Poetry and Pole-dancing

Let’s just get this out of the way: I won a poetry contest – with prizes! being sent to me! yay! –  this week. The spring poetry contest, to be specific, over on Absolute Write, the best place on the web for both disgruntled and gruntled writers to hang, chill, vent, and post their work. (I first saw Kody Keplinger‘s query and pages for The DUFF there – blew me away, even back then. And now look at her! A star on the rise.)

And then today, I taught my booty-shaking Zumba class, and went to have coffee with my writer friend Bethany Hegedus who has a new book coming out, and because she is so awesome and generous, loaned me one of her precious few ARCs to read. The book? Truth with a Capital T. It’s amazing so far. I’ll post more later. 😉

At coffee/lunch, I mentioned I’d been writing and submitting my poetry (along with all that other stuff I write) and Bethany admitted that she writes poetry, but she never sends it out.

As it turns out, I have a LOT of Writer Friends who are the same! Fearless in their writing, and in their subbing of fiction and non-fiction, but hiding Dickinsonian trunks of unseen verse in virtual trunks at the feet of their e-beds. Like they’re ashamed of it. Or like it’s too private to show to anyone. Too personal, maybe,  to expose to the gimlet eyes of editors? Or even the loving, generous eyes of Writer Friends?

I understand this. Years ago, I hid all my poetry. (Um, this was actually a wise move. It was very angsty, and passionate, and terribly, terribly bad.) What happened? When did I decide to trot my poetry out onto the stage, dress it up in spangles and paste, and see how many dollar bills the guys and gals in the Editor’s Airport Lounge would stuff into my verbal G-string?

Does it cheapen my poetry to sign it up for all those Wet T-shirt Contests with prizes of a few dollars and the possibility of long-lasting humiliation and a Poets Gone Wild video that will haunt me – oh, wait, poems aren’t videotaped. Whew! Still, you get my drift.

Or, in that questionable argument the  post-feminist feminists constructed, where literal pole-dancing was re-visioned as a way to take back one’s own sexual/physical power, does my willingness to show it all strengthen me – and my work – somehow?

Okay, okay, I’m laughing my butt off as I type this. Taking it all too seriously, I know, and stretching the metaphor for giggles. Still… I am almost certain, from what I know of Bethany’s and my other poetry-hiding Writer Friends, that their verse would kick my verse’s feeble butt, if they decided to bring it out. And that would be a good thing. The world needs more poems. Hot, sexy tightly-written poems… and also slightly overweight poems, with stretchmarks, freckles, and wrinkles on their butts.

So… you show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.

My poems, that is. Nobody sees the butt wrinkles.

Other News: Off to Disney in two days! So, no blog posts for a bit. Nice addition to the vacation is that I get to meet up with Writer Friends who inhabit Orlando: Lisa Iriarte and Larissa Hardesty. Cool.

Embarrassing Yourself (And Your Kids)

Happy Monday! It’s Overshare Day on Nikki’s Blog, so settle back in your comfy chairs and get ready to learn things you never wanted to know about me. Don’t worry, I have an actual reason for the information. Not a great reason, but a reason. So here goes.

One of the joys in my sad, pathetic housewife life is embarrassing my children. I do it as regularly and publicly as I can. (Just yesterday, I sang and danced Lady Gaga’s song Telephone (while on Grandma’s boat on Lake Austin – sound travels better over water) to my two boys and their 10 year-old cousin Josh. They all hid under beach towels, but that did not deter me. No! I made it all the way through to the Beyonce part of the video. Now that’s dedication.) I was deemed the most embarrassing mom in the  universe. Score!

I also do embarrassing things at home, too. And you know what? The boys don’t mind that so much, as long as no one else can hear me. Like, for two or three months last year, as soon as the kids arrived home from school, I got out my guitar and played a made-up song about farting called Bust a Grumpy while the boys danced on the bed.* The refrain was plebeian but, Oh, the verses! Full of all sorts of details describing flatulence. (I am, you know, a published poet. You got mad word skillz, ya use ’em. LOL)

I digress.Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. Willing to embarass yourself… and those you love. As a writer, you gotta do it. Come on, it takes a pretty thick ego to call yourself a writer, and a thicker one to write a novel that you send out into the cold, hard world. It’s even harder to do something novel with your novel, or whatever you’re writing. To take a risk, to do something not quite like what everyone else is doing? Terrifying. Potentially excruciatingly embarrassing. Build up that ego; you’re going to need it.

