That’s Just the Writer in Me.

An excerpt of a story about a middle-aged woman who visits her old college in an attempt to settle the obvious midlife crisis/crossroad she’s living through:

The coffee tastes like shit, yet I continue to drink it. Writing and coffee always went hand in hand. At least I no longer smoked. I visit the old college I attended when I was a fresh-faced eighteen year-old. Maybe it will help me become more creative as I sit in a place that reminds me of my younger days, when anything seemed possible.

One of the perks of writing here is the coffee costs 75 cents, a monster savings compared to Starbucks, but like I already said, the coffee tastes like shit and I’m on my fourth cup.

I’m sitting at one of the tables in the lounge. There is a young woman, maybe nineteen, at the table next to me, face deep in a text book. Her long hair is dark and carelessly messy, but in a stylish way. She looks like someone I would have had a crush on. She wears jeans with holes at the knees, a black graphic tee, leather studded boots that capped at her mid-calf. Kind of grungy (do kids today even know what grunge is?). Maybe she’s a bit rebellious in a dark, mysterious, Kristen Stewart, kind of a way.

Her attire shows she might be of the “alternative” lifestyle. I remember looking for that in girls I met at college in 1995 because I was incredibly desperate to meet girls who were like me. I expected everything to be so much broader than the restricted Catholic high school I went to, and in some ways they were, but probably not broad as I had wanted, or needed, them to be.

I wonder if what I’m experiencing is a mid-life crisis. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I felt I had accomplished something in my life. The fact that I haven’t done anything depresses me.

Did I know I would do this? Did I know I was going to spend so much time looking back? I wonder if I’m capable of anything more with my life. It’s so hard making it as a writer and I fear I may not even be any good at it. (Pause. Takes another sip of coffee. Yep. Still tastes like shit, even more so now that it’s cold.)

Two girls sit on a couch across from me. They are very affectionate and playful toward each other, despite the fact I’m only a few feet away from them and another boy sits at a near-by table. But they don’t seem to notice either of us. I watch as people pass in the busy halls, and barely look at the two girls sitting closer, now holding hands.

Their interaction isn’t tacky, nor is it an in-your-face display of affection. The two girls appear to be in love, lucky to be living in a time when they could be like this in public. Definitely not something I would have expected to see when I walked these halls very frequently, 21 years ago – though I wish I had.

I think about leaving, but decide to stay. I watch. I write. I sip my bad coffee. I sit and observe other people, like a spectator in life.

I suppose that’s the writer in me.

 

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Defining the Novella

Author Carol Browne is on my blog talking about my favorite kind of books to write – the novella.

by Carol Browne

As authors go, I consider myself to be fairly ignorant when it comes to the mechanics of my craft. I’m like someone who drives but hasn’t a clue how the engine works and can’t tell one make of car from another. I find myself perplexed at times by the multitude of genres and their crossovers. Similarly, the many structures and formats one is supposed to adhere to are tiresome. Perhaps I don’t like rules and regulations, or it could be I’m too lazy to learn them.

Recently, when I finished my latest work, a novella called Reality Check, I decided to address my ignorance of basic literary structures by finding out exactly what constitutes a novella.

The novella (Italian,‘new’) started to develop as a literary genre during the Renaissance (notably in 1348 with the The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio), and in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries the genre acquired various rules and structural requirements.
With a word count of between 17,500 and 40,000, the novella tends to be more complex than a short story but has far fewer conflicts than a novel. Frequently a novella is designed to be read at a single sitting.

Chapter divisions, subplots, different points of view, and changes in genre are not features commonly found in the novella. It turns its back on the wider world to focus instead on personal development. It’s like taking a short story then embellishing it with descriptive passages, expanding on the characterisation, and exploring the conflicts in greater depth.

You’d be surprised to know how many great literary works are novellas—Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, to name but a few.

I’m surprised to find that Reality Check meets the requirements, albeit by accident! Out of interest I also note that German writers see the novella as a narrative of any length that focuses on one suspenseful situation or conflict, with a decisive turning point that leads to a reasonable but surprising conclusion. Reality Check has ticked all the boxes there too. All I need now is a publisher!

