Cherishing a Short Life

baby in isoletteAlice Park Photography

On a weekly basis parent child relationships are forever severed by the law. I’ve seen it too many times to count. I don’t envy those responsible for supervising the goodbye visit between parent and child. The thought of looking either of my children in the face for the last time brings tears to my eyes. I know many substance abuse treatment programs require their parent participants to write goodbye letters to their children as a way of driving home, how their drug use has harmed their children.

Loss of this sort, is nearly a daily occurrence in my world. Despite its frequency, it never passes over me as freely as water does. It’s more like oil that takes good soap, hot water, and scrubbing to remove. Then you always find it someplace later and have to repeat the process.

This past week was much the same with an enduring difference, I was reminded of how quickly life can pass us by and to cherish all that I have, especially relationships with others because you never know when they will slip through your fingers. Even the relationships you believe will endure for a lifetime, such as your children.

I’ve become an expert at cherishing what I have even during the darkest times of my life because of the frequent reminders I receive, but this one has hung on with more persistence. A short life, which rippled through the world.

A woman with long auburn hair bends over the warm isolette watching her sleeping child through the clear glass. The baby girl’s tiny chest rises and falls, a comforting sight. She weighs a mere 3 lbs and 8 oz. Tubes run into the baby’s underdeveloped lungs through a tracheotomy and into the side of her abdomen, providing her with breath and nutrients to grow and get stronger.  The woman is able to hold her child for only a short time each day due to the child’s precarious hold on life.

Ava was born premature due to her mother’s drug use during pregnancy. Ava is not this woman’s first child and she probably will not be the last because the auburn hair falls on the shoulders of a twenty-year-old woman. Her slender build makes her appear more like a prepubescent female than other’s her age.  Like the baby in the isolette, the drugs have sapped all excess life from her body.  Her hair is dry and brittle. Her cheeks are sunken, and her skin has a grey pallor.

She has watched her child cling to life through the glass for four months. She visits when she can, about once a week. Doctors tell her that Ava, will not survive without the machines. She must decide how long Ava should be forced to remain here. The little blue eyes flutter open and she brushes the fine soft hair on Ava’s small head with her shaking fingers.

When asked why she doesn’t visit more, excuses and justification spill from her lips.

“No transportation to the hospital,” she said as her eyes flicker around the room, pupils the size of the abyss.

“What about the bus pass we gave you?” asks a nurse. They know she is high, but how do you approach that subject with a woman who is here to say goodbye to her baby forever.

“I can’t find it.” She looks at her black converse shoes with grey frayed laces tangling along the floor.

Ava’s father was allowed to leave the prison accompanied by two guards to help make the decision of when his daughter will be taken off life support. It is the first and last time he will be able to see her with his own eyes and hold her. He caresses her cheek, and places his finger in her tiny hand. He understands this loss more than the mother because he views it through a mind that has been forced sober by incarceration for the past six months.

His hazel eyes are rimmed in red and tears trickle down his face. His breath catches in his throat as it constricts with the ache twisting his heart and soul. Our poor choices eventually catch up to us. Sometimes we lose the most precious things in our lives when they do.

Once he’s released  from prison will he remember the short time he was able to cradle his daughter in his arms and make choices she would be proud of him for making?

Ava is given morphine and the machines are turned off and the tubes are removed.  Her breathing slows as her parents cradle her small body wanting to hold her for as long as they can.

Writing Space and First Drafts

I am Writing

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about making a space for me to write at home. Up until now, I have just sat at either the living room table or the kitchen table. This arrangement requires me to pack up all my writing gear and move it from place to place. It also means my writing doesn’t have a home.  In my home, I have a room called an office in the basement. No one uses the “office” for anything but a library. A library is important don’t get me wrong. In fact, it’s necessary at my home. There are bookshelves along each wall, and most of my books can be found there.

