Autumn—With a Dash of Chill

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Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

Late autumn is here in earnest this week, with some chilly temps and soggy days. It’s been a week for sipping tea and curling up under a blanket with a good book.

I’m finally getting around to responding to blog comments, and I apologize for the delay. Having two new part-time jobs has sent my schedule all topsy-turvy, and I’m still finding my groove and getting into a new routine.

It’s also been a year of introspection, as I really have delved deep into what I want out of this one wild, precious life. I want to be a storyteller more than anything, but I also want to travel, to have adventures, and to help people. So, I’m processing all of that as well as slowly progressing on my stories.

That brings me to the big progress for this week. Here’s where I’m at with my fourth-quarter goals.

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-BoundI’m officially finished with the first draft. I wrote the ending lines a few weeks ago, but there were a number of changes to make before I sent it off to my critique partner. And it’s sent!
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss, once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader. On hold until December.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month. Went to a local craft fair Friday afternoon.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week. 
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own. I found some flooring online for the living/dining rooms, and we’re hoping to go look at it in person on Sunday.
  6. Bonus Goal: Baba Yaga novelette. Now that Oak-Bound is finished, I’m off to work on this story. I’d like to finish a draft before Nov. 20, when I meet with my CP, so I can work on the second draft of Oak-Bound while my novelette, tentatively titled Ancient Charm, rests for a while. Current: 2K/12K.

It’s hard to believe, but soon it will be Thanksgiving, with the winter holidays following fast on its heels. I’m enjoying the last stubborn traces of autumn leaves before winter sweeps them away, while embracing the coziness of the colder seasons.

What about you? What have you been up to lately, writing, reading, or otherwise? I’ve missed the online community, and I’m glad to be back with all of you!

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Autumn Whirlwind

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Photo by Bellemedia, Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Wow. My life has been a whirlwind these past few weeks. Some of it amazing. I started teaching English as a Second Language, which is promising to be a life-changing journey for me. Some of it not so amazing—like a beloved family member being diagnosed with a serious illness.

So, in the midst of all of the craziness, I’ve been plugging away at my novella Oak-Bound and trying to get it done by the end of this month. I’m close, guys. It will probably be 25-27K, and I’m right around the 22K mark as I type this. I hope to get another 1K or 2K words in before I go to bed tonight.

So. Close. This is a story half a decade in the making. I remember sitting at my friend Amelia’s kitchen table and going over critiques of the first first chapter of this story. And then I set it aside. I wasn’t ready to write it then, but Nick and Cassie kept whispering in my ear, and I knew I couldn’t give up on them.

Five years later, a first draft is close to being completed. And yes, there will be a happy dance when it is done.

So, where does this leave my progress on my goals for this quarter? Well…

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-Bound. On track, and I hope to finish this in the next few days. Fingers crossed!
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss,once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader. On hold until I finish Oak-Bound.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month. Going to see author Sharyn McCrumb at the local library on Sunday, and hubby and I bought tickets for a hayride next weekend.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week. Nada.
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own. Ordered new chairs for the living room and library, and I’ve piled up a large quantity of items to take to the thrift store. I’ve also hung some photographs in our hallway and in my library.
  6. Bonus Goal: I just found an upcoming call for submissions for an anthology based around the mythology of Baba Yaga, this fascinating figure from Russian folklore. I’d like to write a draft of a Baba Yaga novelette—somewhere in the 10-12K range, so I’m adding this goal.

I am hoping the rest of autumn will be calmer, as I settle into a teaching routine, dig deep into my stories, break out the cozy sweaters, and move closer toward submitting some of my stories for publication. I currently have one short story out on submission and will hear back sometime next month.

What about you? How is your autumn progressing? And please, because I love this season, what is your favorite thing about autumn?

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Round 4: Intentions

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Triberg waterfall, in the Black Forest region of Germany. Photo by my husband, Ryan Spoon, August 2017.

