On Resurrecting Characters

If you got excited at the thought of me writing zombie fiction, then I’m sorry to disappoint (I’m still too completely terrified of all zombie-related things).

When I was 17 I wrote a young adult novel. I was young and stupid and I’m not afraid to admit it now. I naively thought that this was the book, the one that was going to jettison me to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Then I woke up at 21 and realized that it was 53,000 words of utter disaster. My main character was telling the story in first person, yet she had an omniscient look into the other character’s lives. There were plot holes and loose threads all over the place. I overused adjectives, told instead of showing, and (gasp) used an awful mirror cliche to describe a character. This draft will never, ever, see the light of day. My husband has been given explicit instructions to burn this original manuscript should I get hit by a bus tomorrow.

Still, I held onto this embarrassment of a manuscript. I’d bonded with my characters, and despite how terrible the writing was, they seemed like cool people. I couldn’t bring myself to just throw the story in the recycling bin, so I tossed it in my rejection drawer (yes, this is a real thing) with my other failed pieces.

While I never looked at it again, I never stopped thinking about that manuscript. It was the first novel I ever finished. I’ve attempted other novels since, but they never quite held my interest the same way that first one did.

More recently, my characters have been ceaselessly haunting me day and night. They keep begging me to give them a second chance. My main character, Liz, won’t let me sleep at night until I’ve added more dimension to her twisted personality.

I’ve decided I need to give them one more chance. I’m not going to attempt to rework what’s already been written. I’m going to take my time to really get to know the shadows of characters I had created as a teenager and try to get to know them as an adult. I’m going to create a brand new plot, one that these characters deserve to be a part of.

I’ve grown so much as a writer since I first realized that this was the path for me. I’ve read books on writing, taken classes, practiced, and found myself some amazing mentors. I hope I never stop learning despite how many accomplishments I achieve. Hopefully this time around, I can find a story that I won’t be ashamed to show the world.



To Burn or Not to Burn: The Case for Journal Destruction

I read an article in Poets & Writers recently (albeit a few issues late) about successful poets and their usage of the personal journal. The women featured, Lisa Fay Coutley, Claudia Emerson, and Anna Leahy, were all in agreement that the journal is a helpful tool for writers. After all, it is both a means for practicing the craft while also giving an outlet for all of the things that we may have bottled up inside us. In many cases, the ability to journal in some form provides us an opportunity to improve our paper-623167_1280physical and mental health, which I wrote about on my other blog some months back.

I too keep a journal and have been doing so on and off since age 10. I suppose my need to journal was inspired by the Dear America Diaries, a historical fiction series where each book is meant to be the diary of a girl from some period in history. The books even have gilded pages and a ribbon bookmark, which added to my awe of them. Like the girls in those books, I wanted to be remembered years after my death because of what was found in my diary.

Obviously, I’m fully aware that each of those diaries was a made up work by a modern day author. Even so, the habit has stuck, and I continue to chronicle my thoughts about some of the more memorable things that occur in my life. But it wasn’t until I read the article that I ever considered burning my journals before my death.

The poets, who appear to favor Moleskin notebooks over the gilded pages I choose for myself, have gone so far as to burn 30 years worth of private journals. I felt a tightness in my chest upon reading that line, and the horrifying image of my own journals piled up and melting in my backyard fire pit flashed before my eyes. But then I went back and read the line they quoted from one of my favorite Joan Didion essays, “On Keeping a Notebook”: “So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking.”

So, that’s basically where I noticed the flaw in my childhood plan- 13 years after the fact. Did I want to be remembered by the emotional scribblings in my diaries? Do I want the world to know my demons, fears, anxieties, and most secretive opinions? Most importantly, do I want to be remembered by my edited and put-together published work, or be known as the chick with the loose screw? I haven’t been trying to keep a historical record: I’ve been writing my own, very biased viewpoint on things that probably aren’t so dire and tragic as I make them out to be in my head.

My journal is my place to be myself. I can let my guard down and not care about censoring what I have to say, which is not something I will always be able to do publicly. After all, if I wanted everything I wrote to be public, wouldn’t I just save myself some money and put it up here?

