I Quit! (Or do I?)

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which is the date that the Insecure Writer’s Support Group holds its monthly blog hop.

If you haven’t heard of the IWSG, you need to look into it:

To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.  It’s a good place to go to for advice, reassurance and a lot of enjoyment.

Today’s question is:

Did you ever say “I quit”? 
If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

This month’s co-hosts are:

JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan, and Heather Gardner  

Go visit their pages!

So…  Have I ever decided to quit writing?  

No, I can’t say that I  have.  I  have been discouraged, I have wanted to burn whatever story I was working on, and call various people idiots for various reasons, but I haven’t decided to quit.  How can I?  I’m a writer.

…But I have trickled to a near-halt.  Inertia.  I wrote about it, obliquely, here and here.  I’ve been in dry spots, as you see.  Sometimes they seem to stretch on forever, and you wonder if they will ever stop.

I am in one right now. I haven’t published anything new in three years.  I have followers, people have read my work, but I haven’t put anything out.  Sales are falling off.  

I have a number of works in progress.  The second book in my Orphan’s Tale series is nearly complete.  It was delayed, in part, by a plot revelation that required an internal rewrite. But it is nearly finished…and I haven’t touched it in a year.  I have a fable, a ‘short’ (say, 45,000 words) that is nearly done. Nearly.  There are several stories in my Memphis Cycle that were coming along.

So what happened?

Life.  Eldercare issues.  Work issues.  Money issues.  (It costs me nothing to write, thank goodness).  And I have been very tired.  Very tired.  It’s hard.

A friend told me of a time that she was discouraged.  She was at a show, and was talking with the man who had been mentoring her.  She recounted children problems, worries about her husband’s job, illness, disappointment.  It was all so hard, she said.  Her mentor, who had been busy jotting notes about the things that were going on at the show, said without looking up, “Quitting is easy.” 

My friend stopped speaking.  Quitting is easy.  But it was not an option those ten years ago.  She moved past that point and is doing well.

As for me, quitting is easy, I suppose.  Except that I can’t quit.  I am a writer.  I write stories.  I have stories to write.  I can’t go back.  I don’t want to.  And I have been through this before and may well go through it again, all things being equal.  I’ll survive.

So…  What can I do to get out of this particular situation?

I can wake up.  My job issues are behind me, along with that job.  I will set my timer for, say, half an hour.  And during that half hour I will write.  At my desk.  On my laptop.  No internet.  Just write.

Sales are down?  I’ll finish the various books, half an hour at a time, and get them out there.  

Writing doesn’t need to be lonely: I have begun to participate in writing activities.  Joined groups (including rejoining IWSG).  Maybe go on a retreat.

And I will get more sleep.  That’s more important than I realized.

The blog hop is here.  Check it out!

IWSG October 5, 2016: Getting started

Today is IWSG day. Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and all the other writers who support each other, make us all smile and think in this monthly hop. No one is mocked or sneered at. All are welcome. We have all been there.

Please be sure to visit our host Alex J Cavanaugh, and this month’s co-hosts: Beverly Stowe, Megan MorganViola Fury, Madeline Mora, Angela Wooledridge, and Susan Gourley.

The twitter hashtag is #IWSG

Visit the website and look around: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/
This month’s question is:  

When do you know your story is ready?

My answer is that it is never ready.  Or, at least I *think* it is never ready.  I was just reading one of my published books, one that I am really happy with, that expressed what I wanted to express and told, I thought, a good story.  The fact that it features two of my absolute favorite characters is an added treat.

I opened the paperback copy I had printed for myself, read a section and thought, “You know, it would work better if I expanded the various contractions and changed a couple words.”

I had to put on the brakes, hard, and admit that the story is set.  Too much fiddling makes the story stale.  (This does not mean that I won’t fix the odd mistake that I find).  

And now, I am going to reveal what insecurity has me by the throat at the moment:

It has been too long since I published.

…or, come to that, since I wrote anything really new.

The Memphis Cycle

I have a series of books set in New Kingdom Egypt (think Ramesses the Great) with a great many stories that can come off that.  I have my notes: the stories just need to be written.  

The Crocodile Fable

I have a short piece, a fable about a crocodile, that is nearly finished.  I just have to finish it:

The Orphan’s Tale #1
The Orphan’s Tale #2

I have a series set in 1830’s Paris with one completed, another nearly completed and the final one well underway.
I have other stories in varying stages of being outlined…

But I have published nothing in over three years.

Why?  Well, my father died in 2012.  That was a terrible blow. My delightful mother’s health took a downward spiral.  She had been caring for my father and now she was dealing with her own issues.  She needed surgery, she needed to be moved to a better place.  And she was far away from her family.

Work issues, travel issues (my mother lives 250 miles away) money issues.  I was, and am, very tired.   But I can feel things moving, stirring.  I have ideas.

…and I received some notes from readers:

I really enjoy your Memphis Cycle stories.  I have all of them in paperback.  I know you have one in the works: is it coming out soon?

I replied, and they replied enthusiastically. It made me smile.  And it started me thinking. 

It could be done.  The fable is about 40,000 words, the cover is finished.  I have some ‘shorts’ on the Egyptian stories that could be put together.  Something to please those kind people who wrote me and follow me.

I have some vignettes from the Paris story that I could put out.  Something to read.

Ramesses the Great never looked better…
And, things having eased up a little, I can set the Paris story aside for a bit to let the edits sink in.  I could take up some kind friends on their beta-read offers and put the manuscript out for review.

…and I could get to work on the full length novel that fits after the second book of The Memphis cycle.  Heck, I have a cover:

…errrrr….  Maybe I need to work on that…

(You aren’t down for the count if you can find something to laugh about, you know…)

Check out the posts on this hop.  Read, comment, enjoy.  I’ll be doing the same this evening.

