. It was wonderful. One in Montana and one in Norway. The kind of connections we all hope to make in social networking. Friends without boundaries. One of those Instagram friends “liked” that FB photo. But so did my daughter, my cousin, and my son’s girlfriend. A neighbor. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends who has become a close friend. And another two close IRL friends. Then several bloggers who are now also FB friends. Next a couple of friends I’ve also only met on Facebook. A few of these Internet friends I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to on Google Chat, too—and they’ve become IRL friends.

Back to the photo. It was also liked by my hairdresser and a former co-worker who has become a good friend, and a friend I’ve known since high school. That photo brought into sharp focus that I have several different worlds, Instagram being my latest. I also have my world of Mom and family. My world of Facebook and author friends. My world of Writer Unboxed (where I’m a contributor and also an admin assistant). My world of Twitter and blogging that I’ve been part of for over three years. My real world of neighbors and town as a Maine citizen. And the world of my childhood.

But with that one photograph, I also realized that all my worlds are closing in fast to create one small world. Kind of like a reverse big bang. And I have to say, I’m a fan. Now there’s something I like even more than Instagram—because the way I see it, no matter how I find friends (or they find me) I can never have enough of them.

Which leaves me with just this: thank you for being a part of my world, my friend.

How has your world changed with social networking? Have you made friends with people online who have become IRL friends? Do you like your life blended or do you prefer to keep it compartmentalized?

Cheers,

Julia

"What’s it like being married to a blogger/writer?"

MEH on one of our daily early morning dog walks
My Engineer Husband (MEH) makes frequent appearances on my blog. But yesterday when I read a blog by blogging friend, writer Jamie Miles, about what her husband thinks about her blogging, I realized I’d never written a similar blog. When I started putting together questions to ask MEH, I remembered another blog I’d read a few months ago by writer Annie Neugebauer, asking her husband what it was like to be married to a writer. I’ve been a writer all our married life, but since I’ve only been a blogger for the past year and a half, I decided to merge the two questions.
When I asked MEH if I could interview him, this is what he said: “I really think you can do something better with your time. Doesn’t seem like it’s a productive activity. There must be someone more interesting out there to interview.”

But, that’s just MEH being modest, because he’s my biggest supporter and helps me anytime I ask. He always reads my blogs and everything else I write, too. So naturally I want to know what he thinks.

JMM: What is your impression of blogging in general?

MEH: It’s a crazy crazy world that I don’t understand. 

JMM: In what way?

MEH: There seems to be this whole social network of bloggers interacting with one another—a whole culture and society. It’s very different from my culture of engineering where I just go in and do my job with very specific milestones and end results.

JMM: Twitter?

MEH: (Laughter) Even more incomprehensible.

JMM: What do you think when I blog about you?

MEH: I don’t know why you’re blogging about me. I’m embarrassed and I think you’re incredibly creative and have actually created an entirely new character (of me) out of thin air, and it’s very impressive.

JMM: Are you implying that you’re nothing like you are in the blog?

MEH: Yes. That’s what I’m implying. You’ve created a character and attached my acronym to it—or more accurately, your acronym for me to it. (Laughter)

JMM: What do you think of the time I spend in blog world?

MEH: Sometimes you come out of it looking very dazed, as though you’ve gone into another world through a porthole in our dining room. You come out and regale me with stories of what happened in this parallel universe—it’s very science-fictiony.

JMM: Twitter?

MEH: It causes you to have incomplete thoughts. It makes it very hard to talk to you sometimes after you’ve been on Twitter because sometimes thoughts need to be longer than 140 characters.

JMM: What’s your favorite blog I’ve ever written?

MEH: MEH the Amygdala and me. It was a funny blog about our life.

JMM: Any blogs you wish I hadn’t written or can’t understand why I wrote them?

MEH: The blog in the middle of winter when we were out there on the bridge in minus 10 degrees in the wind and the snow, videotaping the overlook. I thought we could’ve done without that. (Note: for the first year of this blog, we videotaped a certain spot in Maine every week. Here’s one of the winter videos.)

JMM: What’s the best part of being married to a writer—please tell me there is a best part?

MEH: (Laughs hard) There are so many. I love it when we’re sitting in a restaurant and I can see the misty eyes you get and then I realize you’re listening to somebody else’s conversation. The amazing trips and stories we’ve gone on in our minds after observing ordinary actions of life, like overhearing a snippet of conversation that takes us down a rabbit hole in your creative mind. These are things I never would’ve seen or done if I hadn’t been married to you.

JMM: What’s the worst part of being married to a writer?

MEH: Trying to understand what you’re saying in 140 characters. (laughter). Seriously, watching and feeling the angst and pain when you get rejections—and the self-doubt that it inflicts.

