Author Archives: J Busskohl

Do It

It’s been a long few years.

Cancer in my father followed by a slow, agonizing death.

A move from Virginia back home to Nebraska.

Children growing up, moving out.

The birth of a grandchild.

Sadness. Joy. Overwhelm.

For a while there, I lost my mojo for writing.

I’m back now.

At least, I think I am.

I’ve completed two manuscripts, but they still sit there in my hard drive, partially edited. They’re like bits of not-quite-digested meat, still mulled over, still thought about.

I have no idea why I don’t publish them. I have no idea why they sit there, remembered and forgotten.

I’m 17,000 words into a new novel. It’s weight pushes out from all sides. I see it–alive and breathing and finished. And I wonder if it will be drowned in a burlap sack in the river like the others, or if I will let it live somewhere.

So with my random thoughts comes a question: What do I want from my writing?

Do I want to change the world? Do I want to be viewed as profound? Poignant? Do I want to entertain? Or, like most writers, am I just filled with ideas that torture me until I let them out.

I don’t have an answer.

I came across this today as I was sifting through the bookmarks on my computer.

http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/02/21/25-things-i-want-to-say-to-so-called-aspiring-writers/

It’s pretty damn good advice.

I have nothing poignant, intelligent, or advisory to offer to a reader on this day. I can only illustrate my own struggles. Perhaps that will be of help to someone. Perhaps not.

So I will let Mr. Chuck Wendig, author of the above linked blog post, say it for me.

Thanks, Chuck.

You don’t know who the hell I am, by the way.

Just another weird writer trying to Finish My Shit.

 

1 Comment

Filed under writing

Empty Nest

I’ve been married for 24 years and 8 months. We got married on February 15 in the middle of our senior year in college. I had an organic chemistry test on Friday, got married on Saturday, and studied all day Sunday for the analytical chemistry test I needed to take on Monday.

Our first son was born that June and I started school at the Nebraska Medical Center in August in the Physician Assistant Program. Two years later, my husband started his Masters Program at UNL in Geography.

Four years later our second child was born. Two years after that we had our third.

In a few weeks, we will become grandparents for the first time. (I cannot WAIT!)

The hamster wheel has been running at full speed for the last twenty-five years.  There have been times I’ve wondered what it will be like when things slow down. What if we don’t have anything to talk about? What if we fall out of love? I’ve seen it happen . . . more times than I care to recall.

Last year, our sons moved out and our daughter will graduate from high school in May and head off to college next fall.

With the kids around less, we’ll need to keep each other company, find our way back to being unencumbered adults.

Recently, as we found ourselves on the precipice, peering down into the abyss of the empty nest, we talked about our upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary. “I don’t want to do anything in February,” I said. “I hate February.” I had always dreamed of an October wedding. Pregnancy had a way of altering plans a bit.

“How about Halloween?” he asked.

But where to go? What to do?

stanleynightbest

Bam! Baby!

The Stanley in Estes Park. That’s where we decided to go. It’s within driving distance. It’s old. It’s creepy yet beautiful. And, come on, mountains!

And so we went.

stanleylandingleft

There is something to be said for being in a place with so much history. It’s easy to imagine ladies in fine dresses in the music room sipping their after dinner coffees while men played billiards in the room next door. The Stanley, all stories of hauntings and ghost sightings aside, has stood the test of time.

F.O. Stanley was married to his wife Flora for 62 years. They died within one year of each other and it is said their spirits still roam the grounds of the hotel, happy in their wandering, keeping watch over the staff and guests.  A little creepy? Perhaps. But also sort of sweet, in a weird and scary way.

I’ve never lived in a place I loved so much I would consider staying around to haunt it. Plus, that just seems like so much effort. Drain this battery if you want to manifest. Drain that battery if you want to provide an EVP for ghost hunters. Suck all the warmth from the room if you want to move something or turn off the flashlight cleverly positioned so ghost fingers can easily poke its button. That seems like a lot of work.

I didn’t see a ghost at the Stanley, but I did go on the ghost hunt. I loved hearing the stories about the specters believed to haunt the halls. I loved looking into the old rooms and hearing how life used to be. Mostly, though, I loved being with my husband.

