Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thankful Thursday: @PassiveVoiceBlg

Blogs, books, authors, etc. all instruct us to be active.

Skip passive constructions in your writing, but don't miss out on The Passive Voice blog.

Not sure who Passive Guy is, but I love his blog. Not sure how I found him (really, I can't remember the rabbit holes I fall into roaming the Internet), but am grateful I did.

On his "About" section, Passive Guy addresses the anonymous aspect of his blog:
As he hopes everyone can see, this is not an attack blog.  While he has opinions on (too) many things, he tries to include well-reasoned arguments on all sides of major issues in the writing/publishing/indie world.
I subscribe to his blog and receive a daily digest of his posts. Whether it's the day's hot topic or a hidden nugget, Passive Guy always offers useful information from his perspective to move the conversation along.

His background includes an "attorney" label, but be clear his blog "is not legal advice." He has a good-sized disclaimer on this point and even suggests searching for the word "disclaimer" on his site. Then:
Everything that comes up as a result of your search is incorporated in this disclaimer by reference.
This makes me believe he is an attorney.

If you haven't checked out his site, please do. I don't think you'll be disappointed with the links, the discussion and the topics — contracts, eBook, self publishing, characters, etc. All the big topics for the published and unpublished writer.

He's also on Twitter as @PassiveVoiceBlg with a variety of links.

You'll find he uses "snarky" on his about page. When I use that word, people's eyes gloss over like "did she make that up?" I didn't. The Passive Guy uses it too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writers: A raw look at the dollar signs

On Tuesday, author Ellery Adams bared it all on her agent's blog. She served up a mixture of sobering details and inspiration all at once.

BookEnds, LLC — A Literary Agency: Ellery Adams Bares All: "Ellery Adams A Deadly Cliche Publisher: Berkley Pub date: March 2011 Agent: Jessica Faust ( Click to Buy ) Author web sites: www.elle..."

Adams broke down her career by the numbers: books published, word count, page count, advances as well as money she spends on promotion (25 percent of her advance) and money her publisher provides zero.

It's a great reminder to keep your day job, if you have one. And, that writing and getting published is hard work.

I loved this near the end of Adams' post:
Times I’d trade this life for another — Every time one of my books is released and fails to make the NYT list. And then I get over myself and go right back to work.
I agree with Sharon Bially's comment on the blog: "I hope this post goes viral and boosts your sales!"

So, say thanks, share Adams' blog post with your friends, visit her website or pick up one of her books.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fun travel companions: A duck, a chicken and a gnome oh my

I traveled to London with a duck in 2003.
Ducky flying on the London Eye.

 My niece Rosa, who was about 2 at the time, helped me enjoy the duck adventures.
We played with her huge duck collection.
When I traveled to Africa in 2006, I took a Perdue Chicken (shout out to Rockingham, NC).
Rosa is around 4 here.

That chicken traveled to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania.
Here he's on a boat cruise on the Zambezi River during a visit to Victoria Falls.
So, when my niece prepared for a trip to Lithuania and London. I gave her a traveling gnome.
Rosa is now 9.
I've been delighted by the photos. I can't tell who is having more fun with the gnome:  Rosa or her mom and dad.

I think it adds a bit of creativity to travel.

Have you ever taken a small traveling companion on vacation? If so, did it change the way you photographed your trip?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thankful Thursday:

A funny thing happened when I began drafting a picture book manuscript —

My mind blanked out.
I was in serious doubt.

What was I thinking when I signed up for a retreat?
They will surely kick me out on the street.

I plugged along and wrote.
Until I had a page full of notes.

While it might not make any sense,
that's the whole point of my attendance.

Writing a single word seemed impossible,
until I found a site that made it possible.

The helpful word choice
gave my page a voice.

Today, I'm thankful for
This website of words is the bomb.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Need ideas: Hop in the shower

A couple weeks ago, a scheduling glitch made me redirect my writing time.

Last month, I evaluated my writing goals and schedule. I decided I need to write — not check emails, not Tweet, not post to Facebook, not read or comment on blogs, etc. — just write during nap time. This practice could give me 30 minutes to three hours of daytime writing.

It works when I follow my plan. Put baby to bed. Crank up the computer. Write.

It doesn't work when I socialize through Facebook, Twitter or check my email — that's a black hole that needs cleaning right now.

It also doesn't work when I get a call that I'm needed to volunteer. I'm stubborn sometimes, well lots of the time. My response: "No, I'm not on the schedule until June 23." Then, it struck me that I should quit protesting and just make it happen — do the work.