I’ve tried writing in the “office,” but it never works well. My dogs need in and out of the house to go see their friends, sniff the strange spots in the yard, feel the warmth of the sun on their fur, and all the other stuff dogs do. The coffee maker is upstairs. My children are upstairs. You would think that being downstairs away from the children would help me focus, but it doesn’t. They actually come and interrupt me more when I am downstairs where they can’t see what I am working on.

I realized that this had to change if I was going to make writing a priority. So, I created a space in my bedroom, which is on the main floor, where I can write. I have all of my books on the craft, pens, pencils, notebooks, laptop, children, dogs, and coffee within easy reach and supervision.  I can open the window allowing in the sun, birdsong, and the summer breeze.

Sky, my youngest son who is thirteen, came in and sat on my left while I wrote. He didn’t interrupt. He just watched. The dogs curled up with one another on blanket on my right. Jazz, my oldest son who is 17, popped in and asked questions and let me know what he was planning for the day.

My writing space is not fancy, but it’s mine and it communicates to me and everyone else that writing is important to me. Having a space also preps your brain to get into its creative mode. If you always sit in the same spot to write, when you sit down the creative juices start flowing. With children, my writing time is scattered between all my other responsibilities as a single mom. Having a space always ready and waiting is important because if I have to take the time to set up each time I have five minutes to write, the book will never get finished.

I finished the outline of my fantasy novel tentatively titled Syrain’s Marrow early last week, a whopping 33 pages. It took a few more days to cut and paste it all into yWriter. I had Thursday off work last week because in Utah, Thursday was a holiday, Pioneer Day, commemorating the day Utah decided being a state was more important than bigamy being an acceptable practice.

I took Friday off work to start my first draft and frankly, I needed a break after a busy on call week the week before. I was also able to spend some extra time with Sky.

So far, I have found my outline to be immensely helpful in maintaining my focus and keeping the words flowing. I believe the biggest complaint about outlining is that it is too restrictive. I haven’t found that to be the case.  Since I have scene after scene already outlined I see plot holes much easier. I also notice when I drop a character and never pick them back up again. It is easy to go back and find something I referenced in a prior scene because I can look at my outline and know, approximately, where it is. The outline also helps me maintain consistency with my details and the voices of my characters.

I have yet to become stuck wondering what should come next. The words just flow. I know it will still be a shity first draft, and they always are, but it will be a completed first draft, and that’s what matters.

The Death of a Dream

dream death

The death of a dream is the worst imaginable type of death. Death in any form is awful, but to watch someone’s dreams struggle for breath, fall to its knees clutching at its heart, to never rise again is the most traumatic experience this life has to offer.

Dreams are crushed everyday throughout the world. War, poverty, family violence, drugs, and many other more mild things you would not suspect gobble up dreams with careless abandon.

Dreams are precious. They are the essence of our soul. Without them, we are nothing. Our dreams define who we are and who we may become. If a person could trade in dreams, they would be the richest person in the world.

Dreams cannot be sheltered or hidden away, but they do have to be protected because they can be lost or stolen, and once gone fighting to get them back is a battle easily lost.

A dream can be lost when a person becomes caught up in the desire for money and power. They forget all about the thing that made their heart sing and dance. The forgotten dream lies upon the ground becoming buried beneath dirt, laundry, diapers, and bills.

A lost dream can be found. Once you realize you have misplaced your dream, an extensive search should begin immediately. The longer you are without your dream, the more soul will leak out of your body. Call upon friends and family, form a search party, and bring in the bloodhounds. Spare no expense. Without your dream, you will wither away.

A dream is stolen when a person perpetrates a trauma against another. The victim’s dreams are ripped out of their soul, and it leaves them consumed by pain and suffering.

A stolen dream can be reclaimed, but it leaves a gaping hole in the center of your chest. The separation is debilitating, and reinforcements are critical. Dust off the chainmail, and strap on the battle-axe. Call your dragon, Pegasus, phoenix, griffin or any other fantastical creature you rely upon during times of immense crisis.