I love that after so many years we can go somewhere together and it still feels new and fun and safe. I love that he is my best friend. I love that he makes me belly laugh every day and that he still holds my hand after all these years.  An empty nest is something that holds a bit of sadness, but also infinite possibilities and the promise of all that is ahead for my hubby and me.

–Jen Busskohl

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under writing

In Dark We Trust

My relationship with darkness is complicated. Sort of a love/hate thing. I can’t sleep with the light on, but when I wake up in the night and find myself enveloped in blackness, the little girl that still lives inside of me is terrified. She still sees shapes in the shadows . . . my robe is a man in a top hat looming behind the door; the ceiling fan is the grim reaper, arms stretched toward my bed.

Still . . .

My favorite movie is a scary one.

My favorite holiday is Halloween.

My favorite book is a horror novel.

I love the dark. I fear the dark.

Have you ever been to Hobby Lobby? I don’t know why, but in every single Hobby Lobby, the bathroom is shoved in the most isolated part of the store, behind the styrofoam wreath forms and plastic flowers. It’s a dark and lonely place. I find this odd, because a lot of the folks who shop at Hobby Lobby meander. You can’t tell me that a few of them wouldn’t have to cop a squat at some point in time.

It boggles the mind.

I tend to drink a lot of coffee and/or soda.

Which means I can’t spend two hours in Hobby Lobby without my bladder filling at least once.

So I make my way to the back of the store. Back there, the wind sifts through the fake ficus leaves, sending them to rustling. A tumble weed or two blows by. The canned music fades into the distance, sounding a bit like a carousel tune.

The bathroom doors need a paint job. They are covered with that weird, textured paint that likes to 1) chip enough to reveal the previously rejected booger color and 2) absorb and retain the grimy print from every hand that ever rested there.

I always check my shoes for toilet paper when I leave.

Inside, the lights are off.

They are the sort of lights that are motion sensitive. They won’t come on unless you step into the darkness. And not only do you have to step into the darkness, you have to let the door close behind you and take some steps forward in order to trigger the sensors.

In other words, you have to trust that the electricity in the completely isolated Hobby Lobby bathroom with the dirty paint on the door will work.

God, thy name is Hobby Lobby Light Switch. And in thee I have to trust, even if I don’t wanna.

lightbulb

Back in the store again, the music is louder, the colors brighter, and the Halloween decorations are in stock because, hey, it is September 8. In the flouresent gleam of the store, they beckon. I brought a skull and it them on my desk to watch me work.  It seems very amused.

skull

Writing is a scary business.

And mysterious.

Am I afraid of the thoughts will tumble from me onto the computer screen, or am I afraid I’ll produce nothing worth reading?

Could it be both?

Either way I’m going to keep checking my shoes for toilet paper.

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under writing

Mr. Hyde

You know him. I know you do. That evil, twisted voice in your head. He may not tell you to perform evil, twisted acts, but he tells you how awful you are, how you are wasting your time. No one will read this crap. No one will enjoy it. Pencils down, loser. Don’t quit your day job.

Mr._Edward_Hyde

He’s like a virus, taking over every neuron in the brain until you become a quaking puddle of self doubt.

I’d like to think I’m immune to him. For the most part I am, when I’m writing. It’s afterward, when I have to submit, or when I need a beta reader (stupid term, that), that I start to lose my marbles.

I took vacation last week. Where did you go? Somewhere exciting, I hope! Lots of sun! Lots of rest? You look exhausted.

Piss off. I stayed home and finished writing a novel. And then, at the suggestion of my brother, whom I love dearly, I asked another writer to read it. My brother and I went to high school with this writer. They are three years older than me. And even though I’m in my forties, this guy is still an upperclassman, and when I asked him to read it, I felt like a freshman all over again with Mr. Hyde screaming loud and clear in my ear.

 

geeky-woman-overlay_mvropl

I paced around after I sent the request. OmygodOmygodOmygod. What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE? Because really, it is like showing someone your boobs, if you really think about it. Please look at this most personal part of me and let me know how it looks to you. Actually, it’s even worse than showing someone my boobs. . . it’s more personal than being seen completely naked. It’s awful. I’m still recovering.

