A Pandemic, Distance Learning, Natural Disasters, and Stories

storm bird

 

If you’re a writer and having a hard time focusing on your story, it’s not surprising. As hard as I try to impose order on my daily life, personal plot twists keep popping up to thwart my efforts. But don’t worry—this is not one of those “doom and gloom” posts that no one wants to read. Instead, this is about how stories emerge despite the chaos around us.

Stories want to live, too. Even if our minds are swirling like hurricanes (hopefully not as we’re boarding up our windows), we can’t help creating a narrative. As we go about our normal lives, which now includes teaching to a screen several hours a day, a story begins impose itself over our concerns. A character emerges, braver than us, who faces our same problems but in space. Or in a world of magic. Or sometime long ago before Google Meets.

Soon other characters rise up to aid our main character’s quest to save their world and right its wrongs. Quirky friends that illuminate the main character’s strengths and weaknesses. Maybe even a potential romance, although our hero really doesn’t have time for that right now.

Just like us in the real world, our main character, who now calls herself Raylene, tries lots of different strategies to solve her problems, only to be stopped at every turn. Fortunately, she doesn’t have to deal with lagging internet connections. It’s the antagonist who has shown up, just to make things more difficult. The villain is product of our nightmares, armed with complete knowledge of her fears. We’re not sure how to help our hero because her paralyzing fears belong to us.

We could remain stuck like that forever, but Raylene has her own Samwise Gamgee, reminding her of who she is and why she is risking everything. They go on together, and suddenly a thought pops up that we should call that friend we haven’t hung out with for months because of the pandemic.

When our hero and her sidekick fail, unforeseen help comes their way, and suddenly the battle is back on. At the same time, we, the writers, are in the middle of our own battles, standing in line at the medical center, waiting to get your temperature taken, or grabbing the last bottle of Lysol off the shelf at the grocery store before an old lady with a cane beats you to it.

Finally, the fighting ends, the day settles into night and your mind calms. Raylene limps back down her mountain with her hair all askew and rejoins her friends. We reach the end of our day and realize that despite overwhelming odds, we made some progress. When we lay down on our pillows, we hope the melatonin we took will really help us sleep. Because we need our rest before the battles tomorrow.

When the story comes back.

 

 

When Magic Fails

witch

 

 

All I wanted was to ride as fast as I could to the edge of the world and drop off.

Earlier this same day, I had not suspected anything would go wrong. I got up, drank my elixir, and got ready for work. My wrinkles and warts faded away as usual, and I braided my long shiny black hair. As I walked out the door, I kissed my cat and she hissed at me. Nothing different there.

Icy blasts whipped across my face as I rode my broom toward the office. Usually, I love fresh air, but this wind whispered evil portents. I cast a protective bubble around me and stopped shivering.

When I arrived at the large, crumbling castle, I set my broom up against the rack with the others. Everyone was here today, I noticed. That could be good or bad. I mumbled my Freshen Up spell to release the wrinkles in my black dress and walked in the back door.

Our entire staff of witches, as well as the receptionists, gathered around our CEO, Madame Bramblerose. Was I late for some staff meeting I didn’t know about? Sarah gestured towards me to get over there, her eyes flashing. That girl really was a witch.

“As some of you know, there have been reports from the Eastern Realm that are quite disturbing. None of us should panic, since we have long expected this could happen. Rest assured that Western Coven Magical Assist will do everything in our magical power to continue our service to the community,” Madame Bramblerose said in a gravelly voice. Everyone’s eyes, even Becky Speckleleaf, who usually dozes during meetings, were fixed on our leader.

I shook out my shoulders, which had started to clench up. Spells could be affected by tension in a witch’s body. What in the seven hells was she talking about?”

“In order to continue our expected level of service, witches will work in partners for every spell. Every spell. No exceptions.”

Groans echoed throughout the room. Most witches have their own personal style, and they don’t play well together. The corporate environment of WCMA kept us from killing each other. Most of the time.

“I appreciate your professionalism in these trying times. Your partner assignments have been loaded into your mirrors. Get out there and do your best.” She swept out of the circle and into her office, the heavy wooden door slamming locked behind her. That’s the last we’d see her that day. Well, I would see her in an even worse mood, but that would be later.

“What’s this all about?” I whispered to Bonnie, who shared an office with me. She came from the country, like me, and kept a level head. These city witches weren’t used to demon attacks and superstitious village mobs with torches.