Instead of clinging to my friend Mr. No, I said Yes and promised to be there shortly. A few issues delayed my response: the baby was asleep and I sat in my PJs at 11 a.m. and needed a shower before gracing the doors of the church.

A funny thing happened while I got ready. Ideas. They popped into my head faster than I could write them down. In the shower, I tweaked a few for an essay-in-progress on my desktop.

I read a post last week on The Other Side of the Story with Janice Hardy that mentioned showers. Author Myra McEntire shared10 tips/ideas for brainstorming. I could relate to her statement that "the shower is generally the only place I'm alone."

McEntire had a great idea: buy some shower crayons to capture those ideas. On that day, I repeated my ideas until I could find a notebook and pen.

My unexpected morning turned out fine. As soon as I wrote down my notes and got dressed, my son woke up on his own and off we went to volunteer.

Where do you go for your writing ideas?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Clap Clap Whoosh: VBS lessons

Clap. Clap. Whoosh.

It's a neat trick one of the leaders used to get the children's attention. They quietened down after that Clap. Clap. Whoosh-technique.

We learned that in Vacation Bible School. My son is too young for VBS and I am too old. We went to Son Rock Kids Camp anyway.

VBS was a highlight of my childhood summers. I made my profession of faith at VBS. We attended every summer along with friends.

I offered to help with snacks. My initial thought: oh, sure I can drop off cookies. I had it all wrong.

Snacks at the Hungry Bear Lodge involved time in the kitchen, organization and a whole lot more than "dropping off cookies." My terror level of what have I gotten myself into went up to code orange. My panic system matches the old Homeland Security chart. My terror wasn't at the highest level, but it was close.

I didn't know how I would meet my commitment with a clinging one-year-old.

The experience was a great lesson on faith for me. If I had realized the extent of the time and work commitment, I never would have volunteered. It's the truth. The scope of the project fell outside my comfort zone.

Thankfully, a funny thing happened on the way to VBS — it all worked out.

The other mom volunteer with a toddler was a pro on snacks. The VBS director found a teen to assist in food preparation and child wrangling. I took a pack and play. Enzo tolerated his "baby containment unit" for a bit each day, happily bounced along on my hip and walked around aimlessly.

Lessons I learned:
  • With help watching Enzo, I was able to contribute to a program the children loved. Pretty cool that kids love their time learning about Jesus.
  • Moms can do a lot with one hand while the other clutches to a child.
  • VBS became a perfect setting to get to know our church family better.
  • Enzo enjoyed interacting with the other children — of all ages.
  • While Enzo ate pretzel crumbs off the floor isn't ideal, it's better than eating dead flies. (Someone shared that story of how children living on a ranch tried to eat dead flies).
  • As my writing time shrunk, I wrote more — more words and more efficiently.
  • I'm happy I pushed through my anxiety. If I had not volunteered, I would have missed out on a fun time.
Now that I know I can do it, sign me (and Enzo) up for snacks next year. I know we'll survive and have fun time doing it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thankful Thursday: Writer Unboxed

One of my go-to blogs for information is Writer Unboxed — about the craft and business of fiction.

Post topics include craft, how-did-they-do-it, published author interviews, craft, marketing, career information and plenty more.

The website's founders are Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton. They have created a great community for writers through an assortment of authors and industry folks. The site shares information about the business and about books.

The website also offers another gem. The Writer Unboxed Facebook group can be found under the Social Media heading. Click it. I don't think you'll regret it.

A few days after I joined the group, I began to wonder "Did I mistakenly get accepted into this great club." If you knew about the time an agent, contacted me by email and wondered how I gained access to her agency's special blog — you would understand my concern. (I still don't know how that happened. I saw a blog that interested me and subscribed to it. Sigh.)

I digress. That's the beauty of Writer Unboxed, the group includes people like me — with a manuscript in progress — and published authors. We're all in this together — reading books and writing them.

The group has been very helpful. If you have a question, just ask. If you read an interesting post about publishing, an author, etc. Post it. If your book hit the bookstore or became available in ebook form, announce the news.

The group has a list of member's twitter accounts, blogs and books. Resources like this help me find writers to follow and books to add to my "to read" list.

If you have time, join the Writer Unboxed Facebook group. I don't think you'll be disappointed. I enjoy the interaction and discussion. The members are extremely helpful and make writing less lonely. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Play again — revise

"You are not a winner. Play again."

Nope. I didn't find this message on the under belly of a soda bottle cap. It was part of a winner's list email sent out for a non-fiction essay contest I entered several months before.

I didn't make the winner or the honorable mention list. A very nice "thank you" for participating was part of the email.