A dream dies when it is forgotten or starved by its owner. Separation by loss or theft for an extended period of time will also result in death.

You can tell when someone’s dream has died. The glimmer of light in their eyes is gone. They walk in the dark going through the motions of their life. Nothing drives them. Nothing moves them to action. They resent others who have thriving dreams. It is difficult not to stop, stare, and try to help these empty vessels, but if you spend too much time with them, they often siphon your dream’s energy trying to resurrect their own. Dead is dead, and there ain’t no coming back.

Dreams feed on thoughts, beliefs, faith, and love. Never let your trough become empty and continuously fill the troughs of those around you. A waterfall fills the pools below it until they are overflowing, and then another waterfall is born to replenish yet another pool farther along the path.

The best protection for a dream is visibility and sharing. It is hard to forget what has been etched, into your skin and that is where you should wear your dream. Each morning we rise and wrap our bodies with clothing and each morning we should wrap our heart in our dream. When you share your dream with another, they may take it up as their own assisting you along the journey. Find a mentor who can be a mirror reflecting your dream back to you. If one cannot be found, find someone who will hold you accountable for progress toward achieving what feeds your soul.

Is there no hope for those who have buried their dead dreams? There is always hope. Roaming among the average and hidden by a veil of normalcy are dream architects. Like an underground spring that never runs dry, they pour forth the food of dreams. An architect will provide the plans for a dream, but the dreamer must gather the supplies and begin construction on their own.

Dream huge, without limit and restraint. Share your dreams with the world. Devise plans for the walking dead, just in case construction is ready to begin.

Flash Fiction Friday: Boxed Princess

princess-gown-2

Sally Montgomery sat cross-legged on the floor of the attic, like a five-year-old on the first day of kindergarten gazing up with barely contained anticipation and excitement at her teacher who might as well unfurrow her white feathered wings because she knows they’re tucked away beneath the autumn dress. Sally wasn’t five any longer, but she knew that feeling. She had just turned six.

Long undisturbed dust bunnies huddled between cardboard boxes and in corners hoping to escape discovery. A porcelain doll lay in Sally’s lap. Golden brown glass eyes stared up at her framed in long honey silk hair. Rosy cheeks, a small nose, and perfect coral lips were strangers to her, but familiar too. It had her eyes, but the hair was like her mothers. Sally’s was raven like her daddy.

She laid the doll to the side, pushed back the flaps of the opened box before her, and peered inside. Her forearm brushed the fuzzy edge of the box as she withdrew a pair of pink ballet slippers. The toes were a bit worn and faded. A pink ribbon two shades brighter than the slipper coiled around her fingers as she rubbed the soft fabric between her thumb and forefinger. Sally sat back on her pockets. Pulling off her sneakers, she slid her foot inside one of the slippers. She wrapped the ribbon around her calf, like she had seen in pictures of ballerinas. It fit perfectly. Sally rotated her foot to get the full view of it. A little piece of a beautiful dream.

Reaching into the box again, she pulled a blue gown free. It unfolded like waves of the ocean. Realizing she was holding it by the skirt, she quickly turned it over. It glistened in the sunlight from the solitary window far above her head. She suppressed a small giggle and glanced toward the trap door. Her mother didn’t know she was up here. She wasn’t supposed to be in the attic alone.

Sally pulled off her cut-off jeans and t-shirt and flung them on the floor in a heap. She pulled the gown on over her head. The hem tickled the top of her foot. She spun in a circle billowing the skirt. She spread her arms out wide feeling the currents of air flow around her. This movement threatened to transport her far away to a palace surrounded by emerald rolling hills.

Before she fell into the land of the fairy, Sally reached into the box once again. She retracted it quickly upon receiving a sharp poke. She got to her knees and looked into the box. A silver tiara lay before her. A smile sprung to her lips. The sparkle of the gems reflected the joy in her eyes. She unbound her raven hair from the bun her mother had put in this morning releasing the coconut of her shampoo. She placed the tiara on her long wavy hair.

