I Think This Makes Me A Writer

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This week I received two copies of “The Hurricane Review” in the mail. “The Hurricane Review” is a literary anthology published yearly by Pensacola State College in Pensacola, Florida, and its inclusion of my short story “Flip Flop,” along with two poems makes me officially a published author.

I didn’t get paid any money, and it won’t be appearing on any best seller list, but for me, it’s the first step towards achieving my life long dream of being a writer. A real one, not the one I have been, the one who hasn’t let anyone read her stuff since she was in school and had to turn it in for class credit. Not the one who has about 20 partially written stories. Not the one too scared to try.

I grew up with the knowledge that writing is in my blood. My grandfather, Ritchie Ward, was a published author of biological nonfiction. His first book, “The Living Clocks,” was published the year I was born and has been translated into several other languages. He also wrote “Into the Ocean World,” an in-depth look at marine biology worldwide. One of my proudest moments was the day I found his books in my high school library.

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However, over the years, as my family grew, my writing became very hit and miss. The further I got from the accolades of my UW English professors and the deeper into laundry and dishes and diapers, that part of me dimmed.

Last year, a family member sent me a message telling me that I should write a blog, She wasn’t the first person to suggest that I do that, but for some reason, what she said struck a chord. So on May 25, 2013, my 41st birthday, I started a blog.

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Last summer I received a call from my friend Holly MacNaughton. Holly and I have been friends since high school, and have tried to remain in contact over the years as each of us have lived all over the country. Holly is currently living in Florida as her husband, a 20th year USMC Major aviator, finishes out the remainder of his military career. Holly has been going to school at Pensacola State, and was chosen to be this year’s editor of both “The Hurricane Review” as well as “The Kilgore Review,” an anthology publication for current students of the college.

She called to say that she had been reading my blog and wondered if I would be interested in submitting a piece to “The Hurricane Review.” At first I thought she meant something similar to my blog, but then I realized she was talking about a short story; a fictional story.

Some might think that writing fiction would be less personal than writing non-fiction, but for me, that simply isn’t the case. There’s a real difference between my blog, which is my random observations of the world around me, and creating something from my own mind. I’m the kind of writer that is so self-conscious that I don’t like people hovering behind me while I compose a Facebook status, much less having them read my fictional stories. For me, fiction is much more revealing of the writer’s heart than nonfiction.

Oh, and, did I mention the deadline was less than 2 weeks away?

I promised her I would attempt to write something, and if it worked out, great. If it didn’t, well, I tried.

I wrote that story in less than four days. A couple days into it I was less concerned about being able to write enough, but started getting worried that I was going to go way over 15 pages before ever figuring out how to end it. (Those of you familiar with my blog know I can tend to be a bit wordy.) It turned out I had a story.

When I was done, and it was time to send my story, I can’t begin to express the stomach churning that went into pressing send on that email. It felt like I had just ripped my chest open for the world to see.

I submitted my story to her, and then I waited. When she called me to let me know that it had been reviewed and accepted I was thrilled, but also terrified. People were going to read this story. That meant I was about to find out whether I really can write or not. I had opened myself up to criticism, something I hadn’t done with my writing in a very long time.

During the editing process, Holly got back in touch and said she had a challenge for me. She wanted me to also submit two poems of different types for possible inclusion. I hadn’t written poetry since college. I wasn’t even sure I could remember how.

But I did. And guess what? Poetry is not easy, and even MORE soul-bearing than writing fiction. I wrote two poems, one freestyle-ish (I won’t attempt to fool you into thinking I knew what I was doing) and one in iambic pentameter- quatrains and a couplet. Truthfully, I chose iambic pentameter because it was the only style I remembered from Mrs. Searle’s (I think that was her name) poetry class. Shakespeare probably just rolled over in his grave that I have the audacity to call what I wrote Iambic pentameter, but it was at least in the same ballpark.

Amazingly, my poems were accepted as well.

So now, I am a published author. I am currently working on a full length book, that I hope to have finished by the end of the year. Don’t ask me what it’s about, if I told you, I’d have to throw it away and start over. It’s just how I am.

Last night my mom and I got the chance to meet mystery author JA Jance. Ms. Jance has just published her 50th book, “Moving Target.”

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I have been reading her books since I was in high school, and I respect her work immensely.

She began by sitting down several minutes before the evening was officially supposed to start, and chatted with us. She gave us warnings about what NOT to say to an author at a book signing. For example, don’t ever tell her she looks tired. She’s promoting her 50th book. She sometimes goes to 3 or 4 book signings in a day. She said, “I’ve earned the right to be tired. You haven’t earned the right to tell me I look tired.”

She spoke about negative emails that she receives (she answers emails personally) and how she has chosen to handle them. She often writes a terse “thank you for your feedback” reply to those who are nasty, but that’s never the end of it. If you cross a mystery writer, she says, we have ways of dealing with it.

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She told how a University of Arizona creative writing professor wouldn’t let her participate because she was a girl. Funny thing, there’s a character in one of her books who is a Uof A creative writing professor. It doesn’t end well for him.

She also spoke of things that her readers criticize her for, things she includes in her books that some may feel are unnecessary. What the readers often don’t know is the story behind why she includes certain ideas, landmarks, characters. She said she often doesn’t know where the fiction ends and the truth begins, because there are so many of her real life experiences woven throughout.

She told a few stories to explain why certain aspects were included, and they made perfect sense. The reality is, she isn’t really writing for us. She’s writing because she has a story to tell. The two most important concepts I took away from last night were these:

1. Write what you know

2. Write what you want

It was confirmation to me that I’m on the right track. Or the WRITE track. (Good Lord do I love a bad pun. I shall include them because I WANT to.)

 

 

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