Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hook, line, sinker...novel. (Or, a tale of NaNoWriMo)

I wrote a novel four years ago.  In 30 days.  It was my first attempt at NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), an internet based writing project that brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world to get that first draft of a novel done.  DRAFT being the operative word here – the month is all about giving yourself the freedom (countered with the pressure of the tick, tick, tick of the clock) to just get it down on paper!

And in the sense that the challenge is to write a novel of 50,000 words I was a success.  My word count came in at 50,206. The story was creative fiction, based on my participation in a 12 week group therapy sexual abuse survivor’s group.  Yes I know - real light stuff…. The working title was “Creative Destruction” and it told the stories of 11 participants in the group, two counselors and a cast of a half dozen minor characters.  It was quite a challenge and an awful lot to take on for my first novel attempt!   

The first of November found me at the dining room table, computer on, a few handwritten notes and one of those plain white three sided display boards.  The board surrounded my computer on the table.  Not only did it provide me a place to post character sketches on index cards, seating charts, and the story’s timeline, it separated me from my “normal” life in the house.  When I was “behind the boards” I was a writer.  Period.  Not an easy task for a self-proclaimed multi task-a-holic like myself.  It instantly made the dining room table my writing office and as always, Steve & Abe, the two men in my life, respected that for the month and never interrupted me.

I was faithful to the suggested timeline of 1,666 words per day. It was the most dedicated and driven writing time I’ve ever experienced.  Along with the writing, I loved the camaraderie of the online groups, the list of foods (CHOCOLATE!) to help get you through your writing sessions, shared playlists that other writers listened to for inspiration and the weekly pep-talk emails from the organizers, published authors, and regional moderators.  I even broke out of my introvert shell a couple times and laptop in hand, attended a few regional writing sessions at local coffee houses. I felt like part of a writing community. 

I wrote at all hours of the day and night, struggled for words, worked through plot conflicts and rejoiced in the little victories.  I sent my last word count in on November 30th, and collected my “winner” certificate.  I’d really wanted to see if I had a novel in me, and I did!  Since then, I’ve worked some on the revisions, and someday, the rest of the world may see it, but not right now.  Not only have I not devoted the time necessary to a proper revision, I suspect I’m not yet ready to share that part of myself, even woven into a fictional story line.  

2009 held some deep personal losses for me and although I tried it again that November, I fizzled out after a few days.  Those losses and that fizzle had enough of an impact that I basically stopped writing for a couple years. 

Last fall that changed.  Simply put, I missed writing.  I challenged myself to write regularly in 2012.  I started my blog and am relatively happy with the flow of words that have started again.  Then, last week my fingers typed NaNoWriMo in my search engine, and up came the familiar blue and brown shield.  Then I logged into my account; browsed the forums, looked at the word count widgets and read a few of the author pep talks from years gone by.  Hook, line, sinker.  And who knows….maybe another novel born.  Let the countdown to November 1st begin - I’ve got a story in mind, a few characters to make it happen and a shopping list in hand.  Let’s see… I’ll need a stash of chocolate, a box of my favorite tea and of course, a new, pure white, three-sided display board.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Chess Legacy

It was a collaboration of love, for a boy not yet 6 years old.  A custom chess set.

The boy, four years old, fell in love with the game. Mastered the pieces and moves within a few weeks of playing with the “learner edition”, a set his mother needed for at least many months longer.  A boy who devoured the Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess book; memorizing the pictures depicting the moves of the game before he could read the words that explained them.  Who by 5, often allowed his opponents to win so they would continue to play with him, considering the concession all a part of learning the game…

He, his Papa, built the wooden case, lined it with dark green felt.  Measured and installed the slats to create 32 individual pockets for each piece to rest in.  Routered the lid, precisely measured to rest just inside the lip of the case.  The wood shone a regal luster with a dark stain and varnish and was completed with two brass handles and four black pedestal feet for support.  Sixty-four perfect squares created the chess board on the top, displaying its purpose with elegant design. 
She, Nana, made the pieces.  Thirty-two in all.  Two teams of 16 pieces; one ivory with a gold band at the bottom and identifying gold accents represented the white team.  The other, done in navy blue with a gold band at the base and gold identifying accents represented the black team.  Each ceramic green ware piece cleaned, meticulously painted, glazed and fired.  A circular green felt piece that matched the inside felt of the case was placed on the bottom of each one, and provided a sliding elegance across the chess board. 

