Susan Henderson talks about her luminous novel, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, taking chances, her favorite movies, & writing advice

By Leslie Lindsay 

A haunting tale of a dying town, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS is tender, lyrical, and poignant in a very illuminating manner about a female mortician, a horrific accident, and taking chances. Susan Henderson is here chatting about so many wonderful things it’s impossible to list them all…seriously, you want to read this interview and then you’ll run out and buy this book. It’s that good. 

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I was absolutely ensnared with the vivid bleakness of that swell of blue and green of the cover and then the title, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS called to me from some place far away and I had to get my hands on the book. I’m so glad I did.

Susan Henderson is a writer with tremendous grace and empathy, plus she seems to really ‘get’ small town American life, the human condition, and so much more. I read this book on a driving trip through Iowa. And while the story is actually set in a dying Montana town (which goes by the fictional name of Petroleum), I couldn’t help but feel I was there, smack in the middle of this book cover.

Mary is thirty years old and the town’s female mortician. She grew up the only child of Allen (whom is mostly referred to as ‘Pop’) because her mother died in childbirth. There was no funeral home in Petroleum, so Pop studied and took classes to become certified in the art of bereavement and embalming. Mary really had no choice but to follow in her father’s footsteps. Together, they live in the funeral parlor and put the town ‘to rest.’

But years ago, before the story really begins, a horrific accident occurred at the grain elevator, killing the town’s star high school athlete. The granary is closed for good, and the train no longer stopped in town, plus the brother is blamed for the tragedy and shipped off to live elsewhere.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Susan Henderson to the author interview series.


“This novel is so breathtakingly good, so exquisitely written. About a female mortician, about a childhood tragedy that still haunts a damaged young man, about the endless landscape and about those tiny sparks of possibility. Oh my God. Trust me. This book. This book. This Book.”

 —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Cruel Beautiful World


Leslie Lindsay: Susan, I am so, so honored. First, I was so completely struck by the beauty of the prose, the obvious research you did to paint such an authentic portrait of small town life. But it came at a bit of a price. You spent an entire month living in a hotel of the town that became Petroleum. Can you tell us about that experience and was that sort of the ‘birth’ of this tale, or was it something else?

Susan Henderson: My intention with the book was to grapple with the current division in America—between those who want change and those who feel things are changing too fast, and I wanted to do that in a way that was removed from politics and might get each side listening to each other again.

So I was not trying to write about the people from this particular town. In fact, I only desired to set the story in a small, rural town, and chose to spend a month in this one because I was emotionally attached to it. It’s where my father grew up, and I knew how physically unique it was.

Of course, the real town managed to seep into the novel a good bit—particularly the tactile details of homes and weather, the sounds and rhythms of ranchers, the stark beauty of the land, the isolation from other towns and conveniences.

But this is definitely a work of fiction, this is me grappling with a conversation that has become uncivilized in the real world, so I put it into story form. I wanted to dig down deep into the grief and rage and pride of people whose identities are tied to jobs and a way of life that are slipping away. And yet there are some people in the town, and the narrator’s one of them, whose passions and dreams for themselves are not found in the town’s traditions.  My hope is that we might start to hear each other, that we might get tired of being stuck.

L.L.: While there are some elements in THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS that are drawn from memory and experience, it is in no way autobiographical, a memoir…yet there are so many truths in fiction. Can you talk about that, please?

Susan Henderson: Fiction is where I tell the truth.

If I were to tackle the issues of death and dying and what happens to the body in non-fiction, I would worry too much about exposing another’s privacy and harming them in some way. And that instinct to protect others would make me pull back from the hard truths and create a story that’s much too tepid for my taste.

Fiction allows me to talk about the things polite people avoid in real life. I can walk right towards rage and fear and our imperfect bodies. And whenever I need to buffer some sort of psychic pain, I can add another character or a bridge or completely imagined moment that can heal more deeply than what the non-fiction moment might offer.

The great gift of fiction is that we can see the truth more clearly when we see it from a different angle, when we can climb deeper inside the story and the characters. And when the great writers of our time are at their best, fiction can both reexamine and change the world. Think: Animal Farm, A Handmaid’s Tale, Beloved, The Lottery, Invisible Man, All the Light We Cannot See.

L.L.: Regarding truth, it’s elusive, much like the wind in THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, which I noticed came up a good deal, but wasn’t overdone. We can’t see the wind, but we can feel it. We can see the devastating effects the wind can cause land, on buildings. And the wind can provide energy, motion. Did you intentionally make it a metaphor or was that something that grew organically?

