Keep Going

bee on flower

Lately, I feel as if my writing has been a series of snippets here and there, projects started and abandoned, notes taken, a few lines added, dropped again. Scattered leaves blowing in the wind. Like an essay I’ve been mulling about my grandmother. Or a short story about a young man who occasionally goes invisible without warning, beyond his control. Or musings on a possible memoir, focusing on how books shaped my life. And there’s still that unfinished draft of the time-travel novel, waiting in the wings. I desperately want to write and finish all of these things, and yet when I pick any one of them up, I quickly lose interest, or become mentally constipated. What’s going on?

Maybe it’s the restlessness of spring after a long winter, preferring to be out in the warm sunshine rather than holed up with the work of organizing my muddled thoughts. Maybe it’s the deep crisis of confidence I’ve been experiencing lately, the source of which I can’t pinpoint–every word I write screams wrongness, or worse, futility. Maybe it’s the turmoil of pre-menopause: I’m transforming into some mid-life beast that terrifies me, the physical and emotional throes of which keep me from finishing anything. Maybe I’m just really enjoying writing book and movie reviews on my new blog. Maybe that’s simply what I’m supposed to be doing right now, until I can settle down and focus on other writing. But I know I’ll eventually want to do something else, to write my own stories again.

I’ve always tried to wrestle my writing routines into some sort of discipline, because that’s what writers need to do, right? And I do, for the most part–I make sure I sit down with the notebook or in front of the computer screen on a regular basis to write. But I tend to flit from project to project, like a bee gathering pollen, a little here, a little there, with the result of feeling like I never finish anything. It’s a bit depressing.

It’s not true, of course; I have many short stories and countless blog posts that prove otherwise. I also have a lot of unfinished stuff, and ideas floating around like spores. But I think that’s true of most writers. I’m sure there are many out there whose routines are such that they finish the project they’re working on–write, rewrite, edit, polish, seek beta readers, rewrite again, query, send out for publication– before they move onto another. All very orderly. I envy them. But for some, I’m sure, it’s a messier process. We’re creatives, after all; creativity can be messy.

I suppose the point of this post is to remind myself–and maybe some others–to keep going. Just keep writing, no matter where you are in the process (or in your life), no matter what your routine. Keep dipping your toe into that big well of creativity, and something will come to fruition. Or, to stay with my rather clumsy spring metaphor, keep pollinating and something will eventually bloom.

 

 

 

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Writer Beware

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Okay, writer friends, this one’s for you.

I recently received an unsolicited email from a purported small press called Z Publishing, with an “invitation to submit” some of my stories. Apparently they’d come across my blog site and felt they were good enough to include in an “Emerging Writers” anthology. There was no fee for submitting, and after a “careful review” of all the submissions, they’d let me know if one of my stories made it into the anthology.

Sounds great, right? It’s a beginning writer’s (or unpublished writer’s) dream: just post some of your work on your blog, sit back, and wait for the offers of publication to roll in. No work involved! And what a great ego booster–handpicked out of all the thousands of bloggers and writers on the web. After a few minutes of feeling really special, suspicion crept in. Luckily, I wasn’t born yesterday. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I kept reading. Red flags began to appear. Don’t worry, they said, about 80% of submitted work makes it into the anthology. (Really? Huh.) By the way, there is no payment for writers who submit. (A-ha!) Unfortunately, they’re such a small press and still trying to grow, that they cannot compensate contributors yet. Oh, you can become an affiliate and advertise the anthology on your social media and get a certain percentage of sales…sales that probably are only going to be made by your small circle of family and friends, since the anthology will never see the light of day anywhere else.

So…you can’t pay me, I have to buy the anthology if I want a print copy (otherwise I get a PDF), and I have to market it for you, while you pocket the majority of any income. Hmmm…It’s all starting to become crystal clear to me.

But look what’s in it for you! they go on. The all-important “exposure” element. An invite to our private Facebook group. And we nominate our favorite writings for the Pushcart Prize! (Pushcart, huh?)

By now my ego has been totally deflated, and I’m dripping with sarcasm. And not a little anger. I googled Z Publishing and came across an article that just confirmed my suspicions: it’s one of the many new faces of writing scams under an old trick–vanity anthologies. I knew enough to be suspicious, but some new writers may not, and will fall for this scam, giving their work away for no reward.