Valor in Action and in Remembrance: an interview with Terry Wilson

The first Wednesday of the month is IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) started by  Alex Cavanaugh.  Please visit the IWSG site, and this month’s co-hosts: C. Lee McKenzieRachel PattisonElizabeth SeckmanStephanie FarrisLori MacLaughlin, and Elsie Amata

I am always insecure when I encounter a gifted writer.  Today I am happy to interview him:  Terry Wilson.

I am pleased and honored today to present my interview with Terry Wilson, a man of wide experience, with a sense of humor, a knack with a pen, and an understanding of conflict, courage and resolution.  I ‘met’ him through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award fora, and always enjoyed his contributions.

I learned that Terry had written a book (at that time) set during the Kent State Massacre: The Blanket Hill Insurgency.  Over the next several years he produced another also set during the Vietnam war but looking back to another war: Breaking Liberator’s Shackles . The Vietnam war was the event, as it was going on, and then afterward, that seemed to hang over my generation and form my society afterward.

Terry’s third book, Tarnished Valor, touches upon the Vietnam one more time.

I am happy to present my interview with Terry.  Enjoy the excerpts from his books.  I have inserted geotargeted links to his books (they will take you to whatever Amazon site you use) as well as links to my reviews.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

You have done a great many things in your life -combat veteran, writer, devoted husband (you’ve done a lot of other things: what are they?) Which of them did you find the most challenging?

Because of my respect for 58,272 men and women who died in Vietnam, I must make a clarification related to this question. I served, but I did not see combat.
I’m no different from any other human being who has lived for many decades. As a child and teenager I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where my faith was nurtured and ethics were stressed. My father was a high school coach who taught me the rewards of hard work. I participated on the football, wrestling and track teams. I held my high school’s record for the 880 yard run. My dreams were to either become a pastor or an architect.
Following my time in the Army, I became an architect. Millions of children have been educated in school buildings I had a hand in the design and construction of. I’ve served on the boards of a number of non-profits, and I enjoy fishing and golf.
As with everyone, I’ve been faced with problems. In the early Nineties a striving architectural practice I built was wiped out by a default judgment from the court when my attorney failed to respond to motions for sanction brought against me associated with what was a nuisance law suit. All of my resources were wiped out, and this led to a divorce from my first wife of twenty years.
Being able to hang on to my belief in the Lord and conduct my life with ethical principles has been the greatest challenge I’ve faced. When things go bad, it’s hard to not want to seek revenge, but I have been able to move on. These challenges have helped me renew who I am.  
You have written three books that touch upon hope, despair, renewal high hopes, faith and love.  What inspired you to write them?
I would add humor, ego, self-doubt, conflict, loss and ethics to the descriptors of this question. Humans are forced to deal with all of these on a daily basis. I strive to portray every character as a complete person. None are perfect, and none are all bad. I want the reader to feel empathy for each…. even for an antagonist.
Now I’ll address the inspiration for my novels. Finishing my enlistment in the Army in 1970 I returned to Kent State to continue my education. The University was a different environment from the one I left three years prior. The culture changed. The once patriotic campus, steep in tradition, exploded into a battleground of unrest and revolution. I witnessed the tragedy of the shootings that rocked our nation and the world. The change and clash of cultures that occurred at Kent and elsewhere were in need of telling, and to tell the story I wrote The Blanket Hill Insurgency.

The following excerpt is from the 41st Chapter of The Blanket Hill Insurgency:

Six were seated around a large round table in Ray’s Place. Because of his shortly cropped hair, Jim stood out from others in the campus town tavern even though he wore civilian clothing. Richard, Linda, Jed, Ruth and Ann all agreed to spend the evening before the start of classes for the Winter Quarter having pizza and beer. It was something Jim had missed doing, in a campus tavern, since he graduated from Ohio State. Having just arrived, the conversation was mostly light and dominated by the upcoming weddings. Ruth was intrigued by the conversation, and Jed acted as though he didn’t notice her interest to everyone’s amusement.
It was revealed to Jim that Linda and Richard had become god parents. This led to Ann starting a more serious conversation.
     “Their godson has parents who protest against Vietnam,” Ann said abruptly. “I can’t believe the lying they do to make our being there sound wrong.”
     “Like what?” Jim asked.
     “Kelly, the kid’s mother, said we intentionally destroy farmer’s crops. She said it has forced whole communities to move to city slums so they won’t starve.”
     Jim reached out and grabbed Ann’s hand and said, “She’s not telling a lie. We are, but there’s a legitimate reason for it.”
Ann was shocked as she asked, “What?”
     “The country has political divides, and there are large rural areas sympathetic to the North Vietnamese government. Many living in these farming communities are farmers during the day and grab weapons at night… sometimes during the day. They are the Viet Cong.”
     Jim had everyone’s attention.
     “The Cong have killed and wounded thousands of our soldiers. We target these communities by dropping a chemical on their fields. It’s called Agent Orange. It’s very effective in killing the crops, and without food, the people, rather than starving, move from the area, mostly to cities where slums have sprung up. I feel sorry for the people, but it has probably saved thousands of American lives.”
     “There’s no other way?” Ann asked.
     “Short of our leaving, I doubt it.”
     “So we should leave?” Linda asked.
     “No Linda… that’s not what I’m saying. A majority… most of the South Vietnamese people support their government. If we left, they could not stop the country from falling to communist rule. I agree with our being there, and I would hate to see us pull out before we complete our mission. Three men in my platoon died for the cause. I’d hate to see their sacrifice go in vain.”
     “Couldn’t we just find the farmers that are the Viet Cong?” Ruth asked. “Why should whole communities have to suffer?”
     “Most of what my platoon did was called search and destroy missions. Our job was to find the Cong. We’d search hamlets and farms looking for signs of enemy activity. We’d look for stashes of weapons and ammunition along with tunnels they would conceal themselves in. We were successful in identifying some of the Cong, but we never knew if the next person, be it a man, woman or child would be the next to aim a weapon at one of us.”
     “Child?” Ruth exclaimed.
     “Yes. Hundreds… maybe thousands of children fight with the Cong. Following the firefight where two of my men died, we surveyed the Cong that were killed. Along with twelve men there were three children probably between ten and twelve years old. All were clutching A.K. Forty-Sevens.”
     At that moment one of two coeds who were seated at an adjacent table walked over to Jim and slapped him across his face as she screamed, “BABY KILLER!”
     Jim simply looked at her and did not say a word as the bartender raced to the table from behind the bar.
     “What’s going on here?” he barked at the coed.
     “He’s a baby killer.”
     Looking at Jim the bartender asked, “What’s she talking about?”
“She must have overheard part of our conversation. I’ve just returned from Vietnam, and I was…”
     “You don’t need to say another word,” the bartender said to Jim. He addressed the coed. “You… young lady… get out of this bar. I don’t need your kind of trouble in here.”
     The coed and her friend left without arguing.
     The bartender shook Jim’s hand and announced, “Welcome home. This table’s tab is on me.” He lowered his voice and continued, “My brother was killed in the Iron Triangle.”
     Jim stood up and embraced the bartender, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

