Painful Beginnings


Going back to the beginning.

Starting anew.

Getting a fresh start.

It doesn’t matter how you phrase it, when you’re starting something over, it’s hard.  Ever tried to save a batch of chocolate chip cookies with too much salt?  Trust me, despite the agony of throwing it all out, it is the better choice.

I started an exercise program several months ago.  I made great progress, dropped several pounds, even lost a clothing size.  Then life got hectic as life is want to do at times. I quit going to the gym, stopped following the diet, and found the pounds I’d lost had come back with a vengeance. So I went back to the gym and started over with everything, and I’m pretty sure it hurts worse by 200 percent more than it did when I started originally.

Now I’m doing something almost as painful: I’m rewriting one of my novels, starting over from scratch because I just can’t seem to fix it in bits and pieces. I’m rethinking the characters, I’m reworking the plot, and I’m sorting through some of the subplots and secondary characters to decide what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of. It’s a far more painful process than I had anticipated it would be, and I find that I come to the writing part of my day and I am reluctant, even a bit bitter, about going through with the work. After all, I created this world and populated it and set it in motion – I liked it enough at the time to see it through, and I liked it enough when I finished it to begin submitting it. Now, here I am, the fickle god who is destroying my beloved creation.


The truth is, though, that I didn’t get it right the first time. I need to start over because the story isn’t working as it is, and simple revisions won’t be enough to fix the issues. As much as I like some of the characters, and as much as I thought I had worked out a solid plot, I realize now that the story really needs a new start – no matter how painful it might feel right now.

In a way, I’m hopeful that this process will seem easier – eventually – than writing the original story did. I already know the basic thread of the plot, and I know the key characters (even if they will change a bit), so in a way, the story is somewhat written already. I’m trying to think of this in terms of a piece of clay: I molded it one way, but the result wasn’t as appealing as I’d hoped, so now I’m reshaping it into something more attractive and useful.


It would be easy to toss the whole story aside and say, “Oh well, better luck next time,” but I really believe in this story, and I really think it will find a home and finds its life outside my computer. I think I know the answers to the issues I’ve uncovered, and I’ve had good readers willing to look it over to share their insights as well. I know it will be better, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Writing at its very core is a painful process, but now I’m compounding that pain, and doing it on purpose. I guess that makes me some kind of masochist – which is a pretty funny thought.

So, it’s off to work again on a novel called The Afterward. Hopefully this time I can release its full potential. I just don’t think I have the heart to rip it apart yet again.

Acting My Age – Take 2


While it may be cliché, it is nonetheless true: the older you get, the faster time passes. As I was walking to work this morning, I became keenly aware of this very concept on a number of levels. The first happened as I was thinking about writing this blog. I realized I hadn’t blogged in a little while. As it turns out – it’s been six months! Those common and all-too-real words popped into my head: “Where did the time go?”  Like everyone else I know, my life is filled with an endless variety of things which take my time and run away with it. Some of these are wonderful – my time with my grandson, my oldest daughter’s wedding, working on my yard. But some of them are not as enjoyable – my hour-long commute twice a day, a job that is financially rewarding and emotionally draining, and my seemingly endless struggle to balance the things I need to do against the things I want to do.

As I was making my brisk walk from the parking lot to my office (about two city blocks), I became very aware of both time and age. There had been an accident on the freeway which had slowed me down considerably, and I was feeling frustrated at being late when I had every intention of arriving early.


It felt as if some unseen monster was taking a bite out of my valuable time pie, and I grew tense and angry. When I finally reached the parking lot, the temperamental machine required three attempts for me to make my payment. More time wasted, more frustration. By the time I parked and gathered my things to start walking, I could feel the tightness of anxiety in my chest and across my shoulders. My jaw tensed, teeth clenched, I started my walk toward work.

