Category Archives: being thankful

The Woodbridge Writers Retreat….

This is another post in my writers workshops series, where I give you the scoop on the writers workshops/conferences I attended this year. The Woodbridge Writers Retreat was hosted by Richard Bausch, Robert Bausch, and Tom Zoellner in May 2014 in Woodbridge, Virginia. If you are a reader/writer and you don’t know about these guys yet, you’ll be very glad you read this post. (Richard is on the left, Tom in the middle, Robert on the right.)

woodbridge Writers Retreat-May 16, 2014

I met Richard Bausch when I was an English Major at George Mason University a few years, ahem, okay, decades ago. He was the professor whose words stuck with me truly for a lifetime. When I was his student, he gave the class a short story assignment. I had never written a short story before and was completely intimidated. (Yes, the class was probably called “writing short stories” or something very vague like that–thank you for understanding why I was surprised by the work we were asked to do.)

Luckily it was a small class and he must have seen the look of shear dread in my eyes. He asked what was wrong. I sheepishly told him I didn’t even know where to start. (Yes, rookie mistake. Don’t ever let other people do the dirty work for you. In order for you to be invested in it, you must own every step of the process.) So he kindly created a prompt for me. I wrote a story based on that prompt and it was horrible. Absolutely horrible.

But rather than tell me to give up on writing, he told me the truth:
“You took the easy way out on this one. You can do much better than this.”

He was right. I had very much taken the easy way out. I wrote the story quickly and put it aside as if the first version of anything is ever good enough. I never edited it. I never reconsidered optional story lines. My characters were flat. It was awful. (No,  thankfully, I do not still have a copy of it. No need for such evidence.)

I was worse than a rookie. I was lazy. And embarrassed myself.

Fast forward many years later. I had joined a writing group and we decided to attend the AWP writers conference. When planning out what sessions I wanted to attend, I realized that Richard Bausch was going to be a speaker. Squeeeee.

So like a good little groupie, I excitedly waited for him to come into the session. As soon as he sat down, I rushed over to him and gushed about how he had been my professor and how he had inspired me by telling me the truth and blah, blah, blah. I even gave him a flashdrive with a copy of my work-in-progress to show him that I was no longer “taking the easy way out.” (Yep, still rocking the rookie. Thankfully I stopped short of asking him to sign my t-shirt.)

He was very sweet and said thank you. He even accepted my facebook friend request. But I didn’t really think I would get a chance to see him, much less work with him, again.

That is, until I met his brother Robert Bausch at the Algonkian Writers Workshop in Sterling, Virginia. He was a guest speaker and there were only about 8 of us at the conference, so we all got a chance to chat with him. He had us completely engaged. There is no doubt that Bob is extremely talented with many books, short stories, and even a movie under his belt. But he is also passionate. He reads like crazy, he teaches, and he writes every day. And he is funny as hell. (Just like his twin brother Robert. Yep, twinsies. Awesome.)

What I love most about Bob is that he loves writing and teacher writing, even after doing it every day for years on end. He hasn’t lost his zeal and that makes me hopeful that I won’t either. (Richard is the same way, by the by.)

As he was walking out of the conference, I asked him to please let me know if there were any workshops he was teaching and gave him my email address. When I hadn’t heard from him after a while, I went from rookie to near-stalker and googled “Bausch” plus “workshop” and found the Woodbridge Writers Workshop. His brother was going to be there too. Both Bausch Brothers at the same conference, teaching me? I might faint. Sign.Me.Up.Now.Please.and.Thank.You.

Tom Zoellner was also a workshop leader. I had not heard of him before but that was reader error on my part. He is a fabulous non-fiction writer and journalist. He takes subjects that most people don’t think too much about – speed traps in small-town Georgia or Uranium for instance – and writes engaging, almost fictionesque prose about it. He turns facts into stories and draws the reader deeply in.

The workshop was small–only ten writers. Yes, that’s right. Ten writers and three workshop leaders. That’s damn near miraculous. All three of the leaders are teachers as well as writers. Yes, that’s even better. The workshop lasted 3 days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).

We spent most of the time workshopping the different submissions, but we also had craft talks and ate dinner together each night which allowed the workshop discussions to continue on well into the night. Each writer was allowed to submit up to 20 pages. Each participant was expected to submit something and read/critique everyone else’s submission.

Because the leaders are so entrenced in the teaching world, many of the attendees were also teachers, either creative writing or composition. I loved that.

The feedback from this workshop was invaluable. The leaders spent a lot of time reading and considering everyone’s work. The attendees were also smart readers and invested time in each story.

