Thursday, December 03, 2009

NaNo Success

In 2006 I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time. And I won. I seem to remember spending hours upon hours working on that manuscript. When it was done, I had met the 50K word count. And put that novel aside to work on "some day." I suppose there were some salvageable nuggets in it but I've never picked it up again.

NaNoWriMo 2007 came and went. I didn't have time for that because I was taking 18 hours of college credits to earn a BA in English with the Writing Minor. NaNoWriMo 2008, I signed up for it but there wasn't time to write that novel. I had one and a half semesters to write a thesis novel. That took priority. I had to orally defend it April 7.

In late September 2009 a fellow writer spoke of a plan she discovered, Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D. I found it. I bought it. Chris and I planned to work together. We would do BIAM together in October in preparation for NaNoWriMo in November.

BIAM can be discouraging until you find the secrets of the whole thing. There we were getting lost in some of the activities that we couldn't figure out how to work through. It was easy to set the book aside and ignore it. But I wanted to know the plan before NaNo. What did I have to do to make this work?

1.) Be persistent. When I felt like quitting I had to keep pushing.

2.) Set the book aside and just write. I would do the activities I understood and let the rest go. The important thing was to keep writing.

3.) Figure out where the story was going--beginning to middle to end.

4.) Work into the plan other writerly tools I've collected along my writerly journey.

I probably could number other things, too, but there are some things I want to insert here. I don't want to forget them.

As I was trying to figure out how Schmidt meant the outline to come about I did a few things. First, she suggested using index cards to write the 10 major scenes of the story. Ok. I did that. Then I remembered something I learned a LONG time ago, the "W" format. I grabbed a piece of printer paper and used a ruler to draw a huge W on it. The top three points of the W are Act I, Act II and Act III. The two bottom points are the two major turning points of the story.

THEN, I took the 10 index cards on which I had recorded the 10 major scenes of the story and penciled them in on the proper places on the W. You will have to figure that out for yourself. I suspect it will be different for each author, each story.

THEN, I continued to write. When I felt I was going on a tangent, I went back to my formatting tool and found my bearings. I used a major quote from each of my 10 major scenes that helped me focus on what I wanted to say in that scene. I could keep all my notes together. I could see everything at the drop of a hat...or tangent, and know where I was and how to keep it all in sequence.

I don't know if this will work for you, but I used it when I wrote my NaNoWriMo novel and it worked. As many hours as it took to write that first NaNo novel, I have to say, this time around it came a lot easier. There were days that I didn't write because Real-In-My-Face-Life was beating down my door. And I still made 50K. And I ended up with a novel that I am excited about going back to revise and edit and hone it into something I can submit.

Oh! The other thing...I started NaNo with one novel and ended up changing my mind three days into the challenge to write a completely different novel. And I still made it. I suspect that each novel I start to write will come more easily than the one before. I've always said I want to write 100 novels before I die. If Nora Roberts can do it, Cathy Brownfield can do it. I'm just not sure how marketable that name is...Cathy Brownfield, I mean.

(c) 2009 Cathy Thomas Brownfield

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Put it away for a year???

OK. I graduated from college May 15, 2009. Late-blooming seems to be my forte.

OK. I wrote a novel and enjoyed a successful oral defense. I sent it to a publisher and paid $20 for a reader to critique it. And I got it back, rejected, but with a critique highlighted with the statement, "This is an important story that needs to be told."

Several weeks ago I met my project director, Patti, and my other writing mentor/friend, Maureen for lunch.

"Put it away for a while. Start working on something new," Patti advised.

"A year?" Could I have heard her right?

"Even Stephen King says he puts his work aside for a year before he looks at it again."

OK. It's the waning days of August, four months after the oral defense...five months since I turned in my project to my committee.

"What about the other one?" Patti asked. "The other one I read part of."

She referred to the novel, the first four chapters of which I included in my creative writing portfolio.

Maybe she's right. So, OK. I have pulled out that manuscript--never did finish it, but that doesn't matter. I can finish it now. I am starting at the beginning. And I'll be writing about this process as I go through it.

Oh, yes, I also am writing some short stories to submit to competitions and markets. Seems that I have a lot to say right now, particularly about aging, and even more particularly, a parent's Alzheimer's.

(c) 2009 Cathy Thomas Brownfield

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Blocked. Why am I doing this to myself? Or is it the universe at work? Is it negative self-talk, even at this stage of the game when I have graduated from college with honors and know better what I am doing? Or do I? I finished what I started--a Bachelor's of Arts) though I have yet to receive my diploma in the mail. (Not awarded in the leather cover handed out at the ceremony.) But much of my work was independent study. But going back, taking two years to get my feet solidly on the ground after years of floating through financial chaos, things I couldn't do anything about, well, it was worth it for that alone!

