Okay. This is a stretch, so stick with me.

I keep a Lucky Penny on my desk. It’s my Penny from Heaven. A special little token to remind me every day the importance of even the smallest of things.

In these days of “Bonus Miles” and “Sky Miles” and “Miles To The Gallon”; when we throw around sayings like “save your pennies” and “one red cent”, I started thinking:

Just how far will that little Lucky Penny take me? What is the distance of one red cent?

The width of a penny is .75 inches. Why it wasn’t granted a full inch is beyond me. I didn’t look it up. It wasn’t important in order to make my point. Just 3/4 inch of stamped metal. That’s all the further a penny goes.

But what if you “save your pennies”, as they say, to cover the distance between where you want to be and where you are now? Well, there are, according to Google, 1,1837e-5 pennies per mile. I am a writer and not a math major, so someone else will have to explain that number. I can only tell you the information I’ve learned. It seems insurmountable. Astronomical. Especially if it is the distance is between you and someone you love.

.75 inches, multiplied again and again; stretched out over space like a little copper road… How far is that for you, I wonder. Down the street? Across the country? The world? To heaven? Only you can answer that.

Don’t let it discourage you. That’s the last thing it should do. That little penny in your pocket or in your spare change jar, just like the one on my desk, is a tiny step closer to the person or place you love.

Now, I don’t know the distance you are calculating, and I don’t know the miles between earth and heaven, but when you look at your Lucky Penny, you’ll always know you’re .75 inches closer than you ever thought you were.

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I have big dreams.

Beyond becoming famous, beyond seeing my work on the shelves of giant bookstores, or topping the Number One list on Amazon, I have other dreams.

I have this crazy idea in my head that one day, wide-eyed young writers will come to me, journals in hand and say,

“how do you do it? How do you write?”

It’s a little self-centered on my part, I know, but I can’t help myself. I love what I do. I want to share what I’ve learned. I have the whole scenario lined up if it ever happens. It goes a little something like this:

Sit down. Let’s talk. I’ll tell you the pretty, ugly truth of this writing thing. If you are truly are passionate about writing, then it is for you. If you are truly passionate about writing, then I’m sorry. It’s work. You’ll live in your head most of the time, and if you’re a fiction writer there are a lot of people up there with you.

Step one: stop telling yourself you’re just writing. Tell yourself–and everyone else–you are a writer. If you’re writing with the goal of putting together a book, a short story, a poem, etc., you are a writer. Claim the title.

Study. Read every book or article about the way others write. Some authors write 50 pages a day; some stop mid-sentence; creative processes vary. Study everything you can. Then ditch the books. Do it your way. Take only that which makes sense to you and leave the rest behind. This is your brain and your work. You have to do it your way.

Doing it your way includes your writing tools. Choose a journal and fancy pen. Choose a laptop with a simple word program. Grab a spiral notebook and pencil. Doesn’t matter. As long as the words come out of you, it isn’t important where they land. I write in a journal with a red pen. I only write on the right hand side of the page, and when I get to the end of the book, I flip it over and fill in the blank pages. When you look at it, one side will be upside down. Looks weird, but that’s my process. It’s not for everyone. You’ll find what works for you.

The important thing is that you get the words out. Nothing happens until then. Write down everything. Even if it doesn’t make sense at the time. Just write it all down and keep moving. Ask yourself questions as you go along; scratch out notes; just get it all out of your system. Don’t look back. Don’t edit.

That’s one big secret I’ve learned as a writer. Don’t edit as you go along. If you do, you’ll never accomplish anything. There will be plenty of time for that once you’ve finished writing. (We’ll get to editing in a minute.)

Enjoy it. Love it. Turn on music. Write in silence. Embrace that creativity and take in the moment. It’s a beautiful thing. Isn’t that the reason why you do what you do? Those sparks of creation? That rush of inspiration? Hold on to that.

When you’ve written all the words and your journal/file is full, the work begins. This is the ugly side of writing. Editing.

My dear and hopeful friend, you are about to see that not every word you’ve written is genius. Some things will have to be taken out. Some things will not make sense. Holes will have to be patched. It’s why they call it a first draft.

