Home: Dirt Beneath Your Fingernails

So, I’m sitting here at my first ‘Shut Up & Write’. There’s warm wood, bulb lights, industrial chrome, whitewashed walls and brick. Wildflowers and clever literary knick-knacks. Hipster music playing to the sound of twenty-four fingers typing. It smells like herbal tea, and you can hear a group of people chatting indiscriminately upstairs. It’s a coffee shop, but it feels like home.

wolverine press and publick house

Surrounded on all sides by writers.

Writers. That’s me now too, apparently. How did I not know that people did this? Everyone, gathering together at one long table in a quaint little literary coffee shop, meekly sharing names and projects, disappearing behind computer screens, only to reappear an hour later to socialize.

What a concept. Socializing over writing.

writing. a team sport.

I suppose I always considered writing a private endeavor. It isn’t like football, after all. You don’t find writer friends and get together Friday nights like athletes to battle and fight and share blood, sweat and tears over something you love. But, perhaps we are our own sort of athlete. We engage in mental exercise. A silent team sport. Sitting, elbow to elbow. Thinking. Loudness in our minds. Explosions, perhaps. Death. Laughter. Parties. Who knows. On the outside, all I hear is hipster music. Tapping keys, and the scratching of pens (I brought a book to edit, a pad to scratch upon, and a laptop to type with – wanting to examine writers in their natural habitat and pretend I knew exactly what I was doing, just like them).

The barrista is popping popcorn somewhere. I can smell it. Perhaps writing together is something like watching a movie together. Twelve different movie screens, some on laptop screens, some on notebook paper.

The lady across from me brought a red bound, unlined sketchbook and is filling the pages with a lovely, flowing handwritten script. The guy next to me is checking his smart phone under the table, as if avoiding some middle school teacher’s sharp eye. Is he researching something? Google. How does one kill a baboon with a spoon? Read. Type. What is the chemical makeup of dragon saliva. Read. Type.

The guy next to Bonnie isn’t one I’d peg as a writer. He, actually, does look like a football player. Big guy. Close-cropped head. Working on a fantasy graphic novel set in Colorado.

“You an illustrator?” I ask.

“Naw,” he says, “But you can hire guys on Reddit for $80/page.” Maybe he’ll follow Dickens and put out a page or two per month. Wait till fans pay up in order to find out what happens next.

“Well, best not hold readers hostage off a cliffhanger,” the host says. We all laugh.

Another gal just walked in. Short, curly bob. Middle aged. Long boho dress, but looks like the mother of a few kids in university. I offer to move over, but she smiles and waves me off. Best not disturb the writers. This silence is sacred. This team sport has rules too.

The place is called the Wolverine Press. One poster, held up by clothespins, tells me %100 of the profits here go to literature, arts, and community in Fort Collins. I wouldn’t mind holding off writing and just wandering this place for a while. Some of my team mates keep looking at me. Maybe staring around, letting my fingers pause on the keyboard is against the rules…

home. a definition.

One corner of this place holds posters of Colorado 14ers. An old typewriter. Die-cut framed artwork of jellyfish. Expensive candles. ‘Beldamia’ they’re called. The black metal supports have “Wake Up And Fight” chalked across them. Dollar bills stuck up with sticky tack. One wall covered with a scuffed red bookshelf and a random assortment of books that leads all the way to the outside patio. What do they do with the books when it rains, I wonder? There’s a hand-painted portrait of what looks like a young Lincoln on a cheap canvas. Ah. Sign reads “Local Makers”. We’re proud of locals in Colorado.

Colorado.

I’m leaving you soon.

Three years. Three months. Who knew we’d be here that long? Never really expected to be 25, married with 2 kids, and sitting with a long-haired, french-speaking editor friend in a boho Colorado café, writing and talking about local publishers. Huh.

‘A Poetic Inventory of Rocky Mountain National Park” says the book propped next to my table’s wildflower jar. It’s a little book, published by Wolverine Farm Press itself. Full of funny little stories and poems about the majestic, busy state park. They’re a proud bunch, these Coloradoans. They love their state. Their land. Their people and culture and ways. Some may bemoan the Californian influence, but still.

