Category Archives: Beginnings

Writing Between Once Upon a Time & The End

After I finished writing the first draft of my latest novel, I thought I had succeeded in crafting a new genre.

How unaware I was of the dangerous second draft.

Upon rereading the manuscript, I noticed the story fell apart in the middle, although the ending was exceedingly strong. My intention was only to fix the glue between “Once upon a Time” and “The End.”

After editing the first 100 pages, I hit the middle. The sludge depressed me. How was I going to make sense of the mess? The characters had evolved, but not consistently. The conflict had escalated, but unrealistically. The complications were more complicated, but required charts, graphs, and a Power Point presentation to understand it.

Luckily, my daughter came to the rescue. She sat down with me one evening and asked me why my mood reflected the rain clouds in the overcast sky. I confided how I was mired in the middle of my story.

“What should I do?” I asked.

My daughter thought it over. “If I was the main character, I would go to my best friend.”

It seemed like such a simple action, but it cut through the dense confusion that I almost cried from relief.

Immediately, 50 pages disappeared from the manuscript. I started writing where my daughter suggested and a whole new middle unfolded effortlessly.

By the time I reached the third act, the characters had evolved and the conflict needed a new resolution. What was I going to do? I loved the original ending. It was strong. It was unconventional. But it no longer worked.

I had to write a new ending.

Is the second draft perfect? Hardly. But it is one step closer on the road toward publication.

New Year, Same Goals

Welcome, 2017! Make yourself at home. You’ll be here for a while.

Don’t mind the mess. I’ve been working on my goals. Yes, the same goals every year. I’m hoping one day to meet at least one of them.

Thanks for throwing confetti and singing dance songs. I know you’re just trying to get me to smile. I’m sorry I’m not much for partying right now. It’s been a rough start, ruminating on all the things I thought I would have accomplished with half of my life already over. My boyfriend says I’m successfully living Plan B. But, honestly, who wants to proudly say they aren’t achieving their goals, but life is good?

My boyfriend insists the goals I have set out for myself can only be obtained through luck, and it’s not my fault that I’m unlucky.
He’s not the only one who believes this myth. My youngest sister says we were cursed by Di Suk, the oldest uncle on the Chinese side of the family, who said we weren’t really Lams because we were girls and we would eventually marry and become part of our husbands’ families. None of the Lam girls are currently married. They might have been married, but they’re divorced now. They might be dating or living with a man, but they have never become part of anyone else’s family. They are still Lams. My youngest sister says the curse can be broken if one of us marries a Chinese man. She is currently dating an Asian in the hopes of breaking the curse.

I’m not superstitious although I am religious and some people say it’s the same thing. I believe there is a Higher Power who guides the universe and that His Will is often not my own. Often I’ve prayed to align myself with God’s Will in the hopes of reconciling my life with a life of the Greater Good. Only I think I’m miserable because of it.

I know you’re about new beginnings, 2017, and you didn’t come here to listen to me complain, which has become a daily habit, from what you’ve said. I just wish I had already marked those goals off my spreadsheet and created something new to work toward and achieve.

At least I’m not like the people who risk their lives to climb Mt. Everest. Some die even after reaching the top. I don’t know if it’s a happy ending or not. But at the very least, they’ve accomplished something.

Oh, all right. I’ll indulge you with a toast. Here’s to working toward one goal this year, even if it means we must die, either physically or metaphysically, because without a goal there is no passion, and without passion, there is no reason for living, and living is what we are here to do, right, 2017?

Holiday Madness

Five days before Christmas, my boyfriend finally gives his wish list. I overhear him tell his middle daughter that the batteries he wants for his power tools are not the big chunky ones, but the flat compact ones. I bought him the wrong batteries. My eyes well up with tears.

“What’s wrong?” my boyfriend asks.

“I hate Christmas,” I mutter. “I never buy you the right thing and then I always feel bad. Maybe you should leave me home this year and go shopping with your daughter. I just don’t think I can handle it. I’ve been under so much stress. I nearly lost it with the Wal-Mart clerk on the phone when she couldn’t find my daughter’s bike my mother ordered on behalf of my sister.” I wiped the tears from my cheeks with the back of my hand.

“You’re a mess,” my boyfriend says.

I move closer for a hug. He pulls me away and gently says, “Maybe you should stay home if you’re going to have a meltdown.”

I think about sitting at home, alone, except for the dog and then I think again. “Do you want me to come?”

He hesitates before saying, “Yes, but not if you’re going to fall apart.”

I promise I’ll give it a try to keep it together.

