Road Trip Roundup

My recent travels to Bethany Beach rekindled my interest in road trips.

I wrote about road trips back in 2010, advising writers to note the names of roads, businesses, schools–whatever–as they traveled. Venture off the congested interstate to the byways and small towns where the names really get good. Sometimes a compelling name is enough to spark a story. Consider Bone Yard Road or Fresh Fire Church of God as possible settings.

barn on a scenic byway on my road trip home
A barn glimpsed from a scenic byway during my recent travels

Leave space in your itinerary and in your mindset to come upon the unexpected, e.g. an African/Mediterranean vegan cafe in Santa Fe or a salt mine in Warsaw, Poland, that’s been carved into a salt cathedral. Those locations might stimulate a scene or add a quirk to your story.

Wieliczka salt mine
Wieliczka salt mine (Photo: Cezary p [CC BY-SA 3.0])

While I’m on the road, I keep a daily journal to record the vivid details not found in a tourist pamphlet. Think Jack Kerouac. John McPhee. Paul Theroux.

How do you record your road trips? Let me know in the comments.

 

HAPPY WORKAHOLICS DAY!

 

WORKAHOLICS DAY frustrated worker
Workaholics Day is an unofficial holiday that rolls around every July 5, meant to raise awareness that all work and no play can be harmful to workers’ mental and physical health.
“Workaholic” is a portmanteau word, created by combining “work” and “alcoholic”—in case that isn’t obvious! It’s been part of the lingo since the late 1960s as a label for people who work excessively and compulsively—i.e., addictively. And as with other addictions, a work addiction is a bad thing. And as with many bad things, it’s a boon to writers. Workaholism creates problems for the character and for others around him or her.
Malissa Clark, Ph.D., studies workaholism for a living. She’s identified four leading components of overwork: motivational, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral.
 
Motivation is essentially why one does what one does. Workaholics work because of internal pressures—feeling that they should or ought to be working.
Cognitively, workaholics think obsessively about work, even when they aren’t working. They can’t mentally disengage.
When not working, workaholics experience negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, disappointment and guilt.
And their work behavior goes beyond what is reasonable or even expected by their employers in terms of long hours and not taking time off.
WORKAHOLICS DAY frustration

But how do workaholics get that way?

Here’s a list of possible roots for your workaholic character.
—a need to feel competent, especially if incompetent in other areas of their lives
—reliving patterns from their past, or family of origin
—a means to relieve, ignore, or deny emotional issues or trauma
—your character’s basic personality: having a Type A personality, high in need for achievement, perfectionism, and/or narcissism
WORKAHOLICS DAY frustration

How bad is it? 

What is your workaholic character likely to experience? Workaholism is related to:
—lower job, family, and life satisfaction
—worse physical health, including higher systolic blood pressure
—higher levels of mental distress over time
—increased job stress and burnout
And here’s the kicker: workaholics do NOT enjoy greater job success or productivity than others.
WORKAHOLICS DAY frustrated worker

Working long hours doesn’t make one a workaholic. 

Someone who loves his/her job—finds it fulfilling and satisfying—probably isn’t a workaholic. Highly engaged workers feel more jovial, attentive, and self-assured both at work and at home.
WORKAHOLICS DAY happy worker
Workaholics Day encourages workers to make lifestyle changes to give other aspects of their lives as much importance as their work. Bottom Line for writers: if you want to redeem your workaholic character, rebalancing is absolutely necessary.

The Perennial Student

vmfa studio school
Yesterday was the beginning of the spring semester fiction class at the Virginia Museum Studio School—and I was there! Why? I might say “Because I am a perennial student.” Depending on the dictionary, the definition of perennial is some form of lasting for an indefinitely long time: extending over several years, persistent, recurrent, etc. But that is a label, not a reason.
perennial student
It’s practically a cliché that writing is a lone activity. I find classes add the social dimension to writing. I never met a boring writer! I meet interesting people with similar interests and (usually) similar world views. Thus there is the potential to develop friendships.