Wherever you go, you’ll find people who think every downtown coffee shop there and each local summer sunset romantic and idyllic. Because it’s home.

My family moved around a lot growing up, so I didn’t know where home was for a long time. But I wanted it, that feeling of home.

Maybe we all long for home, like a dog pining for a kind master. We want to belong to a place. We yearn to be something more than just tourist who stops to smell the flowers and remark on their beauty. No. Instead, we want to sink our fingers deep into the earth of a place and plant seeds of our own. And not just soft, delicate little flower seeds. Seeds that will one day be great trees, but not for many, many years. A tree for the grandchildren of our friends. Something big and ancient and permanent.

That’s home. To have the dirt of a place buried deep beneath our skin. An earthy smell we never grow tired of.

A lot of things in life aren’t permanent. And, maybe you can belong to many different homes. Perhaps the connection to a place and people can follow you, even when you go far away…

So long, Colorado. It’s been fun (:

My Crash Course in Book Cover Design

Book Cover Sketches

Two words, guys.

Adobe. Capture.

adobe-capture

It is the greatest fun you’ll have with a phone app. I rarely use phone apps, but I am literally addicted to this one. And, I have no idea how people typically make book covers, but I used Capture to vectorize my sketches, and it saved me HOURS (thank you Elise!).

So, I sketched up about 6 cover ideas, got feedback from a bunch of family and friends, completely ignored the feedback and just used the design I liked best initially. Painted a couple different ideas, cut out a few different paintings of Win’s profile (my main character), the title, my name, a Vitruvian man in a clock and several different clock face sizes, then moved them around on a page to see what I like. I felt very arts-&-crafty (sitting by my cute little sewing machine that I have probably used once in my life…).

Book Cover Sketches

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Then, I realized I could digitize my sketches with Adobe Capture and manipulate them in Photoshop (being the clever, tech-savy wannabee I am). So, I found access to a Photoshop free trial, created about 5 different covers there, again ignored everyone’s conflicting opinions, and just went with my own favourite cover.

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I ended up with a gritty black sketch of Win with a clock for an eye looking down on the title. This, of course, was all after several all-nighter, self-directed Photoshop & book design crash courses.

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Then sketched up 4-5 ideas for the promotional material, sent them to my librarian sister for feedback, reworked them, sent 3 options back to the library with a little cartoon, spectacled, bun-headed version of myself serving up a delicious serving of my new book.

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Promo poster3

Author Visit Poster1

And on to World-building!

Phewee…it’s a big job! Creating a world, its geography, people, rules, traditions, customs and languages all from scratch! Fun – but takes AGES. Ended up with 20 notebook pages full of notes, caste rankings, titles of societal respect, a map of Banaan, and sketches of different races and main characters.

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All sorts of fun.

Not as much fun as sleep, at this point. But, you take what you can get, yeah? (;

 

 

LISTS: the solution to all chaos

When I got news of plans to use my book baby for my hometown’s Summer Reading Program, I got up early the following morning to start editing and realized that I was looking at an awful, Pantser 1st Draft. I was horrified I let ANYONE read it. SO many plot holes. It was really just a book skeleton with shreds of flesh, aaaand it had to be ready for a book club in 5 weeks! GAH!

nervous-skeleton

So much to do! All the things! Gah! I was in a mad dash to get everything done. And I mean mad. Like, frothing-at-the-mouth, pulling-out-the-hair, avoiding-the-world sort of mad.

