Fear Waits By My Computer

grayscale photography of human skull

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I get up. I send the kids off to school. I grab a cup of coffee. I go to my office.

I say good morning to Fear.

Fear waits for me by my desk every morning.

Good morning, he says. Are you ready?

I am. I sit down behind my computer and push Fear away. He’ll breathe down my neck if I don’t. 

And I type, ferociously and as unbrokenly as I can manage because if I stop, Fear is waiting.

Fear is patient.

Are you sure that’s the right way to put that? He lingers at my shoulder. Then he shrugs. Never mind. Nobody reads your stuff, anyway.

You should’ve started writing novels earlier instead of that short story crap. Ten years earlier and you’d have an agent and been able to sell your stuff instead of messing around with this self-publishing thing. It’s just vanity press by a different name.

You should really get an agent, but agents don’t like what you write, do they?

Fear has a grip on me now, so he is confident enough to walk away a little. He looks back at me and shakes his head. Why did you quit your day job? Oh yeah, to be a mom. But you could get a real job now. Maybe you should. 

And now Fear has a little friend. Self-Doubt holds his hand, and is somehow more frightening than Fear himself. 

What’s the problem? Fear says. Are you afraid if you stop writing you’ll be just another regular Joe?

Maybe you already are, whispers Self-Doubt. Maybe you always have been.

Note: So far this month, I have defeated both Fear and Self-Doubt. I’m at 48,254 words of the National Novel Writing Month book. Take THAT Fear and Self-Doubt!

 

Poetry-gate and what it means for writers

I have been taken to task—and found wanting.

No kidding, friends. We are never finished learning, are we?

I will not and do not apologize for my last post. I still support Anders Carlson-Wee’s right to write what he feels. And if he can get it published, more power to him. I do not believe that the poem he wrote was in any way intended to be disrespectful to another culture. I believe it was written for those of us who enjoy white privilege and good health and plenty to eat.

However, I now see the problem. It was written by a white guy in good health with plenty to eat.

Before you say, “But Mark Twain!” (as I did), look at it this way. There are plenty of black writers out there now. The Nation did not publish them. During Twain’s time, very few black people had the ability and voice to protest their lot in life. So it fell to Twain and others like him to do so for them.

We’re at a pivotal point in literature. Every culture has writers. Excellent writers. Talented poets. And then there are people like me. I’m a little white girl from the South who refuses to write exclusively about little white Southern girls. I mean, what kind of romance would that make—okay, yeah. And not that there’s anything wrong with that (wink, wink), but I prefer a little diversity.

So, I’m working hard to incorporate diversity into my writing, even if my writing is “just” romance. I’ve written about the Cherokee nation, had a Greek-American heroine in a novel and a Greek hero in a short story. I’ve had supporting characters of different races and sexual orientations. And I didn’t even start out intending to make these things happen. They grew naturally from ideas whispered to me by my muse.

We need to be careful as writers not to make it taboo to write about a different culture from the one we were born into. It is our job to introduce new ideas and concepts to our readers, whether it’s in literary fiction or romance or a travel article. As a little Southern white girl, I’m going to do my best to keep expanding my cultural knowledge and hoping more of it leaks into my writing—and once it’s there, I’ll do my best to make sure it’s both sensitive and appropriate.

As a writer, that’s my job.

Facing fear of publishing (with excerpt from Movie Magic)

In January I made the usual New Year’s resolutions: eat healthier, exercise more, etc. But I also made a resolution I had never made before. Fight fear.

Fear has held me back my entire life. I’m a timid person by nature, though I’ve overcome much of that through the love of my family. Yet still, I have more than my share of phobias. Spiders, stage fright, dentists (that’s a big one).

I haven’t overcome these phobias, but I have forced myself to face them. Just last week I smashed a spider that had my daughter cornered. In a gesture at fighting off my general timidity, I recently took the opportunity to travel with my son to Germany. And I tried out for and got a bit part in our local theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol”. So, yeah, I’m working on it.

And this morning, I went to the dentist for the first time in…a while. My teeth are still sore. Like everything, I began to draw a parallel between sore teeth and publishing a book.

When you write a novel, you bare a part of your soul, and the more covering you can pull away (just like the dental hygienist did to my teeth this morning), the better your writing will be. And just like my teeth, which are now sore and more exposed to temperature changes, so the writer’s soul becomes exposed to critics.

The temptation is to keep part of the soul covered. A thin veil. Remove yourself from the story and tell yourself it’s the characters’ story you’re telling. And while this is true to a point, the truth is, the writer is in every story she tells. And once that story is published, the writer is exposed. Perhaps this is why Emily Dickinson published less than a dozen poems in her lifetime. So much of her soul exposed through her poems might have been too much for her to bear.

So publishing is a leap of faith in our own work and our own souls. It might be ignored or disliked or even loved, but it’s bound to be painful in one way or another. With that thought in mind, I present a taste of my soul in the form of an excerpt from Movie Magic:

“What’ll it be, Cowboy?” Her eyes flickered over him in a just slightly less than shameless fashion.