Sally laughed as she pulled the last object out of the box, a set of white feathered wings. She put her arms through the loops and the wings rested against her back like a backpack. She skipped around the room again and again.

The fairy world could no longer be held back, Sally was whisked away to the white spired palace and rolling hills. White wisps floated in the sky stretching until they disappeared into the blue. Towering trees with grey green bark and star shaped lemon-lime leaves fluttering in the wind stood just to her right.

An apricot mare shook its walnut mane and tail below the canopy of leaves and bony branches. Sally wondered whose horse it could be, but then she knew. It was hers. Everything in this world was hers, the violet flowers and baby’s breath. Even each sprig of grass and sparkling crystal was her own. She was after all, the fairy queen.

She swung her leg over the mare’s bare back. Gripping the mane in her fingers, Sally rode into the forest. Her eyes darted across all the wondrous sights. The ground was covered with rotting branches and leaves. A soft blanket of moss covered the trunks of trees. The sun’s rays twinkled across the ground like stars in the night sky. Soon Sally was deep into the forest and wasn’t sure she could find her way out, but that was the child speaking inside her not the queen. The queen always knew the way.

The mare came to a stop before a turquoise pool dotted with Lilly pads. Above the pool, the canopy opened up allowing the yellow warmth of the sun to reach the surface of the water. Sally dropped to the ground from the back of the mare. She breathed in the fresh moist air.

A ripple moved across the mirrored surface as if a drop of water had fallen. Sally couldn’t pull her eyes away.  Something lay beneath the surface. She could see purple and crimson light dancing along the bottom. She took a step into the warm water. She glanced around. The horse nudged her with its velvet nose.

Sally took another step and then another. Her gown rose with the water. She pressed it down. The lights below began to swirl around her feet. The water was to her belly button. She pushed her hands through the water feeling it glide smooth over her fingers. Her movements were slowing. She was getting tired.

Sally slipped below the water. She sank lower. The water pressed in on her chest. She couldn’t breathe. She watched the bubbles rise. Little ones at first and then they became larger until they were gone.

“Sally?” her mother called from beneath the attic trap door. “Sally you better not be up there.”

She peeked over trying to catch Sally in some mischief, but she wasn’t there. Only two dolls lay next to an open box. She picked up the one in a blue gown and glanced around the room. Where was Sally?

Courage and Empathy of Writers

antagonist love

It is my theory that writers have a deeper understanding of human motivation and behavior than others in the general population. They may not have the expert terminology of a neurologist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, but their comprehension of what goes on in our heads is significant.

In order to write three-dimensional characters, writers must become students of human behavior. We need to be able to show how a victim of a rape would respond to police and their own thoughts. We need to show how a child would react when their orange balloon is popped by a dead bird falling from the sky.

We may have experienced a few or similar situations to what we put our characters in, but I certainly hope that most of us have not had to live through the torture we exact upon our characters.

Pushing, pulling, and fractured the prior life of a character moves beneath the surface of the story.  Writers understand that experiences and present circumstances motivate actions and thoughts. As we discover our character’s backstory and their present role in our novel, we know that these flow into and around one another.

People in the real world are no different. The difficulty in predicting their behavior and decisions is that we don’t know their backstory and we may not have a full understanding of the present circumstances and pressures from the environment, which will influence the ultimate outcome.

I wonder, are writers more empathetic and accepting of other people’s faults because they know even the most heinous villain could change if they were presented with the right “plot points” in their life?

Writers are also more courageous than your average Joe on the street. They look into the eyes of the worst types of people and still love them on a deep level. You cannot effectively communicate who your antagonist is if you don’t love them, and the reader will be unable to suspend their disbelief regarding the antagonist’s motivation, decisions, and actions.

Not only do writers stare pure evil and insanity in the face, they also destroy what is pure and innocent in the world. Some writers may not want to admit to loving their antagonist, sometimes not even to themselves. No one wants others to cast judgment upon them for the devilry committed by a character.

