This is our reality now. A simple act that we used to do before we sat down to eat now takes on life-and-death proportions. So here I am, sequestered in my house, spending more time at my desk than working on edits for a final draft submission. But it’s all right. I’ll do what it takes, as I’m sure you’re doing too. If anything, it’s a great time to be a writer. Potential plots are boiling all around us, and if we can’t live out in the world, we can always live in our heads. We’re well-practiced on that. At least we should be, if we want to call ourselves writers.
We writers are also familiar with solitude. It’s what we aim for. We well know the backside of a closed door. Or the out-of-the-way hideaways of a room or house. We know all about getting up at dawn or staying up late, or shutting out many parts of life that others can’t do without. They’re convinced we’re crazy, and we’re fine with that. We know the difference between being lonely and being alone, know people who shake their heads at us, incomprehensible of the difference. It’s the quiet corners we’re looking for.
We’ve contemplated the impossible. Dark scenarios are our 90% cacao, our espresso, our midnight. We revel in our villains maybe more than our heroes. We’ve not only witnessed the apocalypse, Armageddon, cataclysms, dystopia–we’ve created them. Famine, diaspora, war, strife, destruction, and yes, pandemic–we’ve conjured up them all. We’ve suffered, agonized, succumbed, regrouped, rebelled, attacked, prevailed. None of it’s been easy and oh! the angst. And because of this, we can also imagine making make it through.
Often we’ve longed for the time, a day off, an empty afternoon, even an hour. Sometimes our wishes are granted by circumstances we couldn’t ever have imagined. Maybe this is one of those times. To savor that novel we keep trying to read, to clean off our desk, to make applesauce, ponder a sunrise, hug our children and kiss the pulse point on our lover’s sleeping neck. Maybe this is that time. To ponder, to kiss, to make applesauce. And to embrace the time to write. If not now, when it’s all we have, then when?
Right after you wash your hands. Stay safe, peeps.
Okay, it’s March now, and I’m sorry, this month is just weird. We celebrate being Irish, but how come we don’t have a day to celebrate being Dutch like me? I mean seriously, we have great chocolate and that kid who put his finger in the dike. And long before Colorado got legal they were smoking in the streets of Amsterdam, But I digress.
And isn’t that just typical. Because things getting weird seem so apropos this most weird of months. March is kind of like being a teenager: no longer a child, but not quite an adult either, made even worse because it can’t make up its mind what it wants to be. For instance: even though Spring is less than two weeks away, March is still messing around with Winter. Friday it’s going to be 72 degrees during the day, and 35 by night, 28 two nights later. Such are the vagaries of weather in this part of Jersey. And even though the squirrels and sparrows are chasing each other up and down and around the maples and the daffodils are sprouting, I’m still turning on the furnace at night. Plus there’s my own self, still pudgy with winter poundage, but my feet and arms and legs are yearning to breath free in shorts and sandals, my body low on Vitamin D, which comes from not spending enough time outside. Big surprise there! Who wants to, when the outside’s not exactly been inviting lately—except for this week when it’s sadistically flirted with the upper echelon of the thermometer. And now it’s about to get worse. Now the college where I work, which is on Spring Break next week, is about to go remote for the immediate future, the reason for which I’m worn out from contemplating. But isn’t that just typically spiteful of bipolar March.
I’m just sayin’… Think about it: it’s windy, and it’s associated with a lion. And although lions are majestic and strong, realistically—they will eat you. Julius Caesar was told by a seer on his way to the Senate to “beware the Ides of March.” To which he answered, “Well, the Ides of March have come,” and the seer replied “Aye, they have come, but they are not gone.” But he’d be, before the afternoon was out. And then there’s that whole “March Madness” attributed to college basketball playoffs. Is it coincidence this term of insanity is applied? If it isn’t, then why isn’t the football season called “November Nutso” or baseball, “May Mania?” Because the other months just don’t seem as off-kilter as March, so expectedly unreasonable. But then again, maybe not as interesting.
Come on April!
Some watch for robins, some for crocuses, some even say marshmallow peeps, but for me the real harbinger of spring are potholes, I’m telling you, those pervasive little asphalt assailants never fail to creep up on us, around every bend and over every hillock, disguised like shimmering little macadam birdbaths until you hit one and bam! there goes the hub cap, spinning away like a frisbee.
I live fifteen miles from work, and on my way home last week I counted no less than 25 of the replicating little suckers. And that didn’t include the ever-widening fissures in the middle of the road, and the winter erosion of the softer shoulders, due to the dig and drag of the snow plows. And then there’s those inevitable frost heaves that pitch up and crack the roads, always on whatever side of the road I’m driving. Which, of course, quickly becomes your side when you swerve into my lane to avoid them.
