Re-building the Village

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of finding your village or tribe or support group. You had the most lovely comments and contributions – thank you! Since that post, my writing village has begun the process of re-building.

We started by agreeing it was time to re-start! Today I’d love to ask for more advice about how we begin again; how do we re-energize, rejuvenate, and so forth (I’m running out of “re” words)?

There’s a post from when I first became a Mysterista, where I spoke of the genesis of my writing group, but I’ll give you a quick recap. A dear friend and I met when our children started kindergarten. As we went through the “get to know you” conversations, we realized we were both interested in writing fiction (she was already a published non-fiction writer) and were looking for a group to join with no luck. We decided to start our own. Over time, as members joined and departed, we settled into a comfortable group of four – our third member was found at a “Writer’s Night Out” event hosted by a state-wide writers organization (New Hampshire Writers Project), and the fourth member we met through our children! She’s a now-former middle school English teacher.

Over the past few years, as a group we’ve experienced health issues, divorces, moves, retirements, other job changes, more moves, and plenty of typical ups and downs. We’ve all published now, although none of us has placed a novel yet (in fairness, only one has tried!), but two members are ready and their work is magical.

But, we’ve lost focus. We’ve become comfortable with one another (which is good), and we’ve lost that balance – the one that says, yes, family and day job often come first, but the writing has an important place, too. We’ve slipped from supporting to a bit of, dare I say, enabling a lack of productivity or diligence or focus? Yes, I dare. You see, I am one of the guiltiest of prioritizing everything above my writing.

There’s a bit of imposter syndrome. If I step back, I can say with honesty that I think I have potential – I placed my first ever short story, and my third as well. My odds for short fiction publication are pretty good so far! But, well, if I don’t place the next piece I’m down to 50/50, aren’t I? Oy. That is the wrong mindset, but I’m stuck there.

I need my village.

So, last week we discussed our schedule and came to agreement: we start over in June, and meet every other week for critique. We’re looking at a new location, as we come from four directions and we learned early on that our homes are too personal, too comfortable, and much too distracting. We acknowledged that we need to start early (9:00am for us), otherwise we are less productive. And we still think we’d like to find another member or two, with a limit of six.

What other ideas do you have? Lessons learned from your own groups? (I’ve got a list from the last post, and thank you again for your thoughts!) Wish us luck, please. I’m really excited to get (re) started.

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Finding Your Tribe

Writing can be a solitary exercise, a group endeavor, or a bit of both. It all depends on the writer and the writing. As an only child and an introvert, you’d think I would fall into the solitary writer bucket, but no. In fact, I’ve done some of my best writing sitting with friends at a busy Barnes & Noble store! There’s something about the energy of a group that really works for me.

Finding the right group, however, can be a challenge. My current writers’ group started accidentally. I hadn’t actually done much fiction writing, but I’d always wanted to do so. During a casual conversation with another mom (and brand-new friend) after school one day, I learned that she was a published non-fiction writer, one who wanted also to write fiction. We were both looking for some sort of group or organization to participate in, one that would encourage and support us on this new journey, but we’d not found anything. We joked about starting our own writers’ group and voila! Writers on Words (WoW) was born.

Once we had made our decision, we realized we wanted more than two of us, so we went looking for more people to join us. We attended a regional “Writers’ Night Out” sponsored by our state’s writing organization, and mentioned we were accepting new members. Michele and I developed a set of basic criteria: all fiction is welcome, with the exception of memoir, and we don’t do poetry; each writer reads their work aloud (10 minutes); critique is round-robin, and everyone participates.

We also attended a writers’ conference hosted by the same writing organization. That wasn’t super helpful; our state’s organization is lovely, but heavy on women’s literature, memoir, and poetry. There’s rarely mention, must less emphasis, on crime fiction or mystery. Plus, most events are a solid hour or more away, which is not feasible on week-nights. The state next door has an amazing organization with many crime fiction and mystery writers – Julia Spencer-Fleming, Gerry Boyle, Bruce Coffin, and Tess Gerritsen to name a few – but their focus is local writers (they are welcoming of all), and events are also an hour or more away. Of course, there’s a stellar regional Sisters in Crime chapter, but I’m the only mystery writer in our group, and again – events are typically a long drive away, and with members having young children and full-time jobs, it’s hard to attend anything. I wish our state had our own SinC!

Over time we developed a pretty consistent membership of five, with a few others who came and went over time. Although we recognized that six was probably our sweet spot for healthy critique, enough time for discussion, and so on, four is where we’ve landed for the last few years. During the 10 years we’ve been together, all of us have been published, and most have published our first (and second in some cases) piece of fiction. One member is shopping the most AMAZING novel, and I can’t wait for it to find it’s home. Another has one ready for a solid polish and then it, too, will be ready for shopping (also an amazing story!).

However, we’ve mostly stalled. We realized a while ago that with only four of us, the group has become a lovely group of friends, one that is very supportive. What we do not do is hold each other accountable. Its become acceptable to not have anything new to read. We don’t push each other the way we used to do – it’s almost as though we’ve gotten too comfortable. But finding new members is a challenge. We’ve tried to put the word out among friends and acquaintances, on Facebook, and even tried the Writers’ Night Out again, but no luck.

