My 2019 is off to a creative start. Like other writers, I have goals for this year and some of them are lofty. I had lofty goals last year, too, and didn’t complete a few, but when I look back on 2018 I can see that I made some good strides with my writing so have no regrets moving into the new year.
My current project is a sci-fi novel told in 6 separate but connected stories that I’m calling “I’m Sitting on a Sunbeam.” As I make my way through these stories in the coming months I’ll be sharing pictures and science articles that relate to this work on my Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as here on this blog, so if you’re interested in a glimpse into my mind, look there!
I hope each person reading this finds the peace to move on from 2018 and the strength to move forward into 2019 with the dedication that comes from loving what you’re doing!
Pop on over to The Other Stories and listen to me read my short story “The Yellow Wrapper” :
Episode 181 – “The Yellow Wrapper” by Erin Smith
Last week, I recorded myself reading one of my short stories for The Other Stories Podcast.
I guess I’ve always thought of writing in this solitary way. It’s me and my computer and my post-its and my thoughts. And sure, I bounce those thoughts off of trusted friends, but, generally speaking, my writing exists in my head. Reading it out loud to an audience–even just my audience of two–made me remember when I was in New York two years ago, listening to my short story More Class Than Custard being read by actor Michael Petrocelli for Liars’ League NYC. I sat there petrified as he read, my mind ping-ponging between amazement at the way he read my characters and mortification at the audience’s response. I remembered thinking, “That’s not how I hear that character . . .” etc, and here was my chance to get it right!
But I’m not really sure I did get it right, even as the writer.
I felt, perhaps more critically than necessary, that the writing came out stilted. I noticed painful repetitions of sentence structures. I noticed parts of the story that just, honestly, didn’t work.
I’ve always made a point of reading out loud certain drafts of short stories, especially when I feel like they are almost ready to send out into the world, but reading in a whispered monotone to myself is a very different experience than reading in a studio with a mic up to my face and two men sitting by listening for me to flub a line so they can stop recording.
It was still a fun experience, and I want to thank my friend Garth and his Del-Fi bandmate Steve for letting me steal their practice time in the advancement of my own art! More details on when that podcast will go live to follow in the next few weeks.
When I updated my website this year, I made a promise to myself that I would keep up this blog by posting at least once a month, which I have stuck with, even when I don’t feel like I have much to say. I would like to report that I am on my way to completing my writing goals for the year, but the truth is that I’m not. And I know that nothing is going to get it done except for hard work on my part. This month, I want to refocus on what I’m trying to accomplish this year, and it just feels right to put it in a bulleted list:
- Get paid to publish something
- Write a rough draft of each of the seven short stories in my “Sunbeam” collection
- Get through one to two drafts of my mystery novel
I think sometimes in the moment-to-moment, day-to-day experience it is easy to convince ourselves that we are not moving forward. But when the steps are so small, we really have to take a wider view to see the real progress we’ve made. And this year I have been writing. (I always have to remind myself of that!) I’ve written two new short stories that I’m currently shopping around for publication and I’m working on a new one. I’ve done some outlining of the “Sunbeam” short stories. And I’ve been reading mystery novels trying to get back into the mindset to write my own.
It’s all progress. And as me and my writer friend Mara are always saying, there is no deadline. I need to remind myself of that.
Have a great summer everyone!
Last week I attended a video release party for a local rap artist named Purple Queen. It was held at a little dive bar near my home that has recently put a stage in the back room and is showcasing local musicians. Everyone who came out to the party was friends, contributors to the project, and other local rappers showing their support.
Her new song is called “Giants” and the hook says, “How you root impacts how you grow.” (Watch the video here.)
It reminded me a lot of my experience at KGB Bar in the East Village two years ago when I flew out to New York for one day just to hear a short story I wrote read by an actor there for the online publication Liars’ League NYC. The local support was strong. Other New York City writers showed up just to connect and cheer on other writers.
I loved that feeling and didn’t realize until Purple Queen’s release last week that I was missing that in my literary life. And the thing is, the Twin Cities have plenty of these types of events for writers just like myself. It really renewed my interest in finding that community—those roots—here where I live and using it to help me grow as an artist.
In May I:
- Wrote: About 3000 words between two new short stories
- Read: The Hangman by Louise Penny and started The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
- Met with a lawyer friend of mine to go over funeral law and insurance fraud to help solidify one of my mystery character’s backstory
- Realized I had no clue about another mystery character’s backstory so I’ve started doing the character development exercises from the book The 90 Day Novel by Alan Watt
- Shopped an unpublished story around to two paying markets; got rejected from both
- Applied to the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Program
In June I hope to continue shopping at least two short stories for publication, read another couple of mysteries, and begin re-outlining my mystery with the insight I hope to gain from these character development exercises. May saw me come out of my winter slump. In June I hope to be up and running fully!