There’s no one who understands this better than another writer. So if you are not a writer and you are reading this, you probably don’t get it. If you are a writer and you are reading this, you will recognize the oddity that defines me, but you will also recognize, at least a little of, this fear and vulnerability in yourself too.

At any rate, he’s reading it. Of course he is. Because he’s not an upperclassman anymore. And I’m not a freshman.

My nephew was up visiting a few weeks ago. He is twenty-two now, and our talks have tipped over to the other side of the mountain. Life. Goals. Career. Dreams. Things like that.

“I have a book idea,” he said sheepishly. I recognized the I’m-showing-you-my-boobs-here-please-don’t-ridicule-me tone in his voice.

So I leaned forward slowly, like I was approaching a deer on the side of the road. I didn’t want to scare him away. For some reason, I was terribly afraid someone would walk in and ruin this moment . . . like what he was telling me was this flickering flame in a tiny pile of kindling he was trying to blow oxygen into. If someone, anyone, came into the room right then, it would be snuffed out.

We were in luck. The house was quiet. Everyone was outside, talking, laughing, running around. We had some moments to talk.

He shared his idea. A good one. A fantastic one. A brilliant one. The thoughts sparked off him and made his eyes glow.

Fire

And then he faltered. It was like a horror movie, when everything is going good and then the bad guy sticks his hand through the hero’s chest and tears him apart.

Hyde.

The bastard.

I recognized him in my nephew’s eyes. The flush of embarrassment in the cheeks. The downward cast of the eyes. The (dare I say it?) SHAME. His speech halted. He stammered, like he realized he’d said too much, was sitting there, naked and was waiting for me to laugh. Well, that’s horrible. Don’t quit your day job. I wish I could UNHEAR everything you just said.

I smiled. “I love it. I hope you write it. I would buy that book.”

I wished there was something profound I could say to him . . . something that would erase that uncertainty and niggling self doubt. I told him that the worst enemy of creativity was one’s self. And that to listen to the negative voice in one’s head was a bad idea. “Work through that,” I said. “Work in spite of it. Your idea is brilliant.”

We went about our day after that. A cookout. Family laughter. A movie late at night. And I wonder if anyone else knows he harbors this secret, this kernel of an idea, white hot in his mind.

Today I am sad as I think about that conversation. I don’t know if he will ever write his story. I don’t know if he will ever let himself write his story.

Hyde is everywhere.

That bastard.

 

6 Comments

Filed under fiction, life, musings, writing

Movement

On June 3 we began. In a minivan of all things. My brother’s minivan. I climbed in, smug, until I discovered I was relegated to the far back seat . . . the place for old women and little sisters. In this situation I’d like to think I was the little sister, but reality is, at forty-six years old, I was probably a little bit of both. The two men sat in front, of course, and the teens in the middle seats where they could plug in their “devices” and talk about how long the trip from Omaha to Wisconsin was.

This will be good, I thought, my chance to poke fun. My chance to laugh. My chance to point out that I’ve managed to raise three kids without ever owning a minivan. Ever. When our kids were little, we were Jeep Cherokee people. We’d cram three kids and two car seats in the back and commend ourselves for how progressive we were as parents.

jeep cherokee

Luggage? Inside the car? Hell no! It goes on top. When we need a diaper, by God, we will pull over for it.

But that isn’t really what I want to talk about.

We moved my mom from Wisconsin back to Nebraska. She had a lot of stuff. And I mean a LOT of stuff.

One woman.

One apartment.

One storage garage.

One 26-foot truck.

One trailer.

And it still didn’t all fit.

covered wagon

But I guess I don’t really want to talk about that either.

I can’t quit thinking about that minivan.

You know, when I climbed into that thing, and hiked to the far back seat, where I buckled up and stretched out . . . you read that right . . . I stretched out, all five-feet-two-inches of me. I dozed. I read. I watched Iowa blow by my window and marveled at all those wind generators they have going, wondering how many birds those things actually kill. Is it really as many as they say? And I studied my family.

My niece and my daughter sat in front of me, sharing music, laughing, moaning when I poked them with my feet (heh heh heh), and beyond them, in the distant front, my brother in law and my brother sat and talked and caught up with one another.