We drive to the first store on the shopping list. In the parking lot, I apologize to my boyfriend’s daughter. “The holidays are hard for me,” I say. “I spent the last 25 years in a family where it mattered more about how much you gave and what you gave then the fact that you had a family to give it to. I just can’t measure up and it always tears me apart.”

“You weren’t this bad last year,” my boyfriend says.

I nod. I wasn’t this bad. I was worse. But he didn’t know because I was paying for counseling and I still had friends I could confide in. This year I was taking my daughter to counseling and I had no friends other than my boyfriend’s friends who I could not share anything with unless I wanted it to get back to him. “You helped me through it last year,” I say.

As we stroll across the parking lot, my boyfriend reaches for my hand. I walk beside him and he swings our arms back and forth in an exaggerated arc until I smile from his silliness. Inside the bright store, we follow his daughter down the aisles until we reach our destination in the bedding department.

I think about the first time I wanted to buy my boyfriend a gift. It was a year before we started dating. It was a bat for softball but he wouldn’t accept anything from me because I was married.

“I want to buy you a bat,” I say.

“All the retailers who sell senior softball bats are online. It won’t get here before Christmas.”

“That’s why I wanted your list before Thanksgiving. I gave you mine in October. You’ve had three months to shop. I have only five days.” The tears threaten to overwhelm me again.

This time my boyfriend squeezes my hand and says, “Don’t worry about the gift. Christmas is about us.”

For the first time, I realize I’m with a man who doesn’t care that I can’t afford the dozens of gifts everyone wants. He’s just happy to be celebrating the holidays with me for the second year in a row. He looks forward to seeing me every night when I come home even though I can’t pay all the bills. He tolerates listening to me vent even when I’m an emotional volcano. And he works with me as I struggle through the first year after my divorce. He waits for me to untangle the knots I’ve made of my life, even when his patience runs thin and his heart strains to love me. The more I show him who I am, the less afraid I become.

And that’s the true spirit of Christmas.

Coping with Failure

Fire

Last night, I received my royalty statement for the third quarter for the last book I published in 2015. After viewing the sales and returns, the release of the reserve funds, and the final payment, an avalanche of emotion overwhelmed me.

I am a failure.

Not only can I not support myself as a writer, but I cannot earn enough to call myself a professional either. I am a hobbyist, as a co-worker at my day job called me.

A hobbyist.

To me, that is synonymous with failure.

After all, I devoted 30 years to writing, starting out with the first poem I published for $5.00 to the first article I wrote for $35.00 to the first book excerpt I sold for $2,000.00. But if I cannot pay my mortgage and put my child through college, I cannot call myself a professional writer.

That wave of emotion I felt consumed me for a couple of hours. I sat, editing chapter 28 of my book, a manuscript that is incomplete and hardly worth the paper it is printed on, when I realized sadly my status as a writer has nothing to do with time or talent. . .just sales and net income. Fans will go out of their way to pay for a copy of my work, and new readers still email me to say how much they enjoyed my writing and ask when the next book will come out.

I am, theoretically, a success since I am good at what I do and there is a market for it.

But, technically, if you define success as whether or not you can support yourself financially with your talent or your craft, then I am a failure.

To me, I am a failure because others call me a hobbyist. If I was a stay-at-home author, then others might not place the same label on me. But they have, and it hurts.

It hurts as much as the other labels I wanted and failed to achieve: wife and friend. I am no longer a man’s wife and am currently devoted to a man who has professed his desire to never remarry, which, therefore, eliminates the possibility that I might have an opportunity to reclaim that title and make things work the second time around, if I choose to stay with him. I have also lost the majority of my friends during my divorce and have yet to find replacements, which makes life rather lonely.

I could list other things I have failed at, but what would the point be?

Everyone has failed at one time or another. The important factor is how to move on beyond it and find the motivation and desire to continue to pursue something else, regardless of the consequences.

Most endeavors do not contain any guarantees of success or failure. They are born of hope and pursued with faith. The outcome is independent of the process.

It remains to be seen whether or not I accept the label of hobbyist and resign myself to my small corner of literary life complete with the knowledge I will always need a patron of the arts to support me, even if that patron is myself. All I know right now in this moment is I have to create because it is who I am as a person, whether that creativity takes shape as a book or a painting. To know who I am, regardless of the labels others choose to give me, is enough to sustain the battle wounds and continue with the journey. I am who I am, and no failure can change that.

Wish for The End

Make a Wish
Ideals, dreams, and wishes are not just for children

It’s been almost four months since I started writing my next novel, an anti-romance.

During this time, I’ve spent almost a month in the middle slogging through the difficult challenges and complications that culminate in the story’s climax.