Just because you understand and empathize with your character doesn’t mean that you are evil or would commit any acts committed by your characters. We all have evil, awful, destructive, lustful thoughts.  Anyone who says they don’t, is lying. Writers are just brave enough to put them out there for the world to see.

Perhaps, writers are less likely to commit heinous acts because they have expressed them rather than holding them in and bottling them up.

WTF is an Author Platform?

book-platform-graphic

A few years ago, I was asking this  question. Had I known then what I know now, I would have been focusing more on building my platform and a little less on writing my manuscript.

Writers write, but if they don’t have a platform they don’t publish or sell the book that they have spent so much blood, sweat, and tears getting on paper. Because of my other commitments (single parent, day job, ultrarunning), it took me two years to get my first manuscript written and ready to be send to a professional editor. During those two years, I didn’t understand what a platform was or how to go about building one.

The importance of a platform didn’t really sink in until six months ago. Then I made some excuses about how I didn’t have time to write and build a platform. Now, I am trying to achieve the balance of building a platform and writing. At this point, my time is about 50/50 on these two tasks because I’m behind. Once you have your platform built you can ease back on it and let it grow of its own accord. Initially, it does take a lot of time because you are just getting it going. If you put the work in upfront then it will take off and you don’t have to put forth the same effort if you do not want to.

What is a platform? A platform is an audience, followers, fans, or readers. People, other than your parents, who want to read what you have written. People buy books because they are recommended by friends, reviewers, or some other form of media. Occasionally, people do pick up a random book in the bookstore or from Amazon read the back and buy it.

Readers have to know that you exist or they cannot buy your book no matter how amazing and life altering it will be for them. You can self-publish the book and wait for people to find it, decide to buy your book, read it, and then decide if they want to tell others about it or write a review of your book. I don’t recommend going this route. You will likely end up in some dark depression staring at computer screen displaying your book on amazon with zero reviews and zero sales (okay two sales your mom and dad).

There are superstars out there, who have been able to get huge sales despite no one knowing who they are, but I’m not relying on the idea that I’m a superstar and neither should you.

How do you build a platform?  Social media such as Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook are the best way to build a platform. Pick two or three primary social media sites that you enjoy interacting on and build your empire with them. It’s important to pick the ones you like to use. If you don’t enjoy it, your dedication will falter and you will stop updating them. It needs to be something you can dedicate some time to each day at least 30-60 minutes.

The numbers slowly go up as you find other people who are interested in the same things you are. You want to use social media to build relationships not to advertise. Connect with people. Readers buy books and remain loyal to an author they have a connection with. Your numbers are not going to grow to thousands overnight. It is going to take six months to a year to get some decent numbers going. So relax.

The best advice I have heard about how to use social media is to create connections to others and provide useful information. Its fine to post what you are doing every once in a while, but if you do this all the time, the only people who will follow you are your friends and family.

In my opinion, having a blog is the absolute best way to build a platform. People get to know you on a deeper level when you blog (connection). Choose your topic wisely, because it has to be one that you can maintain over a long time. We are talking years here. It needs to be broad enough that you don’t feel restricted and contained. Choose something you are passionate about.  It doesn’t matter what it is, other people are passionate or interested in the same thing.

The topic is likely to change a little from when you first start blogging and that is fine.  Your style and topic will develop and grow as you realize what your readers like to read. Consistency is also important. You need to post on your blog at least once a week, but daily can be a bit much for busy people. Personally, I find multiple posts during the day overwhelming and sometimes I will unfollow the blogger.

You won’t have many followers/readers for your blog during the first few months, but numbers grow exponentially. You have to hang in there for the long haul. A great way to get other people to follow your blog is to follow and comment on other blogs on related topics. This again goes back to making a connection and being useful.

You don’t have to be famous or have a book published to start building your platform. You need to start building it sooner rather than later.

