I live in Riverside, California, where I’m an hour away from the beach and the mountains. My YA fantasy novel The College of the Crones, won an Honorable Mention Award at the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Southern California 2017 Spring Retreat. My Harley stories have been published in Cold Noon Travel Diaries, Courtship of Winds, Blacktop Passages, Fresh Ink, and The Handlebar Star. When I'm not hitting the keys on my computer, you can find me camping at the beach with my husband, Frank, or kicking up dust on back roads in our Jeep.
I’ve been living in a parallel universe recently. Isolated from my husband and friends, I live in a shadow world. My days fill with phone calls, long waits at the pharmacy, and housekeeping.
My mom’s in the hospital recovering from heart valve surgery. It’s been a four month journey for her to get here, due to the holidays and insurance.
Since my husband and I live an hour away, we go back and forth. There is much prayer, much hope, much pain. Everything is urgent. Every conversation might be the last.
I find it impossible to make plans for the future. Too many plans have been swept away.
Yet there are bowls of ice cream, smiles, and laughter. In this universe, there is plenty of time to talk and share memories. Learn family secrets I didn’t want to know. There is a season for everything under Heaven.
On Fridays, I have four toddlers in the house. It’s delightful and exhausting.
When my daughter had twins, I was eager to help watch them. James looks like Dad and Kinsley looks like Mom. My daughter went back to work part time after six months. I started watching them on Fridays. It had been a long time since I had a baby in the house, and I was excited and terrified. My husband assured me he would help.
Two days before the twins were born, my husband and I got a new puppy. Davey is a border collie, a herding breed. We also have a beagle mix named Harley.
We wondered how our dogs would deal with having two babies in the house.
At first, the dogs were fascinated by the squirming, screaming bundles in the baby seats. Davey would place his toys beside them before stealing their pacifiers. At first, Harley hid away from them, but eventually she came out and licked their tiny hands. The dogs would sit and stare at them all day.
Almost two years later, the twins and our dogs are best friends and co-conspirators. Davey loves to roll his tennis ball down the twins’ Hot Wheels ramp. James throws a ball for Davey. I often find dog toys mixed into the twins’ toy box. Both dogs love to sit under the twins’ highchairs to catch tidbits Kinsley tosses on purpose.
Outside on the back porch, Davey shows his herding instincts by directing the twins away from the side gate. He thinks they might try to escape. When Kinsley takes a tumble, Harley is right there with a friendly lick on the face, making her giggle.
Wherever the twins go, our dogs must be there. At first, I was worried James or Kinsley might pull one of the dogs’ tails or hit them. I was quick to supervise all kid-dog interactions. The twins learned to respect the dogs, and the dogs know when to find a spot on the couch or behind a chair to take time out from the twins’ high energy.
I have read somewhere certain dog breeds, like border collies and beagles, have the intelligence of two-year-old children. As the twins advance on their second year, I definitely see it.
Every Friday, I chase around four toddlers. Two of them are human.
Have you ever decided to become an expert at something, only to find out the more you spend time doing it, the less you actually know about it?
In my earlier years, I was a visual artist. For most of my childhood, I expressed ideas through drawing and painting. My first degree was a BFA in Fine Arts. But after college, real life intruded, and I had to make money. My creativity was expressed in clothing displays and sale setups. I continued to draw and create intaglio prints at the local community college.
Then came motherhood. My creativity emerged in birthday cakes and scavenger hunt parties. My creative genes were passed down to my youngest, who although she drew and painted, she preferred photography and video.
When the retail industry choked after 9/11, I went back to school to become an elementary school teacher. In my classroom, my creativity generated bulletin boards and diagrams of the water cycle. When I took on the after school musical theater program, I created backdrops and sets.
After my husband suddenly died, writing became my comfort. I could write about my characters’ struggles and pain easier than my own. Although I’d always written short stories, I had my heart set on novels.
How hard could it be?
Years later when I retired, I imagined I would crank out novels every year to make up for all those earlier years with no time for writing. My short stories appeared in anthologies. I got my first writing advance ($15).
After I finished three novels, I began to send out query letters and sample chapters. My heart was set on traditional publishing, so I knew I needed a literary agent. As the form rejections rolled in, I realized I didn’t know as much about writing as I thought I did. It wasn’t just about having a great story idea. I was responsible for creating character arcs for all my major players, as well as the villain. Novels had to be divided into acts and move at a certain pace. Forget the glorious description of the setting. You needed to blow things up.
How could I get better?
I took classes. I attended writing conferences. I hired editors. But the most helpful step was joining a critique group. It would take a long time to go through my novel in a critique group, but it was well worth it. After three years, we finally reached the ending of my novel. My faithful critique group tore it to shreds. They had permission to do so, as they had lived with my story for a long time.
Who knew endings were so hard? I made some corrections and resubmitted to my group. Still it wasn’t enough. Or rather it was too much. Apparently, I had another entire novel embedded in it.
I can’t help it if I keep coming up with new great ideas.
After much soul-searching, I now sit in front of my laptop, cutting chapters and characters, trying to salvage my novel. I’ve learned a lot. My next novel will be so much better.
As of this date, I haven’t deleted this story yet. The revision process may be painful, but it is a good teacher. You can read all you can about how to write, but in the end, you have to go through the process yourself.
And blowing up the ending of your book is a great way to learn.
One good way to procrastinate about writing is to do research.
Yesterday I was working on a ghost story set at the Salton Sea. My husband and I had been to the Salton Sea a few times. Twice we rode along the length of the giant saltwater lake with the HOGs (Harley Owners Group). Once we stayed at a nearby RV park with friends and went Jeeping along the north shore.