I wanted to make the list. I mean, who sends out their work to publications or contests and hopes it doesn't win or get published? (Seriously, if you do this, I would love to interview you.)

Not me. I want to win.

A win equals getting published.

All is not lost.

Remember that bottle cap says: Play again.

The essay is still mine.

I'll open it on my computer, re-read, revise and resubmit.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Will you Like me? - A conversation with my hubby

I almost hesitate to ask anyone to Like me after the conversation I had with my husband.

Me to hubby:  Will you Like my Facebook page?

Hubby:  "I don't know how to Like."

Me:  (Laughing) Seriously, that sounds terrible.

Hubby:  What you are asking doesn't make sense?

Me:  It's on Facebook. I'm "Stacy S. Jensen." I need  25 Likes before I can claim my name.

Hubby:  You already have your name.

Me:  But, not on Facebook. Not until I get 25 Likes.

I'm still laughing about the conversation. And, waiting to see if Hubby will Like me in the cyberworld. He's very supportive of my efforts to write and socialize with other writers on the Internet. So, I think I can direct him to the correct Like button.

If you don't mind, I would appreciate a Like from you too. I captured my name late Sunday with the help of a few family members and writer friends at Writer Unboxed's Facebook group.

Now I'm

I'm not alone in this Like quest. While writers write, we also work on our Social Media skills.

I appreciate your help. Now, I'm waiting on Hubby to Like me.

I may ask him, "Who's on first?"

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thankful Thursday: Critique Group

I recently joined a critique training group. After several sessions of talking about expectations, how we should format our work and how we should edit it before submission, we shared several pages.

Joy. That sums up how I felt after the group read through a personal essay I planned to submit to an anthology.

A word struck one reader as all wrong. Another word struck several others as right. Every reader missed one descriptive detail — a signal it needed a revision.

Something as easy as changing "my favorite spot for lunch" to "my favorite lunch spot" made me float.

After reading your own work, you need a fresh set of eyes. We may write alone, but it's best not to submit or publish alone.

As I sat listening to each person's feedback, I made a notation in my notebook when I had the urge to explain my writing. If I needed to explain it verbally, it became clear I needed to revise my words on the page.

As a friend in a former writer's group would always say, "This is a writing group, not a talking group."

I look forward to more training and more critique work. I'm thankful I found a group. I know they will help me and I hope I can help them.

How about you — do you participate in a critique group?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Don't let your writing be like a yard sale

Last week, we had a yard sale. It's a departure from our routine. We generally donate items to thrift stores — a women's shelter, Habitat for Humanity or a hospice program. I might stop at a yard sale, but I don't have them.

Why the change? Two reasons: baby contraptions and a community-wide yard sale. We had a half-dozen thing-a-ma-jigs that our son outgrew filling up the basement. The neighborhood advertised the yard sale. All I had to do was post a sign at my house, get stuff and open the garage door.

I used my writing techniques to implement the yard sale plan.

Idea —I came up with and committed myself to participating in the yard sale.

Research — I gathered items from closets, under beds, behind doors, in drawers and in the closet to sell.

Write and Organize — I sorted through my ideas (stuff) and decided where it should go. A table of housewares by the garage door. DVDs and books near the back. Baby contraptions lined a wall.

Publish — I opened the garage door for all to see my work.

Reviews — "It's crap." No one said it out loud (or where I could hear it). I felt that's what people were saying when they walked through, touched a few items and then left without making a purchase.

Other folks loved it. They found exactly what they were looking for:  a barely used Yankee Candle for 75 cents. Who knew? I tried to use the "one man's trash is another man's treasure" thought process as I chose things to sell.

Repeat — I generally begin the writing process again after one piece is finished. I will not do that with the yard sale. I packed away all the leftovers, so I can donate them to a local organization.

During one of the yard sale drive bys — where cars slowly drive by deciding whether they really want to stop or not — I decided I do not want my writing to be like a yard sale. While the sale was filled with usable stuff, it wasn't my best stuff. I want to put my best writing out, not the stuff I don't need or just can't find a place for in the house.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Story A Day in May Challenge — My story

I've woven my micro stories together from the A Story A Day Challenge in May. I aimed for six words more or less each day. While quilting the short stories together, I discovered a few missing topics. I tried to clean it up, but still keep the majority of the stories I created in the challenge.

The above picture shows my late husband Jimmy with a nurse during a fishing trip. A brain stem stroke in November 2001 left him mute and completely paralyzed at age 33. He could blink, move his right middle finger and thankfully regained his ability to smile. The list of things he couldn't do is much, much longer. A still photograph made him appear more normal. In person, he frightened some people, because it was like sitting with a statue as he didn't move. He communicated with eye blinks. I wrote about it here. He died in November 2005 — two days shy of the stroke anniversary.

