Perception vs Reality

I’m training for Marathon 2.0 and everything is different this time around. I have a new running group, I’m beginning with a smaller weekly mileage base, and there’s the little matter of the C-section scar where my muscles are still a bit weak.

But I’m having a blast. For the most part. Houston summers suck, and getting up at 5 to beat the heat is awful no matter how you slice it. In general, however, I’m optimistic and enthusiastic to be training for a long race again.

That said, my pace hasn’t been that great and it’s starting to bum me out. I can remember what it feels like to run for an hour without having to walk, and I’m not there yet. I had a particularly bad run yesterday. I’m trying to be better about incorporating hills and speed work into my weekly miles, so I chose a route that is about as hilly as I can get near the Gulf Coast.

I was relaxed and had plenty of water. The hills stretched my quads and calves but they weren’t painful. I didn’t walk too much and felt like I kept a reasonably steady pace on the inclines.

When I got home, my watch told a different story. I don’t use RunKeeper because I hate having a voice chirp at me every 5 minutes telling me how I’m doing, so I judge my progress based on my knowledge of my most frequently traveled paths and departure/arrival time. I estimated I had gone on a 4.5 mile jog, but it had taken me much, much longer than I had budgeted.

It was discouraging, to say the least.

After I dried off and took a shower, I hung out with my family until nap time, then relaxed. I took out my phone and decided to map my run. To my surprise, I actually ran 6 miles.

My relief was as potent as the endorphins released during the run itself. Suddenly my time wasn’t so shabby after all! I’m not winning any races, but I’m also not dragging the pack. I’m right where I need to be.

I’m sharing this story because I do this all the time. I constantly belittle myself, thinking I’ve done less than I actually have. I know it, but I still do it, mostly because the measurements I’m using aren’t really quantifiable, unlike mileage. I’ve done a bunch of things in the last 5 years, but I’m not giving myself the credit I’ve earned.

So if you’re struggling in the trenches, writing like there’s no tomorrow, Don’t Be Me. Take time to acknowledge your awesomeness. Enjoy your accomplishments. We’ve earned it.

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An Interrogation

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m finally making headway on several works in progress. I’ve gotten feedback on a screenplay, but I’ve decided to put that project on the back burner until I finish the draft of my newest novel. The midway point is as good a time as any to take stock of what I’ve written so far, and I’m happy to report that so far, so good.

This is my fourth foray into novel-writing and with each project I’ve learned something new about my writing process. It’s true that you have to push through the noise and nonsense in order to find the magic and mystery within the pages. Some of the junk is erased with editing, but some problems can be fixed by learning what questions to ask of the manuscript.

When I wrote my first novel, the predominant question was, can I do it? Do I have the mental stamina to finish writing a 300-page book? The answer, happily, was yes, but after I finished, I realized that the part of the book that drew me to the writing (my “darlings”) wasn’t the same part that needed to be improved, edited, and redrafted to become the novel it could be. The book as it was could only be salvaged by erasing half of it and starting over.

My favorite part, however, made a good short story, so I excerpted and self-published (under a pseudonym) a heavily revised version in the collection Three Gothic Tales. When I finally return to that original draft, the story won’t be there, nor will most of what I’ve already written. But I’ve built the skeleton, and now have the confidence I need to start fleshing it out anew.

A similar discovery happened with my second novel-draft. I had a crazy dream and decided to follow it to its logical conclusion, a la Stephen King. When I was done, I realized I had written a 80K word novella. What a mess. By that time, I thought I had the stamina to revise it. I was wrong. It’s still on my hard drive, or rather the 15K word plot outline. Every now and then I pull it up to try to fix it and every time I get frustrated. I haven’t found the core of what I need to say. The main question I keep returning to is, what is this thing? I’m still not sure I know the answer.

But I do know that what I’m writing right now is a novel. I’ve learned a thing or two about outlining, so I think I have an idea of where it’s going. The question I ask myself now is not “how” or “what,” it’s “who”: Who will want to read this when it’s done? If I was writing for myself before, for whom should I write this new, shiny, fun book? Is it for business travelers on an airplane? Retirees at home? Reading groups?

Although I don’t know yet, I have a feeling the answer will help shape the book into what it needs to be. For now, I’ll just keep writing.

New story at Per Contra

I’m very excited to announce that Per Contra has published my short story “Moving Day” in its latest issue. This story is a weird amalgamation of first love regrets, family obligations, and, of course, West Texas.