JMM: How would you describe what I do all day?

MEH: Torture. You torture yourself until you’re happy.

JMM: Torture?

MEH: I see you sitting there with your head in your hands, sobbing (laughter), and you stand up and you stomp around and you sit back down and you pull your hair and then you throw things away and then you start over again. And then you say: “this is awful.” But in the end it seems to make you happy.

JMM: What’s the craziest thing you’ve found yourself doing in the name of helping me do research?

MEH: I think that would have to be pawing through a trashcan. Although taking pictures of random people in the grocery store is up there. And standing out there on the bridge in minus 10 degrees, when you used to do the videos for the blog, seems incomprehensible, although fun at the time.

JMM: Not being interviewed today?

MEH: That’s not crazy. Perplexing, maybe, but not crazy.

Have you ever asked your partner what he/she thinks of being married to/living with a writer? Would you (or have you) blogged about it? Did you discover anything surprising?

Cheers,

Julia

The Case for Blogging


The box holds my just finished WIP;
the blue folder is my WIP mystery;
the slim notebook in front: WIP #3!
The tulips? A gift from MEH!

Yesterday WordCount Blogathon 2012 started, and I was tempted to join…because it brought back great memories. One year ago I participated in Blogathon 2011: pledging to blog daily for the month of May. In fact, for the first four months of my blog (February through May) I posted daily. Because I started out that way, it didn’t seem like any big deal—daily blogging was a way of life.
One of my original blogging goals was to kick start my fiction writing—and that happened. By June I was writing fiction every day and blogging about every other day. Then gradually it started to shift. In October I blogged twelve times, in November ten, in December seven, until finally last month I blogged four times—I am now consistently blogging once a week.

I also finished one of my WIPs, something I haven’t done since around 2001 when I finished a middle grade novel entitled Sciurus Maximus. This book—which was never accepted for publication—was finished when both my children were at home, and my life was much different. My days rose and fell by the school day, meals were arranged around sporting events and other extracurricular activities, and I had two built in beta readers anxiously interested in reading everything I wrote. I was a full-time, very happy mom. I should add that I was also a part-time, very happy writer…until something happened.

One very close and very good rejection from a big publishing house, a mere re-write short of a sure thing (as it turned out it was not so sure a thing). It took the wind out of my sails, that close call. And now, I have three middle grade manuscripts in a filing box under my desk—in the drawer so to speak. And it took me all those ten years to want to write fiction again. Sure I dabbled, but nothing very regularly—at all.
When I stopped writing fiction all that time ago, I had a partially written women’s fiction manuscript. I had it outlined and about one third written. Last year, after beginning to blog, and kick starting my writing, I pulled that manuscript out and I started writing again. My life was very different. Both my children out of the nest—one in college and one in medical school—now my days rise and fall by the call of the computer: to write. And last September I finished a draft, and two weeks ago I started to query agents with The Cottage on Quarry Island.

Now, I have two more WIPs. One I started a few years ago—a mystery starring Maggie and Joe, amateur detectives—it is fully outlined, and I’ll start to write next week. The other is women’s fiction—dark and suspenseful—that I’ve almost fully outlined. It came to me one night last month as I was lying on the couch, from a simple and very random comment from MEH (My Engineer Husband). It is developing into a full-blown, very deep and rich, very exciting story.

I know there are a lot of different opinions about whether blogging is a good or bad thing, necessary or not, to do as a fiction writer. If I hadn’t started blogging, I don’t know if I ever would have started writing again. It gave me the boost in confidence and the daily deadline I needed to get started. In fact, blogging kick started me so well that I wrote an estimated 200,000 words last year. It kick started me so well that I spend eight to ten to twelve hours every single day either writing or thinking about writing. My WIPs run through my mind as though they are movies, and I see my characters in the faces and actions of many people I cross paths with every single day. My ideas and energy for writing are seemingly endless.

So back to that question about whether blogging is a good or bad thing for fiction writers? I can’t speak to everyone, but for me? For this writer? I owe blogging and you, my blog readers, a huge debt of gratitude. Because I will take the opinion that blogging is good—no make that very very good—and for me I would even say a necessity. Blogging kick started my writing and is now my lifeline to continue to pursue that passion.

Writers, what do you think, is blogging good or bad for your fiction writing? And if you’re a reader—do you enjoy reading blogs by fiction writers whose books you love?

Cheers,

Julia

Answers to Your (In)FAQs

This is a photo of an old church
around the corner from my house.
If you want to use this or another of
the photographs on my blog,
please ask first!