Writer friends, I know you’re smarter than that, but just in case–please beware of vanity publishing. If you want to be published, work hard and submit to reputable publishing houses. Read the fine print. And NEVER give away your writing for others to profit off of. You’re better than that, and so am I.

New Venture

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If you’re at all familiar with this blog, you’ll know that I LOVE books, movies, and television. Enjoying other people’s stories is a big part of my life, almost as much as, if not more than, my own writing. I’ve written quite a few book, film and TV reviews for this blog (you can find them under the appropriate categories to the right), and I love doing them.

The problem is, I’ve read in several different places that writing reviews does absolutely nothing for strengthening your writer platform. I get it: you may be drawing readers who also love books and film, but you’re not necessarily drawing in readers for your fiction. The proof is in the numbers: after nearly three years of fairly regular blogging, I’ve snagged a paltry 160 followers. I never dared hope for thousands, but I did hope to get a few more than that. I know it takes time and perseverance for a blog to grow, but I do think there’s room for improvement.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and feel that perhaps the problem is that the blog is too broad–I dump everything in it. Reviews, personal stuff, essays on whatever, as well as my own fiction. I’ve already created another blog for my personal musings on my experiences raising a child with spina bifida (Beautiful Detour )–but I feel I probably need to focus further.

I’ve read various quotes from several different sources claiming that if you want to write, you someday have to stop reading other people’s stories (at least for a time) and write your own. It makes sense. Here’s the thing: I don’t think I can. I’m a bit obsessive about reading books and watching movies and TV. It’s a big part of who I am. I’ve often felt conflicted between the two and pulled in different directions. Am I a writer, or mostly a lover of writing? At this point in my life, with only so much time, I feel I need to choose, and be done with it. The truth is, I can’t.

So I finally come to the point of this post, which is that I’ve created yet another blog, called Page and Screen. In it, I will exclusively write book, film, and TV reviews to my heart’s content, simply because I love to do it. If you care to do so, and are at all interested in my opinions on other people’s stories, please click the link and follow it. If not, that’s okay, too.

Don’t worry, I’ll still write my own stories. I’m far less organized and have no clear plan concerning my fiction, but I can’t imagine giving it up completely. My Writing Journey will remain the home for my musings on the writing life, as well as the occasional personal essay, story or snippet, and other things (things I haven’t quite figured out yet) to increase my fiction writing platform.

So, three blogs? Call me crazy, but yes, I love it, and I’m so grateful for this unique way of exploring my interests and passions.

 

 

The End of the World (For Adults)

The end of the world is popular, apparently, considering all the dystopian novels glutting the book world. I love a good doom and gloom story one in a while myself, but I prefer the adult versions rather than all the YA blockbusters out there (sorry, Hunger Games and Divergent fans, but it’s not for me). In no particular order, here are my favorites:

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

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I loved this novel of the world decimated by a flu-like virus, leaving pockets of humanity behind to fend for themselves and try to stitch a meaningful life back together. Kirsten is a performer in an entertainment troupe called The Travelling Symphony (“Because survival is not enough”) that performs Shakespeare and plays classical music. They travel from town to town, trying to bring a bit of civilization back to the ragged bit of survivors. There is some trouble and a sense of menace from someone called The Prophet, but this is more than a good guys vs. villain story. It switches back and forth in time, beginning with Arthur Leander, an actor performing King Lear on what is to be the last day of the known world, and who suffers a heart attack on stage. The story spins out from this moment, and many of the characters are linked to Arthur and his legacy. This is what I’d call a “literary” dystopian novel, about the fleeting nature of fame, the meaning of art, and what human beings require not just to survive, but to live.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

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This Pulitzer prize-winning book is the darkest of this group, telling the story of a man who wanders a post-apocalyptic world with his young son, heading south on foot to a warmer place, and basically just trying to stay alive–searching for food and shelter, and trying to avoid cannibalistic marauders. No one knows what caused the catastrophe (and so neither do we), but the man is determined to survive and to protect his son, whom he tells they are “carrying the fire”. An amazing read, but be warned: it pulls you into a dark, dark place. The 2009 film starring Viggo Mortensen is excellent, capturing both the darkness and the spark of hope the man clings to for the future of mankind.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin

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This is the first book of a trilogy (The Twelve and City of Mirrors completes the trio), about our world devoured by another virus, this time man-made, an experiment gone terribly wrong. This virus causes some victims to become vampire-like creatures, with an insatiable desire for human blood. This book also toggles back and forth in time, from one hundred years after the catastrophe, to the time leading up to it, and centers around a special little girl named Amy who is somehow linked to the virus. A complex, absorbing story that was a page-turner for me. I’ve heard rumors of a movie, but haven’t seen any evidence yet.