There are going to be plenty of people who will tell you that your novel in verse/picture book in emails/YA paranormal romance about sentient cheeses is the worst idea they’ve ever heard. (Hopefully not your beta readers.) But write it anyway. Will it get published? Probably not. Most things don’t. But will you experience an almost transcendent joy in the creation of that thing that your uncool heart/imagination/Dork-Muse called forth into being? Yes, you will. And that’s the real payoff.

When I daydream, I hear children laughing. Sometimes it’s my real kids laughing about the bedtime story I made up for them that night. (Talk about payoff. All my bedtime stories hit the bestseller lists. 😉

Someday I hope it will be the children reading my work. It could be that they’ll laugh at me, instead of with me. So what? I stopped trying to be cool long ago, and I never was very good at it anyway. What I want to be good at is telling my stories in a new way. Even if that means making myself look like an idiot. Even if it means mortifying all those associated with me.

It probably will. Hey, I have a whole lot of kids, family members, and beta reader friends to embarrass. I am so blessed.

Do you ever find yourself worried about what others will think of your work? Do you ever censor yourself to avoid embarrassment… or even hide your manuscripts in a drawer/your light under a bushel to avoid being laughed at/rejected? Don’t we all know writers who do that? Let’s not be that kind of writer, Friends.

Write well, and bravely. Have fun with your work!

News: An editor of a literary journal nominated a short story of mine for an award/competition thingy. I’ll give more details later, if anything comes of it. For now, I’m just feeling all warm and fuzzy knowing he thought my little story was good enough to be sent on!

* They made me swear never to tell anyone about this. What can I say? I’m a fiction writer. I lie all the time.

Are We There Yet?

This is the summer of the road trip. Last year, My mom and I took the boyz on a glorious, fun-filled, action-packed 36-hour (thank Heaven for in-car DVD players) road trip up to Ohio to visit my brother and his family. It was fun, even if my mom did insist on taking her two-pound toothless chihuahua (aptly named Booger) and even though I had to drive every single mile of the way in Stepdad’s truck, hauling a caravan. We stopped a lot (the joy of not taking a grown man with you on a road trip is you never have to apologize for needing a pit stop every 75 miles) and had a blast.

Dave got jealous, since he had to stay home and work. To make up for it, this summer, Dave and I are taking the boys on a 10 day fun-filled journey through Fort Davis, Texas, to White Sands, New Mexico, Santa Fe, and back through Carlsbad Caverns. (Also, we’ll hit Taos, and some other places, natch). I can’t wait. And no, I’m not kidding. Some of my most amazing memories are from the road trips my parents took with me and the sibs when we were little. Of course, for them, that was the only vacation option, since money was an issue. We roughed it. (New topic beginning next week: Why I Hate Camping, the First Installment in a Fifty-Part Series.) Dave and I will be staying in hotels every night. Ah, showers and beds. Bliss.

Anyway, I was thinking about road trips and writing novels, and how they’re pretty similar for me. I mean, when I let myself, I enjoy the writing process – even the tricky parts – as much or more than getting to the end. You know, that “Eureka!” feeling? When I realize that where your subconscious (ah, clever, precious subconscious Nikki, how I love you) has taken the plot, is so much cooler than where you might have steered it? It’s the same feeling you get when you look out the window and see a triple rainbow arching over the flat West Texas plains. Holy cow! What a surprise. What a blessing.

And, of course, there are all those moments when you’re slogging along – driving through the metaphorical rain of the manuscript – when all you can think is “Are we there yet?” Even the flat tires (cardboard characters!), and busted timing belts (pacing issues!) turn into really funny stories, um, ten years later or so. I hope.

All this to say, I think I’m there. I just got Blessing in Disguise back from my last beta reader. (Betas are like triple rainbows, too, infinitely precious. Mwa!) I think it’s time to pack this one up. Just one more read-aloud, a few more miles… tomorrow I have to hop back on the Gingerbread Express, and see if I can finish yet another first draft before June! I hope revising that one is as rewarding as the last one has been.

Any fun vacation plans, Friends? Or even long-winded metaphors about writing and traveling? LOL

Write well!