Don’t kid yourself; no great writer ever finished his or her work without some editing. That treasured copy of your favorite book? That’s a rewrite. I promise. You’ll have to do it, too. Unfortunately, you’ll have to do it multiple times.

This is another ugly truth about writing. All those edits will make you question yourself and your work. You’ll start to wonder if it’s really that good. Are YOU that good? Maybe you should just give up. Every writer in the history of writing has felt this way. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. We all have doubts. We look at those editing marks and wonder what it’s all for.

The answer: if it was worth writing, it’s worth finishing. You’ve come this far. Why would you quit now?

Believe me, I have to tell myself the same thing all the time.

Just don’t quit. Good life advice in general.

So. Put your ass in the chair and get busy.

And let me know how it goes.

I have these two pots of patios roses; one purple, one yellow. They are gifts sent from friends  when my daughter passed away in May of 2016. When the weather gets cold, we bring them in and put them under a sunny window to wait out the winter. They are supposed to go dormant for the season. Apparently, no one told the roses that.

Winter here in Montana was terrible last year. It felt like the snow would never stop falling and the sun would never come out again. I wondered sometimes if the ground even existed anymore. I wondered if anything would grow again. My purple and yellow flowers knew. They never stopped reaching for the light outside the window. They never gave up hope. Little petals of optimism always waiting for the sunshine, they refused to quit, even on the darkest days.

It’s turning cold early this year and I’ve already brought the pots inside.  The buds continue to open and the branches continue to grow. Those little roses are strong. They’re stubborn. Every year, I try to take a lesson from them. 

There’s a lot to learn. Every time I think I should give up on this–quit writing, quit searching for a home for my new book, quit searching for that light outside the window–I look at those little flowers and remember what they represent. They are not just the optimism and resilience of nature, but the symbol of a resilient life.

The young lady they were meant for–my daughter–was strong. She was stubborn. Always searching for the light of life, she never gave up. Her health was delicate, and over the course of her 21 years we were told she just couldn’t survive.

She’d never live to be 2.

She’d never live to 5.

She’d never survive the night. (She was 8 then.)

She would certainly never graduate high school.

But no one ever told Andrea that. She just kept blooming. In spite of the winters, and the worries, and the dark days when we all wondered if there was anything left, Andrea just kept blooming. No one told her it was impossible.

Now her roses bloom for her.

If Andrea didn’t give up, and her little roses won’t give up, then I can’t either. I’ll keep writing and working toward the dreams I’ve always had.

You shouldn’t quit, either. Find your roses. Pick up that one dream you’ve been chasing and don’t let go of it. Be strong. Be stubborn.

Keep blooming, even if the world says you shouldn’t.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

I finally finished the edits on the new book and I’m waiting for the proof to arrive. This might turn out to be a book yet. Might. I’m not jumping up and down yet. As many problems as I’ve had, I’ll wait until I have my first order in hand before I celebrate.

Like I said, fingers crossed.

So what to do while I am waiting for that proof to come in? I do the only thing I know how to do. I start work on the next project. I’m dedicated to making the next novel a true horror story. A real sleep with the lights on, don’t look under the bed, what’s that noise kind of thing.

A pants-pooper.

My question–and I’m asking everyone–what are you afraid of? What are you REALLY afraid of? Not just bugs, or creepy clowns, or moths (yes, that’s a thing); but what keeps you up and night and why?

When Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, I wonder what he was talking about. It seems simple enough, but if you dig a little deeper, what it’s inside the word “fear”? It has a different connotation for all of us.

What does it mean to you? I’m curious.

Do I plan to use this piece of information in my next manuscript? Yes. I won’t lie to you. If I’m going to scare you, I have to know what you’re scared of. Right?

 

So. I’ve spent some time arguing with my Ipad and we’ve decided to part ways. The divorce was fairly amicable; we just aren’t right for each other anymore. I took back my files and it is going to find a new place to live. I won’t say there was no anxiety in the separation. I wasn’t sure it was going to surrender two years worth of pictures and documents without a fight, but in the end, it held up its end of the agreement for the most part.