Susan Henderson: When I stayed in the real town for a month, it was the wind that made me worry I might lose my mind. It was so loud, I felt like I had to shout over it. When I was inside my motel room, it crashed so hard against the room, I sometimes wondered if the windows would break. And when I walked out of that room, I felt almost tormented by it, like it was purposefully pushing me. So it just became more of a character in the book, like this mischievous soul messing with people’s hair, knocking down signs, slamming doors.

What was so clear to me while I lived there was that the weather and the land were interconnected with the lives there. It would physically change you—your skin, your hair, your ability to hear and be heard. And your isolation from other towns, from others who might help, would force you to become self-sufficient, or you simply wouldn’t survive.

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Susan took this photo while staying in the small town that would become the fictional Petroleum. And the cover. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

L.L.: Of course I have to ask about Mary’s role as an embalmer. This might make someone squeamish, but you took such a gentle, comforting approach, it didn’t bother me. Can you tell us a bit about your research to get Mary’s character ‘just right?’

Susan Henderson: So, the eventual concept of the book, was to tell the story of a dying town via a narrator who could look at death without flinching. She could take us to that conversation that’s so uncomfortable for us to have. She’s seen all manners of grief—raging against the inevitable, going submissively, pretending it’s not happening.

But this meant that I would have to learn how to run a funeral home and how to embalm dead bodies. I learned everything I could about the dead and dying, about mortician’s tools and burial practices. I learned from books and from talking with folks in the funeral and hospice industries.

And then I dreamed up Mary Crampton, kind of a quirky loner who is more comfortable with the dead. And I gave her a story line which would force her into the living world, where she is less confident. And I put her smack in the middle of the conflict I wanted to explore—between an agent of change and those who are trying with all they have to hold on to their traditions.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

L.L.: In the end, the very end, you talk about your writing ‘tribe,’ how writers are a ‘bunch of introverts, misfits, observers, and deep thinkers.’ This really resonated with me as I read your words. You went on to say how we share the scars of rejection, hounding questions about how long the writing is taking, and so much more. I get it, oh, how I get it. What other writerly things have you learned along the way and how might one keep swimming?

Susan Henderson: I get as much mail about the Acknowledgments section as the book itself. I really felt like I needed to write that note to my fellow writers because it can be such a bruising business.

How to keep swimming… well, for starters, I created my website, LitPark, just for that purpose. It’s where we all share our struggles and successes and tips. I also added a new feature called Words for the Weary, where authors share their advice about surviving in this business.

Beyond that, I think the reality is that we would all have quit by now if we could or if we were being reasonable. But somehow, in spite of the rejections and the uphill climb, we keep waking up with ideas, we keep observing and eavesdropping and dreaming. What that says to me is that we’re writers. It’s in our hardwiring. For whatever reason, we’re driven to tell stories, to look closely at the world, to find music in words.

Once we realize that, there’s only one thing to do, which is to build the support we need to stay in the game. Follow the writers who are emotionally available, attend readings and greet the authors afterwards, find the nearest indie bookstore and get to know the owners. This is how we find our tribe and, some days, this will be lifesaving.


“Great sentences expounding on the complexities and fragilities of the human heart, one that echoes John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner.”

 —Lou Pendergrast 

on THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS


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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: Susan, it’s been wonderful. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? Like…your summer plans, what you’re writing next, what you’re reading, what movie you last saw, or a favorite guilty pleasure?

Susan Henderson: You know, people always ask me about books but never ask for movie recommendations. Here are a few I’m looking forward to: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (because I could use a little Mister Rogers in my life these days), American Animals (because I’ve heard it’s brilliant), and BlacKkKlansman (because I’m a crazy-huge fan of Jordan Peele and Spike Lee).

What have I seen lately that’s memorable? I loved the animation in Isle of Dogs. The movie itself is uneven but worth it for the visual artistry. Moonlight is a gorgeous coming of age story that feels like you’re watching a poem. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie that felt so much like a literary masterpiece. I, Tonya surprised the hell out of me by how terribly funny, poignant, and deep it was, especially in exposing our prejudices about class. The Stanford Prison Experiment was painful to watch but a eye-opener at how quickly we are corrupted by power. I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary about my favorite writer, James Baldwin, and his words are more relevant today than ever. The Zookeeper’s Wife made me want to go home and write. And Get Out made me want to talk about it for hours because Jordan Peele is a genius at getting you to look at society and self from another angle.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, please visit:

Order Links: 

Susan_Henderson.2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Henderson is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the author of two novels, The Flicker of Old Dreams and Up from the Blue, both published by HarperCollins. Susan lives in Kings Park, New York and blogs at the writer support group, LitPark.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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#literaryfiction #smalltowns #grief #amreading #identity #ruralAmerica #mortician #funeralhome

 

[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins. Image of rural fence from the archives of S. Henderson; all used with permission]

Anna Quinn’s prose glimmers and sings in her arresting debut, THE NIGHT CHILD

By Leslie Lindsay

You’d never know this is a debut. Anna Quinn writes with such a steady hand and full heart, but her words are sparse and poetic. Please join us in conversation as she talks about giving up traditional conventions, listening to the rhythm of language, and so much more. 

