July Status Report: 2012 Goals

Standard

July was an odd month where I felt like I wasn’t doing enough towards my goals, but when I sat down this weekend and assessed my status I was pleasantly surprised.  It turns out doing even the smallest thing each day really does make a difference!

At the same time, I did go on vacation for a week and I decided to make it a real vacation.  I didn’t write a thing and I barely got online, which gave me a lot of extra time to simply be. Time with family and green trees gave my muse and I a much needed breath of fresh air.

As I move into August, the school year is starting even earlier than the last. I’ll once again be busy with a day job, but I’ve got a schedule worked out to make sure I stay on track with my 2012 goals.

1) Submit five pieces of writing to contests, journals, literary magazines, or the newspaper.

So far this year, I’ve submitted three pieces which means I’ve over halfway done with this goal!

Earlier this month, I submitted a story entitled Blueberry Hunt to the Write It Your Way (Writer’s Digest – Summer Stories) contest.  Its the longest piece I’ve submitted all year and I’m proud of how it turned out. Finalists will be announced in August. Wish me luck!

The Poetry Poll series I’ve been posting over the last couple of weeks will come to an end this Friday. This is pretty exciting because the top three poems selected by my readers will be submitted to  Wordrunner eChapbooks‘ call for poetry relating to the theme of “found.”  All polls remain open until the finalists are announced on Friday, August 3.  If you haven’t voted yet, I would really appreciate your input. Go here, to catch up on any poll you might have missed.

Finally, I’ve still got my eye on these little gems:

Sixteenth Annual Zoetrope: All Story Short Fiction Contest

Your Story #44 (Deadline: August 27th)

2) Finish minor changes in my first novel.

The first-person conversion experiment is going extremely well. I sent the first chapter to a beta reader who thought the change makes the character’s voice stronger, helps the story move faster, and changes the overall tone for the better.  After completing the second chapter, I have to say I totally agree!

With such positive results, I’ve decided to go ahead with a full manuscript overhaul. Sadly, this sets me back on a couple of goals this year, but I honestly think this is for the best.  Just as I keep track of word count for Novel #2, I will now be tracking converted word count for Novel #1 as a means to assess progress.

Converted word count:  7,657

3) Work on my second novel.

This has been another amazing month for Novel #2. At the beginning of the year, I set a mini-goal of reaching a total word count of 60,000 and I’m thrilled to say I have met that goal. However, the most exciting development is the fact that I am approaching the final two chapters in the book.  I am beyond excited to be so close to the end as these final scenes are the ones that inspired the entire story in the first place.

I am anticipating steady progress over the next month, but the last scenes are where I intend to take my time. The story has changed organically several times, which means I need to dig through my notebook more than usual in order to line up character arcs and story details.

Starting word count: 59,596
End word count: 64,427
Total word count: 4,831

4) Send out five query letters and be ready with a synopsis.

Considering the status of Goal #2, this goal has been put on hold.

5) Keep up with my blog.

As usual this has been no problem!  This month I posted 28 times and I am so thankful for every reader who decided to come for visit. Your clicks, comments, and Likes mean the world to me. Thank you so much!

Its been a busy blogging summer, but my posting schedule will change in August as I am heading back to work. I’m looking to stick to a consistent schedule of Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.  This way I have time to work on both novels and other creative pursuits, while also squeezing in that day job!

6) Network more with other writers.

I’ll admit I was a little lazy on this front and I wish I had better excuse than “I was knitting.” I learned how to knit this month and I’m having so much fun with it Facebook and Twitter have taken a back seat. Come August, I’m looking to get back in the social network game!

Thanks so much to those who did hit the Like and Follow button this month.  I promise I’ll be around a little more frequently!

My Facebook Page has grown from 165 to  178Likes.

On Twitter, my followers have grown from 265 to 283.

To follow me on either network, please visit my sidebar.

7) Inspire other writers to keep writing.

As always, I hope I am a positive presence!

– – –

c.b.w. 2012

The Story Behind Solitary Confinement

Standard

The votes have been cast in To Know or Not to Know and the win goes to full disclosure of the ailment afflicting the character and the inspiration behind Solitary Confinement. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read something a little different and vote in both polls regarding this piece.

To catch up or reread the short story discussed below, please visit this link:

Solitary Confinement

If you don’t want to know everything about what inspired this story, stop reading after this point!

* * *

It’s often said that every piece of fiction has a grain of truth nestled somewhere deep within the story and characters.  In the case of Solitary Confinement, I took something I knew rather well and turned it into a metaphor that explores the strength of the human spirit when pushed to extremes.

For a number of years, I struggled with the pain of migraine headaches. It always bothers me when someone arbitrarily uses the word “migraine” to describe a really bad headache.  Migraines are an entirely different kind of pain that effects every part of the body.  In my case, the pain was debilitating and quite terrifying.  The descriptions of pain that I used in the story, (i.e. ants armed with lightening rods, the ice pick, the sledgehammer, a thousand baseball bats, muscle seizures, etc.) all came from my migraine journal that I kept for my doctor.  These descriptions gave me the starting point I needed to expand the emotional sense of what its like to experience overwhelming pain.