These are the wonderful writers who attended the conference.

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Some of the advice/things we learned were…

  • Write your way to the end – don’t tinker with details until you get your story down.
  • Peter Taylor is a master of having the narrator tell the reader important info without the narrator understanding its full impact.
  • Writing a one sentence summary of each chapter will allow you to see the entire book as a whole.
  • When writing character remember to write this character, not just a character.
  • You want your readers to feel surprised at the exact moment they realize the inevitability of what’s coming. It should be an “Oh” and an “Aw” moment.
  • Move the most imporant piece of dialogue to the end of the line so it has more impact.
  • Perfect is the enemy of good. Feel free to write without judgment of quality – but in editing be heartless with the delete key.
  • Don’t write to make a point. Theme is generally accidental.

Richard also has a “ten commandments” list on his website. You can read that here.

As always happens at writers conferences, several books/stories came up as recommendations to read…

So there you have it. If you ever get the chance to attend this conference. Do it!

The link to the workshop is here.

Oh and it turns out that all three of the workshop leaders have books out this year.

Here they are …

Robert Bausch

before during afer

tom zoellnerYes, you should buy them all. Right now.

 

The my writing process blog tour

If you saw my last post, you know that I’m sharing my experiences at the writers workshops I’ve attended over the past year. One of the many, many reasons that I love attending workshops is that I meet amazing writers who are also terrific people.

Jane Ward is one such writer/friend. I’m proud to say she is a front-row-seat-convert thanks to me. She has invited me to participate in a blog tour called the My Writing Process Blog Tour. I’m honored that she considered me worthy. Smooches Jane! You can read her writing process story here.

Jane Ward

Jane Ward

First, I’ll tell you a little bit about my talented friend. Jane Ward is the author of Hunger and the New York Book Festival award-winning novel The Mosaic Artist.  Yes, she rocks. She is currently at work on her third novel, The Welcome Home. A former baker and caterer, Jane now cooks on video for allfood.com, a recipe database cited on several online newspapers, and also regularly contributes articles to them. Her blog, Food and Fiction, is equal parts food memoir, cooking and baking discussion, and collection of food industry profiles and trends. (Jane’s friend Carla Panciera invited her to join the blog tour and you can find her entry here.)

Below I have answered the few questions required by the blog tour. By reading on, you’ll get to know a little bit more about what I do (and sometimes what I don’t do.)

1. What are you working on?

I spent the “Summer of Ellen,” as I affectionately call it, attending several writing workshops and not doing a ton of actual writing, just learning about writing.

The pieces I workshopped were:

– A 100-page excerpt from my novel in progress called The Alligator Purse. It’s a family saga, with a political backdrop, lots of secrets, and a fabulous purse.

– “In the Dust of Elephants” is a short story about a Somali man whose daughter is gravely ill. He participates in a hunt to get ivory dust from the tusk of an elephant because he believes it will cure his daughter.

– “The Dust in His Pocket” is a short story focused on a pre-teen boy who can’t find his grandfather. His only clue is a broken hourglass that contains dirt from all the places his grandfather has travelled.

And, yes, I seem to have an affinity for all things dust right now. I considered calling my novel The Dust in the Alligator Purse, but somehow that seemed a tad too much.

2.  How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Uhm, it’s not finished or published. Oh, besides that. Ah.

I think the fact that a woman is writing about a presidential run is a little unusual. Also, that the book has a strong political backdrop but the story isn’t about politics. It’s about mother-daughter relationships and the cycles–good and bad–that are repeated in families. And it’s about holding other people to higher standards than we hold ourselves–and how that can absolutely ruin us.

Also, an American woman writing from the voice of a Somali man–probably not a current trend in most literary works.

3.  Why do you write what you do?

I’m writing this novel because I won a contest. The prize was a consultation of the first 10 pages of a novel with a literary agent named Rachelle Gardner. I kind-of, sort-of raced off a smart-arse haiku and, holy crap, I won. Which would have been so fabulous if I actually had 10 pages written. Ahem. (Please don’t ask me WHY I entered the contest–that is still a mystery to even me.)

Getting 10 pages written was my obsession but I had no idea what to write about. None.What.So.Ever. That is, until I heard a story on the radio about a woman who had her purse stolen. She chased the thief down to get her purse back. And I thought, “what the hell was in that purse?” Angels sang, glitter spewed, and The Alligator Purse was born.