So, me being me, I did what I always do when facing a Class 5 Freakout:

I made a list:

  1. Create book cover
  2. Create promotional poster for Author Visit
  3. Create Book bible
  4. Edit Book (Version 3)
  5. Research self-publishing/ beta reader options (Amazon’s Createspace?)
  6. Order 3 proofs for my unofficial proofreaders (Leland. My mum. Two brothers. Two sisters. A cousin.)
  7. Put together Author Visit Presentation (May 31, 7pm) & school visits
  8. Beef up social media (website & instagram. ugh. social media…)
  9. Proofread myself – make edits & consolidate all proofreader’s notes
  10. 4th edit
  11. Order 35 proofs & deliver to library.
  12. Follow Teen Reading Program through Facetime. Record beta feedback.
  13. Consolidate & implement feedback for final edit
  14. Research publication & make submissions
  15. Become famous author. Finally buy Wild Alaskan Salmon & stop cutting your hair yourself.

The solution to all chaos: lists. Lots of lists.

What Sharing Your First Novel Feels Like

I had a great 25th birthday. I mean, as far as birthdays go, it was top-notch. There was unicorn soda topped with cotton candy and lots of playing pretend. Escape Rooms are everything I ever wanted as a child: old Victorian ambience, brass keys, an old leather-bound journal full of blotted clues and the ramblings of an insane time-traveling inventor. And secret passageways. What more could I ask for in life?

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So really, when my sister & mum called with a  big “birthday surprise”, I was already sitting fat and happy as the Queen of Birthdays.

My sister is a librarian back in my hometown, and she was trying to choose a book for the Teen Reading Program this Summer. Aaaaand, mum suggested my book. The head librarian loved the idea and kind of took it and multiplied it into this big, sparkly, elephant of a project.

elephant

Picture this: a community Author Visit (with yours truly) talking about the writing process, my book, the power of reading, etc. The library buying 35 (35!!!) copies of my book for staff and book club. Me, meeting with the kids throughout the summer, discussing writing, changes, edits and such.

What a wonderful, INCREDIBLE opportunity, right? How fun! How amazing! This is exactly what I wanted! People, reading a book I’d written. MY book, sitting on the shelves of a library! I am so ridiculously excited, I can barely stand it … sort of.

Because that excitement is being slightly smothered by whole lot of “I’m freaking out. Like, a lot.”

FAT-HEADED SCHMO

Who am I to give an Author Visit? I’m no author! I mean, yeah, I wrote a book. And, yeah, my mum liked it. But, that doesn’t make me an author! I don’t want to look like some big-headed schmuck:

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“Aherm. Ye-es. Look at amazing me; me and my unpublished, self-edited book. Oh ye-es. All the critics are raving about my literary genius. And by critics, I mean my mom. Therefore, you should look up to me as a great authority on the matter. Ye-es!”

So… I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.

I’m tempted to go the ‘Aw shucks’ route, you know?

“Aw, shucks, guys. Huh-huh. I dunno too much. Just, ya know, wrote a little book. But, ya know, ANYONE could write a novel…”

Ok, I’m A LOT nervous about the whole thing.

THE PUBLIC APPEARANCE OF MY RAW SOUL

Because, this book is my baby. My first-born, half-deformed baby. And, I love him dearly and cherish above the stars, but I’m hesitant to show his ugly, self-edited face to the world. Heck, showing the book to my parents and husband was terrifying.

This. This is a bit of a step up…

It’s like opening up my chest and showing off my raw soul to the one town I feel like will never see me as anything more than that one-awkward-quiet-kid.

At least, if I was published, I’d have the validation that someone other than my mom liked my soul and thought it was worthy of sharing.

At least, if my book was professionally edited, my raw and very private soul would get a working over. The rough edges smoothed out. The zits covered. The too private portions removed. You know, to make it presentable to the public: my phantom child given a mask and wig of sorts.

first-novel

BUT, in the end, I LOVE writing. Yes, 95% of me wants to feign nonchalance on the topic, like writing is just a silly little hobby. Criticism on something you don’t care much about doesn’t hurt much. Failure when your passion, your soul, is on the line is terrifying. Terrifying.

BUT. I want to be a writer – a writer who progresses to someday write a book, or article, or something that really matters to somebody.

And you have to start somewhere. Right?

So, let’s move forward. I refuse to assume any pretended airs, but I do want to make the most of this wonderful opportunity.