A few paces ahead of me was a young woman making her way to her office as well. She wore the requisite uniform of a young executive: a grey skirt, pale yellow blouse, grey sweater, and tennis shoes so she could walk faster on the uneven sidewalks. A leather bag hung from her shoulder, the heels of her beige pumps sticking out from one side. She stared straight ahead with fierce determination as she prepared to storm across the intersection when the light changed. Her hair was pulled back in a tight twist and I tried not to laugh as I wondered if her brain felt as tight as her hairdo.

blurred shot of business executives in a hurry

blurred shot of business executives in a hurry

As I watched her launch into the cross walk and move with quick, steady strides, I developed a kind of sadness for her. She was speeding up her world and rushing through time in a way she would one day come to regret. I instantly felt myself slowing down. I lost the urge to rush to the office building and instead took a moment to enjoy the shade of the trees that line Main Street. I listened to the clacking and squeaking of the light rail train that rounded the corner to head to the university. I watched a robin hoping along the steps to the great grey building that is now a courthouse, but that I remember as a kid as being the huge post office we came and visited in fourth grade.

I found a good pace and realized that the young woman who’d been hard-charging ahead of me had disappeared into a building. I thought about her uniform as became aware of my own choice of clothing for the day: white, knee-length shorts; a reddish shirt with an imprint of the Hindu deity Ganesha on it; a beige sweater (it gets cold at my desk), and gold sandals to match my gold jewelry.


There was a time I would have dressed exactly like that young woman. It would have seemed appropriate. Uncomfortable, but appropriate. All the time that has passed by me has brought with it the opportunity to dress how I want. I’m happy to have landed in a place where suits and skirts aren’t expected – but even if they were, I’d put my own spin on the uniform.

I realized another thing as I reached my office this morning: I’ve survived enough work environments to know that being true to who I am is far more important to me than trying to conform to what I think others expect of me. It’s far easier to relax (usually) and to allow the world to just be what it is than to allow myself to get upset about things over which I have no control. I didn’t cause the accident that slowed traffic, and I surely couldn’t speed that up. I didn’t cause the silly parking payment machine to be persnickety and uncooperative. Allowing myself to become frustrated by it was a waste of energy and time that I could better use somewhere else.

This is truly one of the benefits of learning to act my age. And the Ganesha tee-shirt doesn’t hurt either.

Because I Cannot Be Disuaded

At the end of each year, it has become my tradition to review the goals I set and see how I did, and then to create new goals for the new year. I’ve been doing this for 8 years now, and I find it helpful for keeping my focus throughout the year – usually. Life happens when you’re making plans for something else, right? So, let’s see how I did:

1. I will get an agent this year. Period.

Well, I tried. I did begin to submit to agents again, and while I had favorable comments, I haven’t landed one just yet. So, we’ll be seeing this one again, I’m certain.

2. I will finish at least three novels this year, including rewriting The Afterward, finishing Namesake, and a third novel (yet to be determined).

That was very ambitious of me! And I did pretty well. The Afterward has been revised, I finished a novel called “The Year I Went Invisible” (though it needs a great deal of work still). I wrote (and sold!) two new short stories, and I’ve started a new novel that is moving along nicely (it doesn’t have a name yet, though). While I didn’t actually write three two new novels, I still feel pretty good about my accomplishments.

3. I will continue to look for opportunities to promote my work and to participate in at least one writing-related event each month. 

I came so close on this! I did find new places to market my work! And I took full advantage of every opportunity! I managed to be involved in 10 events this year! And for some of them, I was even paid! This one might be tougher with only one new book coming out this year, but hopefully, I’ll find some new resources as well.

4. I will attend two writing conferences or workshops to benefit my own writing.

I have to cheat a bit on this one, but to me, it still counts. In April, I was one of the presenters at the Writing for Charity event in Provo, Utah. However, I took full advantage of the times I wasn’t presenting and attended as many workshops as I could fit in during the day. Then in September, I joined the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization and attended their three-day conference in Denver. It was amazing, uplifting, and something I very much needed to do for myself and my heart.

5. I will offer four writing workshops  during the year.

And here, I exceeded my goal significantly. I began teaching for the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program again after not having taught for them in over 12 years. It is a wonderful, rewarding experience, and I look forward to the classes and my students each week. This coming spring, I will be teaching a class on Flash Fiction, and I have gained so much insight by reading in this area, so I’m very excited to share this with my students.