“Magic is failing,” she whispered back, her tan face uncharacteristically pale. “The rate of spell failure is 17.8% and rising. It’s begun.”

My stomach flipped. Of course I’d grown up with the threat of Magic Fade, but I didn’t think it would happen in my generation. Mama had told me all about it when I was little, not exactly the type of bedtime story I would tell my children. A time would come, she would say with lifted eyebrow and low insistent voice, when the magic in our world would be used up. After all, it wasn’t a renewable resource, everyone knew that. Magic resided in the rocks, the ancient stones that surrounded us. Rocks were everywhere across the realms, plentiful as weeds. And yet, every time we cast a spell, a little more of our magic was lost.

“Sheep dung!” I swore with a hiss.

“It certainly is,” she agreed.

When I spoke my password into the mirror on the wall in front of my desk, the assignment list popped up. “Bull pies!” I spit out, as I saw who my partner would be. The Goddess hated me. Bramblerose hated me.

“Marion, get your lazy bones out of that chair, and let’s get to work,” a grating, familiar voice called from the doorway. I looked up to see a tall, thin witch with white stringy hair that hung from her head like a poppet. Sarah Nightshade. She would be working spells with me. All. Week. Long.

“I’m coming,” I called, and as I passed her, Bonnie gave me a pitying look. No one worked with Sarah for many good reasons.

The rest of day went pretty much as could be expected. Customers came into our consulting rooms, otherwise known as remodeled dungeon cells. There I spent hours casting spells with Sarah. Most of the time, customers were completely satisfied. I could feel the magic thinning a bit, but I could still access it without too much effort.

All day long, I ignored my partner’s demeaning insults and disgusting personal habits. Do you have any idea how unpleasant it is to be cooped up in a tiny cell with someone who passes gas continually? And when they brought us our lunch, she shoved the plate in her face and ate the stew without her spoon. Disgusting, and she’s the one who calls me uncouth. Called me, I mean.

Finally, I saw we reached the last customer on our list. Not a minute too soon. A tiny, tottering old crone came in, her face covered in festering warts, no doubt caused by constant exposure to poisonous plants she grew for the medicine men. Oh no. Not another beauty spell. That took positive, beautiful thoughts, and I was fresh out. Sarah obviously didn’t have any to begin with.

“My husband won’t sleep in our bed anymore,” she rasped. “He sleeps out in the sheep shed. Embarrassing when our neighbors see him crawl out in the morning. Please help me.” She offered the standard payment in her wrinkled and twisted hand. Where did that old lady get that much gold?

“No problem,” Sarah said, pocketing her money. “Lay down on the table.” The crone creaked over to a low pallet positioned in the middle of the room. Both of us could easily walk around the patient, taking magical items from the cupboard against the wall. As my partner got the woman settled, I reached into the cupboard and took out the herbs we needed, just like I’d done hundreds of times before. Can’t really blame Sarah for putting the jar in the wrong place. It’s my responsibility to pay attention.

After mixing the dried leaves with a white powder and pouring cow urine over it, I brought the elixir over to Sarah. She sniffed it and frowned. “Doesn’t look as potent as the last batch. Are you sure you did it right?”

That was it. I was done with that witch. “Who are you to question me? Just because I went to a country school doesn’t mean I’m an idiot!” I roared at her with the pent-up frustration I’d saved all day.

She stepped back from the sparks flying from my hands. When did I start doing that? I usually didn’t have much command over lightning magic. Must have been all that partner work.

After I calmed down, we chanted the spell together, and then she gave the potion to the crone, who drank it down quickly with a grimace. Then the fun began.

Our frail old lady shot up from the table and began spinning in the air. In the air. Not part of our spell. The cell filled with foul smoke and when it cleared, a large demon appeared. Again, not part of our spell.

I’ll spare you most of the details because to be honest, it happened so fast I didn’t have much time to react. Of course, Sarah and I called on our defensive magic, but wouldn’t you know, my magic worked, but hers didn’t. The ugly demon with sharp teeth and claws made quick work of our customer and my fellow witch. It couldn’t reach through my bubble, but I couldn’t touch it either. Discouraged, it burst through our door, reducing it to a pile of kindling. I ran out after it.