As a boy not yet six, he cherished the gift.  He knew it came with all the love they felt for him.  He loved the largeness of it – the beauty of it and the time it took them to make it.  Yes, he was unique and even at his young age appreciated those things.  What he didn’t know, yet, was the legacy it held.  How it spoke to the validation and respect of their relationship.  You see, they didn’t make a child’s game set.  They made a piece to last a lifetime. A piece that would last past their lifetimes.  

In the twenty years they shared his life, they played all the pieces in his game.  As a very young boy, he often saw them as king and queen of their domain - matriarch and patriarch of the family; providers for all. At times they stood firm as protecting knights, keeping a watchful eye throughout his childhood and teenage years.  Often they slipped into the role of bishop, providing spiritual guidance or standing sentry as rooks, a place of refuge in a storm.  And always, always, as the most underrated of pieces, as pawns, stalwart and loyal, supportive in any way they could be and at the ready to sacrifice themselves for him.
The chess set, after games too numerous to count, sits still today, in the place of honor it's had for the past seventeen years in the living room.  The boy, now a grown man, is working to establish his own domain in the world.  The chess set, and the legacy, wait to follow him to his kingdom.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Split

"Tera, be serious.  You can’t walk away from five years of marriage over something like this.  It doesn’t make sense,” Jason said, standing in the doorway.

“I am, it does and I’ve explained it to you. You just aren’t listening.  Not that I would expect anything else for you at this point.”

“Don’t give me that,” Jason’s fist slammed the doorway.  “It doesn’t make sense.  You’re leaving me because Maxwell died?”

“You really don’t get it do you? From the moment he came into our lives you were jealous of him.”

“That’s bullshit!”

“No, it’s not.  Yes, Jason, I loved you both, but my God, it was a different… there was no reason for you to be jealous.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying. You can’t leave me over this!”

“Yes, I can,” she said, ducking past him into the apartment hallway.  “You want it spelled out in black and white for you, then fine.  Yes, he relied on me more.  I fed him, nurtured him, right from the start.  He knew I loved him.”  She sighed deeply.  “I loved him, and he loved me.  Unconditionally.  Something you aren’t capable of.”

“I love you Tera….you don’t know how much.”

“No, I do know and that’s the problem.  It’s not a healthy love.  I won’t be controlled by it anymore."  She turned to face him when she reached the front door.  “It’s dangerous and Maxwell died because of it.”

“Tera, it was an accident, damn it!  It wasn’t my fault.”  He jammed his fists into his jean pockets.  “He just ran into the street…”

“I know Jason. I know what you told me, and I know what I saw as I watched from the window.”  She met his surprised gaze head on.  "Ah, now you get it.  Yes, he ran into the street, but only after you threw his ball.  Dogs do that you know.” 

I remembered writing this piece while Steve and I were vacationing in Maine this past August.  As we walked, hiked, ate in restaurants, took a windjammer cruise and did all the usual tourist activities, what struck me was that couples brought their dogs everywhere.  The importance the dog played in their relationship was obvious and I got to thinking that instead of the dog being a pet (albeit a very much loved one), it was actually more on the level of an equal partner in the relationship. I wrote this piece years ago for a writing class and the assignment was to write a break up scene of 400 words or less entirely (I almost made it) in dialogue.  At the time, the reason behind the split seemed a remote one, but after Maine, it suddenly seemed quite plausible.  With that in mind, I thought I’d share it as a lesson learned for me in how a piece’s impact and relevance can change over time.  (Please note:  Steven and I love dogs, have had them in our families all our lives and I am in no way shedding any disparaging attitude towards dogs or the place they have in our friends and families lives.)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Amy Writes turns two!

