“It’s never too late, in fiction or in life, to revise.”

I’m editing my book.

This is a big deal to me, for many reasons.

Y’see, I have a very…complicated history with my book.  I wrote it for NaNOWriMo about 7 years ago.  I asked a few people if they would mind reading it for me, and help me edit it.  My boyfriend, girlfriend, and best friend all said yes.  I sent it to them.  If I remember correctly, my girlfriend started off saying she was really busy but would get to it.  We’ve since been married and divorced; she never got to it.  From what I remember, my boyfriend at the time (now my ex-husband) told me my writing was too flip for him and he couldn’t help me.  My best friend said he couldn’t get past the first few pages because it wasn’t really his style/genre.  Maybe I should just let it die and move on to another project, I thought.

Over the years, when I’ve mentioned my book and the trouble I was having motivating myself to edit it and finding people to help me edit (I’ve never had the money to pay someone, though one day, maybe.), a few friends or partners said they’d love to read it and told me to send it along.  I did.

Nothing.

I get it.  Life gets in the way.  Or my book sucks.  It could.  I’d just prefer to hear that and why.  One of my pet peeves in my college writing classes was that people would think saying “it’s great” or “I didn’t like it” counted as constructive criticism/praise.  Could you please tell me why you thought it was great?  What part(s) were great?  Or what about it did you not like?  Is there anything you can think of that would make it better?

My most treasured teachers, professors, and fellow students knew how to give constructive criticism.  When I was in high school, it was hard to hear that I used too many clichès.  But you know what?  It helped me dig deeper, beyond what everyone says about things and really, truly think about what I was trying to say.  Does this character’s significant other “complete” her, or does he “miraculously have a copper key to a hidden room in her soul”?

Yes, it was hard to hear the bad criticism.  But it made being told I had a real ear for dialogue and being favorably compared to J. D. Salinger and Tobias Wolff all the sweeter.

I tried telling my friends and partners that, seriously, if it sucks, tell me.  Just tell me why.  Most recently an ex-girlfriend had said she’d take a stab at it, but life…exploded in more ways than one.  My sister also has a copy.  She got the furthest, that I know of…about a quarter-ish in.  She said it was good and she liked it, but it was a little darker than she was expecting.  Also that she recognized a lot of what I’ve gone through in it.

Not gonna lie; she’s right.  Shit gets heavy in my book.  And there is a whole lot of my life in it.  Fictionalized aspects of real people in my life are peppered amongst the characters and plot.  Since I was writing under a severe deadline, I went with the old adage: write what you know.

The other day, when helping a friend edit a memorial for a dearly departed, said friend remarked how much fun it was to write and edit with me.  I concurred, and said we’d have to write something together.  Or, I ventured, “maybe I should sit down one day (or weekend) with you and edit my damn book.”  He replied that he didn’t know I had a damn book.  When I explained the whole history from above, he told me to send it to him.  Many feelings popped up: trepidation (no, not another friend who’s going to just let it go or not tell me it sucks or something.  Please.),  fear (what if he does read it and it sucks?) and guilt (why don’t you get your ass in front of a computer, edit your own damn book , and see if you think it sucks.) Pushing them aside, I  asked if he was sure.  He responded with a simple, “yes.”

So I sent it.  This was on Thursday.  Last night, he apologized for not getting to it yet.  I laughed, refreshed by his earnestness.  Then I reassured him that it had only been a day and I didn’t expect a full report, or even him to have cracked it open yet.  “Now, six months down the line, if I don’t hear anything, then I might be a little upset.”  He told me that wouldn’t happen.  We’ll see.

But the most important thing is that I was thinking about that conversation with him tonight in the supermarket.  And I was thinking about the characters and…they started whispering to me again.  They were still there.  Still waiting to be worked on, to be brought more fully to life.  And then I found myself…with the doc open in front of me and…editing.  So, naturally, I had to run and blog about it, so I could be sure to optimize my procrastination time!

However.

Now that I’m done with this blog post, I’m going back to editing my book.

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My life is not a yard sale.

imageFor the second time within about a twelve month period, I’m reading “It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken” by Greg Behrendt & Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt. Cozy that this husband and wife team wrote a breakup book. Makes me want to throw up a little. Which won’t kill the deep ache inside, and I hate throwing up anyway, so nevermind.

It’s a helpful book. Must be, since I’m re-reading it again, as another marriage has fallen apart.  The things I underlined and the notes I made are interesting, in that tragic kind of way.

For instance, I admit to laughing out loud when I got to the page on the left again.  If you don’t know who Virus the Clown is, go here right now.  And brace yourself for awesome.