As a child my hero was my Uncle Kirby. During the Second World War, he endured the horror as a prisoner of war held by the Japanese. He would never talk about his ordeal, but when I was able to watch an old Japanese Army Newsreel showing the capture of him and his bomber crew, I decided to write Breaking Liberator’s Shackles. The novel is based on his experience, but the bomber crew is fictional characters…. after all, my uncle never talked to me about it.
     The following is an excerpt from the 1st Chapter of Breaking Liberator’s Shackles:

     My excitement was intense. I couldn’t wait to see Doug. Since he was inducted into the army, this was only the second time he came home. He had a two week leave the past Christmas holiday.    

      The drive into and through Cleveland to Hopkins Airport seemed to take forever. Traffic was very slow moving because of road congestion caused by a rare Saturday Cleveland Browns’ game. This was actually my first trip to the airport. At Christmas Doug traveled by bus, and when we dropped him off the day he entered the army, he left on a train from the Terminal Tower station. We could see the tower dominating the skyline as we crept along on the crowded inner-belt of the expressway.    

      Eventually we arrived about a half hour before the scheduled arrival of Doug’s plane.          Emma and I found our way to a gate on Concourse A where Doug’s plane was scheduled to unload. We waited, with a handful of others for a United flight from Washington National Airport. I was surprised that what was referred to as a gate was a second story waiting area with regular doors identified with gate numbers. Between these doors were large expanses of windows through which we could watch the commercial jets as they arrived or departed. It amazed me how aviation had advanced since my days in the Army Air Corp. I watched as a jet taxied to an adjacent gate.
      I pointed to the jet as I addressed Emma, “Look at that.”
     We watched a motorized enclosed and moveable telescoping ramp that was connected to the building being moved into position at the door of the jet. The passengers were provided direct access into the terminal while protected from outdoor weather conditions.
     About a minute later a much smaller aircraft pulled up outside of the window. Rather than a jet, it had a single motor and propeller mounted on each wing. My mind screamed at me. Except for the porthole windows to the passenger cabin, it was the same type of aircraft I flew on during my return trip to the States following my imprisonment. The plane was a DC-3, a commercial version of a C-47 Skytrain, a military cargo plane.
     Rather than connecting with a movable walkway, a set of steps was wheeled into position at the cabin door of the plane.  I watched in anticipation as passengers exited and descended the stairs to the pavement and walked toward the terminal. It wasn’t long before Doug appeared.
     “There he is,” Emma stated. Tears of emotion were trickling from her eyes.
     “That’s our son,” I replied. “He really looks sharp.” It wasn’t an exaggeration.  The way he wore his uniform was a sight to see. The khaki uniform had what appeared to be razor sharp creases. The pants were neatly tucked into the tops of highly polished black leather boots. Sergeant stripes dominated the short sleeves of his shirt, and a deep-green beret crowned the top of his erectly held head.
     Doug disappeared from sight as he entered a door to the terminal building, and I noticed those who exited the plane in front of him started to enter the waiting area through the door labeled with the gate number. I grabbed Emma’s hand and led her toward the door. I felt lumps in my throat, and I was filled with pride when Doug appeared. Emma raced to him and engulfed him with a passionate hug. The smile on Doug’s face was electrifying, and then he leaned over and kissed his mother’s forehead. I wished I would have brought a camera with me to catch the moment.
     Once Emma released her hold on our son, Doug extended his hand to me and stated, “Great to see you sir.”
     I accepted his firm handshake and responded, “Great to have you home Doug.” I then took my other arm and wrapped it around him in a hug. “You don’t need to call me sir. Dad is fine.”
     Doug laughed and stated, “It’s my military training.” He quickly looked around and asked, “Where’s Mary?”
     Emma answered, “Someone had to milk the cows. She wanted to be here.” Emma then realized Doug left the plane without any baggage. “Don’t you have luggage?”
     “We’ll have to pick it up at the baggage claim area. I was told it will probably be about a half an hour before it’s there.”
     “So…” Emma stated. “We have some time to kill,”
     “Let’s catch a beer,” I offered. “I saw a small tavern along the concourse on our way in.”
     “Sounds like a great plan,” Doug stated.

(My review is HERE.) 