“In the Dust of Elephants” was inspired by another contest about hunger in the natural world. I didn’t want to have my characters hunger for food, so I needed something else, something more dire. My family spent some time living in India. While there, two of my children got sick with unidentifiable illnesses. Thankfully they were both fine but it was a scary time and I knew I would do anything I could to help them get well. I wanted to write a story in a foreign setting and Somalia seemed to make perfect sense because I needed an elephant to wander through the story.

“The Dust in His Pocket” is really a tribute my grandfather. The grandfather in the story is not at all who my grandfather was, but the special relationship he has with his grandson mimics our relationship.

4.  How does your writing process work?

Process. Hmmmmm, that sounds like a bad word. Can you tell I don’t really have a process? Ergh.

A lot of my story ideas/inspiration used to come from contests. The creative world is often too immense for me to come up with my own ideas. I’m a Pisces afterall and if I hold on too tightly to one idea, I fear losing all the others. Although, I am getting much better about it. Many of my earlier story ideas came from someone else saying “what about this” and me answering back, “Yea, but no, not that exactly. What about this instead?”

To keep the writing process blog chain going, here are some other writers you should know, and who will (I hope) let you know a bit more about themselves.

Virginia Pye – River of Dust
I met the talented Virginia Pye at a James Rivers Writers Workshop taught by Nancy Zafris. River of Dust is a fabulous story set in Northwest China in 1910 and chronicles the lives of a missionary couple whose young son, Wesley, is kidnapped by nomads right before their eyes.  During our workshop lunch, I squeezed myself in between them and soaked in every single word they said. I may have accidentally, on-purpose rubbed against them both in hopes of some of their tremendous talent falling off of them and onto me.

virginia pye2

M.M. Fink – Forget We Met
I also met M.M. at the James Rivers Writers Conference. (Yes, it’s a good conference. You should go. Find out about it here.) She is beautiful and asked a lot of smart questions and is super talented. At first, I didn’t think I could like her that much because, well, did you read the last sentence? But she is so talented and so kind that you can’t help but like her a lot. Her first novel  is Forget We Met is the story of a young woman who comes home to the Louisiana playhouse in which she was raised to claim her future in the theatre and the man she’s always loved, but ends up discovering lifelong betrayals, the father she never knew, and herself. She has an agent for it and the book should be coming out in the not so distant future. (Fun fact – she let her readers pick the title. For reals.) Her second novel is called Canary Falls and I think she just finished writing it.

 

And finally, I’d like you to meet

Tara Lindis-Corbell
She is an emerging writer (like me) who I met at the One Story Workshop in NYC. There are a couple of reasons I’d like you to meet her. She’s talented. She’s funny as hell. And it’s about time she updated her blog with a new post. (You’re welcome Tara.) She also inspired me. She has two young children and she still gets up  every.single.morning.before.they.do and writes. She said she does that because she’s grumpy if she doesn’t. Amen sister. Tara is working on a novel that deals with family dynamics, the trickle down effect of environmental shifts on our every day lives, and a missing cat. She also has a funny story about a voodoo doll on a bicycle. If she doesn’t tell that story, I will be forced to tell it for her. It’s hysterical. Fun fact – it’s a true story.

Tara reading at One Story

Tara reading at One Story

That’s it for now. Happy reading and writing!

The Tin House Winter Workshop……

Throughout the next few posts, I will share my experiences at the writing workshops I’ve attended this year. (Spoiler alert – they were all really good and if you are a writer, you’ll want to know about each one.) I started off the year at the fabulous Tin House Winter Workshop. It was held at the end of January 2014 in a small town called Sylvia Beach on the Oregon Coast.

Imagine going here…

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

Where each room is decorated for a different author…

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Dr. Seuss room

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Emily Dickenson room. I was worried the room might be haunted. But no ghosts appeared or disappeared.

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Mark Twain room. It had a fireplace and a terrific view. A workshop leader got this room. ;)

And this is your view every.single.day…

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And a super sweet cat roams the halls…and your room, if you let her (if cats are a no-go, you can just keep your door closed). But she is so smooshy and sweet…

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And learning the craft of writing from Whitney Otto (How to Make an American Quilt, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, Now You See Her), Vanessa Veselka (ZAZEN, The Truck Stop Killer in Best American Essays), and Jon Raymond (Rain Dragon, The Half-Life)…

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All hosted by the talented and gracious Tin House folks who also shared their insights on writing and publishing and karaoke…

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Lance welcoming us – not doing karaoke.

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You even get to see the Tin House office space where all the magic happens…

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Yes, you might just think you’ve done died and gone to writers heaven, where muses sprinkle glitter out of magic pencils and writers block has been abolished because it’s been deemed too cruel a punishment for the creative mind to endure. Ah, yes, heaven indeed.

