I Held Them With My Story

There is a really big coyote hanging out in the otherwise empty pasture these days and if I didn’t know better I would say it could be a wolf he is that big.  Once we watched him too long and he sat for a moment in the woods, wrapped his voluptuous tail around himself, and watched us watch him.  When he thought it was long enough, he bounded out, running straight for us.  Little dog, it seems, is competition.  So we left him alone and now on our walks I am scanning, scanning looking for anything moving on the vast whiteness that is the ground here.

We may go a little crazy here this time of winter.  You watch your booted feet slide back for every step you take and you wonder why, why can’t you just walk and go forward and is it too much to ask.  Fish & Game tells us that bears are coming out of hibernation and are cranky and we can empathize.  I saw our bear  close up last Fall.  Now it is pressing on March and at this time of year if I see her, I might have to invite her in for a beer and commiseration.

We are desperate enough for company other than ourselves that we pile into an old school building that is the community center to hear each other sing, play, and tell stories.  Anything, please God, let me hear something other than the inside of my own head.  I was excited to be there and pleased that so many people came.

So I read ten minutes’ worth of my novel to a crowd a bit noisy at first but before a second paragraph was up it was quiet and then it was silent but for my raised voice, reading.  And even while I was reading I was aware of the silence, of the kind and generous attention I was given, and they were with me to the end.  I held them.  With my story.  Wicked.  I can’t wait to do it again.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Open Mic Night Virgin

It is utterly appropriate that my first post with the Insecure Writers Support Group is about signing up for an open mic night to read from the novel I am working on.

Unlike a lot of people I am comfortable speaking to a crowd.  Oh let’s be totally honest I love being center stage.  Finally everyone has to quiet down and pay attention to me.  I grew up the youngest and smallest so when I step up to the microphone and everyone shuts up and focuses on me, that feels great.  If they don’t quiet down, I can ask them to.  Or kick them out.

I do have a creeping feeling though that this may be different.  I will be reading to a group of people comprised of I know not whom.  It will not be my small, intimate writers group, or the kind folks in the annual poetry workshop I have come to know.

This will be – I don’t know who.  Anyone who wants to come.  Anyone at all.  And I will be reading from my novel~this novel~the one I cannot tell if it is any good at all.  The one I have been pouring my guts and soul into for so long.

That will make a difference, I know it will.  I just don’t exactly know how it will do so.  I try to imagine possible outcomes the worst of which of course is indifference.  Polite applause, distracted eye wandering, phone checking.

The next worse is gushing, because I never know what to do with that and become wide-eyed and tense and nod too much.

Scene:  They hate it.

Me:  Oh, I see and what is the title of your novel again?

Scene:  They love it.

Me:  Oh what do you know, it sucks, are you kidding me?

As you can see I have a good head start on my defensive posturing.  Which will not help me one little bit on Saturday.  THIS SATURDAY?!  I’m sure it will be fine…

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Call ‘at Dialect?

At our writers group meeting last week after I read my piece one of the other writers said, “When your work is published, you will have to do audio books, because the Vermont accent adds so much.”

I said, “I have an accent?”  And another member next to me nodded slowly, wide-eyed, like, “You didn’t know that?”

I remembered another reader saying about my first novel, “You have some interesting dialect here, you could do even more of that.”  And I thought, Dialect?  Um, okay.

And that’s interesting.  I mean obviously I know that there are regional differences in the way speakers of the same language sound.  I just did not realize that it came across so much in my writing.

That pleases me because I feel as though on one level, that is my voice.  I am being true to who I am because my writing, in effect, sounds the way I sound.  My characters speak in the voices I have heard my whole life.  That’s good, right?

But only very slightly have I ever intentionally written dialect.  I have written ‘aright’ for ‘alright’ and ‘priey’ for ‘probably’, because that’s what we say, “You priey got twenty of them in your shed,” is what I wrote.  I don’t speak that way if I am paying attention and in company.  I priey do talk like that when I am talking to my brother.