Classes stimulate me to write in new directions. Yes, I write when I’m not in class, but it tends to get habitual, not to mention sporadic. In the last few weeks I have had three stories accepted for publication in 2019.

big muddy literary magazine
[Source: NewPages]
“Culture of Complaint and Commiseration” will appear in Big Muddy, the literary journal of the Mississippi River Valley. It is a story of women bonding over the struggles they face.

pretty owl poetry
“Rambling On About Uncle Leonard” will appear in Pretty Owl Poetry. This is a single sentence of 688 words that describes an old man and his context.

slab lit mag
[Source: The Rocket]
“The Doll” will appear in SLAB.  It borders on horror, beginning when a woman finds an empty baby stroller in the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night.

Besides celebrating these acceptances, I mention them for two reasons: they are three very different pieces of writing, and each began with a prompt or assignment in a writing class.

Classes are structured to make me write regularly.The VMFA studio classes meet three hours per week for twelve weeks in the fall and twelve weeks in the spring, with shorter offerings in the summer. Tuition is a real bargain, when one looks at dollars per hour of instruction! Just saying.

Amy Ritchie Johnson
My teacher of choice for the last two years has been Amy Ritchie Johnson. Her in-class timed writing and assignments are tied to the basics of the craft. All three of the forthcoming publications mentioned above started in her classes.

When I write regularly, I also submit regularly, at least six times per year. This leads to lots of rejections, but without submissions there are no acceptances.

Most of my life has been spent in classrooms, as a student and/or teacher.Classes are my natural environment, the one in which I thrive. Classmates and/or teachers praising my writing is extremely gratifying. Every time I get something published, it’s like an A on my report card or a star on my forehead. With more than 50 publications in literary journals and anthologies, my writing life is sufficiently star-studded to make me smile.

Of course I’m a perennial student! Join me!

Blog Block

blog block
[Source: Local writer Betsy Arnett]
If it weren’t January, I’d call it spring fever. I simply could not settle down to write a substantive blog for today. What did I do instead, you might well ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

I lingered over multiple cups of coffee and enjoyed my backyard wildlife. The squirrel just started visiting again after a long hiatus, but he’s as cute as ever. I think I’ll name him Stanley.

I finally pulled out a dead  plant, may it RIP after hanging in for several years. I replaced it with stems I’ve been rooting for spring planting because it won’t live in the ground over winter.

By then it was time to make (and eat) soup. While I was at it, I made two!

blog block
Passing through the living room, I thought that I really ought to put away the last of the Christmas decorations, but instead. . .

blog block
I spent a while enjoying the light catcher and wind chimes. The light catcher was a Christmas present and we have six sets of wind chimes around and about.

blog block
Being focused on the yard, I had to check on the progress of spring bulbs: greenery everywhere but no buds yet.

As long as I was outdoors, why not take a little walk and enjoy the gorgeous day? So I did that until it was time for my tai chi class. This is my teacher at the 2018 World Tai Chi Day.

blog block
When I got home, I realized that the laundry basket was overflowing, which took me to the bedroom—where I felt compelled to organize my earrings.

Yes, I know that is an obscene number of earrings, but I’ve been collecting earrings for decades. I can still wear the earrings I wore in high school, so why get rid of any?

Eventually I did try to focus on writing. But while I found these two quotes wise, they didn’t trigger any wise thoughts of my own. Indeed, I decided that today I’m in the reading phase.

becoming michelle obama
BOTTOM LINE: Focus, focus, focus! (I.e., do as I say, not as I did today!)

Mystery Author Collaboration: Theresa Inge

theresa inge

VL: Today’s guest blog is by Teresa Inge, whose novella “Hounding the Pavement” is the opening work in the recently released To Fetch a Thief. Teresa has contributed to several anthologies both as author and as organizer. Today she will share her perspective on collaboration.


Just as writing is a lonely experience, collaboration is a group effort. As a short story author, I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with many authors on several writing projects.

These projects have included the coordination of joint mystery anthologies. Some years ago, I came up with the idea to create the Virginia is for Mysteries series, a collection of sixteen short stories set in and around Virginia. I first discussed the series with the Sisters in Crime Mysteries by the Sea chapter members and the Central Virginia chapter members. Once members were on board to move forward, I organized an anthology committee. This began the wonderful partnership of writers joining together to create great mysteries. Along the way, we teamed up to generate timelines, book titles, number of contributors, submissions guidelines, promotion, and securing a publisher.