Tin House accepted 18 writers for the workshop out of 200+ applications. (The great news is that this year there will be two workshops – one fiction, one non-fiction – so 36 spots.) Yes, lucky me. But the real message here is polish, polish, polish before you apply. And then maybe polish one more time. Then set it aside for 3 days, and polish again. Rinse, repeat. Then apply.

The workshop was three days – workshops in the morning, panels/craft lectures in the afternoon. Each workshop group had only 6 writers – yes, that is beyond fantastic! We critiqued two manuscripts in each session, so each writer got about an hour and a half of dedicated individual attention and every participant provided written feedback, as did the workshop leader. The writing was top-notch and the participants were careful readers who offered tremendous insight into each piece. (My workshop leader was Whitney Otto – she was a very wise choice.)

One of the real benefits of workshops is that you get to analyze writing that is not your own. I tend to learn at least as much from the discussion of other writers works as I do from the discussion of my own. I’m not invested in their writing the same way I am invested in my own story and can see it as it truly is, not as it was intended to be.

Because it happened to me (no one else, just me), I will share a little bitty lessons-learned with you. So, if you want, you can meet at the Tin House office (yes, please) and ride with the other workshop participants to the hotel. If I remember correctly, it’s just under 2 hours. You do not need a car while at the workshop so this is a really great option.

Unless, that is, unless, you are someone who might get a tad nauseous in a warmish van filled with excited writers journeying up a curvy mountain road.

Ahem.

Maybe that was me. Perhaps I should have sat in the front seat. Undoubtedly I should have taken dramamine or at least TUMS, before–yes before–I got nauseous.

I started feeling cruddy and rested my head on the seat in front of me and the other riders started to worry and asked repeatedly if I was ok, which was very nice but when I raised my head to answer…well, let’s just say that probably didn’t help. 😉 I thought I could make it–until I finally realized I simply.could.not.make.it.one.more.curvy.turn and asked the driver to pull over.

But he couldn’t do that immediately. What? I hear ya. Excuse me?

Well, you see, the road is narrow (and curvy) without much of a pull off shoulder because it happens to be on.the.side.of.a.mountain. and there.wasn’t.a.lot.of.room. Whatever. This is a case where poor planning on my part does happen to constitute an emergency on your part. So Sorry.

The good news is that the driver was able to pull over quickly enough and I was able to dash out to the back of the van and lighten my nauseous load. The bad news is that the editors from Tin House and the workshop coordinator were driving by us just as I got sick. So much for fabulous first impressions. Ergh.

The best part of the story is that we were about 2 miles from Sylvia Beach when I got sick. Two minutes longer and I could have totally saved face. Oh well. Luckily, we all laughed about it later. The Tin House folks are gracious people and let me live it down (relatively) quickly.

Back to the workshop. Did I mention it was fabulous? Well it was.

Here are a few tidbits from what we learned:

– Tin House is a top-tier literary magazine–wait, we knew that already–but they reinforced that belief over and over again. Even though they have every right to be literary snobs, the people who work there are approachable, talented, knowledgeable, and supportive.

– If you want to be published in a journal, get to know the magazine–support it by subscribing to it, reading it, and sharing it with your writing community. But most importantly, get to know what kind of stories they publish.

– Don’t worry about what the story is trying to mean – you’ll see that at the end. And if you are lucky it will mean different things to different people.

– Be careful that multiple POV characters aren’t just telling the same exact story over and over. Each POV must move the story forward and reveal something new.

– Writing should feel a little out of control and not too neat. You can write the life out of something and make it feel dead on the page.

– Most professional writers are very open to editing. Not being willing to edit something you’ve written might will make you look like an amateur.

– Authorative voice is what the writer takes with her from piece to piece. The story varies but the authority remains.

– Narrative voice is the charisma on the page.

– If a story feels stuck about 1/3 of the way through, the writer might be relying too heavily on voice.

– Fiction allows the writer to take something private and make it public.

– We also learned about the fabulous essay by Betty Flowers called Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process

At these types of workshops, books are always a big topic of discussion. Some of the book recommendations that came out of this workshop are (I’ve not read all of these, so I cannot testify to how good they are but these were some smart readers, so there you go)

Of course any of the books listed above by the workshop leaders
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (one of my favorite books ever)
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (very good)
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton
Telling by Marion Winik
Old School by Tobias Wolff
The Tenth of December by George Saunders

So there you have it – the Tin House Winter Workshop. Information about the 2015 workshop will be on the Tin House site sometime in September.  Tin House also hosts a summer workshop. Awesomesauce!