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Perhaps the most powerful, most lyrically written book I’ve read in a long time. THE NIGHT CHILD encompasses luminous prose in a tender tale of traumatic childhood experiences and the fragile curtain of mental health and motherhood in this arresting debut.

Nora Brown teaches high school English and lives an uncomplicated life with her 6-year old daughter Fiona and husband Paul. But when, one day near Thanksgiving, Nora glimpses a disembodied face with startling blue eyes and then, later, a message and the image deepens, Nora is completely terrorized. What—whom—was that? And what do they want?

Tests are run. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with Nora, so what was going on? Was it microsleep? Was it just her imagination?

Shaken and completely unnerved, Nora seeks the care of a psychiatrist. As the tale progresses, we learn darker truths, family history and secrets surface, and there’s more, too.

I tore through THE NIGHT CHILD. Quinn’s prose is so lucid, so glittering, it absolutely took my breath away. Readers need to be aware that the experiences portrayed are traumatic, yet under Quinn’s gentle hand, they are handled with softness and sympathy, maybe even poetry.

Please join me in welcoming Anna Quinn to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Anna, this book! Oh my. You absolutely blew me away. This is your fiction debut, but you’ve also written poetry and you teach, too. Before we get into all that, I want to know: what was driving you to write THE NIGHT CHILD?

Anna Quinn: First, thank you for having me! And thank you for your wonderful words about THE NIGHT CHILD. So now, to answer your question about the driving forces behind the story. There were many. I wanted to explore the themes of patriarchy, feminism, dissociation, sexual abuse and identity through fiction—I’d written into those themes for a decade as memoir, but I’d become stuck in my singular story, and I wanted more. I needed the perspective my imagination offered, and I also needed freedom from the voices on my shoulders. I wanted to write a survival, triumph story. I wanted to give voice to a child who hadn’t been heard for decades. I wanted to write a story about how essential it is to listen to the child within, how essential loving that child is to survival. I wanted to write about the tremendous urge of the body and mind and heart to heal itself. I wanted to write into destruction and create something life-affirming. I wanted to help in some way to dissolve the pervasive issue of child abuse in our country.

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L.L.: How did your work as a poet and essayist inform your writing for THE NIGHT CHILD? Or, did it?

Anna Quinn: It did. I’ve always had a deep interest in form—how it informs content and vise-versa. Poetry and essay influence my fiction and fiction influences my poetry and essay writing—each form brings something to the table.

Essay challenges me to look beyond my familiar story and to explore the “so what” of it. Questioning the significance of content in THE NIGHT CHILD led me to a complete shift of consciousness, urged me to focus on the specific thoughts, feelings and experiences of Margaret and Nora.

And poetry? I’ve loved poetry since I was a child—felt immediately at home with the mystery, beat and pulse of it—it’s how I think really—in sensory fragments. Poetry insists I close my eyes and feel around for heartbeats—it challenges me to question and smell and taste abstractions—to go beyond primary emotions into the layers below, to continually adjust my lens, whether it’s to magnify an image, or blow the image apart and finger the pieces. Poetry teaches me to take words away if they don’t carry essential substance and intensity, to trust and use white space for breath or tension, to spend time with rhythm, and to break way from conventional restraints of structure and language.


The Night Child is an exhilarating debut: Quinn immediately pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go until the final scene. She commands each page and expertly dives into the inner working of a broken mind. This fast-paced, riveting novel of coping with the past while trying to salvage life in the present is hard to put down.”

Booklist


L.L.: What aspects of writing did you struggle with when you tackled fiction for the first time? What do you think you did ‘right,’ and what might you have done better?

Anna Quinn: I think once I let go of conventional structure, and the idea that I had to do certain things, like create a traditional arc or trajectory or have certain forced plot points, and accepted the role of witness and artistic advisor, rather than a controlling narrator, the story opened up and told itself. Letting go of the voices on my shoulders wasn’t easy for me though, which is why I struggled with memoir. But once I shifted to third-person I was able to step back and trust the story in a new, more imaginative way.