Amy Writes, my website, approaches its second birthday this fall.  When I designed it, I wanted to make it engaging for people on a number of levels.  It wanted it to be interactive, entertaining, provide a reason to come back, be timely and be attractive to the eye with a warm feel.   At its young age, I believe it hits the mark and is still evolving with room to grow!
I refreshed the website this week, always a delicate and odd balancing act for me.  You see, the website is a vehicle to spotlight my writing, not me.  However…from research I’ve done and in analyzing my own personal preferences on websites I visit, I also realize that a reader wants to know a little more about the person behind the writing. 
Primarily, Amy Writes gives me a venue to share my published pieces, which range from local op-ed pieces to a cover story for Cats & Kittens magazine.  To place “Journey’s Beginning”, my upcoming contribution in Chicken Soup for the Soul: finding my faith, on the home page as an announcement was an “is this really happening?” moment for me.  There are some writing works in progress that are currently poems and essays.  A few short story excerpts and possibly a chapter or two of a novel I’m working on are set to go up soon.   
As I write, read and research, I love to come across references and have shared some of the sites, authors, blogs and books that feed the writing craft for me and are a source of inspiration.  Some I’ve stumbled upon by chance and some have been direct referrals.  Either way, I count myself fortunate to have found each one and am pleased at the opportunity to lift them up as the mentors I view them as.
My blog, My Writing Corner, is the baby sister to the website.  It will be one year old in January and has been much harder to raise and get to know!  It’s much more demanding on me as a writer, requires constant attention and challenges me to be honest to my developing writing style.  The only “theme” it follows is the mantra - “A place to share my writing, the process of doing so and the part of me that it comes from”.
There are three other passions in my life besides writing and I take a bit of liberty in sharing those.  Bundled under miscellany, is a nod to my husband , Steve – my greatest supporter, soul-mate and best friend, a few of the recipes that satisfy the love I have for cooking and my Goodreads link (which holds currently just a spattering of the books I’ve read, but I’m working on getting it more complete!)
Last but not least, I provide a place to contact me.  It’s a wonderful day when I get a comment from the website!
So sometime this fall, probably around the release date of Chicken Soup for the Soul, I’ll make a cake (most likely chocolate with chocolate frosting – two fabulous and easy make from scratch recipes that never fail – and yes, I’ll add them to the site soon!) and celebrate the birth of Amy Writes.  It is after all a part of my writing, a witness to what I do and a validation of the same.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

“Journey’s Beginning” Gets Published!

Love the cover!

Ah, how sweet the reward the longer one waits for it!  After 13 years, "Journey's Beginning", a piece I wrote about my experience at the beginning of membership classes at Trinity United Methodist Church, has been chosen for publication in Chicken Soup for the Soul: finding my faith.

Written at the very beginning of my faith journey, this is a very personal piece for me.  And often, like faith that takes you by surprise, the publication of this piece did as well.  I submitted this in both poem and short story format to a number of places over the years with no success.  Then, earlier this year on April 9th, I received an email that “Journey’s Beginning” had made it to the final selection round for ChickenSoup for the Soul: finding my faith. Was it still available and was I interested in having it move forward in the selection process?  I sent off my very affirmative reply immediately and so began THE WAIT.

I didn’t tell a soul other than Steven and Abram that my piece was being reviewed for the final cut.  Then, July 17th, (98 days later, but who’s counting?) another email.  I’d made it and would be a part of the book.  OH JOY!  My first publication in book form! 

Scared that it might fall through, I still didn’t tell anyone.  Then, I got an email from Chicken Soup for the Soul in early August, again congratulating me, welcoming me to “the family and team” and sharing encouragement and tips on how to promote the book and my part in it.  THAT made it really sink in and feel real.  I wasn’t dreaming this – it wasn’t going to fall through – it was really happening!

And so, next month on October 16th, the publication release date, my piece of the collected stories will be out there, potentially in 40 languages and 100 countries.  OH JOY!

Here’s a small excerpt:

…There are twenty-one of us in the
membership class.  At my turn I
answer the questions on the board. 
"My name is Amy Morgan. 
I have lived here all my life. 
I was married in this church and our
son was baptized here."

My throat closes up now.  My eyes fill
with tears.  I don't understand why.
I sit staring at the next question. 
I don't know how much time passes as
I silently read it over and over. 

How have you come to be a Christian?
This room, full of people who have given their
religious histories brimming with family memories
 and traditions, positive and negative experiences, all wait. 

I have nothing to offer them….

The release announcement on Chicken Soup for the Soul’s website reads:  “Everyone's faith story is different. People of all faiths share their personal experiences in this inspiring collection of amazing stories about the number of ways people discover, or rediscover, their faith — whether it's Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu or any other religion. These inspirational and powerful stories will touch the hearts and souls of readers.”

I’m proud, excited and humbled to be a part of this book.  I can’t wait to read the other contributing pieces and to see how my piece weaves into the larger whole.  I didn’t know at my journey’s beginning that it would lead to this destination, but I’m grateful it has.

  • Expected Release: Oct. 16, 2012
  • Publisher: Chicken Soup for the Soul; Original edition (October 16, 2012)
  • Seller: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales, Inc.
  • Formats:  Paperback 400 Pages,E-book
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935096958
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935096955