One of the ugliest periods for my generation was the War in Vietnam. The ugliness continued for veterans who returned, and it continues to this day for many. Tarnished Valor is my tribute to all of the men and women who served during Vietnam. It focuses on the aftermath of the War that still haunts many veterans years following return to “The World”.
     The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Tarnished Valor:

     I have just arrived in Philadelphia at the Thirtieth Street Station. Following the hassle of getting myself off the train and to the taxi stand in front of the terminal… had to negotiate barriers with my chair… I feel the chill of an early morning wind. I am cold. My field jacket doesn’t have a liner, and I left my sweater with Judy.
     I roll my chair to a taxi, and I can see the driver look at me, but he doesn’t seem interested in giving me a ride. I tap on the passenger side window, and he takes his time lowering it.
     “I need a ride to Carver High School.”
     He stares at me. I have the impression he’s about to refuse me a ride.
     “Do you have twenty dollars?”
     “I do.”
     “You’ll need to pay me up front.”
     I take a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and hand it to his outstretched hand. He gets out of the car and helps me into the back seat and hands me my crutch. He folds my wheelchair and places it in the trunk along with my knapsack. Once he returns to the car and pulls away, he asks, “You’re sure you want to go to Carver this early in the morning? I doubt if it’s open yet.”
     “I do.” I decide to take a verbal jab at him for his rudeness. “This is my first time in Philly. In almost every other city taxi drivers collect after reaching the destination. It’s different here.”
     “Can’t be too safe. I’ve been burned once by a vagrant, and I’m not about to be burnt again.”
     “I’m not a vagrant.”
     “Can’t tell that by looking at you.”
     I rub my face with the palm of my hand and realize I need a shave. I’m wearing an old Army field jacket and trousers with a dirty knee caused by yesterday’s crawl up the Capitol steps. I’m minus a leg, and I realize I probably look like a vagrant. I haven’t had a shower, so I probably smell like one too.
     “Yeah… I probably look pretty bad. I’m from Cleveland and flew to D.C. yesterday. I planned on being back home by now, but my plans changed. I didn’t pack a change of clothing, a razor or toothbrush.”
     “Why were you in our nation’s Capital?”
     “I joined a large number of other disabled to crawl up the Capitol steps. It was a protest to encourage Congress to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
     “I saw that on the news last night. They showed this little girl…”
     “Jennifer Keelan. She was amazing. I crawled up just behind her.”
     “Watching her choked me up.”
     “She’s an amazing kid.”
     The traffic is fairly heavy, and I’m amazed to see the flow of vehicles blocked by trucks making deliveries by double parking on the street as they are unloaded. Back in Ohio this would never happen without tickets being issued by the police. What’s even more interesting is how traffic will get by these temporary roadblocks. Cars, where they can, quickly drive over the curbs onto the sidewalks to pass.
     We pass areas with large numbers of people wrapped in blankets sleeping on sidewalks. This leads me to comment.
     “I’ve never seen so many homeless. Is it like this during the really cold nights?”
     “Always. You’ll notice some of them are lying where steam is rising from under them. They have the warmest location on top of manhole covers to the city’s steam pipe tunnels.”
     After we pass Temple University, we turn off of a wide boulevard onto a side street, and the driver comments, “Carver High School is just a few blocks ahead. Why are you going there?”
     “I’m looking for a good friend I served with in Vietnam. I thought he was killed. After I finished the crawl up the Capitol steps, I visited the Vietnam Memorial. His name wasn’t on the Wall.”
     The driver is silent until he stops the car in front of Carver High School. “We’re here. I hope you find your friend.”
     “I do too.”

My review is HERE

What started you writing at all?

When I was a high school student, a fantastic English Teacher dropped a bombshell on my class. We were all assigned two novels to read and write a literary comparison. The novels assigned to me were Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham and The Citadel by A.J. Cronin. Following my initial alarm, I read and (to my surprise) thoroughly enjoyed both books. I was awed by the ability of each author to hold my attention and rip at my emotions, so the writing of the literary comparison became a labor of love. I also wondered, “Could I also write a story as potent as these?”
Fast forward a few years. I was in the Army, and during my free time I found that always getting drunk with the guys was not for me. I started to write, and by the time I completed my military service the first draft of a novel was also complete. The novel dealt with the struggles of a young man in college (at a fictional university) and his time in the Army during the Sixties. Following my service I returned to Kent State University to continue my education. I was there to witness the horror when National Guardsmen fired into a mass of students…. killing four. At that time I knew my novel would need to be reworked incorporating Kent State.
The novel remained dormant until I retired from the practice of Architecture. I did conduct research for it during those years. I needed to understand the cultural changes and events at Kent during the three years I was away in the Army. They were dramatic. I retired, dusted off my old manuscript and wrote. One could say it took me forty-seven years to write The Blanket Hill Insurgency.
I know that a storyteller tells a story, and you do.  But what is the ‘core’ or ‘kernel’ of your story?  Aside from keeping your readers engaged, what do you hope to convey to them?
I describe my writing as, “Novels of significant cultural and historic events wearing a costume of fiction.” The events I write about need to be remembered. They are part of the fabric of who we are and the changes in our cultural norms. I have noticed many young people today have little understanding of the world their parents and grandparents grew up in. What were highly offensive words have become common in conversations (such as “bitch”). It is my sincere hope the stories I write may help younger generations appreciate where we were and those who lived it to remember a time that has been lost.
When you write, do you put yourself in your work, somewhere?  Perhaps in disguise?  (If so, I’d like an illustration of the character that really is you.)  Do you express your hopes and dreams?
Many of the experiences I have had are molded, following modifications, into scenes depicted in my novels. As an author I find this essential to create stories capable of evoking emotional conditions a reader will believe. I also, not often, have inserted myself into the work. In The Blanket Hill Insurgency a collegiate cross country race provides a back-drop to a scene. I actually was one of the runners in the race. In Tarnished Valor a scene takes place in a building where I operated an architectural practice. My name is mentioned in a short dialog between two of the characters.
I asked you to send me excerpts of each of your books, which I post now.  -Which one do you, yourself, like best?  Why?
This question is like asking, “Which of your children do you love the most?” While writing a novel, I become so engrossed and attached with the work. They all are very much a part of me. Having said that, my most recent novel, Tarnished Valor, I consider the most important. It focuses on a tribute to a generation of veterans who gave their all and returned home to face ridicule and problems that haunt many until this day. It’s a story that had to be told.
If you had something to tell someone who is considering reading your stories or writing, or just facing life, what would it be?
I believe my novels are a good read for any age. They honestly depict who we were by placing characters into historically accurate times and events from our not so distant past. They cross a multitude of genres including historical, romance, tragedy, faith-based and military/war. Offensive language is only used where necessary to properly depict an action, and words selected are never based on political correctness (it’s the way it was).
Related to life, due to medical conditions I may be nearing the end of mine. If I make it, I’ll be seventy my next birthday, and looking back I know life is short. We are on this earth only once, but while we are here, we affect the lives of many. Live life to the fullest, but live with integrity.