I’m already moving on. A new relationship with a nice laptop. I think we will get along. We’re still getting to know one another, but it will be ok. I hope. My biggest concern is if it can handle all my crying and complaining.

For all my efforts to publish my new book, I just can’t seem to make it work. I upload the file, and there’s a problem. I fix the problem, and there’s another problem. I THOUGHT I had it all figured out, but taking a look at the online review, it is all wrong. Chapters run together, margins are incorrect, etc.. Fix the margins and the chapter heads are worse. Fix the margins and chapter heads and add 120 pages to an already very long book. The upload also obliterated my fonts. I have weeks’ worth of work ahead of me, and I still don’t know if it will be right when I upload it again.

My poor laptop. I don’t know that it really had any idea what it was getting into when it signed up for this. If it had, it probably would have refused to leave the store.

So my new friend and I are taking a vacation from this project. We will just walk away for a little while and focus our energy on something else. I guess you just have to do that sometimes. Does it mean things don’t happen the way you want them to? Sure, but it’s better than giving up, right? My Ipad and I might have parted ways, but this book and I have to stick together, even if things get rough. Or that’s what I’m telling myself…

If someone else asked me what to do, I would tell them to keep going. I would say, “never give up! Hang in there!” If it was a book or general life advice, my answer would be the same.

Hang in there.

I guess I have to take my own advice.

Now if I could teach Cortana to tell me that every morning…

 

This post will be less about writing and more about today. August 30th. National Grief Awareness Day.

For those of us who have experienced grief–be it the loss of a mother, father, sibling, or in my case, a child–we are acutely aware of our grief. We don’t necessarily need a day to recognize it. We walk with loss each day. Some days we carry it. Some days we stare it straight in the face and fight it. Some days grief wins and we are overcome.

Today is the day we are expected to stand up and speak the names of our loved ones; remember them and hope others will do the same. The truth is, we hope this happens every day. Today we pin on our ribbons and make others aware of the journey we walk and have been walking. The walk we will always walk.

Our journeys all begin at different times and in different ways, and on certain days each year, we stop to reflect. We look back at how far we’ve come or we stand in place and realize we haven’t moved as far as the world would have liked us to go. It’s a lifetime path.

My journey began two years, three months, and 27 days ago. May 3rd 2016. I don’t need a special day to speak my daughter’s name.

Andrea “Buggy” Rodriguez. She was 21.

Every May 3rd, I will stop to reflect on that day. Every year, on her birthday–September 11th–I will stop again.

Buggy.

I am learning to speak her name with fewer tears now and to take more steps forward. Progress is slow, but I’m making it. I have to. Life has to continue.

Today I will wear the ribbon and recognize the grief of others around me. I will offer my love to others on this journey.

If you walk the path I walk, know that I am with you. If you know another who walks in grief, speak the name of the love they’ve lost, not just today, but at other times, too. Keeping one’s memory alive is the most powerful gift you can give.

Remember.

It’s all we want.

So. While I’m finishing up publishing issues on the upcoming novel, I’ve started a new one. I really don’t know what to do with myself if I’m not writing. Going out a limb here and dropping a little piece of it to see what you think.

“Chaos Man” (Hopefully finished some time in 2019)

“You’ve fouled it all up,” I tell him.

“I don’t want this anymore anyway,” he says. “Take your stuff and whatever you did to me and just get out.”

“We had an agreement,” I say. “You remember, don’t you?” The boy throws the letters at me.

“Sure I do. Here,” the boy leans forward, picks up the letters again, and throws them into the air. “I say no. Don’t want it. I read them. They don’t even make sense.”

“You don’t have them all,” I tell him, “and you can’t just break your promise to us.”

“I didn’t sign anything. I know a lawyer. My uncle is a lawyer. You have to sign stuff. So get out or I’ll tell my mom.”

“You really have fouled it all up,” I say again.

“I’ll tell everybody how you been creepin’ around my house late at night all this time. It’s called stalking-“

“Do you think they will believe you?”

“Yeah they will!”

“With all the lies you’ve told in your short, short life? Have you ever heard the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf?” I ask him.

