Monday, April 28, 2014

Finish what you start

I just sent off a short story to my writing group in preparation for our critique meeting next month. And now I'm ready to tackle something else. When I started thinking about my writing as a job, it ramped up my productivity even more than I imagined. Each time I finish a project, I find it easier to jump into the next one. This milestone had me thinking about 'finishing' in general both from a reading perspective and a writing perspective. There is something so powerful in finishing. Doesn't matter what we're talking about, finishing 'it' is sometimes the best part. The finish line of a race, savasana at the end of a yoga practice, a big project completion, birth after pregnancy, summer after a school year is over, 'The End' of a good book...

So why is it that so many stories I've read recently DO NOT HAVE ENDINGS? It seems like the current trend in genre fiction - or maybe I just picked all the wrong books to read lately? Either way, it couldn't turn me off more as a reader. So you're writing a series and you want me on the hook to read all of them? Guess what, you better give me satisfaction with at least some kind of conclusion to the conflict central to that specific book or I'm never going to pick up the next one. No matter how good the writing was or how interesting the characters are. I understand wanting to leave some kind of a hook at the end so I want to keep reading but don't end on a cliffhanger with absolutely nothing resolved and expect me to pick up another thing you've written. Ever.

One of the themes at LTUE and asked in panels over and over again was how to sell a series if you're not a published writer yet. Without fail, every publisher and agent who was asked this question said (and I'm paraphrasing) that you write the first one, query it as a standalone "with series potential" and then move on to other projects. Those other projects they all said should not be the second or third book in the series. It makes sense. Why spend all that time and effort of novel writing if there's no market for the first one. (Of course, if you are going the route of independent publishing one could argue differently. However, I would still say it's safer to write one and see if the demand for another is out there before I spent another year on a series.) Never once in any of these panels with professionals did they say, just write half or almost a novel, sell it and hope your readers will pick up the "series potential" in the second one. No one wants to read a book that doesn't have the ending. So why then are there no less than five novels (most of them young adult but not all) that come to mind that got professionally published without endings? I won't name names but pressed to do so I could rattle them off. Why? Because I was SO MAD when I read them that the lack of ending is what stuck with me. For all of them.

When it comes to writing, it is harder than I thought this finish something then move on to a new project. I'm taking my own advice right now as difficult as it is. The story I just wrote started as an idea for a novel-length work but I decided to write it as a short story. Why? So I can submit it to writing contests and other market avenues that may go further in progressing my career toward publication. I can always go back and add the rest of the story in later if there is a market for it. Or I decide I want to because I've finished something else and have no new ideas for the next project. It may be that this fabulous world and characters with tons of things I alone know about them right now may never get written by doing it this way. I'm looking at it as working smarter not harder and, for the moment, I'm trusting the professionals and gambling a bit for the payoff.

Tell me, how do you feel about unfinished books when you read them? Are others more indulgent of their favorite authors or am I one of the few readers who find this an unforgivable offense? As an author, I vow I will never publish a story without an ending! (I know, never say never will probably come back to haunt me but I will be surprised if it ever does in this regard...)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

This Time Last Year

Occasionally I wax reminiscent and look back through my blog posts. Even less frequently I find coincidences that are worth mentioning in a blog post. Rarely do the planets and stars all align to create a new post such as this one. This time last year (give or take a couple of days) I blogged about how "Fine" no longer applied. Here's a quote to recap:

 But now I'm back to having more questions than there are answers. Plus more poking and prodding and testing trying to figure out exactly what IS going on with me. Can you say "high deductible met by April"? Say it with me...

Needless to say, I cling desperately to my weekly yoga sessions to reset my psyche. That overworked psyche that is trying her hardest to keep her chin up. The alternative is wallowing in self pity and self-induced panic about what the future holds which I've caught myself doing - very unlike me. I don't feel like myself, I don't look like myself, and some days I have little desire to be myself in this current unhealthy stage of the game. I've grown weary of all this crap and would kill for feeling good with all my energy back. It is a daily struggle to lift myself up and keep myself going. And my family is imploding because the force at the center that keeps it all a smoothly oiled machine is falling apart. But, it is what it is and at least I didn't die. (That's my mantra lately.) While it sucks right now and I'm not fine, I have high hopes that I will be soon.

You can read the whole post HERE. It was a dark time when I had more questions than answers and I was just learning that there was more insanity going on with my health. I hadn't even gotten my diagnosis yet.

Here's where the planets aligned...

This week, I sat in the exact same exam room as I sat the day I found out that literally I'd almost died. This time it was for my yearly physical with my doctor who has become what I think soldiers who face danger together become to each other. The same room. What are the odds? I could barely contain my joy as I recounted the remission details and what I'd been up to with my nephrologist since I'd seen him last. We laughed and at times sat in wonder as the facts I was sharing of this "nutty year" sank in.

I thought it was just going to be a happy day, had been looking forward to it all week in fact, until the part where he left so I could change into the snazzy gown for the exam part of the visit. I sat there alone waiting for him to return, in the same spot in the same gown as that first fateful day when I waited for an EKG and embarked on the scariest twenty four hours of my life to date. I also thought about all that I was going through a year ago when I thought I had put the pulmonary embolism and craziness behind me to find out everything was still frightening and unknown. Just like the first time I sat there, I was overcome with emotion. I know they were tears of relief and joy - the kind I still have in abundance whenever I think about how quickly I recovered - but they were still tears and they were streaming down my face when he returned with his medical assistant in tow. I blubbered like an idiot about how I didn't think I'd thanked him enough for saving my life. He got emotional too while he tried to listen to me trying to compose myself enough to take deep breaths for him.

