Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Getting Poetry Back Into My Life

I'm a goal-setting sort of gal. I'm motivated by lists, challenges with specific outcomes, daily habits. They are promises to myself that I will continue to grow and build and get "better" (however I'm defining "better" just now). I'm my own team of mad scientists making me into Steve Austin:

And it works for me. I challenged myself on Goodreads to read 52 books (one a week) and I did. I'm going to do it again this year. I challenged myself to write every day and I've done it for 1200+ days now and plan to keep on trucking along. I challenged myself to do the Couch to 5K and I did it, sort of (I still can't run every step of it, but I am doing a run/walk combo three miles two or three times a week now).

I can't explain the psychology of this and why it works so well on me. Maybe I'm still just that good girl who wants all gold stars on her chart. Maybe it's a career in education making me appreciate measurable goals and progress. Maybe I just appreciate the orderliness of it in an aesthetic sense.

But it clearly does work for me. I do things I wouldn't have done otherwise when I've taken on a challenge.

So, for 2017, I picked two new challenges: one weekly and one daily. The weekly is to try a new recipe every week. (If you're interested, you can view the collection of posts about that here).

The new daily is to read (and write about) one poem every day.

Poetry used to be my thing, from about age six to about age thirty-five. I wrote a lot of it; I read even more of it. But I drifted away from it in my writing life when I made the switch to prose and began writing novels.

Prose writing scratches a similar itch for me in writing, but I'm finding that I really miss reading poetry. The elder daughter found Walt Whitman recently in a high school class, and when we talked about his work, quoting favorite lines and interpreting them, it sparked a longing in me to get back to poetry.

Poetry touches me as a reader differently than prose. I love the immediacy. The gut-punch of a line or the mind expanding image. The extreme that feels more true than truth. The beauty is more beautiful, the ugly uglier, the pain more painful, and the joy more ecstatic. The best of poetry is words on drugs without the life-destroying side effects.

Getting poetry back into my life has been even better than I thought it would be. I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to find a poem that speaks to you, that says what you are feeling, that makes you see the world differently. It's like falling in love, making a new friend, holding a baby and looking into her eyes. It expands and contracts the world all in the same moment, to the most universal and the most specific at once.

So, get thee to a library. Reading a poem doesn't take long, typically. But it can change your day, or even your life.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Guest Post: Virgil Anderson of

Readers of my blog will know that cancer is one of my causes. I've lost too many good people and wish that no one would ever have to suffer that loss again. So, when Virgil Anderson approached me about hosting a guest post to boost awareness for meothelioma, I said yes. So, I'm happy to offer this space this week. 

Bringing Life Back into Balance after a Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with any type of cancer can really throw your life into a tailspin, but when you receive a diagnosis for a cancer as aggressive and deadly as mesothelioma, your life may feel like it will never be back to normal. It is possible to live with this awful cancer and to find a good balance between living life and living with a terminal illness.

Mesothelioma: What a Diagnosis Means

Any diagnosis of cancer is life-changing. It means facing a lot of big decisions, coping with physical symptoms and deteriorating health, and learning to live emotionally with the burden of cancer. A diagnosis of mesothelioma, which is a cancer that attacks tissue around the lungs, is one of the most devastating. It comes with a prognosis and a life expectancy, as well as difficult choices about mesothelioma treatment and how aggressive to be in trying to find a nearly impossible cure.

Living with this diagnosis also means facing some difficult feelings. Many people with mesothelioma experience elevated stress along with feelings of depression, fear, and anxiety. It is not uncommon to show signs of clinical depression and to lose interest in engaging in normal activities or socializing.

