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What’s in Your Writer’s Shrine?

Welcome to my writer’s shrine.

We all need hope, faith, and love as writers. We all need to believe in the power of our words, even if everything else in our life is telling us “nah.”

Talismans, symbols, icons, saints.

Gifts from friends who love us well.

From the ether and in the electricity of the unseen, the great Cloud of thoughts, something’s got to manifest.

I cling to these somethings.

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A Prayer for this Sunday

Yesterday I marched with people whose heads had just been bowed in prayer. Who said Amen to the words of an imam, and a pastor, and a rabbi. We marched peacefully for love and justice.

A marcher at Raleigh’s February 11th Moral March. Photo by Lyn Fairchild Hawks

We own the words freedom, America, and patriot like anyone else. God, too. God is ours.

Many Americans are rising up to take back our faith in all these things in the public sphere. Privately, we have worshipped and sung and believed in all these beautiful words. But for many years, we’ve let those who act out of fear and hate to hijack these words.

No more.

God bless America that rises up to protect the people. God bless America that seeks liberty and justice for all.

 

 

Remembering Fred Fairchild

Now that’s a ring-tailed doozy.

 –Fred Fairchild

This past October 11, my Grampa would have been 100 years old.

A jokester, singer, and actor, my grandfather had a way with words. My father remembers holiday dinners with my grandfather making speeches that would begin like this: “Now that we are all stuffed with sage, I would like to introduce the sage stuffed with turkey.” I would make Grampa repeat his famous expressions, “ring-tailed doozy” being my favorite. “Grampa, what’s a ring-tailed doozy?” I’d say. He’d give a deep, hearty laugh because he found my constant questions amusing. I don’t recall his exact answer, as it’s one of those idioms beyond exact definition, but I can imagine him saying,  “A doozy, now that’s something. But one with a ring tail? Then you really have yourself a problem. Hoo boy!”

Grampa composing a Christmas poem

Grampa composing a Christmas poem

Grampa was a smart, generous, ethical man. He couldn’t stand bullies, so he had no trouble telling off those of his youth or the fearsome father-in-law. He ran a dairy seven days a week (open on Christmas Day, too); was a Kiwanis member for 29 years; and also was a Mason and a Shriner. A Dale Carnegie student and instructor, he preached the power of mind over matter. You make your life and no one else. He said that if you wanted to be a good conversationalist, all you have to do is let people talk about themselves.

He sang in a men’s choir through his late seventies. His deep baritone would have made a great radio voice. The story goes that he met my grandmother, Madelyn, in D.C. when they were both auditioning for a play.

“She’s for me,” said my grandfather’s friend, pointing at the very attractive maiden who happened to be a model.

“No, she’s for me!” Fred said, and made sure he got that gal. Handsome and witty, my grandfather no doubt nabbed her attention in an instant.

Soon after they were married, he left his D.C. job with the Department of Agriculture to return home and help my grandmother’s family at their dairy in the small town of Wheatridge, Colorado. It’s a choice that made sense in the 1930s, even though D.C. might have been a place where both he and my grandmother, also a government employee, might have found great careers and artistic success. His generation faced an economic meltdown, world wars, and social mores that could easily thwart those with artistic yearnings. It was a time to buckle down at a guaranteed job, do your duty by your family, and shove that safe money under a mattress. I wonder if Grampa would have taken to the stage or studio if he had come of age in the 1980s with all my options.

My sister got the singing voice and performance gene, and I got the way-with-words gene. We were encouraged from a young age to pursue our artistic dreams. Now we find the only things blocking us are time, laziness, and fear—though I suppose the right dose of luck wouldn’t hurt either. No matter what, I’ve always felt that my life has had options rather than directives. As Grampa once said, “Only the individual can change his life.”

Fathers' Day, June 16, 1990

Fathers’ Day, June 16, 1990

After he visited us in 1982 while my parents were on a trip, I sent him some of my poetry. I was 13 and already full of writerly ambitions, and Grampa was so good at making up verses on the spot, I wanted to know his opinion of my work. The other day, when I was going through a shoebox of mementos, I discovered the letter he wrote me back.

