Acting My Age – Take 2

time

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.

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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.

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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.

Resolutions – The 2013 Edition

It has been a VERY successful year for me, and I am grateful for the support of friends, family, teachers, librarians, and most of all readers! In June of this year, Angelic Knight Press made an offer for Death’s Kiss. In August, I sold a horror short story under my pen name Mimi A. Williams. That story, entitled Rita, will be part of the Axes of Evil: Heavy Metal Horror Anthology that will be released on February 1, 2014.  The Deepest Blue was released from Tanglewood Press in September of this year. This book has a long, winding history behind it, and it’s one that I am incredibly proud to see in print. All of this exceeded my goals for the year, although there were a few places I fell short

This is the seventh year in a row that I’ve done this exercise. It is a tradition now, and something I look forward in some sick and twisted way. It actually started further back even than the posts on this blog! All credit is due to Carol Lynch Williams who started the whole thing at least a dozen years ago and maybe even more. We are members of several list serves together, and every year about this time, we would publicly post our writing goals, and at the end of the year, Carol would hold us all accountable by posting our objectives on the list.

I like to do it this way: First, I review my resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how I did. That usually provides the motivation for my new resolutions. So here is what I aspired to a year ago and how I did:

1) I will revise my book The Afterward and continue to send it out.

The Afterward did not get the work I had hoped it would. It was shoved aside in favor of other projects. That’s not entirely bad. The other projects were both getting revised for publication. The Deepest Blue was the one that required the most time, followed closely by Death’s Kiss, which will be released early in 2014.

2) I will revise my book Death Kiss and continue submitting it and looking for its home.

Death Kiss was revised, and it was bought by Angelic Knight Press. It did find a home, and as I mentioned, it will be released soon under the revised title of “Death’s Kiss”

deathkiss final-front

3) I will participate in as many promotional and marketing events as possible (like Authorpalooza, Writing for Charity, and others) to promote my books and my availability for speaking.

I did quite well with this! I attended 10 different events, including a workshop at Whitmore Library, Writing for Charity, Davis School District Literacy Night, SCBWI’s The Inside Story, and others. I have also upgraded my website, and learned new ways to use social media to help promote my books. The results have been very positive, and as I anticipate my upcoming royalty payments, I should have a more concrete idea of how effective these efforts have been.

4) I will begin offering writing workshops 3 or 4 times a year through different sources as a means of income and to promote my books.

I didn’t quite follow through with this, though I did teach two workshops with good results. This year, though, I will follow through with the workshops, and I have recruited my talented writer friend C. Michelle Jefferies to be part of the fun! We have already laid the plans for the first workshop the first week of February.

And now it’s time to commit to the page (such as it is) my goals for the coming year. They came pretty easily this year, and I feel like I am stretching a bit and giving myself a challenge, but I don’t sense I’m setting myself up for failure. So here they are:

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a lot to do in the next year, but I’m feeling confident and enthusiastic. It’s as much giving as it is taking. I’m focusing on quality and quantity. Overall, I think 2014 holds more promise than even this past year held, and that just makes me even more eager to get started!

Here’s to the coming year! My propellers are spinning and I’m ready to fly!

airplane

The Benefits (and Drawbacks) of Multiple Personalities

It’s a pretty well-known fact that writers are crazy. You have to have a certain level of mental imbalance in order to create people, bring them to life, and then tell stories about them. There are, in fact, books written on this subject (The Midnight Disease by Alice Flaherty being one of my favorites), but for my purposes, that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve always written under my real name because, well, I just didn’t see any reason to do anything differently. Then I got talked into co-writing a very graphic crime/horror novel, and I began to worry that someone would see my name on KISS KISS BARK, then see it on BEAUTIFUL MONSTER, and mistakenly would assume they should be sold or shelved side-by side!

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Thus, it became clear that I needed to come up with a pen name – which I did and I’ve explained before, but just in case you missed it: My niece has always called me Aunt Mimi, and I had two Aunt Mimis growing up, so the name Mimi was a natural choice. Then I just added my middle initial and my maiden name and – voila! – pen name! And I love the fact that Mimi sounds so cute and innocent, and I use it for my horror writing! I’m twisted . . . what can I say.

It was fine for a while. I had two Facebook pages set up: the original one under my real name and one under my pen name. But then I started a new job, and time constraints led me to decide to limit my social networking time. I closed down the page for Mimi and focused on my original page instead.  Interestingly, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was spending the same amount of time on one page as I had been on two. I realized another thing: my other half wanted her own territory.