But apparently I read that way.  In my first novel, which is set in a very rural part of Vermont, I would write, “Jesus Christ I know it, alright!”  But how that sounds to us is, “JeeZUZ Keroist Oi know et, ar-ROIGHT?”

It helps if you hold one side of your lower lip perfectly still as though you had a chaw of tobacco between there and your gums and you can’t lose it.  “Yup, atsit, loik ‘at.”

I don’t think I could keep that up.  I guess my writing group buddy is right, I’ll have to do the audio books.

Boi the Jeezus, fella, I will then.  Aright.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Lady Muck’s List

I write great lists:  To Do, Errands, To Email, To Call.  A well-crafted list can be beautiful.  My problem is that I treat the list as the finished product.  If it sits there long enough I begin to resent it.

And I don’t even want to tell you how caught up I can become in deciding whether to ex off, check off, or cross out and if I should use highlighters or colored pens to prioritize.

As much as I love planners, list writing, and making notes etc., and given how good I am at organizing ‘things’, I am really quite terrible at managing my time and accomplishing tasks, especially anything free-floating, ie without deadlines and only important to me.  I despair of this every day.  I don’t know how to begin.

In college I would copy over my class and reading notes, highlight and bookmark reading assignments, and stack everything up tidily on my desk.  And then go for a walk.  I’m not kidding.  It’s as though my only responsibility is to set up the task.  Then, apparently, my work here is done.  Like Lady Muck I wave my hand – holding a list – go forth and make it so.

Something is missing in me, I’m telling you.  I really cannot relate to the utilization and management of time.  I have a subconscious lack of faith in the human ability to create structure and effect change in the huge unknown territory that is time.  I always think, “But will that happen?  How do you know?”  There are so many unknowns.  What if you call everyone on your To Call list and no one answers?  Does that count?  Can you check/ex/cross it off?  See?  Or if you can’t check/ex/cross it off, you just lost half an hour accomplishing nothing.  Half an hour you can never get back.  Time is laughing at you.  Right now.

It is possible to make it all way too complicated.  You can have too many lists and you should never, ever have more than one calendar.  I have lists there, and a calendar here, and then I don’t like that calendar so I get a different one, which changes nothing.  And somehow my calendar never meets my list.  I never can figure out which thing on the list to do now and when to stop that and start the next thing.

When I do choose a task from my list and finish it, I am surprised, as though it had nothing to do with me.  When I have plans with a friend and I get ready and get there and she is there, too, it surprises me in the same way.  It feels as though it had nothing to do with me.  Time, to me, is not reliable.  Time is not something you can count on.

It’s okay you can say, “That’s really weird.”  I know.

So in a Tweet from Lifehacker I found a link to Bullet Journal and thought I would give it a try.  I recommend watching the video first as it explains it best.  The Bullet Journal system is just that, a system.  It is not a finished, perfect list, it is a work in progress, always.  I want so much to trust that it will work.  And it seems so simple, right?

Not to me.  I think it is telling that when I read the web page (twice!) I was very confused and kept saying out loud, “I don’t get this, I just don’t get it.”  There was nothing tangible I could grasp.  I really did not begin to conceptualize it until I read it four times.  And then I still felt like, “Well, yeah, but how are the things actually done?”  Maybe a time management system should come with drones.  Lady Muck, waving her list…

This has to be called something, but I don’t know what.  Nuts, I think, would be the colloquial term.

But I am stoked to give Bullet Journal a try.  I set up a wide ruled hardback compo book 📓 (love those) as a bullet journal and when I look at it, I am hopeful and emotional.  Help is at hand.  I begin to believe.  I really feel like getting stuff done.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Witness to a Moment of Everything

Today outside the sky was a bruised gray wavy sky and the kestrel – kestrel! – on the wing its striped tail feathers snapped together in perfection and that alone would have been enough but it stayed

Racing above my head high up around and around above the hunting grounds so fast with its perfect wings and lethal beak then it flew over the spruces  on the hill and caught site of its prey

You should have seen it dive – fall – dive straight down out of sight and something fueled its next flight later this afternoon and the whole time

Little dog was hunting vole and I had Live Lightning Crashes in my earphones and I can feel it – all beauty and sorrow and life after death and I opened my arms and turned around and around as the angel opens her eyes

It was all so beautiful and I can feel it and it was one of the few times I was glad I was the human there then

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


The Fear That Stopped Me Has Left Me Now

In my previous post I told you about the workshop.  Here I will tell you how it felt to be there.