Even writers planning to publish traditionally, should build a platform. Most agents and publishers will google your name when you send in your query letter. If they don’t find anything, they are probably not going to agree to take on your book no matter how awesome and life changing it is.

Other ways to build your platform include: podcasts and youtube videos.

Tree Wizard

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The sun pierced the old man’s pale blue eyes despite the brim of his grey hat. The frayed hem of his grey robes rustled last year’s crumbling underbrush, as his quick steps pressed into the carpet of damp decaying brown leaves.

Yellow beaked blackbirds swooped low and chortled at his invasion of their woods so near their nest of chicks. Towering oaks and maple trees crowded against the single-track trail zig zagging lazily up the sunbaked side of Mount Klymene.

Abbernak giggled at the silly little feather heads and kept his pace steady toward his ramshackle home. For home was where he was bound, even if it was only for a moment. The rest among familiar smells and sounds would do his body and mind good.

Stopping at the edge of a small clearing, Abbernak listened. A redtail hawk screeched and dove after a cottontail among the purple and white wild flowers. The emerald green leaves rustled in the breeze. Abbernak scanned the world that stood before him and stepped into the clearing.

His tree was cuddled against the bend of a sparkling creek. The melody of water over the smooth stones reminded Abbernak of quieter times long past. He turned and again scanned the clearing, never can be too careful these days.

A glint of light lashed out of the ancient gnarled trees causing him to freeze. Standing stalk still he listened, the morning birdsong continued to drift among the branches, and the far off rustling of creatures scavenging the underbrush reached for his ears. Shaking his head, he placed a wrinkled hand on the equally wrinkled bark of the tree.  Closing his eyes, he whispered the familiar magic words, and stepped into his home.

A wooden staircase wound its way into the earth. With each confident step of Abbernak’s feet the luminescent moss clinging to the walls of the corridor brightened. At the bottom of the stairs stood a walnut door.It swung open without a sound. He stood there a moment and breathed in the sage, rosemary, and cedar.

A simple straw mattress lay to one side of the room along with four trunks, which contained mostly leather bound books filled with yellowed pages of elemental spells and creature conjuring.

From one of his many pockets, Abbernak pulled a set of small black iron keys. He fit one into a trunk. Neglected hinges gave a sigh of relief as he rested the lid against the wall. He was sure that the book he needed was in this trunk. One after another, the books rose from the trunk and rested on the floor in a neat stack. There it is, he thought. The deep crimson book with a charcoal eight pointed chaos star imbedded on the cover stared back at him.

I never thought I would need you, he thought. At least I had hoped I would never have to turn your pages in more than a casual interest. Times had changed indeed, if a son of neutrality was willing to sink his mind into pandemonium for a mere chance of a better life.  Perhaps he was mad, as all the other wizards of his order believed. Madness had a certain strength about it, for within madness was creation and destruction dancing hand in hand.

Abbernak sat upon the dirt floor, picking his teeth with a bit of stick contemplating the runes on the delicate pages. The runes skittered across the page until he placed his bony finger in the center and spoke an ancient word. He spent many hours hovered over the book. Page after page of spells swirled in his mind like a whirlwind. Thoughts careening into one another and weaving intricate nonsensical patterns that threatened to strip his grip on reality all together.

A crack like that of lightening striking a tree reverberated within his skull. Abbernak sunk to his knees, yanking at his matted brown hair, and choking on his own saliva. Then there was silence so deafening, Abbernak thought his ears were stuffed with wax.

A darkness descended upon the forest like a fog as thick as amber tree sap. Abbernak had not noticed until now that he was holding his breath. He let it out and began to climb the stairs to the surface.

The moon shone upon the world in a solitary beam of white light in the small clearing. He felt her presence before he saw her watching him from the shadows. The deep-set feline eyes of the necromancer sent ice dripping down Abbernak’s spine.

“All your brothers have fallen before me, begging for their souls,” she purred.

“You’ve tipped the scales too far, Nightlark,” Abbernak said, a hint of sadness creeping into his baritone voice.