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Mimi wants her time, her space, her voice. So I’ve reopened Mimi’s Facebook page, and she has her own author page there as well. Mimi has her own email account, and now she also has her own Twitter account (@MimiAWilliams). And very soon, Mimi will have her own blog and her own website! Mimi is the channel for my darker side (come on, we all have one!), and she has been getting short-changed lately. Believe it or not, this makes so many things so much easier for me! There are very few people who think that we are actually two different people, so if I have friends who cross-over between the two personas, that’s just fine. This just makes it less of a challenge for me to keep my ideas straight, and it serves as an appropriate outlet for that darker element in me who also requires attention.

So you can friend me on Facebook at Kim Williams Justesen, the author page Kim Williams-Justesen, Mimi A. Williams (or MA Williams), and her author page Mimiloveshorror. You can tweet me at @kwjwrites, or@MimiAWilliams. My web site is http://www.kwjustesen.com, and as soon as Mimi’s page and her blog are up, I’ll send out word! OH – and we are both on Goodreads under our separate names.

There are things about the writing world that truly can make me crazy, but separating my two sides and giving them each a voice is making at least part of it a little less crazy than before!

Change of Seasons

The weather is beautiful – around 75 degrees with a slight breeze to keep things comfortable. Our family took an amazing vacation to San Francisco where we indulged in fabulous food, tourist attractions, and a whole lot of fun with each other. The first handful of raspberries have been harvested, and the nectarine tree is heavy with the hard, green fruit that will ripen into sweet, juicy treats.

My feet have the tell-tale tan of my golf sandals, (no, these are not my feet!)  sandal-tan and my skin is faintly browned (though I’m very careful with sunscreen to be sure). There are camping trips scheduled for July and August, a new patio to be built in my back yard, and so many long walks and longer drives to be taken.

Summer has truly arrived full force, and so I find myself struggling with an annual dilemma: outside vs. writing. I love summer, I love being outside, I love working in my garden, I love going for walks, I love driving with the top down on my Mustang,

topless

and I love heading off somewhere to watch the sunset. What I don’t like is sitting at the desk in my office. That, of course, means that it is difficult to write during the summer months, and as I have experienced before, I am struggling to make progress on my projects. I was feeling quite negative about this; in fact, I was pretty much beating myself up mentally and emotionally because I’ve fallen so far behind on my work-for-hire project and on the new young adult novel I’ve started.

I don’t like making excuses. The truth is that I’m making choices. I’m choosing other activities over writing, and I’m suffering the consequences of those decisions. So I’ve been seeking alternatives that might somehow allow me to enjoy my summer hours while still achieving my writing goals. One example of my compromise is this specific blog: I’m using my laptop while sitting in my back yard and enjoying the warmth and the birds teasing my kitties. Another switch I’m trying, for those times when my laptop is inconvenient or not an option, is going old school – handwriting in my notebook. It’s worked for me before, and the really important thing is that it takes away the technology excuse. Millions of books were written without benefit of electronic devices, and while I often get frustrated (because I can’t write by hand as fast as I type), I can still record thoughts, work forward on scenes, and continue to make progress even when my laptop isn’t available.

I also use a rewards system with myself to provide the proper motivation to get my writing done. If I know I really want to go to the farmer’s market on Sunday, then I have to have at least ten pages written by Saturday night. If I want to sit on the porch after work and enjoy the garden, then I need to have written for at least an hour the night before. I’m pretty good about holding myself accountable, but I’m even better at it when I let others know what my requirement of myself is. I tell my friends at work, but I also tell my husband and my kids. If they see me trying to get away with something without having finished my writing time, they are quite good at scolding, cajoling, and flat out harassing me to get done what I need to do.

I love summer, but it comes and goes (every year – go figure!), but writing is my passion. So I find ways to make it happen, instead of finding ways to make excuses. Okay – times up. I need to get an hour of writing done now so I can enjoy a long walk tomorrow night!

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

So first, I need to thank Jared S. Anderson for tagging me in this, and apologize that I’m a few days late (eek!). You should all check his blog at  http://jsascribes.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop/ to read his answers, or check out some of his other awesome possum stuff!

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
What is the working title of your book? The Deepest Blue

Where did the idea come from for the book? A number of places. First, I wanted to try writing from the POV of a male character. Second, two of my children went through the process of having a step-parent adopt them because of issues pertaining to a biological parent. I lived through this with them (my oldest daughter asked my husband to adopt her when she was 15, and my step-son asked me to adopt him when he was 16). For all of us, these were emotional and powerful experiences, and naturally, that makes for good fodder for books!