Carol Browne regards Crewe, Cheshire, as her home town and graduated from Nottingham University in 1976 with an honors degree in English Language and Literature. Carol writes speculative fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She is also a ghost blog writer, proofreader, copy editor, and copywriter. Along with a passion for gardening, Carol is an avid animal lover.

Carol lives in the Cambridgeshire countryside with her dog, Harry, and cockatiel, Sparky.Pagan and vegan, Carol believes it is time for a paradigm shift in our attitude to Mother Nature and hopes the days of speciesism are numbered.

Stay connected with Carol on her website and blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

Half a Year Gone. What Have you Done? ?

Today is June 1. The mark of half a year gone by. The time I usually reflect on the past six months in relation to the ambitious goals and optimistic attitude I had coming into the New Year.

I am sure I have the list of New Year intentions I resolved to accomplish written down somewhere, but have forgotten where I put it. (The list is probably in some convenient place I specifically chose so I wouldn’t forget where it is.)

Offhand, I remember the list being something like this:

Reading – Every new year begins with my resolution to read 52 books – one book per week – for an entire year. I have yet to accomplish this feat.  Last year I read 34 books. The halfway point of this year finds me at a measly 9 books. Although I am currently reading two books and plan to finish them this week, I am still way off target. Whenever I fail to reach the coveted 52 books, I settle for at least doing better than the previous year. To beat even last year’s number means I gotta kick it up – big time.

My struggle isn’t for lack of books. My kindle is filled with a plethora of authors I love, as well as authors I am just discovering, and my library card is always in my wallet for constant access. I have no valid reason for falling so behind. I love to read. I’m a writer. I have no choice but to love to read. If I didn’t, I’d have no business being a writer.

Sometimes I feel guilty when I’m reading because I tell myself I should be writing. But a writer learns while he/she reads, and will better at his/her craft the more they read, so I will no longer call it reading, rather research. 

The next time I spend a gorgeous afternoon under the sun engrossed in a great story, I will tell myself that what I am doing is the writer’s equivalent of a scientist conducting experiments in a lab wearing goggles and a lab coat. Research!

Blogging – I set a goal to write two blogs a week. This isn’t an overly ambitious goal. I did not set myself up to fail  because this is an easily attainable feat. Yet, if you keep up with my blog even just a little bit, you know that not only am I not writing two blogs a week, but sometimes I don’t even write one.

This failure isn’t for lack of having anything to say. There is plenty happening out there I have an opinion about. Hello, this is election year. There have been an abundance of headlines that caused me to seriously rethink the level of humanity and compassion in our country’s leaders. And this is sad.

But I hesitate to write here sometimes because I question why anyone would care what I think. Am I wasting my time with this blog?  I do this blogging thing because I was told authors needed it as one of their platforms. I know for certain my blog has been responsible for one book sale – one. But I don’t blog for the sales. I do it for that one person who may enjoy reading the words I write.

I easily forget at times that anyone, in any country with internet, has access to everything I write. A few of my friends read my blog and occasionally they’ll comment on something I’ve written, and I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, and think, “Oh yeah. I wrote that and you can read everything I write.”

Sometimes it’s a little awkward when I’m scrambling to remember if I revealed anything too personal. I will put some of my self-consciousness aside and just write about whatever I want – no matter how opinionated I may get.

Yoga and Meditation – I started doing yoga consistently about two years ago. I still practice, but I’m not where I thought I would be by this time. My dedication to the spiritual journey I set on a few years back has been interrupted. I used to practice yoga everyday, meditate nightly, and read spiritual passages.

I allowed myself to get distracted. It became too difficult to keep my mind at the steady pace and concentration meditation requires. The external noise around me got too loud, and I began to listen too intently. I let myself get upset about things I know aren’t important. I tried to control too much, forgetting the impermanence of life.

I can feel in my body and soul, in my self, where I lost the calming benefit, and clarity, daily yoga and meditation had once given me. I will get back to yoga with more consistency. I will slow my mind and remind myself that at this moment, all is well. I will read and retain passages that enhance my spiritual journey.

Writing – I am happy I have at least kept up with my writing. I have just completed an 80,000 word novel, the longest story I’ve ever written called A Penny on the Tracks.  This feat alone makes falling behind on most everything else somewhat bearable.