A writer friend or two has said the first novel is often autobiographical to a degree. I pulled it out, started to revise it, and felt...I don't know. Like I need to get a better grasp of things. The reader said it is an important story to be told, needs a lot of work. Perhaps the problem is interruptions. Or that I feel like I'm not paying enough attention to Mom. I am her primare caregiver. I never was any good at finding balance between my responsibilities for my family and obligations to myself. I have always pushed me and my stuff to the back burner to tend to "Someday."

Um...I'm running out of Somedays.

I pulled out the manuscript for the novel I was writing before I went back to school. The first four chapters were included in my creative writing portfolio. It IS good. IT needs to be written, too, but since Ramblings is the one I am shopping around, that's the one I should be working on. So, OK. Ramblings it is. And mental block, you must depart. I don't have time for you right now.

The reader said relationships needed more clarity. I remember that my thesis committee asked for the family genealogy to help clarify relationships. I've seen such family trees in complex novels I've read. Ah. So my novel also is complex. Well, that isn't really a surprise. Women's lives, generations of women's lives have been complex. Every time another human being or critter is added to her life, her life becomes less simple, more complex, yet she is expected to keep track of everything, keep everything on track.

Have I put too many characters in this story? Has each one justified its presence in the tale I am telling? Are there enough characters to tell this tale? Six generations of women, each formed by the times they lived in.

Alice Mary, b. 1872, age 19 when she had her first child:
Gabriella Rose, b. 1899, age 32 when she had her fourth child:
Mariah, b. 1931, age 22 when she had her first child:
Amaris, b. 1953, age 21 when she had her first child:
Unnamed, unmentioned, needs name, mention, b. 1974, age 32 when her second child was born
Anna, b. 2007

Alice Mary was born during the Victorian Era, not too many years after the Civil War concluded.
Gabriella Rose was born during the Victorian Era.
Mariah was born during the Great Depression.
Amaris was born as the Korean Conflict ended and post WW2 economics took off into one of the wealthiest periods in American history.
The unnamed daughter lived through the Economic Malaise of the late 1970s and 1980s which began well before she was born--the economic boom that was, perhaps, a facade for what was really going on.
Anna was born during the New Economic Crisis/Recession/Depression/Malaise. All mean the same thing: economic downturn...depression.

Need to know more about the barons, men like Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and the Rockefellers and their influences on society.

Amaris is central character.

The reader didn't understand why Amaris was so contemplative for so much of the story, but could suddenly make the decision to be gone, and actually execute leaving. I am curious to know how old the reader is that she wouldn't understand this. A younger woman might not. My daughter, Beth, is reading Ramblings for me so I can see what her thoughts, feelings and questions are. She said she can read it right away.

Points I want Ramblings to make:

* women haven't always had rights.
* women teach each other and pass their knowledge to the younger generations as they come along.
* relationships--connectedness--are important for well being.
* communication is vital; what happens when men get selfish
* emotional vacancy harms everyone: have to give, can't just take.
* the more things change, the more they stay the same.
* when the heat gets hot enough, it will blow the lid off.
* religion and faith: interpretations

So, the reader said she wants more from Amaris, her kids, and their life. She wants more story line, conflict; more economic tragedy--go deeper; more depth to husband's suicide threats. OK.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Quick update

I just want to make a quick remark. I have a LOT of work to do. You're about to read why.

I submitted a novel manuscript right after graduation. The publisher advised me that they would get back to me within a month. It's two weeks later. I got a post. The two remarks that are most important are the first statement and the last statement.

"I think this is a great first effort and an important story to tell, but it needs much more work. I wanted more from the character fully fleshed out, her kids, their life. The overall story flow seemed too long to get through; I wanted more of the story line, conflict, but got way more of the inside of the main character's head which sometimes shut out the other possibilities to explore."


"Brownfield has a voice, but it's tucked away in the cliches."

I did post back to the publisher that the cliches were intentional and directly related to the title. But I am delighted with this response to my work. I've been itching to get back to it with revisions, but I waited until I heard back. The extra sets of eyes reading from an objective viewpoint was just what I needed. I paid $20 reading fee for this manuscript. At the time I thought that was a lot, but I believe the money was well spent. And I'm pulling out the manuscript and starting to work on it so I can build the strengths and rework the weaknesses into strengths. I am so encouraged by this correspondence today.


(c)2009 Cathy Thomas Brownfield

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Getting a new start

The minute I mailed out my manuscript for the first of three novels in a trilogy I began to work on the second novel. Actually, I decided at the end of Ramblings that I was going to do a trilogy. It wasn’t enough to send Amaris off on an adventure of self-discovery at the end of one story. So I already was thinking about the second book in the series. I’ve dabbled with ideas involved with the second novel, the continuation of the story. How will I format it? Will it be the same format as the first book? What will be the focus of it and how is it related to the first one? What characters will return in the second book? Who will be added in this one?