And so for next year? Well, I’m continuing to try to stretch a bit, but I’m also trying not to set myself up for failure or disappoint. Let’s be realistic: I have a full-time job; I’m a wife, mother, grandmother, and the giant furless mommy cat in my family. I have responsibilities and demands – but I also have a need to write, so I’m trying to find that balance between the real world and my writing ambitions. My family is supportive and willing to compromise (which is easier now that my baby is 19 and only lives here on school breaks), but I need time with them, too. In that realm of balance and ambition, here are the 2015 edition of my goals:

1. I will submit to no less than 5 agents each month.

2. I will write a minimum of 7,500 words each week.

3. I will participate in a minimum of 10 events which allow me to promote my books.

4. I will attend at least one writing event where I am NOT speaking or presenting.

5. I will continue teaching creative writing courses through Lifelong Learning.

Now, I’m adding a new twist: I have printed off my goals and stuck them to the wall next to my desk so that I can see them each day. I am inviting you to ask me at any time to provide a public update on these goals, which I will do. I’m inviting any encouragement, support, chastising, or harassment that you may feel is appropriate throughout the year. And I will thank you now, in advance, for doing so.

Here’s to the new year: may we all follow our dreams and continue to flourish and grow!


The (Endless) Circle of Life – And Writing

In the past week, I’ve been reminded multiple times of just how life keeps going forward regardless of what we, individually, happen to think. The first reminder came when my brother-in-law’s father passed away quite unexpectedly. It’s terrible to lose a loved one, and worse at this chaotic time of year. I offered our family’s love and support and asked him what he needed. He said something to the effect that his world had become frozen and he hadn’t really had time to figure out what the next step was. I know that feeling. I know it well. I felt exactly the same way when my own dad passed away about eight years ago.

I sat in the house with my dad’s empty shell of a body, waiting for the men from the funeral home to arrive in the worst snow storm of the year. I was there for nearly 10 hours, but I wasn’t even aware of the passing of time, and in the days that followed, time somehow became irrelevant. Those things that had all seemed so important just moments before I got the call from the sheriff suddenly lost all meaning and value.

But the world did not stop spinning on its axis, the universe didn’t freeze and wait for me to be functional. It kept going just as it had before. At the same time that I was experiencing life in a jar of molasses, other people experienced things spinning nearly out of control. My need to take time off to attend to family matters meant added stress and frustration for the instructors who had to pick up and teach my classes. My slow swim through grief made me feel as if time were crawling past, but as my dad passed away just before Christmas, there was a sense of last-minute urgency among other family and friends to make sure the holidays were as enjoyable as possible.sad-christmas-treeAs a writer, these lessons have value beyond just being potential fodder for stories. Life is what happens within a story. No matter what happens to a character, the world continues moving forward at a consistent rate. As the character’s world slows down or speeds up, the universe keeps doing what it has always done, and what it always will do. This consistent thread within the tapestry of a plot is sometimes subtle, and sometimes more obvious, but it is always present. It acts upon the character, and in turn, the character reacts – time feels as if it’s fluctuating to the character, but the universe remains the same.

New babies are born even as beloved family members are taken from us. Grief subsides eventually and we get back to the tasks that were once critical, then became trivial. We feel time return to its regular pacing, not because time changed, but because we did. It is a strange phenomenon (as if any phenomenon is not strange?), our experience of time, and of life, changes based upon what happens around us and to us. But life doesn’t change. This same cycle has been happening since we emerged from the primordial ooze.

Primordial-oozeStrangely, the writing process is very similar – things go along at a “normal” pace, then there is interference that slows me down, and deadlines that speed things up, and as one story comes to a close, another one is finding life. Sometimes I marvel at art imitating life, but it all seems to work in some great, universal synchronicity. So before I start singing the opening song from The Lion King, I think I’ll slow down, call it a day, and wait to see what there is to surprise me tomorrow,

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Galaxy Quest

I teach a workshop called “When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers” and it is based on a collection of stories – my own and other writers’ – of the things that can and do go wrong in the publishing world. There are so many elements involved in seeing a book move from idea, to manuscript, to submission, to revisions, to finished product. Because of all these complicated pieces, the opportunity for problems is as abundant as the steps are. Sometimes there are multiple challenges all with the same book. Sometimes these issues are just minor headaches, and sometimes they are enough to make you wonder why you ever thought being a writer was a good idea.