Since my return from my trip to Germany in August, I’ve entered a period of quiet introspection. What direction do I want to go in my life? Am I on an authentic path that will allow me to drink from the wellspring of creativity? How do I define success, and how have I internalized society’s definition of success?

My head spinning with such questions, the universe brought Tami Lynn Kent’s book Wild Creative into my life. I didn’t devour the book. I read it intently, studying some passages over and over and taking my time with the prescribed exercises. A few of my favorite quotes from Wild Creative:

“Most of our current work and life structures have been devised to emphasize production and how much we can accomplish rather than the nurturing of the soul. This routinely takes us away from our natural inclinations and the flow of our energy field.”

“Taking ownership of one’s creative life force is a conscious act to change the focus from exclusively monetary values to modes that value life.”

“Though we may tend to take note of visibly productive years where we have ‘something to show’ for our work, the less visible years are equally important and essential to the overall creative journey.”

Too often as writers, we’re obsessed with word counts. There’s the #1k1hr hashtag. There’s NaNoWriMo, in which we’re given the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. There’s the infamous 1-millionth word we pen. And there are countless prescriptions out there for how many words we should write in a day.

Naturally, wanting to “succeed,” I followed such models, only to find myself burnt out. The wellspring of creativity was dry. I would write in short bursts when inspiration struck, or force myself through a revision, only to grow burnt out and exhausted once more.

So 2017 will not shape up to be a year of epic word counts. Instead, I believe, it is a year of introspection, of peering deep inside myself and trying to ascertain the life I truly want.

That life is authentic. It is imperfect. It is one of individually defined success. It is sometimes messy, often beautiful, filled with countless moments of joy. Watching Leo chew on sticks in the yard while I sip my coffee and read a book. Enjoying the color of the rose bushes as they bloom. Cooking a simple meal. Making my own home products—so far this year, I’ve discovered recipes for laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and lavender goat’s milk soap. Owning less and living more. Travel as a form of discovering self and connecting with the world around me. And, of course, creating art, stories that, if I do my job, will enchant and inspire.

My latest work in progress, Oak-Bound, is one that came to me five years ago. I wasn’t ready to write it then, and it came out flat and forced. I tried again a year ago. Same result. Back in July, I stopped and I listened. Like a tree, I stretched my roots deep into the loamy soil of inspiration, and I soaked up what I found.

I am finally ready to give form to this story, a novella-length work about loss, grief, trauma, and healing, and the human relation with the divine and nature. I want to tell stories that spring from my heart, stories that are vibrant and authentic, and Cassie and Nick’s story feels like one of those stories. I very much hope to share it with you one day.

Thus, I have no “goals” for the last quarter of 2017. Instead, I share with you my intentions for the rest of the year:

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-Bound.
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss, once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week.
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own.

As the Wheel turns toward Samhain and the seasons cycle toward winter, I will continue to dig deep, to listen closely, to spend time in nature, and to move toward authenticity.

What about you? What are your intentions for the rest of 2017? Have you read Wild Creative? Do any of the quotes above resonate with you?

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The Turning of the Wheel of the Year

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“A study in Scarlet 1” by boogy_man at stock.xchng

I felt the shift last week. The air, a little cooler. The leaves, with their hints of gold and red. Autumn was on its way. This week has been filled with cool mornings and autumn rain. We ate chili and snuggled up under blankets. As I walk Leo, I notice the marked shift in the leaves.

As the air grows colder, as the seasons cycle toward autumn and impending winter, I find myself turning inward. I’m reading Tami Lynn Kent’s amazing book Wild Creative, and it reinforces a reawakening that had already begun inside me. I had internalized societal pressure to “get a real job,” “make some money,” “be successful” (whatever that means).

I turned inward and realized that those pressures, reinforced by others in direct and sometimes subtle, indirect ways, were taking a toll. I was carrying them around like a load of bricks on my back. I let them fall.

I am still trying to figure out what all this means, where it will all land. Deadlines are a part of the writer’s existence, and I must manage those while living with chronic medical conditions that sometimes seem to drain the energy from my body, leaving me tired to the core and struggling to get through the day.