I have a LOT of questions about the continuation of Amaris’ story. I can’t discuss any of the three novels in detail because they are not published and because if I put a lot of my passion into blogs and email posts, there won’t be anything left for the manuscript. I also know that theft of works is common on the Internet even if there is a notice at the end, “©2009 Cathy Brownfield ~ All rights reserved.” I know it’s true. Some of my own work has been pirated online. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the links when I get them. It’s that someone somewhere did NOT ask for permission to use my work. That’s the very least they should be doing. Copyright infringement is a serious issue. Writers have the right to know where their work appears on the Internet. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

So, what am I doing with this second in the series of three that I CAN tell you about?

OK. First I thought about what the first book is about: Between the Rock and the Hard Place. It comes across very clearly and strongly. What is the focus of the second book? The Hard Place. And the third book will focus on the Rock. What does all that mean? You’ll have to wait to read the books. ;) Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. I need a clear idea of what I will be writing about. I know what the series is about, I’ve broken it all down into three books. I’ve written a few passages that have helped me to get started with the writing. It comes naturally that questions arise as I let the whole story percolate in my brain. I write down notes to remind me of certain things, things I don’t want to forget. As I’m synopsizing my novel, I am developing characters and plotting their courses. I want just enough drama to carry the story forward, to make it realistic, believable.
I write in a notebook designated specifically for the novel I’m working on. I keep a journal of my days, not every day because my everyday life is boring, but on days that something particularly interesting or related happens. Anything is game for a writer, isn’t it? But I do fictionize characters to protect the innocent. I don’t want to write verbatim what happens in a real life incident. I want to write a good story which requires building tension in ways that my creative mind concocts. That’s why it’s called fiction. It’s not that it isn’t real. It’s that it isn’t necessarily something that actually happened, but similar to something that actually happened, and to which other people can relate. It’s not that it isn’t truth. Writers are philosophers, seekers of truth and wisdom. I needed to make that clear because someone said, “Let me get this straight. Non-fiction is real and fiction is not.” Uh, no. That’s not right. But maybe it’s just semantics? Someone said that to me once, too.

So, I have a tentative title that relates to the whole story: Sounds of Silence. Since nobody can copyright a title, it doesn’t really matter if anyone knows that. I have the main character, the heroine. I have some supporting characters. I know I must develop some other important characters related to the heroine. I have to sit down and visit with my characters so I know them, because I can’t write about what I don’t know. I must be intimate with my characters.

How long a time period will my novel need to complete the tale? I’m thinking 12 months, more or less. So I’ve built a document containing the 12 months. I am summarizing what will happen in each of those 12 months. Just a general, broad summary while I’m building the characterization. I know where it’s going to take place. And I know that Alzheimer’s is going to play a role in the story. Much of my current work does. It’s a devastating illness that hurts deeply. I know that. My mother has Alzheimer’s. I’m learning about it first hand. A lot of people don’t have any idea what AD is like. They haven’t faced it yet. I want other people to understand AD. I want to keep it in the public eye so research will continue and a cure found. Is it my mother’s story that I’m writing? No. It is a work of fiction very loosely based on things I have learned through this experience. A writer has to write about the things (s)he knows. (Sound familiar yet?)

Someone asked me about writing prompts. I will try to remember to include one each time I write a new blog. This week: Think of a happening in your life, one that deeply affected you, that stirs your passions. Why did it affect you as it did? Don’t take a lot of time to think about it. Sit down and write it out fully. Don’t think about changing words. Just set a timer for 10 minutes and write for all you’re worth, without thinking, of that event. If you aren’t finished, keep writing for as long as the words come to you. Don’t think about it. Just write, beginning, middle and end. Stop writing when you have described the entire event. Then put it in a drawer. Don’t read it again until the next day. When you read it the next day, does it project the very same images you described when you wrote it? Why? Why not? Now you can work to improve it. That’s the editing process. How does it impact you? How can you make it better, stronger? Are you using passive or active verbs? Are you over-using adverbs? (Hint: adverbs are words that end in –ly.) Why did you select the words you used?

Don’t overwork the piece. Tuck it away and read it again in another day or two, and repeat the process until you are satisfied with it. Why are you satisfied with it? What point does it make and are you successful in making the point? Write from the heart. Write from your passion. Write from your pain, your delight. Feel the feelings from their deepest depths.

Write well.

©2009 Cathy Thomas Brownfield

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Beginning, middle and end of story

I submitted my novel three weeks ago. Last week I got an email from the publisher. He read the letter, the synopsis, the marketing plan and a chapter and passed it on to the first reader. I should hear back from them within a month.

It wasn’t an acceptance, but it also wasn’t a rejection. It was encouragement. I’ll take it! And get my nose to the grindstone on the sequel. It’s percolating in my brain, and bits and pieces of the story are making themselves known. My Sounds of Silence (the working title) notebook, once filled with empty pages is filling with plotting, character development, ideas, outlines, details I don’t want to forget about, things I need to research.

