12th and final S4C post: A Delicate Swoon

12- A Delicate Swoon

Whew, I can’t believe I finally finished my story and even procured the blessing of my fellow writing group members. Three thumbs up! I send it off to the writing contest, and then proceed to forget about it because in the meantime I’ve started my radiation treatments. The first week or so is a breeze, and I am feeling relatively sanguine about the whole business. By week three, I’m hurting, and by week five, I’m not sure I can take much more. And then miraculously it is over.

Back to recuperating again, I turn my energy full force onto my writing. Brenda has suggested web writing, and it turns out to be exactly the niche I was looking for. I discover the world of zines, and what with the quick turnaround time on my submissions and reader feedback, it’s perfect.

I have to admit that at first, I felt a bit exposed, putting my writings out there on the web for all the world to view. I can still hear Mom’s voice in my ear warning me about stranger danger, and I suppose in some sense, my readers are relative strangers. I mean, I’ve never met any of them face-to-face, and guess I’m not too likely to. Still, in a funny sort of way, that gives me a degree of anonymity and makes it okay, kind of like talking to strangers on airplanes.

One day, as I’m checking my email on my Blackberry for the tenth time that morning, I spot the joyful word “congratulations” in a subject line.  What could this be? OMG, my story has won the contest! Sweet. I don’t believe this, I absolutely don’t believe this. I am jumping up and down hootin’ and hollerin’. My husband and son come tearing into the room. “Mom?” my son asks dubiously, “You okay?”

“Oh, sorry to scare you guys,” I babble. “I’m just so happy. You know that story I wrote? The one that you made me take out all references to you? It just won first place in the competition.”

“We thought you were hurt,” my husband says reproachfully.

“No, no, just ecstatically happy. Only think, a mere six months ago, I had never written anything. And now, look at me.” I am gathering momentum and can’t be stopped. “I owe it all to my wonderful team of oncologists, my writing group, and yes, you, my family…” And here I break off to flash what I hope is a magical smile.

I notice out of the corner of my eye that they are both looking at me somewhat oddly. What? Suddenly I catch myself feeling a bit woozy. Whoa, the room is swaying. My hand flies up to my forehead, and I am falling into a swoon… My last thought before strong arms reach out to break my fall, is—hey, this is even better than the movies. I finally got it just right.

And this concludes the 12 part serial story “Just Write”. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

11th S4C Installment: Oz Revisited

11- Oz Revisited

“Well,” I say, after thinking about it a bit. “It isn’t really brains, heart or courage I’m after. And all I need to do to go home is to wake up. What I really could use though is a bit of inspiration for the story I’m working on.  A great hook for the beginning. More ideas for the conflict in the middle. And a real kicker at the end. Oh, and a soupçon of writing talent wouldn’t be taken amiss either.”

The voice seems to come from everywhere all at once. “Come back tomorrow,” it says. “I need some time to think this over.”

“More time?” I ask in dismay. “I’ve already given you all the time in the world. I can’t wait any longer. The contest deadline is in a week, and my writing group thinks the story needs a little more punch. Is it really that much to ask? After all, I have vanquished the wicked cancer. You promised to give me writing help when that deed was done.”

Just at that moment, there is a sudden commotion in the palace, and Toto knocks over the screen. In the place of the great wizard I expected to see is a bald, little old man. My disappointment is palpable. “But, but,” I splutter, “You’re supposed to be a great and terrible wizard. You’re nothing but a humbug, a fraud.”

The wizard who is not a wizard suddenly speaks, and his voice is apologetic. “If you don’t tell on me,” he begs, “I’ll do anything you ask.”

I am filled with consternation. All my dreams seem to be going up in smoke. How ever will I complete my serial story in time for the contest? I so counted on the wizard’s help. “What about my story idea? And the writing talent you promised me?”

He speaks in measured tones. “You don’t need help writing. You’ve been learning every single day. All you need is more writing practice. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Use all your senses. Trust in your own story ideas, and remember, editing is everything. There is no deathless prose.”

“I suppose that’s so,” I concur, “but I’d still like something concrete to help me with my writing.”

Suddenly the dream changes, and it is not a wizard but a good fairy speaking, and she is saying “But you’ve had the silver pen all along. You could have written a compelling story any time you wanted.”

“The silver pen, the silver pen,” I am mumbling as I awaken. Why I’ve had the ability to write all along, I realize with a start, and suddenly feeling re-energized, I proceed to rewrite my story. By the end of the day, I have figured out exactly what I needed to give it pizzazz, and am ready to call it a wrap.