 

 

 

 

‘The great workshop roundup…….

I’ve spent a good part of this year attending some of the best writing workshops in the country. I affectionately refer to this year as the “year of Ellen.” It’s been amazing!

Over the next few posts I will share where I have been and (some of) what I have learned. I would love to tell you every single little detail – but I won’t be able to capture all of it. There is nothing like being there in person – writing, reading, critiquing, breathing in words. Ahhhh.

One of the best things I learned was this….

You don’t have to be published to be a writer. You have to write to be a writer. Afterall, you can’t become published without writing first.

Ahhhh, that’s a refreshing reminder. Yes, you are in fact a writer, if you are writing. Boom.

The first workshop on the list is the Tin House Winter Workshop. What a fabulous way to start off the year! Look for those delicious details in the next post!

The rest of the posts can be found by clicking these links…

Woodbridge Writers Retreat
Yale Writers’ Conference, Part I
Yale Writers’ Conference, Part 2

The Art of the Story with Tom Jenks of Narrative

 

Write.every.day. Write.something.every.day….

Writers hear this advice over and over again. Then we create excuses why we can’t–beautiful excuses filled with empty air and hyperbole and then promises to ourselves to do better.

Samuel Beckett says “fail better” but if you aren’t trying, you can’t fail. I guess you can fail to try but you’ll never get better at that.

Today is my promise to myself to fail better and then hopefully succeed.

If you are also a writer–or a person with a passion–come along, fail better with me.

Expat Blog Awards….

This is kind of exciting.

I’ve been nominated for the Expat Blog Awards for my writing about living in India.

If you have a second, please vote for me by leaving a comment here…
http://www.expatsblog.com/blogs/466/a-reason-to-write

Thanks!

I am reminded why voting is so important…

This week I have been on my “stop calling me” bandwagon. I have been tired of answering the phone only to hear a recorded voice tell me what I should do today – who I should pick.

I honestly don’t believe it makes a ton of difference what I personally think – even if I am in a “battle ground state”. It’s cold outside and I really don’t want to leave my house. I am tired of the political ads and the promises that don’t mean squat. I am really tired of the millions of dollars that are spent on plane rides and commercials when people are hurting. That money could be used for so much good. But alas. This is our political process.

And, today, I realize, I am taking a lot for granted.

So, I will vote today. I will exercise this right to vote that others have died to protect. I will mark my ballot with a grateful heart that I can. I am educated enough to read the ballot, healthy enough to stand in line, and free enough to voice my opinion without danger. So I will.

And today, I am reminded of Khan – our former driver in India and how thrilled he was to be able to vote. You can read his story here.

So if you are able, vote today. If for no other reason than you can.

The graduation prayer….

So, the other day  I posted this story about my experience with bullying in high school and I mentioned that I gave a prayer at graduation. A prayer about hate. 

Well, holy prayer, I found it.

(Just know that it is not my best work). But I thought I would share it.

If you read the post on my experience, you might remember that I masked my message as a global message about war. Well, apparently, I wasn’t as clever as I thought I was. Twenty-five plus years later, it doesn’t seem so focused on global events but rather what was closer to my heart at the time.

Anywho, here it is…

Dear Lord

As we gather here together for the last time as the class of 1986, we thank you for our good times and our bad times – our joys and our sorrows.

We have grown tremendously since we first walked the halls as a freshman class. We have eagerly anticipated the day we could walk down the aisle and receive our high school diplomas. But now, many of us look to the future with a great deal of uncertainty.

We pray that you will guide us in the decisions we must make, the fears we will face, and the defeats we shall bear.

Help us put any bad memories of the past behind us and to be thankful for the joyful times we have spent together.

Teach us there is no going back. We must accept the past and fight for tomorrow.

Help us to remember that the enemies we meet in life, whether they be nations or individuals, are as frightened of conflicts as we are. Read more »

She could have totally kicked my ass….

I am not really sure why I feel absolutely compelled to write this post – right now. 

But I do.

So I will.

Maybe today one of my readers needs to hear this story – I am not sure – but I am going trust my gut and share.

This isn’t particularly easy for me – but I am going for it.

If you know me, you might not imagine that I was bullied in high school. I am pretty confident (okay, most of the time) and I am not afraid to stand my ground (pretty much ever). I’m not gorgeous or particularly hideous. In those days, I fit pretty much right smack dab into the middle of just about everything. Not too tall. Not too short. Not too fat. Certainly not too skinny. Not too geeky. Certainly not too cool.