In my own little corner of the writing universe, I’ve had plenty of encounters with publishing speed bumps. I’ve had contracts cancelled due to one publisher buying out another. I’ve had a publisher accidentally send me a bill for what should have been my author’s copies. And I’ve had editors get ill, have family problems, and delay my revisions by months.  Most recently, I’ve had a book scheduled for release three times only to be delayed again because the original publisher is being bought out. It’s tough to go from preparing to celebrate the release of your book to being told, “We don’t really know when it will be released.”



In a conversation with an acquaintance, I was explaining the most recent development with my book when he asked, “So why do you keep doing this?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Because I can’t NOT write. I can’t stop.” And it’s the truth. I have stopped writing before for almost two years, and it nearly made me crazy. I tell people regularly that, even if I never made another dime from my stories, I would still keep writing and submitting. It’s my addiction. It’s what keeps me breathing and keeps my heart pounding. It is, very honestly, who I am. So in spite of all those speed bumps, I will never give up. I will never surrender.

There are only a few things I feel this much passion for. My family, obviously, is at the top of the list. Knowledge is another item on the list because I love learning. My pets, and really animals in general are also  high on my list. But writing is what fills my heart. It’s where everything comes together for me.  It’s why I search for detail in the mundane, why I listen for noises or voices that no one else pays attention to, and why even as I’m sitting in traffic, I’m creating a scene or writing descriptions in my head. It just is who I am.

When someone asks, “Why don’t you quit?” When I go through the occasional bout of self-doubt. When yet another speed bump surprises me and jolts me like I’ve been moving too fast, I might have a quick slip into that dark thought of giving up writing, but ultimately, my brain surges, my heart beats faster, and the passion takes over again. Never give up, never surrender.


Beginner’s Mind

Writing is a very humbling thing at times. It’s not just the rejections, the bad reviews, or the minuscule royalty checks, but the process itself can often crack you in the knees and cause you to genuflect.

In meditation practices associated with Buddhism, Hinduism, and others as well, there is a concept called “Beginner’s Mind” that applies beautifully to writing as well. Anyone who has begun a meditation practice knows what Beginner’s Mind is: it’s that awkward experience of sitting in silence, seeking a spiritual experience, and feeling as if your mind is in a blender that is set to puree. You have to remind yourself repeatedly to center your thoughts, tune out the outside world, and allow your brain to connect to more important things than the dog barking outside, or the odd creak and groan of the house, or the sudden urge to create your grocery list. For some, this struggle to calm their thoughts and create that connection becomes so frustrating that they give up the practice quickly.

That’s where I am with this new story. I’ve got a pretty decent plot concept, and most of the main characters are fleshed out, but my brain keeps generating ideas for things unrelated to this new story, and I find myself distracted by an urge to write poetry, or a compelling need to clean out files from my computer, or to skate off into Facebook land and lose track of my precious writing time.

Another aspect of Beginner’s Mind is that you don’t know what you don’t know. I don’t do well with the unknown. When I create a story, I need to have the story pretty much written in my head before I sit down to write it. This approach has served me well, but I tend to forget that when I start a new one, not everything is in place. Then, when I sit down to write, I get hung up by the things I don’t know that I don’t know! I forget that sometimes I just need to get BIC (butt in chair) and start writing so I can figure out what I need to know.

Before you think that Beginner’s Mind is a negative thing, let me explain the value of this situation. Beginner’s minds are wide open to all the possibilities. Everything is so new, so different, that there are no expectations or limitations to hold the beginner back. If I were to start a new book and already have in mind that it would fit into a specific box, I might miss some wonderful opportunities. For example: in Death’s Kiss,deathkiss final-front

the paranormal YA that is coming out in a few months, I thought I had the ending completely figured out as I began writing. I started crafting the story to move in the direction I had chosen, and I felt pretty good about it. But I didn’t have all the details in place for certain scenes, and it felt as if I were starting all over again. Instead of giving up, or worse, trying to force the story in an unnatural direction, I left my options open. I found a new, more powerful ending that made better sense with the scenes I had already written, and I’m much happier with the story now than I would have been.

