I want that love, that life

This is not a real post. I was going to talk about keeping balance in my writerly life, but I can’t manage it right now. This was a rough week all around – at work, at home, in my head – and I just needed to take a break with people who care for and about each other, even if it’s only in my stupid, self-indulgent fiction.

“Two Dads”
[Another “Finding Mister Wright” free write] ~3200 words/10 pages

I wrote this in a day, between work, emails, cooking supper, and everything else, and I’ve never written from Paige’s perspective before, but it’s part of my writing effort and I have to support it for being that. A story based on personal experience, just not the part I would have wanted.

Love and Death and Love Again

I think about death a lot. Not mine, so much, because there’s little point in that. I try to eat well, exercise, look both ways before crossing the street, that sort of thing. Beyond that, we’re all basically at the mercy of fate, and stressing over when my time will be up won’t change the ticking of the clock. I still think about it a lot, though.

I think a lot about love, too. The love between a parent and a child, between siblings, between lovers lucky enough to find each other in a great big world full of so many different individuals. How love can divide but also unite. How its grace can fill our lives with happiness, from the most mundane interactions to the most life-changing.

I also think about love and death together. How one can make the other sweet or terrifying, and how that can go either way, for both. Because I think so much and so often about death and love, they come up again and again in my writing. Sometimes, their place is blatant in a story, sometimes not. I think the former applies to my latest “Finding Mister Wright” short:

“Thirty-Nine”
Another “Finding Mister Wright” story
(PDF will open in a new window; ~2800 words/9 pages DS)

I can’t always explain why I write the stories I do, but this one – looking at aging, love, and death – came to me as I spied a “Frozen”-themed birthday cake in a bakery window and thought about the kids who won’t have another birthday, this year.

I don’t apologize for where this story goes, for the love or the death, because I like to think both make us stronger, in their own ways and eventually. Whether you read the story or not, and whether you agree with me or not, keep in mind the significance of love and death in your own lives, both the fantastic ones you put to the page and the true one you build around you.

How has love or death affected your stories?

My Sweetest Rejection

In my freshman year at university, I loved a boy. He wasn’t particularly handsome, suave, or heroic. But, he had a rolling laugh, and bright, clear eyes, and a smile that would jump eagerly to his face, even for things I had said. And, I wasn’t handsome, suave, or heroic, either. He was ahead of me by a year, but we shared some classes. That meant sharing walks to lectures, study sessions, and dinners, sometimes, to discuss assignments and theories. We worked together, too, in the theater: he drew designs and schematics while I plugged and played, tilting lights and dragging cables up ladders. I came to long for the hours spent in the rafters above the stage, when he’d lean his head close, to peer down my sight-line to teach me about focus and shadows. I still remember those lessons.

Near the end of that first semester, on a night crisp with a chill, we walked back to the dorms from the theater building. He told me about the pretty, stylish senior girl who got all the accolades but who never seemed to notice him, and I told him…something to make him happy:

“Maybe she’s just shy around you.”

He laughed a wobbly laugh that showed off his smile, but it had no happiness. “Yeah, maybe.”

We got to my dorm then, and he opened his arms. To this day, I swear I fell into them. In a story, we might have kissed and found each other. In reality, awkward teenagers that we were, we stepped away, said good night, and that was all.

I thought about him a lot over the next several weeks, through winter break and the return to campus the following semester. By that time, shooting stars shone in the background whenever he smiled at me, or whenever we shared a talk or stroll. I was sinking and had no clue what to do, until another friend of mine – who also happened to be a friend of his – told me:

“Write to him.”

“Like a letter?”

My friend shook his head. “Write him a story,” he said. So, I did. That’s what you see below, unedited and unaltered from my melodramatic eighteen-year-old self.

DecemberNight

This was the very first story I’d written from my heart that I showed to anybody. I included with it a note, asking him to meet me. He came to my room, but there were people hanging out there, so we went to the stairwell, a quiet, neutral place where we could talk. Which we did, though not about anything important: theatre schedule, a class paper, some acquaintance on the fringe. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I asked him:

“Do you really not know why I wanted to talk?”