Dear Readers,

Today I will attempt to answer questions you are curious about. No, not those of you who visit (and read) my blog on a regular basis and ask me questions. But you, the other ones—and you know who you are—those of you who find my blog via a google search, one that is perhaps only tangentially related to my blog. One that, when I read it, makes me smile, shake my head, or just plain wonder.

This post is dedicated to you, random searchers. Welcome to my blog, feel the wordsxo love: I will attempt to discern what you were after, answer your questions, or at least commiserate. (This post is also dedicated to blogging friend Sara Grambusch who gave me the idea!)

1. typewriter smudges: Is a typewriter smudge something left behind by a ribbon? I’m guessing it’s something you want to remove, right? If the smudge is on your skin, try fingernail polish remover; if it’s on the paper, I’d go for the white out…do they still make white out?…For the record, I once wrote a post on a typewriter, and it has plenty of smudges, so don’t feel bad, it happens to everyone. It’s part of the charm.

2. creepy church: One of my posts had photos of a church up the street from where I live; I take a lot of photos of it to help me establish a mood for my WIP. If you want to use one of my photos, I’m honored. But please ask first.

3. Chicken With Crow Experiments: I’m sorry, I don’t know where to find experiments that deal with both chickens and crows (and yet when I googled this myself my blog came up 5th in the google search list, I have no idea why). I’ve never done one of these experiments. However I do write a lot about crows (MEH—My Engineer Husband, see #12—and I love crows), so maybe I slipped a chicken in there somewhere…



Abby eats lots of peanuts, as many as she can. She seems fine,
but please consult your veterinarian if you have real concerns.

4. Is it okay if my dog eats the peanuts I feed to crows? My dog Abby eats them (shell and all) and she seems fine! Of course, she’s a lab. Please consult your veterinarian if questions remain.

5. Hermione mug: Did you find one? Please tell me where, I want one too.

6. man stuck in a rowboat: I’m sorry, I hope you got out. If you didn’t, try calling the U.S. Coast Guard. Immediately. You could get cold, see #8.

7. How to make a bridge out of toothpicks:One time my daughter built one of these in middle school. It was a huge pain to make, but it was beautiful. And she got an A on the project. She gets a lot of A’s.

8. Is 1 degree cold or hot weather: Do you spend too many hours of the day in your house, in front of your computer? I’m not sure how you don’t know this, but 1 degree (either Celsius or Fahrenheit) is considered cold, yes. Please go outside next time your thermometer says 1 degree and live the cold (but Mom says wear a jacket).

9. Iphone low battery: I have this problem too, so if you found a solution please come back and tell me.

10. antic house: The definition of antic is an attention-drawing, often wildly playful or funny act or action. I live in a quaint antique house, and there’s nothing funny about it. And I honestly think I’d prefer to live in an antic one—it sounds like a lot more fun.

11. Oprah waving: I wrote a post about Oprah and Meredith Vieira, and how I want to be interviewed by them when (for the record, I refuse to say if) I get famous. I don’t want to see Oprah waving, I want her to give me a hug like she gives all her guests. And yes, I admit a bit of a girl-crush on her (and you too, Meredith—just in case you’re reading!).

12. 8 meh: I only have one MEH (My Engineer Husband). But he’s as good as 8 regular MEHs any old day. He’s a keeper.

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. What are some of the weird searches that got people to your blog? I’d love to hear in comments! And if you have more questions for me, leave them….I’ll try my best to answer them.

If You Give a Blogger a Pie….


This is my first “real” blog in three weeks. Not counting the coast videos or the scientific reports on crows.

I love blogging but it’s kind of falling by the wayside as I’ve focused on my Work-in-Progress, on Thanksgiving, now on Christmas countdown. And the problem is the longer I’m away the more I miss it but the more unsure I feel. Kind of like when you haven’t seen someone in a long time: how will they feel about me now?

And that’s exactly how I’m feeling: how will they (and when I say they, I mean you) feel about me now. Sure, I can write about crows, about Canada geese on Casco Bay, about the sunset and the moon and the tides. But can I write about feelings, about writing….can I still write a blog?

Which made me think: what exactly is a blog? And what makes me think I have anything at all to add to the 145 million other blogs out there. Which made me realize: this is crazy. It’s the same question I’ve been asking since my very first blog post. And which reminded me that this is the way I always am when I’ve waited too long to do anything.

Like make a pie crust. When I made the pumpkin pie this year for Thanksgiving, I was afraid. I love making pie crusts and I used to make them all the time—when my daughter was in her last year of high school I made a quiche every single Sunday. But since she left for college, I haven’t. And I lost my mojo. (Haha, I just love to use that word even though I don’t really know what it means, see second definition in urban dictionary.) Or I thought I lost my mojo (haha again).

