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Writing Worries #26: Encouragement isn't critique

 I'll admit it; I love a good review. Nothing makes me happier than hearing how much someone has enjoyed my writing. Truly, I love to see the reader/listener reaction at my writing groups as they process and grasp what's going on. If I've done my job well, I might even see that spark of understanding a theme, idea or emotion that I meant to convey.

These moments are few and far between. Mostly, writers create in their own space. A part from writing groups and beta readers, often the only feedback they get is the form rejection letter when they submit to an agent, publisher or submission call. Of the nearly twenty agent rejection letters I've received for Wolf Creek, only one didn't look like a form letter. The agent took the time to tell me that she didn't think the idea for the novel was unique enough to sell – a worry that already has a footing in the back of my mind.

Worse than the void of no comments are the well-intentioned words of encouragements that take the form of vague compliments.

'I loved it.'

'It was great.'

'Don't change a thing.'

'It's perfect.'

'I can see the movie already.'

While these compliments can be ego boosters, an author who has opened more than a dozen rejection letters knows how empty these comments can be. Nothing is ever perfect. All works could be improved, especially after only one draft. These comments leave the author with no idea of where to go to improve their work. Unless these words are coming from someone who is offering me a publication contract, I say thank you, enjoy the pat on the back and go back to the work of creating a solid story.

If a reader can give me specific examples of what they loved, great. It's even better if they tell me where the story lost them or the characters came off as unrealistic. Critiques that point out strengths as well as weaknesses, as subjective as both may be, are far better than well-meaning statements of praise.

Encouragement is like dessert; yummy, but full of empty calories. An author needs balanced and specific criticism to thrive.


Writing Worry #25: No yard stick for success

When I was a college student, I excelled at tests. The thrill of getting a good grade was a confirmation of my hard work. Then graduate school came with yearly meetings with my advisory committee and the rare course that gave out standard grades. It was tough at first to know whether I was on the right track in my research because there were no tests, no grades. There was no one there to assure me that all my hard work was paying off. Five years later, I had a degree and a couple of peer-reviewed publications under my belt.

As hard as it was to deal with insecurity of not knowing if my research was headed in the right direction, it is even worse when it comes to writing. Other than a big-five publishing contract or a New York Times bestseller, how do you measure success?

When I first started pursuing fiction publication, my goal was to publish without having to pay for it. I had a friend who had vanity published. However, I was determined that if my writing wasn't good enough to get someone else to pay for publishing it then I shouldn't get my hopes up. It took me two years to find a publisher for Between Love and Lust.

I set my sights on a print publication contract. Unfortunately, I couldn't sell my dark fantasy novel to even e-publishers. I'm in the process of finding a publisher for my LGBT YA urban fantasy. Attempts to find an agent were only me with form rejection letters.

While I am disappointed neither of my last two novels sold, I understand why each of them isn't a good sell for print publishing. 

This year I have been writing and submitted short stories while I procrastinate on editing my erotic thriller novel. It was partly to set and achieve a writing goal and partly to reassure myself that my writing was up to publication standards.

After selling more than half of my new short stories, I am still left with some uncertainty. While I can produce fiction that others want to publish, I still don't know if I can produce a novel that is not only good enough but interesting enough to find a print publisher.

Each step of success seems to bring the realization that I could set my sights on another goal. A big five publishing contract or a New York bestseller are probably never going to be within reach, there are plenty of other writing goals to strive for.


Baxter State Park: Hamlin Ridge Trail

When I found out I was pregnant, I was determined to accomplish some hiking goals this summer and stay active. In May, we did our yearly backpacking trip along the Long Trail (42 miles in 6 days at 20 weeks pregnant). Last weekend, we accomplished my other big hiking goal by summiting a 4000 footer (Hamlin Peak BSP 4755 feet, 10.3 miles in 9 hours, at 24 weeks pregnant).

For some reason, I was under the impression that Hamlin Ridge was one of the easier ways up Katahdin. Last year, we went up the now closed Abol trail and returned via the Hunt trail. Some of the more challenging routes up were crossed off the list. Little did I know that the Hunt Trail would prove to be more than enough challenge for me.

We left Roaring Brook at 7AM along with a great many hikers who planned to go up the more heavily traveled trails to summit Katahdin. To my amazement, a couple of young guys pulled out full-sized coolers. I couldn't imagine dragging one of those up to Chimney Pond or beyond. The bugs were present but not excessive.