I’m heading off to the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conference this weekend with a new paper that’s an excerpt from a chapter of my dissertation-to-book revision. The idea for this paper is practically writing itself, happily, and I’m making a snazzy powerpoint to boot.

So many projects are in the pipeline that some nights it’s hard to focus on just one. I prefer keeping busy to sitting still—no surprise there—but at the moment I’m not anxious, just produce-producing a la Carlyle. Hopefully somewhere in these pages is a viable manuscript.

Keep writing, my friends.

We reach the end of the semester

“What do you want to have at your graduation party?” Mom asked me last weekend.

“Um …” I replied. To be honest, I haven’t really felt like celebrating the end of my graduate degree, at least not yet. I know, I know. My advisors bought everyone beer after the defense, my friends and colleagues toasted me with the free champagne that Valhalla gives to every successful PhD, and I drank deep from the margaritas we grabbed at Chuy’s. But once the initial rush was over, a dull calm has settled over me that I haven’t been able to shake. Yet.

To be sure, this feeling of calm is infinitely better than the stress I endured for the past 7 years. Once I finished my defense, every illness that my body had kept at bay during the last push attacked me at once, leaving me unable to smell or hear for about a month. Now that I’m (physically) better, I’m left with the post-PhD blues. But I’m not so much sad as relieved. Or am I restless? Perhaps I’m reflective. But I’m certainly not rejuvenated or refreshed.

All the same, I recognize that my journey to the PhD was not a solitary one, and doesn’t my family deserve a party, if not for my sake, then for theirs?

“Bar-B-Q,” I said. “And Shiner.” Where there’s good food and good company, good things are sure to follow.

Happy 2015!

Well, we survived 2014. It was a helluva ride, and, excepting the birth of our wonderful daughter, not a great year. I’m thankful to have made it this far, and if all goes according to plan, will write my heart out in 2015 to make up for the lack of productivity these past 12 months.

My goals (not resolutions, which are made to be broken!) include:

  • Month: Write 2 pages/day for the new novel (I’ll talk about it more in the coming days), and query first novel
  • Semester: Finish dissertation, and write 3 stories
  • Year: Write 1 book review/month for NANOFic and other venues

The year is already starting on the right foot: I am teaching a course this Spring on Robots, Zombies, and Vamps (Oh, my!) The Cultural Contexts of Horror. I have been putting together my syllabus and writing assignments. Some Romantic literature, some nineteenth century German, contemporary works. And the movies … I can’t wait to get back in the classroom again after a long hiatus.

But for now, a nap seems to be in order. Keep writing, my friends.

New Short Story

I’m thrilled to announce I have a new story in Vinyl Poetry, volume 11 called “Fingal’s Cave.”

I also was asked recently to be the new book review editor for NANO Fiction, a wonderful flash fiction journal founded in 2006 by Kirby Johnson. If you have a collection or chapbook of flash fiction that you would like to have reviewed on our site, or if you would like to submit a review, email me: review.editor@nanofiction.org .

Reading with L

As a grad student and a mommy, I often feel that my days and nights are split between my dual responsibilities: raising a person, and tidying up my dissertation. It’s hard to switch back and forth sometimes (ok, most of the time) because I feel like the same person in each role, but my functions are so different as to be laughable. Ever tried to turn in edits to your advisor with a baby screaming in the background? I don’t recommend it.

That said, there are many pleasurable overlaps, such as introducing my daughter to my favorite books. We collect the BabyLit books, which I love for the beautiful illustrations and playful language, if not for the narrative accuracy. I also enjoy reading classic children’s stories that lingered in the back of my memory but that I thought I had forgotten: Beatrix Potter is much wittier than I gave her credit for as a young person, and I’m finally reading Winnie the Pooh instead of simply watching the Disney cartoons.

Some of my favorite afternoons, though, haven’t been spent reading in a comfy rocker. The simple act of taking L on a tour of the backyard or introducing her to the ducks in the nearby pond has rekindled in me a love for the pastoral. On the first morning we came home from the hospital, as I held her close in my arms, a bird chirped outside and L’s eyes drifted in its direction. “That’s a bird,” I said, and my eyes filled with tears. Before L was born, it had been a long time since I had felt the joy of discovery. Now, I’m reminded every day that learning is a lifelong process, and I’m so grateful I get to do it with L.