Now for the story:
Jimmy looked dead in the hospital. I said he stood six feet, five inches tall. He was five feet, 10 inches.
My mind blanked. I didn't know what to do. This time, he couldn't help me. Family surrounded me, but I felt alone. Jimmy had a brain stem stroke.
Days passed. I realized Jimmy remained in his body.  I heard I love you again through eye blinks.
I lived 38 days with strangers in the ICU waiting room. We were all different, but medical emergencies made us equal. The time helped me adjust to my new reality.
Jimmy communicated with a speech therapist. She recited the alphabet. He blinked.
At the veteran’s nursing home, a rough start almost killed him. The staff acted put out immediately. They didn’t like their new patient.  One night, I played a movie for Jimmy. I left to sleep in a hotel. The movie remained on when I returned the next morning. No one thought to turn it off or ask Jimmy, if he wanted the TV turned off.
An ICU nurse had warned me to take it one day at a time. I understood the cliché six months later as I argued with staff about dressing Jimmy. No one dressed him and he lay in an adult diaper in bed. I never would have held it together had I known the future. I took it one day at a time.
I didn’t like the nursing home situation, but had to leave. I lived three hours away from Jimmy. Home care wasn’t an option for us. At our ages — Jimmy at 33 and me at 30 — neither of us thought about long-term care insurance.  We chose the veterans home, because it paid for most of Jimmy’s care since he was a Gulf War veteran. I needed medical insurance on both of us and to earn money for rent, food and transportation.
Jimmy’s condition — being mute and completely paralyzed — equaled expensive care. His intense needs didn’t fit into the system. Some staff acted like he became paralyzed and unable to speak on purpose to add more work into their schedule.
It took two hospitalizations and several federal complaints I made on Jimmy’s behalf. The nursing home hired private nurses. These women and men cared about Jimmy. The veteran’s home didn’t like the cost.
With the delivery of a salmon-colored certified notice in the mail, the nursing home announced Jimmy’s eviction:  We can’t care for you. Go.
Evict a veteran? I had no clue what to do, except protest. I talked to an attorney. No one wanted to help me, because they served the elderly in nursing homes and now 34, Jimmy didn’t fit their criteria. One attorney felt sorry for me and helped.
We fought to keep Jimmy at the veterans home — a place we hated. No one else would take him.
We won. He stayed. We complained. It drained us.
Being apart wasn't new to us.  Jimmy worked out of town early in our marriage. This separation was different. He couldn’t pick up the phone to call on his own.
Jimmy and I created circus tricks for his survival. We performed our tricks nicely to show non-believers that Jimmy was there.
By some miracle, he moved to a nursing home in our hometown. Instead of a three-plus hour drive to see Jimmy on weekends, I lived one-mile from him. I slipped into Jimmy's room daily.
My relief turned to grief, as Jimmy demanded I be with him more.
We celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.  Jimmy asked for a divorce that night. “I feel like No. 3,” he spelled. “You put work and family before me.”
I added up our daily and weekend hours together.  We spent more time talking than couples that lived under the same roof, I told Jimmy. In our post-stroke world, there were no dishes to wash or yards to mow. We only had each other and stories to share about our day.
My answer to the divorce question: No. I did not say obey in our marriage vows.
Problems with his care persisted. I dealt with them during daily visits.
People, who knew Jimmy, didn’t visit. They promised: We’ll visit, if he is closer.
One day, I loaded Jimmy up on a wheelchair, public transit van. He visited the apartment I moved into after I sold our house. Everything we had together— a house, seven dogs and his business were all gone. They had no purpose in our new life.
A setback — returning to the ventilator — sent Jimmy to an Atlanta hospital to be weaned from the machine. He breathed on his own again, but got stuck at the hospital.
Jimmy remained in limbo. His nursing home refused to readmit him. No one else around the state wanted him either.  He felt dumped.
With little changing, I worried what would happen to me sitting in his hospital room. Selfish, maybe? My reality: If I don’t live, I can’t stay.
Jimmy didn’t like my new plan. I visited London. He enjoyed my stories.
Later, Jimmy wanted baptized. His God Squad preferred dunking. Complete immersion would kill him. He dropped that goal.
One day, I received a call that a nursing home accepted Jimmy.  The home in Savannah was more than six hours away from me. The hospital shipped Jimmy South. He blamed me for letting this happen. I couldn’t do anything about it, but arguing about this didn’t change our reality. An ambulance picked him up. I followed.
I panicked at this distance. If something happened to Jimmy, I might not make it to his side. This move jeopardized my promise to be at his side.
People from home step in to help — a doctor, a nursing home and an ambulance company. It took one offer of help to right all the wrongs. This move gave us hope.
We didn’t care that we had to train up a whole new staff. We were home. The nursing staff cared.
Without the health care dramas, our routine unsettled us. It sucked.
The frequency of Jimmy’s X-rays increased. It scared me. Jimmy's treatment options dwindled with each one.
An elephant arrived unexpectedly. The fat giant landed on Jimmy’s chest. Heart attack or elephant either way it hurt. He couldn't breathe and this time it was different.
This shortness of breath hurt Jimmy. I couldn't breathe either.
Jimmy worried he would smother to death. He decided to refuse treatment and let life happen. Without treatment intervention, he died. Jimmy knew the consequence. He had been fighting it for almost four years, since the first time we interrupted death following his stroke.
When Jimmy left us, his clock became a clock.
At the funeral home, I checked his ring before saying goodbye. The funeral director asked, if I wanted his wedding band. It was his. It stayed with him. He never could wear it at nursing homes for fear it would be stolen.
My uncle noted the large turnout. “It’s a good crowd for a Tuesday funeral,” he said. I wished I could share that tidbit with Jimmy.
Some say to wait six months or a year before making a big change after a death. I left in six weeks and moved to North Carolina. I returned to newspaper work.
Unlike a sudden death, I dealt with the possibility of Jimmy's death from the moment of his stroke. I prepared myself for his death multiple times over four years. It wasn’t any easier, because I knew it was coming. I returned to his empty nursing home room to gather his belongings after the funeral. The first day I didn't go to the nursing room proved he was no longer with me. I was alone. Despite all my preparations, I was never ready to say goodbye.
I visited his grave twice. I had nothing to say to his headstone. We spoke when he was alive.
If you made it all the way down here, thanks for sticking with it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thankful Thursday: Roaming