Book I (Ramblings), the one I submitted is “between the rock and the hard place.” Book II (Sounds of Silence)is “the hard place.” Book III (untitled) is “the rock.” What does that suggest to you? I guess you’ll have to wait for the book to come out. It’s too early to say more than that.

I’ve decided Sounds of Silence will take a longer time period than Ramblings, which takes Amaris Golden Jewett through one month of her life, December. During that time she sifts through her memories trying to be that phoenix that rises from ashes. Sounds may be broken down into parts of a year. A lot will be happening in that story.

What I’m feeling as I work on this sequel is my mind expanding as I read, discuss, think some more, develop an interesting and appealing story line that says what I think is important to say and still holds my reader’s attention.

How many times did I start a novel, get to a certain point and set it aside because I didn’t know where to go with it? Dig deeper inside when you get to that point. And what does she mean by that, you may ask. I mean, look at your underlying message. What is the message you want to convey? What is so important for you to pass on that you are consumed with building a novel to say it?

Someone asked me once, well, I’ve been asked more than just once, “What is your novel about?”

I said I didn’t know exactly how to explain it to her.

“How are you going to write it if you don’t know what it’s about?”

I imagined a turtle pulling its little noggin inside its protective shell. That represented me to a “T”. From then on I usually say something like, “It’s too soon to talk about it.”

Ramblings works because it comes from deep inside me—the feelings, thoughts, experiences, observations—a LOT of observation—of the people who populate my world, even if they are in my world only a few influential, productive moments.

I recognize now that I must take my conception of something—whatever it is I want to write about—and prove it out. So, let me apply that to the idea that a story needs a beginning, a middle and an ending.

My conception/Beginning => Conflict development/Middle => Proving my theory/Ending

Now, take this itty bit of information and the plot a novel in an hour link I posted last time and see what you can come up with.

By the way, I’m interested in knowing about your “sounds of silence.” What are they? When and why do they occur? What do you gain/lose from them? And are you male or female? Please leave your comments by clicking the comment link. If you don’t want your comments to be publicized, let me know that, too.

Thanks! Now, get to work writers!

©2009 Cathy Thomas Brownfield

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Get to it!

It’s nearly three weeks since I sent out my novel to a publisher. If I remember correctly he said it would be about two months before I would hear anything. I wasn’t sure about the mailing of it. I sent it with delivery confirmation because it was so important to me that it arrive and the postal service has been less than efficient. (Proof? Well, I haven’t received the delivery confirmation that I paid for.) Well, I have ways to find out what I want to know. Mwaaaa-haaaa-haaaaa-haaaaaa-haaaaa. (That’s a sinister laugh, by the way.)

As soon as I sent that first novel out I began work on the sequel. I see the story of Amaris as a trilogy. I also started a romance novel. Listen, romance novels take a huge percentage of book sales. Why shouldn’t I use my skills and abilities to make money? Why shouldn’t I take my cut of that pie? If I have the ability to write them, I should use that ability. Haven’t I always said I am a diverse writer? And haven’t I always striven to write long-lived stories that my readers can relate to? There are some romance novels that I hold onto because the messages within the stories were so deep and meaningful that they are worthy of being on my bookshelf for years and for other readers who come along. I will add that I am selective about the books I keep on my shelves. The others I swap at to get the books that I am looking for.

Is it easier to “do” a novel once you’ve written the first one? Well, I have a deeper understanding now about plotting. I did find a source “plotting a novel in an hour.” Sketch a Novel in an Hour by Christina F. York and J. Steven York, Based on Outline a Novel in a Hour, an exercise by Alicia Rasley, It might be helpful to you. But since I know where my story is beginning and where I want it to end, I used the same plotting tools for the sequel as I used for the first novel. I feel comfortable with it and figure by the time I get the third book of the trilogy complete, I will have a pretty good handle on plotting. That should make it easier for me to complete the other novels I have started over the years. And wasn’t that one of the reasons why I went back to college to begin with? I especially want to finish the novel, part of which is in my writing portfolio for my Bachelor of Arts in English with writing minor degree. My reader, Dr. Karen Boyle, advised that she’d really like to know the rest of that story. That’s all I needed to hear. Yeah. :D

Back to writing, now. The obligatory work is finished and my characters await my attention…oh, after I go to the campus and sign up as a guest for the fiction workshop that will be held over the summer. Yeah. One of the perks of graduating with my BA is that I can take 12 hours of courses as a guest. And I’m thinking of working on a BA in History over the next year since I won’t begin my master’s studies in creative writing until fall 2010.

What are you writing today?

(c) 2009 Cathy Brownfield ~ All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Been There, Done That

Writing comes hard when you are bogged down. This can come from anything. The more weight you carry, the more weighed down you can become. The more weighed down you become, the more numb you may be. If you can't feel, you can't write. Your words won't flow the way they need to.