L.L.: There are a lot of psychological goings-on in this tale. Were you familiar with them ahead of time, or did you have to embark on some research? And I don’t want to ask about specifics, because I’m afraid I’ll give it away!

Anna Quinn: Hmmm, well, while the characters and events are imaginative, the emotional experiences in Nora’s life regarding her marriage, mothering, teaching and therapy were very familiar to me—they held the emotional truths of my body, my heart. Margaret’s memories were most familiar of all, and were heart-wrenching to write. I also interviewed psychiatrists and other people who had experienced dissociation and childhood sexual abuse as well.

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L.L.: I so enjoyed how you brought the past to light in THE NIGHT CHILD, particularly as you write about Nora’s mother’s passage from Ireland to the U.S. and the trouble that ensued. I’m curious how that piece came to the narrative because it really adds a bit of depth and understanding to the current story.

Anna Quinn: I wanted to explore the generational impact of shaming and blaming the victim—who is almost always a woman. Maeve carried the shame of a teen pregnancy out of marriage in 1950’s Ireland. She was essentially thrown out of her country because of a patriarchal religion that made the consequences of her pregnancy, not only a sin but solely her fault, her disgrace, her cross to bear. This shame manifested as self-loathing and anger, and because it was only 1963, there wasn’t the kind of emotional and psychiatric support in American, then, as there is now.

L.L.:  You’re a busy woman. You own a bookstore and teach writing. Plus, there’s that stuff called ‘living.’ Writing, if it’s going to happen, must be carved out carefully. What are some of your writing routines or priorities? And can you tell us about your [writing] workshops?

Anna Quinn: Now that my boys are grown and I run my own business, I’m fortunate that I can create my own writing schedule. I’ve designated Mondays and Tuesdays as sacred writing days and I sequester myself in my writing studio from 7 a.m. until late into the night, only stopping to take an occasional walk and eat something.

The rest of the week I write at home for a couple of hours in the morning and then head to the book shop to teach, curate books, or organize more writing workshops. ~Anna Quinn 

I started the Writers’ WorkshoppeWriters’ Workshoppe over a decade ago. It began with my own search for a writing group—I’d placed a small flier on a bulletin board in our town and the response was so overwhelming, I decided to open a little space where people could come and find a group that fit their needs—ha, I was kind of like a writing group matchmaker. That little shop kept growing and we began offering workshops and bringing in instructors from around the country. Eventually my husband, Peter, and I bought the Imprint Bookstore in town and merged it with the Writers’ Workshoppe. Now, we have 7000 books and several workshops each day, readings and events, and it’s all rather magical.

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L.L.:  What is your most proud moment as a writer? This could be an actual moment in time or perhaps a piece of writing you’ve completed.

Anna Quinn: Oh, whoa, that’s a tough question, also the word, proud. But I guess if you mean a moment when I bit my lip hard because I did something scary and ha, I didn’t die? Well, it’s funny that the first writing moment that came to mind was winning a writing award in 6th grade. I’d written from the point of view of an onion named Ms. Pearl. She was struggling emotionally with people skinning off her layers.I was super nervous to submit it because it was just so weird, but my teacher nudged me to, so I did, and I won. I remember when my name was called out—I just couldn’t believe it. I remember that same feeling later, magnified a million times over, when my agent called to offer me representation for THE NIGHT CHILD, and then later still, when I signed the contract with Blackstone. But, the best moment of all— when the first box of books arrived, and I held THE NIGHT CHILD in my hands. Yeah, that was a moment.

 L.L.: Is anything obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Anna Quinn:  I’m pretty obsessed with the characters in my second novel right now. I can’t say much more except they are women pushing boundaries, and I’m all for that.

L.L.: Anna, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Anna Quinn: Thank you, your questions were so great. And thank you again for reading my book and offering your insightful comments about it.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE NIGHT CHILD, please visit: 

Order Links: 

anna author picture .jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna Quinn is an author, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, WA. She has thirty years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Psychology Today, Literature Circles and Response, Practical Aspects of Authentic Assessment, Instructor, Manifest-Station, Lit Fest Anthology 2016, and Washington 129 Anthology. Anna’s first novel, THE NIGHT CHILD, was published Jan. 30th, 2018 by Blackstone Publishing.

 

 

You can conncet with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 


cover finalLOVE IT? SHARE IT!

 

 

#KeepTalkingMH #psychiatry #PTSD #MH #MentalHealth #MaternalMentalHealth #MentalHealthMonth #ChildrensMentalHealth

[Cover and author image courtesy of A. Quinn and used with permission. Exterior image of Imprint Bookstore retrieved from on 5.10.18]. 

