Posts

Wait…You’re on Twitter Now?

Hello everyone! This is the SparkNotes (CliffsNotes for the over-thirty set) version of “My Summer Essay.”

This was the summer where both nothing and everything happened. Nothing much happened in the way of writing, because EVERYTHING FUN was happening with family! However, “nothing” can still carry a lot of emotional weight. My pendulum arced all over the place because:

  1. A Superstar Dream Agent requested my full manuscript!
  2. Four hours later, a Different Superstar Dream Agent sent me this email: There’s some really gorgeous writing here, and I like Brook’s voice a lot, but…. I think I’m just not the right fit for it. Another agent may well feel differently, but in the event that you don’t find a home for this, I’d be happy to see more work from you. (And no, I don’t say that often.)
  3. [Cried for a wee bitty bit.]
  4. A few weeks later, Original Dream Agent (see #1 above) sent me this email: You’re a wonderful writer and this was a great premise. These great things considered, XXX doesn’t feel your work is the right fit for him at this time and for that reason, it’s best for him to pass. I do want to note that his current list is such that he is extremely busy (as evidenced by the time it’s taken for us to get back to you), and he is not taking on anything he can even possibly resist. This fact played the largest part in his decision about your work.
  5. [Cried for another wee bitty bit.]
  6. Dried my tears and sent out a new batch of queries ONE YEAR TO THE DAY since my very first ones!
  7. Signed up for Twitter in the hopes that I will somehow magically land an agent, editor, and publishing contract (in rapid succession) as a result.

Wait; what? Dawn Claflin is on TWITTER???

That’s right, and I have no clue what I’m doing, so please follow me and get in on the action as I learn on the fly! @dawnclaflin, doncha know? It’s sure to be embarrassing, hilarious, and all that, so…what are you waiting for?

 

Advertisements

Don’t Read My New Essay if “Womanly Issues” Embarrass You–and other stuff I’m thinking about

My two weeks of vacation turned into four, and today I finally sat down to write only to find out…the lovely Mothers Always Write published one of my essays today! Of course I love it when you read my stuff, but this one comes with a disclaimer: it’s about periods. And not the kind at the end of this sentence.

As a mother, my brain is always in a few different places, and as a writer it’s no different. People ask me, Do you write novels or essays or poetry? Yes. Do you write for adults or teens. Yes. Have you been published, or are you still looking for an agent? Yes.

Anyway, part of my brain is with my son and his friend, who are outside jumping on the trampoline while the sprinkler runs under it. Part of my brain is with my daughter, who is away at horse camp with her bestie. And parts of my brain are with my first novel (it’s time to query more agents), my second novel (all my feedback is in so I need to start another draft), and my essays (when one gets published, that tells me to submit again).

Because it’s summer, part of my brain is also thinking about that hammock outside. I’d love it if you grabbed a cold drink, pulled up my essay here, and relaxed while reading–not just my essay, but the whole journal! Happy summer to you!

mothers-always-write-contributors-300x200

Photo credit for hilarious ad: Internet Archive Book Images – https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14584974097/Source book page: https://archive.org/stream/canadiannurse1939cana/CdnNurseVol35#page/n154/mode/1up, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43671311

Three Week Update for the Price of One!

What do Mexico, zombies, and Erik in an apron have in common? Me, unfortunately.

Two weeks ago I was in the Tecate/Tijuana area, building a house and outhouse for a sweet family who were living in a tiny one-room shack.

Last week I was recovering from five days of little sleep, huge energy output, emotion, and adrenaline. I couldn’t have told you what day it was, let alone write a blog post about it!

That brings us to today! My first novel, Things That Were Lost, is out in the world, letting God work his magic. Six agents have the first 10-25 pages; another two requested the full manuscript and I’m waiting to hear from them. I’ll check in with them in early July when I query more agents.

And my second novel! It’s called Current Novel Trajectory Two (never let a little writers block keep you from writing, I always say). As of this writing, it weighs in at about 50,000 words spread over 272 pages. I am feverishly working to reduce the 576 comments (read: things that need fixing) to, oh, a nice round number like 0 by next Friday, when I send this book off to my fantastically marvelous group of beta readers.

I am feeling slightly whelmed.

So, that’s my life for the next week, which means if you drop by my house, you’re likely to see Erik wearing an apron (and his other clothes! don’t worry!), Angus watching TV, Aeddan off self-parenting like usual, and the dog crossing her legs as she waits to be let out.

I’ll be the zombie sitting in the corner, red-rimmed eyes lit up by the computer screen, dry crusts of bread, empty coffee mugs, and random tufts of hair scattered all around. Actually, looking much like I do in the photo, only with less smiley.

But in one week–two weeks of freedom! In which I will pretend I am not an author!

A Series of Poems I’ve Written, Ed 5: On Being Young and in Love

I fell in love with my husband, Erik, the summer we both worked at a camp in the mountains. Though tired from wrangling campers all day, we had freedom to get up to wholesome, old-fashioned trouble together–not the kind of trouble that leads to later emotional regrets, but the kind that involves galloping horses bareback, repelling down the sides of buildings…and climbing water towers at night.

 

Water Tower at Night

 

Moonlight danced off your white-gold hair as

You climbed out of my vision,

My feet tethered firmly to earth.

 

Your voice echoed softly down,

Beckoning, yet

Careful of roving lights on the road.

 

I called back, my words entombed,

Trapped in the steel ocean prison of

The rusted reservoir.

 

Separation from you,

Bars of metal and midnight:

These forced my feet loose from their anchorage,

 

Compelled me to

Steel fingers against a metallic embrace,

And brave cold rungs of the water tower.

 

(To read other poems in this series, click Editions 1, 2, 3, and 4.)

Photo by Wayne Ray – Windfield Photographic Collection, POB 340 Stn. B London Ontario Canada N6A 4W1, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=856606

Read “Letting Go of Water Birth” Online Today!

What do you get when you mix idealism, childbirth, and me? Click here to find out!

Today I’m taking a break from poetry (and round four of agent query letters!) to share an essay of mine that went live today at Mothers Always Write. The editors are incredibly supportive, and have established a loyal base of contributors. Please take a look, and share it with friends–while you’re at it, enjoy this always lovely, always well-written journal (which has also published other essays of mine, which you can read here, here, here, and here).

Thanks for your support!

Photo by Monik Markus from Gainesville, Florida, United States – Skin Water Droplets BathingUploaded by Yjenith, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18715332

A Series of Poems I’ve Written, Ed. 4: “When the Tide Comes in”

The weather is sunny in Seattle today, and so it is easy to be joyful. Some days, not so much. This poem deals in water, in wind, and most of all in the true source of hope.

 

When the Tide Comes in

 

Jesus was a sailor, after all,

split knuckles good for more than just

hammering and

healing.

 

On bad days, I listen

as rain pounds out the

staccato rhythm of my mood,

and I think,

At least I’m not in a boat.

 

Sometimes I have to wait.

There he is, asleep among dead fish,

Untroubled by the chafing sea.

 

Then,

predictable as the tides,

he wakes and

peace arrives:

my merchant navy

bearing

shipping crates full

 

stacked            20 tall

30 deep

 

a quadratic equation

equivalent to

 

the brisk salt breeze,

bright pennants flapping,

gulls flying over

red boxes full up

with hope.

 

 

This poem appeared in The Phoenix Soul November 2016.

For other poems, check out “A Small Rebellion“, “Perspective“, and “Winter Hike in the Mountains“.

Photo by Żeglarz – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1760402

New Essay Published!

Live somewhere, like an apartment, condo, or house? Have neighbors who are (presumably) humans?

Then head to your local bookstore to read my latest essay “Earplugs Make Good Neighbors” which you can find in print in Funny Times!

In case you need convincing: this essay involves marijuana, a beach, and a dead squirrel. Serious literature, people!

 

Photo credit of my beach’s body-double: Johntex – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=621359

A Series of Poems I’ve Written, Ed. 3: “Winter Hike in the Mountains”

Winter is technically over, but really. I live in Seattle, where winter wears out its welcome well into May and June.

People around here know that, if we aren’t willing to go play outside when it’s raining, we will be spending a lot of time indoors. (Like, maybe, all of it.) This poem is in honor of the majestic mountain hikes of the Seattle area, which provide reasons to get out of the house.

 

Winter Hike in the Mountains

 

This was a logging road, once,

a surgical incision, raw scar tissue of forest.

Now it provides growing space for

this intrusion of scotch broom, aggression of blackberry,

invasion of ivy and assault of holly,

all imported to prune and plant the wild into submission:

a tidy garden.

 

The road is in decline, however.

All scars fade with time, and

native trees live long and grow tall.

When once the sun no longer reaches here,

all trespassers wither in shadow,

this once-road known only as

the quickest way to water

for the passing hooves of deer.

 

 

Photo by Leslie Seaton from Seattle, WA, USA – Yesler Trail, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33880997

A Series of Poems I’ve Written, Ed 2: On Crows

As a sort of prayer that Things That Were Lost will find the right agent (rather soon, while we’re at it), for the second edition of our series I’m sharing a poem about that most intelligent of birds, the crow.

 

Perception

 

 

My husband finds rocks in our gutters, sometimes,

and I wonder about recent weather patterns.

 

We hear tapping, insistent hammering,

and our brains make the leap from annoying birds

 

to brilliant innovators,

the rock a tool, a snail the prize.

 

The windshield wiper of imagination

replaces an image of pebbles

 

rattling down from cirrus clouds

to this crow, rooftop engineer,

 

visionary and inventor,

cracking the shell, designing the catapult,

 

colonizing the moon.

 

 

Photo by Rod Waddington from Kergunyah, Australia (Thick-Billed Raven, Simien Mtns, Ethiopia) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Poetry for Dummies (Like Me, or at Least, By Me)

I remember when it was my turn to suggest a title for book club, and I thought we should read some poetry.

“Bwa-hahahaha!” laughed my friends from where they had slid onto the floor. “We might as well read a novel in Swahili!”

And, okay, so I can see their point. I took a few poetry classes in college, and while I loved the idea that each stanza, each line, no, each word was chosen for a specific purposes, or better yet, many purposes, so that the whole thing fit together like a puzzle, and it was only by taking the whole poem apart with both machete and scalpel that we could recognize the hidden meaning…well, that was intellectually fun, but in the same way that solving derivatives is fun. Or taking apart the toaster and then trying to quick! put it back together before Dad gets home!

Reading poetry should not feel like the written version of an Escape Room.

Thank goodness for poets like William Carlos Williams, and Gary Soto, and Mary Oliver, and Rumi, and Gwendolyn Brooks, and Carl Sandburg, and Langston Hughes, and Sandra Cisneros, and Billy Collins, who saved poetry for people like me–aka, People Who Want to Enjoy a Poem Without Having to Slit Their Wrists First, or After. (By the way, check out those poet links! It’s not to their Wikipedia page–who cares? It’s to just one great, easy-to-understand, wonderful, lovely poem by each. Think of it as a primer in poetry for us real actual people!)

So, in honor of this line of thinking (aka, the middle ground between Shel Silverstein and T. S.Eliot), I’ve decided to run a series of poems I’ve written, called “A Series of Poems I’ve Written”. Partly this is so I will no longer stalk around the house Thursday wondering what the heck I’m going to write for my blog tomorrow, and partly because I’ve finally (finally) confessed to myself that I don’t actually write the kind of poems that most editors are publishing.

So, in honor of this momentous occasion and to kick off our series with a poem that was clearly never going to see the light of day otherwise, I present you (double-spaced because I don’t know how to turn off that feature in this program) with:

 

A Small Rebellion

 

This doesn’t have enough depth, I read in the margins

in scratchy red script.

