Guest Post

HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE? Lyrical Pens welcomes guest posts. Answer a questionnaire or create your own post. FYI, up front: This site is a definite PG-13. For details, contact cj

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My writer's journey continues . . .

Part II.

Not long after that wintry night in Detroit when the angst of puberty, among other things, destroyed my childhood innocence, I started writing poetry. I used words to release my pent-up emotion, whether it was anxiety, happiness, remorse, fear, or the intensity of a desire that couldn’t possibly be puppy love.

I married while still a teenager and invested all my energy and emotions into my husband, my sons, and a career as a secretary. My secretarial life incorporated the jargon of many disciplines, and I spent years as a professional scrivener of one kind or another. While employed as a civil court clerk for a local judge, I typed legal briefs and constructed divorces. A job change: As a real estate agent, I learned the legalese of leases, purchase agreements, and deeds. Another job change: As a medical secretary/office manager, I transcribed operating room reports, diagnostic X-rays, created nuclear isotope purchase agreements, and job descriptions. I felt no need to write creatively.

Twenty years later came despair and divorce, and the writing started again. I enrolled as a part-time student at a community college and exhausted my grief in rhymes and journals. It was five years before I strengthened my resolve and laid aside the pen. Motivated by the divorce and a need to earn enough money to help support my sons and widowed mother, I refocused my energies on finding another line of work. . . . (To be continued.)

On a more current note, Mahala is without a computer for a while so we'll be temporarily deprived of her posts.

That's all for today, folks. You keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same.


The Jeff Johnston photo is called "Subterranean Sunlight." Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon (thirty feet underground at this point) in Page, AZ, and accessible only with permission of the Navajo Nation. It proves to me that the sun can find a way through the narrowest of spaces to illuminate beauty in what should be the darkest of places.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My writer's journey

First, let me ditto Mahala's praise of Tracy. She is never hesitant to share her writerly skills and talent. I, too, will miss her. She greatly enriched my writer's journey--a lifetime of learning.

Today, I started a search through my files for a thread to use in a new short story I want to write and stumbled across a personal essay I wrote circa 2007. I want to share those memories over the next two or three weeks.

Here is My Writer's Journey: Part I

I'm prone to study. Because I have a short, little attention span, I'm prone to study a variety of things in a haphazard way. I gather how-to books of one craft or another, be it PowerPoint presentation, stained glass art, Photoshop techniques, or the craft of writing novels and how to get an agent. I've taken classes in journalism, painting, acrylics and oil, and immersed myself in creative writing workshops. I once flew cross-country to San Francisco to attend Robert McKee's three-day session on screenwriting. Of all these forays into arts and crafts, the thing I've been the least successful at is the thing I've stuck with the longest: writing.

The writing seed was planted in my unconscious when a younger, more naive me lived in a colder clime and gentler time. I can remember when I was about ten or eleven walking home on a winter night from the now-closed Mark Twain Library in Detroit, Michigan. I had spent a few hours re-reading chapters of my favorite book, James Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans." I remember the crispness of the zero-temperature air that pricked my nostrils and turned my breath frosty white, the crunch of hard-packed snow under my boots, and the opalescent colors of the aurora borealis streaking across the blue velvet sky--yes, the northern lights were once visible in Detroit. Everything conspired to create an evening I would never forget.

Even so, as I grew older, I didn't often read for pleasure. Life overtook me.


Note: The Jeff Johnston award-winning picture is called "Best Buds" -- which the ladies of Lyrical Pens are to me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

AFDOC 27 and 28 And a Sad Day

This week Mobile lost a wonderful writer and editor and a major asset to the writing community. You would never know it on-line because she will continue as part of our Lyrical Pens consortium, but those of us who live in Mobile are sad to see Tracy Hurley move away. Tracy and I founded the Mobile Writers Guild in 2004 and through that enormous effort we met and became friends with many excellent writers and community members interested in promoting the arts in Mobile. Tracy, alone, was responsible for bringing many well-known authors to speak and work with local writers.

I am happy for Tracy that she is moving closer to her family but I am deeply saddened to be losing her electric smile and bubbling giggle in our midst. cj, Tracy, Linda Busby-Parker, and I have worried our way through many a manuscript in critique sessions and were all the wiser for Tracy's input. Thrilled with my first published personal essay that she had read over and over again with the patience of a saint, I bought her dinner when it was published. She went with me to my first signing and I'll cherish that magical evening forever. Thanks for never losing sight, Tracy.

Tracy was the regional representative for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and helped numerous new authors in Alabama to write and promote their children and young adult material. She took the lead in gathering and hand delivering care packages for SCBWI in the midst of Katrina's catastrophic legacy - books, flashlights, etc. to almost 100 needy children.

Maryland, you are indeed fortunate to have this proactive and dynamic writer and editor headed your way and we hope you treat her kindly. Tracy, keep us updated on your new life and Maryland's writing activities.

AFDOC has been buried under a stack of manuscript reviews that were due and other writers waiting for feedback and helping out with my daughter's store and Tracy's move. Yet, I did make a good deal of progress with adjectives and adverbs and fleshing out almost all of the characters that needed work. 110 degree heat with 90% humidity does not bode well for leaving the house, so any time between projects was spent with the novel and making improvements. Never fear, I tell myself, you are almost at the end {and that's a joke as all writers know} so I forge ahead and every day spend at least one hour in the fictional world of Glance, Georgia where Caroline once had a Tiny Tears doll.