I'm grateful today that my ability to roam the Internet and my inbox saved me from making a mistake.

Yesterday, I talked about the A Story A Day Challenge I completed in May. I thought I would be able to edit my micro stories together to make a sensible story in one day. I tried. I cut, paste and copy lines here and there.

Then, I roamed over to my inbox. In all its purple goodness, the Nelson Literary Agency newsletter stopped me from posting my story.

Kristin Nelson wrote in the newsletter about doing a First Pages workshop at the Backspace conference in New York.

She wrote:
Before the workshop began, I warned the attendees that the chances were good that their pages were not ready for an agent to review. As writers are often optimistic, we forged ahead and my warning proved true. However, I cautioned the writers to not be discouraged. Where they are as writers today is not where they’ll be six months or a year from now. Everyone has the capacity to learn and grow.
I know I'm not submitting my woven "challenge stories" to an agent, but I realized it's not ready for you to read it either. I worked all through morning nap time and through the first hour after the baby fell asleep. And, I realized I need to do more work.

Before talking about her conference warning Kristin Nelson said, the mantra for any aspiring writer should be:  If once rejected, try, try again.

So, while that momentary roaming around my inbox offered me a moment of clarity, I decided to shut down the Internet. I have a story to patch together, so I can properly post it next week. I'm going to try, try again.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I survived: Story a Day Challenge

I survived.

It's June 1.

I wrote A Story A Day in May.

I decided to sign up for the challenge to push myself to explore a few topics for the memoir-in-progress.

I did not write full length stories every day. Instead, I wrote the six-more-or-less word variety of stories.

I have my reasons:
  • After I committed to this challenge, I signed up for a picture book retreat, which required a manuscript.
  • I didn't have a manuscript, so I had to research and write one.
  • I tried to participate in the NaNoWriMo once. The novel fell apart (or maybe it was me under the throw up phase of pregnancy, a stint as a federal juror and a kitchen remodel.) I ate lots of Fruit Loops and had a beautiful kitchen that November, but no finished novel.
  • May is a busy month for our family. We had Mother's Day, our son's first birthday, my 40th birthday and our wedding anniversary. Yes. All in one month. My husband is a brave, wonderful man.
Since I knew life activities might derail me, I made other plans. To participate and to be standing at the end of the month, I decided to write short.

Every morning, I grabbed the iPhone and tapped out six-word sentences. I used my chapter titles as a guide, but allowed myself to go off topic.

On Tuesday, I gathered the words from those electronic notes. I have a little more than 1,300 words. I will create a story from them. If I can do the editing in one day, it will certainly be my Thankful Thursday post.

If you are interested in the A Story a Day challenge, visit the website.