It was cold and rainy that day.  I didn’t mind.  The door was locked when I got there.  That’s okay, they’ll open it soon, and they did.  I have a partial hearing loss and had to change my seat so I could hear.  That’s okay.  And when it was over and I went out to my car, I had a parking ticket and I just laughed.

Because of what it felt like to be brave enough to be there.  To finally be where I belonged and to be wide open to the truth of it.

Years ago I signed up for an acting workshop that I wanted to go to so much but when the day came, I didn’t go.  I told myself it was stupid — what was I going to do, move to New York, become an actor?  That’s dumb.  I did not even know it was fear that stopped me.

Because I was afraid — in my soul — I was afraid.  I must have learned to be afraid to be who I am.

I have been very brave in my life.  I have faced down dangerous people twice my size.  I have been the one others hide behind, and I am only 5’4”.

But I never dared to do this.  To be a writer, say it out loud, spend my days doing the thing I wanted more than anything and that I might just have a knack for.  To lay my soul at the feet of someone who is already doing what I wish I had started years ago and say please tell me what you know.

To sit in a group of people and hear myself say, “I am writing a novel,” and no longer hear that voice that says, “Sure you are.”

Going to this class was another step, as is this blog, to getting myself to believe myself when I say I am a writer.  And I always have been.

Since I have made writing my daily work, I have forgotten to be afraid.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


Characters in Action

Last week I attended a three hour workshop, Characters in Action, presented by Janice Obuchowski at the Renegade Writers’ Collective.

The theme of the workshop was the use of action to reveal character which feels to me like an accessible, tangible writing tool.  I came away from the class with something I knew I could utilize right away.

It was a cold, rainy day but the room we were in was warm and brick-walled.  Everyone was excited to be there and willing to work, discuss, and read aloud.  No doubt – we were here to learn, and I for one definitely did so.

We read short writing pieces by Ron Carlson, Justin Torres, and James Joyce and marked places where we gained insight into characters through their actions, decisions, and dialogue.  Once you start doing this you can’t stop.  Our subsequent discussions revealed that while we all read the same piece, because the story derives from the characters’ actions, it evolves in the mind of each reader differently — the essence of good fiction writing.

For the first exercise we were tasked with writing for ten minutes in response to a prompt without the use of dialogue and without narrating characters’ feelings or thoughts.  We had a simple prompt:  one person washes a car.  There were a few other limitations and options, but that was pretty much it.  I found that I could stay focused on the exercise and still be immersed in my little story.  In fact, I was so immersed that I slipped into internal dialogue at the very end – oops.  You can read my humble little exercise here.

Janice recommended practicing this type of exercise regularly and I know without hesitation that it will be useful to me to do so.

The piece we read by Joyce was from Araby, a short story.  Joyce is known for revealing setting and inanimate objects as though they were characters.  We went through the piece and marked not only where we gained insight about the characters but also where he used action to describe the setting.  Next we wrote a short exercise trying to do the same.  James Joyce I am not, but I was still fairly pleased with mine.  You can read my exercise here.  

So now I have a tangible lesson to fall back on and to call up when I need it.   When writing is good it seems to magically evoke a story rather than tell it.  Now I feel that I have some insight into how that happens.

Sometimes I find myself sitting at the keyboard saying out loud, “I don’t know, I don’t know!”  And now I know to ask myself, ‘What is she doing with her hands?  With her face?  Her boots in the snow?  What is she not doing?’

Give a reader some credit, let them figure it out.  I can do that, I tell myself.  I know I can do that.

© Margaret Grant and magoffleash, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.


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