I’m often asked about the photo on the back of my books. The dog with me is Rascal, and he’s a bit older now. When I write, Rascal is always on the floor at my feet. When I finish writing a section, I’ll read it aloud.  Rascal is attentive. His tail wags as I read happy passages, and he whimpers as I read emotionally sad passages. He probably reacts to the tone of my voice, but Rascal has become my first critic.

IWSG July 7, 2016 – The Best Thing Someone has Ever Said About Your Writing

Today is IWSG day. Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and all the other writers who support each other, make us all smile and think in this monthly hop. No one is mocked or sneered at. All are welcome. We have all been there.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 6 posting of the IWSG will be Yolanda Renee, Tyrean Martinson, Madeline Mora-Summonte , LK Hill, Rachna Chhabria, and JA Scott! 

Visit the website and look around: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

This month’s question is:

What’s the best thing someone has ever said about your writing?

I was lucky enough to receive two new reviews on one of my books this past week.  They were both good reviews, not too long, but each one ‘got’ the core of the story, expressed its connection to his or her enjoyment and said that they were eagerly awaiting the next installment (which will be coming out sometime early next year.)

That was a wonderful surprise, since I don’t haunt my listings looking for reviews, and since I have been out of circulation for two years due to family concerns.  But the best thing someone said about my writing happened over twenty years ago.  I was fresh out of college, had been working for maybe two years, and had started writing what would become A Killing Among the Dead, the last book in my Memphis Cycle.  It is based on a great tomb-robbing scandal during the last dynasty of the New Kingdom, and edges into fantasy in some areas.

I have written since I was nine years old.  This story, however, which came to me during my ancient history studies, was my first serious attempt with an eye to publication.  I was polishing (and polishing and polishing) it, and I took it with me on a vacation to my family’s cottage in the New York finger lakes.  My father’s cousin, Sally, was visiting with her children.

I liked Sally.  She was a fun person, though sometimes pedantic, being a teacher of sorts –  a professor, actually.  That’s about all I knew about her, except that she had written a book about growing up in the fingerlakes.  She learned that I was ‘writing a book’, asked if she could look at my manuscript, and (surprisingly) I handed it over and went off to enjoy sailing, fishing, driving through the upstate New York.  Several days later she handed back my manuscript, which she had marked up, and told me that she enjoyed reading it, but she had a few suggestions, and hoped that I didn’t mind.

I think at that point I had begun to realize that my flying fingers did not automatically put out fabulous writing, and this story, which I had overhauled, was in need of more work.  I thanked her, chatted with her and her kids, enjoyed the rest of my vacation, and looked over her comments when I had a moment.

Sally had some suggestions:  ‘Instead of ‘digging your own grave’ you might want something more in period such as ‘carving your own tomb’.  There were others, but her notation at the very climax of the story actually blew me away.  The hero, thought to be dead, has returned to his command after spending several weeks in a tomb hunting the robbers and, finally, destroying them.  He dreams of the gods and the Land of the Blest.  And when he returns, his men are taken aback.  He has changed…

Sally noted in the margin that I wasn’t quite saying what she thought I meant.  That maybe I should read T. S. Eliot’s Return of the Magi, especially the last stanza.  She thought it maybe expressed what was in my mind:

but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

In a sentence or so she had put her finger on what was at the very heart of my story, at the change in my main character, the change that he undergoes in the course of his struggle and his ultimate victory.  She ‘got’ the story and she was able to unlock it for me.  I now know that it was very rough – and she saw the gem within it and helped me to shape it.  It was a magnificent gift.

I learned years later after her death that she had been the coordinator of the Syracuse University Creative Writing Program for many years while Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff were in residence.  Her credentials were very impressive…  And she had spent her time on my little effort.  She had ‘gotten’ the point, and she had shown it to me.  And she had enjoyed the story.

That was the best thing anyone has said about my writing.
        He walked past the bodies without another glance and continued toward the tomb entrance, waiting for the echo of the warning trumpet.
        The echo never came.  Instead, faces appeared at the tomb entrance and people stepped out into the sunlight to watch his approach.  He could hear excited whispers, and then his guardsmen came forward, their bows in their hands.  They, too, were staring with a mixture of awe and fear, and some of them raised their hands to shield their eyes, though the sun was behind them. 

        Wenatef could see Ramses standing high on the hillside.  The young man raised his hand in greeting and then hurried down to the tomb entrance.

        Wenatef paused to look up at them and note their expressions, then squared his shoulders and began to ascend the hill toward the opening.  Several of the men fell to their knees, their hands about their protective amulets.

        Wenatef saw the motion and paused.  They don’t know, he thought with a sudden lurch of his heart.  They will never understand, even if I explain… 
Thank you, Sally.

IWSG – May 4, 2016

Today is IWSG day. Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and all the other writers who support each other, make us all smile and think in this monthly hop. No one is mocked or sneered at. All are welcome. We have all been there.

The awesome and very nice co-host for this month is Chrys Fey 

Visit the website and look around: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

And visit the other posters in this blog hop, enjoy the thoughts and the advice and most of all (for me, at least) the realization that everyone has insecurities, and we can enjoy them, work with them, and understand that at times they motivate us.