But if all this isn’t bad enough, the cure isn’t much better. How many of you have driven smack into a fresh pancake of cold patch, that municipal quick-fix of asphalt the town boys tamp down with shovels and their own boots, to shut up the one irate taxpayer that doesn’t quit calling until it’s fixed. Ahh…the lovely ping-ping-ping of loose tar as it plies itself to the undercarriage of your car. You’ll be scrubbing that off until nigh on August. Soon those road patch patties will be as ubiquitous as dandelions, and just as hard to get rid of. Because if you’re betting on highway dollars on high to get them gone, you can just forget it. Cold patch is too much of a bargain.
For the meantime, take your comfort where you can get it. After the mild winter we’ve had here in Jersey, it could have been much worse. Besides, it’s only a matter of time until we’re burning our bare feet crossing it. And that, my dears, could only mean a day at the beach.
Every writer has been there. At least every writer that’s ever suffered though a project for a considerable amount of time. You spiff and you clean up and you nip and tuck, finally whipping your ms. into shape (or what you think is in shape), and find out it has to be edited and and cut and tweaked some more. You think that when you finally reach the point of being published, multiple times even, that you actually know what you’re doing. That you know how to pluck out the perfect word, how to weave an effective turn of phrase, have the craft of goal, motivation, and conflict down to a science, skilled in creating realistic and interesting characters, that when you’re ready to send something out into the world, the world will be holding open its arms. So what to do when instead of a hearty hello, you’re gifted with a cut direct?
Now, I’m not talking about a rejection from a publisher. That’s a whole different level of angst. What I’m talking about is the next level up, the gatekeepers, so to speak. The ones who stand between you and the ones who cut the royalty checks. Think of them as the filter in your air cleaner, the spaghetti strainers, the iron that flattens the wrinkles from your shirt. We have them in all levels of writing: from the beta reader to the agent to the editor. They’re the ones who hold up the Stop Sign and say, just a minute — you’re not ready. I have questions –comments –notes — suggestions — changes — additions, etc., etc., etc. They’re the pinch to the fuse that keeps you from launching into the world, yanks the keys from your ignition, locking the door just as you grab your coat on the way out. They’re the ones we gnash out teeth at and yell — What are you doing?!
You asked, so I’m going to tell you. As painful as it it to realize, they’re the ones that make us see our better selves. They make us slow down, take another look, consider. They are our third set of eyes. They see things we’re blind to because we’re up too close. In many cases, they know the world (the publishing one, at least) better than we do. They keep us from making fools of ourselves. They make us better writers.
So as frustrating as it is to be told to go back to the keyboard, in the end they are what helps us get published. It’s not easy to have our critiquers that our work needs just a few more tweaks before it’s ready for the world. But it much harder to have it sent out there too soon and be summarily sent back. Truly.
Sorry, but I’m a firm believer in not only the Oxford Comma, as well as all forms of grammar rigidity, especially since living among the absence of such is hastening my eventual decline into ridiculousness. Call me petty, but that’s the way it is for someone who spends their days dealing with the open defiance of all rules of written language usage. Then again, who cares as long as we’re communicatin’? I mean, honestly, DILLIGAS?
Take that first step to your dream of becoming a published author at the 11th Annual Liberty States Fiction Writers Conference! Already published? Improve your craft, business, or promotional skills with one of our wonderful workshops and information from our keynote speaker Mark Leslie Lefebvre. Mark’s industry experience includes being the President of the Canadian Booksellers Association, Board Member of BookNet Canada, Director of Author Relations and Self-Publishing for Rakuten Kobo, Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital and Professional Advisor for Sheridan College’s Creative Writing and Publishing Honours Program He will be presenting a workshop on why there’s no better time to be a writer. For more information, please visit http://www.libertystatesfictionwriters.com/conference/.
Remember, dear readers, I’m an instructor in an MFA program, so outside of my lovely college freshmen, I also mentor grad students in the craft of writing. One of the subjects I guide them through is Reading for Writers, where we look at the student’s chosen genre and study its practitioners in depth.
But if one is a writer, do they also need to be a reader? I find Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer valuable as one of the first things you hear when you attempt writing is you must be a reader. Why is that? Well, if you’re going to be a doctor, don’t you need to see sick people? Observe broken-down cars if you’re going to be a mechanic? Taste food if you want to know how to cook it? In the same vein, if you want to write you need to become familiar with what’ll be the end result of your work, and how others view what it should be.