Finding Balance with Positive Coping Mechanisms

To find balance again, between facing the reality of cancer head on and still living and enjoying as normal a life as possible, it is important for mesothelioma patients to make use of positive coping mechanisms. These are strategies that help manage negative emotions, reduce isolation, and help a person regain some control over a life that seems to be spinning out of control:

· Rely on the support of friends and family. If you are coping with a diagnosis of cancer, what you need more than ever is the support of loved ones. A positive support network is a great way to cope with your new reality. These people can be there to listen, to help you do chores, or just to be there quietly, so you are not alone.
· Support groups help too. While your loved ones care, they cannot necessarily understand what you are going through. Another important type of support is from other cancer patients. Listening to and talking to other people going through the same thing is a powerful way to learn to cope and to regain balance.
· Yoga for physical and emotional balance. Yoga has been shown in research to help cancer patients in a variety of ways. It provides both physical and emotional benefits, including less pain and fatigue and greater mobility, as well as reduced stress, depression, and anxiety.
· Journal your feelings. Writing about your experience and how it makes you feel, is a good way to cope with the negative emotions that come with a mesothelioma diagnosis. Try putting your feelings down on paper to help you better sort through your experience and how it is affecting your life.

Living with mesothelioma—being sick, feeling afraid and depressed, going through uncomfortable treatments, feeling alone—is a challenge. It is world-changing, and if you are living with this diagnosis right now, you may feel like your life is never going to be the same again. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean you can’t regain some balance with the right coping mechanisms that work for you.
Virgil Anderson was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, which is a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Virgil’s exposure came from working in demolition and excavating since high school.

When he was diagnosed with mesothelioma he needed immediate medical attention. He found a few websites on the internet that are supposed to help people with mesothelioma cancer but nobody got back to him.

Then he found Even though he contacted them on a Sunday one of their patient advocates gave him a call back within minutes. They gave him a great deal of helpful information on doctors and resources available to him. 

As a result of their website, he is now being treated at the national cancer institute and the patient advocates have even provided him with financial assistance so he could afford a place to live during his chemotherapy. If he had not reached out to this website he would likely be homeless and more importantly in Hospice waiting to die. These people gave him his only chance at survival.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Illogicon 2017: What I'll be up to this weekend

Just a few more days until Illogicon 2017! For those not in the know, Illogicon is a small convention dedicated to Science Fiction in all media, featuring panels, contests, gaming, and booths selling excellent things. And it's in Cary, NC, which is practically my backyard.

This is my third time attending as a literary guest, and I always have an excellent time. If you're in the area, consider coming by. It's not that expensive ($20-$45 depending on how much of the weekend you're coming for) and the atmosphere is friendly and not as overwhelming as larger cons can be. To me, there's nothing better than a weekend spent steeped in geekery, talking about our passions.

Here's a preview of what I'll be up to, but you can view the entire schedule here.

Friday 4 p.m.
Putting the “Social” in Social Media – Reynolds
Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat: how to promote yourself and engage with fans, make new friends, and build a network. For fans, what do you like to hear and see from people you follow? Let’s help each other connect!  Panelists: Gail Z. Martin, Samantha Bryant, Ian J. Malone, Way Stark, Christopher Moore

Friday 5 p.m.
Intro to Writing the “Other” – Cameron

It can be a tricky to write someone whose experience is wildly different than your own. This is an overview of how to tread sensitive topics with respect and seek advice about avoiding harmful stereotypes, and–more importantly–what to do when you fail. Panelists: Gail Z. Martin, Samantha Bryant, Suzanne Adair, Ada Milenkovic Brown, Randy Richards

Saturday 12 p.m.
Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading – Reynolds
Authors of the Broad Universe organization fire off snippets of their work to tease and delight!
Host: Ada Milenkovic Brown

NOTE: An RFR is a GREAT way to get to hear a little from several writers. Generally, there are 6-10 writers participating, and each reads a snippet from one of their works. It's like a sample platter of things to read. This is generally my favorite panel at a con, just to hear what my writer friends have been up to. 

Also, Broad Universe is an excellent organization to look into if you yourself write speculative fiction.