Anyway, it can seem like it’s trying too hard every once in a while.  There’re only so many times I can be referred to as a Superfox, Saucy Girl, and Smart, Happening Lady before it gets a little too cheeky.  But the balance is right on the line, so overall I’m good.   And it still packs a nice little punch for being contemporary:

“The first rule of the smart girl’s breakup is NO CALLING…the same goes for text messaging, instant messaging, BlackBerrying, blueberrying, or any other form of communication. “

And also funny enough to make me smile a bit during a time where it feels like my heart is the new rehearsal space for STOMP! the musical:

“You want to burst through this experience with dignity, grace, strength, and whole new set of windows” (from the “Breakover”) section.

It’s also chock full of good advice and things to think about:

  • “Putting down that pint of ice cream may not FEEL like the right thing to do, but if you change your behavior first, your feelings will follow.
  • “When a marriage or any significant relationship collapse, the sadness and grief can be overwhelming.  In the midst of all this heartache and pain, you have to comprehend and adjust to the idea that your whole universe has been upended, even when you know it’s the right thing.  Going through a breakup is awful.  It’s a full-body experience.  Every nerve ending feels it constantly, and every second feels like an eternity in your head.”
  • “Actions speak louder than words and his actions have led him to have a naked party with someone else.”
  • “Try shooting for feeling ‘different’ instead of ‘amazing,’ or ‘less depressed’ instead of ‘all better’.”
  • “How can it be over?  Because it is.”
  • “Take off your victim pants.”
  • “When you feel the urge to crawl into bed, you need to call a friend and make a plan that forces you to get out of the house.  Instead of sitting around feeling sad and broken, you want to be doing something that makes you feel strong and resilient.”
  • “It doesn’t take that much self-control to set boundaries for your grieving process that are as simple as ‘I’m not going to lose my shit in public today and I’m going to wear something that makes me look good’.”

And while I don’t want to use this journal as a place to be all waaaaahhh about my life, I think it’s justified to explore a little of the pain so I can also record the growth.  The tagline is, after all, “recording goals, happiness, encouragement, & growth.”  Here’s some growing.

For instance, I haven’t taken part in any of the overindulging I did when my first marriage split up.  Though I try to hide it, straight up Nutella gives me the dry heaves now.  I’ve tried to get over it, because Nutella is just so damned awesome.  But much like the Reese’s debacle of my youth, I got too cozy with Nutella during my first divorce.  The fact that I haven’t been downing pints of ice cream, jars of Nutella, or bottles of wine shows me that I’ve grown.  (Go me!) And I’m glad for that.  I’m actively trying to make better choices; plus, I can’t afford bottles of wine.

So I take trips to the library and the local bookstore, just to soak it all up.  I’ve accepted subbing gigs at work even though the last thing I feel like doing is being peppy and working out.  While I was there, I also took a class this week, thanks to the benefits of my free membership.  I eat at least one meal a day, go to choir rehearsal, read, try to eat with my family, drink plenty of water, write, talk to my friends (who’re AMAZING), and do freelance work as my brain allows.  None of it’s easy.  Most of the time it sucks. But somehow, I will get through this.

“I’m wild…I’m wild awake.”

Nope, that’s not a double typo in the title. It’s lyrics from Tylan’s new album “One True Thing.” Delicious emo folk-pop. The personal resonance I’m feeling towards this album is both exhilarating and terrifying. Between “Vigil,” “Wild Awake,” and the quietly explosive “Fool Me Again,” the album is perfect for me right here, right now. I’m wild awake…both in life and in the fabulous city of New Orleans!

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My first night was fantastic; a few choir people and I toured the French Market and then I went out for drinks, an LGBTQ art gallery opening, and dinner with local friends. They showed me awesome little local places and attractions, like Touchdown Jesus, in all his glory in the picture below.

The vibe around here is incredible, our room has a balcony you go out a window to get to, music is playing, there’re fountains all over the place (I adore fountains), the hotel courtyards are gorgeous, there’s so much to take in. It’s just what I needed and I’m so grateful to be here.

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Southern charm & children

Picture it. The post office. In the deep South. A hot and humid afternoon. I haven’t had more than three hours sleep, my debit card got declined when I tried to get lunch, there’s a long ass line, and I have one last envelope to fill out before I can get on the ever-growing line to send everything out.

While I’m writing at the counter, a little girl around five or six years old with a seal puppet on her hand comes over to great me.

“Hi. You’re pretty.”

Ummm…okay. I guess this is what’s happening now.

“Well, hello there. You’re pretty, too,” I reply, pen still poised.

Her sister, about three or so years older, sporting a bunny puppet on her hand, decides to come over and join her.

“Hi, you’re very pretty. So’s your shirt,” the older sister informs me.

“Hi. And thank you. You’re both very pretty, too.”

“This is my seal,” the smaller girl tells me.

“That’s cool. What’s his…or her…name?”