We don’t often spend time together in long chunks like this, and it was interesting to watch and listen and study them. I suppose some would call it wool gathering. If I asked the brilliant Anne Lamott of Bird by Bird fame, she would likely call it “feather gathering.” At least I hope she would, because I think she is cool.

bird by bird

And so I guess I gathered a lot of feathers . . . but not in the way you may think. Mostly, I think I got to see how my family interacts with each other. We were a hodge-podge mix of folks thrust together to help a woman who dearly loves her material possessions move them from one place to another. And as a writer, I gotta tell ya, it was fascinating to watch everyone’s responses. It was like if an entire parrot just popped all its feathers off right there in front of me . . . there were that damn many.

There is nothing of sentimental value in my mother’s possession. No childhood crayon drawings. No macaroni pictures. There are no old ornaments or family dishes or cherished linens.

My brother would carry a box to the truck and get his usual sideways smile. I can always tell when he’s going to say something sarcastic (which as it turns out is greater than fifty percent of the time) because of the smirk on his face. “These decorations bring back so many memories,” he would say. “I’m feeling very nostalgic right now.”

My mother, standing nearby in her Liz Claiborne, her hair perfect, her toes peeking out from her mules and painted just right would smile. “I appreciate everything you kids are doing. I really do. Can I get anyone a cold Coke?”

My brother in law would flare his nostrils a little bit and walk slightly on his tiptoes. He does that a lot, especially when he’s in a hurry. He kept quiet. The boxes to him were just that, boxes. To us, my brother and I, who were sort of sad our two sisters weren’t there to see the sheer lack of evidence of our existence in our mother’s possessions, the boxes were a betrayal.

What the hell, Mom? Where’s my high school wardrobe? Where’s the sleeper I wore when I was six months old? Where’s Flipper, my favorite stuffed dolphin? Was it too much to expect that you would carry these things around with you for eternity?

Evidently so.

I guess since we all moved out thirty plus years ago, life moved on for her, and the accumulation of what are now her possessions had become random stacks of boxes that hold little meaning to us.

Anger settled a bit, followed by resentment, followed by sadness. Where are those dang macaroni pictures we made forty years ago? Naturally, macaroni and construction paper just don’t hold up that well over time. And as for dishes? Who the hell wants to cook in a pea green or dark gold casserole dish for sixty years? The hipsters might find that cool and that is fine. But my mom can move on from this. I’m okay with that.

This, my friends, is life. As we loaded the damn truck, I resolved my feelings. One cannot expect a parent to continue to use the same salad tongs for seventy-five years. That’s in the Bible. I looked it up because I was pretty upset that there were no familiar salad tongs anywhere. Sometimes you need good ol’ Exodus to keep you on track. Thou shalt not use salad tongs nor dessert forks for more than thirty-seven moons. I’m not sure how long thirty-seven moons is, but even if a moon was a year, that still means my mom is due new salad tongs.

Where was I?

Right. Minivan. So this thing was comfortable. The middle captain’s seats the girls had were actual recliners. The kind your feet actually go up in. The only consolation I can give myself for this epic parenting fail on my part (i.e. never owning a vehicle like this) is that they simply didn’t exist when my children were young. They were boxy and boring and not at all sexy. But I will tell you this . . . when we did finally trade in our ten year old Jeep Cherokee exactly ten years ago, we all cried. Every single one of us.

Our cars now? Pretty nice, but no sentimental value. We’ve brought no babies home from the hospital in them. We’ve never been stuck in the snow with toddlers and complained that the four wheel drive wasn’t four wheel drivey enough. We’ve moved on.

Things are things. People are people. Feathers are feathers. Movement is movement.

Sigh.

Life goes on.

And now I’m thinking, at age forty-six, that I really missed the boat with the minivan thing. Dammit anyway.

5 Comments

Filed under life, memory, musings, Travel, writing

On A Sunday Morning by Jen Busskohl

Storms last night. Hot day today. It’s the kind of day where you can’t go outside for the heat . . . sitting indoors in comfy sweats with old movies streaming online is the best way to go. It’s lazy. No makeup. No phone. No worries. It’s nice. And it’s rare.

It’s like having a snow day in the middle of summer.

Strange but true.