Eventually, the witches got the demon under control and sealed him up in a jar, just in case we needed it for something in the future. Madame Bramblerose wrote me up for sloppy spell work and suspended me for a week. None of the other witches could look me in the eye, not even Bonnie.

Now I was zooming away on my broom, disgraced and guilty as hell. I should have checked the jar. A demon-summing spell is far different than a beauty potion. Not only did I mess up the spell, but now I could feel it. My magic was fading. Who was I without magic?

I headed toward the mountains, to my favorite hideout. When things had not gone well at primary school, I had discovered a place where I could hide until Mama used her Find My Child spell. Landing on a huge, flat rock, I sat down to watch the rushing water traveling down the mountain’s back. It would be so easy to jump over the side and allow the jagged rocks and swirling water to do its work.

The evening sun was setting behind the ridge, so I cast a small ball of light that hovered in front me. Its glow was pale and weak. The water roared below me, taunting me, daring me.

If magic failed completely, would I still be a witch? Before magic school, I showed some talent with a brush. Maybe I could be a portrait painter. Wouldn’t make much gold, so I would have to move back to the farm with Mama and the boys.

I looked up and saw the endless field of stars above me. Even without a spell, I could read their possibilities. Tangy pine air inflated my lungs. I was still me. No longer could I hear the water’s cry. When I mounted my broom and headed home, I knew I would find my way.

 

 

After the Fight is Over

Inspiration, Motivation, Life, Inspirational, Outdoors

 

It’s done. I wrote 50,000 words for #NaNoWriMo2019. Funny thing though. I still want to get up at 5:00 a.m. and write. Instead of creating a new book, I’m working on the HOG newsletter and typing this blog. After that, I need to work on revising my other book. At various points during November, I thought I’d run out of words, but my fears were unfounded. Of course, I need to begin revisions on the rough draft I wrote during NaNoWriMo, but that book needs to ferment for at least a month.

Rain beats on my roof, wearing away the rough edges of this difficult year. Too many funerals, not enough weddings. Negativity and violence every time I pick up my phone. Christmas is knocking at my door, and I long to feel its glow.

In an hour, I’ll bundle up, grab my umbrella, and go out into the world. Two and half more weeks of school before vacation. In the midst of the holiday rush, I smile.

I wrote a book in November. Rain can’t wash that away.

Almost there

Mountain Climber, Sky, Landscape, Climber, Mountain

I had been doing so well. Cranking out 1,500 words a day for #NaNoWriMo2019 like I knew what I was doing, when suddenly I ran out of story.

Just like a car, a writer can run out of fuel, in this case words. At the beginning of November, I’d started with an outline and 17,000 words for a new project. No problem. The outline ran out after the second week. A slight problem. I started talking up new scenes for the book at dinner and writing them in the morning. Worked great right up to the last two days.

My book was finished, and I still had 2,400 words to go. Now I had to take back out my amended outline and find places to fit more scenes. A big problem if you have a deadline. But I sit at my computer and type, dragging my dead brain up the mountain, wishing I had a Samwise.

But it’s too late to turn back now. I’m already walking on the burnt ground of Mordor. If you’re with me, if your word count hasn’t turned to balloons and confetti yet, don’t despair.

There’s still two days left.

Twas the Night Before NaNoWriMo

Death ValleyJodi

 

I have to admit I’m a little nervous about participating in NaNoWriMo this year. If that sounds like gibberish to you, it’s the National Novel Writing Month. It’s a website and a bunch of people who want to break through barriers to write as much as they can in one month. Specifically, 50,000 words.

You may think that’s crazy, and you’re not wrong. But there’s great energy in joining with writers in your community and far, far, away to create new stories. My last book, Beach Witches, was birthed through NaNoWriMo. Granted, I generated 50,000 words, but it also took me two years of revisions to wrap up the book. Now it’s out on submissions, waiting for its place in the publishing world.

So tomorrow I start writing. It’s a new project titled The Overnighter, a YA fantasy novel about a girl who goes on a Harley Owners Group overnighter riding behind her mother. Here I go. About 2100 words a day if I want to take off Sundays and Thanksgiving.

Wish me luck.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

How three writing workshops and NaNoWriMo saved me from a two month writing drought

Me beach

Sitting down with my hot eggnog, Christmas music playing in the background, I noticed on my webpage that this is the first blog I’ve written since the beginning of September. How did that happen?