“Her name is Wavy.”

“That’s a good name. Hi, Wavy.”

The older sister pipes in. “My bunny’s name is Logan.”

“I like that name. It’s nice to meet you, Logan.”

“She’s a girl.”

“Okay.” I smile and there’s a pause. I think maybe they’ll wander off to introduce their seal and bunny to someone else, and I also don’t want to be the creepy woman in the post office who’s talking to random children.

“We just came from the library.”

Right. I’m in the South. This isn’t creepy, its adorable and innocent. I put my pen down and smile at the girls.

“So did I! I love the library.”

“You did?” the younger sister happily asks, smiling at the coincidence.

“Yes, I did. I love to read. Do you girls like to read?”

The older sister lights up.

“I love to read! She,” pointing at her sister with the Logan the Rabbit hand, “can’t read yet. She’s only five.”

“I’m only five.” Little sister solemnly confirms this fact.

“She’s going to kindergarten in the fall.”

“Then you’ll be reading in no time!”

The little girl’s face lights up and then her seal starts chomping on the countertop. Logan, not to be left behind, starts to dine on the countertop as well. It happens to be the part where there are post office stickers that explain which slips of paper you need for what types of packages.

“Wavy and Logan seem hungry.”

“Well, we just got them. They’re very hungry!”

“It might be better to eat that part of the counter, though,” I suggest, indicating the smooth blue part with no writing on it and no slips of paper that people might have to get to. “You don’t want them to chew off the instructions. How would people read them?”

Both girls giggle and move their pets to the plain countertop.

The older sister thinks ahead. “We have carrots at home. I’ll give Logan carrots when we get home. Wavy needs fish, but we don’t have that.”

“Carrots are good for a bunny,” I agree, thinking about the night their mom has in store for her, what with her precocious children feeding real food to the library puppets.

At this point, the girls’ mother finishes up with the postal clerk and comes to gather the girls. She smiles at me and tells them to say goodbye. They do, as do Wavy and Logan. I go back to writing out my envelope with a big grin. A silly, sunny, little interaction like that is one of the reasons I love living in the South so much.

“For heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul’s own speech.” Or: Fuck you, music.

For blowing me apart with a single album. Song after song. Unrelenting, reflecting pain and heartbreak and hope back at me like a full length mirror in a room flooded with daylight. It hurts my eyes. It hurts my heart. It just hurts.

It’s not like I’m new to music doing this. It’s why I love music even while I curse it. The Dresden Dolls did it to me with their eponymous album; “Half Jack” dropped a bomb in me that exploded over the course of years. “Delilah,” which found a studio recording (finally) on a later Dolls’ album and “Have To Drive,” which started out as a Dolls’ song but wound up on Amanda Palmer’s first solo album, are still two of my most favorite songs ever. The orchestral and choral crescendo that “Have to Drive” crashes into on the studio version had me sobbing in my car, driving a dark highway the first time I listened to it.

Fuck you, music.

Fleetwood Mac’s “The Dance” wrapped it’s arms around me and spirited me away into the first stages of womanhood and true spirituality. “Gypsy” and “Rhiannon” and “Gold Dust Woman”…they’re like parts of me now. They speak to me of the imperfect mother that I warred with but love immensely, the boy I fell in love with who turned into the man that divorced me, the first woman I was ever able to say “I love you” to because she cornered me in the middle of garden and forced it out of me. I’ve used “Gypsy” in an audition; people smiled and clapped. I worked it into one of my own songs. My sister, aunt, a dear friend, and I sang it in the car right before we got out and I married my now ex-husband. That experience was empowering and perfect, even though the marriage wasn’t.

Of course there are others. I remember pretending to die, dramatically collapsing against the couch every time the cannon fire went off in Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (only to spring back up to “die” once more by the time the next one rolled around.) I never knew, at seven years old, how much that song would impact my life later on.

Dear Gods, don’t even get me started on Harry Chapin. Introducing me to his music is one of the best gifts my ex-husband ever gave me. “Burning Herself” was the first song he sang to me and…he couldn’t’ve known how spot on he it was. I trusted him with the painful secret of why that song resonated so deeply with me. He was the first person outside of my mom and dad whom I ever told. I’ve been working on a blog about that for months now…

Fuck you, music.

For getting into places inside me that I’m afraid of or hurt too badly so I don’t want to see. For making sense of the chaos I feel. For showing me that I’m not alone. When I find myself thinking I have this crazy stupid life that no one else can relate to, I’m proven wrong, yet again, by music. Musicians are out there who may not’ve gone through the exact same things I have, but since we’re all human, it’s pretty damn close enough.

This time around, the fucks go to Tylan (of the folk-pop trio Girlyman). Her solo album, “One True Thing” finally dropped on Spotify today and I’ve been listening to it. And just…weeping. It’s too close. Too right. Too much.

