Monthly Archives: August 2017

Fashion and Vengeance: What I’ve Learned about Myself by Writing Fiction

“We’re all just working on our own stuff.” This comment from a wise women’s fiction writer has got me thinking. Lately, I’ve noticed some surprising threads in my own fiction writing: a fixation on fabulous outfits and well-deserved comeuppance. (Isn’t that a great word?)

I’m currently resting in the pause between fiction projects. My latest completed-for-now manuscript, a cozy mystery, is in the hands of beta readers, and I’m about to jump back into a romance novel that’s been marinating for a few months. In between, I revised three short stories that had been cooling on the corner of my desk for a good six months—all of them Twilight Zone-esque tales of psychological suspense.

Three different genres, but all highlight costume and karma. In fact, two of my creepy short stories feature clothing with magical properties. My female protagonists use clothing to express their inner sparkle, their complex, artistic souls.

Several male critique partners have pointed out how often I focus on what my characters are wearing. (Women readers don’t seem to mind.) And what do I wear as I write these stories? Mostly exercise gear, stuff I’d never wear outside my home unless on my way to the gym. It’s comfortable, but not creative or glamorous. Hmm—do you suppose my protagonists are trying to tell me something?

My upbringing urged me to be modest, obedient, not to call attention to myself. I thought I was done with that nonsense, having accepted my inner applause junkie long ago. But my protagonists are pointing out a bit of self-sabotage I’d do well to notice.

And while in real life I endeavor to have faith in karma and tamp down my tendency to be judgmental, in my fiction someone nasty always gets what’s coming to him or her. If I do my job well, that comeuppance arrives in unexpected ways, but arrive it does. In real life, I’m a powerless observer; on the page, I’m an avenging fury.

I’ll bet it would take years of therapy to gain this kind of insight. Okay, writing fiction is just as time-consuming, but it’s cheaper! What have you learned about yourself from your fictional creations?

What are your values?

Mount Rainier on a smoky day

“I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values—and follow my own moral compass—then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”

–Michelle Obama, from her remarks at the Tuskegee University                                                             Commencement Address, 2015

A few months ago, I wrote about my newfound love of podcasts. Hey, I’m a late bloomer, hence the name of this blog. One of my favorites, The Minimalists, frequently discusses the importance of identifying your values so you can align your life with same. Of course, some values are more—er—valuable than others. Identifying my values is an excellent exercise, and one that bears repeating every few years or so. Otherwise, I risk getting caught up in pursuits and priorities that don’t reflect my soul’s true direction—and that’s how one gets lost.

The Minimalists offer their own hierarchy of values, but I’ve modified that a bit, organizing mine into Foundational Values (must address every day) and Aspirational Values (I haven’t reached these yet, but want to). I’m not saying that I live up to this list 100% every day, but having these goals before me helps me to live a meaningful life. Here are mine. What are yours?

Foundational Values:

  • Conscious living—thinking about the choices I make, rather than following the crowd.
  • Creativity—writing, cooking, artwork, music, dance…
  • Simplicity—A corollary of #1 above, I try to include only those things and activities that add value to my life.
  • Good health—because my spirit lives in a body.
  • Achievement—I feel best about myself when I can look at concrete accomplishments.
  • Balance—work and play, alone and together, sit and stand and walk and dance…
  • Intellectual Curiosity—because the world is so interesting!

Aspirational Values:

  • Order—Yeah, this one needs work, but life is more enjoyable if I can find stuff.
  • Discipline—I exercise discipline in my writing schedule. In other arenas, I have work to do.
  • Beauty—Beautiful surroundings, beautiful clothing, these give me great pleasure.
  • Music—I love it and want to include more in my life.
  • Connection—I need to push myself to connect with those I love more often and to meet new people, because they’re not going to come into my writing cave (except on social media).

Care to share some of your guiding values?

IWSG Question o’ the Month: Pet Peeves

The first Wednesday of the month brings another blog-hop from the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. IWSG is a valuable resource for all of us hacking our way through the jungle of writing advice. Check it out here: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html

Thanks to this month’s IWSG hosts: Christine Rains, Dolarah @ Book Lover, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Yvonne Ventresca, and LG Keltner!

This month’s question: What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

Hoo boy, I can’t wait to read this month’s replies. I love a good rant. Warning: there’s strong language below.

I have learned so much from reading and critiquing the works-in-progress of other writers, both in face-to-face critique groups and in online manuscript swaps. Despite my extensive experience in written expression, a few boo-boos will always escape my notice. My readers help me catch those, along with areas where I was unclear or missed an opportunity for greater impact. I’m grateful for their help.

That said, I carefully proofread my submissions before asking anyone else to read them. The main purpose of writing is clarity, whether the writer is trying to convey a scene, a character, a theme, an emotion, or an explanation.

I wish all my critique partners would take care to proofread before asking me to read their work. (My WFWA partners do.) It’s not like we weren’t taught this stuff in school. It’s not like this information is difficult to find if we need a refresher on, say, comma usage.

I run into two scenarios:

#1: The writer shrugs. “I’m not good at punctuation. I hope you’ll help me.”

#2: “Who cares about commas? You know what I mean. Why are you being such a pedantic jerk about spelling and punctuation?”

In response to #1: Extensive line editing is time-consuming, and it’s not a service I offer for free. Sure, we’ll all miss a few errors, but when I have to wade through a jungle of superfluous punctuation, gaping holes where punctuation ought to be, tangles of vagueness, and steaming pits of confusing word choice, I get frustrated and tired before I ever reach the story.

And isn’t the story what it’s all about?

As to #2: Imagine this attitude translated to other scenarios—for example, talking to your tax accountant.

“Okay, yearly income. Let’s say 50K.”

“But your W2 form says you make $68,732.”

“Whatever! They’ll know what I mean. Precision’s not important here.”

“Actually, it is. If you enter the wrong amount, the IRS will come after you for back taxes, plus penalties—”

“I hate the IRS, and I hate picky assholes like you.” (Gathers papers and stomps off.)

Or at band practice:

“Wait, someone’s playing the wrong note. We’re in the key of D.”

“Why is it important that I play in D? I’m really feeling it in C minor. Sounds good to me.”

“That’s not how the song goes, man. It’s D minor, then B sharp, then—”

“Whatever, man. You’re always criticizing me. You’re a picky, pedantic asshole.”

“And you’re out of the band.”

Precision is vital in written communication. Words and punctuation marks are the tools we use to convey meaning. Maybe you didn’t like English class. Maybe your teacher smelled funny. Maybe she was mean, and you really wanted to be fixing your makeup or playing a computer game instead of learning how to use apostrophes.

Tough shit. Clear communication is important.