But I didn’t. I remembered how to make the pie crust—and it was one of the best pumpkin pies ever. And then two days after Thanksgiving I made a quiche, and that was pretty spectacular, too, if I do say so myself.

And then it hit me. I really didn’t ever forget how to make the pie crust, and I really haven’t forgotten how to blog, either. It’s all coming back. Right? And next time I promise a real blog, whatever that is, or maybe a quiche.


Do you ever doubt your ability to blog or wonder if you really have anything to add to the blogging world?

Cheers,
Julia

7 Links: Past, Present, Future

The PRESENT

When one of my very favorite blogger friends, Melissa Crytzer Fry (my Mr. Bacon Partner-in-Crime!) nominated me to take part in the 7 Links Challenge, I was honored and happy!

Then I was daunted. To go through 178 posts from the past 8 months and pick just 7 to highlight in specific categories? It was pretty overwhelming. To be honest, when I started to go through them I realized there were some posts I’d completely forgotten about!

In the end, I felt like Melissa had given me a present, and I enjoyed re-visiting blogs of wordsxo past. I hope you do too!

The PAST

Most Beautiful Post: Melissa cheated on one of her categories, so I’m going to too; I’m going to say that my Sunday videos have been my most beautiful posts. In fact, I’ve been surprised at how popular these have become. I started out thinking I’d make a video once a week of one certain beach spot near where I live: through the seasons, low and high tide, regardless of the weather. Here are two examples: “Waiting for Irene” and “Vacationland Real-live Beach Day Video.”

Most Popular Post: This one was hard. I couldn’t decide: should I list the most popular by number of comments—in which case it was a tie between “What’s a Writer to Do?” and “Are We Competing?” (each with 31 comments—not counting my responses). Or by number of hits on the post—in which case it was a guest post “Are you a Comfy Writer?” by Milli Thornton. In any case, cheating again here and listing them all! (See how I am?)

Most Controversial Post: One of my goals when I started my blog was to not write anything controversial. That said, I did write a post that was controversial without even trying! And believe it or not it was one about punctuation—commas to be exact: “I’m Just a Serial Girl.”

Go figure, writers have strong feelings about commas!

Most Helpful Post: As a rule, I don’t offer advice in my posts—I only talk about my personal experiences. However, one of my earliest posts, called “True or False, I can Help You with Your Resume” offered some tongue-in-cheek advice on resume writing. If nothing else, it’s worth a laugh and it only received one comment, so it deserves some blog love!

Most Surprisingly Successful Post: I’m tempted to say it was the posts I wrote about the message in a bottle, because I was pretty surprised at how many people enjoyed those posts! But the truth is that “Mamas Please Let Your Babies Grow up to be Librarians” surprised me most. It was one of my early posts that helped people find my blog—and it continues to be one of my very most popular posts. It was a review of Marilyn Johnson’s wonderful book: THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! and led me to actually meeting Marilyn when she was in Portland at a book reading, which led to another very popular post: Libraries Rule, Part 3!

Post That Didn’t Get the Attention It Deserved: In my early days of blogging there were posts that never got any comments. And then there was a period of time that posts would get just one or two comments each. Like most bloggers, I spend a lot of time writing my posts and when they don’t get many comments, it can be dispiriting. That said, if I have to pick just one post (suddenly I’m a rule follower? What’s up with that?) then it’s: “MEH, the Amygdala, and Me.” When I first started out I wanted to write about science, and this was an early attempt to write about science in a humorous way.

Post I Am Most Proud Of: Of all the posts I’ve written, I’m most proud of the “personal essay” posts. Those are the posts that are closest to my heart, and I’ve written about friends, my house & neighbors, my grandmother, my kids, and MEH (My Engineer Husband). But the one that I think I’m proudest of is “The Ghost and Mr. Able” because it’s outside the usual realm of what I write, but it was still very well received.

The FUTURE

The final part of the 7 Links Challenge is to nominate five bloggers to participate in this challenge. Here are five blogs I read regularly, and I think you may enjoy reading them too! (There are many more I could have nominated, but I can only name 5!)


And now…a question…do you have a favorite post of mine that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about it!

Walking the Line

How do I choose what to blog about? How do you choose?

I read a great post that got me thinking about this (again). Sharon Bially, who blogs at Veronica’s Nap—with a newly-published paperback novel of the same title, has a great series of posts, Promo Tips for Authors. The latest tip: Blog About Something Other Than Writing.

Sharon wrote that as writers, “the broader writing population is not necessarily your book’s target audience,” and more importantly the “…‘writing’ space in the blogosphere is saturated.” She suggests that if you blog about other things (than writing) you’re interested in, specifically promo-friendly topics in your book, you’re “far more likely to draw an audience of potential readers.”

