A New Beginning

After a long hiatus, I returned to my first love…

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After a long hiatus, I returned to my first love – creative writing – last September. This led to the publication of the essay The Life Inside Me in October, and then the essay Invisible in December. During this time, I also managed over 56,000 words of a new novel for #NaNoWriMo2016 in November (my first win). Then, as commonly occurs when you return to that thing that calls to your soul, all hell broke loose, and my life as I knew it imploded. Since then, I have slowly, painstakingly clawed my way back to a regular writing practice and just today started rewriting the #NaNoWriMo novel tentatively titled The Waiting Place.

Along the way, I came across a podcast that gave me the extra fuel I needed to complete the journey back to writing – Yoga Church. One particular episode really spoke to me and lit me up: Episode 36: Honoring Voice where Meadow DeVor and Pixie Lighthorse discuss reconnecting and honoring your inner voice. I have had an incredibly difficult time hearing my inner voice, and even when I did, I have had an even harder time trusting what I heard and folhonoring-voicelowing through with its guidance. Enter Pixie Lighthorse’s newest book: Prayers of Honoring Voice. This book contains prayers that assist the reader in asking for divine help with honoring that inner voice in all that he or she does. I am not a person who believes that there is an old man somewhere up in the sky that selectively hands out blessings or punishments. In fact, I completely reject the idea that such a deity exists, so I’m often hesitant to turn to anything that has the word “prayer” in the title (or “church” for that matter). I believe in a protective, loving, forgiving, encouraging, and compassionate energy that flows through everything that we do should we choose to invite it to do so. That is exactly what Pixie Lighthorse’s prayers do (as does the Yoga Church podcast). They’ve hit on every aspect of insecurity and fear that I have about putting words on the page and sharing them with others – especially the hardest part for me: getting started. A particular favorite prayer of mine is “Honoring Creation” which is located in the South section of the book. As she mentions in the “How to Use this Book” section, “Each section of prayers is aligned with the teachings of the Four Directions” which are aligned with the four seasons and four elements – for example, the first section is: “East, Season: Spring, Element: Air”. If you would like a more in-depth description of Prayers of Honoring Voice, you can read Lighthorse’s excellent description here.  The really great news is that the book is available under Kindle Unlimited, so if you are a subscriber, you can read it for free. However, this is one book that I want in hard copy to have right next to me while I write. I want to be able to flip through its pages whenever I need to. It is a book I know I can turn to when the fear of what I have to say, of what I need to say, takes over, and I start to shut down. I hope that it will do the same for you. These prayers are now a part of my daily writing routine, and I use them as a starting off point, as an invocation and invitation to the muse and as a reminder that I don’t have to go on this writing journey all alone.

The Reconstructionist: A Review

The ReconstructionistThe Reconstructionist follows the main character, Ellis, who is a bit lost after graduating college as an engineer. His half-brother died when he was younger in a car accident close to their home and Ellis heard the accident. Hearing accidents was commonplace where they lived; however, when Ellis went to the accident scene, as he often did after hearing one, he realized it involved his brother and his brother’s girlfriend who he had a secret crush on. Many years later, Ellis runs into his brother’s girlfriend, Heather, and she gets him a job as an accident reconstructionist with her husband, Boggs. Boggs and Heather have a troubled relationship and Ellis and Heather, shortly after meeting, begin an affair. When Boggs learns of the affair, he disappears and, in response, Ellis begins a journey to find him leaving his job and Heather behind.

I like how Nick Arvin uses dialogue as a teaching tool for the reader on the difficult subject of accident reconstruction. Arvin is able to help the reader understand the intricacies that go along with trying to find out exactly what happened in an accident. For example, Ellis explains the process of crush energy to a lawyer he is working for on a particular accident. Through explaining to another character how the different processes work, the reader is better able to understand as well.

I also like how the character, Ellis, notices minute details everywhere he goes such as skid marks on the road even when it doesn’t pertain to his work. His work has become a part of him even in his off time. However, the novel overall has too many details. They are often list like, unnecessary to the story, and become a major distraction. The use of so much detail also slows the pace of the novel and takes away from the impact it could have on the reader. I found myself skipping over paragraphs that were laden with unnecessary details.