The Most Fabulous Aunt in the World

Okay, I’m so totally going to win that title. By some freakish stroke of luck, I placed the winning bid on the COOLEST item* in the Do The Write Thing For Nashville Silent Auction this week. I won Author Cyn Balog’s prize package, which includes: her new book, Fairy Tales (which has been on the TBR list for months!), a fortune cookie necklace, and the right to name a character in her upcoming-in-2012 YA novel.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Nikki, you gorgeous woman, who writes so marvelously and has impeccable fashion sense, don’t you get to name all your own characters anyway? Why would picking another author’s character name be a positive?”

Um, thank you for noticing all that, and for asking. And why? Because I’m giving the naming privilege to my 14 y.o. niece for her birthday. She is a voracious reader – especially of YA paranormal – and she will EAT THIS UP.

Think about it. She will be able to show all her friends her character name in a book! (I hope she picks her own name: Taryn. Cool, right?) And not just in her Aunt’s book. (Actually, I have a published story with her name as the MC, but she wasn’t that thrilled. It was a story for seven year-olds, so I guess I understand.)

All this awesomeness *almost* makes up for the fact that I’m not rich enough to have won the other things I wanted. Sigh.

In Writing News: I finished my latest round of revisions on Blessing, and sent it off to the final beta readers. I’m pounding away at Gingerbread, so as to avoid public humiliation at the hands of Lori, my whip-wielding crit partner from Cali. And I’m working on another essay or two. Whew!

In Other News: No turklings yet. Still hoping.

My other dog, Sugar the fox terrier, got bitten by a rattlesnake this week. Yes, that’s two for two this year. She’s recovering nicely, but I am LIVING WITH A RATTLESNAKE IN MY YARD.

I’ll try to calm down, but AGGGGGHHH! We can’t find it. Seriously, we did it all, even poured gasoline down all the holes to flush it out. (Yes, stop for a mental image of me standing there in cowboy boots with a hoe at the ready, waiting for a rattlesnake to come shooting out of its hole toward me. Wait, your mental image has me in overalls? No, I’m not that country. It was jeans. There you go. Now laugh.)

Also, I sang karaoke for the first time. It was…. interesting.  I will say no more unless I’m subpoenaed.

Write Well, Friends! And stay away from snakes.

* Um, the VERY coolest item would be the one my agent donated. But since she’s already my agent, I didn’t bid on it. I did, however, tell people about it! It went for, like, thirteen squintillion dollars. Cheap at any price. 😉

Turkey Eggs

Okay, this one’s weird. Tonight, my dear friend and neighbor Sue came over to celebrate her birthday (um, by bringing over her birthday presents – chocolate-covered strawberries and muscat – to share. Take note, friends. On your birthday, YOU provide the feast!). She announced that her husband Bob had inadvertently mowed down the tall grass all around a wild turkey’s nest, and that the hen hadn’t come back to her eggs since yesterday.

Most people would say this was too bad, nature in action, yada yada. Me? I said, “Cameron, take this basket, go get those eggs, and stick ’em under Broody (our broody hen who sits on her butt in the nesting box all day, pecking anyone who reaches in to gather the chicken eggs). We’re going to raise some turkeys.” The boys were thrilled, and I became The Coolest Country Mom ever.

Now, please don’t tell me this is a bad idea. I don’t want to know. I want to see if the eggs will hatch. And then, I want to watch Broody take care of a half dozen gangly turkeys. (We’ve decided to call them The Ugly Turklings if they do hatch.)

I’ll probably be back in a few days with news that the eggs are rotting, but who knows? Maybe I’ll be posting cute pictures like this.

In writing news, I got a check in the mail from an unexpected place. Judson Press, who publishes The Secret Place (a devotional book) has accepted – and sent my check for, hooray! – a tiny piece I sent them over eight months ago. Over Eight Months. People are pregnant for less time. I had completely forgotten about it.

So, the moral is, a la Galaxyquest —  “Never give up! Never surrender!”

Also, my beta readers are getting back to me with comments on Blessing. I am thrilled. The comments so far are helpful, and doable. I feel very hopeful I can get Blessing back to Agent Suzie by the end of the month! I have to admit, the comments of one reviewer had *me* in tears. This is how I felt.

Write well, Writer Friends! And hatch lots of lovely, fluffy plots.