After writing every day and producing a nine episode novella during the summer, I started the school year knowing that teaching would drain my creative time, but remained undaunted as I signed up for three writing workshops at the end of September. When I opened my front door every day after school, my brain was mush and I had nothing to write. My husband and I were even too busy to catch many HOG chapter Harley rides, so I did not even have any Harley ride tales to share. I was certain that hearing about successful writing would motivate me to press on.

The Inland Empire California Writers Club held their Fall Retreat in Idyllwild, a tiny mountain community, the perfect place to get away and write. One of the workshops focused on marketing. I didn’t realize that I needed to work on a press kit before my book was published. After the retreat, I had time to write in my cabin in front of the fireplace. It was fun to entertain fresh ideas and characters after spending years on College of the Crones. After writing, polishing, and submitting that three-year project, I needed to turn my attention elsewhere. Waiting for the next query rejection is a dismal way to spend your time.

Next came a one-day workshop up in Hesperia called “The 90 Day Novel” with Alan Watt, from the L.A. Writers Lab. Alan became my characters’ psychologist, as he helped each of us to draw out the backstories and motivations that would make my story ring true. Although it was an intense day with a small group of writers, I came home with a greater sense of who my characters were and how they would react in different situations.

The last writing conference, held the first Saturday in October, was The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Meet the Editors Day at Cal State Fullerton. Editors and agents talked about the publishing industry. I had the opportunity to have lunch with one of our speakers, a writer from Redlands. We talked about the importance of revisions, critique groups, and a finding an editor.

After all that input, you might think that I would rush back to my laptop and start writing. I certainly thought that on the way home. Unfortunately, school and Harley riding and my social life conspired to eat up October until I found myself with no word count, or blog at Halloween. Scary, right?

So what does a girl do? Join NaNoWriMo of course! That stands for the National Novel Writing Month. On their website, you pledge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. I took my story ideas from Idyllwild, my characters and scene outline from the Alan Watt workshop, and my dreams about publishing from the Meet the Editors Day and plunged into the deep end of my new novel. The first chapters flowed, and when I posted my daily word counts, my numbers matched the trajectory on the graph I needed to get to my goal.

Then came the three day Harley ride with my husband and our HOG chapter up to San Simeon over Veterans Day weekend. No room for my laptop on the bike. And don’t forget Thanksgiving, which stole away a few more days of writing.  I found myself in the last week of November with 15,000 more words to write.

Hard words, too. After my initial flurry through my outline, I reached the end of my story, but still too brief to be classified a real novel. I rewrote my outline, based on what I had actually written, and looked for places that needed more structural support.  Should Star go on two dates with Frank before breaking up with him instead of one? Would her friends call a meeting to confront her about hanging out with their evil magician friend?

Bit by bit I gained on my word count, 1800 to 3000 words a day. The last day of November, I still had 1500 words left. Bleary-eyed, I shooed away my husband and my Pomeranian, and pounded away on the keys.

At 9:38 p.m., I made it! A brand new rough draft of a novel, done in thirty days. Redemption for my wasted autumn.

Of course, the book, titled The Spellwriters Book Club, is not finished. Months of revisions, critique groups, and editing stretch before me.

But my writing drought is over, thanks to three writing workshops and NaNoWriMo.

Finding Gold in My Story

snow

 

 

A weekend in the mountains sounds restful, but for the twenty five writers that attended the Southern California Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Spring Retreat in Idyllwild, it turned out to be three days of hard work. The focus was on middle grade and young adult works in progress, which placed me in the company of my genre peers, rather than in the mixed company of most critique groups I had attended.

For me it was the last effort I was willing to extend toward a project I had been writing for three years. A book that I had thought I had finished, but had been quietly rejected by agents for the past two years. The College of the Crones had sat unloved in my document files, while my creative nonfiction articles were getting snapped up by travel journals. The first time I’d thought the book was finished, I spent worthwhile money on professional editing. I had even pitched my book to an agent at a writing conference, and took her advice to heart, getting rid of one of my main characters. But I was tired of working without result. The title of the retreat was “Finding Gold,” but I wasn’t sure that my book had anything valuable left.

The dream team of masterminds behind the weekend included Heather Buchta, who organized a group of writers who mostly had never met each other into focused critique groups. A few weeks before I headed up the mountain, Heather emailed our group with a request to share our photo and synopsis of the work we were planning to share. This proved to be brilliant, as we knew who to look for when we arrived. Also we didn’t have to spend a lot of time getting our group up to speed on our stories.