My post this month deals with something that I certainly feel.  This graphic expresses it beautifully:

Don’t we all feel that way?  We write, we think, we plot, we agonize over characters, we feel angst over whether we are promoting our published work, polishing the work that we hope will be published, smarting from a rejection, worried about whether our beta-readers will like the story, and whether they will tell us to scrap it, worried that no one will be willing to read our manuscript, and wondering whether we still have the spark, since it has been over three weeks since we set pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard.

We know that this is all part of writing, and we try to hold our heads proudly (those of us who have been beheaded…  No, wait!  I am trying to express something profound and normal, and humor is out of place…  Or is it?  Hm.  I’ll leave the wisecrack in.) and soldier on.

So what can we do?  Realize that there are a lot of us soldiering on, accept that the feelings are going to arise no matter how fabulous you are.  Sarah Bernhardt, the great actress, had terrible stage fright before any performance of a part that people loved.  So we can acknowledge the worries, smile at them, and soldier on.  …And maybe share our worries with our nearest and dearest, whether friends, family or co-writers.

IWSG March 2, 2016 – Admitting That You Are Good

Today is IWSG day. Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and all the other writers who support each other, make us all smile and think in this monthly hop. No one is mocked or sneered at. All are welcome. We have all been there:


The awesome co-hosts for the March 2 posting of the IWSG will be Lauren Hennessy, Lisa Buie-Collard, Lidy, Christine Rains, and Mary Aalgaard! 

The 2016 Ossian award, named for the legendary Seannachie of Finn McCool, will be awarded this night to one of the finalists in the year-long contest.

It is the night everyone has been awaiting. One hundred and twenty-five authors have gathered, along with two thousand people, to learn who will be the winner…  You see the happy fans crowding at the border of the red carpet…  The flash of cameras…

The Ossian Award

Who will it be?  The entries have been read and shared and judged.

The Master of Ceremonies, resplendent in an Irish kilt with the O’Shaughnessy tartan (Shaughnessy being the Irish name for ‘Seannachie’ or ‘Bard’)

The name is announced…  The sudden silence is shattered by waves of cheering as the winner steps up to the podium.

She exchanges a ceremonious embrace with the MC, takes the award, a bust of the Seannachie, Ossian, looks at it, sets it down, and steps up to the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen.  It is with great pleasure that I accept the Magical Words award!” she says as a wave of applause fills the amphitheatre.  

She continues, “There were so many entered in this contest, seeking this prize, so many years of dreams and endeavors, reams of printer paper and gallons of ink, ballpoint or otherwise…   The sheer work that lies behind all those who entered this contest, whether or not they made the final few…”  

The audience murmurs appreciatively as the winner takes the award between her hands, looks deep into its eyes, and says, “And it’s about time that you came to me!”   

She said What???

The murmurs stop as though they have been cut off.   People stare, papers rustle, frowns begin to deepen.   …And she stands, the statuette in her hand, smiling imperturbably while various people resolve never to read a thing she writes, ever again.

So… what’s wrong with this picture?  Too brassy?  Demeaning?   In what way?   Was she speaking the truth as she knew it?  And if she did, what was wrong with that?

Well, there are ways and ways of saying things.  Arrogance is  never a good idea, but it is as big a lie as overdone modesty of the ‘Gee, it wasn’t any good at all’ sort.

I remember once hearing a talk that moved me profoundly.  When next I saw the professor who was the speaker, I told him, shyly, that his talk had meant very much to me, that it had given me much pleasure and comfort, and made me think of things in a different way.  All of this was earnestly sincere.

I remember that he stared and said, “Well, it really was not one of my better presentations…”  (Did that make me a liar, or simply tasteless?)

This is my thought for this month’s IWSG:   Are we wrong to acknowledge our own abilities?

I don’t think so.  We shouldn’t be shouting about how great we are, but by the same token it is fine to admit that maybe we are good enough for someone to entrust hours of his precious time reading our work.  

And it isn’t such a bad thing to be happy with ourselves even as we continue to try to improve.


Insecure Writers’ Support Group – February 3, 2016

Today is IWSG day. Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and all the other writers who support each other, make us all smile and think in this monthly hop. No one is mocked or sneered at. All are welcome. We have all been there:


This month’s co-hosts are:
Allison Gammons,Tamara Narayan, Eva E. Solar, Rachel Pattison, and Ann V. Friend!

We are The Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Well, I have a doozie for you:  what do you do with a writer who is not writing?

Not WRITING???  What ARE you, then?

Really, what if the writer isn’t writing?  Does that make him a  non-writer?  I mean, writers write, right?  Right?

At the moment I am taking a break.  I am right now formatting a book.  And correcting the odd issue with style (we do grow and develop) but I am deliberately not composing a thing.  I’m not even reading my several works in progress.  Though I’m checking my blog, and I don’t want to miss the IWSG, I’m not doing a whole lot else writing-wise.

I burned out, writing’s a chore right now, and I really need the break.

Am I a writer?

I certainly am.  I think I was born to tell stories.  It fulfills me, it gives enjoyment to others (generally), it’s a whole lot of fun, and I love it.

So, for right now I’m a writer who is resting.  Banking the fires, if you like.

I suspect we worry too much about whether we fit this mold or that.  We are what we are, and I’d say you all are pretty fantastic.

Back to resting and reading other things not my own.  I’ll do more formatting tomorrow.

Write on, everyone!

Insecure Writers Support Group January 2016

Today is IWSG day, the first of 2016.


You can join Alex J. Cavanaugh and all the other writers who support each other, make us all smile and think in this monthly hop.
No one is mocked or sneered at.  All are welcome.  We have all been there: 


First of all, congratulations to the writers selected for the anthology!  It should be really good! 
And…using this as a segue to my Insecure Writerly post…you are all so very very lucky that I didn’t submit for it because I am such a truly fabulous writer, one of you poor folks would have been bumped out of your slot! 