In high school, I had plenty of friends and I had dates to just about every function – most of the time I had a boyfriend. I made good grades but wasn’t a total nerd. I owned at least one pair of Tiger shoes and a pair of Guess jeans. Had me a pair of Gloria Vanderbilts too. And at least 3 shirts donning that Lacoste gator. So I wasn’t necessarily setting trends but I wasn’t a fashion abomination. Continuously falling right smack in the middle.

Because I was President of the Student Government and an officer in several other clubs, I also had fantastic relationships with quite a few teachers – okay, maybe I was more nerdy than I realized. But, the point is – I didn’t ever have to walk down the hall alone – I wasn’t invisible to teachers. I knew lots of people and got along with most of them.

Except one girl.

I won’t share her real name – but she did not like me – not one little bit. (I guess I will call her Tasha – because that’s not really her name.)

Tasha hated me.

H.a.t.e.d. M.e.

I mean really hated me. Really, really.

Honestly, I didn’t really care so much if she hated me. Her impression of me wasn’t that important to me.

Remember – I was a pretty confident kid – I completely understood that her opinion of me did not define me. Just because she called me a bitch (or worse) every. single. time. she saw me walk down the hallway did not mean I was a bitch or worse. That was clear to me.

However, she could have totally kicked my ass. I was pretty afraid that one day she would realize her words didn’t work to hurt me and that she would turn to sticks and stones to try and break my bones.

It was painfully obvious to me that the only way to survive a fight with Tasha was to never get in a fight with Tasha.

She was in my face. A lot.

And I was scared of her. A lot.

But I would just walk down a different hallway. I didn’t come back at her with words and certainly never with actions.

My worst experience with her was one night at a party at the lake.

She found out I was there and came looking for me. Running up the hill with her friends, screaming, “Where is sheeee?”

Thank God I was in the bathroom with the door locked. (Teach your children to lock the bathroom door at a party.)

She pounded on the thin wooden door for what seemed like 15 minutes, daring me to come out.

Then begging me to come out.

There I stayed – behind that locked door – probably shaking – trying to guess what my best option was. Thinking what was the worst that could happen if I came out.

That was easy. She could have totally kicked my ass.

Totally.

So I figured my best plan was to leave. Quickly.

Apparently, Tasha didn’t like that little life-preserving decision of mine. Maybe she was tired of me turning away from her. I don’t really know.

But, she positioned herself in front of me – and in front of everyone else, she threw her drink on me. Right down the front of my shirt. The funny thing was I had borrowed that cute white sweater from a friend of mine. Who was also a friend of hers.

Of course, it was a red punch drink of one sort or another.

My theory remained in tact – the surest way to not get beaten up was to not get in a fight.

I headed to my car, ever grateful that I still had my keys with me.

Tasha headed to her car. If I remember right, it was a jeep. I could be wrong on that. But I think it was.

Two girls in my class drove jeeps – the homecoming queen and Tasha. Funny little Southern irony there.

Anyjeep.

I drove on the dark hilly road along that lake scared out of my mind. Not knowing where I was going. No cell phone. No GPS. Just sheer adrenaline and prayer. Lots of prayers.

Tasha followed me very closely. And it was my distinct impression that several times she tried to run me off the road.

Yes, you’re right. She was mean as hell.

Somehow, I made it out of the woods in one piece, without wrecking my car and without getting in a fight.

That night I went to bed in that red-stained sweater, still shaking. I never told one adult what happened. In fact, I never really talked about it with my friends – even those who were there.

Tasha’s need to spew her hate at me seemed to quiet down after that night. Maybe she scared herself too. Who knows but I enjoyed a little respite.

She didn’t say much more to me until we were rehearsing for graduation. I was asked to give the prayer for the graduating class.

Tasha was my motivation.

My prayer appeared focused on the global picture of war and hate but it was meant for her.

Stop hating. Stop scaring. Now, I was begging her.

She pretended to shoot me as I walked down the stairs from the stage.

Finally, I said something.

“Oh, I think you got me this time.”

I must have looked ridiculous clutching my chest and pretending to be shot. But I finally felt it. Enough already.

Several months later, a dear friend of mine invited me to join her in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl. She went to Auburn and they were playing Alabama (my favorite team).

My only reservation in going was that I knew Tasha had moved to New Orleans. Yes, I was still worried enough about her that I almost didn’t go.