Although I had attended previous writing conferences, this one proved to be the most productive. We had four sessions of critiques with our small group of six and our leader. In addition, an agent, editor, or published author would also sit in with us. Each writer had fifteen minutes during each session to use as they wished, timed by our leader. Some writers read different chapters each session, while others took the feedback and revised the same passage, printing out copies for the group on the printers that some of the leaders brought with them.

Between critique sessions, Kate Sullivan, senior editor at Delacorte Press, and Erin Young, agent at Dystel, Goderich and Bourret, gave brief, useful presentations on theme, query letters, and pitches. Estelle Laure and Steve Bramucci, published authors, told their tales about being in the trenches as writers. These session drew laughs as well as tears, and plenty of “ah-ha!” moments.

But I will always treasure Kate and Estelle contributing to my critique group. They set a high bar for courtesy and professionalism. And I will never forget the passion and meticulous attention they showed toward my manuscript. Priceless.

Hikes and writing time were built into our schedule, which provided additional time to share with other writers. Wine and appetizers in front of a roaring fire at a nearby restaurant made us feel like we were in a story. The weather became a main character over the weekend, as we changed from sunny spring weather on Friday to a Sunday morning blanket of snow.

All weekend long, I cherished each stolen moment to revise a few more chapters. With the help of one of the leaders, I reprinted two chapters that I reworked after the first two critique sessions. I worked with a feverish zeal that reminded me of my rough draft days. It was hard to put my computer away.

Suddenly, it was Sunday morning and time for awards. If we chose, we could have submitted our first ten pages for a contest a month before the retreat. A team of published writers and editors judged the manuscripts in a blind contest. The two categories of middle grade and young adult were judged separately, with first place and honorable mention in each. As the leaders announced the young adult winners, I hoped that someone from my critique group would win since the quality of the work shared had been excellent. What I wasn’t prepared for was when they called my name for honorable mention.

As I stood up to receive my certificate in a daze, I realized that my book, almost abandoned for the immediate gratification of shorter articles, deserved to live. The College of the Crones would be finished, but with new direction and inspiration.

After lunch, I headed down the mountain through a snowstorm, eager to get home and continue revisions on my book. Instead of rocks, I had found the gold hidden in my story. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a writing retreat for works in progress, don’t hesitate to sign up. It turned out to be a weekend I will always treasure.

 

 

 

The Dragon Rider- Part Two

dragon 2

 

“You’re selling your dragon?” Worley interrupted, as he caught up to Emeri and Anzel who were deep in serious conversation. His dusty grey hair hung over his widened eyes, his usual happy face darkened.

“That’s no way to address a royal, even though she may be the youngest,” his brother snapped as he cuffed the back of Worley’s head. He wanted to do more, but his other hand was full of saddle and tack.

“Sorry, Lady Emeri,” the younger brother said as he rubbed his head with one hand. The other hand held a dark brown leather saddle with a strap wound around it.

“You’re excused,” Emeri said, crinkling her tiny nose. “I never liked all that formal stuff anyway. When we’re riding, I’m just Emeri, dragon rider. I don’t have to think about all the duties that I’ll be immersed in when I return.” She sighed and looked toward the dragon stables they were headed toward. “The First Mistress wants me to sell Petal after the Silverpoint ride.”

“But we’re going to come up with a plan so she won’t have to do that,” Anzel added.

“But you’re a princess, Emeri,” Worley protested. “You can do whatever you want to!”

“Actually, it means I have practically no control over my life,” Emeri said. “First Mistress is determined to marry me off like my sisters. It seems that there’s no shortage of trade agreements that need to be cemented with a “joyful union.” I would have thought that Evelon’s marriage to the Baron of Duns and Ellenia’s with the Prince of Overland would have been enough. The suffering needs to be complete with taking away my freedom as well.” She shifted the weight of her saddle to the other shoulder, as if the weight of her words was adding to her burden.

“That too heavy for you. Let me take it,” Anzel pleaded with her. “Why do you always insist on carrying your own saddle?”

“It makes me feel like a real dragon rider,” Emeri replied. “Just let me do it. No one will see.”

“Why can’t you be a dragon rider anymore?” Worley wondered.