Something else that was problematic for me with the novel was the character development. None of the characters felt real to me. The dialogue seemed forced and unrealistic. The emotions seemed muted in places where emotions should be running high and running high in situations that would not call for an emotional response. Instead of feeling like I was part of the story as it unfolded, I felt like I was being told the story. I did not feel empathetic towards the characters and was not invested enough in them. I believe the overabundance of details contributed to this. Instead of getting pertinent details on the characters interiority, the reader is given details on what a town looks like, what stores are in the town, what a character bought at a store. For example, on page 187, Ellis walks into a hotel room and we get this description:

He stepped into the room and frigid air gripped him; mounted into the opposite wall was a roaring air-conditioner unit. Next to it stood a sliding glass door onto the balcony. A watery green-and-blue wallpaper flowed from the ceiling to a plum-colored carpet bearing a history of spills and heels. A bed covered by a polyester blanket, two wooden side tables, a dresser, a desk, and two hardback desk chairs crowded against one another. On the dresser stood a TV, and over the bed hung a little framed picture of a jumping swordfish – it looked as if it had been cut from a magazine.

This would be fine if it happened intermittently throughout the novel, but this kind of detail occurs again and again. It would be better if the details were given through some sort of character action rather than given in list-like fashion as above.

Another issue that contributed to the lack of connection with the characters was the behaviors of the characters that were not consistent with what we knew of them. For example, Ellis is involved in an accident that severely disables him emotionally and psychologically. He replays this accident when he drives and it causes a lot of anxiety for him. However, right after he starts driving again, he goes to a bar, drinks, even mentions the effect of the alcohol because he hasn’t eaten all day, and then proceeds to get into his van and drive! It seems unbelievable to me that someone as anxiety-ridden about accidents (including the one he was just in) as Ellis, who also works as an accident reconstructionist, would get drunk and drive. There are other inconsistencies with the characters that I don’t want to mention so I don’t give too much information about the content of the novel to those who have not read it yet, but they are problematic to the suspension of disbelief necessary in a novel.

I liked the subject matter of the novel. Accident reconstruction is a topic that is fascinating, but that little of us know about. There were great details given at different accident scenes and I would have liked to see more of those details included. I liked how the search for Boggs included Ellis revisiting different accidents scenes they had worked on together and how they tried to make logical sense out of something that seems so random. I think these scenes could have been developed even further and, as such, they would have had a bigger impact on the reader and brought forth the larger question of what accidents mean to us. Why do they occur? Are they just random occurrences or is someone always at fault? Are we truly just at the wrong place at the wrong time or is there a larger force at play in our lives? These are the questions that many of us struggle with, especially those of us who have had our lives completely transformed in an instant by an accident whether for the better or for the worse.

A Review of The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1

Lately, I am gravitating towards brevity in my writing and in what I read. I heard about The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1 compiled by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (RegularJOE) through HitRECord and thought it sounded perfect. It is! I loved the tiny stories, and they are tiny. Each story (sometimes only a few lines long) is accompanied by artwork that adds a special element to it. I am often amazed at how only a few words can say so much and have such a powerful impact to the reader. This is a collection of brilliant stories – some humorous and some heartbreaking. I have so many favorites that I keep going back to. As the book says: “The universe is not made of atoms; it’s made of (tiny) stories,” – Muriel Rukeyser & Wirrow. I look forward to reading the next two volumes and am keeping this one close by as a reminder that something impactful can be written with just a few words and written well!

Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy

I fell in love with Everything Beautiful Began After after having just read the Prologue and the rest of the book did not disappoint. Simon Van Booy’s beautiful poetic language is stunning and his descriptions require the reader to pause and take a deep breath to take them in. The characters are so well developed that one cannot help but love and care deeply for them. It is fascinating to watch as they argue over the existence of fate while we quietly witness fate take its toll on each of them. There is a sense of unpredictability, an unknowing that keeps the pages turning. Van Booy’s use of different points of view also adds depth to this novel. It was a genius way to create various space and distance between the reader and the characters. The cover and deckle-edged paper provides the perfect package for such a beautiful and tragic love story.