Writers write from what they know. Writers, like actors on a stage, reach deep into their emotions and expose human emotion, human reactions to the triggers of life experience. That is why we love our favorite authors: they understand what we feel, what we think, because they have been there, too.

As I wrote my honors thesis, a novel, I used journal entries as writing prompts to keep me focused on what I was trying to say. The journal entries are a blend of fiction and non-fiction to give credibility to the story.

The final formatting of the novel may change, but I found it easier to control my project by using daily writing prompts to stay focused and control the continuity of ideas from start to finish. As I work on the sequel, I am using the same tools.

This sounds like where plotting comes into play. I didn't sit down and plot the story. Or did I? Each journal entry for each selected day defined the seed from which that part's heart and action grew. It told who was the central character and why it was important at that particular moment.

I have journaled, off and on, for years, when I have something worth saying. There are many things I only wish I had set to paper because many of those things are long ago forgotten. Still, with the right spark, a flame is produced and stories are written.

From the bits and pieces of the past, events and people, that held important and valuable, grow the characters and happenings within works of fiction. Each person, each character, reacts differently to events that happen. How amazing it is to see new life varies from the same seed to arrive at the same or a similar conclusion.

What are you writing today?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Almost there

If you stop and think about that, "almost there," it applies to many aspects of our lives. As selfish as it sounds, this blog is about me and my thoughts, feelings and dreams, without being too sappy, if you know what I mean. I am "almost there," ready to graduate from Kent State University two weeks from today. I am "almost there," to submit my first novel to a publisher. I am "almost there," in having enough confidence to believe in my dreams and my Self. And as I complete one goal, there are others to take its place and I am, again, "almost there," in achieving something else. There's something good about being "almost there." It gives me something to shoot for so I always have a reason.

A reason? Well, yeah. A reason to get up and greet each new day. A reason to breathe. A reason to continue putting one foot in front of another. A reason to take on new challenges. A reason to love, laugh, cry, stand your ground, fight for what you believe in. A reason...

For some reason, this is a very emotional time for me. It's not just any ONE thing. It's a whole lot of little and big things and a snowball down a mountain. How do you write anything of value when you are stressed out, it seems to the max, though if you look around there is someone worse off than you are. Why are you stressed out? Well, my elderly parents have had health issues--Dad recently passed away from his. There are two high stressors. I am married and for the time being staying with my mother, away from my husband who would like for me to be at home. Another stressor. My last children moved out the same day so neither of them would be the last to leave Mom alone. Two stressors. Long term financial challenges based on the economy. Stressor. Carrying 14 to 18 credit hours per semester for two years. (Actually the count was 17, 18, 14, 18.)

If I was starting again two years ago, I would have taken fewer hours, maybe no more than 12 a semester. I've learned a lot, but I would have absorbed more if I hadn't been carrying such a heavy load. But I guess it's not so much what I learned in class as what I will do with my awareness of that knowledge and carry it forward with me to develop my ideas, my beliefs, my work.

Ah, it is raining in Ohio today. But there is sunshine in my heart because I am "almost there." Graduation in two weeks. Submitting my novel to a publisher. And I've already begun the sequel to Ramblings. It is titled Sounds of Silence.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My senior honors thesis

The honors thesis is complete. It was orally defended on April 7, 2009, successfully. I will add that when I presented a discussion about it in my Appalachian Literature class on Wednesday my advisor announced that my novella was noted, “Outstanding.” I hope that an editor will think so, as well, when I submit it for publication. Part of the thesis process is a presentation about what I accomplished, what I learned about it and through it, and how I have grown.
Last year one of my reading assignments was So Long a Letter by the late Mariama Ba. The 90-page work describes the life and society of a woman in Senegal, Africa. This is a black culture, but it is a woman’s story. As I read it I collected bits and pieces from it that spoke to my heart. I knew I would be writing a novel as my honors thesis at Kent State University. After completing the reading and analysis of So Long a Letter I knew that I would write similarly from my own Appalachian culture.