The Stand, by Stephen King

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Arguably King’s most famous (and favorite among fans), The Stand remains the benchmark among end-of-the-world novels. Yet another virus has been unleashed upon the unsuspecting world, and its survivors have organized into two groups that will ultimately face each other in a showdown between good and evil: those who flock under the guidance of Mother Abigail, and those who follow the devilish Randall Flagg. King’s cast of characters are always vivid and relatable, his attention to detail prodigious, and his plots (and subplots) compelling. The 1994 TV series with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald is watchable and fairly true to the book, but do yourself a favor and just read it instead.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

handmaid's tale book

The most political of this group, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, a woman in the near future who serves as a “handmaid” in a world where women have been subjugated to serve their patriarchal  masters. The U.S. government has been overthrown by a Christian theonomy (which posits that Biblical Law is applicable to Civil Law). Women’s rights have been denied, and their primary function is to bear offspring to their masters. Not strictly “end of the world” material (though it probably would be for me and most women I know), but it’s certainly dystopian. I’m chomping at the bit to watch the new Hulu series based on the book, which has received rave reviews.

Have you read these books? What’s your favorite dystopian novel? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

 

 

The Beguiled

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I’ve been a fan of director Sophia Coppola since “Lost in Translation” , as well as “Marie Antoinette” and “The Virgin Suicides.” If you take her and add one of my favorite actresses (Nicole Kidman) and mix it with Civil War-era Southern Gothic, you’ve hooked me.

Kidman plays Miss Martha, who runs a finishing school for girls in the battle-ravaged South. In its heyday before the war, it might have turned out elegantly poised and intelligent young ladies, but during the war the handful of students (ranging in age from 9-17 or so) seem more like prisoners in their crumbling mansion, and the locked gate acts as an attempt to keep out the horrors that are happening all around them. Often, the sounds of battle can be heard nearby; otherwise, the buzzing cicadas are the only sound, deepening the eerie (and menacing) sense of their isolation.

One day one of the younger girls finds a wounded soldier (Colin Farrell) outside their gate–a Union soldier. Miss Martha decides to bring him inside and tend to his wounds out of Christian charity, with the admonition that once he heals, he must leave.

The younger girls are fluttery and excited at having an “enemy” in their midst. The older ones–17 year old Alicia (Elle Fanning), and Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), Miss Martha’s former student and helper, and even Miss Martha herself– are unsettled and disturbed at having a handsome, charming man among them.

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And Corporal John McBurney does charm them–making friends with the young ones, and flirting with the older. He’s certainly come to understand the great fortune of his situation: if he can convince them to let him stay on after he heals, he can escape the nightmare that is the war. An understandable motive, but this stranger’s true character remains elusive. Is he truly a good man in a bad situation, or is he merely trying to serve his own ends in whatever way he can?

Soon, the sexual tension comes to a head, and violence erupts. Miss Martha and her charges must deal with their suddenly dangerous guest on their own, with no help from the outside world.

Kidman never fails to disappoint, bringing the nuances of Miss Martha’s predicament and mixed feelings to light, and Colin Farrell’s smoldering volatility serves his character well. It’s a quiet film in which the tension mounts incrementally; the explosion that follows shocks the characters into actions they perhaps never imagined they could do. This movie beguiled me, from start to finish.

 

 

 

TBR Update

Here’s what’s been on my book radar:

I mentioned in my last post that I read The Alienist (1994) by Caleb Carr many years ago. I couldn’t remember the exact details of the book, but now that I’ve watched the TNT series based on it (and loved it), I have a renewed interest in the book. Whenever a movie or TV show is adapted from a book I’ve enjoyed, I’m always curious about how the story is translated to the screen. What’s kept in? What’s cut or changed, and can I see the reason why? Is one medium “better” than the other, or is it apples and oranges? Did it ultimately work? I found myself downloading the book to my Kindle for these reasons and more, mostly because I don’t want to leave these characters yet (or maybe I’m just a little in love with Dr. Kreizler. Okay, maybe I’m a little in love with Daniel Bruhl as Dr. Kreizler). At any rate, I’m delving back into Victorian New York at the turn of the century.