The ending felt a bit rushed to me and things seemed to be tied up a little too perfectly in the end. This may be that I just didn’t want the book to end. I was invested in these characters and wanted to spend more time with them. However, at over 400 pages, I understand Van Booy had to end the book at some point. Maybe he will write a sequel! If you want to be swept away into a beautiful love story with writing that literally takes you there as a silent witness to the unfolding lives of the characters, this book is definitely for you. I wanted to continue inside the world Van Booy created with this novel so much that I actually got up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and continued reading until it was finished.

Other posts on Simon Van Booy:

Simon Van Booy

Why Our Decisions Don’t Matter

Simon Van Booy

Everything Beautiful Began After: A Novel (P.S.)Simon Van Booy has a new novel, Everything Beautiful Began After , being released on July 5, 2011, and from what I’ve read so far, it is a MUST READ! His use of beautiful, poetic language has a way of drawing you in and not letting go. In celebration of Van Booy’s upcoming release Harper Perennial has reduced the price of all his short stories in electronic format to $1.99 each through Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and Google Books. If you want the best introduction to Van Booy’s writing, Harper Perennial suggests you start with Love Begins in Winter. I know that you will enjoy his writing as much as I do!

Come back soon for my review of Everything Beautiful Began After

My Review of Why Our Decisions Don’t Matter by Simon Van Booy

The Productive Writer: A Review

Sage Cohen has perfect timing. When I was new to creative writing and was just beginning to learn about the mechanics of poetry, she published Writing the Life Poetic. It was exactly the guidance I needed. She provided the kind, gentle voice that calmed my fears about writing poetry so much so I ended up winning a poetry contest and recently had a poem published.  As I progressed in my nonfiction writing, though, I developed new fears: Am I good enough? Who will want to read my work? AND fears about publishing: Why don’t I “get” what a platform is? How do I get started submitting my work and to whom? Then Cohen published The Productive Writer just as I was about to give up on writing altogether. I like to think that she is writing just for me, that she is my personal writing coach because of her impeccable timing when it comes to the stages of my writing life.

In all her writing, Cohen has a way of first allaying our fears so we can open our minds to the unlimited possibilities before us. But, she doesn’t stop there! She follows up with great, detailed advice; clear steps for us to take towards success; along with examples from her own writing life. In The Productive Writer, she adds a new dimension with printable worksheets and checklists she’s made available on the web to serve as companions to The Productive Writer. One such worksheet is “Your Platform at a Glance.” After reading through her example, I finally understood what a platform entails. I’ve read so much about platform and how important it is to my writing success, but never have I seen it broken down into the simple steps Cohen presents in this book. I was able to follow the worksheet and develop my platform which gave me a whole new outlook on my writing.

What made the biggest impact on me was Cohen sharing her perfectionist tendencies and how it was hindering her success as a writer. Her solution: Do the best that you can and then send out your work. Let others decide if your writing is worthy of publication. Don’t sabotage yourself by requiring that everything you write be absolutely perfect before you release it to the world. Like what has happened to me, your writing will go nowhere. It will collect dust among the computer archives. Cohen doesn’t just say “Do the best that you can,” she tells you how. She provides editing advice, organizational tips, and suggestions on how to find time to write. She has an entire chapter devoted to “Publishing and Landing Gigs!”

Through her writing, Cohen encourages us to find our own writing rhythm. She tells us that it isn’t absolutely necessary to write first thing in the morning as is often suggested. It is important for us to find our own writing rhythm. Through debunking some of the common myths about writing, she gives us the freedom to become our own unique writer selves. Even as she offers suggestions, tips, and personal experiences, she tells us: “Find what works for you!”

The Productive Writer is structured in short chapters, usually about ten pages in length. The structure helps you find what you’re looking for easily and also makes it a great book to bring with you while waiting at the doctors, or at your kids’ soccer games, or wherever you have a little free time. This is another aspect of the book I love. It shows Cohen’s attention to detail and consideration for today’s busy writer.

Cohen provides information for writers of all levels. The Productive Writer will become your permanent writing companion. If you’re a beginner, Cohen provides the inspiration and knowledge you need to begin your journey as a writer. It is a book that will grow with you and you will return to again and again as you progress. If you are experienced, Cohen provides excellent suggestions on topics such as organization, social media, and the collection and storage of your random thoughts as well as the edited out portions of your writing so you can easily find and use them later. The information and inspiration she provides will be the fresh perspective you need to take your writing to the next level.