What genre does your book fall under? It is contemporary young adult fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? Um – that’s a good question. I have no idea. I’m still fighting my way (literally and figuratively) through revisions. I’d have to do some investigating on that

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Sometimes it isn’t easy to fight for what you know is best for you, but ultimately, it is the best fight you’ll ever have.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? The publisher for this book is Tanglewood Press, a small (but rapidly growing and exceptionally high-quality) publisher based in Terre Haute, IN. I don’t have an agent currently, and I’ve been quite successful without one, so I don’t stress over it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? Depending on how you look at it, it took almost five years. I was midway into the very first draft, and had just written the scene where the main character’s father dies, and then my own dad passed away right before Christmas. I tried repeatedly to keep going, but I wound up putting the book aside for over a year. Then I got busy doing other things and stopped writing for nearly two years. By the time I got back to the manuscript, I’d taken nearly four years off.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? It’s a bit like “Missing May” by Cynthia Rylant, and a bit like “A Place to Call Home” by Jackie French Koller.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? My daughter and my son both inspired me.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? There’s a great boat sinking!

Sadly, the friends whom I asked to join in on this weren’t able to, so I’ll direct you back to Jared’s blog for some other great blogs to check out!

http://jsascribes.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/the-next-big-thing-blog-hop/

Commercial vs. Literary Fiction Redux

I posted this blog in 2009, but the topic has come up a few times recently. I’m reposting it for anyone who may have missed it. It’s undergone a few revisions (in blue), but it’s basically intact.

A local writer who hates my guts had found a new target to pick on. I scanned her blog and found that her vitriol, usually reserved for me, had been directed at a new victim. 

One of her recent entries was a rant about literary fiction and commercial fiction, and her ultimate statement was that the world needs both.

Both?

Here’s a common error.  In the world of books and writing, it’s not an all or nothing deal.  There are many commercially successful books which have literary qualities, and many literary works which are commercial successes as well.  It’s not a matter of identifying a book as one or the other.  Writing and publishing cover a broad spectrum with overlapping aspects. To me, it’s more like a paint palette with multiple colors and shades on it.

 

The fact that a writer may be striving for commercial success doesn’t make him or her a sell-out.  Of course, writing a pop culture vampire novel doesn’t make you a literary genius either (J, this was NOT directed at you!).  There are certain qualities that cause editors, reviewers, or the public to refer to a book as more, or less, literary, but trying to group all books into these two limited categories is a mistake.

A truly literary work, one written with the sole purpose of providing a greater insight into the human condition, will have a number of elements in play.  It may use symbolism to convey a deeper meaning.  It may draw upon techniques of figurative language such as metaphor, simile, personification, or others to create more vivid imagery in the reader’s mind.  Sometimes assonance and alliteration are used so that an auditory component is introduced.  Often times, works of a literary nature provide endings that are unresolved, or do not provide the “happily ever after” that much of (though by no means all) commercial literature does.  Most importantly, literature relies on a sort of artistic unity.  This means that there is nothing in the plot, and no element in the story, that is irrelevant or that does not add to the meaning or the theme of the story.

These elements combine to create a theme in a work.  That theme is the author’s commentary on those particular people (the characters) in those particular circumstances (the plot) at that particular time.  It is nothing more and nothing less.  Nearly all works of fiction share this trait.  This often leads people (including a good number of my students ) to think of literary works as being overly analytical of human behavior, and lacking in good story.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Tobias Wolff’s Hunters in the Snow is a sardonic, sharp-witted story that is compelling and darkly funny.  On the first read, many students find it to be disturbing.  It makes them angry because the characters are such rotten people (who do very rotten things!).  Once we go through the story, looking for the clues that Wolff has left us, and take into account the secondary and tertiary layers, many of students find this to be one their favorites. (If you’re not familiar with this story, I highly recommend it!)

The first time I had to read Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’ short story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, I felt lost.  I knew that there were things I was missing, and I was angry that the writer and tried to hide them from me.  Years later, I read an essay on this story and decided to reexamine it.  That was the beginning of my love affair with Marquez, and particularly with this story.  This, too, often becomes a favorite with my students.  Once they understand the symbolism, they can dig deeper to discover the humor and lyrical qualities in his writing.

But there is also a place in the world for more commercially oriented fiction.  Not every book needs to be a commentary on human existence, nor should it be.  Getting a laugh out of someone is just as important and twice as difficult as creating a great metaphorical moment.  Touching someone’s heart or causing them to shudder with fright are goals just as worthy.  There are many commercial books that draw on literary qualities and manage to be commercial success stories.  The Lovely Bones is a personal favorite that I believe straddles that invisible line established by some writers.  The Alchemist is another one. In the world of children’s literature, M.T. Anderson’s Feed was written with literary intent.  Anderson’s National Book Award Winning novel The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, was also a literary work that achieved top-selling (and award-winning!) status.