The friend who had invited me reassured me – it’s a huge town, thousands of people are going to be there to see the game, you’ll never see her. What are the chances?

You can probably guess what the chances were – 100%.

We were walking down the street and, towards us, came Tasha.

My heart tightened and I had to catch my breath.

She walked right up to me and gave me the biggest, hardest hug.

WTF?

“I thought you hated me,” was all I could muster.

“Oh, that was high school,” she said and laughed.

Now we are facebook friends and we have joked about how much she hated me. Now she’ll know just how much she scared me, too. I couldn’t bring myself to laugh about that.

To be fair to Tasha, she has since shared with me that she thought I was mean to her friend – I thought Tasha hated me because of a boy who called me when he was “going with” her. Tasha said that she was defending her friend and was furious when her friend stopped being mad at me. I guess Tasha just couldn’t let go. To be fair to me, I don’t ever remember not liking this other friend or being mean to her. If I was, I am sorry for that.

As I said, I am not sure why I am supposed to share this story but I feel that I am.

Maybe there are some important things here. I will share what I think they might be…

  • Being nice is always the best option.
  • If someone comes to you with a bulling story, please do not tell them that they simply need to toughen up. Help them. It is really hard to share these things – if they thought they could handle it on their own, they would have.
  • There are books that can help you talk to kids about bullying. If you aren’t sure where to start, look here at Dinner A Love Story.
  • If your child is a bully – it’s not cool – he’s not tough, stop him now. Or her. (Boys aren’t the only bullies.)
  • If you are modeling bullying behavior for your child, stop it now. You are not cool and you are not tough. But I think you know that.
  • If you are bullying your own children, you might be creating bullies. Get help so you can stop the cycle. And get them help too.
  • Scaring someone is not entertainment. Buy a movie ticket.
  • It’s not always obvious who will be bullied. Even those who appear strong can be victims because weakness is in the eye of the beholder. And the beholder can be a vulture waiting to strike when no one is looking.
  • Those who are bullied will not always tell that they are being bullied.
  • Even if they have multiple safety nets.
  • If you are being bullied, tell someone. Someone you trust, especially if you are scared.
  • Red drink stains will come out of a white sweater with 409 and it’s good to lock the bathroom door at a party.

Arse in seat………..

Apparently, that is the way to get a book written.

Plant your arse in a seat and click away at the keyboard.

Arse in Seat

Just in case  you don’t remember every detail of the life that I chronicle here, I’ll take a sec to remind you that I am  writing a novel called The Alligator Purse. You can read chapter 1 here, if you like.

For the past three years, I have focused on non-fiction (aka this blog). And, then. Well, then I joined a writing group that encouraged me to try my hand at fiction. Now I am drinking the Kool-aid and have taken on a full-fledged novel.

That was brave, right? I know.

What was I thinking, right?

I know. Believe me, I know.

But now I am thinking, maybe some of you want the Kool-aid, too. Maybe some of you are writing a novel for the first time. Or maybe just an article or a short story – because maybe you are smarter than I am and maybe you don’t want to overwhelm yourself all at once – right before school gets out and the kids are home a.l.l. d.a.y.

I know, what was I thinking?

But maybe it would be fun not to write this novel all by my lonesome. I mean, sure, I will write the book with my own ideas and story ideas. But maybe, just maybe, we can skip down the yellow brick road together.

So, I will tell you what I am doing along the way and what works and what wasn’t so great.

Here are my first thoughts…

Arse in Seat Modus Operandi

The first thing I can tell you is that you must put your arse in a seat. And type. A lot. And then. A lot more.

That woman in the picture is not me – but she makes me want to highlight my hair again. Not all blond on the top like hers, but you know soft-subtle highlights.It’s summer after all…

Erghhhhh. See how easy it is for me to get distracted. Arse in Seat. Arse in Seat. Not Distracted. Arse in Seat.

Anyseat, I am starting my fourth chapter – I am at about 6,000 words. A typical novel runs about 75,000 words. Yes, I have a l.o.n.g. way to go.

My entire story is not completely plotted out, although I am pretty sure I know 5 or 6 major story events that must happen and how I would like the book to end. But the only way I am going to find out the details in between is to write them. (That, and drink more Kool-aid, possibly spiked with Vodka.)

Writers Groups

I will continue to go to my writers group mostly because I love them dearly and they serve yummy snacks. But also because they encourage me to write. And they tell me when I am not doing a great job – in a kind, loving way – but they let me know when something isn’t working. Plus, I am accountable to them. They expect me to submit chapters on a regular basis.

