Gut Writing

When I first started writing I wrote purely for the love of writing.  To be cliche, I wrote from my heart.
"Oh beautiful manuscript, where have you been all my life?  You are so special, and I love you so much.  It doesn't matter if I don't know anything about writing a book or the publishing industry because my love is enough.  My love will make everyone else fall in love with you.  It will make them overlook your glaring plot devices and pages of exposition.  I <3 U!"

Then I began studying about writing and publishing and plot arcs and effective dialogue.  I read agent blogs and Publisher's Weekly.  My next book was going to have all the elements of a best-seller. I put my brain firmly in charge!
"My character is so relatable and my hero is flawed (but hot), and there is action and romance and comedy and unexpected twists. My dialogue is realistic and my plot is tight. I am a WRITER (insert heroic roar)!"

Then I calmed down a little bit.  I had a few reality checks.  The mystery of the writing world became less mysterious.  I took time to read more.  My voice became much clearer.  And a funny thing happened.  My brain and my heart sort of began working automatically in the form of my gut.  I began to trust my writing instincts, but know that I was always going to have work hard and edit alot. (I know, the picture is kind of creepy.)

"Dear manuscript, thank you for giving life to my inner voice, while still sticking to the rules of good writing and editing.  And thank you for giving me permission to trust my own style and instincts. I have high, but hopefully realistic, hopes for you.  But even if you don't work out I will always be thankful to you for helping me discover what kind of writer I really want to be."

The interesting thing about writing only from the heart or mind is that my gut always told me something wasn't quite right.  But when I'm writing from my gut, my heart and mind are automatically engaged.  I know I still have a long way to go, but I hope that means I'm finally getting the hang of all this.

Someone Interviewed Me

Chantele asked me if I would be willing to answer some questions for the aspiring author post she does each week.  I readily agreed to as long as she knew up front that I had very little writing wisdom and a whole lot of silliness to share... You can read it here

Thanks, Chantele!

Has the age of digital books and queries changed who writes?

Writing has changed a lot in the past several years. Most agencies have "gone green" and hi-tech with their submission process.  This has brought down costs for submitting manuscripts and for querying widely. 


Which means we have all gone a little more green at home too.
The point of this email is not the "go green" aspect (thought conservation is never a bad thing), but rather the fact that all of these developments have led to, what I consider to be, an even bigger shift in writing.  Which is that the proverbial, reclusive, pipe-smoking, writer in the cabin in the woods... actually much more likely to be the spit-up-cleaning, diaper-changing, dish-washing, mom in the kitchen.  Granted, this has opened doors for many others, career men and women, working parents, teenagers and countless others.  The prevalence  of the stay-at-home mom demographic has just struck me recently (perhaps because I am one), and I have a feeling this demographic has grown astonishingly in the last five years.  I don't have any data to back it up, but it sure seems like that is the case. 
How have the changes in technology and the publishing world affected your career choice to become a writer?

The Winner! There Will be Brevity in This Post

And the winner of The Brevity of Roses by the fabulous Linda Cassidy Lewis is.............. Darlene!  Darlene is lucky number 16 in our drawing (as chosen by  Darlene, please send the address you would like your signed copy of Brevity shipped to to my email, Candice_Kennington(at)comcast(dot)net .

The rest of you can buy your own copy of Linda's book or ebook by following these links:

Buy the E-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.
Buy the print book at Amazon.

Thanks to everyone who entered and to Linda for her gracious responses and willingness to sign her book for us! 
Happy Monday!

For Someone I Love

Someone dear to me requested a blog post this morning.  I think she wanted something funny, like a rant to say, "Poop on the world!" You know, that kind of thing.  And I could do a rant.  I've been wanting to do one about cliche phrase for a long time.  It would go a little something like this:

When life gives you lemons throw them at all your breakables.
Stick a fork in it--literally! (Long time readers of my blog know I don't use that word lightly)
When push comes to shove, fight dirty.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but you're probably dead if you see it.
My bark is actually smaller than my bite.

I could seriously go on and on.  And that would be a fun blog post, but I decided to post something serious.  Those of you who had fun with the first part can turn back now, or go enter my contest to win a free signed book in the next post, or leave me a comment telling me a cliche phrase you hate and how you would change it.  This next part is long.  And it's serious.  And it's personal.  I only feel I can post it now because it's about something that is quite definitely in my past.  And it's something the person who this blog post is for helped me through. This is not advice or me telling anyone else what to do.  I'm not trying to say just do this and everything will be okay.  I hate it when people say "just" (another rant for another day).  This is simply my own personal journey to healing.

Love you, You-Know-Who.  

The Empty Doll

For the last little while I haven’t been able to shake an image from my mind. It’s a strange picture, not that I’m a stranger to the strange, but this time it’s personal, a self portrait of sorts. In my mind’s eye I see a version of my face painted in thin, skilled brush strokes on the upper portion of a Russian nesting doll. From the outside I notice that I look like any other nesting doll, brightly colored with floral patterns in smooth, flowing brushstrokes around my face and along the lower portion of my rounded wooden body. I’m not too old, my paint is still shiny with only a few small chips and a bit of dust and dirt on my outer layer. For the most part I think you could say my doll has been well cared for.  To any passerby or casual observer it would seem that nothing is amiss. But when I look at my shell in the proverbial self-portrait, I know something that most others don’t. For though the seam in my middle is thin and barely visible now that it has been tightly shut, not too long ago it came apart, spilling all of the interior pieces and mini me’s on the floor. Since that time I’ve been slowly picking them up again, and discovering that some have been lost, damaged and even discarded in the process. The result is a fact that has been staring me in the face for a while now, but it’s a fact that I’ve been trying to resist: I’m not the same person I was a few months ago, and try as I will to pretend that I am to the outside world and even myself, I can’t deny there is an emptiness that didn’t exist before, and it’s left a hollow feeling in my chest.

I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Not a person has lived on this earth without passing through sorrow. Yet, I also know that despite the shared human experience each individual’s pain is unique. I’m not ashamed to say that for quite a long while I’ve been focusing on my pain. The only thing that seemed to give me any relief from the void I felt where I had been broken, were mindless and often pointless distractions, distractions that seemed preferable to the questions that filled my mind in their absence. Questions like, what am I supposed to do with a broken doll? Or, How can I ever get back to who I was before? And, Am I worth anything to anyone this way? I’ve felt angry and sad and resentful, feelings which all led to the biggest question of all, Why? What is the purpose of suffering? At times over the past weeks I’ve been truly contemplative, but often my question have been desperate, angry and hopeless, and though I tried to fool myself into thinking they were inquiries, I knew often they were rhetorical , more statements of bitterness than anything else, and I couldn’t see how things were ever going to get better. But then something unexpected happened while I was sitting in church, only half listening to the speaker one Sunday. As I often did, I again went through my many questions, when a single thought came to my mind. You choose what fills the void. That one sentence changed me or at least it changed my perspective. Suddenly I could see what had happened as a fork in the road and a potential turning point in my life.

I believe we all have some sort of metaphorical container that represents who we are and we fill it up day by day with activities and beliefs and priorities. When life runs smoothly it’s easy to get full on what is frivolous or temporary, amusements, social events, shopping, television, things that don’t require as much effort and seem to make us happy. Then something happens that turns our world upside down and we watch as all the things we filled our lives with fall out on the table or floor. We see it all laid out clearly and for some reason it no longer seems as appealing. But we know the emptiness isn’t right either. A vessel’s purpose is to hold something inside otherwise it is susceptible to mold and dust and cobwebs or any number of opportunistic inhabitants. So we stare at the components of our life, realizing some of them are rotten, broken or maybe just outdated and we have to decide what to do with them. Do we pick up the pieces of the life we once knew, put the same objects back in that were there before? If they are broken do we replace them with light fillers, more tv or video games, more socializing, more internet, and other sources of entertainment, only to have our lives become less solid, less stable, easier to topple, until the cycle starts over again. Only the next time we get knocked over the pieces on the table or floor seem more bleak, less varied, less fulfilling. Or do we take our blank space, that feels like an unbearable trial and see it for what it really is, an opportunity, a new start, a chance to fill up with something solid and lasting.

My grandmother passed away a few years ago and after the services were completed the estate needed to be taken care of. I was given the opportunity to request a few items that were meaningful remembrances to me. I looked around her room and thought of the graceful and refined woman she was. For every outfit she owned there were coordinating shoes and purses. She was always very elegant and polished when she went out. So I choose a fancy clutch, it was gathered pink silk with a small, tailored bow across the top. Then on an impulse I looked inside to see if she had left anything in its folds. Nothing spectacular met my eyes, in fact the contents of the purse were quite ordinary, a handful of wintergreen mints and a folded cloth handkerchief, yet both were meaningful to me. They reminded me of all the times she’d snuck those very same mints to me while sitting next to her at church. Then while I sat enjoying my treat she’d roll up her handkerchief in her special grandma way and turn it into a baby doll for me to hold. Much like the elegant purse she was beautiful on the outside, but what really mattered was what she chose to put inside, devotion to her family, her faith, her principles and unconditional love.

My personal vessel has been knocked over recently. I realize some of what it contained is unsalvageable. It will never be the same again. It would be impossible to expect that it could. I’ve spent time denying that fact, while I passively let sorrow, anger and fear seep into all my empty spaces. But I know now that my heart was not the only thing broken in my recent fall. So were many of my habits and my old way of life. All around us there are examples of demolition for the purpose of rebuilding. A forest must pass through fire for seeds to be released and regrowth to begin. Muscles are broken down by exercise so they can be rebuilt stronger. I have a chance to rebuild now, to make my life better than it was before. Faith, family, friends, service, hard work, and so many other things can take up the space that seemed like an irreparable hole. But first I have to see my experience for what it really is, a chance to deliberately choose what will fill up my life.

Signed Book Giveaway and Author Interview

I am so excited to be able to introduce you to one of my favorite writers and critique partners, Linda Cassidy Lewis.  Linda and I met three years ago when we both attended the same writer's group.  She immediately stood out to me because she was always so well-spoken and her critiques were amazing!  I loved getting them (I still do).  She is one of the most (if not the most) flawless writer I know.  Her words are beautiful and just make you feel good while you read them. After I moved away from California, we continued to correspond and critique each others work despite the fact that we write in different genres. I value her input greatly and am thankful to have her as a Beta reader and a friend.  She graciously agreed to let me interview her for my blog and to sign a copy of her novel,  THE BREVITY OF ROSES, for a giveaway. 

Here's the back of the book blurb:
Jalal Vaziri has looks, money, women—and a habit of running from reality. When he abandons New York and reinvents himself as a poet in a California beach house, he thinks he’s running from a father who hates him, a career mistake, and endless partying. A fresh start is what he needs. And after an intriguing woman enters his life, he believes all his dreams are coming true. But that dream dissolves into nightmare, and Jalal flees again. Only this time, his retreat is blocked by a woman who challenges him to face that it’s himself he’s trying to outrun.

Who or what inspired you to be a novelist? Reading and lots of it. We’re all required to write in school, and I didn’t suck at it, so eventually I started writing on my own. Then, one day, I realized my job as full-time mom was done and I decided to start and finish a novel.

Is The Brevity of Roses the first novel you've written?  No, it’s the second. The first was a paranormal romance that wasn’t. A romance, that is. Someday, I may resurrect it as neither.

Your main character, Jalal, has Middle-Eastern roots and there is a sprinkling of Farsi in your novel, how did you do your research and was it difficult?  My husband has Middle-Eastern ancestry, and I’ve always been fascinated with that culture. Bits of what I’ve observed is reflected in Jalal’s family. After I’d written the first draft of Brevity, I read a memoir by an Iranian-American, and after the revision I read another to make sure what I’d written was true to what these two memoirists experienced. I don’t speak Farsi, so I had the online help of two Iranian contacts to translate the few words and phrases I used to a phonetic spelling.

How did you decide on your cover and how long have you been painting? The cover image is actually a multi-layered drawing, a technique acceptably called painting. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon; I just never stopped like most children do. Follow up question: Whatever happened to that awesome drawing of Jalal you did? I searched your site and couldn't find it. Sorry about that. I took it down quickly, when I realized that it was not my true image of Jalal. I’d allowed my familiarity with a couple other faces to corrupt it. I want to try again, but maybe just for myself. I’m not sure my readers would appreciate me imposing my vision on them.

Well whoever he was, he was not hard on the eyes.

Your writing is so smooth, and when I read it, it makes me feel like I'm sitting in a hammock gently rocking back and forth while a cool summer breeze rustles in the trees (Dear Readers: You have to read this book if only to experience the hypnotizing trance of Linda's writing). Do you have some hidden magic? Are the pages perhaps sprinkled with fairy dust? Because I still don't know how you weave your magic spell. Thank you for those lovely words about my writing. Do you have a source for fairy dust? I’d like to try it. Seriously though, I just write. I don’t mean that to sound flip. Most of what happens when I write is subconscious. I let a story gestate in my head for a long time before I put fingers to keyboard. So, when it’s going well, I write in a sort of dream state. I see and hear my story like a mental movie and try my best to transcribe it. When I revise, I can usually spot where I wrote “blind” and then I have to fix those clunky spots. I do that mostly by listening for the rhythm of the words. A good sentence has a perfect number of beats.

When Linda reads other people books she sees them like movies in her head too.  This means that if your character puts toast in the toaster and it pops up a line later, she's going to call you out on your five second toasting. Her superhuman editing vision misses nothing.

It may just be my imagination, but it seems to me a lot of authors have cats. Do you have any pets? I do have a cat, but she’s snotty and regularly bites the hand that feeds her. I had a gentle English Springer Spaniel for years.

Aren't all cats snotty?

Sunrises or Sunsets? Oh my, I have to choose? I associate sunrises with hope and sunsets with loss, but I love the beauty of them both.

Coke, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper? Coke, and not diet, which explains why I need to diet. To me, Dr. Pepper is dessert.

I'm so with you on the Dr. Pepper dessert classification. Even better, a Dr. Pepper float.  mmmm...

Thank you, Linda for your time and insight into writing.

To win a copy of Linda's superb novel all you have to do is leave a comment by Sunday.  I will choose a winner via  and announce it next Monday.  You can also pick up a copy for yourself on Amazon.

*For those of you who are used to the books I talk about being YA or MG, please keep in mind this is an adult book with adult themes, situations, and language.

Jenn Gets an Agent!

What? Another friend got an agent?! Yep that's right.  My writing friends are super awesome (I only hope it rubs off on me someday)!! And Jenn is no exception.  You should see the way this girl can write a query letter. It's pretty much mindblowing how fast she creates querying perfection. Have I mentioned that she also writes amazing books?  Creepy, psychologically-thrilling, amazing books!! Seriously Jenn, you rock!! And to top it all off, she has the most amazing hair.  (I know that's not writing related, but it's the truth and it must be said.) So go congratulate her, and share in the jumping up and down and partying that is going on over at her blog.

Jenn, I love you!! And as you like to say about other people: "You are made of Awesome!"

Road Trip

I just got back from ten days of vacation and four of them were spent driving. It's funny how many interesting things you come across when you're on the road for a total of 48 hours (the gas bill on the other hand, not so funny).  Here's a tally of the more interesting sights.

Accidents - 3
Accidents with bloody man walking on the road - 1
Pieces of tire littered across road - I forgot to count
Whole tire bouncing and rolling down the freeway while cars swerve right and left to avoid it - 1
Deer and elk lining side of the road - hundreds
Deer standing in the middle of the road - 1 (which also translates into near heart attacks -1)
Fast food restaurants - billions
GuadalaHonky's Americanized Mexican restaurant - 1
Crazy bumper stickers - hundreds
Ginormous, entire-car decal proclaiming, "His Body, His Choice. Just Say No to Circumcision." - 1

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say I've driven across the country three times in the last 18 months and every trip is an education.  I'm just glad to be home.  Maybe I 'll post something useful after I recover a bit.  Happy Monday!!