I sit here, with my feet propped up in my recliner, laptop on my lap (where else?) and Peter Falk as Columbo reminding me that “crime does not pay.” So I’ll refrain from breaking the law today. Other than over-indulging on coffee and Diet Coke, I figure the world is safe. At least until the weather breaks.

As I sit here, composing this blog post (last minute of course because, hey, this IS me we are talking about here) I am having a hard time sitting still. And that is often the case, isn’t it? Especially with writers. We moan, we complain, we ruminate over having — NEEDING– enough time to write. And when it arrives, we find that the tiniest piece of dust on the very tippy top of the hutch in the corner of the dining room (three rooms away) should absolutely NOT be there. No way. Not on my watch. It must go.

And somewhere, there is a load of laundry that needs to be done.

So fifteen minutes after aerobic activity, after reminding myself that I need to stop tending to things that have already been tended to (twice already so let it go), and reminding myself that I need to sit down and invite the muse to come out and get busy, I am settled, fingers on keyboard, grumbling about my lack of time and why didn’t I finish the chapter I’m currently working on last week . . .

You can see how my mind works. And if you are a writer, I know you can relate.

Even when we are still, our minds are working, busy, like hamsters in wheels, conjuring ideas, making up characters, plotting death and revenge and love and success. Without moving or leaving the comfort of our homes.

There is the gleam in the eye . . . 90% frustration and 10% inspiration . . . the constant preoccupation that comes from living in our heads so much of the time. Always doing things on the inside, quiet on the outside. It’s the type of thing only a writer understands.

Even now, I am thinking of the next scene in my current project, wondering how I will torture my characters.

I know how it will go already.

I will get to the hard part, the part where I have to kill a dog or a person or write about an injury–something graphic–and I’ll shut my laptop and jump up. I’ll pace for a time, fretting, wringing my hands, wondering if writing something like that means I need therapy. Then I’ll calm down, come back to it, and finish what I started — after I dust and sweep and put another load of laundry in, of course.  Somewhere along the line I’ll ponder the benefits of switching to decaf. And then I’ll talk myself out of it. My husband will ask what I’m mumbling about and why my socks don’t match . . . and why my eye is twitching.

I’ll smile my secret smile and say how much I love Sundays, especially ones where it’s too hot to work in the yard.

And so to my fellow writers, wherever you may be on this Sunday morning . . . I say GET BUSY. Hot and lazy days like this don’t come around too often. Put the coffee on, put your feet up, and get cracking. Chop chop. Time’s a-wasting.

1 Comment

Filed under writing

The Writer’s Journal by J. Busskohl

journalI go through phases where my creativity is like a full bottle of Diet Coke with a Mentos dropped inside; ideas are literally spewing from me. Then I go through phases where there is nothing but creative silence; my mind feels empty and dark and still. There’s no rhyme or reason to either of these times, at least none that I can tell, none that I’ve noticed, none that I can put my finger on. I’ve tried to pay attention during the quiet times. Why is nothing coming to me now? Why is my mind a blank? Why is no little voice whispering crazy thoughts to my muse, who in turn shouts them at me? Generally nothing comes to me during these times. I am, quite literally, a void. Still, for the longest time, I would carry my journal. Waiting. Keeping it handy just in case.

Until I didn’t keep it handy any more.

A few years ago, I put it in a drawer and let it sit there. I’ve always loved my journal. The paper in it is thick –  the kind of parchment that a regular ballpoint pen has a hard time floating across. If you ever met my journal, you’d be impressed. It looks very self important. It’s well built, rugged, a little lined in places, but still really good looking. It has the ability to look happy and content or dark and brooding. Don’t make it mad. Don’t ask my why, just trust me.

Yet, even with all these amazing attributes, it stayed hidden during what I like to call the “dry years.” To borrow a terribly cliche college break up phrase, we still loved each other, but we weren’t “in love.” Back then, if I had an idea I typed it into my phone where it could stare back at me in unfeeling Times New Roman font – black and white and ever so uninspiring. Of course I wasn’t writing much of anything, so even the chaste thoughts I threw into my phone showed all the blandness of a text to my mother.

Buy toilet paper.

Do moths get headaches?

Is string theory really real, or just a conspiracy thought up by physicists? Can they be trusted?