 

Why do writers have to be so theatrical?

Why can’t we write about something

cheerful,

friendly,

the soft radiator of a bunny’s ear or

the rhythmic swing of a hammock?

 

Children’s poems do this.  They rhyme

with wild disregard for grammar, choosing instead

exuberance:

The pouncing kittens growling like mittens,

The warm brownies smiling like clownies.

 

The thing is, this is how I was feeling.

The thing is, I was capturing the truth of a moment.

 

At any rate,

I like the raw crackly joy of it

and

I am not going to change it.

 

Photo credit: Alan Levine from Strawberry, United States – Honest is the Best PoetryUploaded by clusternote, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28095342

 

2-4-6-8! Who is it Fun to Hate? An Online Survey

My whole life I’ve been on this journey of learning when I’m right…and when I’m not. Let’s face it: it’s so gratifying to be right! And self-righteous! So, let’s dive right in! *Rubs hands together in an evil fashion.* Who do you secretly hate?

I know how we all love Facebook surveys (“What kind of facial hair would you have if you were a pirate?” “What five people in your life are most likely to pee in your shower?” “What breed would you be if you were a dog?”), so here’s a handy, computer generated1 list!

People I Might Love to Secretly Hate2

  1. Muslims
  2. Jews
  3. Catholics
  4. All Christians, not just Catholics; I’m kinda equal opportunity
  5. Atheists
  6. People who stick their old gum under tables where I will accidentally touch it
  7. Pro-abortion murderers
  8. Pro-life misogynists
  9. Gays
  10. Transgender folks
  11. Women
  12. Men
  13. Fat people
  14. Jocks
  15. Famous people
  16. Rich people
  17. Poor people
  18. Homeless people
  19. Addicts
  20. Idiots who throw trash out their car window right next to you at a stop sign and then flip you off when you yell at them3
  21. Jerks who take up two spots in the parking lot
  22. Other jerks who pull into your spot after you’ve been patiently waiting for it for ten minutes (although come to think of it, they may be the same as #21)
  23. Slow drivers
  24. Drivers who cut you off on the freeway
  25. People who text while driving (see #24)
  26. Nasty children who teach your own innocent kids dirty jokes
  27. Bullies
  28. People who wear pink pussy hats
  29. People who wear “Make American Great Again” hats
  30. Black Lives Matter protestors
  31. The “Free Hugs” guy (okay, who am I kidding? His superpower is being impervious to hatred)
  32. Asians
  33. Blacks
  34. Natives
  35. Latinos
  36. Whites
  37. Arabs (hey! Did you know they are technically white? Weird huh? But that’s okay…we don’t have to let that stop us!)
  38. Scary white dudes with lots of tattoos, piercings, and funky-colored mohawks
  39. Big guys wearing black hoodies and black jeans and hey, even their skin is black; in fact, why don’t we speed this up and just refer to them as thugs? Thugs
  40. Rappers
  41. Country music lovers
  42. Old people; also known as Polka lovers
  43. White parents who adopt kids of different races
  44. Kids
  45. Parents who don’t keep their kids under control at the grocery store
  46. People with mental illnesses
  47. Loud people
  48. Shy people
  49. Annoying people (admittedly a bit of a catch-all, so if you circle this one, give yourself like a thousand points)
  50. People with obvious disabilities, like being in a wheelchair or having no facial control so they maybe drool or something, because this makes us so uncomfortable that we don’t know where to look
  51. Republicans
  52. Democrats
  53. Hilary Clinton and everyone who voted for her
  54. Donald Trump and everyone who voted for him
  55. Betsy Devos
  56. Jeff Sessions
  57. In fact, let’s make this easier and just put: politicians
  58. People who stick their noses in other people’s business in blog posts (although, admittedly, these people are rare)
  59. Gun control sissy commies
  60. Gun-toting inbred honkies
  61. People who like Obamacare
  62. People who want to dismantle Obamacare
  63. Hey! Obama! How on earth did he escape this list till now?
  64. (Don’t see yours here? Insert as many extra lines as needed.)

Phew! Wasn’t that fun?

Add up all your points. If you scored 0, congratulate yourself on being either a) God or b) a liar. (Hey! “Liars” can be #65! That’s a better number for a list anyway.)

Okay, okay, you’ve made your point, lady. Lay off!

The thing is, I’m realizing that how I think about people is a good Hate-Meter. (Or Love-Meter if you’re an optimist like me.) The Hate-Meter/Love-Meter measures the words we use when we’re thinking about people.

Hate-Meter Spectrum

Hate                                                                                                  Love


Jerk                                                                                                            Loved

Idiot                                                                                                           Important

Fool                                                                                                           Valuable

Unwanted                                                                                                Wanted

It turns out, there are certain individuals, and certain groups, where I tend to land on the far left of this continuum. Jesus was always on the other side.

I want to be where Jesus is.

Now, I will say: if we don’t have Jesus living in us, it’s pretty much impossible to “Love our enemies.” So, there is that. But, I have no excuse. So I’m taking my list of people, the ones I secretly hate? Maybe so secretly that even I don’t know it most of the time?

Those people. And I’m going to pray for them. I’m going to serve them if it’s within my power. I’m going to treat them the way I’d like to be treated—heck, the way I want my kids to be treated.

So that’s our homework, people. (Wait! This comes with homework? Who does this girl think she is???)

Today’s HW: Apologize to God for hating people that He loves. Then, ask God what it looks like to love someone. (Hint: it should be pretty similar to how you like to be shown love.)

Due every day for the rest of your life.

Next week, for anyone who hasn’t unfollowed/unfriended me and still feels interested in reading things I post, I’ll share a few examples of #reallifepeople #livingthedream #dointheyHW

Meanwhile, go find out who you hate! And become excellent at loving them!

  1. Only in the most general sense. As in, I used a computer. To type.
  2. Wildly, grossly, negligently simplistic and incomplete.
  3. Yes this is a true story, although the true story is actually worse.

 

Photo credit: Copyright All rights reserved by evsmitty

Dawn Claflin’s Greatest Hits

Well, it’s kind of a funny story…

Way back a year ago, I sent three essays to The Funny Times, and in July, one of them got published (next to Dave Barry, remember?)–netting me a fat $60 check. So that was great. This was not the funny part.

But then, in November, I got another check for $60! My internal conversation went something like this:

Me: Wow! Another $60! Awesome!

Me, Only Better: Yeah, but…you haven’t submitted anything to them.

Me: Well, they must have decided to publish one of my other essays!

Me, Only Better: Without telling you first?

Me: [hands on hips] It coulda happened.

Me, Only Better: Let’s just wait until we get the November edition and see.

Me: Oooh, I know! Let’s deposit the check, then see if they published another essay!

Me, Only Better: That’s a dumb idea. You’ll have to call and apologize if you’re wrong.

Me: [deposits check]

Well, fast-forward four months, and I can tell you from personal experience that no other essay got published. So I had to call. And confess. And offer to write a check back to them. Truly, deeply, ridiculous.

I should have listened to Me, Only Better. She’s always right.

But then a miracle happened! Because when I called and had to talk to the actual editor (how embarrassing), she said something approximately like this:

Dawn, you got paid twice because we published your essay twice. We liked it so much that we ran it again in a compilation magazine, a sort of “best of” edition. In fact, will you please send us some more essays? Also, here is my first-born child.

Well, I drew the line right there, because seriously, one first-born is enough for this mom. And then I had this conversation with myself:

Me: Whut-whut???

Me, Only Better: Yeah, about that…

Me: Yes?

Me, Only Better: I guess you were right.

Me: I’m sorry; I couldn’t hear. Could you please repeat that? Also, I think it is time to change your name.

I can already tell, I’m going to be insufferable for awhile. Meanwhile, please! Go buy copies of The Funny Times! Subscribe! Wallpaper your bathroom with them! Because it appears those people over there have great taste. And, lucky for me, a sense of humor.

Update: When it comes to self-promotion, I am NOT your daddy

So. Many of you have been so kind, and so helpful, and so curious about my experiment in self-promotion (which you can read about here and here).

The experiment was wildly successful! In terms of clear results, that is.

I hate being another cliched self-fulfilling prophecy, but I was pretty sure this was going to happen. I did not alienate all my friends with shameless self-promotion. I did not call on favors or debts. My essay referencing my daughter’s short relationship with a lint roller could not compete with the media circus of modern politics (no link necessary). And, therefore, my essay at Sammiches and Psych Meds did not get 2,000 unique views in 30 days. So, my payday is in self-awareness and entirely non-monetary. In fact, in terms of promotional success, my experiment is most like the geyser on the left .

And that’s okay! Because I learned a few things:

  1. My mom is completely willing to alienate her Facebook friends by sharing my writing on an hourly basis, and I am both personally honored and quietly amazed that she has any friends left.
  2. I am passive about promoting my own writing and am perfectly, deeply, profoundly comfortable with that.
  3. My friends, family, and writer buddies pretty much rule.

Thank you all for participating in my experiment. And now, I am off to continue another one, in which I see how many agents I have to query before one picks up my novel.

More on that sooner or later.

I’m hoping for sooner.

 

Cool photo credit: K. Shimada – K. Shimada, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5634475

Have You Promoted My Essay in the Last Few Minutes?

So, my mom is better at my PR campaign than I am. Some of you are, too. And this week is your last chance to do a girl a solid by reading this essay.

In December, I shared that an essay of mine was live at Sammiches and Psych Meds, but that it was a big experiment for me: in order to get paid, “This Essay is Worth a Thousand Dollars” needs to reach 2,000 unique views. I claimed that I would be shamelessly promoting in order to test this method of publication.

Well. I may have overestimated myself. My mom shared my post at least four times. I’ve only posted it that one time.

A wise person (me) once said that any experiment that gives new information is a wild success, and now I know: I blow at aggressive marketing. I’m more tepid. If not actually cold. Just above freezing, maybe.

However, I’m not willing to give in just yet–my experiment lasts until January 21! That’s the last day for me to rack up those 2,000 hits.

So. You have a three-day weekend. Why not use it visiting this page from every device you own: your phone, laptop, iPad, and work computer? Why not share my essay on Facebook and Twitter? Why not compulsively check back every few hours to comment, keeping it at the top of everyone’s feed? Of course, the site doesn’t indicate how many hits we’ve already accrued, so there is only one solution: constant vigilance, people!

Don’t worry; the end is in sight. Meanwhile, enjoy the journey! And thanks for helping me along on mine!

 

Photo credit of way more cash than I will ever see, and why is it from the FBI???: FBI Buffalo Field Office – http://buffalo.fbi.gov/images/c3.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11854731

That’s what friends are for: living our own IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

I’ve never been so thankful to be warm.

You see, we live in a drafty old house, and in the main living areas, our primary source of heat is wood. This usually works great in Seattle, where even in the winter, temperatures rarely drop below 45 F.

But have you been watching the weather recently? Today it’s supposed to get up to 39 F, which is positively balmy.

None of this would be a problem, except: life happens. And this week, the way life happened was

dishwasher breaking+sink leaking+my husband getting the flu+running out of wood=4 days spent in my snowpants, watching dishes pile up around me

At first I told myself that it was going to be okay, that we could power through till Erik recovered. After all, my kids’ rooms were insulated and warm. What’s a few more days stuck hanging out in Angus’ bedroom? I reasoned. And we can eat take-out. Problem solved! #campinginside, right?

By the morning of Day 4, the shine was wearing off.

Then I remembered that, if I showed up at church on Sunday and my friend Dave found out that we’d been without wood for seven days without me telling him, I was going to be in Big Trouble.

I hate being in trouble.

I also realized that my ability to make a game of this was eroding. The mask was cracking. Asking Jesus for strength was no longer enough. The twin demons of despair and discouragement were circling; it was time for me to call in the reinforcements.

