Grateful

Today, with all the election stuff rolling on, I am choosing to be grateful. For my friends and family (though we may disagree). For the love and joy that is in this world. For my job at the university, the students and community I serve, and my coworkers.

I am grateful to be a citizen of the United States of America, for the rights and freedoms I have, and for all the people who fought and sacrificed so that I may have them to begin with.

I am grateful to be a writer and to tell stories.

I am grateful for this world, as crazy as it is, that challenges me to grow, think differently, and become better.

I am grateful for all this and more that, for some reason, I am unable to fully articulate. And I hope more people choose gratitude, empathy, compassion and love in the days ahead.

Um… I’m back? Maybe?

It’s been roughly a year since I last posted to this blog. Um. Sorry?

It’s been a crazy two years. I’ve been all over the map between work, writing, moving, making big life changes, etc., and I just sort of… forgot to write anything about any of it.

So, I’m going to try to get back at it and post a little more often than every couple years. Because a lot has happened, and I should be writing about it.

So again, sorry. But I’m kind of back. Stay tuned (but don’t hold your breath) for more to come.

‘You only need 100,000 words’

I attended my monthly poetry circle last night but I did not read poetry. My focus this past year has been fiction. And it felt good. It felt really good. To read the opening scene of a short story and look up to see twenty people’s eyes, staring at me, hanging on my every word.

I wrote something great. And it’s only a first draft. An unfinished first draft.

The response from the group was: “You have a novel here, Gina.”

No, I have a short story.

“Write the novel. You can do it. You only need 100,000 words.”

Yeah…. I didn’t tell them I already have two novels in the works. I didn’t get into the reason this is going to stay a short story. (For now.) Because I’m not sure I can fully articulate what makes this particular short story so special. Why writing it feels different than anything I’ve written before.

This story matters more than the others. There’s something deeply personal about this one. I was trying to explain to Brent last night – this is the first time I’m writing a story that’s set in a place that matters to me. It’s a fictional town, fictional characters, but the opening scene – the house, the yard, the garden – that’s real. It’s where I spent many of my days as a child. It’s my Nana and Papa’s backyard. Their kitchen. Their summer porch and zucchini plants.

And I feel this shift in how I write. I’m not just writing to tell a story, show action, and make things happen to my characters. I’m not just writing because it’s fun.

I’m writing to share a home with you. This experience of sitting at their table, playing Skip-Bo and eating ice cream. The feel of the zucchini stems, freshly carved into whistles with Papa’s pocket knife, is immensely important. More so than the suspense of action.

I’m beginning to understand what it means to incorporate your reality into your fiction. And that’s what I love about writing – it’s a craft you never stop learning. Through continual practice, you start to understand the rules that were ingrained in your mind throughout your formal education.

And when those rules start to sink in and you get them – when you understand what they really mean, and not just what you think they mean; what you thought your professor was saying when he said, “You need to add more of you into your work” – that’s when you notice the shift in how you approach your writing.

You don’t just plunk words on the paper and edit them and say, “Yay! Another story done!”

No – at that moment, you’re writing from the heart, from the soul. And it’s beautiful. It’s fulfilling in a way I had never realized before. And maybe it’s the difference between genre and literary fiction that I never understood. Or maybe it’s the reason why we all just keep writing. We’re looking for that deep and satisfying fulfillment, and maybe it’s like a drug. Maybe one little taste isn’t enough. You have to keep working, digging deeper into your soul, writing about people and places and things that really matter to you because you need to feel completely intoxicated by this joy and satisfaction. Intoxicated by the work.

I’m finally starting to get it. I still only have a short story with this piece that brought me to this new euphoria, but it’s opened the door for me to dig deeper and find the courage to write more honestly and appreciatively about my own reality.

Tend to life first

Situation: I’ve hit what I like to call writer’s molasses, which is very different than writer’s block. I know the story that I needs to get down. I’m just trudging through so painfully and excruciatingly and exhaustingly (exhaustively?) slow. Like I’m swimming in a vat of molasses and getting no where.

Now,  you may question: Gina, do you really know this story?

Answer: Yes. I do. I’m just not able to put the words down.

I asked for some advice from my writing group, and one member suggested I take care of life first. Once that’s taken care of, then the writing will come. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

I haven’t really written anything in a while, my editing is all on hold – everything is just waiting while I take care of life. Because life is important. So, I’ve been focusing on getting to the gym (and recovering from my third Tough Mudder). I’ve been mentally preparing for a nutritional lifestyle change that Brent and I are going to do in October (Whole 30 Challenge). I’ve been working extremely hard at my day job because I have about 15 projects that are solely my responsibility to make happen, and I’m teaching a class this year. And I’m trying to keep up with regular, everyday chores like mowing the lawn, cleaning the kitchen and laundry.

You know – life.

And I get it – there are people out there who can do all that I’m doing and more (because they may have kids or pets or whatever else to take care of) and still have time to write and write well. But I’m not those people. So I’m putting it on hold (mostly) until I get life taken care of.

Oh, and until I can prioritize my writing. Because I have a million different projects started, and I really do need to just focus in on one thing at a time. Otherwise no progress will be made on anything.

So, here I go. Taking care of life. One thing at a time.

When what you write scares you… just a little

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I have to thank my friend Paul and my fave author, Jenny Crusie, for inspiring me with an idea that scares me. Really scares me.

I’ve been writing more horror-like stories lately, and most of them have been fun to write. There’s an adrenaline rush that you get when you’re writing a story with a lot of tension and that’s the style of my horror stories. They’re not the blood and gore type. They’re the “something’s happening, and we don’t know what, and there’s build up and tension and then BOOM – a crazy shift of events that scares the pants off you.” And that adrenaline rush you get writing that kind of story is – like any adrenaline rush – addictive. And I like it. And it’s fun.

And that’s part of the reason why I’m in the current situation I’m in with this new story – currently named “Zukes and Baby Eyes.” I got the idea after Jenny Crusie wrote on her blog about “National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day,” which is Aug, 8. I had this idea of people sneaking zukes onto porches and then something bad happens to them. And the adrenaline rush started.

And then Paul sent me this: 

And that just fueled the original rush I felt when I thought of this story and I got super excited because, somehow, doll eyes and zucchini connected into one brilliant idea. (I’m not going to elaborate on how – I need to write the damn thing first.) And that’s when I realized just how scary this story could become.

And that’s when I became scared to write it.

That fear to write the story hasn’t stopped me from starting it. I’ve got a good beginning and I know what I want to happen in it. But I’ve never been afraid of my own stories before. I’ve never thought of an idea that would actually give me – the writer – nightmares. And this story – well, it does that.

So, I am being cautious. Yes, this is a story that will scare the pants off the reader, but I hope it’s in the same fashion that Poe’s work scares people. Through subtlety, suspense and surprise. I’m being very careful to keep the gore to a minimum and let the horror come from the reader being able to just infer the details of what happens. It’s a tall order, but I’m up to the challenge.

And, because this story scares me, it may end up being one of my best works. (I hope so, anyway.)