Write On, Wednesday: Playing with Cards

By Leslie Lindsay  (image source: www.benzinga.com 5.22.13)

Yesterday I booked a trip to Vegas, so it’s no surprise I have been in my kitchen playing cards.  And what the hell does that have to do with the price of tea in China…or writing for that matter? 

The trip is to celebrate the wedding of a childhood friend and the cards well, they have nothing to do with gambling and everything to do with something just as risky–my first novel. 

Affectionally, I refer to myself a ‘pantser,’ that is someone who writes by the seat of her pants.  I don’t plot.  I don’t like it.  I feel it stifles the creative process, rather than juicing them up (my critique partner claims plotting excites her to delve into the story).  I like to deliberate and then get hit with a burst of inspiration I can’t possibly let slip by. 

So when my completed Slippery Slope had some holes and a few too many overall words (doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron…how can a story have holes and be too long?  Beats me), my critique partner determined it was time for me to “pull out the cards.”  As in Tarot cards?  Nah…those are in my story, but not in my real life. 

I painstakenly sat at my laptop, a stack of pastel colored notecards at my side and went through my manuscript chapter by chapter, almost word-by-word.  I assigned a color to each main POV character and then other colors for backstory, section headings, etc.  Here’s how the chips fell (sorry, can’t get out of that gambling metaphor): 

  • Main POV female character is pink
  • Main POV male character is blue
  • Random tertiary character is yellow
  • Female backstory is purple
  • Male backstory is green
  • Section headings/quotes are white

This afternoon, I spread them out on my kitchen island and studied them.  In my hand, I held several cards (for note taking) and a sheet of tiny smiley face stickers. 

Soccer spring 2013 037 Soccer spring 2013 038

  • Red face = cut &/or severely revise
  • Green face = BATP (big-ass turning point)
  • Yellow face = I really like this, even if it’s not relevant.  And sometimes the yellow and green overlapped.  When that happened, I cheered!
  • But the problem is, there are a lot of cards that are left blank.  Meaning, they have plot points on them, but I am not sure if I like it, if it needs to be cut, if it’s even relevant.  Some of those cards are just transition chapters…and do they need to stay?  I don’t know yet. 

Now the big task of weeding out those chapters with the red sticker.  You’d think that would be easy, but not really.  It’s not that I don’t want to cut some of my work, it’s just that well–it impacts the flow I thought I developed. 

In the end, it working with the cards was a little madening, but it did help to be able to look at things as a big picture and then be able to manipulate them (by moving around my counter top, stopping to scrutinize) and the ones that are crud…well, they just may go to Vegas.

Write on, Wednesday!

For more information, look to the July/August 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest, specifically the article, “5 things Novelists Can Learn from Screenwriters.” I just did.  Here’s what the author, Scott Atkinson says: 

“A story can be built in scenes.  Some novelists start on page one and knock out a daily word count until they type “the end.”  But if that doesn’t work for you, don’t worry.  It doesn’t work for [screenwriter], either.  He never starts on page 1 of a screenplay.  He starts with the basic theme and overall journey–what screenwriters call controlling idea–and lets it come together, scene by scene–and not necessarily in order. 

He thinks, “What am trying to write about?….You may have some ideas for scenes and you jot them down as quickly as possible, and start to imagine where they might fall into that mauscript/screenplay.  And then gradually you start piecing tigehter a collage of those things either on cards or colored pencils, in a notebook, or on a piece of paper, and then you start figuring out what happens when.”

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In My Brain Today: All in 7 Days

By Leslie Lindsay In My Brain Today: Random thoughts by Leslie Lindsay

I’m so glad tomorrow’s Friday. Well, kind of. Saturday is my daughter’s BD and then Sunday is recovery day and I won’t have Caribou to do it at. : (  Because, if you are a coffee store nut like me, you’ll know that the Caribou Corporation was bought out by another company who decided to throw the baby out with the bath water.  80 stores closed their doors, leaving 800 employees job-less.  This place was my life.  I know, it sounds really cheesy, but it was a big source of community for me.  (See bullet point about a 1/3 of the way down).

And speaking of bullets, (kind of), what about the Boston bombing.  Tragic.  My heart really goes out to these folks. 