Although I don’t yet have a book to promote, I hope to one day. And I agree with Sharon. When I started my blog, I was focused on “my platform” and getting my name out there. I thought I’d be writing primarily about words (hence the name wordsxo: love of words) and writing. But a funny thing happened as I started to blog: I wrote about everything all over the map—mostly about things important to me, but always with an eye on my audience.

Because as a writer, a journalist to be specific, that’s how I’ve been trained: to be keyed into the audience. To write with my audience in mind. For a magazine or other focused medium, this can be pretty straight forward: a hard news story about world events; a feature story on what to expect when you’re heading to a job interview or taking your child to the first day of school; a “color” story about the wonderful woman around the corner that no one ever realized accumulated millions by being frugal her whole life. For a technical manual: how to use the machine.

But for blogging? The world is our oyster. The sky’s the limit. In its original form a blog or weblog originated as an online diary. We can blog about anything and everything we might imagine.

Or so it would seem. But really? Do we really ever feel free to write what we want? Do you? I don’t. I’m still concerned.

I try not to write about controversial subjects. But is there any way to know for sure that something won’t be controversial to someone?

More, will my readers like what I write? Am I serious enough? Too funny? Or not funny enough? If I post fiction will they like it? Or not? Will I offend someone? Will I get an offensive or hurtful comment? How much is too much to share about me? About my life? My family? Will I be safe? Will I be popular? How many followers will I get?

In the end, will it sell me? My book?

The truth is there is no easy answer, and it’s a personal choice each of us makes each time we post. And me?

I walk the line every day between what I want to write and what I think others want to read.

What about you? Do you think about your audience when you write your posts? Are you concerned about offending readers? Have you ever reconsidered posting something based on how you think it might be perceived?

Cheers,

Julia


Are We Competing?


Truman Capote (From Wikimedia Commons)

Note: all statistics in this post are made up. Nothing refers to a real person (except when I talk about myself, Harper Lee, or Truman Capote.)

Sometimes when I look at my “numbers,” I get scared. Am I a good enough blogger? I have 86 blog followers, but she has 229. I have almost 800 followers on Twitter, but he has over 1000. I got 15 comments on my last post, but that blog got 74.

I get more scared when I think of publication: She’s twenty years younger than I am but has 4 books published, and I’ve had only one short story and some essays published. Wait, I try to reassure myself, I used to be a technical writer—do 400-page technical manuals count? He has an agent, and all I have is two unfinished WIPs sitting on my kitchen table.

Before my daughter left to go back to college, we sat down to watch Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird—a documentary about Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird may be my daughter’s all-time favorite book, and we’d been waiting all summer for Hey Boo to come out on Netflix DVD. I was so happy it came before she left!

And it was a great movie—I think I may have actually liked it more than anyone else. Maybe because it talked so much about how Harper Lee wrote the book: her writing style, her writing life, her avoidance of the fame the book brought her, her fears and her insecurities. The fact that Harper Lee never has written another book since.

In an interview this year with the Daily Telegraph, one of her close friends said Lee told him she never wrote another book for two reasons:

“…one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

But more than that, what struck me as the most interesting part of the movie was Harper Lee’s friendship with Truman Capote. I knew the two were friends, but I never realized they grew up next door to one another in Monroeville, Alabama. I also didn’t realize that the character Dill, in To Kill a Mockingbird, was inspired by Truman Capote. And further, Harper Lee inspired a character in Truman Capote’s novel Other Voices, Other Rooms.

Harper Lee receives the PresidentialMedal of Freedom
in 2007. I’m guessing Truman Capote would have
been jealous of this, too. (From Wikimedia Commons)
The two remained friends for many years—in fact Lee went with Capote to Kansas to help him research material for what would become In Cold Blood. But their friendship soured. In Hey Boo, Lee’s sister said after Lee won the Pulitzer Prize Capote was consumed with jealousy.

I’ve thought a lot about the movie: about writers’ friendships and competition and about publicity—something that I certainly hope to have some of (if one of those WIPs on the kitchen table is ever published) but the movie made me wonder: how much is too much?

Are we as writers competing on a daily basis—for blog readers? On Twitter for followers? For a spot in the limited marketplace? A share of the spotlight? And—like Truman Capote with Harper Lee—are we also competing against each other? Or could Truman Capote have been as insecure as I sometimes feel?

It’s a paradox because my favorite part, hands down, of blogging is the writer friends I’ve made, and I certainly root when each of my friends has a victory: lands an agent, publishes a short story, sees a debut novel in print. But deep down, am I envious? If I watched a writer friend win a Pulitzer Prize would I ever be so envious or so jealous, like Truman Capote, to end a friendship?