“You and your balance. You are no different than the rest of the grey robes.”

“Balance can only be maintained so long as there is equal effort on both sides.”

“Then you have already failed, because the Shadow realm has made a snack out of the Light.” She stepped into the clearing. Purple robes gently waving in the fog surrounding her. Her golden eyes began burrowing into his heart. He gagged and fought for air. At last, she withdrew laughing.

“What is left for you now that your precious balance has been devoured?” she asked as she sent black mass of nebulous smoke gliding in his direction. He moved toward the heart of the clearing. His body was relaxed and his mind quiet.

“New growth,” he said.

His eyes flashed sapphire and green flames crackled in his hands. The flame arched and morphed into red lightening, and then contracted like a coiled snake. All the air in the clearing pulled into center. The fabric of time was wrenched open and chaos spread its great webbed wings.

Nightlark’s voice escaped her and her golden eyes locked on Abbernak. Thunder rumbled across the deep grey sky as the tree wizard released Chaos into the world.

How You See Me

kids on the street

Seeking eyes and whirling thoughts piece together who I am.

Despite my many faces, my eyes have never changed.

A brief once over tells me if you want to open me up or forget we passed within a breath.

Your suns shine cold on my skin, as the storm clouds wrap me in warmth.

Hold me steady while I skitter and dart toward the trees.

Flitter like a butterfly as I strip you bare.

Covered with dark, they still tickle my skin crawling with one hundred legs beneath my veil.

Draw your curtains closed, but the remnants of who I am remain.

Spread your wings and glide on currents toward the ground beneath my feet.

Search my mirrors lost in your own design.

Dive into the depths and lose yourself in dreams.

In fiction, we find ourselvs.

child reading

Writing for me is a release. I often wonder how I ever got along in life without it, but then I realize it’s always been there in one form, or another. As a teen, I kept a journal and wrote poetry trying to express those overwhelming emotional upheavals that seemed to continually crash upon me like tidal waves over the sandy coast. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also kept a journal and written stories on and off.

I write to share my experiences and my perspective on the world and life. I don’t believe my perspective is better or worse than anyone else’s, but it is uniquely mine. I do believe that trying to understand other’s experience is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another human being.

Knowing that others out there who have dealt with the same thoughts and circumstances gives us a sense of not being alone in this unforgiving and harsh world. Knowing that someone is willing to take the time to at least try to understand lets us know that we have value and worth even if we don’t’ see it at the time.

Both fiction and non-fiction writing allows readers into the author’s world. Even in academic writing, the author cannot help infusing the writing with a piece of their soul through the words that they choose. They breathe life into the pages with the rhythm and cadence of the words.

I enjoy writing non-fiction, but for me there is a limit to what I can write about as a non-fiction writer. As a fiction writer, there are no limits. The world is mine for the making.

Non-fiction’s value and place in the world is clear and easy for anyone to see. Sharing knowledge and experience has immeasurable value to us all. Fiction’s value is equally precious, even if there are some who do not recognize or appreciate it.

Fiction allows the reader to pursue dreams and goals they never thought possible. It allows the reader to see through another set of eyes. It gives expression to the pieces of our souls we hide and protect from the rest of the world. Fiction allows readers to maintain a firm grip on wonder and hope within the real world.

When I get lost in the pages of a book, I’ve become a part of the story. I’ve identified completely with a character. We are one. Together we face challenges and fail. Together we face challenges and conquer. We never really part ways, even when I’ve set the book on my nightstand or slipped it into my bag. Sure, I know I’m not in never never land any longer, but I will always have a sense of strength, courage, and hope to draw upon in my own life.

What about dark stories that plunge the reader into the depths of hell and never fully brings them back? I love these stories most of all. How in the world does a reader draw a sense of wonder and hope from that, you ask.

It makes them feel less alone in the world. The darkness in the book resonates with an equally dark piece of their experience.  It also makes the real world appear so much brighter and radiant once you’ve looked hell in the eyes.