So, here’s what’s going on in this corner of the world: 

  • Huge build-up, let-down, whatever you want to call it with finishing the mss and then going right to conference.
  • Of course, I learned a ton and had fun…but
  • My head is about to explode with new information and
  • I still haven’t had a chance to go through my conference materials.
  • And then the agent I pitched to said ‘no.’
  • Not a big deal really. I will revise and pitch/query some more.
  • Upon return, the house was a mess. Well, not really. Just not up to “Leslie Standards”
  • The weather was nice, so I got inspired to do some spring cleaning. I probably took it too far : )
  • And then Caribou closed. We said 12 years worth of good-byes Sunday and brought home a chair which I plan to get a little plaque engraved “Leslie’s butt sat here for many, many, many hours toiling away on her books.”Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel
  • Oh, and my foot hurts due to plantar fasciatas. Really, really badly. I need a podiatrist but don’t know of anyone.  But I did place a random call to someone today.  Maybe they are good, maybe not. 
  • So I suffer and whine and can’t get to the gym. And then I get fat.
  • My hound dog has emergent eye issues. She spent a very spendy night at a pet hospital. They can’t help her.
  • We go to 1 of 300 Veterinary opthamologists in the entire US and learn she is blind in the right eye.
  • I pay more money to allievate her pain and pick up about 4 different medications I am to administer to her eyeballs 4 times a day. For always.  (Till the hound kicks the bucket, which I am really hoping doesn’t happen anytime soon.  She’s my partner in crime). 
  • Sally (the hound) doesn’t mind, as long as we remember to give her table scraps.
  • But her *vet* minds, Wow–she’s a hefty little thing!” (my eyeroll).Pups and Such 077
  • And then today, the roads are significantly flooded, obstructing nearly all routes into and out of our neighborhood.
  • Water flows like grand rapids in our back yard. We now have lakefront property. It’s muddy and brown and full of bacteria, but who cares? The kids sure as heck don’t as they pull out air mattresses and hockey sticks to go “boating.” Mine just stand around and watch–and wish–they were part of the spectacle. I cancel all evening activities so I can stay home with
  • A screaming banshee of an almost 8yo who was 100% completely disrespectful to her dad when he suggests she choose a game for family game night. “NO! I don’t *want* to.”
  • She threatens to run away from home, getting into the minivan and telling me it would now be her home.
  • Until I have to drive it.
  • When I ask if I can have her BD gifts, she comes inside.

No writing. I’ve barely touched my FB, blog, Twitter, or email. I wonder if it even matters? I think I am making all the difference in the world by sending my thoughts into the world wide web, but in reality, I wonder if it does matter?

Blah.

My  home office is a mess and I don’t want to clean it. I can’t tell you how many papers are piled around me. (school registration, summer camp, special needs at school), I just want to crawl under a rock and stay there for a really long time.

Okay, I ready for Calgon to take me away. 

My hubby says it’s normal to feel like this after a big project is done. I screw my lips and stare at him like he has a third eyeball. “No, really honey…I feel like that at work. It’s hard to dive back into things. You need a break. That’s normal.”

Not me. I’m practically perfect in every way…or says Mary Poppins. I’d like to *think* I am perfect, but alas I am not. (image source: www.starpulse.com)
So, I am going to pull myself together after I’ve had a tub of cookie dough and finish reading something for pleasure. Yay—an accomplishment!!

Tomorrow will be better.

And that is what is in my mind today, Thurday April 18th 2013.

Write On, Wednesday: Planning to Pitch

By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

I have been toiling away on this novel of mine for some time now.  On and off for about four years now.  Geesh…you’d think I’d just give up already.  Well, in the meantime I published another book (non-fiction–see side bar) and it’s doing quite well–a finalist in the Reader’s Choice Awards (hey–we writer’s gotta toot our own horns sometimes). 

Here are some things I am grappling with as I approach ‘pitch time:’

  • I guess I think I’m good-enough to get published, which seems very um…well, conceited… overly confident?  I don’t know…I don’t like either term.  But I will tell you that there is something deep down inside of me that wants to get a book into the hands of readers.  More of a drive, a personal challenge, something I can’t help but do because I am a writer.
  • The art of writing a novel feels very self-indulgent.  Cringe.  I hate that, too.  What got inside my head and whispered, “Write a novel?”  Call a it muse, or “successful schizophernia” as Jodi Picoult refers to hearing the voices of her characters.  But for, it’s a drive.  I can’t not write.  It’s just a part of who I am and who I’ll always be.  I have these stories and these character who show themselves to me and I have to get it down. 
  • And then I wonder if I am good enough.  See number 1 above.  It’s a vicious cycle.