The emotional element of this story is based solely on the premise of feeling helpless.  This is where fiction comes in as a way to exaggerate the loss of control that comes from being unable to stop the pain.  I put the character on a hardwood floor to remove any possibility of comfort and to emphasize the paralysis created by the migraine.  It was important to establish this right from the start, especially for readers who have never experienced an affliction of this magnitude.

The scattered pills just out of reach are a mechanism to show desperation.  On a personal level, this has a lot of meaning to me because it reflects my own experience of never finding a magic fix to stop the migraines.  By putting them out of her reach, my intention was to create an illusion of help that doesn’t exist.

Hallucinations are one of the more frightening elements of severe migraines.  The more intense the pain, the more pronounced they become.  The references to shadows that aren’t there and voices whispering are also derived from my journal.  Extreme pain does funny things to your senses and messes with your perception of reality. To showcase the fear this creates, I opted to elevate this phenomenon by creating a less obvious hallucination that even the reader believes is real.

The main character makes several internal cries for a nameless man:

He said I could call . . .

I need him. I need help.

Her desperation for his presence escalates as the pain intensifies.  I purposely increased her internal dialogue to show her ever-increasing helplessness and give the impression that this man exists.  In truth, he is not real. The man she calls for represents a cry for help that can’t be heard. Physical pain may be paralyzing her, but she is also trapped by emotional turmoil and anxiety brought on by fear.  She is entirely alone in this situation, which creates a strong need for someone to help her.  In effect, she needs him to be real in order to cope with the pain.  This concept is furthered by the character’s belief that she’s done something wrong and the pain is her punishment.  His forgiveness would make the pain stop, but just like the pills he remains out of reach.

I never fully reveal this hallucination in the story because I want the reader to see him the way she does.  In this sense, the reader falls into the same view of reality that she experiences.

Overall, the character’s heightened level of pain is meant to reflect a state of helplessness when something is out of our control.  No matter how much we hope, need, or crave, there are moments when those things are irrelevant.  To that end, the only thing we have left is the ability to hold on with all our strength.

– – –

Call it writer’s curiosity, but what was your interpretation of the story?

– – –

c.b. 2012

Hop and Seek

Standard

Hmmm . . . where are my little bunnies hiding?

– – –

There’s no bunny in here, but this looks yummy!

– – –

Oh! Look who I found!

– – –

No bunny in this one, but these are pretty.

– – –

There you are!

Pssst . . . who gets the chocolate?

– – –

“Hoppy” Easter!

May your Easter be full of joy and surprises.

– – –

Yeah, I’m a dork.  I had entirely too much fun making these little bunnies!

c.b. 2012

Ivan Klima: The Best Writer You’ve Never Read

Standard

A few years ago I discovered a remarkable writer while visiting Prague and have yet to find his equal.  Ivan Klima is a renowned writer in the Czech Republic, but relatively unknown in the U.S. as he is often overshadowed by another Czech writer, Milan Kundera.  While Kundera is brilliant in his own right, I find him a bit too cynical.  Klima tends to be a little more optimistic in his exploration of humanity and his prose flows with an unparalleled elegance.  He manages to transform the lives of ordinary people into powerful emotional experiences that often challenge readers to consider a different perspective.  To this day, I cannot fathom why Ivan Klima is not more widely read.

Here is a partial list of Klima’s works along with summaries and some of my favorite quotes:

 No Saints or Angels

A jaded older woman falls for a younger man who renews her faith in love and herself.  At the same time, her teenage daughter lost in the vast fields of growing up learns that love must extend beyond herself.  These two stories intertwine amidst the communist regime of Czechoslovakia wherein Klima creates the bold metaphor that a mundane existence can be just stifling as an oppressive government.

Favorite Quote:

  • What happens to people who spend their lives afraid to voice their opinions?  They stop thinking, most likely.

My Golden Trades

A collection of short stories where each story centers around a different job.  Everyday life is explored through various characters including a book smuggler, an archeologist and a land surveyor.  Each trade offers a not only a unique perspective on the human condition, but also explores city and country life in Czechoslovakia.  While wholly fiction, Klima infuses his own experiences into each story as he worked most of the featured jobs himself at one time or another.  This creates a unique social record of Czech life that is often forgotten or ignored in the Western world.  Furthermore, Klima again brings to light the danger of oppression and the damage it does to the human spirit.  Each trade represents the important of freedom and self-expression no matter the outlet.

Favorite Quotes:

  • People miss opportunities every day.  One can only try not to miss them through laziness or fear.
  • When compassion and the commandment that life should be lived in dignity have been lost, there are no stories, only cries of horror.

My Merry Mornings

Another collection of stories, but they are a slight departure in that they are more cynical and rough around the edges.  Usually, Klima exudes undying hope for humanity to break free no matter the trap, but in this collection it seems as though pessimism is nipping at his heels.  The darker, more poverty stricken aspect of society is explored through a narrator that is never clearly defined.  There is much debate over whether it is one character or several.  There is a story for each morning of the week that showcases life as it exists on the docks, the marketplace, and in other dark corners Prague.  The grittier approach gives Klima the perfect avenue to offer a poignant reminder that life is a short journey that ends much too quickly. 