Because of that, I believe it’s important to read more than what you’re accustomed to. Of course, everyone has their favorite genres (mine being anything political and historical fiction and non-fiction), but like an old sweater it’s important to reach beyond what you’re comfortable with. Stretching outside our genre opens us up to new methods of approaching the craft, and reading the classics shows us why those books have lasted the test of time.
You mentioned a few of the classic authors, and I can’t tell you how much I learned from them. Austen, with her divine wit, Orwell, with his command of metaphor and symbolism, Warton, with her period mastery of detail. As a student of humor, I’ve learned a lot from the more current authors, such as Carl Hiaasen’s master use of dialogue, and David Sedaris’ hilarious use of the short-form essays. When we vary our reading, when we stretch into other forms that we’re not as familiar with, the lessons from their techniques leach into our writing psyche like osmosis, and we can’t help coming out better writers at the end. The more you expose yourself to, the more cosmopolitan your writing becomes. You just can’t help it.
So, what’s your favorite readers? Are they what you write? Sometimes they are, as I read scads and scads of literary fiction, but never attempted to write it. Then again, what is literary fiction? Charles Dickens in his day was writing for the everyday masses. Hm…could that be what my own writing will be one day? I can only hope!
If you published a book in 2019, ask your publisher, editor, or publicist to nominate it for the Housatonic Book Award! The Awards are sponsored by Western Connecticut State University’s MFA in Creative and Professional Writing program, and categories for this year’s award include Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Middle Grades/YA.
Past winners include Sean Thomas Dougherty, Leslie Jamison, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Matthea Harvey, Tawni Waters, A.B. Westrick, Jennifer Dubois, John Katzenbach, Brandon Brown, Ann Jacobus, Peter Peter Andrew Selgin, Joel Brouwer, Victoria Chang, Dick Lehr, Shanti Sekharan, Beth Ann Fennelly, and other amazing writers. Authors can also self-nominate.
The awards will be presented at the residencies that the award winner will attend. Each award carries a $1000 honorarium and $500 travel stipend in exchange for appearing at the residency. Entering a title implies the author’s willingness to attend the WCSU MFA residency indicated in the description for the award. The honorarium is awarded in exchange for and after the completion of appearance at the appropriate residency.
Deadline for submission is June 15, 2020. Click here for more information.
Mark Your Calendar for the
Liberty States Fiction
April 4, 2020
Holiday Inn in Clark, NJ
Our 2020 Conference is dedicated to Indie Publishing, but we have something for writers at all stages of their careers and whether traditionally published, small press, hybrid or indie.
Two Hour Presentation
MORE POWER, MORE OPTIONS, MORE CONTROL
OVER YOUR PATH TO SUCCESS
Mark Leslie Lefebvre
Writers have never had more power, more options, and more control over their careers, over carving their own unique pathways to success. The growth of digital publishing opportunities continues to expand, and a combination of technology and creativity are allowing writers to explore brave new worlds of writing that have never existed before.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre, who has been writing since he was thirteen, and first discovered his mother’s Underwood typewriter hidden in the back of her closet, had his first short story published the same year he started his journey through bookselling. Not only is he a former President of the Canadian Booksellers Association, and founder of Kobo Writing Life, but he has more than twenty books published and has embraced hybrid publishing opportunities at all levels.
By exploring a brief history of publishing, the digital revolution, trends within both traditional publishing and indie publishing, and using examples from his own three decades of experience as a writer and with coaching and supporting thousands of authors, Mark will take you on an entertaining, informative and inspiring tour that will demonstrate the power that you have to forge a successful writing and publishing career.
Explore with Mark how there has truly never been a greater time to be a writer.
About Mark Leslie Lefebvre – Mark’s first short story appeared in print in 1992, the same year he started in the book industry. He has published more than twenty books under the name Mark Leslie that include thrillers and fiction (Evasion, A Canadian Werewolf in New York, One Hand Screaming), paranormal non-fiction (Haunted Hospitals, Spooky Sudbury, Macabre Montreal) and anthologies (Campus Chills, Tesseracts Sixteen, Fiction River: Feel the Fear).His industry experience include President of the Canadian Booksellers Association, Board Member of BookNet Canada, Director of Author Relations and Self-Publishing for Rakuten Kobo, Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital and Professional Advisor for Sheridan College’s Creative Writing and Publishing Honours Program. Mark lives in Waterloo, Ontario and can be found online at http://www.markleslie.ca.