 

A writer writes.

Never forget that, writers.

I Ain’t Sinatra

Unlike Sinatra, I have more than a few regrets. Enough to mention, but I won’t in detail. Not here. My regrets stay locked tightly inside me and I fear if I accumulate any more, my insides will burst like the overflow of a shaken carbonated bottle. But my lid sits securely in its place–for now.

Some of my regrets I couldn’t control, but most, however, were of my own-doing. My past is filled with chances I didn’t take when I should have and chances I did take when I shouldn’t have. I quit when I was meant to fight and acted brave when it was best to walk away.

Live and Learn.

I meditate. Being still helps calm most of my mind’s chaos, while teaching me to accept my past knowing that I can’t change it. The part of my life already lived will not be given back to me. I’m tilting toward the brink of forty. If I’m lucky to live to see eighty, my life is already half-over. Half-lived.

Time may minimally ease the sting in the cuts of a person’s deepest regrets, but the guilt and shame in not feeling any sense of accomplishment in one’s life is a heavy burden to carry.

Luckily, that burden was lifted from me the moment I signed my first publishing contract. I waited twenty years and I would have waited twenty more because getting published is the validation most writers seek, and I was no exception to that need of validity.

In 1999, I was fresh out of college — an English major who didn’t want to teach. I want to be a writer, I’d say, and being a teacher sounded too permanent. So I took a job selling cellphones. I sold cellphones before I even owned one. I didn’t know how to power-on most of the phones I was meant to sell, let alone answer technically-specific questions about them.

“Is this a NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) battery or a lithium-ion?”

“Um…let me check on that for you, sir,” I’d say, and sneak behind a front display and whisper to my manager, “What the #uck is a nickel metal something battery and lithium something another?”

These exchanges happened often. I’ll never forget the $hit I caught from a customer when I told him a charger he wanted to buy was an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) Motorola product when it was actually an after-market brand. It was an honest mistake, but because he owned stock in Motorola, he was furious. And he let me know it.

I was a terrible salesperson, but that was the appeal. The only job I wanted to be good at was writing. The downtime waiting for customers was spent writing. But I didn’t yet know how to write and my first rejection letter proved this. I was around twenty-three years old and all I wanted was to be a published writer. I took the rejection well. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I also didn’t know it was going to be so hard.

But the hard is what makes the moment so sweet when you finally get it right.

I signed my first publishing contract early last year and my book came out the following summer. Though I may have felt validation as a writer, that moment, a year later, has created one of the biggest regrets in my life, and that’s saying a lot. I know I can’t bring back the past, no matter how far I reach back. Like all my other regrets, this one has to live through its course, and will be felt every inch of the way.

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

No Regrets

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The days remaining of 2014 have hit the single digits and when a new year approaches, reflection over the past year can bring forth profound emotions. There will be regrets. Some big. Some small. But hopefully with those regrets come moments one wishes to relive everyday for the rest of his or her life.

2014 had a few of those moments for me.

I published my first book this year and my second will be out early next year. Being a published author had always been my dream and the timing of that dream coming to fruition couldn’t have been more perfect. It came while I was at an extremely low point in my life and the news gave me the lift I desperately needed. I finally had a reason to be proud.

For the moment, I was assured I could offer this world, this life, something, anything. I felt the satisfying emotion of self-worth that every person needs to feel in order to live each day with the confidence that he or she belongs here.

It’d been a long time since I felt I had accomplished anything and the sensation that ran through me when I finally achieved this was life-saving. But once the jubilation of signing my first book contract eased, I realized, “Holy Crap! I need to do it all over again!”

Yes. I had to get to work on my second book because nobody wants to be a one-trick pony. I hit more walls while writing that second book because the inspiration just wasn’t there. Not like it was with the first book, but eventually, I finished it and sent it to my editor. She liked it and contracted it. (Thank you, Jeanne!)

I’m in a much better place going into this new year than I was at this time last year. I was still a month away from being published and filled with severe doubt about everything I did. In some psychic way, I knew how much was riding on the outcome of my submission to the small epublishing company I had discovered online. I wrote the query letter but was cowardly close to not sending it at all. My emotions were out of control. I was crying a lot and was certain that I was in no state of mind to handle a rejection.