Pantsing or Outlining Your Novel

outlining-165 Structuring-Your-Novel

When I first began writing my memoir, Fighting for a Chance to Dream, I wrote in a haphazard style. Whichever memory popped into my head, I typed into my laptop. This would then bring another memory to the surface, and I would diligently type it up. The result, drumroll please, was a freaking train wreck. I gave this first draft to two of my friends to read, (yes I am still begging for forgiveness). They both came back saying it was a great story of course. This is the reason you have to find beta readers who do not love you. I was unable to write for several months due to some chaos in my personal life, and when I picked up my first draft to read, I realized what a mess it was.

I restructured, edited, added, and subtracted scenes for another six months before giving it out to another round of friends to read. While they read, I continued to rewrite and edit. This was silly. When they came back with changes, I had already made those changes. I was definitely jumping the gun. I put my memoir away and began working on another book.

My second book, Go Big or Go Home, began with an outline of bullet points, which worked fine for a non-fiction book on a topic I am passionate about (running). It has yet to be finished because there are a few running events I would like to complete before publishing it. It also needs a thorough edit and revision.

Following the running book, I began writing a fiction novel while at the same time continuing to edit Fighting for a Chance to Dream. By this time, I had read a few books about structure, plot, dialogue, suspense, and conflict. I had heard the terms Pantser(writing by the seat of your pants) and Outline people. Pantsing made sense to me. The creative juices could just flow onto the page unrestrained by anything.

I hit 25,000 words and didn’t know where to go. My characters stared at me blankly. Sometimes they ran in circles singing, “This is the song that never ends. Yes, it goes on and on my friends. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was, and they’ll continue singing it just because this is the song that never ends.”

I considered just dropping the book into the recycle bin on my desktop, but I had started listening to K.M. Weiland’s Wordplay podcasts and decided to give outlining a try. I bought her book Outlining Your Novel, Map Your Way to Success, it was the miracle I was looking for. While reading the book, ideas jumped into my head. I had to keep a notebook right next to me, so I could jot down the plot and structure ideas as they sprang into my mind.

I knew I had to redo many things in the book. I knew I had to combine characters and reconsider my POV characters. I was going to have to go back to square one. But, I was thrilled about starting over. Some scenes will be salvaged, but many will lovingly be placed in the deleted scene folder.

To start my outline, I wrote my story out long hand. Whatever came to my head, I wrote down. There are tangents and questions laced in among character description, setting description, theme, and plot. I wrote the story from my protagonist’s perspective. Then I wrote it from the other minor character’s perspectives.

I’ve gone through the notebooks and highlighted usable complete ideas in yellow, character and backstory in orange, subplots are in green, and ideas that need more development are in pink. I wrote scene ideas on index cards. I am now in the process of typing up an extended outline, scene by scene. I should complete it within the next week.

Yes, it is a million pages long, but I’m no longer stuck, my characters are speaking to me like never before. I am excited to get working on the first draft again.

I found Outlining your Novel Map Your way to Success so helpful that I’m now reading K.M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story.

I’ve listened to all of her past podcasts, and I’m going through her video episodes on Youtube. I follow K.M. Weiland on Facebook and Pinterest. I feel like a stalker! I tweet her prior episodes and mention her in most of them. (She probably thinks I’m a stalker at this point).

I have read other author’s books on the craft, of course, and will continue to read them. I have a bunch on my kindle and bookshelves (all recommended by K.M. Weiland muhahaha!) just kidding, well sort of.

Bottom line is if you are just starting out on your writing journey find someone who teaches the craft of writing that you resonate with and be a stalker of their material.

K.M. Weiland has a new book on the craft coming out on August 1, 2014, the Annotated Jane Eyre. She also has her fiction books Behold the Dawn, A Man Called Outlaw, and Dreamlander.

You can buy K.M.Weiland’s books and stalk her on her webpage here.

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