And I’m still processing the lessons from my trip to Germany, which taught me I’m most alive when I’m close to animals and nature. I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate those lessons into my life as my husband and I contemplate an escape from life in town and into the country.

As for my writing goals, I have finally started writing again after the block that followed my return from Germany. I wrote a poem, “Call me Raven,” that’s got this very Romantic/outcast vibe to it, and just got comments back from a friend and fellow writer. And I wrote 658 words in my novella Oak-Bound last week and 357 words last night.

 

Ideally, I’d like to finish a draft of Oak-Bound by Samhain (or, as Muggles refer to it, Halloween)–when the Wheel of the Year begins a new cycle. And then I can turn toward Spellfire’s Kiss, which is very much a story about autumn, colder days, and even colder nights.

I’ll share more about my journey through Kent’s Wild Creative in my next post.

In the meantime, does it feel like autumn where you are? How do you embrace the slide into the colder half of the seasons?

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The Gravel Road: Abandoning Societal Definitions of Success for the Self-Determined Path

Country Dirt Road

Photo by Scamp, Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Lately I’ve been struggling with the notion of success—what it means, how we define it, how we unconsciously internalize cultural definitions of success and make them our own. And, ultimately, what it truly means to lead a successful, meaningful, purposeful life.

This year, I’ve struggled with my writing. I’m approaching four years of writing full time, and while I’ve had some successes—won two contests, had a request for a full manuscript, indie published two short stories, written a lot—I haven’t had a “big” win. I’ve started to wonder what I’m doing with my time, if my writing will ever have an impact, make a difference. I’ve started to wonder if writing is enough. And all that pondering has squashed my creativity, left me spinning my wheels, stuck in a ditch on the side of the gravel road that is my journey.

I tried to make it an interstate. But it’s not. My journey to “success,” whatever that might be, is a curving mountain road that snakes its way through forests, traveling alongside wending rivers and babbling streams. I will spot deer and ravens, wild turkeys and countless squirrels, maybe even a bear or a coyote. It is not a journey one takes in a sports car, zooming down the interstate. It’s a journey for a battered hatchback. A journey of thought. A labor of love.

Acknowledging that I had, in fact, internalized a societal definition of success helped me realize that what I want most is an adventure. I’m reminded of the precious, lovely, moving words of Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day”:

“I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

Ah. There it is. What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?

And then the answers poured forth. My trip to Germany in August offered clues, if only I bent my head and listened. I stood in the spray of a waterfall in Triberg and hiked to the ruins of an old castle, but the moment that brought me most joy was when, at the farm where I was staying, one of the goats escaped her pasture. My husband and father were unsuccessful in trying to corral her, so I went to help. She walked up to me and leaned against me, and I gently took her horns and guided her home. It was simple. It was beautiful. It took me back to my childhood, the place that inspired me to become a writer, walking the woods of home and dreaming up stories, all the while surrounded by creatures, both wild and domestic.

I can’t say I have all of the answers. But I have made my peace with the fact that my definition of success is not the same one that society has laid out so neatly for me, like a parent setting out a child’s clothes for school.

I will follow my stories wherever they take me. I will listen closely, as only our most creative selves can, and I will create. Maybe it won’t always be in words. Maybe I’ll learn to paint. Last week I made lavender goat’s milk soap, and the simple creative act filled me with wonderful energy. There are so many paths to explore. I won’t always drive my battered hatchback down the gravel road. Sometimes I’ll see a winding mountain path that leads over an arching footbridge and into the mossy hills. Sometimes I’ll park the car. Sometimes I’ll walk over the bridge. It’s not always about forging ahead. It’s about seeing the beauty along the way.

Blessed be.

Now tell me, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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Very Simple Round Three Goals

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It’s hard to believe that my last post was in early June. This summer has turned out to be a hectic one, and I’ve struggled to fit both writing and blogging into that. And I must admit that with everything I have planned for the next few weeks, my blogging will be sporadic at best until late August/early September.