The Ultimate Intimacy

Often considered one of Klima’s best works, The Ultimate Intimacy follows the story of a pastor who preaches about the importance of love, yet can’t truthfully say he knows the fullest extent of love.  Daniel Vedra’s marriage is one of convenience held together by the need for comfort and the shared responsibility of children.  Part of him does love his wife, but its out of respect more than anything else. While he would never admit it, he craves something deeper.

Daniel is a master of commitment when it comes to faith, the church, and his family.  His world is firmly entrenched in a predictable routine until a new woman begins attending his services.  She is married as well, but is lonely and frightened of her husband. Yet, she will not leave because she is bound to him by her commitment. She is drawn to the pastor because of his genuine belief in love and he to her because she stirs something in him he didn’t know existed: the ability to be intimate with someone on an emotional level. When the two meet, fate pulls them into a realm neither expected. Thus begins an affair that tears at the fabric of faith, loyalty, and truth.

Both characters evolve in surprising and heartbreaking ways. A woman discovers she capable of more love than she ever thought. She finds she has the strength to hold on, even when the rope is very short. She starts to believe in something bigger than herself, and even starts to have faith that her life is worth living. The pastor, so ardent in his faith, finds he has been hiding something from himself for far too long. His doubtless faith in God in which he built his entire life around is really just a security blanket he clung to as a means to experience unconditional love. In fact, he has always doubted the questions that couldn’t be answered by anything but faith. While he gains the exhilarating and intimate feeling of true love, he loses an entire life of faith.

Klima brilliantly leaves it up to the reader to decide if the trade-off was worth it.   He challenges readers to define what love means in every context even when rules are broken or norms defied.

Favorite Quotes:

  • Money, like power, deflects one from the essence of life.  People who think about money tend to forget about the soul.
  • . . . the moment you stop making up your own mind you risk being taken advantage of.
  • The only thing we have to bind another to us is love and understanding.  All other bonds can be broken or feel like shackles.
  • Most people gaze neither into the past nor the future, they explore neither truth nor lies, they gaze at the television.
  • Something is happening to people: they are turning outwards instead of inwards.
  • Whenever the conscious mind is absent, anything can gain a foothold, and mostly it is something bad, not something good.


– – –

While Klima is not easily found in most mainstream bookstores,  his work sometimes shows up in used bookstores and is often readily available on amazon.com. If you can find him, Ivan Klima’s work is well worth the read.

c.b. 2011


The Way Back

Standard

For the third time, Flynn was certain he was going crazy.  He could’ve sworn the ring of a phone, the chime of a computer, and the squeak of a chair played the first three notes of a familiar song.  It was the same tune he thought he had heard twice before – once this morning on his way to work and once right before lunch.  How peculiar that it should haunt him on this ordinary Tuesday.  Over the years, his memory had wedged the melody between obsolete knowledge and discarded whims.  But, he still knew each note and every lyric with uncompromising clarity.  As well he should, considering he wrote them with his own hand.

Years before his hair turned gray, he played guitar and was quite good at it.  He had a knack for writing songs with catchy lyrics and spry fingers that could rip through any series of chords with ease.  There was a time in his life when busking for a living actually seemed like a viable career option.  Back when he was a skinny kid, life was a wide expanse where pursuing flights of fancy was considered a rite of passage.  He still liked to think of life that way, but an ex-wife, endless hours of toil in a cubicle farm, and the passing of twenty years shrunk that once very wide expanse into the size of a pinhole in which he could barely move.

Every day he and his scrappy band of two schoolmates would play street corners along Oxford Street or wherever anyone would listen and toss a few quid.  Flynn smiled at the thought of their faces so young and beset with scruffy three-day-old beards.  Sam pounded the bucket drums, while Duncan made the harmonica moan.  Sam’s hands were always red and raw from slapping the buckets for hours on end.  Duncan’s mouth always permanently swollen, sometimes with a blister or two.  They always joked that the harmonica gave him herpes.  Ha!  What good friends and good times!

He looked at the cubicle walls that surrounded him like a fence that kept cattle from escaping.  The bald, ashen walls reminded him of himself a little too much.  He reached across his desk and picked up a few paper clips.  He dropped them one by one into a little pile.  Plink.  Plink.  Plink.  The coins people once threw into his guitar case would jingle with almost the same tone.  How he loved that sound! Though, it was never really about the money.  How could it be?  There was never any to be had!  Something else entirely drove him to pick up his guitar day after day, for there was nothing quite as euphoric as playing his soul out on a street corner.  His voice would reach to the sky and set him free.  It was magic.

Every song he had ever played rushed through him as though he were a battered jukebox.  Through the static of decayed memories, the music was still alive . . . it was once something he displayed so vividly without hesitation.  Each day had been a celebration where the music was a savior to those drowning in the city . . . or in life as a whole.  His voice echoed off the brick walls, stark concrete, and comatose streets.  Sam’s relentless beat embraced Duncan’s wailing harmonica as they fought against the city’s rigid code.  Together, they stood at the center of a beautiful reprieve of lyrics and a soothing cascade of notes.

Continue reading