Looking back, reflecting on this past year, I’m relieved I took a chance with my writing. Sure, I had risked getting rejected and crying more than I already was, but I would have gotten over it eventually because I knew I couldn’t live with asking myself “what-if?” all the time. It only brings regrets.

Heading into 2015 I have another “what-if” scenario haunting my mind and it won’t go away. But I’m not sure I have the courage to do what I know is right. This could blow up in my face in a very bad way.

A year ago I put my dream on the line. I took a risk. I need to do it again because I don’t want 2015 to be the year of regrets.

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Crazy in Chicago

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The young son of a widowed man calls up a radio show on Christmas Eve and shares with the host, and anyone listening, how sad his father is. He wants his lonely dad to find a new wife. The boy, Jonah, is able to convince his father, Sam, to pick up the other extension and have a conversation about his wife, who had passed away a year and a half ago, to a complete stranger. (Only later does he realize he’s been talking to a nationally syndicated radio show.)

A woman, Annie, who lives thousands of miles away, has just left a Christmas party with her fiancee. She drives alone and turns on her radio and a child’s voice fills the car. She listens as the boy talks about his dead mother and his heart-broken father. When Sam gets on the phone, his voice is soft, deflated, as he runs down his daily routine of trying not to miss his wife.

Annie is stopped by the way the man on the radio longs for his dead wife. He loves her still. Probably always will. Annie listens, breathless at times, as he tells of how they met and when he touched her for the first time it was like…magic.

Annie and Sam say “magic” at the same time.

A shared moment between two strangers living on opposite ends of the country, Sam in Seattle and Annie in Baltimore.

What Annie feels in that moment is enough for her to write a letter to Sam, but she doesn’t send it, a friend, her editor (also a woman captivated by this man’s story), secretly does. Annie is a reporter and she is sent to Seattle to do research on talk radio shows.

In Seattle, she finds Sam and watches him play with his son on a beach. Sam notices her from across the street and walks toward her because he is taken by her, but she leaves before he gets too close.

If you don’t know, what I’ve written is the premise of the movie Sleepless in Seattle. Tom Hanks plays Sam and Meg Ryan portrays Annie.

In the end, the two strangers meet at the Empire State Building in New York City. Sleepless in Seattle is one of the most romantic movies of all time and the two main characters share only a few scenes together. They touch once. They hold each other’s hand. And that’s all they need because like magic, they just know.

I wonder how a story like this would play out in real life. If a woman jumped on a plane, tracked down a man she’d never met before, but felt a deep connection to because she listened to him a couple times on a late-night radio show, and watched from the street as he played with his son.

If the “darling” of movies at the time, Meg Ryan, wasn’t the real-life version of “Annie,” would this still be written like a sweet romance movie? Or instead, would it be watched as a “scary-as-shit, holy-fuck, Glenn Close Fatal Attraction-esque, I’m calling the cops!” psycho-thriller?

Sleepless in Seattle was made in 1993. We hadn’t yet been introduced to social media and because of that, this kind of story is more likely to happen in 2014 than in 1993. The Internet has given us access to people’s lives we didn’t used to have. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, Vine, Tumblr, etc. can allow us to feel like we know a person, when we really don’t.

Annie fell for a man by listening to him tell his story over the radio, so is it that crazy to imagine it’s possible to fall for someone by following them on Twitter, reading their blogs, or creeping their Facebook page?

You stumble upon a person’s writing and they stop you because their words hit you so hard, right in the gut, that you can’t stop reading and need to know more. And the deep connection you feel overwhelms you and soon, you’re reading everything you can find about this person.

But how do you know if you’ve taken it too far? Where’s the line? And if you cross it, how far do you go?

To look at a stranger’s pictures and they feel like home. To be so inspired by someone you’ve never met before that you can compose the most powerful, breath-taking ballad or write an emotional, heart-melting love story that blows Sleepless out of the water – is amazing.

And what if you meet this person and she ends up being even better than the fantasy? And her beauty, stronger than any dream you could ever imagine. What if she is everything you want and just when you get close, she slips away and into the arms of someone else? Bam! You couldn’t see that coming because it doesn’t fit the version in your head of the way this would play out, because it doesn’t fit the movie.