If you can write poetry like you do at your age (and sober) imagine what you could do if you partook of a little bubbly (or grape). I am not suggesting that you start drinking but I love your free style in writing and your active imagination. It’s beautiful.

Not being an expert, I cannot criticize your writing but I do suggest as soon as possible that you get professional advice from a writing expert to steer you in the right direction and give you some of the finer points in context as well as style.

You probably have a better start now at your age with your innate, natural ability than many do in their twenties.

I sometimes wonder if Grampa had my same deep ambitions to make art. He certainly had enough talent in several arenas. We think now that he fought unspoken depression at the time he wrote me this letter, and even long before that, but you would never know when you read his words. He had weathered a number of setbacks by 1982—the loss of my grandmother, health issues, and investments gone bad. He didn’t have the energy of a man who once was president of the DC National City Players or who led the Denver Dairy Council. He didn’t speak of his struggles, like many men of his generation. He didn’t blame anyone but himself for events in his life. He kept cracking jokes. And he found a way to send encouraging words to a 13 year-old who dreamed of one day writing a book as good as Anne of Green Gables.

Grampa's one known modeling stint, for Bolle sunglasses, with the perfect caption: ATTITUDE IS AGELESS.

Grampa’s one known modeling stint, for Bolle sunglasses, with the perfect caption: ATTITUDE IS AGELESS.

I wonder what Grampa would say now if I could show him my books, share my worries, and tell him about my dream to spread my stories.

I think I found the answer on a questionnaire my sister gave him for her high school genealogy project, in response to a query about difficult obstacles and how he faced them.

He wrote: “To thine own self be true. Believing will make it happen. Don’t give up.”

Grampa, I won’t.

Plus, if I did? Hoo boy! Now that’d be a heck of a ring-tailed doozy.

When Other People Get Good News

The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.

As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.

I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.

My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.

Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.

The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on Match.com and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.

I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding12wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.

My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print.  My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.

I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.

 

 

 

Faith, Hope, and Dad

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 13: 13

My dad thinks I’m awesome.Daddy_Lyn_June_2013

Before you question this narcissistic start to a Father’s Day post, bear with me. I believe there are two types of people: those who are successful with the help of their dads, and those who have achieved in spite of their dads. I am blessed to say I’m successful thanks to my father.

A male role model must be many things: forthright and honest, loyal and dependable, driven and persistent, and vigilant and protective. It’s a bonus if he is fun, kind, and excited about life. I got the complete Dad package.

During a self-publishing journey, you need a lot of support. You need a cheerleader with faith and business sense. My dad has been at my side throughout this process, suggesting new ideas and sending me the latest updates from bloggers and industry experts, doing research, building Excel spreadsheets, and asking sales and marketing questions. He has my back in an enterprise that has no clear or “right” trajectory. There are some parents who might say, “Are you really sure you want to do this? Isn’t it a lot of work? Why don’t you wait it out another few years (never mind the three spent querying the industry and working with an agent) because the traditional path seems like a safer bet.” Instead, my dad captures all the confusing Excel data from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Smashword and brainstorms how a developer needs to create an app to automate such a process. He compliments my writing efforts and sings my praises to friends and family. He loves to see me shine, and with that special Dad pride, he can make me look even brighter.

My father’s actions relay to me that no matter what I attempt, I can do it. A daughter needs that kind of optimism if she is to undertake an artist’s life.

My dad modeled risk-taking to me since my childhood. We moved from Southern California to Northern, to Belgium, back to Northern California to North Carolina as he pursued various opportunities with his work. I learned that new places hold possibility, that people of other states and countries have fascinating histories, and that there are good people and new friends everywhere. I learned that over time, one can adapt to new situations and discover new sides to oneself. My dad thrives on meeting new people, making new friends, and trying new foods. He handed down to me that same zest for experimentation and newness.

In the ed world, one will often here the phrase “lifelong learner” as a descriptor for a teacher’s ideal persona. Ever curious, open, and excited, this kind of teacher inspires his or her students to embark on the learning journey. That phrase fits my father perfectly. This is what he’s taught me: to treat each day as a new opportunity and an ambitious adventure.