He looked at his shoes, then looked at me, and said, “No. I know.” He didn’t laugh or smile. Instead, his face seemed serious, sad, and my heart sank. “I’m really flattered,” he began, and the next few sentences I can’t recall and barely heard anyway, for the loud, scratchy swallow of my pride in my ears. Somewhere in his gently compassionate monologue, he told me how, a year earlier, he’d stood where I was and listened to this same speech from somebody else. And, that, somewhen down the line, I’d probably give this speech to somebody, too. I never did, but I have always remembered how he stood up at the end and asked, “Are we okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, because I couldn’t say no, not even then. Not even now.

He smiled, and started down the steps. But he paused past the curve of the landing, turning to look up at me again to say, “Please, don’t be sad.”

It was, at the same time, both the sweetest and the most heartbreaking rejection I have ever been lucky enough to receive in my entire life. No slip of paper from any editor, publisher, or reader will ever fill me with such pain – or such strange grace – as that moment.

I don’t know why I’ve shared this story, now. Except maybe to say, wherever you are, Chris, thank you for that moment. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without you.

First Choices [includes yet another “Finding Mister Wright” free write]

Writing has a lot to do with first choices. We write from the tips of our fingers, trying to get down all the words running in our heads. When we sit back and take a read through what’s on the paper or screen, we can start to second-guess those words. I’ve written enough first drafts – enough words – to know it’s okay to trust my first choices. They’re usually right. But, sometimes, they’re not.

After I’ve finished a story, I’ll let it sit a while. For a short story, maybe a few days; for a novel, sometimes as long as a year or more. When I go back and read it again, it’s easier to see which first choices were right and which ones were, well, not so right as I’d originally thought. That distance is important. It grants us a fresh eye and fresh mind. It also grants us greater honesty with our work. Hopefully, we’ve grown from that first draft, using other stories. The distance, honesty, and experience work together to help us see that draft in a new light. If we’re ready, and inclined, it puts us in a better place to cut, weave, and create a more perfect story than what used to be there.

All of this is just me saying that I’m back in editing mode again. I’ve pulled up Fearless and have started to go through it piece by piece, chapter by chapter, conflict by conflict, to make it a better story than it was, even if it’s never perfect. I loved the story then and I love it still. I’ll likely be doing some more off-the-cuff writing while I edit this time, though, because I learned from the From Hell edit that I get a little lost when I’m not creating anything new. But I’m ready for this next challenge. Let’s see how good my choices were the first time around.

To celebrate this new chapter in my own journey, I pounded out another short-ish free-write set in my “Finding Mister Wright” universe, where the Wrights and McAllisters talk about, fret over, and celebrate their own first (and second) choices.

“First Choices” (~2700 words/9 pages; PDF will open in a new window)

Have you made any first choices lately with your writing?

Friend Focus: 4amWriter’s Writer…Uninterrupted Goes Indie

EDIT:
Writer…Uninterrupted: A Handbook for the Emerging Writer
available now from Amazon!

Hey, everybody! 4amwriter is going indie!

If you don’t know who 4amwriter – Kate Johnston – is, click the link above and head over to her blog to find out. You won’t even need to come back here, because she can speak for herself much better than I can do, but I’ll share my experience of Kate anyway, because I always like a personal touch when I read recommendations. And, if you know the kind of writer I was before Kate, you’ll get an understanding of how I’ve grown with her help.

I first “met” writer, editor, and activist Kate Johnston about three years ago, through a writing blog called LimebirdWriters (archives still available and worth it!). Over the course of reading her poetry and prose, and looking through her articles and commentary, I learned a lot about writing in general, as well as my own voice. I even took advantage of an editing offer Kate had a few years ago, for which I sent her the first 1000 words of my 2012 NaNoWriMo story, “Anywhere but Here.” Her feedback for that scene was awesome, so much it pains me that I’m still trying to sort out the best way to rewrite this story, to be worthy of those comments. Kate’s helped me with other scenes over the years, too. So, when I read that she was jumping into independent publishing with a series of books on helping writers be better writers, I knew I had to help spread the word.

My acquaintanceship with Kate doesn’t even begin to scratch this lady’s surface. Head over to her blog and read about her adventures in writing and life – of both the 2-legged and 4-legged variety! You will not be disappointed. And, while you’re there, click “Follow” so you’ll know when her “Writer…Uninterrupted” series hits the virtual shelves. You’ll be glad you did so.