So, this weekend I am planning a little get-a-way to the UofW-Madison for a pitch planning session.  I’m a nervous mess.  Well, sort of.  My novel isn’t finished and so that keeps the nerves at bay.  But you see…that also increases  my anxiety.  The book.  Isn’t.  Finished.  When my husband thoughtfully asked me how I was going to pitch the book this weekend, I clammed up.  My face went white.  “I don’t have to,” I said.  “I am only going to learn how to pitch.  The actual pitch is in a month.” 

 He nodded and patted my shoulder.  “Well, honey.  I am very proud of you.” 

I smiled. 

And now I am rolling up my sleeves to crank that baby out. 

Here’s a quote I will leave you with, “Those writers who are good are constantly questioning themselves.  The ones who aren’t any good, are overly confident.”  ~ Mary Karr, American author/poet. 

Write on, Wednesday!

Coming up on “Write On”:

  • Pitch Practice Basics, a summary of my time in Madison, WI
  • Setting up your writing space, with tips from  my almost-8yo daughter
  • A review of various Bestselling Authors from the book, “Why We Write.” 

Write on, Wednesday: Being Inspired thru the Holidays

By Leslie LindsayWrite On, Wednesday:  Creating a World So Believable Your Critique Partners Think You're Having an Affair

I find that my writing time and inspiration is starting to diminish as I get more involved with the holidays.  I bet I not alone.  While my time may be limited and my talents used in other arenas (I’m  a mean gift wrapper, decorator, etc.), I am still finding time to be inspired for when I do have the time to sit down and pound out that novel. 

Here’s what I mean:

  • Can’t afford everything in those Pottery Barn catalogs that clog your mailbox?  No problem.  Clip the things you like best and use them for worldbuilding your next (or current) project.  Likewise for the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogs…so you don’t really need an ultra-sonic foot massager?  Maybe your protagonist does. 
  • Add some savory details to your work-in-progress by using descriptions from common household spices.  “Her coat was the color of crushed red pepper/ground cinnamon.” …The cold creamy spice of a glass of eggnog…how about describing the taste of those German potato pancakes? 
  • Likewise, you can tap into your natural environment:  What does it smell like when you stop at a roadside tree lot?  Take a jaunt to the Wisconsin/Michigan/Minnesota woods to chop down your Christmas tree?  Can you use that in your work?  How about describing the stench and impatience of sweaty bodies in a crowded post office? 
  • Evesdrop on anyone and everyone.  At the grocery store check-out line, at the bank, at the mall.   You will be amazed at what you can weave into your novel…here are a few of my recent favorites:  “I can feel my arteries clogging just from smelling all of the butter in this place.”  …. “Do you know that when you cry tears of sorrow, your body actually releases toxins not found in tears of joy or happiness?”…. “You may have some pent-up emotional energy in your neck or shoulders…when you get a massage, you should scream and let it all out…you may feel better emtionally and physically.” 
  • If you read children’s holiday books aloud to your children/students, take notice as to how the author works with words.  Is there a fun rhythm or cadence you can emulate in  your own work?  How does the author show emotion?  Can you borrow one of the character’s names for your own character?  Holiday songs can work in this same manner.  “Oh the weather outside is frightful…” [okay, not a good opening line for a book, but you get the idea]  Books (image source: http://www.scjohnson.com/en/family/family-economics/post.aspx?date=10-11-15&title=Christmas-Book-Collecting)
  • Really strapped for time?  Seems all you can muster at your computer is a glimpse at Facebook or Pinterest?  Keep track of what you like and find.  Today’s idea: crafting a Christmas tree out of a stack of books.  Wrap a few strings of lights around them and bingo-presto!!–a display for your bookstore-owning protagonist, whose store is aptly named after her children, Reid and Paige.  (Yep, that is an idea of mine for a future novel…just haven’t figured out the conflict yet). 
  • Watch those cheesy holiday movies, television specials, and televised events like parades and choirs.  It’s good research if you, say need a wholesome Hallmark moment to depict, or have never been to the St. Olaf Christmas Choir.  Larger view (image source: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/03/17/regional-spotlight-st-olaf-choir/)
  • Go see “The Nutcracker” or “A Christmas Carol” on the stage.   How do the characters dress?  Can you recreate something similar in your novel?  The glimmer of her pink organza tutu may show up in your mystery.  You never know.
  • When all else fails, make sure you are reading.  You may not be as voracious as usual, but keep a book with you at all times.  The good writing will park itself into your subconscious, breeding little words for when it is time to sit down at your computer and do some serious writing. 

In the meantime, Write on Wedenesday!

Write on Wednesday: Agents, Agents–Here’s my Story!