Here I go, cleaning up my deformed first-born for his first public-appearance…

Wish me luck…

love brit

“Love is blind. And awful.” -Shakespeare

The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Not enjoying this one very much so far. Is it just me, or is Shakespeare kinda dirty? Like, and love is the worst, right? At least, that’s the point of this book… right?

This book is pulling me back into my original cynicism for “love”, or worldly love (lust?) I suppose. It’s this sort of description that always turned me off of the whole idea. Proteus and Julia and Valentine and Silvia’s love seems so superficial, all sorts of passionate, but it doesn’t sound pleasant at all! First, Valentine calls Proteus a fool for his passionate love, saying that “Love is your master, for he masters you;/ And he that is so yoked by a fool/ Methinks should not be chronicled for wise” (1.1.40).

love is awful

Then, Valentine goes off and falls for the “painted” Silvia, who wears makeup “to make her fair”, but “no man counts of her beauty” (11.1.58). But, as servants Lucetta and Speed say, “Love is blind” (11.1.68). Speed describes the moodiness and odd behavior Valentine has fallen into since falling in love (“to walk alone”, “to sigh”, “to fast”, to “whine like a beggar”.) Seriously, love sounds awful! Who would want that?!

Proteus seems to be a man of good esteem and reputation. And yet, love makes him blind and a fool. This love is uncertain, as Proteus says, comparing it to “the uncertain glory of an April day/ Which now shows all the beauty of the sun / And by and by a cloud takes all away” (11.1.84).

pus heartPerhaps Shakespeare is just trying to warn against immature love, and all the woes that come with “the most forward bud/ [which] is eaten by the canker ere is blow/ even so by love the young and tender wit/ Is turned to folly, blasting in the bud/ Losing his verdure even in the prime / And all fair effects of future hopes” (11.1.46).

I’ve seen people get into trouble after getting too tied up in a youthful “love” that isn’t love at all, and suddenly “losing . . . All fair effects of future hopes”. I have a feeling fickle Proteus is going to go after the superficial Silvia, as he’s already forgetting his passionate desire for Julia. Sheesh. So glad I didn’t date much during High School… cause it’s the worst, right?!

PACKAGING THE GENUINE

my weaknessOn another tangent, I adore the genuine. I love it when people are themselves, completely and totally. Yeah, that doesn’t mean, reveling in their weaknesses — shoving them in the world’s face and saying ‘Just accept me as I am, I’ll never change!”. I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be totally genuine. But, I think it means being honest. Even when trying to be flippant about your weaknesses, you know that you should be trying to be better.

I know there are particular ways to write online. You’re supposed to keep things short, use lots of pictures, and write in lists (10 Ways to Lose Weight, 5 Ways to Get More Energy). But, I really don’t care much about all that. Can’t I just write what I am passionate about? Trying to write within limits feels contrived to me.

meh poetryCourse, I felt the same way about poetry (& Twitter — ha!). I don’t want to fence my ideas into 8 lines, with a specific rhythm, and rhyming words! I don’t want to limit my thoughts to 40 characters!

But, as I get older, I realize that that’s just laziness. There’s no point in writing unless you are writing for someone to read it (unless that someone is yourself, I suppose). So, you need to write things so others will want to read it. So, if I want to convey an idea to someone, I have to speak their language. If I don’t use proper grammar and spelling, they won’t understand. If I don’t use techniques for online writing, no one will read what I’m trying to say. So, if done properly, it isn’t dishonest. It’s just packaging the genuine in a way that others can understand and appreciate.

I need to remember this when teaching my kids writing and grammar…

THE WORLD IS OOZING WITH WORDS: WHY ADD MORE?

Sheesh. It’s tough work to keep writing things for other people’s eyes. I need to get faster at it. It seems to take me forever. But, I think it’s a really good habit to need to write at least one article a week that could be important to other people – that is refined for other people. It makes me look for meaning in my life. It makes me want to learn. It helps me hold my writing to a higher standard than that of my journal. It gives me more confidence in communicating with others. Often, I keep my thoughts to myself. The next level of communication is being able to effectively communicate these ideas to others.