Shedding tears for Tracy. Mahala

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Pay attention

Okay, so that second contractor I was waiting for on June 25 . . . I’m still waiting. Sigh.

In the meantime . . . I’ve been reading my in-edit-cycle novel aloud. Amazing what I find when I do that. Adjectives, adverbs, and breathlessly long sentences stand out, but even more interesting is my (over)use of the same words. Face, lips, mouth, fingers, hand or some version thereof. And how many times can a character eye, smile, and grin? Present tense(s) and past tense.

Some of these edits are easy; others require deletes, total re-writes or at the minimum, re-casting the sentence. I need to pay better attention when I write.

FYI: To check how many times a word is used--in the Edit menu, do a "find" for a suspected word, then turn on "highlight" and "find all," and the computer will give a count. To turn off the highlighted words, just click off at an empty space in the document.

I’m a couple of homework lessons behind in the on-line middle-grade and YA writing course. It’s a month-long course, and I can either lurk or participate. I’ll probably just lurk but am still learning a lot from the discussions as well as from the lessons and homework. I was never a passionate childhood reader, and I need guidance on what young’uns like to read, especially today’s Now Generation.

Okay, time for a break from the computer. You keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


I call Jeff Johnston’s eagle picture “Attitude.” I love that face. Reminds me of a bad hair day.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4 Surprise

What a wonderful way to celebrate the Fourth of July. Welcome back, Tracy!

I am surprised, delighted, happy, thrilled, ecstatic to see Tracy’s writing again. It’s been a long dry spell, and her voice was missed.

‘Nuff said.


Jeff Johnston calls his picture “Field of Dreams.” Taken just outside Dallas, it’s unusual in that blue bonnets aren’t usually in bloom at the same time as Indian blanket. Since I am a native Texan, I call it (with a nod and wink to Andrew Wyeth) “My World.”

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lost . . .

. . . my voice, that is.

Unique voice is that elusive quality that all editors and agents say they want in a manuscript. However, when asked to pin it down, you get that frustrating “I know it when I read it” answer.

I have no pearls of wisdom on defining voice, but you do know it when you see it. It’s a stew of syntax and grammar, sentence structure, word usage, phrases, tone, and much more. It’s the secret blend of spices that each author sprinkles throughout his or her work.

Without looking at the book jacket, you only have to sample a few lines (take a few bites?) to tell Hemingway from Faulkner from Welty from O’Connor from Frazen from Morrison from King from Evanovich. Give me one taste from my critique buddies’ work, and I’ll know immediately which one is Mahala’s, Marilyn’s, Wanda’s, and Linda’s. Those women have voice!

After years of working on craft, I felt I was finally finding my own unique voice. More of a peep maybe, but definitely something that was mine alone. Then my life fell apart. Everything I thought I knew was wrong; everything I thought was true was false. My world turned upside down, then inside out. *I* turned upside down and inside out—vulnerable, scared, sick, my bloody insides exposed for all the world to see.

But that wasn’t the worst. I discovered that when you’ve turned inside out, it’s impossible to speak. My voice has been gone a long time. I thought it was gone forever. But as days turned to weeks and weeks to months, I’ve realized that my voice wasn’t really lost. Just hiding.

After 9 months (and I can’t help be aware of the significance of that number), my voice is emerging again. Even more surprising is that I think it’s changed. It’s too soon to tell exactly how, but it tastes different. Richer. Stronger. Less edited. More like me. Just me. Perhaps after months of hibernation, I’ve found my own secret ingredient that sets my voice stew apart from the rest.

Does that mean I’ll be writing horror or erotica (or recipe books???) instead of mysteries and YA? Too soon to tell, but probably not. I am hoping it means that whatever I write—or do—will shine with a voice that can only be mine.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

AFDOC 26: God Bless America

My mother, Mary Church Bagwell, was in the WAVES during WWII {which is honored in AFDOC.} She was a strong and professional woman well ahead of her time. This post is dedicated to her and to all the women and men who protect the United States of America.

The year I gave myself to bring A Few Degrees Off Center through the revision processes and get ready to seek an agent is half over! As with any good critique, first I'm going to congratulate myself on finishing the first revision which was a bear! Second, I'm going to congratulate myself for sticking with it. And finally, I'm going to congratulate myself for beginning the last half of the revision process before I hit the 26th week - just made it at 25. See anything wrong with these statements?

Now the weakness: My good writing friend and colleague, Wanda Wood, told me this week - after she looked over some of my ideas for revision - that I had used way too many being verbs and adverbs and slipped into the passive voice when transitioning some sections to past tense. So I started to work changing all the transposed sections before I go any further. A big thanks to Wanda!

Now for the other side of the sandwich - all good critiquers should know what I'm talking about. The last round of revisions is started. Wanda liked some of my new ideas and praised the lushness of my edited scenes. What a way to start the last half.
My mother, an intellegient and well read woman, would have been pround of me for hanging in there.

Happy 4th to all of you. Mahala