Stop Thinking This: Someday I’ll Start My Life

Time for a touchy subject, Writer Friends. Procrastination. But not just any procrastination —  I’m talking about Life Procrastination. The kind of procrastination that takes years to perfect. You have to hone it, over decades of telling people you’re “working on a novel” (or whatever your unfinished life’s work may be) when you haven’t written any words since 1987, over weeks or years of turning on the computer and re-reading your old, half-finished files, thinking “I should finish that piece” and then Stumbling instead. Or, Facebooking, or Flickring, whatever. Pick your poison.

First, let me say this: I am purt near out of judgment today. I’m not judging nobody, nothing, nohow. I spent almost my entire adult life bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have enough time/energy/material/chi/Muse to do my life’s work. I could have filled a swimming pool full of that kind of bullsugar, and had enough left over to frost the world’s largest Bullsugar Cake.

So understand this: I’ve been there. But not for quite some time. What changed? I got gray hair.

Yup, after gray hair, and kids, and some assorted physical complaints (my corns? my bunions! jk), I realized it was looking more and more likely that I would live and die a big fat What-If life, chock full of “I could’ve been a contender.” So I got off my a$$ and started writing. (Actually, I got on it, BIC-style. But you know what I mean.)

What brought this topic up? Recently, I had a couple of non-Writer Friends (who are very much where I once was) ask me questions.

Like “Don’t you get writer’s block?  I have terrible writer’s block. I’ve had it for, like, a decade. It’s debilitating.”

And “Do you think I should go get that writing degree you got, Nikki?* (When asked what this friend was writing, the answer was “Nothing.” When asked what this friend had ever written the answer was also “nothing. Yet.” Sigh.)

My answer to them both? Just Write.

With a pen, with a pencil, with a computer or a typewriter. With the bloody stumps of your zombie-gnawed fingers, for crying out loud, but just get some words on the freaking page! And stop thinking about it.

Also, stop checking Facebook every ten minutes. Your status isn’t going to announce “Fabulous MacWriter just finished her novel!” all by itself, now is it?

There. I feel better now. If that wasn’t enough chastisement (Hmmm… a reminder for myself as well? Maybe.) then visit THIS SITE and weep.

* Heck, no! It scared me away from writing for a decade! Um, kidding. Sort of.

Mother’s Day Essays

This month, two of my essays came out in the local parenting magazine, ParentWise:Austin. I wrote one about my mother-in-law Liz, who passed away over six years ago (leaving an enormous hole in my life) and one about my own mother, who is still around and just LOVES it when I tell funny stories about her in such a public way.

Yeah, right. Sure.

Seriously, people. Be careful when and if you have kids. You never know if one of them might turn out to be a writer, and then you’ll be in trouble. If my kids ever grow up and decide to rat out my poor parenting skills in print, they’ll have material for decades. Here’s a couple of quotes from me just this week. “Two words, kid: Foster Care.” and “I have a knife, and if you touch me one more time, I swear I will cut off your little finger.”

Yeah, I’m really not gunning for mom of the year. I’m actually a lot better off than I was a few years back, when I used to dream about calling anonymous false abuse reports in to CPS so I could get a weekend away.*

In unrelated news, I sent my Blessing in Disguise manuscript to a new set of Betas yesterday (yay) and Raymond Mahaney’s Wrong Moves went out on sub on Monday (super yay!) sent by L’Agent Extraordinaire, Miss Suzie. I have a personal goal of finishing the Gingerbread WIP by June 1, which would be a bit tricky, since that means writing, like, 8,000 words a week! But it might happen. We’ll see.

Whoever you are, have a good weekend. Write well, and if you have a mother you love, who still speaks to you even after you’ve sold the stories of all the embarrassing things she did when you were a child, and who has an excellent sense of humor about it all, congratulations. Tell her you love her so much you can’t help but write about her, and buy her a margarita with your ill-gotten gains. That’s the plan chez moi, anyway. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

*This is the part where I say I’m kidding, so no one actually does call CPS on me. Seriously, it was years ago. And I only thought it, like, a few dozen times. Wait! I mean, never. Just a joke. Move along, move along, nothing to see here.

May Day Bouquet

When I was a little girl, on the first day of May every year, I would gather wildflowers from the sides of the drainage ditch next to my house, wrap the stems in a bunch of wet paper towels and some tinfoil, and sneak across the street to Catherine and Leon’s house. I would put the flowers down on the elderly couple’s doormat, ring the bell, and run away as fast as I could.