alienist book

Carr wrote a sequel to The Alienist, called The Angel of Darkness, something I wasn’t even aware of until now. The team gathers together again to find the missing child of a Spanish diplomat. I’d like to read that, too, and my hopes are high that it will lead to a Season Two of the TV show, which isn’t guaranteed quite yet. One can dream.

angel of darkness

**

During moments of complete and utter frustration at the world and the horrors contained within it, I’ve often found myself muttering, “If only women ran the world. Then things would be different.” But would it? That’s the question that The Power, by Naomi Alderman, strives to answer, or at least speculate on. It tells the story of how young girls, and then eventually all women, develop the mysterious power of electricity within themselves, which they can dispense through their fingertips. (Admit it, ladies, haven’t you ever dreamed of the exact the same thing?) The balance of power is suddenly shifted as women can now physically defend themselves, and by extension, become the dominant gender. Will the world be a better place? Or does absolute power corrupt absolutely, despite gender? I find this an extremely fascinating question, and am curious to see how Alderman plays it out in her story.

the power book

With these and the Austen novels on my plate, I’ll have a fairly busy reading season. Happy Spring!

Have you read these books? What’s on your TBR list? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

Steeped in Story

Here’s what’s been entertaining me lately:

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The past few months have seen me steeped in Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series. It’s the tale of Roland of Gilead, a gunslinger in a world that’s moved on, in search of the Dark Tower, the center of all worlds.

I haven’t read a series in a long time, since my fantasy days in my twenties with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, or George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire in my thirties, neither of which I finished, mostly because I got bored waiting around for the next book. By the time I got to this one, it was complete, and I could download the next one on my Kindle right away.

What I love about this series, besides King’s obvious storytelling skills, is that it covers a range of genres: fantasy, science fiction, horror, western. It’s got it all. In lesser hands, that blending would only create a big mess, but here it’s simply wonderful.

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I’m also reading Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. My library is putting on a Jane Austen book discussion over the coming year, and though I’ve done this before several years ago, I’m eagerly coming aboard this time, too. Austen’s books are those that beg to be reread an indefinite number of times over one’s lifetime, and you carry something different away from them each and every time. Northanger Abbey is my least favorite, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. It will be followed by Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. I’m planning on writing a review for the blog as I finish each book.

As for TV, I’ve been casting around for a new show to watch for some time now. I began watching the new season of X-files in January, but only got through the first two shows before giving up in disgust. I couldn’t keep up with the lightning-speed, rat-a-tat-tat scenes and felt plunged into confusion as I tried to remember what happened in the series twenty years ago. No thanks.

alienist

Fortunately, I found The Alienist, on TNT. This series is based on a book by Caleb Carr I read just as long ago, mid-nineties or so. It takes place in 1896 New York, where Dr. Laszlo Kreizler is an “alienist”,  a precursor to what we now call a psychologist or psychiatrist. At the time, those who studied the mentally ill considered them to be alienated from their true natures, hence the name. Pyschology was just beginning to emerge as a science at this time, but there were still plenty of people who dismissed the idea as quackery.

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) uses his knowledge of human nature to solve criminal cases, and here he is on the trail of a serial killer who murders and mutilates boy prostitutes. He has help in the form of his illustrator friend John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sara Howland (Dakota Fanning), the first woman to work in the New York police department, and secretary to Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt.

This show is dark, creepy, and gruesome–right up my alley.  The characters are complex and intriguing. Kreizler is soft-spoken and analytical, some might say callous, but underneath his calm, unruffled demeanor is a passionate man with a heart. John Moore is your typical Victorian gentleman who is going to have quite a few of his assumptions cut to ribbons. Sarah, underneath her cold exterior, is an ambitious woman trying to succeed in a man’s world. And Roosevelt has his work cut out for him cleaning up the corruption in the NY police department, whose officers routinely take bribes from the Mob. All have painful pasts and hidden struggles.

The backdrop of the city scales the lush, glittering heights of the very rich, down to the horrific underbelly of the very poor, mostly immigrant communities. I’m mesmerized by every aspect of the show, from the setting to the storyline to the relationships between the characters; but especially by Laszlo’s obsessive investigation into the heart of a human monster. Bravo.