There’s still the fear of failing. Of wanting to take the back door and not care so much. Of not putting as much effort in. But, this is a good habit for me, even if nobody reads it.

It’s hard to think of nobody reading it though. Even when I write in my journal, I think of someone, whether it be my older self, or my kids, or grandkids – someone – reading it later. What’s the point of writing if no one reads it? I suppose, that’s one reason I want to blog. Perhaps someone will read it. All these hours, pages upon pages upon pages of words – what use is all that, if no one ever reads them?

world oozing wordsBut then, I look at all the blogs out there. All the words. All the books. Ugh. The world is oozing – overflowing with words. And some of them are pretty superfluous (Haha! I always wanted to use that word!). All humans are unique, but with billions and billions of us, aren’t we all very similar, taken together? And, if so, why should I write more? Wouldn’t anything I write be incredibly redundant? Surely, someone has had the same thought – written the same thing. And, most likely, someone has thought or written much better than I ever could.

So, why add to this excess of words?

I was thinking about this while I was reading St. Augustine’s Confessions the other week.

Augustine is explaining why he is telling his life story (his “Confession”). He says, “I tell it to my own kind, to those other men, however few, who may perhaps pick up this book. And I tell it so that I and all who read my words may realize the depths from which we are to cry to You [God].” (2.3.1)

st. augustine

This really struck me. This book was Augustine’s testimony. He wants to share his life story so that anyone who picks up his book, whether few or many, may benefit from the belief that burns within him.

So, maybe we all need to be a little more honest. A little more genuine. Yeah, maybe no one ever reads it. But someone read Augustine’s Confession. A lot of people, actually. And it made a difference. Maybe your words could too!

love brit

 

THE GIDDIANHI IN MY HEAD

The other day, I sat down with some other moms and discussion turned towards kids, like usual. As time went on, I felt my eyes get wider. I drove home that night, and wondered, who am I to think I can raise my kids to be leaders, or thinkers, or saints? I should be glad just to keep them out of drugs and porn! My dreams of how I wanted to raise my kids suddenly seemed grandiose and unrealistic.

I thought about this a lot this week. Are my dreams for my kids too big? Am I just setting us all up for frustration and disappointment?

I was washing dishes yesterday, and listening to a talk by Orrin Woodward. “It takes courage to have a dream,” he said. Many don’t want to dream, he said, because they are afraid they’ll fail. If they don’t have a dream, and don’t accomplish it, they’ll have no embarrassment. No disappointment. It doesn’t take any courage not to dream.

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But, I’m certainly no great thinker, leader, or saint, I tell myself. How on earth do I expect to teach my kids this, if I’m nowhere near there myself?

But, people have done it! I read an article this morning from a 16 year old, who says “I am hungry for greater knowledge and understanding. I am beginning to see some of what our world is facing, and I am determined to be among the heroes who save it.” Isn’t that awesome! I want my kids to be like that!

But how?

So, I’m reading some scriptures this morning, and come across Lachoneus and Giddianhi in the Book of Mormon (3 Nephi 3). They’re in the middle of a huge war between a band of robbers and the Nephite people, and Giddianhi, leader of the robbers, sends a letter to the Nephite governor, Lachoneus. In it, Giddianhi tries to make Lachoneus doubt himself.

“I care about you and ‘feel for your welfare’,” Giddianhi says, “but you aren’t powerful enough to destroy my army. Furthermore, you may think your cause is just, but really you are just harming yourself and your followers. Give up this crazy dream. You will never succeed.”

I think I have a little Giddianhi in my head, telling me I can’t, and I shouldn’t, and I won’t.

negative-voices

Oliver DeMille talks about the voices in our heads in the book The Student Whisperer. We have positive and negative voices, he says, and they run our lives. Negative voices include the Critic, the Judge, the Victim, and the Rebel. “Negative voices criticize us and tear us down, leave us feeling despondent, futile, defensive, complacent, and inactive,” says Oliver (p. 219).