To be concluded Sunday, July 26…

Tenth S4C Installment: Love at 32,000 Feet

10- Love at 32,000 Feet

Adrianna loves the idea of writing a serialized story composed of flash fiction segments. In fact, she is even thinking about giving it a go herself, as she has already received another couple of rejections for her manuscript in the last week alone. Simon thinks it has potential, and Brenda wants to me to read the last installment aloud.

“Sure,” I say, suddenly buoyed up by their interest. I clear my throat and begin.

“As I fastened my seatbelt, I glanced around me to see who my seatmates were. I’ve always enjoyed talking to people on airplanes, I don’t know why. Maybe it has something to do with being confined in a small space for a great deal of time with nothing much to do. In any event, flying seems to make for some pretty hearty confidences.

This flight looked to be the exception. My seatmates were terribly disappointing. The woman on my left was plugged into her iPod, while the businessman on my right was wrapped up in the Wall Street Journal. Oh well, out with my notebook. Looks like I’d be doing some writing instead.

Writing has always been therapeutic for me, especially since my cancer diagnosis, but if truth be told I have far greater aspirations than simply keeping a journal. I’ve already sold a handful of stories to magazines, and my dream is to one day make a living from freelance writing alone.

Anyway, there I was scribbling away, when we hit a bit of what they like to call turbulence. Immediately my feet hit the floor, and my hands reached for the armrests, but wouldn’t you know it, the businessman’s hand got there first, and what I ended up clutching was his hand instead.

There was a bit of an awkward moment, as I slowly unpeeled my fingers from his. It turned out to be quite the ice breaker though, and before too long, there we were laughing and chatting away like old friends, his Wall Street Journal neatly folded up and tucked in the seat pocket in front of him for what proved to be the remainder of the flight. Though the plane continued to bounce around from time to time and make some fairly ominous noises, I was as relaxed as I’ve ever been on a plane.

He did hold my hand a bit “longer than necessary” on parting, as they say in novels, and my heart did do a little lurch as he slipped his business card into my hand and murmured something about calling him. But I never did. Because there at 32,000 feet, I had finally realized that my true love in life was my writing, and what this handsome stranger had given me was simply this– the main character for my next story.”

When I finish, I wait anxiously for their feedback. “Good beginning,” is the general consensus.” Good beginning? Good grief. I thought I was done. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Ninth S4C Installment: Cancer is a Gift

9-Cancer is a Gift

Today is a serious writing day for me. I mute my cell phone, grab my notebooks, and prepare to hunker down in front of the computer until I produce a respectable first draft of the first four chapters. But not before I surf the web first. I’ve got to check my email, Facebook and Twitter. That’s a given. Then I go down the list of bookmarked favorite writing sites and check those out too, particularly scanning for any interesting new calls for submissions.

Wait, what’s this? A contest to write a serialized story, but the twist is that each installment is flash fiction. A quick calculation tells me we’re talking 5000 to 6000 words here, not the 50,000 I was aiming for. I suddenly remember Arianna’s suggestion that I scale back on my first writing attempt, and realize this is the perfect starting point, far less daunting than attempting a full length novel right off the bat. It will give me a chance to get my feet wet, so to speak.

And now everything I learned in yesterday’s workshop comes flooding back to me. First step is coming up with my story idea. Okay, I still like the part about a woman with cancer becoming a writer, but hey, she doesn’t have to be me. Reaching for the few chapters of the story I already have, I begin marking it up with a red pen to see what’s salvageable, and try to block out the entire story.

In the first place, I think I’ll make her younger than me, oh, say in her early thirties. She’ll have two very young children, both boys, and live in… hmm, how about California. Her marriage is already rocky, and the strains of the cancer treatment put the final kibosh on it. She’ll opt for a mastectomy and chemo, but not radiation.

The tricky part comes when I have to decide how to end the story. Let’s see, what are my choices? Well, I guess at the most basic level, my heroine can either go into remission or succumb to the cancer. I wouldn’t say I’m overly superstitious, as my black cat crosses my path any number of times during the day, and I’ve even  been known to open umbrellas in the house, but somehow I can’t quite bring myself to do in a character who had me as her starting point.

I’ll let her live then. I know, she can discover that cancer is a gift. I run this by my friend Melissa, from my cancer support group, and she gives me a pained look. “A gift, Kristy? Really? Would a friend give a friend cancer? Is that something you’d like to receive?”

Okay, no. Scratch that idea. I’ll simply end on a cautiously optimistic note. Maybe even a hint at a love interest there, as my heroine will suddenly find herself newly single. I can’t wait for the next writing group meeting, to see what they think.

