Saturday, May 28, 2016

Bloom: You Were Born to Bloom

Hi, folks! Today is my twenty-eighth wedding anniversary with the sweetest man ever, Tim Blaisdell. He is also a blogger and writes over at THE MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND.  I also am in a entrant in QUERY KOMBAT. Queries are selected by judges and they go head to head in a VOICE-esque contest. Only one query moves to next level. I'm Southern Gothic Secrets and my critique partner Ellen is Mochi Monster!

What do we win? Twenty-eight agents and editors will be looking at the queries with the possibility of landing an agent or even a contract. Did you notice 28 and 28? Feels very portent-y to me!

This week I'm writing about a deep truth. We are all born to bloom. A dear friend facing who suffers from a cancer syndrome hugged me and whispered, "I want to bloom but I feel like I'm falling apart."

I hugged her back because I know what it is like to be broken on a genetic level. Some things don't need words. What we can do is focus on the splendor of now.  Blooming does not come from us but creator of all things.

I grew up with a plant-loving mom, and she surrounded my life with flowers. So this week, I'm going to share about unusual blooms that I have seen in my life. I love flowers and I pay attention. I hope you will take lessons from these blooms and realize that you are stronger than you know.

A half-of a daffodil  bloomed in my mother's yard once. It was the most beautiful thing. A genetic anomaly but more beautiful because of it was unique.

One time there was a sad rhody in my yard that was covered with some kind of leaf disease. I had to hack away more than half of the plant. The next year the rhody bloomed with almost a hundred gorgeous blood-red blooms that took my breath away. It had never bloomed before.

Once my mom stopped the car beside the road and made me get out and look at this field of spiky plants with these gorgeous white blooms on tall spears. She told me to soak it in because these were century plants and this might not happen again in my lifetime.

I planted a cemetery rose in my backyard from a cutting that was about two inches long.  This year rose is the size of a small car and it has had hundreds of blooms.

So this week, I was blessed by this: my daylilies bloomed during the 8 inches of rain that fell on my house this week in 24 hours. The splash of color on such a dreary day uplifted my heart. Bloom during the flood!

Maybe one of these blooms speaks to you. Just like you were born to share, to be merciful, to smile, and to love, you were born to bloom. Seize every day.

I will be back next week with a new series about the Monomyth. I hope you will join me.

Here is a doodle:

Here is a quote for your pocket:

Why should I be unhappy? Every parcel of my being is in full bloom. Rumi

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Bloom: Bloom Where You Are Planted

Hi, folks! I'm continuing my Bloom series for the month of May.  There is nothing more heartening to me than a flower blooming in the crack in the sidewalk, the crevice of a mountain, or on a cliff face by the sea. Another surprise is a bloom in the desert place. There is no circumstance than can hold back a bloom. You must bloom where you are planted. This is your purpose. Life finds a way.

"Bloom where you are planted" is a quote attributed to St. Francis De Sales, the patron saint of writers. This is a little quote I whisper to myself often. It is a story of tenacity and one I am close to. Flowers that bloom in impossible places are the heart of tenacity. They put down roots in rocks. They cling to life when there is little chance of life. They bloom even if that bloom is stunted and its flower is deformed. Writers have a similar tenacity to bloom. I am no exception.

How does a writer bloom where they are planted? You may live on the backside of nowhere, i.e. suburbia.  You may work a mind numbing job that is mocked on national TV.  You may be over the age of 50. You may have family members with complex health issues and you care for them. You may suffer from depression during this same time.You may have received more writing rejections at this point than you considered was humanly possible. At the end of the day, it's tough to stay alive in a place like this this, much less bloom.

So how do you do it? How do you bloom?  Here some of the answers: live in this moment. Don't think about the road that brought you here. Don't think of the road that will take you on. Be here and now and exist. Place your baggage down and move on. Don't refuse to forgive yourself and others. Move on with your life. Stop the foolishness. It is time to let all that stuff go. Focus of all the good you know, have known and hope to know. Believe that you will  rise above the waves that wish to beat you down. Work when you are too tired. Be positive even if the waves crash over you.  Be positive if you are washed out to sea and must swim back to shore. Believe that your gifts will make a place for you. Never stop trying. Do these things and you find yourself blooming in some odd places and at some odd times.

Life is tenacious. Whatever you facing, don't let it choke you. Bloom.

I'm glad you dropped by!  Come back next week for the end of the Bloom series.

Here is a doodle for you. Cemetery Roses.

Here is a quote for your pocket:

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.
St Francis De Sales

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Bloom: House Cleaning and Fine Tuning

Hi folks,

This week I continue my May bloom series. Last week, guest blogger and awesome author, A. LaFaye, shared a master's class post on how to mix magic and realism. Hard to follow, but here goes.

I love May. My yard is blooming like crazy. Amaryllis, day lilies, roses, they are all so beautiful. This week I'm going to write about a few finishing touches that may connect with writers with readers. This post is about what puts the big show into your writing. The first finishing touch I will chat about is emotional connection.