Amaris is an Appalachian woman. She has always been securely attached to her family, willing to sacrifice for any one of the people she loves. She would even sacrifice her own dreams and goals, her own heart’s desires, to see that her family had what they needed, that their dreams came true. Raised in a family where the women are women of faith, she reaches a point where she questions many things: marriage, God and his “called” representatives, men, society, and the rules she lives by— whose rules are they anyway? She sifts through her memories trying to discover (or rediscover) the woman she is and how she came to be that woman.
That’s a pretty general description of my novella. Is it enough temptation too great to resist? We will see.
Let me share with you the process I developed for writing this project.
1. Getting my ducks in a row.
2. Researching my novel.
3. Beginning to write.
4. Over the hump.
5. The defense.
6. Tying up the loose ends.
Getting my ducks in a row.
I created the idea for my novel and put it on paper in a sort of synopsis to present to the Honors College for approval. I met with an agent of the Honors College to discuss my project and agree on the division of hours required to complete the project. I would need to research and write my honors thesis project. Generally speaking, at the junior level work begins on a project. In my case, I was a senior and had to research and write my project in two semesters. Actually, I had less than two semesters to write it. I had to have the manuscript of my novel to my director by mid-March so my reader and committee would have time to read it and request revisions or changes, and allowing me time to make those revisions and changes.
Researching my novel.
I met with Victoria Boccochiccio at the Kent State University Honors College in February 2008. She authorized ten credit hours for my project, five for the Fall ’08 semester and five for the Spring ’09 semester. However, the development began immediately whenever I had a few minutes to spare from my studies. Then, over the summer, I spent many hours reading the list of Appalachian novels to get a feel for the Appalachian genre and my writing references to hone my fiction writing techniques and develop my own style and writing voice.
Beginning to write.
Writing did not come easy. I was registered for 18 credit hours in the Fall ’08 semester, including three hours of Intermediate Spanish, four hours of Modeling Algebra, three hours of Shakespeare, and three hours of African-American Literature. The algebra class began with 10 students and ended with three. It was a difficult class and the instructor didn’t bend at all. I withdrew from the class and opted to take the Intro to Formal Logic class in Spring ’09 semester.
Logic and the creative mind??? Well, I am passing the class.
With the stress and terror of the math class removed, dropping me to 14 credit hours made life and writing easier, but I was also writing weekly articles for Family Recovery Center and running my household as well as keeping an eye on my elderly parents. I was feeling out of my element. Was I in over my head? Could I pull this off? Was I really a writer or was I talking the talk but not walking the walk? Who did I think I was anyway?
Negative self-talk. I had to quit that.
“Patti, it’s not working. I think I’m not going to be able to do this. I need to come up with a new idea.”
“Just keep writing,” she advised. “Just get it down. The fun begins when you start the revisions.”
So I continued to write. But time passed rapidly. I needed to get control of the story. How could I set up the story to most effectively write it? Journaling is a part of my writing repertoire. I used journal entries to serve as writing prompts to keep me focused when I was writing the novella. And it all came together!
Over the hump.
The committee was named, the clock ran out, and, ready or not, I sent the novel to my advisor who put it into the hands of my reader and my committee members, Dr. Karen Boyle, Dr. Roxanne Burns and Ms. Leslie Leahy. My director, Dr. Patti Capel Swartz, set the date for the oral defense. It felt good to have the novel out of my hands before spring break. I wouldn’t have had time to do anything with the novel. My father passed away unexpectedly as we headed into spring break. My mother, who has Alzheimer’s, could not stay alone. All of the adjusting provided a cooling off period so I was ready to prepare my defense in the days just prior to the oral defense.
The defense.
I was a wreck. What if someone asked a question I couldn’t answer? What if I completely blanked out? Everyone told me just to relax and talk about my brain child because nobody knew as much about it as I did. This was an opportunity to brag about my work.
My biggest problem is stress. Stress affects the memory. Panic always attaches to my stress and I am terrified that I will appear to be stupid, an idiot.
My director sat beside me and skillfully took us through the process of questions and answers, clarifications and explanations. And when we were finished I stepped out of the room to await their final conclusions in regard to my novella, my senior honors project.
I was calm. The worst was behind me, and it wasn’t bad at all. When I was invited back into the room I was congratulated on the successful defense. They liked it very much and urged me to submit it as soon as possible.
Tying up the loose ends.
The last part of my project is to write the acknowledgements, print and bind the novella, provide copies to my director, my reader and committee and myself and the copy for the university. Presentation of my experience has been met. And I will be submitting to a publisher shortly.
I have completed a novel! I went back to school to achieve this. And I did it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

So many tales to tell. Where do you start?

I started long ago, writing pieces-parts of the things that occur to me, inspired by the events that take place around me. I needed to write them down somewhere so I could get on to other things. There are at least thirty-five notebooks on my shelf filled with notes for various stories I want to write...
someday. But will I get back to them when new events inspire new characters and new stories every day?

As I shared yesterday, my thesis novel was turned in early last week. It is in the hands of my project director, my reader, and my thesis committee. I will orally defend it on April 7. In the meantime, I have begun working on the sequel. I think I might title it
Sounds of Silence. It sorta picks up where Ramblings leaves off. Sorta. Because I've never run away from home. While I have experienced some of the things my character, Amaris, experienced, as have millions of women, she experienced more, and had the courage to do what she needed to do: "Physician, heal thyself."

What about all of the other stories I have waiting for my return? I will work on the stories I included in my writing portfolio and the partial of one of my novels. My reader asked if my thesis novel would be the one she read in my writing portfolio, and seemed disappointed when I said no.

"I like the way you get into her head. I want to read more," she said. And that was all the encouragement I needed to decide I'm going to complete that novel as soon as I can get to it. I'm thinking after graduation on May 15.