Let me stop a moment to ask you: who are your reinforcements? Who are the people who, when they read on Facebook that you have an essay that needs 2,000 hits to earn you payment, will print out a giant picture of you with the words, “Help me get paid!” on it and put it on the info table at church for you,like my friend Kay did for me? Who are the people who will do something simply amazing and expectedly unexpected when they receive the following text from you?

capture_2017-01-06-12-45-29

Thanks to my people, I watched an outpouring of love like George received in It’s a Wonderful Life. I got to watch the family of Jesus do what we’re created and commanded to do, like it says in Acts 2:

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Well, I had a need and my people showed up. Dave and Judy, who of course prayed but also offered to bring wood and a space heater over. Rod and Liz, who not only called to check on me but came to look at my sink and dishwasher and, along with Dave, organized a wood-splitting party at my house for Saturday morning. Robin–my daughter’s dance teacher–who made Every. Single. Dancer. carry wood out to my car when I came to pick up Aeddan after dance. Mark, who lives 45 minutes from me but got in his car to come split wood in the dark the second he got the call from Dave and Rod. Al and his son Seth, who are splitting wood at my house right now, despite the fact that Al has worked something like 1,324 days in a row. And of course the twelve or so people who will be at my house tomorrow morning, while Erik is sick in bed and I am not even home because I have a meeting–these people will be at my house splitting wood to get us through the week’s predicted cold weather.

Thanks to my people, my reinforcements, I don’t have to resist those circling devils on my own. I don’t have to pretend this is all a grand adventure. And when, as I sat in my car last night, and I saw that line of dancers and their armfuls of wood, I put my hands to my mouth and cried and laughed and felt something that I cannot adequately describe here.

So, who are your people? And, what are the masks and walls you use to keep people from seeing what you’re dealing with?

If you have your village, and they don’t know what’s going on, tell them. Even if it hurts and feels awkward. Trust me on this one. Let’s reclaim the true meaning of friend from its watered-down Facebook version. And if you don’t have this village, it’s time to build one, find one, join one. If you don’t know how, ask. You can ask me!

I’m warm now. I’ve got a bucket to catch the water under my drippy sink. I’m filled up with the joy and peace that comes with being loved. So I have energy to spare helping you find your people.

They are waiting for your text.

Two New Works,Two Different Payment Methods

I’m deep in the ugly work of drafting a new novel, and yet, the hard work of submitting shorter pieces months ago is paying off, tiny gifts in time for Christmas!

As always, I’d love it if you checked out my new work (here and here), but I also want to open a window into what’s going on here from a writing perspective. It’s not a big window, not a giant floor-to-ceiling pane of glass. Think of it more like those tiny triangular wing windows from the cars and trucks of my early youth (aka: the magical and wacky 70’s).

First off, I have a humorous essay up on Sammiches and Psych Meds (a name that is a humorous essay in and of itself). I had high hopes for “This Essay is Worth a Thousand Dollars,” which is abundantly clear in the title. Instead of the clearly indicated thousand bucks, I’m trying something new to me: payment only if my essay reaches at least 2,000 views. That feels ab-so-lute-ly wackadoodle to me–where am I going to find two thousand people who want to read this? But I love taking risks, and I’m viewing this as an experiment. I’ll let you know how it goes! Meanwhile, if you love me or, even, if you have minimally functioning limbs, you can help me out by reading and shamelessly promoting this essay on all your social media sites.

Think of it as door-to-door fundraising for adults, except without actual doors.

My second piece went live just today, at Page and Spine. I’ve said before (and I’m just repeating someone else’s wisdom here) that the key is not to submit everywhere you can, but to find a limited number of publications that are a good fit. And I love Page and Spine–I enjoy the poems they publish and like working with their editors, who’ve always given feedback that improved my writing. As for the pay, I made about $.08/word for this poem. (You can do the math.) So if the winter weather has got you down, take a look at “On a Rainy Day, Mexican Hot Chocolate.”

If you want the recipe, you’ll have to read the poem.

Meanwhile, I’m going to muddle through first drafts, revisions, and edits…or not. Maybe I’ll make a mug of steaming cocoa instead.

 

Photo credits: AlejandroLinaresGarcia – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6216512

All I Want for Christmas is You! (Agent of My Dreams)

Please, dial down your enthusiasm and remember: no one has agreed to anything. But I did have a second agent request the full manuscript of Things That Were Lost! Oh, look! All of Seattle is decorated in bright lights and glittery bows in celebration! (There’s nothing wrong with the world that a little self-delusion can’t correct.)

Remember, finding an agent is not the same as getting published, and it’s not even necessary if all you want is to hold your own book in your hands. Plenty of authors go the self-publishing route, and some of them even sell lots of books and become famous. (The Martian, anyone? Eragon?)

However, I really, really want an agent. I’m aware of three reasons; it’s possible some deep psychoanalysis would reveal more but let’s work with what we’ve got, shall we?

  1. A good agent will be able to help me refine my book to make it even more sparkly and addictive.
  2. A good agent will know the legal ins-and-outs so that I don’t sign a contract that leaves me without, say, my left arm or my first-born child if my book sales aren’t as high as expected.
  3. A good agent will operate as a smarter, market-savvy version of my super-ego that will tell me when a new book idea is on-track for winning the Newberry and when I should never repeat my idea to another soul, ever. Because it’s just that bad.

In a post a few months back, I described the standard process for querying agents. From my first round of querying six agents, I received one request for the full manuscript, three “I’ll pass” emails, and two non-responses (which I read as passes, but from agents that are too busy to send a form email–no comment).

So, a few weeks ago I dove in again. First, I looked at the first ten pages of my manuscript because that is often all an agent requests before making a decision (I know, right???), and even though I’m stoked I received one request for the full novel, one out of six is just not good enough. So, after axing my first three chapters, I pulled up my list of favorite books and authors in my genre, researched their agents, and wrote personalized query letters to six of them. And, again, I’ve already had one request for the full manuscript! That means two real-life agents have something lovely to read this holiday season, and my book has an opportunity to reel them in. This is getting very exciting, people!

It’s true that, with an agent, I will not get to keep 100% of the proceeds from my book. But guess what? I don’t want 100% of the proceeds! If I could pay you, my faithful reader, to buy all my groceries and clothes and thoughtfully selected Christmas gifts for my family and friends, I would. So if I can give an agent money that will never even hit my bank account in order to avoid things I find unpleasant, well, hooray!

 

I don’t want to be too optimistic here (actually, I’m not really sure I can help it; call it a personality defect if you must), but What do I do when an agent says they want to represent me? Do I immediately accept? Do I contact all the other agents who currently have my query? Do I run up the credit cards buying cigars for all my friends?

I have no idea. But I’m excited to find out!

 

photo credit: me. unless you believe it to be clearly amateur and juvenile, in which case my ten-year-old son did it.

Finding Paying Markets Part II

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about finding markets for our writing, and promised a second post the next week.

Then our presidential election results were announced, and like Americans all across the voting spectrum, I spent the next few weeks wondering what alternative universe I’d stumbled into.

I’ve just about got my bearings now, so it’s time to get back to that most fascinating of all topics: getting paid! (Which only differs by one letter from my husband’s favorite topic. Chance?)

Full disclosure: I don’t make very much writing. Yet. In fact, I love the photo that goes along with this post because it clearly illustrates just how fast I’m earning money over here at Casa Claflin. But I love all you other writers out there, and it’s frustrating as heck to trying to figure this out when everyone keeps everything a secret. In fact, I’m doing a career fair next week at the school I used to teach at, and apparently it’s bad form for students to ask, “How much money do you make?”

But, folks. That is important information! It’s like Starbucks putting calorie counts next to their drinks. It might not convince me to get the straight black drip, but I did discover that the White Chocolate Mocha my husband loves is worth almost two vanilla lattes.

So here is my 2016 breakdown.* All figures are rounded to the nearest number that sounded right.

  1. Editing someone’s self-published novel: $900
  2. Essay-writing tutoring for college students: $400
  3. Article getting published (1): $200
  4. Essays getting published (2): $85
  5. Poems getting published (2): $14

*not for tax purposes

Impressive, right? I’m finally able to have a conversation I only dreamed about before:

Student: Do you make a lot now?

Me: Nah, I got paid more at my last job.

Student: What was that?

Me: Public school teacher.

Student: (falls over dead from shock)

Clearly I have a loooooong way to go, and much more beans and rice to eat, before I can “make a living” at this.

Fun Facts about “Being A Writer”:

  1. Working on other people’s writing pays the most;
  2. Articles pay better than essays;
  3. Which pay better than poetry;
  4. Poets, according to Billy Collins in “Monday,” basically work for free.

Had any of my short stories been accepted, they would have fallen somewhere between two and four, depending on the genre and market.

The main takeaways here:

First, at some point, you’re going to need to decide where to put your efforts. Lots of writers only work on writing for other people, or only write articles, or focus solely on long-form essays. I’m still in the process of figuring this out for myself. My guess is that I will always have my fingers in many different projects, but my forward momentum in just one or two areas. (Psst! I hope it’s novels!)

Second, if you want to write to establish yourself, or heck! for the love of writing, there are lots of markets that will be happy to publish good writing for free. Once you are ready to get paid, hunker down for the famine. Unless you are made of magic or Stephen King, it takes awhile. (Not made of Stephen King. I mean if you actually are Stephen King. Unless this is maybe one of his creepier novels, of course.)

So! Hang in there, keep writing and etc, but don’t quit your day job unless:

  • God says, or
  • You are independently wealthy (which, why do you even have a day job? Hmm?), or
  • You have a Sugar Mama or (as I learned about in the Marine Corps) a “Debt Daddy” (as in he pays off your debts, not makes them), or
  • You are willing to be homeless and write from the library.

They do have free wi-fi.

 

Photo credit: RangerRickhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/rangerrick/2618227297/

After the election, a reminder to LOVE

I’ve got a new piece published, and after this election, you may want to give this whole publication a look.

When editor Amanda Fall scheduled the November edition of The Phoenix Soul, how could she have known all of us, maybe especially we women, would need to be reminded that we are BELOVED?

To read my poem, and other really wonderful essays, poems, interviews, and more from women of all backgrounds, you’ll have to pay a whopping $6 here. But it’s worth it.

All of us could use a little self-care right now.

 

For Such a Time as This: An Interview with God

This is not a political post. This is a spiritual and ethical post. It isn’t about the economy or the election. It’s about justice and faith and most of it was written by my guest blogger, God Himself¹.

Me: God, what is it you want from us right now?

God: Shout it aloud; do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and…sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God….

Me: What kind of commands are you talking about?

God: [Y]ou do as you please and exploit all your workers….[q]uarreling and…striking each other with wicked fists….

Me: Okay, I get that. But honestly, I personally have never exploited workers, and I haven’t hit anyone either (except my sister when we were kids and the three times I gave Erik a bloody nose but I swear those were accidents). So, how about me? What kinds of commands have I broken?

God: [T]his…I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free….to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter….

Me: Oh. Um. I kind of, you know, can’t say I’ve done those things. But I want to! So, what will happen if I do, you know, speak up for others²? Work for social justice³? Feed the poor and visit the sick and imprisoned*?

God: Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear…. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

Me: Thanks, God. Did I mention my name actually is Dawn? Anyway. Always good to have you on the show.

God: Anytime. Literally.

Yesterday, the friend of a friend was on the bus when a stranger told him, “All you wetbacks are gonna be sent back to Mexico now.” I hope someone stood up for him.

We should never ignore injustice. That makes us complicit. (I’m out of footnotes. Read Matthew 25:41-46 if you want more from my interview with God about being complicit supporters of injustice. It’s chilling.)