One big deal about stories is they have to create an emotional connection with the reader. How is this done? You must communicate to your reader what is possible for your character.  Since housecleaning is another one of my expert fields: on those first few pages of real estate, remove the clutter.What is essential? What is beautiful? What is provocative? Leave that. The rest gets moved somewhere else, tossed out, or recycled.

Now rearrange the furniture until you achieve maximum effect. This means think about how you are rolling out the story. It depends on the room, the people who will inhabit it, and the purpose of the room. This is some deep thinking for you. The best writing in the world isn't going to work if no one wants to be with you in your story. What connects with the most people? Put your comfy couch in a central place, surrounded it with useful tables, place coasters around. Maybe you should just get rid of the futon chair.

Next, do a deep cleaning. After furniture rearranging,  you kick up dust.  Dust the tops of the cords, the lintels, the baseboards, under the furniture. Make your writing shine. Finally add a pop of color. One color. In terms of your story, one colorful aspect to your main character on those first few pages.

I believe your story now plants a seed of welcome in your readers. You have opened the world of possibilities with your hard work. Your story begs readers to hang out and to come again. Good job! You are blooming like crazy!

I hope this is useful for you. I hope it helps you find your way!  I will be back next week with more blooming posts. Ha! By the way, if you live in the College Station area and you are or know a teen who wants to write. Please join us for the second annual TEENS Publish program at the Ringer Library in College Station. We will have weekly workshops every Wednesday in June and July except July 6. The group will meet from 2:30 to 5:00.  Here is a link to the flyer. 

Here is a doodle.

Here is a quote for your pocket.

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. Kurt Vonnegut.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Bloom (in Frosting): Mixing Magic and Realism, Guest Blogger - Alexandra LaFaye!

 Did you know it takes warmth to make flowers bloom? This month's series is called Bloom. It should make you really toasty! Join me in welcoming the talented author A. LaFaye as she takes over Seize the day! She is about heat up your mind with a huge dose of mixing magic and realism. Writers, get ready to bloom!

Bloom (in Frosting): Mixing Magic and Realism

 credit: Bigstock

Many of the rules of fiction haunt us – like spirits of drafts past or critiques gone wrong—they loom over us chanting, “show don’t tell” and the like, but as a writer and a mentor of writers, I’m not a fan of “the rules.” In fact, I would suggest that rules, grammar, and all of the conscious mind clutter that occupies our thoughts in the editing phase should take a backseat in the creation stage. Writers are often more empowered, creative, and productive if they write from their subconscious and leave all of the rules for the revision, or better yet, the editing phase.

And my topic for today is about getting our readers to move closer to their subconscious and loosen their grip on the rules of reality as they’re reading so that they can buy into a fictional world that resembles their own, but is infused with elements of fantasy—young wizards living under the stairs, angels hidden away in the potting shed, and the like. I’m not talking about magic realism here. That’s a whole other approach to writing that is very culturally grounded and often misunderstood. For more information on magic realism, this article would be a great start: Magic Realism

What I am talking about it reality-based fantasy or stories so well-grounded in reality that a.readers are surprised to discover that the world they’re in contains elements of the fantastic and/or b. the fantastic is convincing enough to allow readers to “buy into” the otherworldly elements being portrayed.

Since I’m generally opposed to rules, I’ll have to say that for every guideline I give you here, you’ll no doubt know of at least half a dozen works that thwart the general rule and that’s the mark of great art—knowing the rules well enough to work around them or defy them all together—creating your own magic as you go. Still, these guidelines may be helpful in giving you a place to start.

And the starting line in reality-based fantasy is “A Voice in the Fog”
On a foggy night at sea a sound in the distance has a magical quality to it simply because we cannot explain it. The change in our environment puts us on edge just a little, piquing our interest, and leading us to question our surroundings—keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.

This “voice in the fog” in a story is the small element that tells us something is not quite normal in the world we’ve just entered.

To illustrate my points, I’m going to use my short story “Testing, Testing 1, 2, 3...” from the anthology Shelf Life edited by Gary Paulsen and filled with great genre-based stories by writers like Gregory Maguire, M.T. Anderson, and Jennifer Holm who are quite good at drawing readers into realistic worlds fused with fantasy and I hope my story holds its own among this talented crowd.

In “Testing,” the main character, Patrick Troy is struggling to pass standardized tests in eighth grade and in jeopardy of not being able to enter high school, so he’s only allowed to leave the house to attend school and keep up his lawn mowing job. His newest client, Mrs. Whitamore, has hired him through the mail.

As he explains, “That may seem odd, but I get a lot of weird stuff in the mail. When I hit second grade, I started getting a blank card each week. I didn't know who sent them. There was never a return address on the envelope. No postmark. Just my name. Each one was a different blind you bright color, but they never had one word on the card inside. Mrs. Whittamore's card was bright too. There was no return address. I even thought it was another blank card, but instead she asked me to mow her lawn for her every Saturday at noon.”