Book idea: What if a woman who forgets to shave her legs gets in an accident and meets the love of her life in the ambulance? She’s worried about her legs and the driver is trying to save her life. Could be a Harlequin best seller!

As you can see, especially by that last bit, I was at a low point. I console myself by believing we all have those dry times, thanks to the “excuse” of being uninspired. And no matter how valid that excuse may be, or what may be going on in my life to make it so, over the last couple of years I’ve come to discover that it really is just an excuse and that it doesn’t serve much purpose other than keeping my journal and, in turn, my laptop empty.

So a few months ago, I took a step.

I started carrying my journal with me – everywhere.  I took it to work, letting it sit beside me on my desk as I examined patients, ordered meds, read lab results. It rode with me in my car. It sat beside me when I watched TV. It became the last thing I set on my nightstand when I turned off my light at night. If I had a thought, no matter how small it felt, how uninspiring, I wrote it down.

After a few days, something amazing happened. My journal began to talk back. It rewarded my attention with attention of its own. I’ve got something to say, so listen up.

And so I would open the book, stare at those thick pages, and I would write . . . until my hand ached with the burden and I decided that maybe, just maybe, inspiration was something too painful to pursue. It’s not the journal’s fault, I told myself. It’s just got really thick pages. And the pages in the refills are thick too. And expensive. What good is having a journal if it is useless? It’s not holding up its end of the relationship. I’m putting in all this effort and getting nothing in return. Maybe I should move on, see other journals. Maybe I should completely end the relationship with my beautiful leather bound journal which was a gift from my husband and that I love a whole lot so that I don’t have hand pain and can write faster when I’m having these floods of thoughts that are once again like Mentos in Diet Coke and that I’m so thankful for and that look so meaningful when they are written in ink and by my hand and I feel so connected to them.

Sigh. I know. I have issues.

Relationships, especially long term ones, are difficult. It’s a refillable journal after all. And I love it. And despite the considerations I’ve eluded to above, I’ve been faithful to it. If I didn’t take it to bed with me and write in it, I give you my solemn word I wasn’t taking any other journals to bed and writing in them either. Not that I didn’t look. Or consider experimentation. I’m only a human writer after all. And I have needs.

It became abundantly clear we needed outside help. Our relationship was hanging in the balance and I found myself standing at the precipice of creative infidelity. Oh sure, you say, that would probably stoke those creative fires. New pages, crisp and white, previously untouched, just imagine the possibilities. But I’m a realist . . . and a monogamous one. I found the thought of a new journal to be something akin to a wet blanket. Creativity borne of guilt is just diary writing. And who wants that? (Hello? I was considering writing for Harlequin, and that was just from typing ideas into my phone. I love a good romance as much as the next girl, but come on . . .)

I had tried to make it work, but carpal tunnel was destroying me. Could the relationship be saved?

***I’m just going to take a time out here, because I know you are sitting there, one eyebrow arched beatifically into your hairline, your lips pursed and twisted just a little. Who is this crazy woman, you ask yourself . . . what is this unhealthy attachment she has to her journal? What a weirdo!

Give me a break. If you are a writer, look around you. Somewhere, in your house, at your office, in the linty bowels of your bag or purse or whatever the hell you carry around, SOMEWHERE, there is something you depend upon to inspire you. Maybe it’s a coffee cup, maybe a chair, maybe an episode of Columbo or Perryt Mason that you run in the background. Maybe it’s a pair of socks or that pair of unwashed underwear you don’t want anyone to know about, you sick bastard. But there’s something, something that you need, that gets you by . . . something that trading in for something different isn’t possible.

So climb off my back and let me finish my story.

Where was I?

At last, after careful consideration, I bought a fountain pen.

Don’t get excited. It’s not a Mont Blanc or anything overly extravagant. It’s just a pen. But it’s mine and it’s refillable. It’s got those cartridges that snap into place after they are punctured by this little thingy close to the nib. Plus, the cartridges come in this box that looks like something from a 1950’s Ben Franklin store.

Yeah. It’s cool.

It digs into parchment with purpose, caressing those erogenous zones in my journal until our muse moans with pleasure. I write unencumbered and uninhibited, like I was meant to. It’s as freeing as a breath mint commercial, or that one shampoo commercial (I know you know what I mean.)

