#IWSG: Genre-morphing–and a question for my readers

Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. This month’s optional question is: Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

Before I get to this month’s question, I have a question for anyone reading this post: Would you be interested in a series of posts loosely related to self-help for writers? I’m not talking about over-the-top, Stewart Smalley style self-help but rather some practical ideas from self-help literature, applied specifically to writing. I’ve been looking for a focus for this blog, besides my own self-indulgence, and I’m interested in helping other writers find time to write, build positive habits, set goals, and make progress. What do y’all think? Has that topic been done to death, or is there room for more?

OK, now for this month’s IWSG question. My first novel, Vanishing, Inc., started out as a murder mystery/ghost story and morphed into a time travel romance. Both paranormal, but other than that, pretty different. I woke up one morning with the idea of a terminally-ill woman in a 19th century cottage built on a thin place. The closer she got to death, the thinner the veil would become between this world and the next, and the more she would be able to interact with the house’s spectral residents. I imagined that the ghosts would somehow reveal that a murder was committed there, and our unfortunate protagonist would have to identify the murderer before she died.

Somewhere in the early planning, my idea shifted. My protagonist became a battered wife hiding from her abusive ex in a small Arizona town. She rents a cottage built on a thin place–a fact she discovers when a man from 1910 materializes in her living room. Once I landed on that concept, the various plot pieces more or less fell into place, which is a lucky thing, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

It’s now about six years later, and Vanishing, Inc. is in what I sincerely hope is the final round of revision before I hire a professional editor. Then there will be another round of revisions, and then I’ll enter query hell. I still hope to write the ghost story, but I see it being more of a novella. Someday…

#FOTD: Rocky Mountain Bee Plant (Cleome serrulata)

Like a lot of us still in quarantine, I’ve been trying to get out for walks throughout the day. I walk early in the morning, which is a great time to snap pictures of some of our local wildflowers. Today’s post is the second in what I’m going to optimistically call a series for Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge, featuring some of the native flora in my rural Flagstaff neighborhood. Today’s entry is our native cleome, Cleome serrulata, also called Rocky Mountain Bee Plant. Like the sacred datura (Datura wrightii) I featured in my last #FOTD post, this plant is both beautiful and kinda ugly. The plant itself is scraggly, but up close or massed in a field, it’s stunning. They sprout in random places in my garden, and I usually let them stay, because they’re low maintenance, the flowers are lovely, and the bees love ’em (Hey, it says so right in the name. Do you think they’d call it Rocky Mountain BEE Plant if the bees hated it? Would plant people lie to you?).

This year I have a few growing in my pumpkin patch. They look wonderfully rustic alongside the pumpkin vines and sunflowers. Some years they form huge masses in open fields around here. I’ve been thinking about gathering seed and sowing it in my pasture, so I can have my own pink and purple field.

#SoCS: I have more, but I need less

Purely gratuitous picture of the forest near my home, where I went hiking early Thursday morning.

More. That’s the prompt for this week’s Stream of Consciousness Blog Hop, hosted by Linda Hill. Right now I have more. I keep getting more. And I need less.

Yeah, I know, that probably sounded really ungrateful, but hear me out. My life is very full right now–full of good things and difficult things and mundane things, the things that make a life. But it’s one of those times when there’s just too much. I volunteered for an activity that, while enjoyable and of service to my fellow writers, is going to take a big chunk of time. My husband is having major surgery in 3 weeks, so I have to prepare to take leave from work and stock up on groceries and make meals ahead and, and, and… We’re waiting for my son’s COVID test results, meanwhile we’ve all had mild symptoms, so we’re trying to do everything we need to do before surgery without leaving the house. I’m revising my second novel. I’m considering hiring an editor for my first novel. I’m finalizing a short story. I’m trying to find a publisher for another story. I’m contemplating some other life changes. I’m in peri-menopause. I’m cleaning and decluttering. I’m cooking every meal at home because, you know, we might have COVID, so we aren’t going out. And I’m overwhelmed. And, oh, yeah, I’m working full time. Wheee….