For many writers, it’s hard to admit that they don’t know everything about the craft or the business. When I start a new project, I return to that Beginner’s Mind, and I find that by acknowledging that I can’t possibly know everything about this, I am better able to explore all the options and to look in new and different directions. Sometimes that feeling of not knowing, or having so many things on my mind all at once, can be a bit overwhelming, but as with meditation, in time things settle and I find that comfortable place that works. I know it’s coming. I just have to have a little patience.


Kids and Summer Reading

Here’s a subject with which I’m intimately familiar. Having raised three kids, I spent many summers trying to figure out how to get two of them to do even just a little reading. My oldest –  my daughter Morgan – was, quite fortunately, an avid reader and considered a trip to Barnes & Noble better than a trip to the amusement park. My middle kid and my youngest kid – well, that was a different matter. These two each had a learning disability that impacted their ability and interest in reading. My middle child – my son Ryan – had an issue with comprehension. He could read several pages to you with fluency, but when you asked him about what he’d read, he had only the vaguest of ideas. My youngest – my daughter Amanda – had a different issue. Her learning disability was communication centered. For her, letters and words were just lines and squiggles. She struggled to make sense of the words on the page, but if you read to her, she could repeat almost word for word what you’d read.

Trying to get my younger two kids to read often seemed a more difficult task than performing a root canal on a crocodile.


Without anesthesia.  I tried bribing, I tried taking away privileges, but this turn reading into something my kids resented or felt was a chore they were being forced to endure. As a writer for children, I couldn’t bear the thought that my kids would hate reading and books because of my efforts to help keep them engaged and learning during their time off from school. So I came up with a plan that was sort of a compromise. I told my kids that we would go to the book store. They could pick out one book, any book they wanted. Morgan went for Harry Potter – because they were new and all the rage. My son wandered around, looking at things like the Guiness Book of World Records. Eventually I managed to lure him to the Young Adult section. I pointed out a few sports themed books, and casually mentioned that I had met Walter Dean Myers.  The book Slam was on the shelf, a book about basketball (well, more than basketball, but that is my son’s first love, so it was all that mattered). My son had found his first of what would be a long-term affinity for Walter Dean Myer’s books.

Somehow, my youngest daughter discovered Manga books. For those not familiar with Manga, they are graphic novels which feature Japanese anime style drawing along with text. I have to say, at first I wanted to tell her no, she needed a “real” book, but then I remembered that I said they could pick “any” book. And thus began a love affair with Manga and graphic novels that my daughter enjoys even now that she’s in college. It’s easy for her to follow, and she can read them over and over. She’s moved through a variety of series, and I’m so grateful I didn’t tell her no all those years ago.


Many years ago, when the  Goosebumps series first started, many adults were outraged by the books and fought to steer kids away from them (and in some places, tried to ban them outright). But many writers and educators defended the books, and in one interview I read at the time, a wise parent said, “I’d rather see this book in my son’s hands than the remote control to a video game.” I absolutely agree! If it’s a choice between a book (even one deemed “trashy” or “worthless”) or the X-Box, I’d far rather the kids’ version of pulp fiction than mindless zombie blasting.

My advice for summer reading? Let your kids pick. Even if it’s not on their teacher’s summer reading list, give them the choice. My married oldest daughter is still a voracious reader. My college student son still reads sports books, and he still reads Walter Dean Myers. And while my youngest college student daughter still enjoys Manga, she also stole and read my Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe.  Give kids the freedom to choose their own entertainment through a book, and it won’t feel like you’re sentencing them to an agonizing chore. (But if you happen to recommend my books, that would be okay, too!)

And here’s a great summer reading tip for young kids: personalized books! Emergent readers (those just learning to read) get an absolute thrill when they see their names in a book! Surprise one of your favorite youngsters with this very special gift. Many companies are encouraging parents to spend time with their kids, and nothing is more fun than having your child on your lap with a book in hand! The wonderful people at Personal Creations are making this easy by offering delightful books for young readers, customized with their names! To learn more, visit! Make summer reading more fun, and spend some valuable time with your kids. Trust me, they grow up way too soon, so don’t miss those opportunities to connect!