VL: As a contributor, I can say Teresa did a great job! 

author theresa inge

We also learned that working with multiple authors can be challenging with schedules, editing, and finding time to promote the books.

VL: What Teresa may be too polite to say is that it was sometimes a real pain in the neck—or somewhere! For example, people missing deadlines, arguing over suggested edits, and/or never being available for talks or signings.

Next, I created 50 Shades of Cabernet, a mysterious wine anthology with authors I knew from Malice Domestic, a fan-based mystery writer’s conference. But I took a different approach and solicited authors who were established, had a following, and created well-crafted mysteries. I knew from experience that these authors would put in the time needed to make the book successful.

mystery author collaboration

More recently, I collaborated with three authors on To Fetch a Thief, the first Mutt Mysteries collection, featuring four novellas that have “gone to the dogs.” In this howling good read, canine companions help their owners solve crimes and right wrongs.  Since I’ve been in several books with this particular group, we now have the knowledge and experience to create well developed mysteries and a strategic marketing plan.

Collaborating with multiple authors combines efforts to develop great mysteries and create a strong network, since there is strength in numbers.

theresa inge author

VL: Teresa, thank you for sharing your insights. From your closing remarks, it sounds as though collaboration—like so many other things—gets easier with practice. No doubt many authors would benefit from working with and learning from you! 


Teresa Inge grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hotrods. She is president of Sister’s in Crime Mystery by the Sea Chapter and author of short mysteries in Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet.

Nimrod Hall: Something for Everyone

I go to Nimrod for the the summer arts program for writers. Hence, much of my appreciation is based on the writing time, the individual consultation, the group critique, the opportunity to read my work and hear others. Writers working with both Cathryn Hankla and Charlotte Morgan (this year’s writers in residence) gave rave reviews to everything related to the writing support and advice.

 

This year, there were two opportunities for writers to read plays (or parts thereof) by two fellow writers. Fun experiences, though I doubt they really did justice to the work being read.

 

nimrod hall

But no matter how many hours are spent butt-in-chair, there is always time to experience the place. I took lots of pix of bits and pieces around the buildings and grounds that I find charming—many of which I’ve posted on Facebook during the past week, but not all by any means. E.g., these heads I call family.

 

And then some of my other indoor favorites:

 

Outside, I tend to focus on blooms—most of these pictures snapped along the roadside and mowed walkways.
 
There are fine o-l-d trees dotted around and about. They have a beauty all their own.

 

And then there is the allure of water. Here I’m sharing not only my pictures but also some taken by other writers. (I’m not the only person drawn to water. Note the picture of writers tubing down the Cowpasture River!)

 

Some people especially appreciate the big picture of our location, and atmosphere.
And then there is the fauna. Most years I see rabbits, but I didn’t get a picture this year. Think any size! (A few of these were taken on day trips near Nimrod)

 

And speaking of places near Nimrod:  often people go off in  twos, threes, or fours to enjoy a break with others who are free at the same time and of the same mind.This year, those off-site trips included kayaking at nearby state/national parks and my visit to a National Champion sycamore tree.

 

BOTTOM LINE: The writing program at Nimrod is incredible. It’s an opportunity to focus on writing in the midst of supportive writers and mentors. It allows for breaks to enjoy the surroundings and reset for refocusing. Incredible people. Incredible bonding. Incredible creativity. And some bonds will last beyond the time there.

 

nimrod hall

Surviving Technology Dependence

Surviving Technology Dependence

So, I’m here at Nimrod for the week, and it is gorgeous as ever in spite of the daily showers and thunderstorms. I arrived with great optimism and enthusiasm for the days ahead. And then it all went to hell in a handcart.

Surviving Technology Dependence

First my printer wouldn’t print. It signaled low ink so I replaced the cartridge, and still it won’t print. Yesterday was my day to be “on”–i.e., have the conference with Cathy Hankla (writer in residence), followed by group critique, followed by reading to the group after dinner (not the work that had been critiqued). I was disgruntled about the printer, but I’d brought copies of all my work for critique and I figured I could do my evening reading from the screen.