Really Truman? Isn’t there enough to go around?
How about you? Do you look at your “numbers”? Do you compare? Do you ever feel like you’re competing with other writers? For blog readers? For publication? For numbers in social media? What would it take? The Pulitzer Prize? Would you or have you ever ended a friendship because you were jealous about a writer friend’s success?


Cheers,
Julia

A Long Distance Relationship with Setting

North Miami - Sunset | 110522-5129-jikatu


Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to my guest Natalia Sylvester—I hope you’ll check out her blog (one of my favorites) here. Natalia and I met in March when we both blogged about cooking memories and writing. Since then we have often, quite by coincidence, written about similar subjects! But today, by design, I am very happy Natalia has written a guest post about the definition of home—a topic near and dear to both our hearts. Please welcome my wonderful guest Natalia…

I’ve never been much for the “write what you know” mantra, but I am a fan of its distant cousin: “write where you are.” Growing up, as my family moved from my birthplace of Lima, Peru, to Miami, Florida, to Central Florida and a couple more towns in between, I became fascinated with the definition of home.
As a child, I thought home meant staying in one place for longer than two years. I imagined that as an adult, I’d find a place and stay put.

Life doesn’t always work that way, and apparently, neither has my fiction. Looking through my previous stories and my current novel, I noticed a pattern: whenever I moved, my fiction moved with me. So imagine my concern when, three years and many drafts into my novel, my husband and I decided we’d be leaving Miami and moving to Austin, Texas.

I welcomed the change of setting in my life, but worried about what it’d mean for my fiction. My book is set in present-day and 1980s Miami. The cultural diversity, weather, and mood of a city that’s constantly in transition as people come and go, trying to create homes for themselves, is an important backdrop for the narrative.

Would writing about Miami from a distance dilute my ability to portray it?

           

I decided I didn’t want to find out. My move date became my deadline for the final draft of my book.

Every day, I’d wake up a few hours early and work on revisions and new scenes, then gather cardboard boxes and pack up our apartment. I told myself that before we left, I’d take pictures of the beaches, and the sunsets, and the buildings I passed on the way home every day. I’d go to city hall. I’d study old newspapers and pictures of the neighborhoods where my characters lived. I’d find out if their street had a traffic light or just a stop sign. I’d take note of the weather patterns from 1984-1989.

           

If you’ve ever moved out-of-state (and tried to hire movers only to realize you’d be better off packing and loading and driving the truck those 1,300 miles yourself) then you know I never got around to any of that. I arrived in Texas with a partially revised draft and a fear that memory alone wouldn’t be enough to help me finish it.

Several months and revisions later, I met my writers group—three women who had never been to Miami and called Texas home. I handed my draft to them for feedback and hoped that the details in my story would transport them further than the nearest gas station.

           

It did, but not for the reasons I was expecting.

They didn’t care what highway or exit my characters took to get from one house to another. They noticed the parrots that flew across a bridge at sunset, and the hot pink sky that I’d taken for granted. They imagined the air in the summertime, heavy and moist and foreboding, sticking to their skins. They paid attention to how the characters greeted one another—always with a kiss on the cheek—and said it helped them understand the city’s culture.

These things were so ingrained in my experience of Miami that I’d written them without realizing they were part of the setting. To me, they just were, in the way that home is a place that never leaves you.

When I look at it now, moving was a gift for my writing. This new life didn’t just give me time to complete my book, it gave me a chance to fall back in love with my hometown in a way I hope readers will.

Have you ever tried long-distance writing? What were the challenges or benefits?
—————-

Natalia Sylvester is a Peruvian-born Miamian now living in Austin. She studied creative writing and journalism at the University of Miami, then worked in magazines for a bit before deciding to freelance full-time. Her first novel, told partially from the point of view of a house that a woman inherits, was originally set in Orlando, Florida, before Natalia decided to bring it closer to home. Visit her writing blog at www.nataliasylvester.com(where she tries to make sense of this journey) or follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/NataliaSylv

MEH and the Crows

I haven’t talked much about MEH lately—in fact, if you’re new to my blog, you might not even know what I’m talking about. MEH (My Engineer Husband) is the nickname I gave my husband when I first started my blog—because way back then (almost six months ago!), MEH was unemployed and he was around a lot. In fact, our desks are side by side, and he gave me a lot of great ideas for the blog!

The good news and the bad news is that MEH’s work is taking up a lot of time now. He’s doing software consulting for a company in the town we live in so he can ride his bike to work (he loves that) but he is gone a lot (he hates that and so do I). But the best good part is he’s making money again (we both love that).