“No, but I don’t need to. You’re a creeper. And my life ain’t short. I’m thirteen now.” The boy straightens his shoulders. His attempt to prove he’s a man, I suppose.

“And yet, I don’t feel threatened,” I tell him. I pick up the letters and put them in order while he watches me. “Tell your mother. Tell anyone you like. You’ve broken our verbal agreement and you will be dealt with.”

“Funny,” the boy says. He stomps his foot, hoping to use the gift I’d given him as a child. He’s hoping to knock me unconscious, but has yet to realize that the ability is gone. It would not affect me even if he had it. He stomps again, but nothing happens.

“Keep trying, but it won’t work,” I say. “I’m sorry, but you’ve done this to yourself.”

“You’ll be the sorry one,” the boy says. He rushes out of his bedroom, crying for his mother. I am gone before he returns with her.

The boy calls out to his mother and I return to mine. I consult Nadine as to how we should deal with this broken promise. I always ask her. Consequences vary between children. Some children are young and do not understand the repercussions of their actions. Some, like this boy, are indignant and deserve punishment. Only Nadine can say what that punishment should be. When I have her answer, I return to him.

Not all terrors are seen. Some of the worst fear comes in that which one cannot see, but sense. The knowing that something waits in the darkness for you can be enough. The paranoia that something invisible is there, even in the light of day, will strangle you. The heaviness of its presence—the sensation of it watching you—will pull the breath from your lungs.

You wait for it to act. Do something—anything—but it remains still. You feel it there, waiting patiently for you. What does it want from you? Complacency. Give up your unease and it will show its face. You’re sure of it. Relax and it will come for you. Your mind will not allow that. Your fear spins around, questioning; which is worse: living in this horror, or letting this patient and unseen force attack you once and for all? You could get it over with, but what good would that do? Would it leave then, or continue to stalk you? You cannot rest long enough to find out the answer.

Such as it is for the boy now. A heavy and very patient force follows him. It is not afraid of the light. He floods his room with light when night comes, but it is there. He waits for sunrise, but he still feels it. It moves from corner to ceiling, to his bedside. The boy hides under his blankets, but it is waiting for him when he pokes his head out again. He’s tried willing it away. He’s tried threatening it. This thing; it doesn’t care.

The boy tells his mother. She feels nothing. She tells him to stop reading “those damn comics and grow up a little”. She doesn’t know that he tried that already and it didn’t work. This thing doesn’t care. The boy prays. He attempts to make friends with it. It doesn’t care.

He dares it to show its face and then retracts his threats. He doesn’t want to see it. It could be more terrifying visible than invisible. It slips behind his bedroom door. He won’t sleep with that door closed anymore. Before this thing showed up, the door was always closed, a big KEEP OUT sign nailed to it. Now he’s too afraid to close it. He’s afraid he’ll be trapped inside when it decides to show its face.

Now it’s hiding back there, in the little space between the door and the wall. It’s pulled itself into the shadow where the boy can’t see if it’s taking shape or making plans. Tonight could be the night; who knows? It could come rushing out, all white-eyed and demonic, like something from a horror movie. It could come crawling out backwards like one of those creepy ghost kids. The boy doesn’t know. What he does know—what he’s telling himself right now—is that he’s a grown up. He’s thirteen; almost fourteen, and demons and ghost kids don’t scare him anymore. He’s pretty much a man. It’s time to face this.

“I’m done with you,” the boy says to the thing hiding behind the door. He throws back the covers of his bed and gets out. He stands up and reminds himself once more that he’s pretty much a man. He strides over to the door, grabs it and slams it shut, ready to face what’s behind it.

That’s the terror of an unseen thing; when it finally reveals itself to you, you are unprepared for what you’ll find. It is never the expected horror movie demon or crawling ghost child. It is always something much, much worse. Something unexpected. Such as it is—such as it was—for the boy.

At least I can say I’ve finished a few things this week. The book cover is great and, with the help of a few computer geniuses, I’ve slashed my issues with the manuscript. A couple more issues and I might have a book. Those are all things to take care of next week. So what to do while I’m waiting?

Start another story. Sort of.