I have elected to postpone starting my master's in fine arts-creative writing for a year. During that period my plan is to proceed with the WIPs that are waiting for me. No, I can't work on all thirty-five or more. But I can work on the thesis novel and the writing portfolio novel and have them completed and submitted. You have to submit to get published, ya know.

You are the only one who can decide what you are going to do with your writing, where you want to go with it. Then you have to commit to your goals. It's easy to get distracted, to begin to tell yourself you were crazy to ever think you could do something like write a story or a novel. Don't. Don't go there. When that happens--and it will--shake it off. Sit down and begin to write to prove that negative self-talk is wrong. You can do it. You can. Honestly. That's what I did with Ramblings. There's something to be said for accountability to someone.

I would email Patti, "I don't know where I'm going with this. I think I should start something new." But I knew that was not an option. I had only so much time to write a novel for the thesis.

"Just write," she'd answer. "Don't stop to think about it. Just write. You'll get there."

So I would continue to write. I decided on the format I wanted to use so I would be able to complete the manuscript, things like the period of time I wanted to write about and how to best present it. That simplified things for me. When you read
Ramblings you will better understand what I mean. I do anticipate that it will be published. My director has urged me to submit it. And I will.

Remember that there will be naysayers, people who criticize what you are doing, asking why anyone would want to read something like that. Ignore them. They don't know what they are talking about. Move forward. And another thing to remember is that anyone who is not a writer can't understand the writer. Writers are a different breed understood only by their own kind. Find yourself a good writer group--in realtime and online. is a great one for writerly information. If you are looking for encouragement from some friendly writers, I recommend Jay'sWritersWorld (JWW for short). Both are yahoo groups.

What are you writing today?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


The novel, my honors thesis, is completed and in the hands of my project director, my reader, and my committee. I will be orally defending it on April 7. My director wants me to submit it when we are finished. I will have a chance to revise as per my committee's suggestions. I was blown away when my director said, "This is a superb novel, a powerful story." What more does a writer want to hear about the work (s)he does? And I have begun the sequel to Ramblings.

At this time writing and studying is challenging. My father passed away unexpectedly last week. He was supposed to stick around until I graduate May 15 and for my nephew--his grandson--to graduate from high school at the end of May. He was so excited that I was going to finish what I started so many years ago. I am the first of his branch of the family tree to graduate from college. So I have to work through this difficult time. He knew that I would follow through and finish. And it thrilled him to hear that I will begin working on my master's degree in creative writing in a year.

There are reasons why we pursue dreams...for ourselves, for our families. My #2 daughter told her 13-year-old son that they are going to my graduation ceremony. He is thrilled. She wants him to see this because he needs to know about dreams and making them happen; he is going to college. That is a given.

What does this have to do with writing? Maybe not a lot. Except that writing is my dream, the dream that has fed me for a very long time. And now I am headed in the right direction. I am almost there. The gold ring is within sight. YES!!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When they say "just write it!" do what they say!

How many times have I been told or read, "Just write it"? My professor told me to just write the novel down. Start at the beginning and write to the end. Don't think about it, just do it. The fun part, she said, is when the first draft is done and the author gets to play with the words.

It's not as easy as it sounds! But, I started at the beginning and I'm making progress. There are places that I have not finished yet. There are places that I have written but not revised. There are places where the words are VERY sketchy but I think I caught enough of the essence to be able to make sense of it when I get there again.

Do you remember reading what Stephen King said about writing? Writers don't just write. They read, too. And he carries a book with him everywhere he goes. Well, that's what he said. He also said he writes every day of the year including Christmas and admitted later that it was just a lie because the reporter asked the question and he had to answer it somehow. So, I started to carry a book with me everywhere I go. I also read the books I carry with me. They have impact on me, particularly the ones that are under the genre I am pursuing at this point: Appalachian writers.

Let me get you started on your Appalachian reading. This is by no means a complete list! But it is an introduction.

Recommended Appalachian literature:

The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow
Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina
The Unquiet Earth by Denise Giardina
Oral History by Lee Smith
Eclipse by Jeanne Bryner
The Coal Tattoo by Silas House
Kettle Bottom by Diane Gilliam Fisher

Now, remember how "they" said to study the masters and develop your own style? When I'm reading these other outstanding authors, they inspire me. Memories and thoughts that I'd forgotten long ago suddenly reappear, photographs the mind took back then, but they are as vibrant at the moment they pop back up as they were the day they happened. I can see the reflection of my father and me in the storefront window that long ago day with the sun shining down on us and a smile on both of our faces as he carried me with him. I recall the summer I slept at my grandmother's house because she was so sure George had come back to haunt her...well, the clock that had been on the wall for years suddenly kept jumping off the wall! There are the events surrounding my growing up years...Dad breaking his hip and having trouble with it forever after. Mom being deaf but a miracle came through a fantastic doctor who was able to perform surgery and give her back her hearing. The boy bully in high school who just wouldn't leave me alone. Mom was sure it was because he liked me. I was sure I hated him right to his rotten guts! Oh, excuse me. That doesn't sound very good coming from a mature adult woman, does it? Well, at the time...:) There were the early 1970s when life was good, and the horrors of ripple effect that we learned first hand during the Economic Malaise of the 1980s after the steel mills closed in the Ohio Valley.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Coal was a boom. Then it was a bust. Steel was a boom that went bust. Now the auto industry, once a boom, is a bust. And I wonder, what will be next?