My dad is a man of many gifts. He knows people the world over who are grateful for his leadership, mentorship, and business savvy. With all these talents he’s always been extremely humble and does not call attention to himself. He is the kind of worker right in the trenches with everyone else. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I began to appreciate all he had done and was pursuing. And he still thinks my little business enterprise is worth his time and attention.

Love is reliable and shows up every day, just like a good dad. It is consistent, persistent, and trustworthy. A great father’s love is full of faith and hope. I will be forever grateful for my wonderful father who has shaped me, my view of myself, and my happiness.

Writing Prompts:

  • What is a line your father often said to you, and when would he say it? Why do you think you remember it now?
  • How much are you like and unlike your father?
  • Have you been blessed by a good father, or challenged by a non-father? Have you survived a bad father? How do you know what good fatherhood is?
  • What are your paternal instincts, and how do you pursue them?
  • In How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought, Wendy says, “Funny how the potential stepdad gives so much more of a damn than the biological mother, who can’t even remember I’ve got this project, much less any major exams.” Wendy is charmed by one of her mother’s boyfriends, Shaye, who seems to be the first with stepdad potential. She has no compass for what a dad’s behavior should be like, and so she is easily misled by seemingly dadlike behavior. What other charismatic ways does Shaye appear to have Wendy’s best interests in mind?
  • What do we know of any males in the story who might be father figures? What conclusions do you draw about this woman-centric, fatherless world Wendy lives in? Does this world have Wendy’s best interests in mind?

Finding My True North

It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I was struggling to edit yet another draft of my novel and hoping it might be the version my agent would be willing to shop to publishers.

I would have never imagined a year later I’d have already published a collection of short stories and be on my way to  launching my debut novel. That after almost a decade of work on the former and three years on the latter, I’d be enjoying an adventurous, never-a-dull-day year of publishing on my own terms.

I might say I’ve found my true north.

The idiom captures the difficulty of knowing one’s right direction in a world of magnetic forces that would have us wander this way or that. I spent two years of my life querying agents, working with one for over a year, and revising the manuscript constantly according to potential market specs. There were some dark moments of staring at a screen in a panic (my words have failed me!); arguing on a phone (you think the point of my novel is to get 16 year-old girls of bland suburban tastes to read it? Who ARE said girls–I don’t know them!); or questioning my own instincts about Wendy’s character (are you clinging unreasonably to her beliefs and obsessions?).  I wondered if I’d deluded myself that I ever had a chance in this business.

I had to regroup and let my faith rally, and I had to remind myself that I am a writer, first, last, always. Not a second of that wandering and wondering was a waste. Every moment taught me skills and strengthened muscle for the moments I live now, full of trust my words are beginning to have a reach I’ve dreamed about.

No, my numbers haven’t knocked the Kindle best-sellers out of the park. But slowly, surely, great news trickles in daily, after two months of only a Kindle edition. A friend 3,000 miles away wants a signed copy of the collection, now that my paperback came out last week. A group of high school students will be discussing “Midrift.” Eight wonderful reviews are up on Amazon. Kind, unsolicited emails arrive from readers. An interview will happen next week on a nationally-syndicated radio show.

I’m having a lot of fun, too. I’m sharing my cover design with friends, family, and a support team, seeking people’s gut reactions and design eye. I’m talking sales and marketing with my dad, and getting requests for images and URLs from my web designer. I’m arranging head shots with a former student, Teresa Porter, who is pursuing her dream of photography–now a busy professional winning awards and penning a blog that’s gone viral, because she’s speaking her true north-truth.

“Can you believe we’re here?” she said to me the other day. “You getting published, and me with a photography business?”

My first reaction was to laugh with delight. Those who know the intense type-A worrier that I am can attest this is not my typical first reaction to things. Which tells me I’m true-northing it right now, truly.

I am also very excited about a co-operative venture I and two other devoted students of Doris Betts have recently undertaken: True North Writers and Publishers. Bob Mustin and Dave Frauenfelder, my partners in this venture, are passionate, gifted writers with whom I’m honored to be associated. We encourage one another’s work, promote it, and plan some exciting events for signing and sharing this summer.