I would never say that, of course.  Based on my observations, it would not necessarily have been true.  But the notion does touch upon a strange contradiction I’ve seen in myself and in other writers.  I’d call it the ‘Rather Odd Dichotomy of Abyssmal/Sublime’.

Don’t we all think, in our heart of hearts, that we are really good, heartfelt, talented, gifted, sincere and dedicated creative writers?  I don’t know if I’d phrase it that way, exactly, but I think somewhere deep down we all think we’re really good.  We have The Gift.  We can Tell Stories That Enthrall.  (Well, they enthrall me, at any rate). 

But, really, think about it.  You all know you’re good and gifted. 

And yet at the same time, we just know that if we put our precious creations out there, they will be ripped to shreds and somehow, in some weird way, we think that maybe, just maybe, we deserve it.


Okay, that’s weird.  But – and here is my deep, dark secret that I am offering up – I find myself goofing off, checking eBay, looking at the news, following links to interesting places, fiddling with Pinterest—

Hold on, you say, what’s wrong with that? 

Well, because I have sat down (hundreds of times) with an idea for a scene that I am going to write, by golly.  Most recently, it’s two chapters, to be salted in my WIP, that introduce a new angle to the conflict that the character is having, and heightens the element of danger.  I jotted my thoughts, blocked some things out, got some feedback from a friend who is perhaps the best, most honest editor I’ve ever had.  It’ll make the story flow, it had scope for humor and danger and a touch of intrigue – Who IS that fellow??? – and I sat down, fiddled with Pinterest and GOGMSITE. (I digress here for a moment: anyone who writes historical fiction with a European slant and is interested in researching female costume/fashion should visit www.gogmsite.net/  It is a wonderful resource, full of images and run by someone who needs to be awarded something. Perhaps being named ‘Dame of the Empire’ or something.)

So…  Did I write the scene?  Well, I did crank out a page once I looked at the clock and squawked.  But I could have written the whole thing and fiddled with it the next day.  And I didn’t.  Why not?

Well, maybe because that would bring me closer to finishing the thing and having to show it to people who might laugh at it or pull it apart or sneer at it, or something.  …and maybe they would be right?

Does that lie at the bottom of our shyness?  That while we know we have The Gift, we fear that it won’t be obvious to others.  Or they will rip us to shreds?  Or sneer at our work?

 But, truly, how often has that happened?  How often have we done our best and had it destroyed by criticism?  For me, at least, not often.  I’ve had some pointed suggestions, some observations ‘You know, you use a lot of sentence fragments…  It does tend to divert the reader from the flow of the story…’

I don’t do that to others, and I only had one person do that to me.  She was in Preditors and Editors as an ‘Avoid at All Costs’.  Based on my information from the post office, she opened my envelope, scrawled a note on the manuscript I’d sent for her review, and stuffed it back in the mail within half an hour of receiving it.  Everyone else has been constructive, if somewhat stern.  Stern is nice.

I’ll be on the internet this evening reading Insecure Writer Posts.  Then I’ll spit out that chapter, which will bring me closer to finishing the WIP.  I will start sounding people out for beta-reads.

There.  That wasn’t too hard.   (I feel so much better!)

Insecure Writers’ Support Group November 4, 2015

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers’ Support Group (click the words to visit)

Today’s cohosts are: Stephen Tremp,Karen Walker, Denise Covey, and Tyrean Martinson.  

They will be visiting everyone and his brother and adding useful comments (I can attest to this) and are, in addition, interesting and useful contributors in their own rights.  Go ahead and visit them.  While you’re at it, stop by the web page for the IWSG: http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

**   **   **   **   **   **   **   

Like everyone who writes, I have spent time trying to stem the spate of fabulous (to me, at least) words that came tumbling from my fingertips (or my ball point pen, depending on where I was).  Words that said just what I wanted to, that surprised me, that were a delicious surprise and so very fitting to what I was hoping to produce.  Better, in fact.

Never mind the fact that everyone else was reacting to my (read aloud) words in a fashion that made me realize that they had ears stuffed with earwax and could not hear my wonderful words.  I  knew they were good.

And, actually, when I looked the words over and worked on them and straightened them out, they actually were pretty decent, said what I wanted to say in a way that I thought was good (you do, after all, have to have some confidence in your own ability.  Running around and saying ‘I’m just terrible!’ is no more modest and truthful than shouting that you’re the best writer ever to come along.) 

The times do come, however, when the words themselves won’t come.  When I’m too tired to write, even though I want to tell a story and have an idea where the story is going.  I”m just too tired.

That has been happening recently.  Things get in the way.  Time gets away from me.  I just don’t have the time (I think), or I just don’t have the strength.  Or – and this is a major concern for me – the two stories that I have in the works have become stale.  I just…can’t…move.

And we all, or at least I  do, need to write.  I’m a writer, aren’t I?

I joined NaNoWriMo, thinking that cranking out 50K words to flesh out one of my WIPs would be the perfect way to kick off a new, lively, vital endeavor.  1400 words per day is not bad.  Let us be reasonable, here.  1400 words equals about 6 pages of double-spaced 12 point font typing.  A piece of cake.  

The first day of NaNoWriMo, I got in late, sat down, fired up my trusty laptop, and got ready to just write.  I closed my eyes, positioned my fingers on the keyboard, and typed my little heart out.  And, ladies and gentlemen, here is a part of what I wrote, as I discovered the next day, trembling with anticipation.  I kid you not, cross my heart and hope to die:

(Note: this would be book 3 of my Memphis Cycle, set in the Egypt of Ramesses the Great)

It was midnight and he was in the library of Opet.  Room after room, filled  with the scent of parchment and ink.  Tallow-topped torches at in the brackets along the wall. The golumes stood in rows against the walls, their contents carefully noted, tyheir writers loggedin the register.  He knew there were some there written by Amunhorkhebechef, Crown Prince of Egypt He di dot try to locat them.  His memory of the dispatches he had written were devastaig to thos wh o did hot know better.je [pire dfrp the fasl at jos be;t/  oOt was

He was writing by tye light of a single lamp.  Troop movements, ,bits of wisdom from thutors Iii. This was wor that he enjoyed, but it was gruelojng  His ajestywrote I a tight hand, rigidly daoj Ahw dlla  OR DE HWWLRH, ” HW iwa deo ou

 Je njad dpe jos dit9oes [er the guidance received fro hiu pve tjselves  She was a queen, a beauty, a woje to love a follow through light.