Whew. Now that all that is out of the way, I want to emphasize that I’m grateful. So grateful. If we do have COVID, our symptoms are mild. Mine are already gone. Husband can’t taste his food, but otherwise, he’s fine. Son is almost back to normal, though he can’t taste his food either. Me? I can taste my food just fine. Too fine. All I want to do is eat. If this is COVID, then we are truly fortunate to come through it so easily.

My life is full of new opportunities and excitement and joy.

It’s high summer, and the weather and the garden are beautiful. I live a half mile from the Coconino National Forest, so I can hike amid the ponderosa pines every day if I want.

I’m gainfully employed–unlike so many–with a job I enjoy.

I’m healthy, and I’m happy.

So yeah, I’d like a bit less–fewer commitments, some time to lollygag and lounge and read and play–but my life is beautifully full. I have more. And it is wonderful.

#FOTD: Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii)

I’ve been snapping photos for  Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge for the last two weeks or so, but I keep forgetting about a key step in the process: posting them. D’oh! On the upside: that means I have a backlog that should net me at least a few days of quick and easy posts, which is a good thing, because life is a little, um, *full* right now.

Today’s flower is a wildflower/weed (depends on your perspective) here in Flagstaff. Datura wrightii or sacred datura is a member of the nightshade family, quite poisonous, drought tolerant, a hallucinogenic, almost impossible to kill–and both beautiful and ugly. As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve struggled every year to keep a garden alive in the middle of a volcano field at 7000′ elevation, I’ve learned to appreciate plants that grow and bring a little beauty without much fuss and without becoming Purina Grasshopper Chow (don’t get me started on the grasshoppers up here in my little mountain paradise. Seriously, don’t. I’m trying to cut down on my use of profanity.).

Grasshoppers don’t bother datura. Nothing bothers datura–except maybe the occasional genius who decides they want a free hallucinogen and instead gets a taxpayer-funded slab at the county morgue. That hasn’t been an issue around here–at least not as far as I know, and I’d probably notice a corpse in my flower garden. Knowing me, I’d probably trip over it and land face-first in the datura.

Pro tip of the day: don’t eat the datura.

Anyway, I’ve developed quite a fondness for this plant. The leaves are ugly as heck, but the flowers… oh, the flowers. They bloom at night and are still open in the early morning, which is when I snapped this picture. Pollinators love them too, typically sphinx/hummingbird moths but also bees during the few hours when the bees are out and the flowers are open. Look in the top blossom, and you’ll see a happy little honeybee. Here’s another picture of him. Isn’t he cute?

Those of you who are gardeners will know that sphinx moth larvae have another name: tomato hornworm. Plant some datura, and you’ll have a great solution to your hornworm problem. First, the hornworms seem to prefer datura to tomatoes, so it’s a good trap crop. Second, if you find a hornworm pillaging your future marinara, you can relocate him to your datura. He survives to become a super cool sphinx moth, and your tomatoes survive to decorate your pasta. Everybody wins!

#FOTD: Nymphaea ‘Perry’s Almost Black’

To get me back in the habit of noticing the beauty that surrounds me, I’m trying Cee’s Flower of the Day photo challenge. I won’t really post every day, but when something pretty is blooming, I’ll share. This is the first water lily I bought for our pond, ‘Perry’s Almost Black.’ It’s a hardy one–it’s survived three Flagstaff winters and come back bigger every spring. I took this picture with my iPhone around mid-morning, so the sun washed out some of the color. It’s actually quite a bit darker than it looks, though certainly not “almost black” (people who name cultivars lie almost as much as politicians).

What’s blooming in your garden this week?

#SoCS: Clearing the clutter and creating a fresh start

Hellebore from my Portland garden over 10 years ago. Hellebores were the first flowers to bloom each spring, a welcome sign of renewal every rainy January.

This post is part of the Stream of Consciousness Saturday blog hop. Linda Hill posts a prompt every Friday; see https://lindaghill.com/2020/07/03/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-july-4-2020/. This week’s prompt is, “toss.” Use it any way you’d like.

I’ve spent a little while noodling on this week’s prompt. Tossing manure in garden beds? Toss-ups? Tossers (a great British insult)? I landed on the idea of tossing things out, on clearing clutter from my life, getting rid of what I don’t value (much) to make room for what I do value. I’ve been doing that literally and figuratively for at least the last year or so.