By Leslie Lindsay 

I have been busy writing today ..so busy I almost forgot to pound out a blog post!  Yesterday, I was waaay too busy volunteering in my kindergartner’s library and managing all of the day-to-day things that a 2nd grader and her little sister have going to write something for “The Teacher is Talking.”  Oops–guess I get a failing grade for that.  Alas, I am back. 

And since I am working at shaping my novel for an agent’s eyes, I thought I’d let you in a little on that process.  First of all: it’s hard.  Second of all: it’s not easy.  Redundant?  Yep. 

After I did all of my “mom duties” for the day, I told my hubby over the phone, “Yep, gonna head to Caribou to work on my novel.”  He replied, “Well, it seems like an ideal day to do that…it’s dreary and you’ll be able to hole-up in a cozy coffee shop.” He makes it sound like a vacation.  And in some sense, he’s right:  I do like to write.  And I do like coffee shops.  So, what’s to worry about? 

Turns out, a lot. 

First, there’s the synopsis, a 2-3 page complete summary of the novel, including the ending. 

Next, the back-jacket blurb.  Similar to the summary, not not nearly as long.  Look at the backjackets of your favorite books.  How are they laid out?  What do you like about them?  What makes you want to pick up that book and read it?  Make notes.  Then try your hand at crafting your own for your novel.  Not so easy.

Then, you need to sell this idea to an agent.  In a one-page letter, “the query.”  Quick, snappy, fun.  Show off all of your good writing skills and breathe life into that novel.  This is the first peek someone in the publishing industry will have of your novel.  Make it good.  No pressure.  Read these winning query letters from recently published books and be inspired.  http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/successful-query-letters

And then there’s that darn manuscript.  You know, that jumble of words and letters and chapters that make up your novel.  Well, you need to polish up that sucker and make it real purdy so when that big time New York agent is wow-ed by your query, you got it in the bag.  Because they will ask to see at least the first three chapters if interested–and sometimes the whole darn thing. 

Which begs the next question:  “what are the guidelines for formatting a manuscript?”  According to Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript (WD Books),  

  • 1″ margin on all sides
  • Add title page
  • Begin by numbering the first page of text of the book, usually introduction, prologue, or chapter 1.  But don’t number the title page. 
  • Each page should have a header that includes your name, the title of the novel IN ALL CAPS, and page number
  • Start each chapter on its own page, one-third of the way down the page
  • The chapter number and title (if you use them here) should be in ALL CAPS, separated by two hyphens or a dash.  Example:  CHAPTER 1–THE BODY
  • Begin the body of the chapter 4-6 lines below the chapter title. 
  • Indent 5 spaces for each new paragraph
  • Double-space all text
  • Use standard font (Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier), 12-point type.

Note that guidelines vary from agent to agent, market to market (genre).  Be sure to visit your intended agent’s website to make sure you have all of the guidelines in place.  Then, get on it.  But when you use the above suggestions, you are in the right ballpark.  It will ensure your manuscript (ms or mss) is clean, neat, and won’t be rejected because youwere sloppy.  And by all means, try not to be cutesy.  Funky fonts or goofy graphics rarely wow agents.

So, what are you waiting for?!  Write on, Wednesday!

Write On, Wednesday: Inspiration in all the Wrong Places

By Leslie LindsayKeep Calm Poster: Writing Inspiration (by TeddyAndTaft)(image  (by TeddyAndTaft)

We writers look for inspiration in just about everything we do–and everyplace we go.  So, it isn’t all that unusal that I am finding inspiration in all of the wrong places.  Let me explain:

Just this week, the latest Ballard Designs catalog landed in my mailbox.  I haven’t taken the time to flip through it till this morning.  There on page 8 of the catalog is a little ditty about first impressions (it has to do with your entryway/front porch).  Since my book opens with a knock on the door, this was perfect.  Also perfect is that my female character later declares that she is giving up her pharmaceutical sales rep career in favor of becoming a decorator.  I think I just may borrow and recreate a similar statement for my character as the one in the Ballard catalog.  See what I mean about inspiration?

And then last night, reading a book to my kids, I come across all kinds of great alliteration and onomatopoeias….skitter, scurry, skate, slitherthe book was sort of a t0ngue-twister about seeds and flowers no less, but hey–it stoked the ol’ creative brain/word bank. 

Finally, on the way to drop my kids off at day camp this morning, another inspiration when I looked up at the back of a home as I drove past–a tiny window on the third floor, beckoning an attic office.  I think I need to incorporate that in my prose somehow. 

You see…inspiration can come at you in all the wrong places…but it works!

Write on, Wednesday!

For more inspiration on onomatopoeias, see: