Friday, September 30, 2011

An Ode to Sam


I've been thinking a lot of critiquing and critics today.  I've found most people don't have enough heart or positiveness mixed into the corrections they have for writers.  By all this, I do mean amateur writers and amateur critics.

New writers want readers.  They scour, beg, and annoy many friends and family to find the people that are willing to read what isn't ready to be read by the world.  My family read my first book, and they'll listen to me rant and rave, but not many of my family members are really "readers".  I was born devouring words, and they have other hobbies.  I love my family just as they are and never would change them, not even to make them more interested in reading.  

My older sister reads what I write, but I refuse to take her opinion as honest.  I constantly am telling her she's biased, and therefor what she says doesn't count.  I think I frustrate her :).

I've had a few readers in my lifetime, though even less have actually finished a book.  Out of those readers, as helpful, hurtful, or pointless as some were, only one really stands in the place of "critic".

This critic is the only person I've ever known who can speak the harshest truths without me feeling defensive or angry.  He can tell me he hated a chapter and, while sometimes that makes me want to cry, it mainly just makes me want to be better.  He read my first two books---books, I might add, that were complete trash.  He stuck with me through them and gave me the feedback I needed at the time.

My critic, Sam, has been known to me for nearly my whole life.  We grew up a year apart in the church, and I've always known who he is.  Sometimes our paths cross as friends; others, as acquaintances.  He's one person who I could sit and discuss books with for hours, though what else we might talk about I wouldn't know.
Sam hasn't read in some time.  He's a busy young man, as I too am busy.

Today is my lament and my praise at once.  I lament that Sam is busy, but I say thanks for all that he has done for me thus far.  

I was pretty stubborn when I started writing--grossly so.  I wasn't going to change anything until I had an agent, and editor, and a publisher.  Then THEY could tell me what was needing changing, but they'd better accept me while it was still no good (I didn't realize it was no good).
With each rejection letter, I grew more discouraged and depressed.  My friends and family liked it, why didn't an agent?  It wasn't until I gave up entirely that Sam, unknowingly, brought me back to writing.  I'd told him I wasn't really interested in the story any more, and though he didn't know it, I'd grown weary of writing as well.  Sam's response was to tell me that, if it meant rewriting the whole thing to keep me telling the story, he would read it again.

Those words gave me the strength to do just that.  If Sam--my bluntest and most calloused reader--was willing to reread it all over again in hopes of it being better, than maybe others would too.  And maybe, just maybe, I would actually write something worth selling this time.

I rewrote both my first two books.  Have I sold them? Nope...
Has Sam read them?   


In this moment, I expect those reading this are confused, angry, or amused.  No matter what you're feeling, I am  not upset that Sam never reread them.  As I said--he's busy.  What matters is that he pushed me forward.  He gave me the truth no matter the cost and he kept me from giving up on my dream.

We all need Sams in our lives.  We need that person that is not so close that they are biased or their words hurt, but not so far that their indifference chafes.  Sam is the type of person that you know just well enough to be honest with, and that person with you.  

Writers need Sams.  Without them, we'd never be willing to try again.

So thank you, Sam, for all you've done.

This is the only photo I have of both me and Sam.  The best part, if you don't know us, you'll have no idea which ones we are.

Stumbling Down Memory Lane

It's Friday.

Today I tripped and fell down memory lane, but the flashback wasn't one of my finest hours.  Moments like these make me wonder if they happen just to remind us not to be what we once were--or perhaps it's some sort of torture device the enemy uses to get inside our heads.  All in all, this memory really isn't that bad.

A blue monkey friend of mine posted on a group in facebook.  That's what started the colossal tumbling.  She'd had her little writer's heart punched by an individual who didn't understand.  When she laid who she truly was out on the table, the response she received was "oh....okay...I don't get it." or "It's confusing".  

Those are harsh words to lay in the lap of an individual who wants understanding and support.  For the most part, those are two things I have.  Most (if not all) of my friends and all of my family back me on my desire to be a published author.  They love me, and when they need to say the rough things, they know how to say them in love.  But that isn't always how it works.

My friend reminded me of what I'd faced once...a time when my reaction to the criticism wasn't pretty.  It was shameful to see how my defenses rose and I proceeded to act like a small child.  Albeit, I was only 18...not a very mature age from all those I've known to see it--myself especially.  I (foolishly) placed my heart on a note in Facebook, it was the first chapter of my first complete draft of my book.  This was my mistake.  You do not take your first born child to the (creepy) beauty pageant and expect the critical judges (with no children of their own) to think your child is as beautiful as you do.  Bad analogy..I hate those beauty pageants.

Regardless, I placed myself in a very vulnerable position.  My friends responded as they saw fit.  I don't agree with how they said everything, though looking back I agree with much of what they said.  It was my own fault for not expressing my vulnerability to them, so that they knew to "handle with care".  Instead, they spoke blunt harsh truths in well written paragraphs, tearing each strand of resolve and strength away from me--they left me bleeding on the floor with no doctor or medic to keep me alive.  It didn't take long for me to snap, tears filling my eyes as I made my replies.  These returns were all right in the beginning, with little marks here or there that screamed "Ouch! Okay, thank you, but no more".

But that wasn't enough for the slaughter to stop.  My friends, not seeing these signs, continued.  They kept tearing my firstborn to pieces in front of me.  Shredding my little darling and calling him ugly.  I got ugly myself, snapping back at them and forcing them into retreat.  They tried to apologize, tried to make me understand.  It was too late, I was already broken--they'd already murdered my child.

At least, that was how I saw it at the time.  Now, I see that they thought they were doing what was required of them--they just answered with their brains and not their hearts.  They left the feeling and the care for me at the door when they embarked on their comments--which really isn't a large crime.  They treated me with business when it was a matter of family.

Looking back, I found myself ashamed.  Sure, they'd hurt me, but not intentionally.  They hadn't set out with "let's make Kelsey cry" screaming in their hearts.  They'd only wanted to help.  Almost all of what they said, I eventually realized (much much later and without remembering they'd said any of it) was right.
I'm sure they saw me as ugly that day.  I'm sure they were offended by my harsh words and ready to fight action.  Fight or flight?  Fight please...too bad they thought they'd been invited to tea.

How silly we are.  I wonder how mature I am now.  In three or four years will I look back on this blog and laugh at my immaturity?  Will I think of how silly I was to think well of myself even in the slightest?  Do I think well of myself?

Flashbacks such as these always leave me feeling down on myself.  Too bad we can't change the ugly in our pasts.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"Fall"ing for Storms

I can't get it together today.
Foggy brain dragging me down.
I don't appreciate the way my eyes keep blurring out of focus, nor the way thoughts trail off or get lost mid sentence.

I can say, though, that I am glad Fall is finally here. I love the cooler weather.  Don't judge me, but I hate summer.  Now that I'm done with school and working full time, Summer seems utterly pointless to me.  I hate the heat.  Everything lovely and good comes with Fall and Winter: Hot Chocolate, Shoes (cute ones), Coats (cute ones...), Thanksgiving, Christmas (GAH! I love Christmas), Halloween, Clothes (cute ones...) get the idea.

I love the colors of fall and the changing of times.  Life speeds up,inspiration strikes.  I tend to fly in my writing during the fall, winter, and even spring.  I'm currently fleshing out a new idea with two new characters I'm excited about.  I'm excited about the weather.

From where I sit, typing these words, I can see storm clouds moving in.  There is nothing more beautiful to me than a storm.  Something in the swirling darkness of uncertainty reminds me of the glory and power of God.  So much power and potential destruction combined into something that is also life-giving and necessary for sustaining.  I hope this storm hits--I hope it's good.

Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to have so much power.  What might it feel like to wield lightening or control rain?  What sort of energy would course through your body as the electrical current ran the course of your every synapse?  What would it feel like to be in control of something so dangerously bewitching?  Am I the only one who dreams of these things?  Is it my writer's mind--my insane imagination--that conjures ideas of creating fire, controlling lightening, breathing life, and conquering death?  I doubt a day goes by where I wonder what it would be like to be one of my characters--to act like them, think like them sure, but really to have the unique attributes I give them that make them interesting.

What would it be like to bring the calm after the storm--when your life is raging and rolling and nothing seems to be within your control.  I'm about to start a faith group with a few friends of mine, and I'm excited about living my life alongside other people.  I have a tendency to be a recluse when it comes to the real me.  The more I think about delving deeper into my relationship with Jesus alongside others, the more excited I become.

It's like the way I feel about the writers I know--there's something about knowing you have a passion, and that the person sitting next to you shares it and wants to talk about it.  Lifelong relationships are made through groups like these, and I know I can turn to my Blue Monkeys for anything.  I'm hoping those individuals in this small group will be the same way.

What about you?  Who do you turn to when the storm is raging?  You don't have the power to control it--that wasn't a gift you were given.  Who has the power to walk you through it?  Who is there after the storm--the person(s) who picks you back up?

Or maybe you're traveling alone, down a dusky road.  The clouds are darkening, and you haven't a soul in the world to turn to.  The wind is picking up, and it's getting colder.  Only dirt road lies ahead, even more behind.  In the distance you can see a little cottage, bravely standing against the storm.  You have a choice to run to it--but will you?  And if you do, who will you find inside, waiting for you to return?

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Loss and a Gain

It's been a strange week.

I recently spent two days up at a "Staff Retreat" in the mountains with the wonderful people I work with.  It was a time meant for fun, relaxation, and bonding.  It was also a time to look forward to a big change happening in our future.  The Boss Man is stepping down after 35 years of pastoring our church, and an amazing new individual is stepping in.  The Retreat was a time for us to discuss and love and grow.

We were encouraged to not let bad blood remain between us.  It's so easy to go around and gossip or discuss your issues with a friend instead of with the person with whom you have the "beef".  As I went out on my own, wondering who it was I needed to talk to and what it was I needed to clear up in my life, I went to an old familiar place.

The place we held our retreat is a site we use each year for our youth camps--a place I had attended for years, both as a camper and as a student.  Many years previous, I'd had an experience of emotional proportion while talking to a leader on the basketball court.

It was to this basketball court that I returned during the night of my staff retreat.  I had been going there for our quiet times and free moments that were meant to be just alone time.  It was here that I sat and pondered what my next move was--what my future looked like.  It was here that I was approached by a friend--though, it wasn't the friend I expected to have healing with.

This friend is someone I've known for 4 years, and I can't remember a time where we've fought or argued heatedly--that just isn't a part of our relationship.  When he sat down next to me, his eyes misted with tears of regret, I felt nothing short of surprise as he asked for my forgiveness.

"I'm sorry I haven't stuck up for you or your family when people were saying unkind things about you guys.  I'm sorry I just let it happen.  Your family has done a lot for me, and I know you guys can be a little abrasive, but I shouldn't have let it happen.  You know, mean jokes and stuff."

Truly appalled, I immediately forgave him.  No way could I hold any hard feelings against him. He hadn't exactly said unkind things about me himself, and I'm guilty of chuckling at a joke that never should have been laughed at.  We hugged it out and moved on to other topics--the change in leadership, the way the church was going, life in general.

I walked away feeling more camaraderie towards him, but my heart also squeezed with sadness about what he'd said.

Don't get me wrong--I am no where NEAR surprised that people speak unkindly about me.  I am well aware that people probably don't like me.  I don't have a high enough self esteem to believe the whole world loves me--I'm not arrogant, nor am I stupid.

What got to me was the phrase "mean jokes and stuff".  Jokes?  What joke could be told about me?  I tried to think about jokes that were told about other people that they didn't want that person to hear said about them...I tried to find a context in which one (or all) of my faults could be laughed at in an unkind way.

But I couldn't come up with one.
I still can't.