I’m moving through the last 100 pages, eager to reach the denouncement, yet intuitively knowing there must be one last plot twist before the story wraps up and everyone lives unhappily ever after (since it’s an anti-romance).

What I’ve discovered so far is that dreams and wishes plague our psyche, both individually and as a culture. Those dreams and wishes, once thwarted, lead us to make decisions out of desperation to save what we cannot bear to lose — our illusions of whatever it is that will make us happy and fulfilled human beings.

Writing an anti-romance, while wonderfully pragmatic, challenges me to uncover the ways in which we unconsciously live out our desires to the detriment of ourselves and the ones we love the most.

I’m looking forward to that final plot twist and that unhappy ending, which may not be as unhappy as I originally envisioned. Only 25,000 more words will tell.

Muddle

Frustrated Woman Using Laptop

I’m in the middle of the first draft of my anti-romance novel and have hit the wall. I know how the story begins and how the story ends, but the middle is where I am fumbling.

Much like life imitating art, I often know what I want but do not know how to go about getting it.

And I know from experience the only thing I have going for me is the combination of patience and time and writing my way through it.

Many authors feel the same way about the muddling middle. Forty-thousand words into the story and the complications get so intense and the stakes get so high no one in their right mind would ever want to live through it if it was real life. So why do I willing sit and stare through tears at the screen as each painful letter is pounded out?

Because I want to get to the end where the conflict is resolved and everyone lives somewhat better even if it is an anti-romance. Maybe there is a funeral or a wedding or a showdown in the back alley of a bar where both parties realize they’ve drawn blanks, but whichever way the story ends, the puzzling middle is long gone.

In the midst of sleepless nights, I struggle to write through those 40,000 words to crest the summit and head toward those last 40,000 words to finish.

But until I start coasting toward THE END, I’m a miserable person to work with, live with, and love….

Nuggets of Time

After publishing five books, no one asks, “When do you find time to write?” Instead, I am asked, “When is the next book coming out?”

No one wonders about the process, just the end product. No one assumes I work a day job, raise a family, or have other responsibilities. After all, most successful authors devote their working hours to writing and promoting their books.

But my story is a little different.

When a family is divided, the responsibilities multiply. I went from supporting one household to supporting two households. I went from caring for two children to five children. Everything in my life seemed to increase instead of decrease, except for time.

I’m learning to sacrifice things I have never sacrificed before so I have nuggets of time to write.

And still, the muse is not satisfied.

But I cannot quit my job, abandon my families, and run away to a writer’s retreat for 12 weeks to pound out a first draft. I must stick to these small wedges of time—five minutes here, two minutes there—to develop my next story even if it takes months to get the job done.

Starting a New Chapter

?

I have started writing my next novel.

An idea surfaced during a conversation with my boyfriend and his mother. I jotted it down in the memo pad on my cell phone and continued chopping vegetables.

The next day I woke up and heard the main character’s voice. I grabbed my notebook and began taking dictation.

The following day I wrote down other tidbits as they surfaced: memories and character sketches, scenes and dialogue, timelines and deadlines.

By the fourth day, I had enough to start my next book.

I wrote the first scene of chapter one today, and I’m thrilled.

It’s good to be writing professionally again.

Beyond the Page

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks fielding the fallout that comes after a divorce. From the public comments of “She’s a sicko to celebrate a divorce!” and “Who gets rid of a husband after 24 years of marriage?” to the private comments that cannot be repeated, I have been struggling to reconcile the image of who I am with the truth of who I am.

As novelists, we try to convey the emotional truth through the lives of our characters, whether they are protagonists or antagonists. We use the tools of our trade to create the depth needed to gain a reader’s sympathy or understanding. If we succeed, then our books resonate with our audience.

Once we step beyond the page, we novelists become just people, no different than the clerk in the grocery store you don’t give a second thought to once you check out or the aunt you text once a week to see if she’s okay. We are three dimensional people with three dimensional lives making three dimensional decisions, but we are sometimes treated like one dimensional caricatures by strangers, acquaintances, or people who say they love, support, and understand us.

Not everyone has the ability to walk in another person’s shoes and feel their pain, their longing, their hopes, or their fears. But as a writer, I would hope there are more people who are acutely aware and chronically compassionate, people who would never say, “There’s something wrong with them for behaving in a certain way,” not because they agree with our actions, but because they can see beyond their own sphere of beliefs, mores, and judgments.

Maybe this is part of the curse of being a writer. You become stuck in a world of make believe. You know anything is possible because you can create it. Good and evil. That’s why you persist in going forward through the thicket of protestors who cannot see beyond the image. You keep the faith because you know the emotional truth of who we are and why we’re here and how we are united.