I love my tribe and I look forward to spending time with them; their writing is amazing, and we’re all so different that it’s a lot of fun to hear each other’s work. What I’ve realized, however, is that I need my tribe to help give me a good hard shove once in a while because I lack the self-discipline to consistently motivate myself. Instead, I need some external encouragement.

There’s no amazing wrap up to this post, as my tribe is on a journey together, and we’re nowhere near our destination yet. But, our journey does continue! We’re starting a conversation about how to re-start, with enthusiasm and energy, and deciding if we want to seek new members again. My excitement is growing and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next for us.

I’d love to hear about your tribe – or your preference for no tribe!

Best Binges

Last week I was planning to sit in a parking lot for an hour or so while my daughter was doing her driver’s ed driving time. (We live too far from the driving school for the instructor to pick her up, so we meet in a hotel parking lot. Sounds sketchy, but it seems to work.) I also knew I’d be sitting outside her driver’s ed class for two hours on Sunday morning (too far to drive home, too early for anything to be open). These are rare opportunities to read uninterrupted, unbothered by a sink full of dishes, unmolested by a dog who wants a third or fourth meal, and undisturbed by work email (mostly), so I planned ahead and went searching for a new book or two to download to my tablet.

Jackpot! One of my favorite authors, Kendra Elliot, had something I’d not yet read – in fact, somehow, I was THREE books behind on one series! Of course, I grabbed all three. My binge reading of choice was books 4-6 of the Mercy Kilpatrick series. However, Ms. Elliot writes several series, and I know at least one other (Bone Secrets) is just as juicy as the Mercy Kilpatrick series. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I highly recommend the romantic suspense of Kendra Elliot.

It’s rare that I get behind on series reading, usually because I’m anxiously awaiting the next entry. This is what drives me to find new-to-me authors – impatience! One of my favorite things is discovering a new-to-me author who is fabulous AND already has quite a few books published. Sadly, this is not good for my sleep. But, I love being able to read through three, four, five books in the same series, within a few days. Perhaps its because I get to dive so deeply into the world the author has built, following along as the characters and relationships develop. This might also explain why I’m an avid re-reader. When I’m between new books from my faves, I’ll often go back and read a series from the beginning.

Who’s your favorite binge read – is it the author, a series, or both that interest you? Do you have a favorite binge?

‘Tis but a Season

Spring, 2017, So. Berwick, Maine (c) P.A. Oberg

There is a space between each pair of seasons. Sometimes it’s a razor-thin space, perhaps even thinner, a delicate sheet of vellum, and we barely notice it as we fly from season to season. We look back in surprise that we’ve moved into a whole new place without even noticing it happened. At other times, that space between the seasons becomes this undefinable, yet painfully obvious miasma of betweeness. This space needs a name, although I don’t believe one exists (I’ll have to research that).

The space I’m referring to seems most prevalent when there’s a time change involved (I’m looking at you, Spring!). The chasm between seasons appears when the weather creates unexpected adventures and a spirit of preparedness not often seen outside of mountaineering (everyone has umbrellas, scrapers, hats and gloves, sunglasses, a shovel, sand, and water in their car, right?), when it cannot make up it’s mind – “Monday expect a high of 50, with a chance of rain; no, a high of 30, with a chance of snow; oops! sorry, it’s going to be a high of 70 and sunny all day!”

The unpredictable nature of the weather, the body’s slow adjustment to a time change, and the inability to exist firmly in once space or another, combine to create a kind of discord within some of us. There’s a lack of harmony, a discomfort that disallows focus and planning for a short period of time. My projects spin, existing in a seemingly perpetual state of incompleteness, and I can’t quite clear the fog in my brain. It’s an interesting time.

However, this betweeness also creates opportunity. Perhaps it’s meant to force a pause, to prevent the sprint from one thing to another without thought or plan or purpose. When I’m mindful of it, I see the space as that place where I can more tidily wrap up the before into order to move into the after. When I’m mindful, I see the opportunity to breathe, to be, to acknowledge all that I’ve done or have yet to do (which is a mixed blessing).

As we move from winter to spring, I am reminded that all seasons pass and life moves on, whether I’m on board for the journey or not. There are choices to be made, projects to plan, and the between season offers the opportunity to do just that. What a weird and wonderful time!



Fifteen and Fearless: Writing Lessons From My Daughter

We’ve had the most lovely discussions lately regarding when we realized we wanted to be writers or when we knew what kind of children we were raising, all of which got me thinking about my own writing – and the lessons my daughter is teaching me. My husband and I have a daughter who, like most kids her age, is many things: teenager, equestrian, volleyball player, student – but most of all, she is a writer.

For as long as I can remember, she’s found enjoyment in the written word. There were never enough books to be read at bedtime, and every learning unit at school that involved writing was met with excitement. Songwriting, in particular, has been a passion for the past few years, and watching the progression of her skill is thrilling.