From now on and foreveremore, when you read these virtual words, flung up on this white background, you can smile that secret smile you have, because you realize they were first scrawled feverishly, lovingly, in my journal (thanks to the healthy ménage a trois we share with my new pen).

Now, if you will excuse us, we’d like to be alone. Please close the door on your way out.

1 Comment

Filed under writing

Reading for Pleasure

As a writer, one of the things it’s easy to do (at least for me) is to get caught up in reading everything I can in whatever genre I’m writing in. Working on crime? Read crime novels. Writing horror? Read horror. Fortunately, these are genres I happen to like anyway, so it’s not such a big deal, but I also really, really, REALLY like literary fiction. I like the character development that happens in a quiet novel. I like the subtleties of dialog and the lyricism of the prose. The problem is this: I tend to be heavily influenced by what I’m reading. If I read Stephen King, I sound like him. If I read Jane Austen, I sound like her, with lots of henceforths, and wherewithalls. I can’t blame readers for wondering, “who the hell does she think she is?” because I wonder it myself. I’m like a kid going to the south for the first time. I hear that soft southern accent and in no time, I sound just like a Georgia belle.

Take Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. An excellent novel. Sort of supernatural, sort of mysterious, sort of romantic. Definitely literary. Not my usual schtick. But damn, it’s good. It’s basically about a guy who wrecks his car and meets a woman he may have met in previous lives. Of course, it’s about a lot more than that, about self acceptance, love, devotion, being true to yourself, etc. But what I LOVE about it is the prose. Just how damn well it’s written.

Atonement by Ian McEwan is another one. I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t really feel the need, to be honest. The book is beautiful. Hard to read due to the content and the conflict, but beautiful.

I was reading this while I was working on a horror piece of sorts. At my writer’s group awhile back, I read the latest death scene. A man is accidentally shot. He falls to the ground. Rain has started falling, landing in the dirt and sending up little puffs of dust. The blood mixes with the rain and dust, eddying in swirling rivulets down a small incline. The man falls dead. It was very lyrical and dramatic and, for lack of a better work, hilarious. It got a few chuckles. “Wow, Jen, that’s really, poetic. There’s blood dripping in the dirt and somehow it’s beautiful, but not in a good way.”

Yeah, well, whatever, dammit.

So here’s the thing . . . I still want to read for pleasure. Right now I’m reading House of Leaves . . . and God help us all as I continue to write — who knows what will spill from my fingertips onto my keyboard. But I’m reading it. It’s a schizophrenic, basket case of brilliance and it is really, really heavy — as in it weighs a lot size-wise– so I only read a few pages at a time and you lose something in e-format with a book like this– if you don’t believe me, read it.

Read

It

Page

By

Page

OMG! See? I’m doing it now. I’m flaking out. I’m House of Leaving all over you. If only this were in typewriter font – – Pica 10 spaces – – then you’d see.

You’d

See.

And with that, I will House of Leave you. Because there’s really nothing more I can say. I gotta see a man about a book.

Until next time, I will continue to read for pleasure. I will continue to battle my mimicry. The ideas are my own even if I sound like the Monkeys did when they first came along like a side-step rendition of The Beatles . . . hey, I like the Monkeys, so back off if you find my statement offensive.

I gotta go.

Reading

To

Do

1 Comment

Filed under writing

The Agony of an Outline

When I first started writing full time, I just sat down and got to it. I suppose I fancied myself a free spirit, a gal not inclined to sit and map out a story. Stories, after all, were organic–something that spewed from the writer in a great heaving gush of creative energy. Sort of like sitting with your head in the toilet after eating bad clams. Repulsive I know, but there you are. It wasn’t pretty, but it was what I believed. I also believed that the more I wrote, the more I would be inspired.(Which incidentally, I still believe)

And then I met Eric Beetner (virtually of course, because as you all know, we’ve never met in person) and because of the nature of the work we planned to undertake, we had no choice but to outline our novel.

Now here’s something you should know about me. I hate to be bored. I am a fly by the seat of my pants, let’s see what happens next, sort of gal. Jump in with both feet.

I didn’t “do” outlines.