When I’m feeling uninspired, I like to pick up books on writing. I find the little nuggets of wisdom, most of which I’ve heard many times over in the plethora of classes I’ve taken at the Loft Literary Center, to be comforting. And, just like a well-timed fortune cookie, sometimes what I’m reading happens to just align with where my mind is and something “clicks.”
That happened this month when I was reading over a well used (and angrily annotated by a student I could only imagine was forced to read at gunpoint) version of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction.
To paraphrase, his first chapter was focused on the first two steps of writing. Number one was get the basics of grammar and punctuation down. Number two was to pick a genre.
That’s it. Pick a genre and read it and write it.
And it was the “read it” part that stupidly dumfounded me.
Here I have been struggling to complete this mystery novel, and I have still never been as inspired as when I read Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. That book set me on a whole new course with my own. It got me thinking of twists and red herrings in a new way and it motivated me to make my work in progress better.
My writing goals for May, along with some editing and new short story writing, include finding more mystery novels to read to be inspired and motivated to work on my own. And, with the weather getting better and better, I’m already looking forward to an afternoon walk to the lake to read with the setting sun on my face!
Happy writing and reading to everyone this month!
I felt like March was not the most productive of months. I stopped noting my progress of words. I gave up on a project. Started a new one. Edited an old one. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was running in place all month–and I really haven’t been able to shake that feeling all year.
Last year, when I was up at the Madeline Island School of the Arts, I met a lovely woman, D., who was working on a marathon memoir. We instantly connected on the week long retreat and we have kept in monthly, if not weekly, touch every since then.
It’s been fun having someone to share my ups and downs with, and to cheer on as they complete their own book journey.
For my March in review, and really for my 2018 in review, I am going to share the sweetest thing I’ve received from a woman I barely know. I was complaining to her that I hadn’t felt motivated, and this was what she responded:
“No doubt about it lack of sunshine is why our energy levels are low. I admire you for your choice to change aspects of your lifestyle that you are not happy with. So many people just talk about it but you actually put in a lot of work to make it happen. The application processes for those MFA programs in my opinion were intense. And not only did you follow through, but you also did the NaNo Write while job searching and made progress on your mystery novel by changing the POV. And you also edited pieces for others. And you have pieces that were selected for publication. You are an author.
Alongside your writing, you started a new job. Working in a service industry dealing with people going through a variety of emotions after the death of their family member, has got to be using up writing energy. Perhaps a bunch of continuous sunny days will help some. Here’s hoping Spring comes soon.”
Seeing my year in that way made me feel like maybe I haven’t been spinning my wheels? Maybe D is right and some sun will do us all good! See you in May! Happy writing!
February felt like one step forward, two steps back for my novel. The novel I’m working on (tentatively titled The Presence of Still Water) is a paranormal mystery that takes place in the life of the main character over the course of six months. Each month is a grand section comprised of smaller “islands” (to steal a term from my Madeline Island mentor Mary Carroll Moore). Last month I had just made it to the second to the last month and was ready to charge ahead and (finally) finish the thing. However, a structural issue that was weakening my plot in the center caught my eye and when I saw the solution, I knew I could not keep going without fixing it. So, back to the first month I went, re-outlining and tweaking some sections at such a microscopic level I hardly felt like I was changing anything. Those of you who write know my frustrations. But you also know that I see the story getting stronger for it. And I know this will make the editing much less excruciating in the future. Here’s to a smoother March!
- New website is up and running!
- Signed up for MailChimp, immediately realized I don’t want to do a newsletter. Would love to find a template to make my emails flashy, but this is clearly not a priority.
- Words written: 7,794
- I will write 10k words or edit and write to the second to the last month in my novel, whichever makes more sense.
- I will finish reading A House in the Country by Jose Donoso.
- I will outline one new short story in my Sunbeam collection.
- I will start to edit one older short story for submission.
When I look back on it, January was a productive month. It was only while I was slogging through it that I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing anything. I’ve set some pretty steep goals for February. I hope to have good news to report in three weeks!
- Books read: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, White Noise by Don DeLillo
- Words written: Approx. 5,000
- Pages edited: 13 page short story, 2 full edits
- Submitted to: Easy Street Portal Prize in Speculative Fiction; New Millennium Prize; Ruminate Magazine William Van Dyke Short Story Prize
- Ordered new business cards
- Got my official prints of three professional photos from December photo shoot
- Will read A House in the Country by Jose Donoso
- Will write more than 10,000 words
- Will edit a 15 page short story written several years ago
- Will get new website design finished (DONE!)
- Will start a newsletter with MailChimp