Our first precept is Scribere quam videre scribere. To write rather than to seem to write. (If you know the North Carolina state motto–Esse quam videri, To be rather than to seem (to be)–and if you try to write regularly, you know what we mean!) We’re NC writers sharing authentic writing for the New South, and we will keep each other honest in this endeavor.

My ship sees its way clear right now, the waters glassy with calm, the lighthouse straight ahead. My compass doesn’t waver. I know that when the clouds gather, the sky roars, and the swells rise, I’ll have to grab a little bit tighter to that instrument and trust, trust, trust. But for now, I’m loving the peace and the joy of following my true path. So grateful I’m able to be here!

Check out the Kindle edition of The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future or the paperback edition.

 

Off to See My Women, the Wonderful Women of Group!

Today I’ll be welcomed by warm words and hugs.

Image found here

Today I’ll see kindred spirits who bend over pages and screens trying to roust spirits–trying to capture words to match the energy in our heads.

Today I’ll commiserate about long-term projects–books that won’t get written, sermons that get stuck, short stories grown too long, essays that writhe away, and blogs and columns that need focus.

Today I’ll hear success stories and failure stories, joy and worry, and of course the disclaimer of, “This is rough, but I’ll read it…”

“NO DISCLAIMERS!” we holler back at the offender. We’ve tried to make the No Disclaimers rule, but someone violates it every time. We accept it cheerfully in ourselves and one another. We all struggle for the confidence to read something raw and unfinished.

This writing group is full of accomplished women who lead in various realms. My writing companions prove to me that those with power can still speak humbly, unofficiously, and thoughtfully. I always walk away startled by the mental prowess, the spiritual strength, and the inner beauty of this gathering.

When we exit, we know the world won’t always get what we have to say, but we’ve found the strength to speak out. As women we are blessed to write in 2012, not 1912 or 1812. Virginia Woolf explained how an imaginary Judith–Shakespeare’s sister–had so many obstacles to writing that lacking a group would have been one of the smaller insurmountable barriers.

Today I plan to write the pages that just won’t come of a short story, once that’s too close to home. I know I can read it aloud and no one will flinch. That’s a sacred space we all need for our thoughts to grow.

In this mostly solo writing life, you gotta have a group.

I have another delightful group that meets twice a month with two other regulars besides myself, and we are very page and critique focused. I gain such valuable insight–a concern for character consistency, pacing, and clarity. We share our woes of revision, because this group has some heroic revisers. This group has an energy likewise nurturing, focused, and caring. My companions have patiently sat through different stages of HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT. They made my week when they looked at the second revision for my agent and said, “Now this is really working.” I had felt depleted walking into the meeting and left invigorated.

I also really appreciate how this group helps me think deeply about writing fiction. YA and adult literary fiction, contemporary women’s fiction, and children’s picture books that have changed hands. The principles of craft stay the same, but the needs of different audiences help us think nimbly about what readers want and how we can answer the call of others while staying true to ourselves.

Next week will be a week without either group. But I have a task ahead: I must make more pages before I see Stephanie, Jen, Marcia, Laurie, Katie, Beverly, and Susan again.

Knowing someone’s waiting for you will help you make a deadline. Knowing someone cares whether you do it well will help you get it right.

Writing Prompts:

  • Who can you trust to read your writing or listen well? What does the reader do that makes your writing better? What types of comments do you want about your writing? Record a comment that someone’s given you that’s been incredibly helpful.
  • Write a description of your ideal writing group. It could be one you’ve attended or one you dream of joining.
  • What role do you play in critiques and writing groups? What types of comments do you often make? How do people respond to them? 
  • When has your writing group irritated you? What can you learn from the critique? What is hard to hear about your writing that may be the lesson you don’t want? What might your partners’ dislike of the pages tell you about their reading preferences and writing style?
  • Write a scene about a group of writers tearing up a manuscript–joyfully or fearfully, carefully or viciously–and see if you or anyone you know shows up on the page. How can the scene reinvent critique, critique the art of critique, and explore what writers want and need?
  • Write a scene where two of your favorite female authors from different eras get to meet for a critique group. If Jane Austen had a group…If Edith Wharton had a group…If Lorraine Hansberry had a group…