Still, we don’t get nearly as much of a chance to discuss my blog (or even other things) together, like we used to. And that means I don’t get as much MEH-y stuff—like science (MEH loves to learn and talk about science) to blog about any more.

So imagine how thrilled I was when quite by accident I stumbled onto a MEH-y thing to blog about! It happened recently when we were outside working on the shed. (An interesting aside, and this is very exciting: we got a new shed! I know, for some of you this will sound really really lame, but not if you live in the Northeast. Here in the Northeast—Maine in particular—we take our sheds very seriously. So, when a neighbor offered us a free shed, we jumped at the chance.)

This is how it all started…

And that’s how this particular adventure started. All we had to do was transport the shed from her house to ours….which we did (well, we didn’t do it; we hired an excavator to do it). Moving the shed is in itself a MEH-y thing because MEH likes to consider all the possibilities, like using large logs to roll the shed from said-neighbor’s house to ours or using a friend’s truck to tow the shed to our house—but in the end we hired an excavator with a front-end loader.

But wait, here’s the good part! As MEH was re-attaching the ramp to the shed, a crow flew over us. And as it flew over, it did a most peculiar thing, it turned its head all the way upside down! Now, you really think I’m off my rocker. What is she talking about?

Let me break it down. A few months ago, MEH told me that crows are really really smart. Apparently they are so smart they recognize INDIVIDUAL humans. And they “tell” their baby crow chicks which humans are bad and which humans are good. So, if someone does something mean to a crow, like shoot at it or capture it to put a tag on its leg, that crow will remember and make sure other crows know you’re a bad human.

John Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington, verified this by testing crows to see if they really remembered individual humans—he did this by putting a caveman mask on people. First, someone wore the caveman mask when tagging wild crows. Then he put the same mask on random people walking across a college campus. Crows cawed at people with the mask on! When he had people wear the mask upside down, he found that some crows flew upside down to see if they recognized that person.

“Is that the guy Mom told me about?”
(One of our many crow pics; MEH likes this one
because the crow was staring right at him!)

Which is exactly what the crow was doing with MEH. And here’s why: they know that MEH likes them. For one thing, he feeds them—with corn in our backyard—and he also photographs them. And, everyday when we go out for our early morning and late afternoon dog walks to the open space near our home, we see crows. Often they fly toward us rather than away from us. We (and specifically MEH) think they know MEH feeds them and likes to take photos of them. (On the days they fly away, crows are allowed bad moods or to be shy, right?!)

But I think there’s more…I think the crows may know that MEH respects and likes crows: partly, he does because they’re so smart, partly because they enjoy flying and play while they’re flying (MEH has a private pilot’s license and loves flying—a plane). Partly because “crows are pretty cool” because they use tools.

That’s right. Crows use tools—MEH told me this too. If a glass is half full of water and there’s something a crow wants that is floating on the water—way down inside the glass and its beak won’t reach—a crow will drop pebbles in the glass, causing the object to rise to the surface so the crow can get it.

But back to MEH….and the upside down crow. I’m thinking all those crows out there are teaching their babies what a great guy he is. And that’s why that crow turned its head upside down to get a good look at him. The crow couldn’t believe it: finally getting a look at the good-hearted friend of crows he’d heard so much about from his momma bird!




Have you had an experience with a crow recognizing you? How about another bird (apparently at least pigeons and mockingbirds recognize humans, too!)? And if you see any crows flying upside down, now you’ll know why!

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. I got some of this information from a story on NPR about crows and face recognition—and with the story there’s a cool quiz to see if you can tell crows apart as well as a crow could pick MEH (or you) out of a crowd. You can see that story and quiz here.

Cooking Blog Wannabe

In my next blogging life I want to have a cooking blog. Or a gardening blog. Or maybe a little of both.

If you read my blog very often, you know that I am an avid gardener and cook. We have a modest vegetable garden that supplies a goodly amount of food—and that, combined with my love of cooking, produces some amazingly fresh and delicious meals.

This season has been a challenge because it’s been colder and rainier than normal—so until today we’ve only had a handful of veggies from the garden: some snowpeas (but only a few), some lettuce (but no arugula), and a few radishes (but most went to seed).

But today? We harvested a meal!

Today’s harvest: potatoes and spring onions.

And I cooked: a potato-onion scramble.

The key to this recipe is to have very fresh ingredients and to cook them quickly.

The ingredients: Nine freshly harvested new potatoes (the most exciting part, because it’s the first time we’ve grown potatoes!!), five spring onions, two cloves of garlic (smushed), 1/4 teaspoon rosemary (my rosemary died over the winter so I used dried), 4 eggs (MEH (My Engineer Husband) said next we’ll raise chickens. I think he was joking), 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil, 1 Tablespoon butter.