Christians, it’s our duty to stand up for the defenseless. Whites, it’s our moral imperative to defend our black and brown friends, duh–but also strangers. If you’re white and Christian, like me, then it’s way past time to carry the burdens of others (God again! Galations 6:2). The burdens are heavy. This is no joke.

The teacher part of me knows that learning happens faster when we’re given manageable steps to get us started, so buckle up.

  1. Do you have friends who are black/brown/undocumented/Muslim/gay/trans/etc? Reach out to them. It will feel awkward. Some of them might get offended. That’s ok. Here’s what I texted to my friends: “Are you doing okay after hearing the election results? I want you to feel safe. Please let me know if you need anything! Ever! We will stand up to anyone who tries to make life rough for you. We love you and are glad you’re here.” I even sent it to people who were born and raised here, and they also admitted to feelings of insecurity and fear. This is real, so step out of your comfort zone and let those close to you know that you are with them.
  2. Volunteer. Somewhere, for something, helping someone. Reread my interview with God. I can’t “spend myself” on the behalf of others if I limit myself to BBQ’ing hotdogs at my kids’ soccer party. That’s great, and all, but we’ve (me too) got to do much, much more. If you’re stuck for ideas, go online and type in your words. I used “volunteer Seattle immigrants” and my first hit gave me 85 local opportunities.
  3. Be an ally. Smile. Look friendly. Stay alert to what’s going on around you. Black and brown people and women of all races have been doing this for years; do it with and for them. If you see something that looks like harassment brewing, step up. If you saw a dog chasing a kid, anyone’s kid, you’d overcome your fear and use your body as a physical shield. Do it here too. It will be scary but you’ll survive.

These three ideas are not the end. These are the beginning. I want my brightness to shine like the summer sun at noon, and it won’t until my fingers bleed from clawing chains off my brothers and sisters.

So. What about you? For here we are, whether we like it or not. Are you willing to get in there and get to work, at such a time as this?

 

¹In Isaiah 58. You can find the full text of my interview with God here, minus the parts that were me interviewing, of course.

²God again, in Proverbs 31:8.

³That God! He says such great things! But I paraphrased this time: Proverbs 31:9

*God (this time disguised as Jesus) has so many quotes that my website ran out of footnote numerals… Matthew 25:35

 

Photo credit by Andrzej Otrębski – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24600923

 

 

Finding Markets for Our Writing: It Only Feels Futile

Today’s post deals with finding paying writing markets. To put it bluntly, if you’re a writer, you might find this interesting. If you’re not a writer; or aspiring writer; or I guess, you know, my mom, you will likely find this information a total snooze-fest.

Also, this is a two-part post: one for this week, and one for next week. So don’t be surprised when you get to the end of this post and I haven’t talked about money. At all. Because I’m not going to. Despite what I said in the first sentence.

You’ve been warned.

So, when I first started writing, I didn’t care if a market paid or not. It’s not like I had stacks of cash mouldering* under the floorboards, but mainly, I was focused on learning, on getting in. So, publication credits (also called “clips;” aka “Look! Look! There’s my name! In print!” or, often, “I mean, online!”) were way more important than pay.

I made soooooo many mistakes, because I was making things up as I went along.

I did research, you know. I used websites like Writers Digest, books like Writers Market, and magazines like If Writing Were Easy Everyone Would Do It**. I went to Barnes and Noble and leafed through page after page of literary journals–aka “places that publish essays and poetry instead of news articles. Mostly.” When my head grew cloudy, I rearranged the magazines and took photographs, so I could research the titles later.

The main mistake I made was submitting my work to the wrong markets.

  • Wrong Market #1) Any market that publishes essays of more than 1,500 words. (Because I wasn’t writing those yet.)
  • Wrong Market #2) Any market that regularly included lines like “and so I ate the dystopian dust of society, marking time with the metronome of my biology, and took residence in a town far removed from my previous locale,” because, well, if it’s not obvious, then you are definitely reading the wrong blog here.
  • Wrong Market #3) Any market that made me feel like slitting my wrists (whether due to the chronic moroseness of the pieces, or despair at having to read yet another essay about the evil that lurks within, it’s really too close to call).
  • Wrong Market #4) Any market that sells at Barnes and Noble. Since every blessed one is all three of the first Wrong Markets combined.

But wait! These journals were famous! And gorgeous! And $21.99 each! So I naively sent off my dorky little essays and poems, filled with humorous anecdotes and sentences of less than 30 words each, and waited expectantly.

Thanks to all the writing I was doing, I got a lot of rejections. So that was cool.

Now that I’m older (by a whole year! or seven months, at least), and wiser (compared to, say, the moms on Toddlers in Tiaras) and arguably more experienced (think of all those rejections! That’s a lot of experience!), I have this to say:

Finding the right market takes an incredible amount of time.

I’m talking, for the last two days I’ve done no original writing, but have merely searched out journals online, read through a bunch of the stuff they publish, and deleted their names from my list of markets to check out. Because seriously people, apparently the need for writing that is funny, and easy-to-read, and accessible by anyone who made it to at least tenth grade, apparently this need has already been filled by Dave Barry.

So, I’ve decided it’s time for good old Dave to retire. That’s right, Dave! Step aside! It’s time for someone else to get some play around here!

Meanwhile, if you’re a writer, take your time. Join Duotrope. Write a lot, but spend hours (and hours, and hours, and hours, until they hang a sign with your name on the back of your chair in the library) researching markets till you find ones that sound like what you’ve got to offer.

Because the trick is not to find 100 publications that might like a piece you send in.

The point is to find twenty markets that will publish your work over and over. I’ve found one market like this so far, and the relationships I’ve established with the editors and other contributors are phenomenal.

If I could clone that, I would. But since I can’t, it’s time for me to hit the books, folks.

I’ve got more markets to find.

 

*Yes, I know that “mouldering” is technically spelled without the u. But it looks cooler this way.

**Not a real title.

Photo credit of a bunch of markets that will never publish my writing: Matthew Pack (News stand) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Secret Agent Update

On Monday, I posted this on Facebook:

I just received a request, from AN ACTUAL AGENT OF ACTUAL BOOKS THAT ARE ACTUALLY ON SHELVES IN LIBRARIES AND BOOKSTORES, for my full manuscript!

I both can and cannot believe this news.

Thank you Jesus!

Most of you know that I finished my novel in September, then spent a week researching agents and writing (and revising…and revising…and revising) my query letter.

On Monday, about five weeks after my queries went out to six agents, I received one email requesting the full novel, and one email saying, “No thanks.” On closer look, another agent’s website stated that if four weeks passed without hearing from her, to go ahead and look elsewhere.

So, the score stands as follows: 1 maybe, 2 no’s, and waiting on 3.

This is starting to feel real, baby. And exciting!!! In fact, in a lapse of judgment I may move to regret, I wrote this back to the agent who asked to see more:

Dear Secret Agent,
It would not be stretching the truth to say that I screamed loudly enough to wake the neighbors when I received this email. Thank you for walking me through another milestone.
Just kidding about the Secret Agent part! But seriously, will I someday, in an interview, laughingly recount the time my agent decided to work with me based on the puppy-like energy I showed in my email? Or will I descend slowly into the bitterness of regret, knowing I had blown my one shot at greatness on a stupid impulsive email?
Ah, who cares? I meant what I said. Now I’ve just got to wait, what? A month? A week? A few days? How long can it possibly take to read my book, anyway? Really, friends are wondering when I “find out,” and I honestly don’t know. This isn’t like a recipe: Shut agent and book in oven at 350 for eight days. Results may vary.
Thank you, Secret Agent; I will always remember you as the one who wrote me my first “send me more” request. Thanks even to you, Agent of Doom, who wrote me that rejection email; that’s a first too! I’ve never been able to say, “I took a year-and-a-half to write a novel, and sent it to an agent, but she rejected it.” Now I can!
I’m feeling like less and less of a fraud when people ask me what I do and I say “writer.” I feel legit.
like feeling legit. And so, that reminds me…here’s another thing I didn’t used to be able to say: It’s time to go work on my second novel!
Creepy illustration credit: Ben Crowder (Flickr: Secret Agent) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

New Piece Online at Mothers Always Write

I’m honored to announce that a new essay is up on Mothers Always Write. Click here to take a look–in it I share my true and painful ER experience from when my daughter broke her arm. Trust me: if you’re a parent, you will want to read this now, before one of your own children breaks a bone.

As always, look around Mothers Always Write while you’re there. This gem of a journal always has lovely writing!

Getting over your bad self: Writing for children’s markets

What is 8 pages long, is read by a very small audience, and has ONE OF MY STORIES ON THE COVER???

Our Little Friend magazine!

In this post, I’d like to share a bit about writing for children’s markets.

Like any field, writing comes with its own set of elitism. There are certain types of writing, and specific publications, that authors aspire to. So we all sweat and labor and send off our best 10,000 word literary essay to a giant in the industry, and cross our fingers until, oh, our next birthday. Duotrope (a database of publications for writers), has lists of the slowest and most challenging markets. For the top 25 slowest markets, the number of days an author has to wait to hear back about a submission ranges from 286 to 483 days–well over a year! And the statistics for the most challenging markets are even harder to swallow: all of the top 25 in this category accept less than half of one percent. It’s hard to imagine, but for one of the journals, a famous one that you can buy at any Barnes and Noble, an author would have to wait an average of 276 days to learn whether a submission fell into the .2% which are accepted–or the 99.8% which aren’t.

And that journal isn’t even first on either list.

This brings me to writing for children’s publications. Many authors ignore these markets, thinking that they aren’t literary enough, or important enough, or famous enough. As a former public school teacher, this attitude grosses me out (it’s why a teacher with a family of four qualifies for the food bank), but as an author it is just fine with me. It means there is less competition.

This week, I’ve got a piece on the cover of a sweet little devotional magazine. I can’t tell you how gratifying that is. They may have changed the title–a common editorial move that can happen anywhere–but look at the amazing illustration to go with it! And, something many writers don’t know: children’s markets pay, and they pay well. I got paid about $0.10/word for this story; that’s about $18/hour for this particular piece. Yes, there are higher paying markets out there, but I love the approachability of smaller journals. They are perfect for me at this stage in my writing career.

So, log onto Duotrope (or sign up if you haven’t already), and search up those markets who cater to kids. Children deserve well-crafted, meaningful writing–and hard-working authors in this genre can earn a decent wage.

I hope to read your name in one of the magazines my children bring home!

I’m Just a Mail Order Bride: On Querying Agents

Sometimes being an author rules–I can show up for work in my play clothes, take a dance break when my brain gets tired, and go to the bathroom whenever I want.

Being a writer of a novel is especially fun because I get to be creative, like, all dang day.

But some things are confusing at first. A few weeks ago, I posted that I’d finished my novel and sent it out to agents; people keep coming up to me and congratulating me on getting published. So, this post is to clarify: My novel has not been published. Yet.

Here’s the process, for people like me who choose to go the traditional publication route. It puts me in mind of mail order bridery: my goods are out there, on display for a select few, while I sit at home praying that someone wants me.

  1. Write a novel. (And push it through many revisions, critiques, etc., to make it as lovely as possible.)
  2. Research agents. (More on this in a later post.)
  3. Write query letters to a handful of agents you’d like to work with.
  4. Wait. And wait. And wait. Maybe for months!
  5. Repeat 1-4 with the same novel and new agents, or with a new novel, until you find an agent.
  6. Then…do whatever the agent tells you.* This may include more revising and editing.
  7. Wait for the agent to find a publisher. (Isn’t this great? In the traditional model, it’s the agent’s job to find a publisher!)
  8. Then…do whatever the publisher tells you.* This may include more revising and editing.
  9. Wait. And wait. And wait. Maybe for a year!
  10. Take selfies of yourself in front of your book on the shelves of your local bookstore!