Dang, that’s good, no?  Just makes you want to read more, right?  Rush right out and pull out eveything that Diana Wilder has written, it touches your soul so profoundly.  Yeah, I agree.  743 words of pure fabulosity!  Wow, whoopee ding!

Yeah, right…

I scrapped NaNoWriMo.  It was a rough patch for me, and I might as well accept it, thought I.  These times come.  They’re the bad times that balance the good times through which you must work.  Hitch up your courage, take a deep breath, resolve to hang in there and put out a word here, a word there…  Watch it add up…

Well, folks, let me tell you what happened today.  I was sitting at my ‘real’ job, and a sudden twist of plot popped into my head. What if…?  Hmmmm…  It was a busy day.  I paused and thought about it, long enough to make an impression so that I could remember it, and moved on.  This evening, sitting with friends, I had a sudden idea for a conversation that would follow that twist.  Perfect!  It would work!  It brought new life to the story and added depth!  I opened my purse and looked for my notebook.

Not there.  Dang!  I cast about for something to write on: anything at all!  And I found some cash register receipts.  The backs were blank.   I did have my trusty pen (three, in fact).  I started jotting.

My friends watched me in silence, their eyebrows raised.  One of them said “Do you want to borrow my notebook?  I have one in my purse…”  I gave her The Look and kept writing.  And here is what I have:

Not terribly legible, but it captures a bit of conversation that I can work with.  And, more importantly, it captures that spark of inspiration I had at my desk.  I am very familiar with these characters, I know their quirks, and if they existed outside my own head, I’d invite them to lunch in a little local place I discovered that makes the best BLT sandwiches and has moreover, poetry nights with open mikes.  It would be a lot of fun.  They are people of humor and substance.  And they had, somehow, stepped in and saved my story.

…And NaNoWriMo is back on.

The point to all this is that, yes, the difficult times are there.  Creating anything always involves a struggle, as a philosopher said.  We all tend toward Chaos, and creating something out of nothing is fighting against that chaos.  Or so one writer whom I really admire said.  Whatever the underlying cause, my lesson, which I pass on, is not a new one:

Hang in there.  Let things work together, do what you can – and be prepared to be surprised.

Visit the other blogs on this wonderful hop.  I guarantee, the other bloggers have a lot more to say, and a lot more on point.  (Cough!)


Lost In a Sea of Excellence IWSG, October 7 2015

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers’ Support Group (click the words to visit)

The name of this group is the ‘INSECURE’ Writers Support Group.  I think joining the words ‘insecure’ and ‘writers’ is sort of an oxymoron.  I don’t know any writers who aren’t, in some way, insecure. 

They worry about (pick one or two or three): 

  1. Whether they really have any talent
  2. Whether people are going to buy their books
  3. Whether people are going to read  their books, even if they buy them
  4. Whether the beta-readers, editors, friends, fans, facebook friends, whoever, are saying good things about them just because they feel sorry for them
  5. Whether what little talent they have is fleeting and being corrupted by time, senility, work concerns, and general burnout 
  6. They see other writers and, if the others are halfway good, fear that they (the insecure, angst-ridden writer, I mean) will look like complete, talentless doofuses (‘doofi’?) and be required to repair to their private places of solace and fade out of public knowledge.

Well…  I’m overstating things, I admit.  But sometimes you have to, to make a point. 

I write Historical Fiction, sometimes with an alternative slant, sometimes with a touch of fantasy, often with a tinge of romance.  I actually read my own books (after a year or so has passed) for enjoyment.  I published fairly late after being shelved for fifteen years due to the actions of an agent who features rather prominently in Preditors and Editors.   

I look around and see fabulous people, traditionally or independently published.  I see a torrent of talent, wondrous works of imagination, humorously, delicately, rowdily written.  Literally works of art.  They are wonderful.  And I look at my own and see…  What?  Am I too close to be able to see? 

I was recently approached by a wonderful writer and a fabulous lady who writes splendid historical fiction, has done a lot of good and has energy that I truly envy.  She had been directed to a post on my blog by a dear friend who also blogs, liked it (it was about 9-11) and, after speaking with my friend, invited me to participate in an unusual blog hop highlighting historical fiction with women as the main characters.   

There were medieval queens, women who sailed, women who faced hardships, who lived through wars (modern and ancient), who lived in alternate historical timelines and had gritty, beautifully written adventures.  I had heard of a good many of these people.  And, it seemed, I had a book, set in the American Civil War with a Southern Lady as the protagonist, that fit the features they were highlighting.  Would I like to participate? 

Who, Ma’am?  Me, Ma’am?
Me?  Would I?   

Of course I would, after my initial astonished delight.  It is a joy to ‘meet’ these people and share common ground and – dare I admit it? – celebrate my own Lady (you’ll meet her next week).   

We are all writers.  One writer whom I interviewed, Hart Johnson, put it so beautifully, I can do no better than to cut and paste her comment:

If we just keep working at it long enough, we will eventually be good enough to share… And not only that, it is one of the few undertakings that somebody ELSE creating something fabulous doesn’t threaten us. In fact it helps us. Because the more great stories there are out there, the more readers there will be looking for still more stories. So we can love and support each other in earnest. 

…About that Blog Hop… 

Here is the first post in the blog hop, with links to the other featured writers this week:

It is an honor to be part of it!  And maybe – maybe – I do belong.

What has you feeling insecure?