Emeri sighed, and the crunch of their steps filled the silence. The path led them through a speckled glade of white trees that separated the castle from the animal enclosures. It was a perfect sunny day for the capricious days of planting season. Finally she said, “First Mistress says that I must be married. It is her royal opinion that a prince would not want to marry a dragon rider. I need to settle down and take on more responsibilities.”

Anzel grinned. “Like producing royal heirs?” He was the oldest of the trio, nearly sixteen, and thought he was very worldly.

Flipping back her hair, Emeri retorted, “That’s not the only responsibility I’ll have. I will entertain leaders from all over Tessar. I’ll have to study what foods they prefer and how to greet them properly.”

“Doesn’t sound as fun as dragon riding,” Worley concluded.

The three friends arrived at the tall stone building that had a large chimney coming out of the center of the tiled roof. Smoke was curling out of it, but it wasn’t from a fire in the hearth.

A rumble of excitement greeted them as they walked in. “Petal,” Emeri cried, “I’ve missed you. Are you ready for a short trip around the queendom?” Her shimmering pale grey dragon shook its head, sending puffs of smoke up toward the high ceiling. The dragon stalls were huge, as was needed for keeping dragons, and built of special wood that was naturally fire resistant. Petal’s head hung over the six foot gate, and eagerly sniffed her mistress. At the familiar sound, three dragon grooms emerged from the tack room to saddle up their mounts.

Anzel and Worley greeted their dragons with apples they had brought from the main house. The older brother’s dragon, Blade, was dark green, with curly feathers that made a ring around the base of its long neck. Mist was Worley’s dragon, a smaller dark grey dragon with a shorter neck and a tail that had a hard bone shaped like a hammer at its end. The smaller dragons gobbled up the treats, turning their juices into steam as they crunched.

The grooms led the dragons outside and carried over the ladders to help the riders climb up onto the large creatures. Emeri scooted up her ladder with practiced ease and strapped in around her waist and legs. Petal watched her with a large purple reptilian eye, smoking curling out of her nostrils, waiting for her command.

When they were all ready, Emeri shouted in an unprincess-like voice, “Let’s ride!” and a loud whoosh of wings signaled their departure.

As they rose through the clouds, she felt a weight lift from her shoulders. Rushing wind whispered promises of freedom, and crisp fresh air filled her lungs with renewed energy. Dragon riding was her escape from a world she had no control over. To her right flew Anzel and Blade, who was wearing a huge grin. A glance to the left showed Worley holding his reins in one hand, his other on Mist’s neck.

The clouds below them thinned, and she could see the multicolored patchwork of fields surrounding Thorington Castle. For generations the Thorington line had controlled vast holdings of fertile farmland, which ensured their place as the bread basket of Tessar. Far to the south rose the wrinkled mountains of the Bearded Ones, the source of strange tales. To the west the deep blue ocean caressed the beaches of Ingest, while behind her stood the icy tips of the Crystal Mountains. All lovely lands of deep forests and tinkling streams. Only the eastern deserts were barren. From up here, all existed in harmony with no political turmoil or peasant squabbles.

The pulsing rhythm of Petal’s muscled wings reminded her of a pendulum clock, one that was counting her moments until she would have to give up dragon riding. What could she do? She knew that she could enlist the help of her dragon riding club, but to do what? Could she hide Petal somewhere with another rider’s help, and sneak away to ride as much as she could?

She knew in her heart it wouldn’t be fair to her spirited dragon to keep her secreted away. And she wasn’t sure how much sneaking away she’d be able to do once she was a royal wife. But she knew one thing — there was no way she was going to sell her dragon. If she couldn’t find a way to keep her, there was only one thing left to do.

Emeri would ride her back to the land of her dragon’s hatching in the Crystal Mountains and set her free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On being published, and how it changed my life

i-am-a-writer

Two years ago, I got sick and tired of my pathetic longing to publish my novel. My book project was only one year into the revised drafts, and I felt like time was running out. Let’s face it –I’m not getting any younger, and if I want to be a best-selling author I need to get my first one on the New York Times bestseller list. So I sent out an army of queries to any agent that represented my genre. My submission spreadsheet grew into several pages with polite rejection notes. The agent I met at a very expensive writer’s conference never responded to my query. I was desperate for a new approach.