I feel like Darcy when he's talking to Elizabeth and she's trying to find a way to tease him in Pride and Prejudice.  He says his faults (which are pretty human and not honorable or good in any way) and she replies with "Oh dear, I'm afraid I can't tease you about that.  Pity, for I do love to laugh." *loose quotation*.

What's funny about my faults?  What could be said that would make my friends laugh, even if they know it's mean to do so?  It wasn't paranoia that I was feeling, but sadness.  Deep and painful sadness.  I'd almost wished he'd apologized for the jokes HE'D told and then told me what they were--at least then I'd know.  Instead, he did what was right and didn't gossip.

But every time it pops into my head, I feel the tears press against the corners of my eyes.  I attempt to put up a strong front, but anyone who really knows me knows I am an emotional pansy.  I love my friends, but I'm wondering more and more about who loves me back.  It's a horrible feeling and I'm 96% sure it's Satan messing with me...but that 4% is still pretty loud.

If anything, I've learned one lesson.  I will never allow another unkind joke to be said in my presence UNLESS it's the type of ribbing that would be done if the individual was standing there.  People tell jokes all of the time and say "Man, I wish ___ was here for me to say that to."  Then if that individual walks up, they repeat the joke for his/her own ears.

But the jokes people say--the ones they would be mortified if that person heard--I can't allow those to ever occur around me again if I ever did before.  Now that I feel this pain, I'm going to learn from it.  I have no other option.

It's funny, how life and God teach us lessons.  Sometimes the ones that hurt are the best teachers.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Part of Me

Well, it's that time of life again--I've finished writing a novel.  It's the second time I've finished this book, which happens to be the second book I've ever written.  It's an interesting sensation.  Things have changed since I last finished a book--I've changed.

Ragged Edge made all the difference.  I've been more positive and had a better outlook on life ever since Tennessee.  People now know the truth:  I am a writer.  It has changed the way some of them talk to me, and for the better.  Now, there is a better chance for certain people to touch on topics they know I would find interesting.  There have also been moments where silly things have happened (with my encouragement) that I can plead "writer's insanity" for.

    Ex.  The other day I was having a discussion with a friend of mine named Molli.  A gentleman friend of ours walked by, and Molli shook her head with a smile, asking "Oh Ryan, what do we do with him?"
My response, which will surprise no one who knows me, was to say "We could always kick him."

Had I been speaking to anyone else, this remark would have been chuckled at and we would've moved on.  Molli, however, is the type of friend who is a writer's dream.  Her big blue eyes lit up and she sat straighter in her chair.  "Can we?" She asked me, grinning from ear to ear.  "Would he get mad?  How would he react?"
These are the type of questions that every writer jumps at the chance to answer.  With Molli plucking the chords of my interest, I urged her forward, telling her if she kicked him I would observe the process.

We approached Ryan, beginning a benign and casual conversation in which he asked us if we would join him in an endeavor he was going to undertake.  With our responses being light and positive, he turned slightly, his attention diverted.  Molli amped herself up and kicked him in the shin--not hard, but still enough to bring his attention back around to us.  I can honestly tell you that his reaction was NOT one I had ever expected.
 "Huh?  Did I do something wrong?"  He wasn't angry, wasn't off put, but instead had believed HE had wronged US and so been attacked.

We had a right laugh about it, Molli and I.  People fascinate me.  I love to see them react to strange occurrences.  I love my friends for putting up with my oddities.  Most of all, I love the support I receive from both writer and non-writer friends.

I finished a book.  That's where I started this rant.  The book is done, and maybe one day it will be published for the world to read--that is my goal, after all.
As I also said, things have changed.  Before when I finished a book, I would fall into some sort of haze.  I didn't want to write, I didn't have any more story.  I just wanted to recharge. Now, though, it's killing me that I've finished and I haven't written anything else in the last 24 hours SINCE I finished.  I can't wait to get back to it.  I love it.  It's part of who I am.

That being said...I'm going to go write now.  I don't have the time to be blogging.  I need to do what I love.