I’m big on renewal. I had a lit professor back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was an undergrad, who talked about American optimism and how the idea of starting over is ingrained in our culture. That resonated with me then, and it resonates with me now. I’ve always loved the beginning of fall, when the new school year starts, because it feels like a fresh start. I enjoy moving (well, OK, not the actual process of hiring movers and having them steal our DVDs, nor the process of selling our house to some jerk who wants to lowball us and have us do $15,000 worth of repairs). I enjoy the process of starting over in a new place with new people and new possibilities. Having a clean slate forces me to think about what I really want in my life rather than to keep doing the same old stuff.

But I’ve learned that renewal is possible without something as drastic as moving. I can lighten my load, again, literally and figuratively. I can toss out stuff I don’t use anymore to make room for things I will use, or, better, to create space uninhabited by crap. Open space, empty space, is relaxing and peaceful and inspiring. Clutter is exhausting.

I can rethink my commitments and drop a few to make room for my current priorities (like writing). I can drop an old habit that doesn’t serve me well and replace it with one that does. Example: I read a book called The Miracle Morning a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been revamping my morning routine based on its recommendations. I’m actually more excited to get out of bed in the morning now, and I’m getting up earlier, too. Today–a Saturday and a holiday–I rolled out of bed at 5:40, and I started writing this piece at about 6:30. Anyone reading that last sentence who knew me even a year or two ago probably thinks my soul has been snatched by aliens, and I’m now a pod person.

So if you’re feeling like your space or your life is too full or full of the wrong things, you can change that. You can toss out what doesn’t serve you well and either replace it with things that will help you meet your current goals or enjoy the newfound space in your world. Remember:

Today is a new day.

Today is a fresh start.

What would you like to toss out? How would you like to remake your world?

IWSG: Be more confident in four easy steps

Happy IWSG Day! For those who are new here, I participate in the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. Details and signup here. This month’s optional question is: There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

I’m going to be a rebel this month and not respond to the optional prompt, because a) I’m still a novice and don’t feel qualified to talk about what’s going on in the publishing industry, and b) I want to share something I discovered last week that helped me, both in my writing life and my library life.

I’ve been trying to build personal development into my days, because it motivates me and helps me stay positive, even when life is… challenging. Until today, my university had a campus-wide subscription to LinkedIn Learning (we’re now moving to Udemy to save money, so I have a new resource to check out), and I’ve been taking advantage of that to grow my skills. Last Monday, I logged into LinkedIn Learning and saw a short session called Complete Confidence in Minutes. It was about 30 minutes long, and I wanted to walk for 30 minutes, and who doesn’t need more confidence, so I hit Play. The presenter was Selena Rezvani, a consultant and speaker on women’s leadership. I won’t try to summarize her entire presentation, but I will share her four power statements, short affirmations that may inspire you to feel more confident as you take on new challenges:

  • Today is a totally fresh start.
  • Be afraid and do it anyway.
  • I move on from setbacks completely.
  • Change is inevitable and good.

Every one of these resonates with me as both a writer and a leader:

  • Today is a fresh start. I am not bound by who I was 30 years ago or last year or yesterday. I’ve been slacking off on my writing? Today is a new day! Today I can make progress. I am not a slacker. I’m a productive writer–starting today. This idea is so liberating!
  • Be afraid–and do it anyway. Being afraid doesn’t mean you’re a coward. Fear is a normal response to risk and to the unfamiliar. Courageous people aren’t free of fear (in my experience, only drunks and clueless people are free of fear, because they aren’t able to recognize risk). Courageous people are afraid, sometimes knees-knocking-like-a-skeleton-in-a-windstorm afraid, but they push forward anyway. This kind of courage is essential for writers. Every time we let someone read our stuff, every time we create a blog post, every time we submit a story or a query, we’re taking a risk. We’re putting ourselves and the precious fruits of our creativity out into the mean, cruel world. We might get rejected. We might get criticized. We might get ridiculed. But unless we want to keep our writing locked away in a drawer for our hapless heirs to ceremonially burn in their fire pits after we’re gone, we have to face the fear and do it anyway.
  • I move on from setbacks completely. This simple statement was exactly what I needed to hear last week. I’d had a setback that, for reasons I didn’t and still don’t understand, bugged me way more than it should. Moving on from setbacks is another skill that’s essential for us writers. We’re going to get rejected. Our story that we lovingly crafted and are so, so proud of–will get rejected. With a form letter. And that will happen over and over and over. If we can’t move on from setbacks, we’ll never be able to share our words with the world.
  • Change is inevitable and good. Raise your hand if you love change. Anyone? Bueller? Yeah, didn’t think so. Change is good for vending machines. Most of the rest of us hate it or at least find it stressful. I’m a novelty-seeker, and I still get discombobulated by change. I knew how to do whatever-it-is the old way. I was competent. Now I’m not. Ugh. I suppose this statement relates to the optional IWSG prompt for this month, since the publishing industry has changed so much in the last decade and likely will keep changing. What works today will fail tomorrow, and we’ll have to learn new ways to share our words with the world. We can complain about it and dig our heels in and pitch a good old-fashioned fit, or we can learn to roll with it and–this is key–find opportunity in it. I’m trying to change the way I look at change, to stop moaning and consider how the change might be good–for me and for others. I’ll admit, that’s been a challenge in the age of COVID, because most of the changes associated with the pandemic are less than wonderful. But at the same time, I’ve managed to find opportunities for self-renewal (like Selena Rezvani’s presentation that inspired this post) and self-reflection that I almost certainly wouldn’t have made time for in my pre-COVID world.

Cheesy as it sounds, I’ve been reading these four statements as affirmations each morning, and they’ve improved my attitude and, yes, my confidence. I hope they do the same for you.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any tips for building/increasing confidence? Any affirmations or quotes that help you step out of your comfort zone? Share ’em in the comments!

#SoCS: A skeezy wrestler, a skeezy pickup line… and me

This post is part of the Stream of Consciousness Saturday blog hop. Linda Hill posts a prompt every Friday; see https://lindaghill.com/2020/06/26/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-27-2020/. This week’s prompt is, “coffee, tea, or me.” Find a flirty phrase of your own or use “coffee, tea, or me” in your post.

I’ve been lucky to not be on the receiving end of too many skeezy pickup lines, but one sticks out in my mind. Back in the early 1990s, my husband and I were living in northern Georgia, where we’d moved for my first job after I graduated from library school. He’d always dreamed of being a professional wrestler (hey, who am I to judge someone else’s dream?), and he found a local wrestling outfit that would train him and give him a shot. And so his wrestling career was born.

An aside: his first character was called the Seattle Storm. He wore a mask and spandex shorts with a storm cloud on the butt. His theme song was, “Smells Like Team Spirit” (we’d moved there from Seattle), and his shtick was to antagonize the local good ol’ boys like the invading Yankee he was. They hated him. It was hilarious.

Later, he became a good guy (a babyface for you wrestling aficionados) called Adrian Champagne, complete with sequins, rainbow feathers, and a mullet worthy of Billy Ray Cyrus (Miley’s dad for you young ‘uns).

Anyway, back to the pickup line theme. Every now and then, they’d have someone from a larger wrestling outfit wrestle there. Naturally they’d promote the event as though Hulk Hogan himself was descending upon Rossville, Georgia, for the evening. And some of the fans would act like the guy was a big star. Well, one night, I stepped outside between matches for some fresh air (summer… Georgia… small, stuffy building filled with screaming wrestling fans…), and the “big star” was out there too. We exchanged hellos, and start a conversation. And that’s when it happened, when I became the target of the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard:

Skeezy wrestler who shall not be named: Are you here with anyone?

Me: Yeah. Adrian Champagne is my husband [side note: that is not a sentence I ever imagined myself uttering]

Skeezy wrestler who shall not be named: If you ever get divorced, call me.

And there it is, folks, the story of the time a professional wrestler hit me with the ickiest pickup line I’ve ever received. “If you ever get divorced, call me.” Still makes my skin twitch.

p.s. to the skeezy wrestler who shall not be named: I’m still not divorced. Get lost.