My critique group was supportive and gave great feedback, but they were not professionals in the writing industry. I wasn’t going to improve my writing without higher standards. Should I go back to school? Seeking to improve my craft, I enrolled in a local university’s online creative writing program. What I expected was that my writing would be pulled apart, equipped with upgrades, and become the shiny sports car I needed to catch a literary agent’s eye. What I experienced was a barrage of articles about writing that I could have Google searched myself. The students provided feedback on each other’s assignments, although most were not qualified or bold enough to give more than vague compliments. Curiously absent were concrete suggestions from the teacher. Although it was great to have structure and deadlines for creating short pieces, I didn’t really learn anything new.

However I did enjoy discussing the art of writing with other people interested in pursuing a writer’s life. There had to be other writers out there like me that wanted to be taken seriously. So I searched the internet and found the California Writers Club. It was a state club with local branches, so I checked out the Inland Empire Branch. What an exciting moment when I walked into a room with thirty other writers, most full time professional ones, and listened to a presentation about marketing books on social media. These people were living the life I dreamed about! I joined the group, and the members have become some of my dearest encouragers.

One of the club’s suggestions was to set smaller goals along the way to my big goal of publishing my novel. For my WordPress blog, I include articles about riding with my husband in the HOGs (Harley Owners Group). I found a database called Duotrope where you can find submission information for all varieties of print and online magazines and contests. A new submission spreadsheet was begun, and within two months one of my articles, “Backroads to Pioneertown” was accepted into an international travel journal called Coldnoon Travel Diaries. There was no money award, but my work was validated. Buoyed with my success, I continued to submit articles and last month “The Almost Grand Canyon Trip” was published in the literary journal The Courtship of Winds.

            My blog caught the attention of our HOG chapter and I was asked to become the editor of their newsletter The Handlebar Star. My responsibilities include collecting and editing articles written by the club officers and adding my own touches.

Success with my nonfiction writing sparked my creativity toward my novel project. Instead of giving up, I asked for help from my social media audience. One of my Twitter followers agreed to become a beta reader for me, and sent me seven pages of notes and revision suggestions. I was surprised to discover that the roots of my story were still alive, and I am weeding out unneeded sentences and watering my characters. I am learning to persevere in editing, long past the point where I’m in love with any of my sentences.

What began two years ago as a desperate search for help has shown some small victories. I’m not giving up on writing courses yet, although I will do more research on the best programs. Joining a professional writers group has given me a supportive family that helped me discover opportunities I never would have found on my own. And becoming an editor has reinforced the basics that I need to practice.

And so I start this year as a published writer. Did it change my life as I thought it would? Absolutely. Criticism and encouragement have sharpened my writing sensibility and I’m ready to do the work necessary to perfect my writing style. Today I’m even more dedicated to improving my writing and finding new ways to get my stories out to readers.

Plain Old Lucy- Scene Four

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Back in the buying offices one week after the New York trip. Susie, Candy, and David are on their phones. Sean is inputting orders on his computer.

Lucy walks in. She looks upset.

LUCY

(Putting his call on hold immediately) Lucy, already back from your doctor appointment? Sean’s got your orders under control. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? After your successful week in New York, you probably need to relax.

LUCY

(To herself) Leave early, coming  out of David’s mouth? This whole thing is getting scary. (To David) Thanks, David. I just have to take care of few things. After that, maybe I’ll leave early.

CANDY

(Looking over the partition.) Hi, Lucy! That sweater you’re wearing is fabulous! Did you get it in New York?

LUCY

(Listlessly) It’s a sample they gave me at Hot Jeans.

SUSIE

Hot Jeans giving away their samples? That’s a first. You’ve excellent taste! I didn’t see that style when I was there. Can I write down the style number and call Anna about it?

LUCY

(With a sigh) Sure, Susie. (She goes over to Susie’s cubicle, and Susie looks inside her back neckline.)

Then Lucy sits down in her cubicle. She looks overwhelmed. Slowly she turns on her computer and takes a few papers out of a tray on her desk.

SEAN

(Looking up from his computer, he sees her distress, and turns his chair toward her) What happened?

LUCY

(Trying not to cry) Sean, I don’t know what I’m going to do. How could this be happening now- right when my life is finally going great!

SEAN

(Goes over and gives her a hug) You were fine yesterday- what happened at your doctor appointment?