Every year. I never forgot.

I can’t remember where I got the idea. My mom? My sister? Someone, somewhere, told me that was what you did on the first day of May, to celebrate spring. A gift and a practical joke all rolled up in one. What kid could resist?

Some years there were better flowers – years like this one’s been, when the winter was rainy as all get out, and the bluebonnets and daisies answered the call to show off. Some years, it was a straggly handful of henbit, purple verbena, and some rain lilies that wilted almost before the door opened.  It didn’t matter. Every year, hiding in the bushes, I would hear the door open, and Catherine would cry out. “Why, Leon! Come and see! Someone’s left flowers here! I wonder who it could have been?”

I loved those neighbors. Their door and refrigerator was always open to a latchkey kid who had dropped her key somewhere (again), and their candy dish was always full of those peculiar delights: Atkinson’s peanut butter bars. To this day, all I have to do is smell one of those candies, and I am six years old again, my teeth stuck together, listening to Leon playing in the living room with his local wash tub band.

Catherine and Leon were old way back then, and they’ve been gone for decades. But I remember them. On top of my computer desk is Catherine’s favorite vase, given to me after her funeral — an elegant, peach-tinted blown-glass cone, filled with dried flowers all year long.

And every year, on May 1, I wonder: Will there be a barefoot, laughing neighbor girl when I’m old, who hides in the bushes and laughs while I open the door and shout for my husband to come and see the bouquet?

Happy Spring, Writer Friends.

Recommended Reading

There are so many books to read, it’s hard to know where to start. And just because someone recommends a book doesn’t mean you’re going to like it. (Trust me, I have a stack of books I bought after a friend’s recommendation, all of them sitting with a bookmark on page 11 or so. I’ll read them right after the Rapture, okay?*)

But I just finished a book you will ALL LOVE. I don’t care if you’re a man/woman/child/spawn of Cthulhu.

Although if you’re a child, you might want to wait until you’re, um, at least 13, let’s say, to read it. Parents, be warned! Or you will have some ‘splainin’ to do. The book? Yeah, I know, I live under a rock. You’ve probably all read it already. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Sad, wonderful, deep, shallow, so funny I had to close the book and catch my breath from laughing at regular intervals. I only recommned a book every three or four years to my husband (because he likes hard-core sci-fi, bleah!), but he’s reading this one now.

Today, I cracked open When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. I have a good feeling about this one, too. But enough chatter! I’m away to revise ANOTHER novel. As Ren and Stimpy would say — Happy happy, Joy joy!

Help! I had a request from a friend for books for her mentally challenged adult sister to read. The reading level would need to be around 2-4th grade, but on topics an adult wouldn’t mind reading about. (So, not learning to ride a bike or tie your shoes.) Any ideas?

* For those of you who don’t know me as well, I refer to the Rapture fairly frequently. But I don’t actually believe in it, in the exact sense that many of my friends do. Well, I believe in the kind of rapture I feel after I eat a bowl of gelato the size of my head. Just to clear that up.

Shameless

Writer Friends, I am pleased to report that my dear Writer Friend Lori and I both made our word quotas for the week. And that means you will not have the special treat of reading the fiery invective I had prepared — insults involving her parentage, her hygiene, and especially her writing technique — for at least another week.

That is, if she agrees to hold me accountable for another 5K next week. (Lori?)

This is a happy day. The only thing that makes me less happy is that I fully recognize the 5,000 words she sent me (to prove her accomplishment) far, far outclass the 5,000 I wrote this week. She is writing the funniest, coolest, most mind-bogglingly commercial YA rural/urban fantasy EVAH. Go, Lori, go!

Now, other news. I sold two essays today – Yay! Links in May when they appear. I am also working/writing  on my new Mac Book. Fun! Also, scary, as I am computer-challenged.

Tomorrow, I attend Chris Barton’s book party for his new picture book Shark Vs. Train at Bookpeople tomorrow. (You HAVE to check out the book trailer, free downloads, and poster at THIS SITE. Seriously, it’s genius marketing stuff. Ideas to steal for weeks.) If you have kids, know kids, or know people who have kids, you need to buy this book. Hilarious, great art, and clever.

Now, go away Internet. I have Old Novel revisions and New Novel word quotas, plus two essay ideas that keep pestering me. Must write more.

Write well, friends!