To be continued Tuesday, July 21…

Eighth S4C Installment – Write What You Know

8-Write What You Know

“Write what you know,” Margot intones, and hastily I scramble to capture this weighty bit of advice in my notebook. As I glance around the room of my writing workshop, I see at least half a dozen other pens doing the same. Margot goes on to explain that this doesn’t mean we all have to write non-fiction, but simply that the best writing is when we draw from our own experiences in life. “Describe the sultriness in the air just before a thunderstorm, the smell of wet asphalt just after it rains, the inquisitive neighbor who always knows what you’re up to, sometimes even before you do…”

“Keep your eyes open, your senses always on the alert and carry a small notepad with you at all times to capture your ideas,” she continues. My list of advice is growing.

Before long I have: Keep your readers engaged by using an active voice. There is no deathless prose. Don’t take rejection letters too personally. Find your niche. If you want to be published, take time for marketing. Don’t discount the power of the internet.

The suggestions are just flying now. But wait, there’s more. Show, don’t tell. The key to writing a good story is to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Huh? Is that one not obvious? Oh, well, dutifully I jot that down in my notebook as well.

“Always, start with a hook,” she is saying. “A story has to have some conflict in the middle. End with a punch. Decide on the tone of your story. It can be humorous, inspirational, or dramatic, but it needs to have a specific focus.”

“You don’t always need to be so literal,” Margot concludes. “Take flights of fancy every once in a while. Tell a story you’d like to read.” Okay, she has a point there. Would I really like to read about my own life? Honestly? In truth, I’m not the most exciting person on the face of this earth. I’m just a suburban soccer mom who likes to stays home all day long and bake brownies with my kids, jk, lol. Actually my kids tell me I’m reasonably cool, as moms go that is. Still, even I have to admit that my life isn’t really the stuff of novels. Maybe a good beginning point, though?

“Any questions?” Margot asks. My head is just swimming with all that I’ve heard. Questions, I think, yes I have a question. What if you’re just entirely devoid of writing talent?

Almost as if she read my mind, she adds, “There’s just one thought I’d like to leave you with. There are no magic tricks for writing. If you believe you can write, you can write. Begin at the beginning, and write straight through the middle, until you come to the end.”  And I swear, there is something pixieish about her smile.

As I walk out of the room, I’m thinking, “I can write. I can write. I can really write…”

To be continued Sunday, July 19…

Seventh installment of S4C: Neverland Revisited

7- Neverland Revisited

I’m flying. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, only that I am. Peter Pan is directly ahead of me, Wendy just to my right, and John and Michael are lagging way behind. “Peter,” I say, catching up with him with effort, “How does this work exactly? I mean, it’s against all laws of nature for humans to fly, you know, and yet here we are.”

Peter crows triumphantly, and swoops around a few times before he comes back to my side. “Peter,” I say, “You’re showing off shamelessly.”

He is instantly contrite, but only for a moment. He flips over onto his back, flying effortlessly in this position, peeking out of the corner of his eye for my reaction. I ignore him, and continue on. “So how do we do it?” I persist.

“It’s simple,” he replies this time. “All you have to do is think positive thoughts, the very nicest you can muster up, and voilà, you’re flying.”

I am still suspicious though. There has to be a better explanation. “What’s that glittery stuff on your hands, then?”

“Oh, that,” he replies nonchalantly. “That’s nothing. Nothing at all. Just a little fairy dust that stuck to my hands.” And here he blows on his hands until the fairy dust dissipates into thin air. “Nothing at all,” he repeats, as he swoops off to join Wendy.

Can that really be all there is to it? If you think you can fly, you can fly? And does this translate to any endeavor whatsoever? Like, if I think I can write, can I write? Hmm. This bears some careful consideration. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy flying for all it’s worth. Lights are twinkling below me in the dark, and I take some tentative swoops, now some bigger and more ornate ones. I’m flying, I’m flying, I’m really flying. I hear Peter’s voice from the distance saying “Bear right, and straight on ‘til morning…”

I wake to find myself mumbling, “Begin at the beginning and write straight through until you are done.” Oh no, I did it again. Slept through the alarm, and now I have to race to get my son off to school on time.

After my son catches the bus, I go to my desk where I discover my manuscript. Oh yeah, writing group. What should I do about writing group? Should I give it another chance?

I try reading my manuscript again. You know, it’s not half bad. There’s some good stuff in here. What I really need, I think, is to take some flights of fancy. Arianna is right, I should try fiction. No need to be so literal. A creative writing workshop, that’s it. I Google writing workshops in the Portland area and low and behold, I discover one starting in three days. I’m psyched. I quickly sign up using their online registration form before I can chicken out.

To be continued Friday, July 17…