LUCY

I was just feeling tired. I thought all the attention I was getting was wearing me down, and I caught a bug or something.

SEAN

A lot of attention! You’re the new superstar! Ever since your last New York trip, you and David have been working together nonstop. For a whole week, everyone in the office is following you around like you’re the Queen of England. There is something different about you. What is this all about?

LUCY

It’s so strange that it doesn’t affect you. You’re still my best friend. It’s funny. When they started fawning all over me in the office, I was embarrassed to tell you the reason why. But now it’s too late, too late even for shame.

SEAN

Lucy, what do you mean about “too late?” Tell me what happened in New York. You know you can tell me anything.

LUCY

I knew I shouldn’t have trusted him. Something about him was creepy, but he was so polite, and somehow knew a lot about me. This is really Mr. Green’s fault.

SEAN

(Suspiciously) Mr. Green- what did he look like?

LUCY

It’s funny- I’m usually so good with faces, but I can’t remember. I know he had a black hat, and wore a dark green wool coat. He saw me at O’Connell’s. He called me over to his table, and told me he could get me noticed by everyone. Even David.  I never told anyone my feelings for David.

SEAN

Oh no. Lucy, tell me you didn’t make a deal with this rascal!

LUCY

He seemed like he really cared about my situation. He didn’t even want my money.

SEAN

(Disgusted) Of course he didn’t want your money.

LUCY

How did you know? Do you know this Mr. Green?

SEAN

I know enough to know that “Green” is not his true name! Always meddling with mortals. Can’t mind his own business. Running around stirring up mischief.

LUCY

Sean- what are you talking about?

SEAN

Lucy, I’ve worked by your side for four years. I came here to have a normal life. I would never hurt you.  But making deals with our kind is highly dangerous. Tell me you didn’t promise him anything.

LUCY

(Standing up and moving away from him) What “kind” Sean? I don’t understand.

SEAN

(Sighs) Well, we’re not supposed to talk about it. We walk around in the human world every day, blending in. But there are other kinds of beings than just humans, Lucy. My kind, my kindred, humans call them faeries.

LUCY

Seriously? I’ve unknowingly worked next to a faery for years without noticing it? If this is a prank, Sean, I am not amused.

SEAN

Please, Lucy, let it be our secret. I just wanted you to know that I understand what you’re dealing with. It sounds like he sold you a glamour. I smelled magic, but there’s always residual magic in New York, so I just thought it rubbed off on you when you were there.

(He takes Lucy by the shoulders and looks into her eyes) What did you promise Mr. Green?

LUCY

(Dazed and fighting back tears) That’s the problem, Sean. I promised him one year of my life in exchange for glamour. I thought at the time, “What’s one year out of my whole life?”

(She sits back down in her chair and starts to chuckle to herself) It’s a joke really, a horrible terrible joke.

(She looks up at Sean) When I went to the doctor this morning, they ran some tests, and then the doctor pulled me immediately into his private office. I’ve got some rare blood disease, so rare there’s not even a name for it yet.

SEAN

(Reaches over to hug her) Lucy, I’m so sorry. This is what I dread the most about having human friends.

LUCY

The doctor thinks I only have one year left at the most. There is no treatment for it. Will Mr. Green really take away the last year I have?

SEAN

There are certain rules in my world, and they’re never broken. Mr. Green will collect on your debt to him.

(David walks by Lucy’s cubicle)

DAVID

Lucy, are you still here? Please go home. You look exhausted.

LUCY

(Wiping her face quickly) I’m leaving in a few minutes. Thanks for the time, David.

 (Lucy’s cell phone rings. She answers it.)

LUCY

Hello. (She listens.) Mr. Green, how did you get this number? (She listens) I see. But things have changed. You need to take your glamour back. (She listens.) You didn’t say anything about “no returns.” I’ve had some horrible news. (She listens.) How did you know? Well, I don’t even want to know the answer to that. (She listens.) I’m not giving you my last year, do you hear me? It’s my last year- it belongs to me! (She hangs up and starts crying.)

SEAN

(Looking serious and determined) Lucy, calm down. I want you to listen to me. You don’t deserve this. I’ll fix this. Trust me, okay?

LUCY

What can you do? He said the deal was unbreakable.

SEAN

He doesn’t know you have a faery friend. Our rules may be unbreakable, but there is always a way for a faery to bend them backwards.

(Fade to black)