Fuck you, music.

And by that, I mean thank you. A thousand times over thank you. Please don’t ever stop. Bring me back to myself. Give me courage. Unite me with people I never knew I had things in common with. Lend me your eyes so I can see further, loan me your heart so I can feel deeper, love me even though you’ve never met me. Thank you.

In other (people’s) words: the book edition.

CallingMeHome-JulieKiblerNowhereButHome-LizaPalmer

These are the two most recent books I’ve read. Clicking on each will take you to the reviews I wrote for the Cannonball Read 5 race to read 52 books in a year in order to donate to a kid’s college fund who lost him mom to leukemia a few years ago. It seemed like a good cause to read books I was going to read anyway, but I didn’t count on certain months of this year leaving me with no desire to read or write. That sucked. But now I’m drinking things in, have updated my Goodreads account, and am soldiering on trying to complete the “whole” Cannonball I signed up for in January. I’m only 11 books in, but I’m going strong and have a string of books coming to me from library holds.

However, reading these two books (and the last Kushiel book, but that’s a whole ‘nother post) has been like someone pouring a glass of sweet tea on my head in the middle of a hot spell. There are some similar themes: obviously from the titles, ideas of home and the strong ties to it; love; family relationships; and definitely the South. Since the fourth grade, I’ve had an affinity for both Southern fiction and historical Southern race relations fiction. I’ll always remember my fourth grade teacher, Mr. Stevenson, reading “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” to us, his voice rumbling like thunder come alive in our classroom. To this day, that’s one of my top ten favorite books of all time.

As I grew older, my love of black fiction expanded out of the South and all over the world (one of my favorite books from college was Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “Nervous Conditions” set in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe) and even into a fictional racial dystopian world where white people are the new black. If you haven’t read the YA series Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, you so should. I’ve only read the first book and one of these days will get my hands on the other two in the trilogy. But the first is worth the price of admission alone. And on the other end, my love for Southern fiction expanded to include Rita Mae Brown’s lesbian books. “Venus Envy” = Fantastic.

I may not’ve been born and raised in the South, nor am I black (though it is possible, though unlikely, since my maternal great-grandparents owned a peach plantation in Georgia) but both the Southern mentality of “we don’t hide our crazy, we put it on the front porch and give it a sweet tea” and the warring racial tension mixed with layers of propriety actually spoke volumes to me, growing up fat in an unstable, alcoholic family. I understood what it was like to have people judge you (and act according to those judgments) with one look. Stupid. Lazy. Unworthy. Ugly. I remember fighting with my dad over his antiquated and downright disgusting views of different races (and gay people.) My mom once told me that she showed him “Roots” in it’s entirety and he miraculously wasn’t racist for about two years. But without regularly being exposed to different ideas and also insulating himself with bigoted company…I guess it wore off? I don’t understand it. When I was a teenager, I vowed never to think of people like that, and definitely not to treat people like that. My mom told me racist, bigoted people are afraid. And angry. And underneath it all, sad. My dad, love him though I do, is a very fearful, angry man. Who’s turned into a very sad man underneath it all. After all, “angry is just sad’s bodyguard.”

That quote is from Liza Palmer’s “Nowhere but Home.” The main character, Queenie, spends her time running from her past: her small town Texas roots, the boy who was deemed too good for her, and the reputation of her tramp of a momma. There are so many parts of this damn book that I relate to, but that title quote is one of the best quotes. Anger and sadness. I’ve been fighting with both of them lately.

The other quote, also from “Nowhere but Home,” that keeps running around in my head is “I need to start believing I’m worthy of being courted.” Because I…somewhere inside, I guess I don’t. I don’t know. What I do know is that when I read “Calling Me Home,” a love story that starts in Kentucky in 1939 between a white physician’s daughter and the black son of the family’s housekeeper, I was presented with a love story for the ages. The quiet strength and enduring love Robert had for Isabelle, and she for him left me in tears at various points. She sacrificed her family for him (granted, her mother and brothers weren’t much of a loss) and he gave up studying medicine in college to get a job to pay for their room in a rooming house in Cincinnati. They left Kentucky and got married in Ohio. In this day and age, that’s sacrifice enough, but in 1939? That’s monumental. It’s brave and passionate and wonderful. While there are many quotes and passages that resonated with me, the only one I can find floating around the internet is still appropriate: “The heart is a demanding tenant.” That it is.

So I’m sitting here at 5:35 in the morning trying to figure out the future. Trying to believe I’m worthy of being courted. Trying to figure out the demands my heart is making. Trying to figure out what the next chapter of my love story brings. Thankfully, I had these two books (and the Kushiel series, but again, whole ‘nother post) recently and a boatload of strong female characters to help me along the way.