Well, I made an exception for Eric because I felt he was talented and if it was the only way we’d be able to write something together, then I’d outline. I’d bend my rules and bite the bullet and sit still for awhile and work out the story before sitting down to write it. It was torture for a while. I was like watching my mom mix up cookie dough and knowing she wouldn’t let me taste it. No cookies until they come out of the oven.

ARRRGGGHHHH!!!

Maddening. It was maddening, I tell you.

I wanted to write, not discuss what we were going to write about. Blech. Icky. Yuck.

But I persevered. I cut down on my caffeine intake and took up medication . . . er . . . I mean meditation, and I got through it.

And then came the writing. Wow. Was it ever easy. And I mean easy. Everything fell into place. When the plot veered, we went back to the outline and re-worked it, tweaking it until the new path was clear.

We did the same thing with the second novel.

I’m — what am I? — I guess “perplexed” is the best word. I’m perplexed to admit that I’ve taken up outlining in all my work now. I’ve just reached a point in my current novel where I’ve had to return to the outline. I look at it now like using a road map-(-something else I HATE doing, by the way)–I hit a detour, go back to the map and come up with a better route. Sometimes I even change my destination. (Don’t you wish they made GPS for writers? It would make my life so much easier. I’d press a button and the little box would say “recalculating. recalculating. recalculating. and then spit out the new path for me.)

I’ve been having some computer problems lately . . . my laptop decides to shut down for no reason or it just freezes. (My husband insists its because when I bought it a year ago I didn’t take the time to do research and just bought one with a big screen that runs too hot and therefore has a shorter life. Well DUH. Me? Research a computer? Ewww.)

But I digress.

One thing I do with diligence is back up my work. Because I’m sure you’ve all figured out by now that I’m waaaay too impatient to try to re-do something.

But with the new computer issues that have arisen, I’ve taken to backing up in two places, Dropbox and an external hard drive.

As I was going through my files this past week, I came across a bunch of notes from my first novel. Imagine my surprise when I discovered, in very primitive form, an outline. I was already doing it even back then. It might amount to nothing more than a note to myself at the top of a chapter. Something along the lines of– “Baker needs to shoot Barone in the kneecap and then kiss Deirdre. Don’t forget her red hat”–was not uncommon to find above the first paragraph, written in bold so I knew it was a note to pay attention to.

I’m happy to say that my outlining has evolved as my experience with being a writer has increased.

I don’t know if I’m a better writer for it or not. But I do know that the writing comes more easily because I’ve got a guide.

Do you outline? Do you hate it? Do you love it? Do you revise?

I’d love to hear about it.

 

–JB KOHL

1 Comment

Filed under musings, writing

Here It Comes

So . . . this week I’ll get the proof for the latest book written by Eric Beetner and myself.  Borrowed Trouble is the sequel to One Too Many Blows To The Head.

As we were nearing completion on the half dozen read-through’s and edits, making those last minute changes that drive all writers crazy, I started to wonder if the elation of releasing a book into the world would ever hit me this time around. With my first and second published works, I was giddy with excitement. I’d never before experienced the feeling I got when I held a book in my hands that I had written.

But this time was tough. At the eleventh hour I needed to do an emergency re-write of one of my chapters. Would we get everything done on time? Could we count on getting our proofs in time for an early release? Suddenly writing seemed like a real job, complete with deadlines and responsibility and uncertainty. Was this what I signed up for?

But then I saw the trailer that Eric made and that bubble of thrill popped up in the back of my throat and a grin crept across my face. And it was a HUGE grin . . . the kind a kid gets on Christmas morning, the kind that spreads from ear to ear, the kind you get after you get the first kiss from the guy you know you’re gonna marry. It was that kind of grin.

(See the trailer here: http://vimeo.com/18075974)

I realized what a great book we’d written. It’s a book I’m proud of and one that I’ll be proud of for a long time. And I’d like to think that the sweating we did over every sentence, every chapter, was because we’re becoming better at our craft. We’re understanding what it means to take the work seriously and to constantly try to better our skills.

Borrowed Trouble

Now, with the promise of a bound book to hold in my hands this week, the elation has returned, along with a larger dose of the pride that comes from putting so much effort into something I feel to be important.

So to you, dear reader, I say this: Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for the read of your life. Borrowed Trouble is on the way.

-JB Kohl

 

 

10 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, writing