In a “You are here” map of this process, I’d be standing smack in the middle of #4. The waiting part.

For any agents out there who are reading this, lured here by my query letter: look no further! I’m the mail order author for you! Definitely. I’m nice. And hard-working. And full of great ideas!

Plus, reread #6.

 

*For those readers who are used to warning labels like “The knife you just purchased is not intended for use as a toy,” please note that I accept no responsibility in the case that you fail to do #2-3 properly, end up with a whack-a-mole agent, and blindly follow instructions to sign over blank checks or create a pseudonym spelled exactly like your agent’s.

 

 

photo credit: U.S. Department of Defence – 960509-O-0000P-007.

These are a few of my favorite things exhibit A: Getting Published!

I’m pleased to announce that my short story “Waiting for a Leader” was recently published in Primary Treasure! This piece was inspired by my daughter Aeddan and her classmates when a new girl started school with them in fourth grade.

Primary Treasure is a magazine put out by the Seventh Day Adventists for their kids to read in Sunday School. It’s legit–David James Duncan even mentions it in The Brothers K (better known as The Best Book Ever Written). I get super excited when things I love overlap: think Seven Degrees of Separation, but with my hobbies instead of people. (Remember how excited I was to appear with Dave Barry? Or get published by Ariel Gore?) So, here is the spider-webby map of this one:

my love of my kids+my career as a writer+my favorite book+my faith in Jesus=hemorrhaging joy!!!

(In case the metaphor breaks down, that’s a good thing.)

I’m sorry to say that this story isn’t available online–but not to worry! Just walk into your friendly neighborhood Seventh Day Adventist church (on a Saturday, remember) and offer to trade any kid for an old copy of Calvin and Hobbes.

Next week: in which my satire appears next to a comic by Bill Watterson. (Or, probably, not. But only because he’s retired.)

 

Don’t fret: I’m just querying agents

Well, it’s been one year and seven months since I drafted the first words of my novel. And now, it’s finally done.

I know; I can’t believe it either.

So, now I’m deep in the process of querying agents.

If you don’t hear from me in two weeks, send reinforcements. Until then, prayers will do.

 

photo credit: stuartpilbrow at Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Fight your darkness, not theirs

During our town’s Fourth of July parade, a bunch of Donald Trump supporters marched by.

Don’t take their candy,” I hissed to my kids.

Their looks said, “Wow, mom. Really? That’s not very nice!” And they were right. I was humbled by my spontaneous outburst.

This week, I am sharing a guest post by my longtime friend, coworker, and pastor, David Davies, on a question important to most of these days: How do we fight the darkness?

[A]s a follower of Jesus Christ I cannot yield to my desire to hate the haters or to destroy the destroyers.

In the last few months it has been weekly and at times daily: another police shooting, another terrorist attack, another mass killing. We live in violent, broken times. Jesus told us these days were coming. A friend asked, “How can I move forward in times like these?” It is a fair and thoughtful question as one grapples with the increasing wickedness and disregard for life and humanity.

The only answer I know to these violent and tragic times lies in the person and teachings of Jesus. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” These ideas are contrary to human desire and disposition. Our desire is to fix and to punish. Yet human depravity is beyond our ability to solve or legislate. There will always be people that are consumed by hatred, fear, bigotry, and prejudice. We are in danger of being victims of these acts. Not probably directly, but internally.

Our danger is becoming consumed in the very same way towards those who are that way. When I read or hear of another killer taking out their hatred on innocent people, my heart is at risk. But as a follower of Jesus Christ I cannot yield to my desire to hate the haters or to destroy the destroyers. If I do, that hatred will grow in me and push out my love. In nature, light and darkness cannot coexist. If I allow darkness to settle in me, I must convince myself that some darkness is okay, even necessary, to respond to the great evils of our time. If I do convince myself, I fool myself into believing that I can manage the darkness. But I cannot. Once allowed, the darkness spreads. It spreads in my heart and in my community. I feel justified and righteous in my darkness. I believe my darkness can help me and my community overcome the other darkness. But there is only one darkness, with lots of room inside. I believe my darkness is different, but it is not. I think mine has power for good, but it does not. When tragedies happen they bring darkness with them. The news, social media, politics, and most conversations expand that darkness, and encourage me to join. After each event of human-caused tragedy I must do the interior work to return to the light. I must refuse to allow the darkness to extinguish my hope. I must refuse to allow the darkness to extinguish my faith. I must choose the way of love, the way of Jesus. If I do not I have unwittingly joined the vast expanse that is the darkness.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” If I allow my anger, outrage, and fear to consume me, I have lost my love, and I risk bringing darkness to the hearts of others as long as I stay in these places.

So how do I move forward in these times? I look for the light in the darkness. I make sure that to the best of my ability I have kept darkness from seeping into my heart, my eyes, and my mind. Until I have accomplished this I don’t move at all, because I risk spreading my darkness. Jesus said that “due to the increase of wickedness the love of most will grow cold.” I believe that is happening. People’s love is growing cold. For my part I cannot fight the wickedness; I can only fight it out of me and contend for love. I can seek reconciliation. I can speak truth and hope. Anything else increases the darkness.

I must refuse to allow the darkness to extinguish my hope. I must refuse to allow the darkness to extinguish my faith. I must choose the way of love, the way of Jesus.

Psalm 27:13 says, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” This is where our hope is. God’s goodness will manifest in these dark times. Jesus is the light of the world, and so are we. We cannot allow darkness to put out our light. It takes work and personal honesty to guard our hearts and stay in the light.


 

 

My thanks to Dave for allowing me to publish this post. May all of us choose the way of love: the way of Jesus.

 

photo credit: 4028mdk09 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7875457

Happy Anniversary!

It’s time for a toast. Or, given the amount of calories I’ve already eaten today, maybe a piece of toast would be wise. Regardless of how we celebrate, it’s been a year since the creation of this site!

There is nothing like a birthday or anniversary to make us reflective. Here are some things I’ve learned this last year. You can click on links to read related posts.

  1. Nothing matters as much as good writing.
  2. Being a writer means being open to disagreement and criticism.
  3. Posting writing updates on social media makes good business sense. ONLY posting writing updates, and nothing else, on social media is self-serving.
  4. If I am doing what God has called me to do, he will pay my bills.
  5. Publishing something where someone might recognize themselves without getting their approval first is dumb, dumb, dumb.
  6. I will always miss teaching. I will miss my students more.
  7. There is more than one way to make money as a writer. Some are more interesting than others.
  8. Writing is a real job, and should be treated like one.
  9. Having a writing group RULES.
  10. Play nice with editors. In fact, play nicer than everyone else.
  11. Keep good records and follow up on open invoices, submitted manuscripts, etc.
  12. Sometimes I will hate my own writing.
  13. It’s forced and synthetic to create a list with a nice round number like 15, and less satisfying than ending on a prime number instead.

Looking forward to another year, with more learning and victory ahead! And don’t forget the toast!

 

Photo credit of the VERY calorie-intense toast: penguincakes – http://www.flickr.com/photos/penguincakes/2788691971/, CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25547996

In Which I Graciously Share Space with…DAVE BARRY!

You are going to have to pardon all the italics in this post, but I have life-changing news. Yesterday I got a copy of my first print publication, in Funny Times. So far, all my other credits have been online.

This is great, this is wonderful, but it’s not really italics worthy. (Except for the title of the newspaper. No way around that one.)

But then the italics happened! Because: my name was next to Dave Barry‘s! I was so excited that I may have screamed, out loud, “My name is right next to Dave Barry’s!” Perhaps I was reading on the lawn in front of the library. Perhaps it was crowded yesterday, because it was Farmer’s Market day. Perhaps I was sitting next to my daughter, who is entering her teenage years with that certain mortification kids get whenever their parents do anything interesting, like breathe or talk or make jokes about sex. Or dance next to them at a summer outdoor concert. (Not that I would know.)

But who cares about that? Because, I mean, Dave Barry! I learned everything I know about parenting and relationships from that guy!

I confess that part of me was like, Dave Barry is going to know who I am now! He’s going to call me up, and mention what a great essay I wrote, and how he’s really honored, as a Pulitzer winner, to be in the same paper with me.

And then I noticed that, not only are we in the same newspaper together, not only are our names literally right next to each other, but–

Sorry about that. I needed to breathe into a paper bag for a second. Because: we are on the same page!!! Well, back-to-back. Seriously, it’s like being in the same room with him! And standing back-to-back with him! To see who’s taller, or who’s the better writer, or who has the better haircut, or whatever.

Anyway, you can come to your own conclusions. My name’s not on his website yet (I checked), but…I shared my first print publication with Dave Barry!

I’m just saying.

Rules of Engagement: Keeping Facebook “Friend”ly

Today I’m asking for restraint.

This is unusual for me. I often have candy-colored hair. I’m 42 and planning out my next tattoo. The sides of my head are shaved–before that, I had dreadlocks. I’ve worn a tutu and striped tights…to church. My laugh is loud and once, when talking about a sensitive subject, I told the group I was with that I was going to be subtle. When I finished talking, the friend sitting next to me said, “At what point, exactly, was that subtle?”

I don’t normally do restraint.

But today, I sat down at my computer and said, “Lord, I need to post something today and I have no idea what to write. Will you please show me?” And five minutes later, I came across this post from my friend Aaron Bekkerus on Facebook:

I think it’s interesting that so many complain about our polarized government and country, yet even amongst my Facebook friends nobody wants to give an inch on any particular issue. Comments are either an echo chamber or senseless bickering. I think it would be wise to acknowledge that our friends and colleagues often have some reasonable rationale for a viewpoint on either side. With that understanding we could set about fine tuning our great country.

He has a great point. Facebook proliferates with memes (a word I didn’t know until two months ago when my daughter used it), video clips, and diatribes. It’s not even a debate; no one is trying to win. We’re just trying to be the loudest, the most obnoxious, the cleverest and most shaming.

Dialogue is always better than debate. The winners of debates aren’t chosen by who’s right; they are decided based on who was more skilled at arguing. Let’s just all agree: some people are really good at arguing.

This is not a skill we should be admiring. This is “might makes right” mentality and it’s wrong. It’s wrong when governments do it and it’s wrong when individuals do it.

On the other hand, dialogue searches for truth and understanding. It doesn’t have a time-limit, and it never seeks to “win”. It’s curious and open and based on facts. Disagreements aren’t always resolved, and people still get heated and emotional, but (unless we allow our dialogues to mutate into debates) no one leaves feeling defeated.

Now, back to restraint. When it comes to sensitive issues, Facebook is not the place for dialogue–or debate, for that matter.

Respectful dialogue is possible in person ONLY, where we can read and respond to the nonverbal signals of the people we’re talking with, and where looking at their faces reminds us that we love these people and want to understand them and treat them well. It’s only in person that our sense of relationship can outweigh our selfish desires to be right. It’s only when we have the physical presence of people that we normally like and respect that we can remember: oh yeah! I like talking with these people! She gave me a ride that one time, when my car ran out of gas. And he babysits my kids for free whenever I ask. And, for pete’s sake, I’m the godmother of their daughter!

It’s only in person that we can take others more seriously than we take ourselves.

So, please: use restraint on social media. If you must talk politics, then, you know: talk politics.

No one’s mind was ever changed by something they read on Facebook.

Except, maybe, how they think about the person who posted it.

On the far side of disappointment: a happy (deportation) ending

We need some good news.

Black men executed in public. Innocent people bombed in shopping malls. Children subjected to bullying because of their school’s inflexible bathroom policy. The worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen since the Holocaust. A political system so corrupt we are left with two candidates few people trust.