My husband keeps a journal as well. I discussed the article with him one night while we were both writing new entries. We have an agreement that should anything happen to either of us, the other is supposed to burn all of the journals. Like the poets, I want my husband to remember me not by what I wrote, but by my daily actions. Likewise, I wouldn’t want my lasting memory of him to be what he thought about me on x day x number of years ago when we were bickering about something. Even marriage doesn’t allow for total transparency, though I would never advocate dishonesty. Some things are meant to be turned into fiction or poetry or a personal essay. Other things really should die with their owners.


I’m Back in Business

It doesn’t matter how much one writes or publishes: the excitement of an acceptance letter never diminishes. I realized that last week after learning that one of my poems was accepted by an online journal. I’ve been trying to find a home for this poem, entitled “Graveside Wedding,” since I finished its last revision back in August.

It always feels like you’re trying to find a loving home for a piece of yourself. A majority of my writing is in some ways an extension of me. In that case, why would I want to put myself haphazardly in a magazine or journal that just feels “wrong?” By wrong, I just mean a wrong place for that particular poem or story.

And so, I’m leaving a part of myself in Unbroken‘s May/June issue, and I’m happy with that. That acceptance letter came at the perfect time, considering how crappy the past few weeks have been. It’s on to the next one now.

Poetry and Unidentifiable Fruit

It’s amazing how seemingly mundane things tend to give me the greatest amount of fodder for my writing.

Most recently, it was my trip to the grocery store that flicked the light bulb. Perhaps the fact that it was a 2am trip wasn’t very ordinary, but the act of shopping is one of the most basic human necessities. The store was empty, save for an old couple going slowly down each aisle and a middle-aged couple in front of me at the checkout counter. There was one cashier working, and he was involved in a complicated price check for the middle-aged couple.

The price check quest for the unidentifiable fruit-like object gave me time for reflection. As I stared at my three items on the conveyor belt, I was hit with the sudden need to write a poem. I pulled up the memo app on my phone and started tapping away. By the time the cashier was handing the people in front of me their receipt, I had a finished rough draft.

How did baking soda, chocolate Twizzlers, and a votive candle (don’t ask how these things go together, because I’m not telling) lead me to a poem when I had been tearing my hair out over writing something for a week? In a nutshell, it’s because I slowed down and really noticed them. Each item had a purpose, a reason for pulling me out of the comfort of a warm house into the freezing cold night.

When I thought about the purpose they served, they were more than just objects I was purchasing. They became a story with a deep meaning. They were items that stood for something somber (in my case). At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, they were items that helped shape me in a very weird and obscure way.

Take some time today to really notice something, even if it’s just taking a moment to study a building on your way home from work. Great stories can come from anywhere and anything.

Book Review: Publishing, A Writer’s Memoir by Gail Godwin

226 pages Bloomsbury USA Release Date: January 15, 2015
226 pages
Bloomsbury USA
Release Date: January 15, 2015

As the title of this post indicates, I’m reviewing a memoir this time around. And, as always:

I received an uncorrected proof of this book through the publisher. I am not being compensated in any way for this review. All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

Gail Godwin would fit the definition of a successful writer. After all, she is the author of 14 bestselling novels, two short story collections, and two nonfiction works. Her newest nonfiction work, Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir, is the story of how Godwin became the writer she is today. Regretfully, it is the only work of hers that I’ve read to-date.

Initially I was worried that this memoir, like a few others I’ve read, would be nothing but a platform for bragging and snobbery. Thankfully, it was nothing of the sort. Godwin is a very down-to-earth individual. She opens the piece with her first rejection as a writer and continues to mention her mistakes and failures as much as she discusses her achievements. I appreciated the balance, both as a reader and as a writer. Publishing reminds us that though writing is a challenging profession, it is still an attainable goal so long as one is willing to work through the frequent disappointments. Even the best writers don’t always get it right.

I personally found this inspiring, and there were many instances when I felt compelled to drop the book just so I could go and work on my own writing. Regardless of what her reason was for writing this, Godwin serves as an inspiration for all of us struggling to make it in this competitive and ever-changing field. This is a great book for all, both writers and book lovers who would like more insight into how books come to be.