To try to divide writing into two separate and absolute categories is to misunderstand literature completely. It’s not a WWF Smack-Down type of contest.  There is far more overlapping going on than many writers want to admit to.  But that lack of admission doesn’t change the fact: it’s not one long continuum with commercial on one end and literary on the other.  It’s a big, swirling pool with lots of party-goers.

What I Don’t Remember – Part 2

 

 

 

 

About 4 years ago, I responded to a meme (remember when everyone did those!) that was based on an exercise by the writer Natalie Goldberg. The exercise is to try to think of things you can’t remember. Maybe it’s an event, or specific details – it doesn’t matter. I remember thinking how strange it was to recall something you couldn’t remember, but I was fascinated by how the memories slipped and slid through my brain, like an eel in water.  I reread that blog from 2008 and decided it was time to revisit this activity. I won’t “tag” anyone to do it, but if you should find it appealing, I’d love to hear or read what you discovered.

1. I don’t remember most of the stay in the hospital when I had e-coli. Certainly a sizeable portion of this has been blocked because it was a pretty traumatic memory, but you’d think I could recall how long I stayed (I know it was more than 24 hours, but I don’t remember when they let me go home), or maybe if I had visitors (I know my husband was in and out, but I don’t remember anyone else).

2. I don’t remember most of my first trip to Disneyland. I was 9 – certainly old enough to record memories in detail of the “happiest place on earth”  – but other than the “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” submarine (which I think is gone now), and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride,  I don’t remember anything about the visit.

3. I don’t remember the sound of my Aunt Mary’s voice. She was sister to my dad’s mother. Though she was an older woman, she must have had some type of developmental disability which back in the 1920s they didn’t have any diagnosis for other than “slow.” She didn’t speak much, but she did speak with a southern drawl and slow pace, as though each word were gold she was reluctant to spend. I have no memory of how she sounded, though, and because voice is so much a part of character, I feel I’ve lost a great deal of who she was.

4. I don’t remember the first dog I owned.  We didn’t own her long. She was a puppy, some sort of Spanial mix, although I don’t recall her coloring or how she looked. We had only owned her a few months when she escaped the house and was hit by a car in which I was passenger.  I remember the trauma of that, the frightened, pain-filled yelp she let out. But a kind neighbor retrieved her before we could see what had happened, and her image is lost to me.

5. I don’t remember most of 1986, and sadly, the parts I remember are not good.

6. I don’t remember the smell of my grandmother’s perfume. I remember her spritzing it on before church on sunday morning, her navy blue poly-blend dress covered in it. The muted smell of cigarette smoke caught in its fibers and blended with the cologne, but the scent that she sprayed from the pretty glass bottle doesn’t exist in my memory banks anymore.

7. I don’t remember the true name of the wonderful tropical fruit I ate on the island of St. Kitts. They called is “sour sot” or something similar. I recall the outside of the fruit being lumpy, but not what color it was. The inside was pale, like a banana. It was fleshy, and it tasted like a banana crossed with a mild citrus.

8. I don’t remember the name of the youth hostel I stayed in when I was in England. I remember it being cramped, and hot, and filled with people from all over the world with whom I drank warm pints at the pub next door. I’ve looked for it, but either it no longer exists, or even having seen the name, I can’t recall what it is.

9. I don’t remember 90% of my undergraduate instructors. The 10% I do remember were completely amazing, and a few of them I am still in contact with.

10. I don’t remember the first time I went skiing. Put this under the traumatic experiences header, but by the time I got home I swore I’d never go again – and yet I did. I still dislike skiing – I suck. I’m afraid of falling and I’ll do anything I can not to.

So as a writer, what does this mean? I think sometimes we want to include absolutely every sensory detail we can, but the truth is, there are moments in which most – if not all – of those pieces of information are unimportant or are lost. Sometimes we don’t need a character to remember the finite detail, because most human beings wouldn’t be able to do that. We all have these holes in the axons and dendrites that create our memories inside our brains (unless you’re some kind of savant with total recall). 

 The experts say that smell is most directly tied to memory, yet even that doesn’t always hold true. Approach characters and their memories realistically. One of the most important concepts I ever learned in writing was the Japanese ideal of yohaku-no-bi  – the value of the empty space, or what isn’t there.  Sometimes, that’s just as important, or even more so, than the precise detail we think of as so important.