Nonetheless, I wanted to post my goals for the rest of this round. According to the ROW80 website, there are 53 days to go in this round.

My goals are simple. First and foremost, I want to finish a first draft of my novella Oak-Bound. This story started as a tiny seedling of an idea probably five years or so ago. It’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. I feel strongly connected to the lead characters, Cassie and Nick. It’s new-adult paranormal romance, and finally, after all these years, I feel ready to get Cassie and Nick’s story out of my head and onto the page. My goal for Oak-Bound is to write 3,500 words/week. I wrote 3,867 words last week on this project.

My other goals are to continue with my goal to read 30 books this year and to start some sort of workout regimen.

That’s it. Like I said, simple. I also want to check in regularly with fellow ROWers, but I’ll have a lot on my plate, especially in the next few weeks, so if you don’t hear from me, I’m not ignoring you, just a little overwhelmed.

What about you? What project are you currently working on? What’s on your summer reading list?

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Simple Summer Pleasures

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Photo by Orientaly | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Summer is in full swing here in Virginia’s New River Valley. As I type, birds are singing in the twilight. The grass beneath my feet is soft and lush; the trees are bright green and filled with scampering squirrels and countless types of birds. Leo and I have been enjoying long walks in the park and on the nature trails we’re lucky enough to have right outside our back door. I’m growing herbs and squash in containers on our front porch, and the lemon balm, oregano, and basil are already taking off. Tonight I cooked stir-fry and added some of the sweet basil into the mix.

We live in a go-go-go society. Too often we miss the birdsong and squirrels because we’re focused on other things. Too often we forget to drink in the forest’s tranquility because we’re distracted by modern life. Too often we don’t savor the taste of fresh basil because something else is calling our attention away.

True contentment, I believe, is slowing down enough to enjoy these things. True contentment means embracing moments of stillness and the small moments of joy that are all around us—if only we’re paying attention.

So what did I do this week, aside from some container gardening and long walks? I wrote 3,612 words in Fates Entangled. I did a lot of refreshing of my social media presence. I’ve been more active on Facebook, tried a new Twitter chat, updated my cover images for Facebook and Twitter, and started planning some changes to this website for the launch of Spellfire’s Kiss, hopefully this autumn. I continued reading Courting Darkness by Yasmine Galenorn.

On the home front, hubby and I are talking more and more about saving up to buy or build a house in the country. He really wants to live in a yurt, so we’re researching that option. No definite plans yet—this is all just dreaming out loud. But it’s something that might be out there on the horizon. And long summer days and warm summer nights are the perfect time for such dreams.

What about you? What are your favorite summer pleasures?

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Embracing the Life of a Kitchen Witch

Recipe Book

This week has been all about going deeper into my spiritual life. I meditated, worked on my book of shadows, started a book of magical recipes, and spent time in nature, breathing in the scent of loamy soil, fresh-cut grass, and pine. For a long time I’ve walked an eclectic path as a Witch/Pagan, but this week I felt called to explore a more specific path—that of a Kitchen Witch. It works well with my belief that all aspects of our lives are magical—even the seemingly mundane tasks of chopping vegetables and scrubbing the counters are imbued with magic. I’m just beginning to tread the path of a Kitchen Witch. We will see what I find as I explore the magic of hearth and home.

As far as writing, this week I wrote 2,460 words in Bewitched by the Dragon. I’m still feeling this story out, so I might switch over to Fates Entangled for a few days. I think the former wants to be a trilogy, and I’m trying to listen and see what that story needs from me.

I’m currently reading two books, Courting Darkness, the tenth book in Yasmine Galenorn’s Otherworld series, and The Goddess is in the Details, a work of spiritual nonfiction by Deborah Blake.

