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,

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Guest Blog: Anna Del C. Dye

Writer and fellow member of the League of Utah Writers (Oquirrh Chapter) Anna Del C. Dye has a new book coming out, so I’m turning the reins over to her to tell us all about it! It’s a fantasy novel, and of course that always means big adventure! So without further delay – Anna, please tell us about it!

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Kim, thank you so much for participating in The Roilden Stone of Elf Mountain’s tour. We will have an ebook Giveaway between Feb 24 – Mar 8: You have a chance to win The Roilden Stone of Elf Mountain. Leave a comment about this interview with your e-mail. One ebook will be given in each stop in this tour and the entries can be international. The Roilden Stone of Elf Mountain is book seven and the pre-sequel to all of Anna del C.’s elf books. The Roilden Stones of Elf Mountain, a Blurb Liberty … or Monarchy? Should the wisest of races choose such a path, or return to the traditional council? Their queen has lost the Roilden Stones of Elf Mountain to a power-hungry wizard. After all, one can be deceived, but twenty? With the stones missing, a fatal drought grips Andoriah, the new elfin home. Death to all is imminent. Who will retrieve the Stones when the Gold Elfs won’t act? Will heroes arise before Andoriah burns in eternal fire? Can the missing elf queen and her daughter be found? The Roilden Stones of Elf Mountain is the long awaited prequel, and final installment in Anna del C.’s elf series. Discover the Elfs, an eternal race who chose to live in a world of woes away from their motherland. Love them, feel their pain and their happiness in a land that will test the core of their beliefs and bravery. Written in the genre of The Lord of the Rings and the Shannara series, The Roilden Stones of Elf Mountain comes alive with battles, heroism, action and romance.

Thanks Anna! Very exciting! Here is a little bit more about Anna, her website, and where to find her books:

About the author: Anna del C. has received numerous awards like “First Page” “First Chapter” in three of her books. A bronze Medal for book three in The Silent Warrior Trilogy and honor place for others. Anna is fluent in Spanish and English and loves to travel the world.

You can find The Roilden Stones of Elf Mountain here: My website: www.annadelc.com Amazon: http://j.mp/1dvqXP6

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”

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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!

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What’s the Definition of Insanity?

There’s a wise saying that reads: The definition of insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over but expecting a different result!

I’ve also heard it said this way: If you always do what you’ve always done then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

The message to me, my own interpretation, is that becoming stagnate is like digging a hole for yourself and then wondering why you can’t get out! I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this recently for a variety of reasons. First, it’s getting to the end of the year and I tend to get a little reflective during this time as I look back on the past year and look forward to formulating my goals for the coming year. Second, the last year has been one that has forced changes on me. Some of these I have embraced and welcomed, while others I’ve gone into kicking and screaming and digging my heels into the dirt. Finally, I’ve made it a goal of mine to look for ways to improve as a writer, as a mentor, as a partner, as a friend, and as a person.  Change can’t happen when one is stagnant.

As I’ve looked back on the preceding 12 months, I’ve come to understand that the times I’ve struggled most are the times when I’ve resisted the obvious changes I needed to make. There have been so many good things that happened.  In many ways, this year has been one for the record books! My writing world has been filled with exciting events that continue to evolve even here in the final weeks. There was the sale of Death’s Kiss, the sale of a short story entitled Rita, the release of The Deepest Blue, and soon the release of Death’s Kiss. I participated in numerous signings, workshops, and conferences in 2013 – more than I ever have in years past. It seemed like almost every month I had something involving writing (other than my writing group) to participate in. Then came the opportunity to edit a book for one of my publishers, something I absolutely enjoyed and hope to do again! So many changes took place so quickly that sometimes I didn’t even realize they had happened. All of it required flexibility, organization, and the willingness to step outside my comfort zone – something most of us don’t like doing. But not all of the changes I faced were as easy to accommodate.

I had to let go of a lot this year: hopes that I held for myself and others for a number of issues. I know that sounds terribly cryptic, but the truth is, I can’t go into a lot of detail because it’s very personal, and it’s not just about me. Here is one example, though, that truly pushed my limits. I’ve had to let go of a friendship with someone whom I’d been close to for several years. I hate letting go of people I care about, whether through choice or through loss. I don’t give love easily, so when I commit, it’s with my entire heart and soul. Unfortunately, continuing to allow this person in my life was literally asking for continued pain and destruction. For reasons I will never understand, someone who claimed to love me and be my friend was working behind my back to undermine me and hurt me. I’m pretty much a nice person most of the time. I’m not a saint and I have my moments to be sure, but I don’t go out and deliberately try to hurt someone while simultaneously professing to be a friend to him or her. It required some drastic measures to accomplish, but I think I’ve successfully eliminated this individual from my life. It hurt  to do it, but it was a change that needed to be made.

And there are other changes as well. After holding firm to the idea of independence for so long, I’ve finally determined that I need to get an agent, and I am pursuing that even as I write this. After eight years in print, my first three books (the “Hey, Ranger” series) was taken out of print. I will always love those books and I hope one day to be able to do more with that series than the publisher was willing to do. After years of letting it languish, I update my website and I am proud to show it off now!