I don’t know how much more we can take. And I’m not even personally suffering.

When I asked my husband what the heck is going on in the world, his response was to take my face in his hands and say, “Jesus is coming soon.” This is, of course, good news, very, very good news. But, in this as in all things, I don’t like having to wait.

So today I have a good story to tell. This is a true story. It is story of a family reunited. It starts sad, as sad as they come. But stay with me till the end because you will love it.

It starts with the bombing of the World Trade Center, and the backlash against Arabs and Muslims in the US. It starts with Masab’s parents getting deported. They had four American children, but Masab, their second son, was born in Kuwait, which does not grant citizenship based on birth. His parents are Palestinian, and Palestine does not grant citizenship based on parentage.

Masab was a citizen of nowhere.

When his parents were deported, he could not go with them. No country would allow him to get off the airplane. The US government knew this and deported his parents anyway.

He was fourteen.

His parents left their older son, all of sixteen years old, behind as well, so that the boys could look out for each other.

When Masab’s father explained this to me, back in 2003, it took awhile for me to understand. “Wait,” I said, appalled. “You mean, the US won’t grant him citizenship, but won’t let him leave, either?” It was the most confusing and heartless illogic ever. “They are forcing you to go but you can’t take your son?”

And so, Masab and Waleed were left, alone in the United States, as their parents and younger (American) siblings were exported to another continent like machinery or dry goods. The other news: his parents, as people who had violated immigration laws in this most unforgiving of times, would never be allowed to return.

I kept careful guard over my daughter in those days, her grubby little hands and clear eyes, and tried to imagine giving her away, leaving her behind, saying goodbye: forever. I watched my high school students and wondered what it would be like to live alone, with no parents to pay the bills or do the shopping or cooking or cheer from the sidelines at even one basketball game.

I could not.

We prayed, and fasted, and prayed some more, that Masab would receive his legal residency. He finally did a full ten years later, at the age of 24, and after a separation that can never be measured by its ten-year duration, finally traveled overseas to visit his family.

Like a moth drawn to flame, I sometimes think about not seeing my daughter, my son, for ten whole years – and it is a lifetime longer than I can bear. After ten years, they would be whole new people, unknown to me, strangers.

Against all odds, this story has a happy ending, a happy ending you and I have been waiting for days or weeks or months or years to hear. The boys took care of each other. They finished high school. They both have college degrees and careers. Masab, through the kind of hard work and relentless responsibility that most White Americans can never fathom, earned his citizenship. When he received it, he immediately applied to sponsor his parents.

It’s been about thirteen years since the whole family has been together. This week, his parents arrived in the US. Legally. For good.

This mother, this father, their five adult children, sitting in a living room together, celebrating the end of Ramadan with each other for the first time in over a decade: this is good news. We love this family; we consider these boys our brothers, nephews, sons. This is what my family and my church and I have been praying for. This is a victory over evil.

Good things are still out there, in this world, waiting to be found, waiting to happen, waiting for someone to make them happen.

Peace be with you.

A Trinity of Good News: a Published Piece, a Writing Group, and a Successful Query

I have three quick updates for this week — all of them really wonderful.

First: another essay is live today at Mothers Always Write.  It’s called “Making Peace with Sponge Bob”, and I warn anyone squeamish: the words boobs, uterus, and poop all make an appearance.

Second: I am now one week into the successful launch of an online writing group and I love it!  I have a feeling that the feedback is going to sharpen my writing into something better than it could have been otherwise.

Third: Last week I mentioned that I had sent out my first query.  As of today, I’ve sent four — and one got picked up!  By Parent Map!  If you aren’t a parent in the Seattle area, a “That’s great” will be sufficient.  The rest of us are throwing our hats into the air and high-fiving strangers.  This is really huge, and I feel humbled and challenged by this assignment.

This is a new kind of writing for me — basically, instead of selling an already finished piece of writing, I sold a future piece of writing, a proposal.

So, today’s post is short.  Once this piece gets published, I will post details about the process for those who are interested.  Until then: I’ve got work to do, and I am so excited to do it!

The Query Letter, or: There is a First Time for Everything

So, in my quest to become a “real” (vs. wannabe) writer, I’ve done the following:

  • quit my paying job so I have time to write
  • written almost 30,000 words of my novel’s first draft
  • joined Duotrope (to track my submissions)
  • read a ton of professional literature on how to make it as a freelancer
  • ghost-written a book
  • researched markets
  • joined a writing group
  • written and submitted 48 pieces (both essays and poetry) 126 times
  • received acceptance letters for eight different pieces — and counting!

What I hadn’t done, till earlier this week, was written a query letter.

Basically, there are a few ways writers can try to get published.

  1. To publish a book, as a first-time novelist, I really need to have a completed, wonderful, amazing novel.  All done.  So I have months to go before I am ready with that one.
  2. To publish essays and poems, writers send in the completed piece to publications — this is called a submission.  I’ve been doing that.
  3. To publish non-fiction articles of all genres, most publishers request queries.  These letters remind me a ton of the cover letters we all write at some point, to get scholarships, jobs, or college acceptance letters.  A good query letter grabs the attention of the editor with a great idea and even better writing, explains how the article will play out, and ends with why the editor should trust me with the assignment.

Well, today I stepped up my game and sent out my first query!  I am very excited and have my fingers crossed.  I spell-checked it, read it three times, and prayed before I hit send.

I’ll keep you posted on how this goes!  And, if you want to read more about how to submit your own writing, here are a few of the resources I used.  You’ll read about submissions, queries, and letters of introduction, a fourth way to get published that I’ll explore…later!

  • The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli has a great page called New To Freelancing? which has tons of helpful information — and if you sign up, she’ll send you weekly motivational emails with action items!
  • Though she no longer maintains it, the blog Dollars and Deadlines by Kelly James Enger is full of useful tips — including The Essential Query (with a template and sample query).
  • Finally, The Writer’s Market — which I checked out from the library — includes chapters on querying, creating websites, and more, as well as listings for markets.

How Did This Blog Do? 2015 in Review

My intention has always been to use this site as more of a website, less of a blog.  However, in case anyone out there is trying to get started in blogging, feel free to read this post.  The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog, and here it is!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Sixty is the New Twenty

I finally finished reading Leviticus, every last word.  If I ever needed proof that I never want to be a technical writer, I’ve got it now.

I did discover something cool though – a new definition of what it means to be in the prime of life.

In chapter 27, it spends some time talking about how to buy people back, if you dedicated them to God or whatever, and decided that you need them, after all.  So there is this (long) (and boring) list of prices: how much to pay to get your three-year-old back, or your grandmother.  That doesn’t really bear thinking about, but what I loved is –

Actually, before I tell you, may I say that I got carded on Saturday, at Trader Joe’s?  Well done, TJs!  Keeping America safe!  Now, I know that this doesn’t mean the checker thought I didn’t look 21, but it might mean I didn’t look 30 – and that is great news!  That is my almost-favorite Christmas present!

It turns out, Leviticus, that (long) (and boring) book of Old Testament law agrees with my favorite Trader Joe’s employee!  Because guess when the age range that starts at 20 ends?  My husband guessed 25.  (I love it when he plays my game right.)

Nope, I got to say, rubbing my hands with glee.  Guess again.

The answer, folks, is…sixty.

Sixty!  That seems old even to me, and I am old enough to wear bifocals and be officially in perimenopause (which is just menopause for the under-50 set, I guess like how Underoos are “underwear” if you’re three, but less fun).

This is so encouraging to me because, honestly, I used to look at pictures of novelists on the backs of their books, and I would think, “Oh, look, she looks older than me.  That’s good.  I still have time.”  I would console myself with the thought that I could write when my kids graduated from high school, when I needed a new hobby other than praying for baggy clothes to become fashionable for teenage girls again.

Well, I am living the dream, because: A) God let me start writing NOW!  Without waiting for actual menopause to give my writing that special edge!  B) I look younger than I act!  And C) Even the Bible says I’m not middle-aged!

I love, love, love knowing that 42 is not too old to try something new, to chase this dream of writing, to gift myself and my family with the peace that comes with obeying a calling I’ve felt for years and years.  And years.

I’m barely old enough to be drinking legally, folks, and I already know what I want to do with my life.  I pray the same is true for you.

Two More Writing Hurdles Down, 5,453,481 to Go

This piece is massively long.  If you’re interested in reading about getting feedback from editors, well, stay patient; it’s coming in just a few lines.  If you’re interested in reading about Online Writing Groups, scroll down to “Good News #2”..  And if you’re not interested in either, then might I direct you hereI’m not the droid you’re looking for

Good News #1

In a recent submission to Rock and Sling, I wrote this in my cover letter:

One small word: as a new writer, I am not yet a good judge of whether or not a market is a good fit. If you are interested in seeing more of my work, would you please take the time to include a short word of feedback? I know this is asking a lot, and I appreciate you even considering it. Otherwise, I will assume that my writing will likely never work well for your publication, and I will stop clogging up your inbox. Either way, thank you for your time!

This piece was my fourth submission to them, and (as I mention here), I still haven’t quite been able to figure out what a publication is looking for.

Well, God bless Rock and Sling, because though this piece was rejected, their busy editor took the time to write me back:

We tend to accept pieces that explore questions of faith and human experience more indirectly and that don’t necessarily arrive at conclusions or offer solutions. We try to feature work that deepens questions of faith rather than answers questions….

This is so helpful, and I know it is not something I would have noticed before.  Duh, since I didn’t.  The great thing about this feedback is that it will help me with all markets, not just Rock and Sling, now that I know how look.   I will live and die grateful to this editor.

I will definitely continue to ask for feedback, respectfully, if (after several rejections) I can’t quite figure out where I’m going wrong.  If they decide to answer me, great.  If not, I’ll know not to waste my time or theirs with more submissions.

Good News #2

And another piece of great news: Writing groups, I love them!  Writing groups, I love them!  And my new group is imminent!  For all our four-year-old readers, that means Santa Claus is coming to town, baby!

I wrote about needing a writing group here, and only one actual, alive, local person was interested.  (Said person: you know who you are.  And I thank you for your support.)  Well, being in a writing group of two would be a bit like getting married to myself; I knew I needed something bigger, so I kept looking, and praying, and waiting.

Until: something brilliant happened to me!

I am in a group on Facebook for contributors to Mothers Always Write (MAW), and I finally bit the bullet and asked, “Does anyone want to be in an online writing group with me?”  It was a little scary, like being the new kid at school.  Can I be your friend?  Apparently, at 42, the fear of rejection still has a tiny seed in me.

But the response was wonderful – enough to start 2 or 3 groups!  So, I did a little research, and here are the guidelines I came up with for my first big-girl writing group (aka one I am in as an equal, not the teacher).  The highlighted items are open for debate – within my group.

Please feel free to steal this list and get your own group going!!!  If you do…let me know about it in the comments!  As you can tell I am so excited about this that I feel the need to speak in exclamation points!!!!  Sorry if I am using them all up, leaving none for you!!!