We meet once a week during the day when my kids are at school. That works well for me.

Take notes here – you want to be sure to find a writers group that has most of its members submitting work on a regular basis. You want to surround yourself with serious writers, who are writing.

If you are wondering how to find a writers group – try this:

1. Meetup – this site is great for all sorts of meetups (groups of people who like doing the same thing with other people) and there are tons of writing groups listed.

2. If your town has a university – call the English Department and see if have any writing groups.

3. Try your local library. They usually coordinate book clubs and might be willing to coordinate a writing group as well.

4. Take a writing class – many writing groups come from students who took a class together.

5. Simply ask around – I am amazed out how many aspiring authors are out in the world putting pen to paper. You might be surprised at who is interested in starting a group with you.

Beta Readers

My writing group is awesomesauce and it’s amazing that they are all writers. But that means they read a story differently than someone who is primarily a reader. Writers are more technical. They know the jargon and they will spew it out at you when necessary.

Beta readers are just people who like to read. They can tell you if your story is marketable because they will tell you if they would pass your book on to a friend when they are done with it.

The only thing you have to be careful of with beta readers is that they will tell you what they want to happen next. You have to remember that you are driving the story line. You determine the plot. They tell you if what you have already written works.

I asked my beta readers two things…

1. To promise not to share my chapters with anyone else. I told them if they know of someone who would like to be a beta reader, I would happily add her name to the distribution list. But I need to know who is getting what and when.

2. To be perfectly honest. I absolutely want to hear what works and what they like. But, more importantly, I want to hear where they get stuck – what doesn’t make sense. I want to know what piques their interest and makes them want to read more. And I absolutely want to know what questions they have – so I make sure to answer them all.

Writing Classes

I have signed up for two classes – both through Writers Digest.

The first one is this one that starts tomorrow. It’s called the Agent One-on-One Pitch Slam. During the course, I will work directly with Paula Munier on the first ten pages of The Alligator Purse.

The second class begins mid-June and is taught by Mark Spencer. It is an Advanced Novel Writing Course. You have to have 10,000 words written at the beginning of the course and the plan is to get you to 50,000 by the end of the 8-week session. Gulp.

My arse will need to be in a seat quite a bit.

Other Resources

Next week, I will also meet with Rachelle Gardner. She hosted this contest and, holy koolaid, I won. The prize is half an hour with her. Reviewing my work.

I won this contest because I took a chance and entered. There were tons of great entries and I just got lucky that my friends love me enough to vote for me.

Web Presence – aka Platform

This is a word that sends most novice writers right back under the blankets. I don’t know a lot about all of this but I do have a blog, another blog, a twitter, a facebook, and a pinterest account. I also reserved www.TheAlligatorPurse.com so that no one can take it before I become wildly successful and try to snag it too late. I also reserved my full name as a url so that I can start working on my name as my brand.

Luckily for us newbiews, there are lots of folks who know a lot about building a platform. You can read this post from Jeff Goins blog sharing information from platform guru Michael Hyatt.

Notebook

For Shakespeare’s sake, keep a notebook with you or at least something you can write down your ideas on. Trust me on this one. You are going to have a moment of sheer brilliance at the most unexpected time and you are going to be so confident that you couldn’t possibly forget it. Then you are going to start noticing other people’s hair color and “poof”, your idea will be gone. Lost 4-evah. So write it down the minute you have it.

I wrote about this in an article called Believing We Have a Story To Tell on Writer Unboxed because I have learned it the hard way. Too. Many. Times.

Own It

This is the most important thing – so it probably should have gone at the top – pretend it’s there okay?

You must own the fact that you are a writer. When you are at a cocktail party and someone asks you what you do, you must answer confidently, “I am a writer.” Do not explain that you are not published. Do not explain that your mother loves your work. Dear heavens, please do not explain that. Do not explain that it’s really more of a hobby.

YOU. ARE. A. WRITER. period. You Write. Therefore. YOU. ARE. A. WRITER. If you are not actually writing, remember the Arse in Seat axiom.

That is all for now. Because in a moment of extreme weakness, I signed up for a class and have 10,000 (quality) words due to a published author who will critique my work in two weeks.

I am going to keep my arse in this seat until I no longer feel like this…..

Disclaimer #1: It is important to note that the Arse in Seat Model does not work for all disciplines. For example, if you are hoping to compete in a marathon of more than mere words, you must get your arse out of the seat.

Disclaimer #2: This picture is also not me. I do not wear heels and I do not dress in all white – not even after Easter. And my floor is very honestly not that clean. Never will be.