“What would you recommend, Gypsy?”

The woman looked pleased that he remembered her name. “Depends. Are you just here to drink tonight, Walt, or are you eating?”

“You know I’m not going to pass up the burgers.” He leaned on the bar. “We want beer. Maybe one of those pepper beers you guys are so proud of.”

The woman raised her eyebrows and looked at Sabrina. She nodded, her appraisal obviously satisfactory. “Two ghost brews coming up.” She reached beneath the counter and with a flick of her wrist produced two bottles with a label bearing a picture of an ethereal white spirit sporting a pirate hat. She stopped short of handing it to them. “They’re on the house if you do that trick again.”

“Which trick?” Walt raised his eyebrows, trying to look innocent.

“You know which trick.” She uncapped the beer and set it in front of him.

He glanced at the beer, then back to her. “You got a glass?”

“Better than that. I’ve got a bottle of cheap beer back here. You don’t even have to waste yours.”

“What if it doesn’t work?” He looked anxious.

Sabrina laughed and Gypsy grinned at her. “I like this one. She’s got faith.”

“I kind of like her too.” Walt’s sideways grin warmed Sabrina and she couldn’t help smiling back. Walt tapped the bar. “Bring it on, Gypsy. I’m up to any challenge tonight.”

Gypsy let out a whoop that attracted the attention of everyone in the bar area. By the time she’d set the bottle of beer and a glass in front of Walt, the other patrons were crowding around. Sabrina enjoyed her front row seat as she watched Walt pick up the bottle, unscrew the top and take a swig. Then he upended the bottle on the bar with a flourish, somehow not spilling a drop. The crowd oohed appreciatively, then waited as Walt placed a coaster on the bottom of the upended bottle, flipped it back over the right way, then upended it again over the glass. When nothing happened, he pretended to be confused, peered inside for a second while Sabrina and probably the rest of the crowd held their breath, then held it over the glass again, removed the coaster and tapped the bottom of the bottle, producing a gush of beer into the mug. Walt handed the mug to Gypsy with a bow while everyone applauded.

 

I am a Writer

It’s always interesting to me when people I’ve known for years say, “Oh, you’re a writer?” It’s such an essential part of who I am. But I’m very, very bad at telling people about it, because it’s also a very personal part of who I am. I always sort of hoped that I’d one day have a best-seller and the New York Times would out me, but that doesn’t really seem to be happening, so…

I write romantic fiction of several different genres. I’ve written a coming-of-age romantic mystery (i.e. Weeds and Flowers), contemporary romances (i.e. my Sleight of Hand series) and romantic fantasy (i.e. my Synchronicity series—see below). Three of my books were traditionally published (Secrets of the Lotus and Winter Solstice by Lyrical Press and Where the Heart Lies by Carina Press). I am also the proud author of a book that’s been called “unsettling” and “thought-provoking” (Ducks in a Row).

And there you have it. That’s me. I’ve outed myself. There’s a little bit of me in every book I write. I am a writer.The Synchronicity Series by Michelle Garren Flye-page0001

Writing and friendship: A tangled web

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.–E.B. White

I don’t think I’m over-generalizing by saying most English-speaking (and some non-English) writers have been influenced in one way or another by E.B. White. I was reminded of this over the past couple of weeks as I prepared a booktalk on White for my daughter’s third grade class. But mostly I was reminded of one thing: White’s book Charlotte’s Web was the book I read and decided to be a writer.

I was about seven, I think, when I got pneumonia and was in the hospital for a week, then home recuperating for another week. I wasn’t truly old enough to understand that it was serious, but my classmates made me get well cards and one of my extended cousins brought me a copy of Charlotte’s Web as a get well gift. His mother probably made him, and I doubt I ever thanked him properly, so he probably never knew that book became my most treasured possession.

I was a voracious reader (still am), and I read that book over and over and over again. The writing was…luscious. Like nothing I’d ever read before. Every writer knows the quote from Charlotte’s Web:

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.”

How I wanted that quote to apply to me! I could be a true friend. Could I be a good writer? Could I use my words and talent to influence the world for good, as Charlotte had? In my innocence, I truly believed so. It wasn’t until I got much older that I realized how difficult the two could be to fit together. Maybe this quote, also from Mr. White, might explain why:

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

And there’s the rub. If you want your writing to mean something, if you see a need in the world and you try to address it with your writing—somebody’s not going to like it. Writing is a solitary profession that, like a single pebble thrown into a lake, causes ripples wherever it lands. The water may not like being rippled, and it may not understand why you threw the pebble in the first place, but it ripples, nonetheless. It’s something all writers deal with to some degree or other.

However, in the course of preparing my booktalk, I came across a new, and very hopeful, E.B. White quote that I have now pinned up next to my desk.

“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world. I guess you can find that in there, if you dig around.”

Maybe one day, I’ll be as good a writer or at least as true a friend as Charlotte. I’ll keep working on it.