Dawn’s MAW Online Writing Group Guidelines

  • Purpose
    • To improve our writing through monthly critique and feedback sessions in a supportive atmosphere.
  • Tone
    • As readers of other members’ work, we seek to give feedback that is specific, constructive, genuine, honest, and productive, while remaining tactful, positive, and encouraging
    • As writers receiving feedback, we seek to listen and maintain an open mind, assuming positive intent from our peers, and retaining full control over our own writing. Other than asking clarifying questions, we will not respond to feedback.
  • Membership
    • MAW contributors only
    • 3-4 writers
    • Cross-genre, with all members actively writing in at least two of: personal essay, poetry, fiction
    • Limited to members who are actively writing
    • Membership is closed during any cycle; the first cycle is a trial and will last 3 months. At this point we will reassess all guidelines.
    • Members commit to completing each 3-month cycle
    • Members will post a one-paragraph introduction so we can all get to know each other a bit!
    • Members will also post 1-3 writing goals
    • All members agree to read http://www.thewritersloft.org/critique-groups-think-tanks/general-critique-guidelines/
  • Protocol
    • Different contributors will moderate each time
      • Moderator will intervene when feedback is hurtful, off-topic, or pushy
      • Moderator will remind writers when pieces are due, and again when the deadline for comments is near
    • Group members who consistently ignore the guidelines or create a negative environment will be asked to leave the group
  • Workflow:
    • Use Google docs to submit up to 10 pages (poetry, short story, essay, or section of a longer work) once a month
    • Read each submitted piece in its entirety
    • For each piece, offer 5-10 comments, both positive and constructive
    • Regardless of when you give your comments, look back at the piece once on the final day of the week, so that you can comment on others’ comments. There is, after all, a group synergy and wisdom.
    • All feedback due within 1 week after deadline
  • Celebrate successes!!! After all, one member’s publication or award reflects on and inspires us all!

 

Thank you to http://www.thewritersloft.org/critique-groups-think-tanks/general-critique-guidelines/ and http://www.nikkiwoodsmedia.com/9-tips-online-writing-group/ for doing most of the thinking for me.

 

Increasing My Gross Domestic Happiness

So, making sure to post something on this site every Monday is the closest thing I have to a “real” schedule.  And, this week, I blew it.

It’s at times like these that I have to remind myself that I am a mom first, a writer second.  That can be hard for me.

Anyway, this was the week of my husband having the flu, for five days and counting now.

This was also the week of the late Thanksgiving feast with friends from Iraq – marking their first taste of sweet potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce; marking my first trip to a halal market.

This was therefore the week of cooking, and doing dishes, and cooking again, and doing more dishes, in an endless repeated cycle.

This was the week of our annual trip to the mountains to hike around, a bit at random, looking for the perfect tree, then cutting and dragging it back to the car; then sledding and hot chocolate in the snow with friends.

This was the week of geocaching in the rain and mud with my daughter and her friends at a birthday party.

This was therefore the week of wet boots and hats and gloves and snow pants and rain gear strewn all over the living room, in bags, in piles, on chairs, in front of the fire.

Finally, this was also the week where I volunteered at a career fair at my former workplace, Highline High School, where – despite the crazy mayhem of my recent life – teachers came up to me over and over again to say, “You look great!” and, “You look so relaxed!” and, “You have so much energy!”

I’m doing what I’ve been called to do for this year.  And my family’s Gross Domestic Happiness has skyrocketed because of it.

 

 

You Can Be a Jerk Tomorrow: Today is National Love Your Spouse Day!

This last week, most of us took time to be intentionally thankful.  In my typical fashion, I both love and hate this – which is easier than it sounds.

I love being thankful.

I hate relegating thankfulness to one special day – a sort of “free pass” for ingratitude the rest of the year.  It’s like my kids deciding to celebrate National “Obey Your Parents” Day: I would have to rebel.

Regardless, this year, I have much to be thankful for.

  • Healthy kids. I have friends whose son suffered a life-altering brain injury skateboarding a few years ago – just in time for his senior year of high school.  I have another friend whose ten-year-old has brain cancer, and another whose daughter died of cancer – after an amputation.  I am intensely grateful for my kids’ scrapes, knocks, and colds.
  • Money to pay our bills. Another friend of mine does not have a phone.  Or heat.  Or income of any kind.  Or, sometimes, food.  At our house, we’re not going to Disneyland, or even out to dinner most months, but my family never has to be cold, hungry, or worried about making a house payment.
  • A Western standard of living. Here, I don’t mean Western culture – I mean, gas or electric stoves.  Running water.  Indoor toilets.  In the Kibera slum of Nairobi – just one of many slums in that city, just one of many such cities in Kenya, just one of many such countries in the world – there is approximately one hole in the ground per 400 people.  My family of four shares one bathroom – and we are so, so lucky.
  • Modern medicine. Yes, I know, I have heard it all and I agree: we overmedicate.  We over vaccinate.  We use medicine as a way to enable ourselves to make poor lifestyle choices.  And yet…globally, diarrhea remains the number one killer of kids under age 5.  Not here, though.  And that’s just one example.  We are incredibly blessed.
  • Freedom. Fine, fine – liberals slander Christians, Christians hate Planned Parenthood, right wing radicals verbally attack Muslims, police target black men, straight teens bully gay and lesbian teens…this is all painfully true and unjust.  And yet, when my students move here from Iraq, or El Salvador, or Nepal, they all say: I can be who I want, here.  I can say and think what I want.  There are only a handful of places like this in the world, and I happen to live in one.

And, of course:

  • Family.
  • Friends.
  • The beauty of a world that continues to defy our attempts to control it.
  • Free time, to read, to write, to paint, to stare at the sunrise at some ungodly hour of the morning – the very poor do not have the luxury to sit around: they are too busy working.
  • My God and king.

So, I will continue to be glad there is no National “Love Your Spouse” Day (please, if there is – don’t tell me).  And, even though I have approximately 360 days until the next Thanksgiving, I will continue to count my blessings: both the very small and the impossibly big.

It turns out, closing my eyes tightly does not ACTUALLY make it go away

When I was a kid, my night-time terror was that Satan would come and give me a shot.

Yes, that’s what kept me up at night.

In my defense, Satan is pretty bad, and the needle in my mind was really big and long, like the kind they must use to inoculate elephants.

However, I knew that, if I covered my whole body up with my blanket, shut my eyes, and lay on my back, I would be safe – since the giant-needle-of-the-devil was only for butt shots.  In retrospect, I am not sure what was so magical about my mattress.

It must have had some demon repellant on it.

I feel like we, as a culture, are doing something similar in response to our current refugee crisis.  We wrap ourselves up tightly, clench our eyes shut, and pray that when we wake up, it will have blown over.

It feels so ridiculous to talk about how my writing is going when there are millions of Syrians living in parking lots all over the Middle East and Europe.

“Hey, did you know this is the worst crisis since The Holocaust?”

“Yeah, but check out my new nail polish!”

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe for one second that the suffering of others is lessened if I make myself depressed enough on their behalf.  I try that with my husband all the time; he’s in a bad mood, so I try being in a bad mood, hoping this will, by some strange pretend math, make him feel better.

It never, ever does.

Even so, I can’t just act like life is normal.  Right now, it’s not.  Have you ever wondered what you would have done if you’d watched the Native Americans as they marched down the Trail of Tears?  Helped them carry their loads.  Or lived during the time of slavery?  Been a station on the Underground Railroad, of course.  Or been in Germany during WWII?  Hidden Jews in my attic, no question.

Well, here’s our chance.

Please, don’t let history say that we stood by and pretended we didn’t know, or didn’t care.  Please don’t let our children grow up to feel shame on our behalf.  Please don’t shut your eyes and harden your hearts – one of two possible responses to suffering.

The other is to add action to your prayers: Pick up your pen.  Google “how to help Syrian refugees”.  Or follow a few of the links below.

If you are a Christian, like me, please start with World Vision.  You can send an email to state lawmakers, and learn about donating, praying, and ongoing facts about how the crisis affects children and families.

Sign and email a Resettlement Support Petition to your state lawmakers.

Check out different organizations you can donate to at Public Radio International – including a downloadable app that links you directly to the charities mentioned.

Today lists more places you can donate, specifically if you are interested in families and children.

Join places like the UN’s Refugee Agency‘s digital dialogue, and get the message out that the world cares about what’s happening and wants to help.

Post these things on your social media accounts to get the word out.  Please.

 

The Ghost Reveals Itself

I’m just going to say it:

I was the ghostwriter for a friend’s book.

This was a super interesting and complex process — I had to set my ego (and my opinion) completely aside.  At times, it felt more like being a reporter than a writer.  We would meet, and I would listen, and then ask question after question, trying to get a full picture of the mind of the author.

Then, I would take it all home, do some research to fill in the gaps, and extend and refine statements into what I thought my friend was trying to say.

Surprisingly, it was fun!  That was something I didn’t expect.

This friend of mine offered me a byline, but I turned him down — his book has controversy written all over it, and I didn’t want us to get bogged down in arguments.  However, and I know this is highly unusual, he did say I could post a link to it here on this site.

So, if you’re curious to see another aspect of how writers cobble together our days, please check out Christianity and Corporate America by J.M. Wadhwani.  It’s a thought-provoking read.  I’m proud of my friend for working to cross something off of his bucket list!  And I am grateful that he took a chance on a new writer like myself.

I will remember this experience for a long time.

And Now, The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For…

Ok, it’s real, folks!

My first published work, “Plus It’s a Lie”, just went live at Mothers Always Write — and you can read it here!  It’s an essay about parents, soccer, and the temptation to live vicariously through our kids.

I am so pleased to be working with MAW because their editors are so encouraging — especially to a new writer like myself.  When they accepted the piece, they gave thoughtful feedback about what they appreciated about the piece, and helpful directions on how I could strengthen it for their publication.  This was my first time working with an editor, and I loved it.  Honestly, I want to be famous among editors as an easy-to-work-with writer — someone who recognizes that editors are very, very, good at their jobs, that they have developed a keen ear for language, and (most importantly) that they know the needs of their publication better than I do.

So, thank you Julianne Palumbo and Michelle Riddell, editors at Mothers Always Write!

Also, in case there is anyone reading this that is even newer to writing than I am, I would like to thank Kelly James-Enger, whose book on freelance writing included advice to follow-up every acceptance with another submission or query.  Because of this great recommendation, another of my pieces has been accepted at Mothers Always Write.  There is nothing more fun for a writer!

Today, I am feeling positive and thankful and excited to write more.  Today is the day He has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it!

In Which the Heroine Admits She Doesn’t Know Everything Yet

In my new life as a writer, I have two challenges that I am not sure how to meet.  These are my next big obstacles to overcome.

  • I don’t know how to figure out what a market wants
  • I don’t have a writing group

For the first one, the general pattern for a writer is to 1) read several issues of a publication; 2) assess what type of writing the editors prefer; 3) submit work if and only if there is a match between the work and what the editors are publishing.

For me, this breaks down on step three, almost every time.

I do, in fact, read the publication, and almost every time, I think, “Hey!  This is something I could write!” and then I merrily submit my own work.  Turns out, I am not a very good judge of writer/publication chemistry.  I sort publications and my writing the same way I sort my socks: randomly.  Except, I think they match – it’s just everyone else who disagrees.

While “I do what I want” works when it comes to fashion, my opinion is, in fact, the least important one when it comes to getting published.  To illustrate: I recently received a very helpful rejection letter which said, “[T]he stories I accept need to be told from the child’s point of view and I look for stories where dialog tells the story instead of the author preaching the lesson.  Look at some of the stories that are posted on the web site. It will give you a better idea of what that means.”

The crazy thing is, I did look at the stories on the website, and I never once noticed they were all from the kid’s perspective, or that they used more dialogue than my story did.  How could I not have noticed this?

I know I will develop this skill over time, and I am intensely grateful to every editor who takes time to teach me – instead of being annoyed that I am not doing my research first.  I’m trying, babe, I’m trying.

As for the second piece, I know I need a writing group.  After fifteen years teaching writing, where I would sacrifice content for time spent in feedback groups, I cannot overstate the value of this for any serious writer.  In fact, this is why I am so excited to work with editors.  A friend of mine asked me how I feel when an editor asks me to make changes to my piece.