To a Californian accustomed to seeing hundreds of boats and jet skis on any body of water, it was amazing to see an empty lake with only birds flying above it. From a distance, the water looked bright blue, the blue of a calm ocean. It seemed out of place in the middle of a rocky, sandy desert surrounded by mountains.
After doing my research, now I understand the Salton Sea is an unfortunate and poisonous ditch.
The Salton Sea first appeared after man’s interference with the Colorado River. A canal broke in 1905, causing water to escape into a dry lakebed at the southern end of the San Andreas fault. At first, it was considered a lucky accident, and developers rushed in to build resorts. The state stocked it with saltwater fish to lure fishermen. The desert’s quiet was broken by the sound of ski boats and laughing families on vacation.
In the 1950’s, celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, and Bing Cosby, came down from Palm Springs to hang out at The Ski Inn bar and The Waterfront. A state park was established near Bombay Beach, a small community at the water’s edge. People began to buy property in the area. It became an oasis in the desert.
However, as local farmers pumped out water and desalinated it for their date palm and citrus groves, the remaining water in the Salton Sea became more salty and polluted with pesticides. By the 1970s, fish started dying and people started having health problems. With only trickles of water entering the lake and no outlet, the Salton Sea became toxic to animal and plant life. Not exactly where you would want to spend your vacation.
When the Salton Sea flooded in the 1970s, it took away part of the small community of Bombay Beach. Small homes and trailers were stranded in the salty water. As they sank into the water, a white crust formed around them, making them appear to be melting. Looters took valuable copper wire and the rest was abandoned. A dike was built around the remainder of Bombay Beach to preserve what was left.
Then the artists came. They took the post-apocalyptic ruins and made them into art installations. A retro drive-in sign points to a group of rusted, broken down cars set up in rows, pointing toward a white semi-trailer representing a outdoor movie screen. A small fighter plane was set up as a sculpture. A ruined house was decorated with bright-colored children’s toys.
An accident. A tourist destination. A toxic ruin. An artistic statement. The Salton Sea is all those things and yet more. Perhaps it reveals the limitations of man’s control over nature. Maybe it reminds us that we don’t know it all.
That was how I spent my Sunday afternoon. Looking at photos and watching videos. Did I finish the short story I was working on? Not yet. But it was fun digging into the past life of the Salton Sea.
My short story, “An Android Goes to School,” is currently featured in Backchannels Literary Journal Edition 11. This story was inspired by a writing prompt given at a SCBWI writing retreat, so keep all your writing exercises and activities. You never know when they might inspire you.
Writers often complain about finding more writing time in their day. As a retired teacher, I thought I would have endless hours to type on my laptop, scribble outlines into notebooks, or muse about new story ideas. Instead, my schedule filled up quickly. I have heard it said, and now understand: “I am busier now than when I was working full-time.”
So I returned to my old writing time. It’s hard to turn off the alarm at 5:00 am and jump out of my warm bed. I’m not working. Why would I get up so early? I’ll admit sometimes I’ve hit the snooze button and gone back to sleep. But when I got up and grabbed my coffee, I’ve never regretted it.
Early morning. The perfect time to write. It’s so quiet I can hear my brain work. My husband and dogs are asleep. No daylight beckons me to go outside. Too early to do laundry or mop the floor.
My mind is a blank slate, not yet overloaded with the day’s problems and responsibilities.
Ideas flow. Possibilities seem endless.
Getting up that early may not work for you. You may prefer the dark hours of the evening. But the idea is the same.
Find the quiet hours in your day and use them for writing. You will find there is great reward gained by writing in the dark.
Rain has been pounding on my roof all night. And most of yesterday. Today it’s going to be the same. I’m stuck inside my house, longing to stretch my legs and feel sunshine on my face.
Storm after storm after storm. No chance to catch my breath.
I’m not the only one who’s gone through storms over this holiday season. Each person has their own storms to face. To someone else, my problems would only be annoyances. For me, as each problem piles on top of the next, it becomes mind-numbing.
Incessant rain. Grey, swollen skies that hold the day captive.
My creativity is held captive with the California sunshine. My hands hover over my laptop keyboard yet nothing is typed on my screen. Maybe the query rejections were right. Maybe writing a novel is too hard.
Maybe my story is not important.
My responsibilities come tumbling out like junk out of a woman’s purse. Days fill up with important tasks. People I care about need me. When things break, it takes time and money to fix them.
Cars drive by my house, splashing up water from the gutters.
An email arrives. A short story I wrote last year was shortlisted for a fiction contest.
Silence catches my attention. The rain has stopped.
Maybe I can write a story that is important.
My hands fly over the keyboard. Characters, storylines, wonderful places flood my mind. When my stolen moments pass, the story takes hold in my mind and rests there, waiting for my next writing time.
Out comes the sun and dries up all the rain.
And the itsy-bitsy spider climbs up the spout again.
It has been a great year for my writing. Four of my short stories were chosen for anthologies, both digital and printed forms. I now have an Amazon author page. Even though it was modest, I received my first advance paid for my writing. You would think this would create a happy bubble of encouragement.
But it’s also been a year of rejection for my novels.
For an author seeking traditional publishing, the first fortified gate I must scale is finding a literary agent. The querying process is a torturous process that offers little feedback except “you’re not what we’re looking for.”
I could self-publish, but it can be an expensive and grueling process for a mere peasant like myself. Some small publishers take queries from unagented authors, but again I find myself in the dungeon of waiting. As time passes like dripping water down the stone walls, the lack of answer becomes the answer.
There is a bright spot in the dark and damp. My critique groups. While there are readers eager to embrace your character’s struggle, authors will keep on writing.
Even in the dark, even when all seems lost.
Authors create stories and readers give them life.