What I love most about my daughter’s writing, however, whether story or song or essay or poem, is that it’s fearless. Sure, she worries about grades and sometimes the feedback of her peers, but not in a way that prevents her from capturing her thoughts in writing and sharing them with others. There’s a joy and excitement that’s contagious when she comes running into whatever room her father or I are in to announce she’s finished a new song and is ready to perform it for us. Sometimes she’ll mention casually, “I’ve put something new up on Wattpad and received some comments” or “I’ve been doing some editing for a few people on Wattpad.”

It’s a bit of a mystery the source of this confidence, this willingness to put herself out there and accept or receive whatever may come from the experience; if we’re honest, teenagers are not always kind to one another, especially when you add the anonymity of the internet. And yet, she’s fearless. I suspect there’s a bit of a generational thing at play; after all, she’s never not known technology or social media, and this idea of posting personal thoughts to people one has never met is part of her generation’s normal. It’s bigger than that, however, as she’s equally willing to perform a new, barely rehearsed song she’s written at a school event.

The pleasure and joy she experiences through her writing, the way she uses it as an outlet for an overwhelm of emotion or as a means to process a situation or experience, her ability and willingness to share with others and receive feedback – it’s a powerful reminder that reading and writing can and should make us feel good, can help us navigate the complex, challenging, emotion-filled journey of life. And also that sometimes, perhaps more than sometimes, we as adults can overthink to the point that we remove the joy from the thing. (Me, yes, I mean me.)

The magic is in the fearlessness with which she pursues her writing, and the joy and release and community that the writing allows her to experience. Those things she can carry with her always, regardless of where her life journey takes her. (Besides, who can stay mad about a messy room when the teenager says, “I forgot to clean my room, but I finished a new song – want to hear it?!?”)


AhCHOO!

All these recent posts about illness seem to be contagious! I’m kidding, of course, but after five remarkably healthy weeks, as I watched various ailments fell everyone around me, I’ve finally succumbed to the wretched head cold that’s been making the rounds. The recent trip to Miami for work probably didn’t help – being trapped in a flying tin can with recycled air twice in four days, while working on minimal sleep, is not a recipe for continued health. Ah well, it could be worse. (I’ve spent the last three days napping and reading, and I don’t have the flu. )

My foggy brain is not quite up to the task of a hearty blog post, so I thought I’d ask y’all for some help.

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure read/author?

What’s your favorite sick day read?

Which author would you most like to have deliver some hot tea/toddy to you during your sick day?

What’s your favorite “feel better faster” approach to the common cold?

Wishing everyone good health and an early spring!

Brain Candy

Polar vortex or not, it’s cold in New England in February. For those of us who lack a love of cold-weather activities, like ice skating or snowboarding, winter is the perfect time to curl up at home in a deliciously squishy, oversized chair, wrapped in a soft, fuzzy, possibly electric blanket, and a book.

My “to be read pile” has reached a point where it’s now “piles” and I have them separated by category. There’s the business/management/leadership pile, which are text-dense, educational, yet often dry books; these are the ones I need to read at my desk, in the morning, and in short bursts. They are not comfy chair books. There’s another pile I think of as the “be a good human” books – well-rounded, learned, and so on. This pile contains Michele Obama’s book, Humans of NY, and other biographies or books about interesting people. Sometimes these can be read in the comfy chair, but only in short stints. The next to last pile contains fiction that challenges me to think or makes me uncomfortable or anxious. This pile contains thrillers, suspense, and early mysteries by the authors many writers aspire to match.

And then there’s the brain candy pile. These are the books that have great plots, lovable characters, quirky/twisty/challenging puzzles, and realistic, engaging dialogue; they are also the kind of books that this reader can devour in a single sitting, the kind where I will forgive the occasional typo, head-hop, or other anomaly because the stories are so good, such sweet, tasty candy for the brain. These stories challenge the reader to figure out whodunnit, but somehow, they just go down easier (meaning less work, less anxiety) than other kinds of books for me. This is not in any way meant to demean, as these are quality reads; rather, these books are just so enjoyable for me that I can’t get enough. They make me happy to read, and I love them.

Often cozies fall into this pile for me, but also paranormal romance and paranormal mystery. I’ve been bingeing a couple of new-to-me paranormal romance series lately. They’re juicy, a bit more obviously formulaic than some genres, but not annoyingly so. There’s something about that predictability that adds to the candy – and even when the overall formula is there, the puzzles are different, which is what makes them a perfect brain candy read for me. They make me work to try and solve the crime, the characters are well-rounded and realistic, but there’s a comfortable rhythm and pace to how everything unfolds that keeps the anxiety level low, while never being boring. Right now I’m working through Renee George’s Peculiar Mysteries and Witchin’ Impossible series. (WARNING: These are NOT cozies.)

The paranormal mysteries I’ve been reading do amp up the anxiety a bit, enough to make me growl at my family when they interrupt, but again, they’re well-balanced stories that end up in a place that make me smile and reach for the next one. I’m particularly fond of anything by Amanda M. Lee — especially the Grim, Mystic Caravan, and Moonstone Bay series she writes.

Every reader has different tastes and preferences – what’s your brain candy read?