I clapped my hands.  I skipped joyfully in a circle.  “I feel encouraged!  I feel a sense of clarity and purpose!  I love it!” I shouted.  Or, something to that effect.

Most recently, editors Julianne Palumbo from Mothers Always Write and Kim Winternheimer from The Masters Review have given me such helpful feedback that I watched my writing transform from something good to something with an edge – an edge I couldn’t hone by myself.  I needed their insight, from things like, “Please strengthen the opinion here,” to “Give the reader access to your emotions” – these comments helped me see places where my writing moved too quickly over something the reader needed in order to be drawn into the piece.

But now, of course, I am hungry for more.  I have built a webpage, established a presence on LinkedIn and Facebook, have a Duotrope account; I know how to write a query and how to submit an essay, poem, or story; I write a lot and work hard to revise my work so it feels “finished”.

Now, I need the help that only a feedback group can give.  It is time for me to venture outside myself – stay tuned for this next part of my journey.[1]

[1] If you are a writer yourself and have overcome this obstacle, I’d love to hear how.

I’m Dressing up as Facebook for Halloween

Oh!  I feel as if I am emerging from the worst haunted house of all time.

You see, I’ve just been over at Facebook.  And it was scary.

For years now, I’ve been the digital version of Boo Radley[1]: I disabled my Facebook account.  I had a cell phone that couldn’t text, or search the Internet.  I used an answering machine.

But, now that I am self-employed as a writer (current salary: approximately $2/hour), I realize that social media is an important tool.  So, making sure to carry my pepper spray, I ventured onto Facebook this morning.

It was exhausting!  I love my friends and family, but I am just saying, I think I could have done very well 100 years ago, when you knew that if you moved away, that was pretty much it.  Goodbye, Mom; Goodbye, Dad.  I’ll see you in heaven and all that.  I once read a Dave Barry essay, where he likened Facebook to mailing out hundreds of postcards, every day, with messages like, “Peach Cobbler!  Yum!”

I feel that, you know?

So, please pray for me.  I need to harness its mighty power for good, and not for evil.  And, if you notice something wrong on my Facebook page, feel free to message me.

(Or not.  I have all the notifications turned off.)

[1] A famous recluse from To Kill a Mockingbird.  It hurts me that I had to insert this footnote.

The Worst Kind of Rejection

So, today I got a rejection that stung in a special sort of way.

First off, I was really excited about hearing back about this particular essay.  In my mind, it was the essay that is destined for greatness, the un-rejectionable piece, the editor’s dream.

Apparently, not everyone agreed with me.

Once I got over the disappointment and disbelief, I got a closer look at the subtext in the letter – or, really, the blatant, you’d-have-to-be-dead-to-miss-it text.  Check this out:

“The best way to know what we are publishing is of course to read the magazine, which we hope you will continue to do.”

Did that just happen?  Girl, you just been told!

 It feels a bit like when Dave W. (and Dave, I hope you’re reading this) told me the day before homecoming that he had decided not to be my date, after all.

 It’s not as if I clenched half-moon cuts into my palms all day, but I did think about this letter a lot.  It’s like being called a moron, only more snobbish.

Once I got over some rebellious feelings, I realized: they are a little bit right.  (Oooh, I did not enjoy writing that.)  Here’s the thing – I did read several issues of their publication.  And, to me, what I was writing looked exactly like what they were printing.

But, and this is important: I.  Do.  Not.  Know.  What.  I.  Am.  Doing.

Yet.

Okay, so I submitted something they aren’t looking for.  Now I can cross that marked off my list.  Which is a relief, because there are literally thousands of markets out there.  I feel bad for wasting their time; except no, not really.  Everyone has to learn somewhere; this is my where.  I am happy to accept this rejection as a learning experience and move on.

And that feels really good.

No Fear

As you know, something wonderful happened last week: I got an acceptance letter.

This is not, however, even the half of it.  In her follow-up email, the editor said, “I love your writing style.  In my most recent review, I described it as ‘edible’.  I like the flow, the dialogue, the informality, and the humor – it’s compulsively readable.”

Wow!  Edible!  Who doesn’t want that?

This email had me so excited that I promptly read it out loud to the people standing near me at church.

Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on your level of Zen), the email continued.  I need to revise it “with an eye to strengthening its opinion stance”.

I know, right?  That stopped me in my tracks too.  What?  I can’t do that!  I don’t even know what that means!

But then, I was reminded of words the Lord has given me:

I have called you to write.

And then, listen to this one, spoken by my friend Betty to a whole group of us.  I feel like it is just for me:

You are going through a dynamic change in calling and gifting.  Do not be afraid.  I will not lead you where I have not prepared you.  My intent is to make my name famous through you.  You have already tasted my leading in several ways, but there is much more.  I need people who really do trust me and will allow my love to flow in all circumstances.  I am faithful and true.

Amen, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

So here I go, choosing to believe that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength – including making his name famous.  Including being a writer.

Including, even, revising an essay.

 

Acceptance at What Cost?

This last week, I got the news I’ve been waiting for — my whole life, maybe.

“Congratulations!  Your essay has been accepted for publication.  We love your writing!”

Those last four words did a lot to erase some doubt that has been lurking around, trying to creep in and set up residence.

Here’s what’s funny: that essay had already been rejected — twice.  And, the same day, I got two other rejections.  Actually, “funny” doesn’t quite cover it.

But here’s the thing.  Who am I writing for?  Just who am I trying to please?  One letter I received went something like this: “A fun read, but not the best fit.”  Sometimes, as an author, it’s not my writing that is the problem — it is the match between what I’m trying to do, and what the editor is trying to do, at that one moment in time.

I’m in Kansas City now, visiting sisters on both sides — mine, and my husband’s.  Both are dealing with feelings of unacceptance.  So, here I sit, in Missouri (Kansas? Missouri? What is wrong with this city?  One state isn’t good enough for you?), giving hugs to sisters who need it, sisters who need to hear, “Congratulations!  You’ve been accepted!  I love you!”

It pays to remember that, for every rejection we get, a more important acceptance is sitting there, waiting.  Let’s all remember: Just who are we doing this for?  Who are we trying to please?

Top 10 Things I Will Miss about Teaching

Top 10 Things I Will Miss about Teaching

School is in session.  Unless you are in the Seattle School District, of course, where negotiations have ground to a halt.

Come on, teachers!  Who doesn’t want to work a few extra hours a day for no pay?

Actually, I recently heard on NPR about the Chester-Upland school district near Philadelphia, where teachers and support staff have been working with no pay.  None.  Zippo.  Girl, those teachers are CRAZY!!!  I know.  And it’s not just the teachers – it’s the aides, the custodians, the receptionists.  It’s an entire school district.  When the district ran out of money, the “staff voted to come back to work anyway” (italics mine).[1]

I have major questions about what is going on in the community.  But with the teachers?

That’s easy.  Because, for all the things I won’t miss about teaching, and for everything I have gained by taking a sabbatical (time with my family, time to pursue writing, sanity), here is what I will miss:

Top 10 Things I Will Miss about Teaching

  1. The students.
  2. The students.
  3. The students.
  4. The students.
  5. The students.
  6. The students.
  7. The students.
  8. The students.
  9. Ok, my teacher friends that I worked with every day.
  10. The students.

Oh, my students.  The hole you have left.  I miss you every day.

[1] Benshoff, Lauren.  “School Districts Squeezed by Pennsylvania’s Budget Impasse.” National Public Radio. NPR, 03 Sept 2015. Web. 14 Sept 2015. http://www.npr.org/2015/09/03/437132870/school-districts-squeezed-by-pennsylvania-s-budget-impasse.

Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss about Teaching

Most of you have figured out that, after a whole adult life either teaching, or getting ready to teach, I am taking a year off to write.  When people first hear about this, they inevitably ask me, “Aren’t you going to miss it?”

It’s true this is a huge identity shift, so I’ve been paying attention to myself.  Well, it’s almost September, and my teacher husband and teacher friends are at a meeting right now, and I am at home making bread, helping my kids with their math, and writing.  This leads me to consider:

Top 10 Things I Won’t Miss about Teaching

  1. Going to meetings.
  2. Grading essays.
  3. Dealing with student misbehavior in the halls.
  4. Telling students they will be welcome in my room once they cover up their marijuana socks/T-shirt with a bikini-clad, hugely endowed woman leaning against a car/see-through shirt with black bra underneath it.
  5. Jumping through hoops (read: doing massive amounts of paperwork that have nothing to do with teaching) to “prove” that I am a good teacher.
  6. Having to listen to or, worse, personally use words like “artifact”. Also, “unfold”.
  7. Testing.
  8. Testing some more.  (Actually, this list could be a lot longer than just 10 if I included all the testing days I won’t miss.)
  9. Taking away cell phones from the one or two students I have every year who have such a serious cell-phone addiction that they cannot follow my simple and fairly liberal policy: Cell phones must be used to help you learn. Listening to music during independent work, using Google Translate, looking up Langston Hughes, yes.  Texting friends, watching telenovelas on YouTube, and playing Clash of Clans, no.
  10. Dealing with being sick all year from the massive amounts of mold in our almost 100-year-old building (which voters have TWICE refused to rebuild).

If you know a teacher, please bring them dinner this week, or give them a coupon for a month’s worth of housekeeping, or volunteer to wash the desks in their classroom, and be sure to pray for them!  If you don’t know a teacher, go find one and give them a gift card to your local coffee shop.

(Especially if you won’t pay to replace the dangerous buildings many of our kids and teachers are forced to learn and work in.)

Meanwhile, my timer just went off.  It’s time to take the bread out of the oven.

There’s Something about Mary, Part 2

There’s Something about Mary, Part 2

You’re wondering about Mary.

At least, I hope you are wondering about Mary.  We all have people like her in our lives, and I hope that we never give up on loving them, praying for them, and wondering about them.

Mary and I go way back.  Well, like ten months.

As you know if you read Part 1, I ran into Mary every morning on my walk to school, where I taught high school English until very recently (as in, two months ago).  Only she wasn’t Mary.  To me, she was just the crazy lady to whom I said hi, and who always asked me, her face friendly and open, for a cigarette.

It didn’t matter that I don’t smoke, nor that I hadn’t had a cigarette the last twenty times she asked.  Mary held on to hope.

Except, she was still not-Mary.  Unnamed and nameless.  Until one night at Bible Study.

My friend Larry was asking us to pray for one of his employees.  He owns a small business, and is in the lovely habit of hiring the unhireable – people who show up late to work, who need slow careful instruction, who require constant redirection.  He asked us to pray for Mary, whom he was pretty sure was smoking again even though he had helped her to quit.

“Wait,” I said.  “Does she live in my neighborhood?”

“Yes; yes she does,” said Larry, and described her apartment complex to me.

“I know that lady!  I love her!  She asks me for a cigarette every morning on my way to school!”

“Hey!” said my husband, Erik, who also teaches at the same school, and who also walks (though at a different time than me).  “I know her too!  She is great!  She asks me for a cigarette everyday too!”

We all start laughing.  This was too much fun.

But there was more, for Ken, yet another teacher at our school, said, “Oh, I know Mary too!  She likes to kind of hang around by my auto shop when we have the doors open.”

Please invite yourself to our Bible Study for a moment: twelve people sitting in a cozy living room, struck silly with disbelief – the special kind of disbelief that knows that all things are possible with God.

We came to one conclusion: God must love Mary a lot.  He put four people into one small room, just so they could discover that they all knew her, and loved her, and were excited to know how to pray for her.

This is how I don’t lose hope about people, even when they ask me for snow or throw litter out their car windows or allow bitterness to color their relationships.  Because all of us are “Mary” to someone, all of us have a group of people laughing to discover that they all know and love the same person, and all of us have been called to pray.