As I continue with my writing, I am looking forward to what Cohen will write for me next…oh, and for you too!

*My reviews of Writing the Life Poetic and Like the Heart, the World, Sage Cohen’s book of poetry.

You can find Sage Cohen on Facebook at The Path of Possibility and Twitter @sagecohen and I highly recommend subscribing to her website The Path of Possibilty as she regularly posts fantastic articles about writing, poetry, and most importantly how they intersect with our everyday lives.

Halloween Hijinks or Hell

Toby stepped out of his cruiser and put on the hat the Sheriff’s Department made him wear. For once he was glad to have it. It would hide his eyes from Marissa.

“What the hell,” Marissa said. She was startled awake from the sound of pounding at the door mixed with the incessant ringing of the doorbell. She reached over to wake up Mark, but her hand touched empty space.

“I’m deeply sorry for your loss, Marissa,” Toby said catching her shoulders just before she collapsed in the doorway. He gently guided her to the floor and knelt beside her.

“I don’t understand, Toby,” she said, “Mark was sleeping right beside me and now you’re telling me he’s been killed in a car accident? How is that possible?”

“I just don’t know,” Toby replied.

Marissa sat on the floor sobbing.  She held Toby tightly knowing he, too, must be devastated. He and Mark were best friends.

“I’m sorry to do this to you, Marissa, but I need you to come down and identify Mark’s body,” Toby said, his voice barely audible.

Toby helped Marissa to her feet and she walked up the stairs to get dressed.

Nothing was making sense. How could she not have heard Mark get up? How could she not have heard him leave the house? Something wasn’t right. She sat on the corner of the bed. Her long brown hair brushed against her cheeks as she bent down to tie her shoes. Just then her thin lips began to curl upwards and a sparkle ignited her blue eyes. There was a giggle trapped in her gut.

“I know what this is,” she whispered, “Toby and Mark are playing a Halloween prank.” She let the giggle escape her lips and quickly covered her mouth so Toby wouldn’t hear. “Well, I’ll show them. I’ll play along and see how far they’re going to take this.”

Marissa put on her best distraught face and walked back downstairs to meet Toby.

***

Toby pushed the large metal button that opened the double doors to the morgue. Marissa was sure this prank couldn’t go on much longer. Toby led her into a cold room with mint green walls. There were several large metal carts covered with white sheets. Toby stopped at one in the back of the room nearest the wall.

“Are you ready, Marissa?” he asked.

Marissa tried to stifle a laugh. Was Mark going to jump out at her? She tried to prepare herself. This had to be a prank. She couldn’t imagine this was proper procedure for a body identification.

“Yes, Toby, I’m ready.”

Toby lifted the sheet and Marissa stood silent, stunned. It was Mark, but he looked waxy and grey. His face was blotched with blue and there was a deep cut in his forehead. He looked…dead.

Marissa walked over and touched Mark’s face. He was cold. She fell to the ground. This time Toby didn’t catch her.

***

Marissa walked into her bathroom and opened the mirrored cabinet trying to avoid her distorted reflection. She grabbed the bottle of sleeping pills and emptied them into her hand. With a large gulp of water, she swallowed them all then laid down on the bathroom floor sobbing. She could not live without Mark. They had been together for over twenty years, since they were teenagers. He was her whole life. She couldn’t understand why he would have left in the middle of the night, on Halloween of all nights. What was he doing? It didn’t matter anymore. Marissa was going to be with him. This calmed her and darkness took over.

***

The alarm was piercing. Marissa reached towards the nightstand and hit the snooze button. She rolled over and wrapped her arms around Mark. She’d had a horrible dream that Mark had been killed in a car accident. It was all so crazy. “Thank God it was just a dream,” she whispered in Mark’s ear. She inhaled his scent – like kindling on the fire mixed with a hint of her favorite soap. She ran her hands through his soft, black hair and drifted back to sleep.

***

“What the hell,” Marissa said. She was startled awake from the sound of pounding at the door mixed with the incessant ringing of the doorbell. She reached over to wake up Mark, but her hand touched empty space.