#SoCS: When the only tool you have is a hammer…

This post is part of the Stream of Consciousness Saturday blog hop. Linda Hill posts a prompt every Friday; see https://lindaghill.com/2020/06/12/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-13-2020/. This week’s prompt: nail.

As I read the news and think about the protests going on right now, I’m often reminded of the old saying, “When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That seems to be one of the fundamental problems with policing in the USA (systemic racism being another, bigger, problem). When use of force is the only tool in your toolbox, when it’s what you’re trained to do, it’s what you do. When you’re trained to fight crime, you see potential criminals. More broadly, you see what you look for. Combine that with systemic racism that causes many people–not just police–to see people of color as potential criminals, and you get an environment in which a white officer can murder a black man slowly in front of an audience. An environment in which scenes of indiscriminate police brutality play out across the country in video after sickening video.

I haven’t posted much, here or on social media, about these issues, because I need to shut up and listen. Many people, especially people of color, have a much deeper understanding of these issues than I do, so I’ll let the previous paragraph stand as my only commentary on the issue, at least for now. Instead, I’d like to encourage all of us to consider how our perspectives are limited. How the particular hammers we carry cause us to see only nails where we should see nuance.

We are humans, and humans are limited. We are shaped, both obviously and subtlely, by our identities, our upbringing, our culture, our religion, and our life experiences. And we are also limited by those things. They condition our views, our perspectives, our reactions. This is normal, but we don’t have to be ruled by, blinded by those limitations. We can read, educate ourselves, and most importantly, listen to those whose identities and culture and experiences are different from ours. Listen to their lived experiences. Learn from them. Approach situations with humility born of our limited perspectives rather than the false certainty born from our personal blinders. Use our new knowledge to develop tools other than hammers and to see more than nails.

#SoCS: Fandoms (with gratuitous concert pictures)

This post is part of the Stream of Consciousness Saturday blog hop. Linda Hill posts a prompt every Friday; see https://lindaghill.com/2020/06/05/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-6-2020/. This week’s prompt: fan.

Some people hear, “fan,” and think of a cooling device. Or people with their faces painted in team colors, yelling from a stadium seat while swigging whisky (note: that described most of the adults at my high school’s football games. We teenagers had more dignity). Or maybe you think of fandoms, which has a definitely nerdy connotation: Star Wars fandom, Harry Potter fandom, etc.

For me, though, “fan” immediately makes me think of music. Music fandom, especially for women, has a different–and distinctly sexist–connotation that sports or movie or nerdy fandom does not. If I schedule my vacations around my favorite football team’s home games, I’m a fan. If I schedule my vacations around Def Leppard’s tour schedule, I’m a groupie. And “groupie” has a very different connotation from, “fan.” When you paint your face and haul your giant foam finger to a 49ers game, no one thinks you’re planning to bang the quarterback. Even if that quarterback is Joe Montana, and you’re a horny 16-year-old (Not that I’d know anything about that. Nope. Not me.)

My sports fan days are mostly behind me, because I have too many hobbies already, and I’m old and cynical enough to be disillusioned by so many aspects of big-time sports. But that’s a rant post for another day. I remain, however, a diehard fan of 80s rock, and I do still take vacation to see Def Leppard when they play nearby (and when I can afford it. $150 a ticket? Seriously, guys? Don’t you have enough money already?) For a couple of hours, I get to feel like a 16-year-old again, dancing and singing along and, yes, looking at the band members. I’m middle-aged, not dead.

Concerts are a shared, multi-sensory, visceral experience, a combination of the band, the music, the lights, and–especially–the audience. It’s a chance to be part of a mob that isn’t angry, that’s feeding off each other in a loud, wild, primitive celebration of musical joy. It’s a wild party with 10,000 of your closest friends.

Concerts are also a fun photographic challenge. I’m not even good enough to call myself an amateur photographer, but I’ve gotten a few good shots at shows. If you scroll through my albums on Flickr, you’ll find some decent concert shots. Here are a few of my favorites:

P1060096
Rick Savage of Def Leppard, Las Vegas, August 23, 2019
P1060183
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, Las Vegas, August 23, 2019
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Styx, Auburn, WA, September 26, 2007
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Phil Collen of Def Leppard, Ridgefield, WA, September 12, 2007

What are some of your fandoms, dear reader?