Although my word count for the week wasn’t anything too grand, it was still a very creative week. I’ve embraced the path of a Kitchen Witch. I added three pages to my book of shadows and started another scrapbook, a collection of magical recipes. So, special recipes for the Sabbats and Esbats, etc., will go in that book. That way I don’t touch my regular book of shadows with greasy hands. This one (see photo above) is designed to be in the kitchen where the action is.

Mostly this week was about embracing the changing nature of life. I’m adjusting (slowly) to life without my cat Roo. I still have Tigger and Zander and my very crazy puppy, Leo, to keep me company, but Roo was my writing companion, and I miss her—which probably explains why sitting down to write was so hard this week. And I’m embracing changes on my spiritual path, and hubby and I are talking about how our life might change next year when he’s out of graduate school. Where we’ll live, etc. Will we stay in this area but move to a house in the country, some place with a fenced-in yard for Leo? Will we uproot our lives and explore a new region of the country? That’s life, full of change and possibility. Forward we go.

What about you? What changes have you encountered recently, and how have you dealt with them?

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Goodbye, Roo.

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Sweet Roo.

A lot has happened since my last check-in. On Sunday we said goodbye to our cat Roo, who’d been with us 15 years. We watched her grow from a feisty kitten who was always getting into one misadventure after another to a feisty old lady who kept the entire house in line. Goodbye, sweet Roo. We miss you.

On the writing/reading front I’ve been fairly productive. I read Amber Benson’s The Witches of Echo Park and loooved it. I immediately ordered the next two books in the series. It’s all about sisterhood and magic and was the perfect fit for this reader.

On the writing front, I penned a new short story, Intersection, and continued working on my novella Bewitched by the Dragon. This week I’ve written 1,457 words in Bewitched by the Dragon. I just got back a beta read on Intersection and hope to get that one revised soon.

I’ve reached a crossroads with my short stories. I had begun the process of submitting them to magazines, but then a Twitter chat (thanks, #StoryDam!) got me thinking that Patreon might be a better avenue for publishing my shorter fiction. Basically, patrons (in my case, readers), would pay a set amount per creation or per month. I’m genuinely thinking about giving it a go. Something to think about as I put the finishing touches on a few more of the shorter works I so love to write.

That’s it for this check-in. We’re trying to adjust to life without Roo, and I’m finding distraction in storytelling, both my own and others, immersing myself in worlds of magic and wonder.

What about you? Have you heard of Patreon or used it, either as a creator or a patron? Thoughts on this new model?

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Changing Directions

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Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

This week turned out to be a wonderfully productive week. I wrote 4,429 words in a new story, Bewitched by the Dragon, and wrote a 4,678-word short story, Upon the Witching Hour, a retelling of Cinderella (but with a twist). I also wrote and posted my first Insecure Writers Support Group post, and am finding IWSG to be a supportive community.

I paused a couple chapters into Bewitched by the Dragon, though, because something felt off. I felt like I was going in the wrong direction, and sometimes a couple days of distance and careful thought shows me where I went wrong, and I actually end up further ahead than I would’ve if I’d just charged through. It’s a big lesson I’ve learned on this path.

I realized that the problem was that the story itself is intended to be novella length, and for that to work the hero and heroine need to meet up in chapter one. As it was written, it took them several chapters to even meet—that’s several chapters where there’s no sexual tension, no romance developing. Plot-wise, that just doesn’t work.

Tonight the answer came to me. They need to meet up by the end of chapter one, and I figured out how to do that. There are still a ton of unanswered questions swirling around this story, involving character arcs and backstory and a host of other normal, first-draft issues. And I’m still torn between first and third person POV, as I mentioned in a previous post. But now that I’ve solved this first riddle, I can work on solving the others. Back to the page!

The next couple weeks I have two manuscript critiques to do, so those will be my main focus. I’d like to at least get the first three chapters of Bewitched by the Dragon rewritten, though. Later this month I can move forward with that. I still have to get to the next draft of Fates Entangled as well, but that probably won’t happen until June at the earliest.

What about you? Do you ever need to take a day or two away from a project for some brainstorming?

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