Surviving Technology Dependence

I spent yesterday morning reworking my 1,000-word piece. My computer started frustrating me. I’d have the document up and all of a sudden– and frequently– the screen image would go from 125% to 100%, 73%, 50%, 27%… but I persevered and was pleased with the results. I saved it before going to lunch. And after lunch, the document wouldn’t open. I got a message that the required index.xml was missing– whatever the h*ll that means! So I tried to get online help, ended up spending more than an hour and $44 with no apparent effect, so I cut that off and pondered what in the world I’d do about my reading.

Surviving Technology Dependence

I ended up reading a timed writing. I had done that for my fiction class earlier this summer. It wasn’t great, but it was well-received.

So last night, I was reviewing the day and decided that whatever else, my conference and workshop had been great! I’d submitted “The Doll’ and the first draft of a short story murder mystery set during the Civil War at Chimborazo Hospital. Cathy concluded that both pieces shared the same strengths and weaknesses. And BTW, both dealt with amputations and body integrity– which was not a thought that had crossed my mind! The group’s appreciations, trouble spots, and suggestions are going to be extremely helpful with re-writes.

Surviving Technology Dependence

Participants send work to Cathy ahead of time and one of the things she does is bring in books with marked passages she thinks will be helpful to each participant. She recommended a section of Steering the Craft for me. Coincidentally, I’d brought that book with me, having bought it on the recommendation of Amy Ritchie Johnson, my VMFA Studio School teacher. So if you are a writer, get thee a copy. And more importantly, read it. (Do as I say, not as I did.)

Surviving Technology Dependence

Last night I concluded that boiling frustration and irritation are not good. (Duh! You heard it here first.) As soon as I return home I’ll take my computer to the Apple Store Genius Bar. In the meantime, I’ll just go back to yellow pad and pencil and make the best of it. (Those of you who’ve read my blog on old writing technology will know how difficult this will be for me. But I shall persevere!) I’ll take copious notes on work to be revised after my word processing function has been restored. I’ll read Le Guin and Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) to improve my writing and other books for pleasure.

Technology will not ruin Nimrod for me! I’ll still enjoy soaking up Nimrod’s atmosphere as well as the enthusiasm and wisdom of all the writers.

Giving First Rights

Sometimes life gets on top of you. You aren’t dead, just buried. And accidents happen. Such was the case for me once upon a time. When two on-line journals went live nearly simultaneously, I realized that I had granted first rights to both of them. My attempt to set things right follows.

To the OxMag Editorial Staff:

I am embarrassed and extremely regretful to have to tell you that I inadvertently granted publication rights to two literary journals. On May 8, 2015, when I granted OxMag rights to my short story “Trust,” I did not recall that I had previously (on March 27) granted publication to Diverse Arts Project Journal. All I can say in my defense is that over the last several months I’ve been distracted by two surgeries, daily hospital care for a persistent non-healing wound, various other health complications, family issues, and a flurry of short story acceptances. Once I discovered my error, notifying you seemed the only honorable thing to do.

As an on-line publication, I suppose that you can—and may wish to—remove my story from this issue. Alternatively, should you choose to allow the double publication to stand, please add an appropriate footnote acknowledging the Diverse Arts Project Journal.

Again, my apologies for the error. Please let me know how you decide to handle this. And thank you for your time and efforts on my behalf.

A little more than three weeks later, I received the following response:

Thank you so much for coming forward with this issue, we appreciate it.

Because it is our policy generally to only publish previously unpublished work, we will remove your story “Trust” from our Spring 2015 issue. We did enjoy your story, and re-reading it gives us time to again appreciate why we chose to publish it initially. We encourage you to continue submitting work to OxMag, but also remind you to in the future keep us informed of the status of any simultaneous submissions. (Submittable actually has an option to withddraw stories from consideration once they’ve been accepted without you having to notify everyone.)

We wish you good health, and also congratulations on the other short story acceptances—that’s very exciting!

Avoid First Rights Blunders

There are several take-aways for writers. One, with e-publishing, this sort of error can be corrected. Unlike a print journal, where making changes of this sort would be prohibitively expensive, it’s a relatively easy fix. Two, if you screw-up—regardless of the medium—admit it. Besides easing your conscience, doing so reflects well on you. In this case, OxMag thanked me and invited future submissions. And, three, take care of the paperwork (either yourself, or through a third party). It’s much better to avoid this sort of situation than to try to repair it!