I spend a lot of time staring at this blinking cursor and thinking. That’s not really unusual for a writer. We tend to live in our heads. And I’ve heard all the “head” comments. Here’s a few:

“You’re a headcase.”

“You have your head in the clouds.”

“How many people live in your head?”

I have the answers.

My therapist thinks so.

The air is nice up here.

A lot. More than you’d think.

So I float around up here, thinking. It’s not about what to write about, but who to write about. Extraordinary people in ordinary circumstances or ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances? Both? It’s all there, inside my head and in that little blinking bar.

I focus on characters because I find people the most interesting species on this planet. At any time we could be ordinary or extraordinary, given who we are and our circumstances. I question our motivations, emotions, reactions; why are we so predictable or unpredictable?

What makes you, you? Do you know?

The plot and setting will work itself out, but if a reader doesn’t care about the character, what’s the point?

I see life that way, I suppose. Life leads you in the direction it leads you depending on the character you are. Your motivations, emotions, reactions, and actions; the plot and setting works itself out. You are extraordinary or ordinary at any time. The only difference is that you don’t follow a blinking cursor.

My head-in-the-clouds philosophy for the week.

Can I be honest?

I am terrified.

That might sound strange coming from a newly minted horror writer. We deal in fear, right? But I’m scared. I’ve never done this before. I’ve been walking around in a new world and now I am standing at the edge of a cliff, book in hand, ready to jump.

What if nobody likes it? What if it’s just too long, or boring, or weird? What if I’m no good at this? Just what if-

Sure, I faced the same anxieties when I published the first three books. I had all the same worries, but this time it’s different. Writing realistic fiction, I had a little more confidence in my skills as an author. Maybe somebody would enjoy those books. Now I’m not as confident. I have so many questions.

The big one: what will people say?

What was she thinking?

She’s no good at this.

This isn’t horror. I don’t even know WHAT this is.

I don’t get it.

Too long for me to finish.

Go back to the other stuff. You’re much better at that.

Give up.

Give up. That’s what anxiety can do to you. It tells you to just give up. Turn away from that cliff and walk away. Go back to your safe place and do what you’ve always done. Maybe nobody will like this book. Maybe it isn’t horror and maybe no one will ever read it. I just don’t know. I can’t say and I am terrified to find out. In spite of all that, I still want to take that leap. As scared as I am, I want to know–I have to know.

Even if this crazy book is branded “The Worst Book In All Of History”, at least I can say I made the effort. That’s worth something.

Sometimes life just gets in the way. Even with a solid plan and a schedule, you have to rumble over the bumps in the road.

That’s not really news, is it? We all have bumps, hurdles, and turns we don’t expect. Mine are no worse than yours, I’m sure. So how do we deal with the little (or not so little) things life throws at us? That’s a day-by-day decision for me.

Some days I can take a deep breath and roll with whatever I have in front of me. A hitch in my usual routine? Okay; I’ve got this. A glitch in a computer upload? Fine; I will handle it. I might complain, sometimes with very colorful language, but I’ll figure it out. I sigh at my own stupidity or what I perceive to be technology’s stupidity and I move on. I beg for help from friends (or Google) when I can’t figure it out. I rumble over the bump.

Some days that bump is a hill. Or a mountain. All I can do is stare at it and wonder how in the world I will ever get over it. I try to see my way around it; look for a foothold to start climbing; kick the dirt and curse my luck. I sit at the bottom of the hill and just give up. That’s it. I quit. In that moment, I don’t know how to do anything else.

We all go through that. Things feel insurmountable for awhile and we just stop. We have to sit there with ourselves and look back at the road behind us. It’s part of this experience we call life, I think. We take a look at what we’ve done and how far we’ve come. We evaluate. We imagine what’s to come–what’s over that seemingly insurmountable challenge. Is the climb worth it? How long we sit and think is personal.

So what’s the message? Sit down. It’s okay. Take a look at where you’ve been. As long as you’re willing to get back up. Once you’ve seen what you need to see, stand up, dust yourself off, and get ready to climb.

If we’re ever going to charge that hill, we have to take a few steps back and get a running start.

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