I'm sure the MA thought we were both off our rockers. Can't blame her, she is new and not one of the regulars who still know me by sight, even after all this time. Then we were joking and laughing like old friends trying not to be awkward while avoiding admitting we'd just cried together during a routine physical. I left knowing I'm on the final stretch of this insanity that started what seems like forever ago, yet was only seventeen months ago.

This time last year I was also attempting to participate in CampNaNo to write my second novel. It didn't happen with everything else going on then which overshadowed my writing. But I still wrote that novel in November and I'm now editing it in hopes of publication someday - despite what else life threw at me. Because I'm not a quitter. But more importantly because almost dying gave me a greater perspective of what making each day count really means.

I'm still not sure I know how to be this happy. One thing is for certain, I'm glad I'm still here to figure it out. And I'm not wasting a single day because I know tomorrow is not guaranteed.What were you doing a year ago? And what are you doing to make every day count?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hamstrings: my blessing and now my curse

One of my favorite sayings when it comes to yoga is "you do yoga with the body you brought, not the body you want". It really sums up the mindset of there is only now and you shouldn't put off doing yoga (or anything) until some future date when you {insert your personal demon to overcome here}. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say they 'need to lose weight' before they start yoga or that they can't do yoga 'because they aren't flexible'. It's like saying I'll start living my life when I think I'm good enough to do everything I might ever want to do. I love saying that yoga is a journey not a destination because you start on a journey and end up someplace different. You don't do yoga because you're flexible, you do yoga to gain flexibility. Anyway, stepping of my yoga soapbox and getting back on topic...

Another truth about yoga that most people don't know is that everyone has something they are naturally good at and it's different for everyone. From flexible shoulders, innate upper body strength, open hips to stretchy hamstrings, we all have something we are good at without having to work for it. My blessing is super flexible hamstrings. I can bend over and lay my palms flat on the mat without having to warm up or bend my knees. My first down dog of every practice is all it takes to get my heels flat on the mat. My tall and lanky yoga instructor still can't ever get her heels flat in down dog after more than ten years of teaching. It is just how I'm made. Some might argue it is because I'm short and squat. I'm okay with that being the reason since I like the side effect regardless of how or why it happened.

Two weeks ago, I was blissfully enjoying a seated straddle stretch... picture sitting on your butt with your legs straight and both spread wide, bent over at the waist trying to lay your head on the mat between them. And yes, blissful for me since I always feel accomplished when I can go a little further toward the mat thanks to my hamstrings. And all of a sudden I heard and felt a pop in my upper left leg right under my butt. I ignored it as I have a habit of doing and two days later did my epic one hundred and eight sun salutations to celebrate the solstice. I haven't been the same since.

I took it easy for a week when it was clear I had actually done something to myself. How did I know? I could barely bend at the waist without pain, forget about touching the floor. I even went in for some therapy a week ago with my amazing sister in law. It helped so much that I assumed I was all better. But, this morning I was back to being limited in what I could do.

This is where most people would be disappointed and unhappy that they can't do whatever they want but I saw things differently this morning. Subconsiously I must have known I wasn't one hundred percent because when it was time to set our intention for the morning's practice I decided to focus on just being on the mat and okay with whatever showed up there without judgement. When I had to step out of a pose because it hurt, I just listened and did what my body was telling me rather than pushing through it. When I could have gotten all up in my head about how I could barely bend over in standing straddle stretch when I can usually put my head on the mat, I just did what I could and didn't push it.

Here's the bottom line since I've been thinking about it all day... I'm injured, yes, and will have to take it easy for a while. But that means I've come full circle with my health and fitness and am capable of doing things full out where there is always risk of injury. A year ago yoga was something I did to keep myself sane while dealing with lots of stress associated with a new chronic disease. Now, it is a lifestyle and a way to challenge myself physically as well as emotionally.  I'm choosing to look at this injury as a new challenge and a positive indication of how far I've come in my quest back to fit. What a wild journey it has been. And even injured, I still love my hamstrings!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Wonder of Diversity in Fiction

Everyone is different, we all know that, right? This week I realized there is far more striking diversity in what people read than I'd ever given thought to. I devoured - and I mean devoured - a book a few weeks back by a fellow author I met at LTUE called Beatrysel. Afterwards I raved about it to everyone I know. And then was shocked - SHOCKED - when one of my besties from my writer's group picked it up and said she just couldn't get into it and didn't really love it. It got me thinking...

I knew that there were different tastes - ten years in a book club has shown that over and over again. In the microcosm of my own book club, there are people who adore the young adult genre even when they are far from the intended demographic the books are written for. There are those who love historical period pieces. And the holocaust. And the classics. And there's a handful of us who love fantasy. An even smaller handful who love horror. And for all of those who love a particular subset of books, the niches they discard are just as varied.

What makes you love what you read and reject what you don't like? I've thought for years that we all read with our own filters. Those experiences we've had in life that taint the glasses we look out from also tend to define how we take things in. Most fiction has one thing in common across all genres - it evokes an emotional response in readers. Based on an individual's emotional make-up, those responses will be different for different books. What a wonderful world we live in that for as many varied kinds of readers, there are that many varied kinds of writers providing the kinds of books everyone everywhere want to read.