You can read “Trust” at The Diverse Arts Project

A Satisfying Writing Life

I recently read that two things will make or break a writing career. The first was passion that (among other things) wakes you in the night to jot down ideas, steals time to write, learns the craft, bounces back from rejection and criticism, and spurs investment (money implied).

 

The second was a strong submission strategy. By this, they meant, “…a streamlined, organized, efficient, highly functional, easy-to-execute…” strategy. Submitting should feel joyful rather than burdensome, and put the right work in front of the right eyes.

 

All of the above strike me as good, desirable things. And probably they are necessary for a brilliant writing career. But not all writers expect—or actually aspire to—a writing career in that sense. Surely everyone who published writing sometimes fantasizes about writing a best seller, but that is seldom a realistic goal. Perhaps writing is so inherently gratifying that it’s a necessary part of a satisfying life.

 

Satisfying Writing Life
Which brings me to important elements of a satisfying writing life. The first is enjoyment. Taking pleasure in crafting artful descriptions and effective dialogue is key. Then there is the gratification that comes from a job well-done. Every once in a while, I read something I wrote years ago and think, “Damn! That’s pretty good.” Then I smile, and return to writing with renewed energy.

 

The second in my list is writing that suits your purpose. Of course, that means you must figure out why you write. I started writing as therapy for my post-profession depression. As a former academic, I found that cooking and gardening just didn’t engage me intellectually. I did—and still do—enjoy both activities. But I need to keep my brain engaged. So, I enrolled in adult education writing classes and began learning the craft. (I’d never had a composition class, having tested out of freshman comp in college.) Today, one of the greatest joys of my writing life is doing the research to get the story line right, whether that involves the effects of ketamine on humans or the price of gasoline during the Great Depression.
Satisfying Writing Life
Writing as a source of self-esteem doesn’t require being a Steven King or a J.K. Rowling. Praise from fellow writers in classes and critique groups, and from readers, is great for my ego. And every time I have a short story or essay accepted for publication, even with no monetary reward, I feel like someone pasted a gold star of my forehead!

 

Perhaps one of the most common reasons to write, especially memoir, is to leave a legacy for family. This can be a way of letting them know who you are and how you came to be you, and/or leaving a record of their roots and the relatives who have gone before.

 

Many writers have more than one reason to write. In my opinion, why people write is less important than that it contributes to a gratifying life. Be clear in your own mind and heart about why you write, and then choose the path and activities that will achieve your goal.
Satisfying Writing Life

Dulcimer Lesson for Writers

dulcimer lesson writers
In high school I played percussion, but I never mastered a tuneful instrument–which I’ve always regretted. So, I recently started taking dulcimer lessons. The instrument and the music are rooted in Appalachia, as am I. In short, it’s important to me.

But so far, I’ve managed only one lesson and one practice per week– usually the morning of the lesson. This is not the road to proficiency!

clock face
I truly intend to practice, but there’s always something else to do first. Make the bed. Empty the dishwasher. Celebrate my birthday with my bridge buds.

washing dishes
Write my twice-weekly blogs. Submit a short story. Come up with and deliver a couple of tattoo stories to honor Amy Black. Spend Easter with my family in New England. And on and on.

AND THAT BRINGS ME TO FIRST THINGS VS. IMPORTANT THINGS.

It’s easy to fill your life with things that are right in front of you–or that have a date certain–and never get around to some things that are truly more important.

kids room
When my children were little I often lamented the clutter and mess in my house. (I was a psychology professor at the time.) One day a friend with four children just older than mine said, “If they aren’t doing structural damage, don’t worry about it.”

Which brings us to the point: LOOK AT HOW YOU SPEND YOUR TIME AND DECIDE WHICH FIRST THINGS CAN BE MOVED TO LAST. If writing is truly important to you, make time for it.

And so, off to practice dulcimer!


Interested in learning more about writing? Join me at Agile Writers for my class on Write Your Life: Memoir and Memoir-Based Fiction. For more information, visit the Agile Writers website.

Vivian Lawry Agile Writers