Lachoneus wouldn’t listen to the little negative Giddianhi though. He was a just man and “could not be frightened by the demands and threatenings of a robber; therefore he did not hearken” (v.12). He then goes to work: gathering his people together, creating strong fortifications, setting up constant guard against the enemy, and praying to God for strength. And, you know what? He finally defeats Giddinahi and his robbers!

How awesome is that? Lachoneus shows us just how we should deal with the negative voice in our head. Don’t be frightened. Don’t listen. Then, go to work and overcome.

It’s ok to have big dreams for your kids, I realized. There’ll be that little Giddianhi voice in my head, telling me I’m not good enough, that the opposition is too strong, and that I should just give up.
And I just have to stick up my nose and say. “You don’t scare me,” and ignore him.

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Here’s to big dreams!

(La la la, Giddianhi. I can’t hear you!).

love-brit

BLANK PAGES ARE SCARY

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A brand new, blank journal always intimidates me. Something about beginnings in general seem to be intimidating. Everything is all clean and fresh. Every page is fraught with potential.

I’ve filled about ten journals so far. I have a fairly disorganized mind, and something about writing my thoughts help give them order and meaning. I think on paper, and my best ideas come out of a pen.

Every time I begin a new journal, that first page stays blank for some time. For some reason, I feel that that I have to start things off right – even if many of the following pages are less than stellar – you have to get the beginning right.

Perhaps that’s why we don’t ever begin pursuing our dreams – the first page intimidates is too much. We have to get it just right, after all. So, shouldn’t we wait to begin for when we are a little bit smarter, a bit more wise, until we have a bit more time, or a bit more money?

Of course, with that mindset, that first page would stay blank forever, and so would the rest of your book. Your entire life story (your real story: the one that’s filled with the deepest desires of your heart), that will stay unwritten. You will forever wait for that perfect beginning – because it will never come.

The only way to begin is to start. Start right where you are – with all your flaws, bad grammar, and empty bank account.

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I think perfect beginnings really only exist somewhere in the middle of the story: never on the first page.

A planned on being the perfect wife before I got married. First, I’d become a brilliant cook and perfect homemaker, and then the perfect guy would come by. Fortunately, life doesn’t work that way (and thank goodness – I’d be single till the day I’d die). I’ve been married for almost two years to my studly-stud Leland, and – whaddayaknow – I’m still not the wife I’d like too be (cue microwave dinners because every pot and pan in the house is dirty . . .), but I’m closer now than I was when I was single – because Leland and I decided to forgo a perfect beginning and start our marriage with two very imperfect people and work toward that very-far-off-perfection, together.

But, the most frightening blank page came with the discovery that I was pregnant. My family cheered, and I cried. I wasn’t ready to start a Baby book! I knew the kind of mother I wanted to be. She would be eternally patient. She would be saintly and lovely and a wonderful cook and brilliant homemaker. I was so far away from this ideal, I just cried, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to become that woman in nine short months.

As baby grew in my swelling tummy, so did my anxiety. What kind of a mom would I be? How could I ever be worthy of this precious spirit? Six more months, I reasoned. I’d have time to figure it out . . .

And,

Suddenly.

He arrived.

There he was, “trailing clouds of glory” just like Wordsworth said.

And I realized, my parenthood Story had already begun. And no matter how much I might have tried to prepare, I never could have been prepared for this beginning – this precious, miraculous, sacred, but far from perfect beginning.

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So, here’s my new beginning – my foray into parenting and homeschooling and education. The journey won’t be perfect. I haven’t great stores of wisdom to share; I’m nowhere near the perfect wife and homemaker; I stink at DIY, crafts, and sewing; and my dishes pile up faster than I’d care to admit to. BUT, I’m sure we’ll find little bits of wisdom along the way – because little bits of excellent exist in every ordinary life,  if you only look for them.

love-brit