The more I read, the more I remember from my life. The impacts of disasters and good and bad events that affected the nation of my birth. I live in the heart of that nation. The first state and county cut from the Louisana Purchase in the late 1790s, the second town to be founded (Marietta claims it was first by virtue of the ease of landing from the river.) Lisbon, Columbiana County, Ohio, founded 1803. A major player in American History. And my goal, my interests, my gold ring will be the successful writing about my home place because I am an Appalachian Writer!

So, read about your genre. Read about the authors who write your genre. Read the history behind it. Write everything you remember. Find the words to express those things as accurately as you can. If a word doesn't seem quite right, look for the right one because it will matter. Write from your heart.

I was growing discouraged with my manuscript for my thesis. I finally emailed it to my director and said I was ready to abandon it. Well, she emailed me today and said--her exact words-- "This is a wonderful piece of work." Wow. OK. I'm back on my feet again. And I will finish this novel in time for my reader and committee to read it. I will orally defend it. I will finalize it and submit it. And it will be published, if I have anything to say about it.

What are you writing? What's in your heart that is dying to get out on paper. Go ahead. Spill that ink across the page in chicken scratchings that you can play with on your journey to perfect your own writing style.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Negative critics

I have been writing since high school. I was a newspaper reporter, photographer, editor and publisher over a 14-year period. I started college (an education major) at age 28. I returned to college at age 54 to complete my bachelor's degree. I have sold some sweet romances to a magazine and the editor asked where I was going with my writing--"We need to talk." My female professors tell me that my writing skills are excellent. The male prof, Dr. E. gave me an A- for Senior Seminar (English major requirement) because "it's your first semester back to college after a long period of time." This same prof, teaching Shakespeare, gave me a B+ because my writing is "incohesive." So I let him know that my evaluation for his Shakespeare class was a B+. I was especially concerned about the 15 class hours we did not receive instruction because only two or three of us showed up for class and he canceled, sent us home. He didn't want to put a heavy "burden" on those of us who did show up. But I thought this was a lecture class so the burden was actually on him. If students care so little about showing up for every class, why would he feel the need to make the lecture twice? And wouldn't the burden be on him, not the students? Except when he came in and said, "I'm tired. I don't feel like teaching tonight so I'm going to let you students talk tonight."

This prof criticized my starting an occasional sentence with "And..." I guess he hasn't looked at the 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This book is not broken down into chapters. It's one scene after another from beginning to end. And there are a lot of sentences that are actually sentence fragments. I'll bet this prof of mine would have discouraged McCarthy even submitting the manuscript to a publisher, this book that was actually honored by Oprah's Book Club. I didn't want to put it down! The sentence fragments didn't bother me, or the absence of apostrophes in words like can't or won't. The story is that good.

In all of my years of writing, Dr. E. is the first person to tell me my writing is "incohesive." I interpret that to mean he is saying that I am a "bad" writer.

Why am I sharing this in my blog? Because, as I told Dr. E., if he is the only person in 20-plus years to say I am a bad writer, I have to believe he is wrong and that I am a very good writer, which will be proven when I complete my senior/honors project (completing a novel), defend it through its review process, achieve my graduation and submit the novel to a publisher. Did Dr. E. think an older woman like me had no business attending college? I don't know and I don't care. I know I have to believe in myself to succeed. How I talk to myself, negative or positive, is what will determine my failure or success. Positive self-talk => Success.

So, ignore your naysayers. Don't think negative thoughts. If you know you are a good writer, believe it, trust it, do it. And ignore those who would discourage you, convince you that you have nothing important to say, "incohesive" writing skills.

As for my male prof who says my writing is "incohesive," I can only say that arrogance is the tragic flaw that has taken many to their own destruction. Nothing will please me more than to prove that he didn't know what he was talking about when he said my writing is "incohesive." I invite you to do the same with your negative, nonsupportive critics. You'll have them. So will I. That doesn't mean they know better than you and I do. It doesn't mean they are smarter or wiser than we are. They are human and subject to error. And we never know what is going on inside others. We can only know what they allow us to know. Maybe, just maybe, they are envious of our skills and are employing Machiavellian skills to prevent someone else succeeding where they know they cannot.

Happy writing! Get to it! Why are you sitting there procrastinating?

Just out of curiosity, how "incohesive" do I sound to you?