All you want to do is cry because she’ll never know how much you longed for her or all the nights you went to bed thinking of her in your mind and woke up feeling her in your heart. She’ll never know that you check her Twitter account every day just to see what she’s thinking, if only for that one moment, to feel close to her.

What if nothing else mattered – a huge promotion, winning the lottery, publishing a book. What if none of that meant a goddamn thing if you didn’t get the girl in the end?

Tom Hanks got the girl in the end. He got his “Annie.” I still ache for mine and I don’t think she even knows.

And that drives me crazy.

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Please Don’t Steal My Book

The first time I saw my book illegally downloaded on the Internet I wanted to cry – but not before punching in the face those six hundred-plus people who stole my book. Yes, stole. They didn’t pay for it, so it’s stealing. I had a discussion today with my sister about this issue. She knows a person who sells pirated-DVD copies of movies – new movies – movies less than a week in the theater new. She makes six hundred dollars cash a week. That didn’t sit well with me.

I told my sister this person was making money off someone else’s hard work. A writer’s words. A director’s vision. An actor’s passion. A costume designer’s sore, over-pricked fingers.

“She’s s single mom,” my sister responded. “Maybe I’d do that too if I needed the money. Would you rather have me work as a stripper and give lap dances?”

Please get over yourself, sister. You don’t have the boobs to be a stripper, but if you did, then yes. Yes, I’d rather you be a stripper giving lonely guys lap dances in dark rooms because at least that’s your hard work you’d be getting paid for. I had to explain it to my sister the way I explained it to my ten-year old niece that buying pirated movies is the same as walking into a store and shoving a DVD under your shirt and leaving.

“But we’re paying for it,” my niece said to me.

“Yes, but to people who stole it,” I responded.

The digital world has made books, movies, and music so conveniently available to us (on our phones, our computers, our Ipads) that it gives the delusion that we own the product before we even buy the product.

I know this didn’t just begin with my book. This type of theft has been going on for a long time. I remember Napster, but I never downloaded music I didn’t pay for, and that goes for books as well.

Authors don’t get paid much, especially authors of e-books that sell for three dollars. The price of a coffee. The price of my book. I didn’t become an author for the money because I knew long before the digital world came around that the writing business was tough. Not many people can make a living doing it, and those who do are probably not living the high-life, but merely scraping by (unless your last name is King, Grisham, Patterson, or Rowling).

Since I’m not here for the money, I admit, I got a little excited when I saw that over six-hundred people had downloaded my book. The prospect of over six-hundred people reading my book was thrilling, thieves and all. Recently, I’d been notified by my publisher about another piracy site. I checked it out and found that my book hadn’t been downloaded at all – not even once. I was relieved, but then quickly thought, “What the ^uck? People don’t even want to read my book for free?”

As a writer I think I’ll always be stoked when people read my work, but is it too much to ask them to pay for it, too?

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People Person or Loner?

Maybe I’m not the recluse I thought I was or would one day become. The writer huddled inside a log cabin deep in the woods that I envisioned myself to be some day. Maybe that’s an old-fashioned, outdated image of a writer, but even if it were accurate, I couldn’t live like that.

Growing up my friends called me a hermit, a loner, an antisocial. Though I did partake in social events, I spent a lot of time alone in my room, behind a locked door, daydreaming about life while staring at posters on my wall of my favorite long-haired, heavily-tattooed, rock bands as their music blasted loudly in the background (it’s a miracle my ears still function). Even amid a crowded room, shoulder to shoulder with people, I could fall into my own dreamyland and create a world where only those invited were welcome.  And I made out the guest list.

But I didn’t become that to-myself, standoffish person living in the middle of nowhere. Not even close. I am so used to not being alone that if  silence fills my house longer than twenty minutes, I begin to wonder where I am.  If children aren’t fighting, or the dog’s not barking, or my brother’s not yelling, or dishware isn’t crashing to the floor, or the TV isn’t blaring from someone’s room, then this place doesn’t feel like home.

Quiet is only okay for so long, but I need noise to remind me that I’m not alone.  And I suppose that doesn’t make me much of a loner.

 

 

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