The method: Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces; boil in water until just-barely soft to the bite. Meanwhile, melt butter in a no-stick skillet; add olive oil. Drain potatoes and add to the skillet. When potatoes are done (taste to check) and slightly crisped on the outside, add the spring onions and garlic and rosemary to the skillet and cook briefly. Add egg and scramble until almost set then add the cheese to melt. Serve immediately!

 

Serves two generously and deliciously! 

What are you cooking today? Is there another kind of blog you dream about writing?


Cheers,
Julia

1 in 140 Million

With approximately 140 million bloggers and 175 million tweeps out there, what are the odds that it’s possible to make connections? To build friendships?
When I started blogging four months ago my goal was simple: to “build a writer’s platform.” Beyond that, I expected nothing. Beyond that I knew nothing. In short, I had no idea what I was getting into….

But the truth is, I found out the real power and strength behind blogging and Twitter is in the relationships and friendships you build, like the one I have with Natalia Sylvester who writes beautifully at one of my favorite blogs: finding truth through fiction.

So today I’m happy to say that I’m guest blogging at Natalia’s blog about this very thing. How against the odds, the massive number of bloggers and tweeters out there, it’s possible to build real friendships and connections like I have with Natalia and my other Twitter and blogging friends.

Please be my guest and read my guest blog What are the Odds? at Natalia’s blog!
Cheers,
Julia

The Case of the Restless Writer

The WIPs

Ever since the blogathon ended, I’ve been restless. And a little grouchy. All of a sudden I have an extra hour or two a day, the amount of time I was spending blogging. Every single day for the month of May.

June 1 should have been liberation day, but I couldn’t help myself, and I posted a short blog about my garden. June 2, I told myself I had to blog to participate in the school picture day blogging event.

Then finally: June 3. Saturday. There was absolutely no good reason I had to or should blog. The weather was gorgeous, the weeds in the garden beckoned, and we were all together as a family. But I wanted to post a blog!

Aside from the “few other things” in my life like spending time with my family, laundry, cooking, gardening, reading, there were always my WIPs, forlornly awaiting more attention through my daily blogging. Those old friends sat in their respective stacks and electronic files, patiently waiting and collecting dust.

I finally, ashamedly admitted to MEH (My Engineer Husband) that I wanted—no needed—to blog! That I was even writing a guest blog for someone who didn’t ask me—I offered! I was writing another to submit for consideration to a blogging friend looking for guest bloggers while she was on vacation.

In short, I was in trouble.

MEH reminded me of a book we used to have called Positive Addiction by Dr. William Glasser. In this book, Dr. Glasser talks about how people reach a transcendent, meditative state by doing activities they love everyday. And further, if you miss a day, you may suffer from symptoms of withdrawal (like anxiety or restlessness). Most of Glasser’s research involved running, but he also found people who became positively addicted to gardening, knitting, juggling, and—yes—even to writing. As with their evil cousins negative addictions, positive addictions are ones you are driven to do every day. Unlike negative addictions, however, positive addictions strengthen both mental and neurological capacity. And here’s the thing: Dr. Glasser suggests these strength gains carry over into all other aspects of life.

AHA! The minute I started reviewing the features of positive addiction, I realized MEH was right. I had become addicted to blogging!

Hello, my name is Julia and I’m a blogging addict.

A blogging fool, is more like it. Because although blogging is wonderful: it gets me writing everyday, it connects me to other wonderful bloggers and writers, it gives me positive feedback from comments, it gives me an anchor to my day. And, now I know it makes me feel better all day long….

But it is also not-so-wonderful. Because I neglect my WIPs. Which is, after all, the whole reason I started blogging: to write more with the eventual goal of being a published author.

Yesterday, after several hours of weeding and housecleaning therapy, I realized my solution: WIP Replacement Therapy (WIPRT).

With this new and radical treatment (that yes, I invented, but feel free to use it for your own blog addiction treatment), every time I feel an urge to write a blog (except on M-W-F and Sundays J), I will replace that urge with working on my fiction WIP. I will write at the kitchen table everyday for at least an hour, and it is my hope that within a month of WIPRT, I will be positively addicted to that instead of to blogging!

It won’t be easy, but with hard work and perseverance, and a little help and reminding from my writing friends on Twitter, I think I can do it!

Are you, like me, addicted to blogging? Do you have any other positive addictions? Do you think WIPRT will work for me? And, most importantly, will you pledge to be part of my WIPRT support system on Twitter?

Cheers,
Julia