So what’s the point to all this? Anyone who is close to me will tell you that if you look up the definition of crazy, you’ll see my picture next to it. I move at a fast pace; I’m constantly busy; I’m writing more, editing more, helping other writers, and generally running around like a headless chicken. Things are in a constant state of change in my life: personally, writing-wise, and professionally as well. I don’t think I ever do anything the same way twice, and if that means I’m protected against crazy, well, I’m not sure I agree. But my definition of crazy is what’s keeping me happy, and as the new year approaches, I look forward to more of the same that won’t be the same!

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A Different Definition of “Writing Success”

It happens far too often: after a presentation, inevitably someone asks the visiting writer, “How much do you make?”

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Now, would you ask your doctor or your dentist, the guy at the bank, or the woman who checks your groceries how much he or she makes? Of course not. That’s just rude!

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But I can assure you that many writers are asked this question on a regular basis. Some people ask because they think we all make the same salary as Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Some people ask because they have a great idea for a book and they want to know how much money this awesome story is going to make for them.  Still others (like moms, worried siblings, or aunts and uncles) will ask because they are afraid you are starving to death pursuing this dream of yours.

The first time I was asked, it was by a small kid from a pretty impoverished area. I think I could have told this kid that I made $40 and he would have been impressed. But as time has gone on, I’ve realized that basically anyone feels it’s his or her right to stick his or her nose into your financial business. I understand the curiosity, and I can see how that curiosity manifests, but I don’t understand what compels those people to actually open their mouths and have the brass to ask the question. At this point, all I can really do is laugh!

My most recent experience with this happened when I did a presentation at a local library. I did my best to avoid the answer, but the individual continued to push the issue.  Finally I did the only thing I could do, and I told the truth. The person who asked the question sort of looked astonished. However, the experience for me turned out incredibly positive. It’s not the financial gain that keeps me writing, in fact I’ve often said I would write for free because – well – I just can’t NOT write.  But even beyond that, any writer who is honest will say that he or she writes in order to touch someone else.  I’ve been blessed to have six books earn feedback from readers, and now books seven and eight are prepared to do the same. When I do presentations, I’m heartened by the comments that I get from participants.  For example:

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No matter how many times I read Abby’s letter, I am still thrilled that I touched this young girl’s heart and that she felt inspired enough to tell me about it.  I’ve had wonderful reviews of my work, and I’ve talked with many readers, and this is the best reward I could ask for. I don’t measure success in terms of money, I measure it in terms of books I’ve had published, in terms of people who respond to those books. I look at success not in how others measure it, but in how I feel everyday, doing this job and pursuing this dream. And the truth is – I feel pretty darned successful.

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!

Things of a Symbolic Nature – Take 2

Symbolism is a subject that I have a lot of interest in. I like finding it when I read (which was the only thing that saved me when I read MOBY DICK), and I love using it when I write. Obviously, not every story will have a place for symbols, but I like looking for places that I can include them, even if it’s very subtle and limited.

A symbol, as described by Robert Di Yanni in Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, is any action, object, person, or event that conveys a meaning beyond the literal interpretation or significance. An author will make a symbol known either by giving it emphasis, repeating is use in a story, by giving it detailed description, or by placing it in key moments within the story. These techniques may (though not absolutely always) indicate that the element in question is being used symbolically. Throughout literary tradition, symbolism is used to enhance and add meaning to a story; to bring the reader to a deeper understanding of the story.

Here’s an example: In Eudora Welty’s short story, A Worn Path, the main character’s name is Phoenix Jackson. The name Phoenix is a clue to the personality of the character – someone is resilient, determined, and perhaps mythical. The color black features prominently in the story as well. Phoenix is a black woman, she expresses her admiration for a large black dog that takes on the dog of white man who threatens Phoenix. And there are other examples. This story also features an assortment of birds, everything from little bobwhites to a buzzard among big dead trees which remind her of lynched men. Throughout the story, the symbolism is woven into plot, building upon critical moments, showing us more about the place and time where Phoenix lives, and giving us a greater insight into aspects of human nature.

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In my own work, I’ve used these techniques as well. Though it isn’t easy to spot (because I limited the use and held back) the shiny red dog collar in Kiss Kiss Bark serves as a symbol. Mattie sees the collar as everything that is wrong in her life: her unfair babysitting responsibilities; how her brother gets away with things she would never get away with; and ultimately, of her love for her brother and her acceptance of his role in her life.

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In a much more obvious attempt at symbolism, The Deepest Blue  uses several symbols throughout the book. The first, most obvious symbol is the color blue. Because it represents depression, it is an appropriate color to use at key moments in the story when the main character, Michael, is feeling the loss in his life. But a blue sky can also represent hope, the lifting of a storm, or the start of a new and better day.  Another symbol I used was the storm. It builds at important moments, it rattles windows and reflects the turmoil that Michael feels, and threatens him physically as well.  The last significant symbol is water. Sometimes the water is in the form of rain, sometimes it’s the ocean, and there are other uses as well. Water is an emotional connection for Michael, reflecting his feelings, tying him to his father, and signifying the importance of place in his life.

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So why incorporate symbols? Well, for one thing, I think it’s fun! It’s an aspect of writing that appeals to me at a deep level. Another reason is that I respect the readers I’m writing for. They like the challenge that symbolic meaning represents, they like a deeper story. As a reader, I like this, too.  There are wonderful stories out there that use symbolism, but that aspect isn’t one that is often given much attention.

The book I’m working on now also has symbolic elements to it, and I’m enjoying the process of giving deeper meaning to the story as I find new ways to incorporate these symbols. Of course, my greater hope is that my readers enjoy it just as much as I do.