Saturday 5 p.m.
Hold on to the Light – Smith

A discussion of depression, anxiety, and the creative process Panelists: Gail Z. Martin, Tera Fulbright, Samantha Bryant, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Natania Barron, Darin Kennedy

Sunday 11 a.m.
Writing for Anthologies – Smith

Anthologies have long been a mainstay in publishing, especially for genre authors. How do you get in on the action? Panelists: Tera Fulbright, Gail Z. Martin, Samantha Bryant, Ada Milenkovic Brown, Nicole Givens Kurtz

Sunday 12 p.m.
Time Management – Smith
Calling all writers, artists, makers, dancers, film makers, and more! Our panel discusses time management for developing your work, meeting deadlines, and dealing with others who may have different priorities. Panelists: Fraser Sherman, Samantha Bryant, Tera Fulbright, Ian J. Malone, James Maxey

Sunday 1 p.m.
What Should We Be Reading? – Reynolds
Panelists share relatively new or overlooked works they think we should be reading and why. After that, we’ll open up the floor to hear what the audience thinks! Notecards, pens, or smartphones encouraged to take notes! Panelists: Michael Williams, Samantha Bryant, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Natania Barron, Daniel José Older

If this sounds good to you, and you're not local, look around in your area. Small cons like this one are cropping up all over the country. You just might have a wonderful pocket of geekery in your backyard, too. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWSG: Slow Writing Month

December has been my least productive writing month in years (literally three years). I'm hoping that this is just because the months before were so busy and suspenseful that I just needed a break. I'm worried that what it really means is that I've burned myself out, pushing too hard. Of course, I guess both of those could be true…which leaves me hope that I'll recover soon. 

In the meantime, it's left me feeling…a little (okay, a lot) insecure. 

Back in November, I was writing about having to do an Rand R (revise and resubmit) for Face the Change, the third of the Menopausal Superhero novels. I turned it in on November 30, and I waited…and waited…and waited. The stress was intense. I tried not to let myself focus on it, but dang it was hard, just not knowing. I knew if this submission wasn't accepted I'd lose my 2017 publication date, and I felt like that would be a total career-ending disaster (though of course it wouldn't have been). 

Really it was only three weeks, which is not that long at all in publishing. Heck, I've waited longer than that for a "we have received your submission" from some folks. 

Finally! on the first night of Chanukah, I got my acceptance and contract offer.  I hadn't realized how much I had been holding my breath until then. I'm still not sure I'm really breathing right. 

My first two novels were accepted as submitted, so being asked for an R&R really shook my confidence. Even though I took the critique to heart and recognized the validity of it, even though I worked hard and felt that the book I turned in after revision was a much stronger book, that little demon of doubt had gotten a claw under my skin. I feel like I revealed my pride to the universe and got a cosmic smackdown for overconfidence. 

And I haven't really written anything in December. I've played with a short story, and journaled and blogged. But the only things I've finished this month have been two pieces of flash fiction. 

That's definitely not up to my usual productivity standards. And now it's like the crying cycle, where you get mad at yourself for crying which then makes you cry in an endless loop of anger and crying, except the loop is self-recrimination, doubt, and continued non-productivity. GRRRRRR. 

Would love to hear what others have done to pull themselves back up when they feel like they've lost the flow, the mojo, the groove, or whatever it is you call this thing. 

If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.

Be sure and check out this month's co-hosts, too: Eva @ Lillicasplace Crystal Collier Sheena-kay Graham Chemist Ken
LG Keltner Heather Gardner

This month's question: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

The vomit draft. I know this works for a lot of people: to just push through and write and write, keeping going even when the stuff on the page doesn't make any sense and you can tell it's contradictory crap. 

It doesn't work for me. I write and edit at the same time. I go back and change things and then pull that thread forward now rather than waiting to get to "the end" and then going back for that stuff. When I've tried to write a vomit draft, I lose interest in the project. 

I know that my way is probably less efficient because I might rewrite something several times as the project twists and turns on me, but hurtling towards the end when I know the scaffolding doesn't lead there just leaves me depressed by the amount of work I'll be facing to make any sense of it. Even though I'm not an outliner, I'm not quite that free a panster either. I think I ruined one novel idea trying to force myself to do a vomit draft of it. That one may never get written now.