In a little under 2 hours we made it to Chimney Pond and refilled our water Bladders. Even though it was nearly July, there was still snow on the mountain visible from the pond. We took a few pictures and were on our way after a snack.

The ranger was convinced we would be the only ones on the Hamlin Ridge trail. Sure enough, we didn't see another person until we reached the peak. After a short wooden section, the Hamlin Ridge trail turns rocky. The boulder hopping reminded me a lot of Hunt trail, only steeper. Half way up we had already decided that it would safer to find another way down.

The view of Katahdin was amazing. The ridge line offered us a panoramic view of the park and beyond. It wasn't until we'd thought we were almost at the top a half dozen times before the trail evened out. I was pretty excited to see the peak. It was a sunny and hot day for a hike. The bugs only got worse as we climbed. Apparently, they view bug repellant as extra flavoring. With boulder hopping requiring both hands, we had no choice but to let them feast. Our stops were short and infrequent since we were swarmed by scores of black flies.

I will never tire of the table lands. Similar to the other side of Katahdin, the table lands around Hamlin peak stretch out for a few miles toward Howe Peaks in one difrection and Baxter peak in the other. The environment is just so striking. Beyond the peak, we could see the North Basin as well as the brothers, Mount Coe and Double top. After we complete the big summits, I would love to hike the basin trails.

We opted for the Saddle trail for the return. Now we were on the easy trail, or so I thought. The black flies followed and were quite a distraction on the way down. The top 50 to 100 feet of the Saddle trail is a series of steep and narrow ledges just big enough of a foot or hand hold. I was surprised at how steep it was and counting my blessings that I wasn't too tired from the hike up.

I was pretty happy to reach Chimney Pond again. When I first hiked at Baxter, I thought the Chimney Pond trail was arduous with it's steep, rocky terrain. This time it felt like the old familiar trail. I knew what to expect and even though it would be another 3.3 miles before we returned to the car, I was glad to finally be somewhere that a slip wouldn't mean falling off a mountain.

Funny enough, we met two young men who were elated to be nearing Chimney Pond with their full-sized cooler and a sleeping bag in tow.

Although I felt pretty good on the hike with 4.5 liters of water consumed and frequent snack breaks, I was pretty drained by it. Recovery took a few days and reinforced that although I'm not incapacitated by my pregnancy, it does changes to my limits. No more 10 mile hikes for me in full sunshine on a hot day. But that doesn't mean I am ready to put away my trekking poles just yet.

Besides, I think Lil' Miss Bean enjoys hiking.



Short but sweet: flash fiction submissions

There is nothing like procrastination inspire productivity - in every area but where it should be directed. A couple of short story submission calls have caught my eye.

A Mother Knows (horror flash fiction) was submitted to and accepted in the Coming Back Anthology

Insatibale (erotica flash fistion) was submited to Necronomicum

Great Mother Wolf (wolf creation myth flash fiction) was submitted to the National WolfWatcher Anthology

That brings me to a total of 10 out of 12 submissions completed this year (my New Year's Eve resolution). I still have two short stories to complete and submitt. 

Editing on Wolf Creek and Safe Word continue.


Long Trail: Minerva to Gov. Clement

A sunny morning and a long ridge line were great ways to start the day. We caught a view of the Clarendon airport at the airport lookout, but the real site of the day was the Clarendon Gorge. The drop into the gorge was quickly followed by a steep trail up a ravine to the Clarendon lookout.

A tame chipmunk followed us for a while.

We also spotted a turtle.

Even though this wasn't our longest mileage day, it felt like it. When we came across a sign announcing Trail Magic, it got our attention right away.

Inside the stream were several cans of Mugs Root beer. A refreshing and sugary treat that gave us a little boost to keep going toward our destination of Gov. Clement shelter. Unfortunately on the last stretch we encountered a trail closure sign. A section hiker we had met at the Clarendon lookout, GPA, advised us to ignore the detour sign. 

The storm damage from Irene was still prevalent. Two bridges had been washed out and we were forced to make a boots off, barefoot crossing. Thankfully the stream wasn't too deep or it could have been dangerous. If you are headed that way, take the detour. It adds some mileage, but it's better than back tracking if you can't find a safe place to cross.

Finally we arrived at the Gov. Clement shelter where GPA had already set up camp. We only had half an hour before a thunderstorm complete with hail moved in. The next morning it was still overcast and drizzling. We did start up what we thought was the trail but backtracked after losing the blazes. The trail follows a snowmobile route for some time. A combination of weather and fatigue convinced us to turn around and postpone the climb up Killington for next year.