Here, we know something is out of the ordinary, but we’re not sure exactly what it means. This gets our “magic sense” tingling and moves us into the next element of combining fantasy and reality:

The Scully Factor (AKA Plausible Deniability)

When we’re given a fantastic premise, “being hired through the mail” it should be deniable at first or at least explainable. Here, we learn that Patrick has often gotten strange things in the mail. What we learn later is that the lawn mowing request and the cards that came before it are also a test of worth (an early stage of the hero quest plot pattern that appears in most fantastic stories). But when we first encounter them they are a foreshadowing of the magic to come and an undercutting explanation for why he’d get hired through the mail.

To draw readers into the fantasy within the realism of a story like this one, writers must

Incubate Their Dragon Eggs

Besides their size, dragon eggs aren’t that shocking. Why they could simply be housing a fetal emu for all we know. But when the dragon hatches, it’s no longer possible to deny that something fantastic is afoot or awing. And in reality-based fantasy, writers must raise the stakes, increasing the elements of fantasy, decreasing the elements of reality until the fantasy is no longer deniable—it is the new reality of the story.

When Patrick accepts the mail-delivered job offer, he is excited to see into Mrs. Whitamore’s yard because she has nine foot hedges and is suspected of being a witch—no one sees her, she has a hidden yard, and there are odd chimes emanating from her house. When he arrives, the wind opens her screen door and ushers him through the dark house to a backyard with rings of flowers that spin right up to her back porch—all increasingly unusual things that could be explained.

Mrs. Whitamore doesn’t speak, she delivers directions on cards that are, at first look, blank, but as Patrick describes the first one, “As I got up farther, the card seemed to have gray squiggly lines that moved around like curly hair caught in the wind. Standing right in front of her, squinting, the lines darkened and stiffened into letters. I thought I needed to get my eyes checked for new glasses. That happened every spring.

The card read, ‘The butterflies need exercise.’

She smiled, her misty eyes getting all shiny.

Here we get a sense that she may be writing them with her mind or he may have eye sight issues—plausible deniability (the Scully Factor at work), but we also learn that Mrs. Whitamore is a bit more than unusual because she wants him to mow her flowers to give her butterflies exercise.

His payment that first day is a blank book. He finds this odd, especially when his watch tells him the whole job took only five minutes—but he blames the time shift on a broken watch—he often makes them stop on account of his “magnetic personality,” so reality is still in the lead, but when he returns the next week and discovers that the flowers are as tall and in full bloom as they were the week before we know for certain that magic is definitely at play.

And when she tells him that the book she gave him is as blank as the card she’s holding, Patrick realizes that the magic in his life is undeniable and he has a enchanted book that eventually teaches him how to stop time and finish the standardized tests that have dogged him all year long.

In many ways, reality-based fantasy is

Like a Layer Cake with Mythical Frosting

At the base, you have a pretty ordinary plate that may be wrapped in foil, but alone it’s as ordinary as mowing the lawn, then comes the first layer which is mostly cake and homework and standardized tests, and then there’s a layer of mythical frosting where reputed witches can hire you to mow their lawn through the mail, then you mow rings of flowers as a host of butterflies take flight—the decorations on the layer of cake that’s all lawn clippings and tests looming.

Layer by layer, the elements of reality shrink like the layers of the cake and the frosting and decorations—the magic of fantasy—take center stage and we have a kid who can stop time to give himself the room he needs to learn what he wants to know and finish the blooming test. When you look at the story as a whole the glittering magic is what resonates with us, but the emotional satisfaction of a test passed is the cake in our belly.

So, I’ve either shown you how to mix fantasy and reality or simply made you hungry for cake. Either way, I’m so grateful that you joined me on this journey and I want to offer you the opportunity for seconds or at least “cake” decorating tips. AKA What questions do you have for me about blending fantasy and reality?

After all, I have this short story, a novel about a girl who discovers her adoptive parents are shape-shifting seals (Water Steps), a novel-in-verse about an Appalachian girl who can see the future (Pretty Omens), and a book about a girl whose widowed father is confidently waiting for his wife’s return (The Keening).

But don’t just take my word for it. Feel free to explore other approaches to the same fusion of reality and fantasy, here’s a good article from Fantasy Faction to get your started: "Reality Made Fantastic" If you have questions or comments, please share them here. You can also stop by and visit me on my own blog Wordy Wanderings Thank you once again, to you for reading, and to Molly Blaisdell for the opportunity to be a guest on her blog. Have a famtastic—hopefully, cake-filled day!

Thank you for sharing your genius, Alexandria! This whole post warmed me up. I'm about to bloom. Readers, thank you for dropping by and I hope that you come back next week for more of the bloom series.

Finally, we already had some doodles, but here is a quote for your pocket:

She told me about rolling hills covered with cornfields and treeless miles of land without water. I dreamt of cornfields dotted with yellow rosebushes A. LaFaye, The Year Of The Sawdust Man