Deja Vu (What, Again?)

We survived another August.  Barely.  The aftershocks are lingering, keeping us from our rest, but at least the outside temperature has dropped 10 degrees.  Sure, it’s only dropped from 102 to 92 degrees, but you have to appreciate the small stuff or scream, right?  Right?  Excuse me, I have to press a pillow over my face for a moment…

I wrote a previous blog, The Ides of August, about the trials that strike my family during the infamous month.  This year is up for top awards in the “I’m really tired of this…” category.  My sister came down with her second round of ovarian cancer.  It’s been very painful for her, expensive, frustrating, and exhausting for her and me both.  She had surgery in May to remove the cancer they could find, then began chemotherapy.  It didn’t go well.  She has had strong reactions to the drugs.

But because August has to show up the rest of the calendar, the first of the month found her back in the hospital having major abdominal surgery AGAIN.  The rest of the month has had her in wound care and physical therapy, and me playing nurse, chauffeur, cook, housemaid, and donkey since she was ordered not to carry anything.  She still has all the usual ‘fun’ of cancer like uncooperative taste buds, neuropathy, weakness, exhaustion, and exorbitant medical bills.

Experience has caused our family to adopt a policy of never leaving members in the hospital alone.  I was staying with her but had to run home for a day to pay bills and wash clothes.  As anybody who has been there knows, you don’t get much sleep in a hospital. The hospital they put her in was almost four hours away, so I was even more exhausted by the time I got home.  I was going to spend one night at home, so I was rushing to get laundry done and paying as many bills online as possible.

Of course, I made a mistake.  It just had to be on the biggest payment – our mortgage.  I completely forgot I had just the month before set it up for automatic payments.  Yep, I paid it twice.  And I didn’t notice, until a week later when the overdraft fees and chiding alerts began arriving on my account.  I live on a fixed income and a very tight budget.  My sister’s bout with cancer left her unable to work and with no money to add to the family budget.  I immediately contacted the mortgage company and they said, hey, no problem, send us a bank statement showing both the payments and we’ll send one of the payments back.

You guessed it.  It is now September, and I just spent a very frustrating call with the company.   Frustrating first because the static on the line was so bad, I asked him to send me an email because I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.  Second, because, duh, I still don’t have my money so I am going to be short this month but they said my account shows the money was supposed to be sent to me August 25.  Then where is it???  Third, they took my September payment, but NOT ALL OF IT.  Why? They are researching. Gah.

My sister had her chemo drugs changed, and it helped, and her surgery is healing well.  But she still can’t work, she’s still in pain, and she still is pretty shaky on her feet.  Then our oven stopped working.  Then the hot water heater blew a gasket (actually, literally…).  Luckily (?) I noticed before it flooded the kitchen.  (Forty gallons of hot water? Eesh.  Welcome to the jungle…)  So no hot showers, no dishwasher use, and no baking until we get these appliances replaced.  Repair is no use, we were told.  Of course not.

We deal.  Life goes on, and we have endured worse.  I have a teakettle to heat water.  The air conditioner is working, the cold water still runs, and my sister lives.  We have a home.  We have a car.  We have food to eat.  We have family and we have friends.  My sister gets cheered by Skype calls from the newest member of the family born in May, and his grandmother, our sister.  Later this month an even newer member will arrive from our sister’s other daughter, who has triumphed with a second child after five miscarriages.

People shake their heads and ask how I can laugh about our travails.  Oh, I keep the screaming for my bedroom.  I hate watching people grab their ears.  But, mostly, it’s because God gave me a sense of humor to endure such frustration and constant tripping over life’s rocks.  What’s the point of being given a useful gift if you never get to use it?  Heh.  Careful what you ask for, trust me.  If He gives you something, you’ll usually get lots of opportunities to use it.

I noticed my year has been so chaotic I haven’t blogged for a while.  Sorry.  I need to write up a bunch during the odd moments I’m not dashing around doing and can actually sit and think so I can schedule them for publication.  I have been on Twitter meeting other writers and some admittedly odd characters, but it’s been fun.  If you’re actually interested, my Twitter handle is @ghostwriter4God.

I have finished my third book and named it Angels With Attitude.  Of course, it’s available on Amazon in print or Ebook, like Once Upon a Christmastime and Standing Next to a Miracle.

I have also contributed a story titled Sweet Talking Man to a sweet romance anthology called Cool Weather, Warm Hearts.  It will be released in Ebook form October 30 but is available for pre-order now.  The proceeds will go to two charities, The Magical Moon Foundation which helps sick children and their families and The Wounded Warrior Project which helps our Vets!  For those of you as ignorant as I had been about terminology, ‘sweet’ romances mean no sex.  I would assume it also means no vulgarities of speech or actions.  I don’t write that sort of thing, so I didn’t have to censor myself.

I hope your year is going better.

 

All Warm and Cozy

It’s 5:30 in the morning and I’ve just finished my first cup of coffee.  I’d love to go back to sleep, but I have a plumber coming in today so I need to stay awake and get some work done before he gets here.  He was here yesterday working on several plumbing issues, and one of them waited until he was gone to suddenly spout another leak.  Now he has to come back and check his work or fix yet another problem.  He told us yesterday to get an electrician to check the wiring in our house.  When my sister got home she moaned, “This place is becoming a money pit!” A little dramatic, but accurate.

It’s Christmastime, and we still have gifts to purchase and wrap.  Several of my friends are staring at empty chairs after losing loved ones this year.  The news is full of sad stories, bad weather, foolish politics, and stupid scandals.  My arthritis is flaring, and my sleep patterns are erratic.

But you know what? I DON’T CARE.  Life is good.  I’m working part-time as a substitute teacher at a local small school, and I find it fascinating.  Frustrating, annoying, and exasperating, yes, but that happens anytime you deal with kids.  I enjoy getting to know the kids and helping them further their education.  It’s not just babysitting while the teacher is away.  My favorite moment was watching all the young ones from 3-year-olds in the Head Start Program through the 5th graders practice their Christmas program.  I know it was maddening for the teachers to try to corral them and get them to practice, but I adored watching the children just enjoy their day, running around, climbing all over the bleachers in the gym, and just being children.  Too many adults have lost the ability to live in the moment.

I had a good time last week when the local book club reviewed my first book, “Once Upon A Christmastime”.  Here is a link to the article posted about it in the local newspaper: Once Upon a Christmastime Review.  I was quite chuffed to hear them complain it was too short and they wanted a longer collection for next Christmas.  I’ve already got some story ideas lined up.  One of the club members posted a review of it on Goodreads: Kacy A Jey’s Review.  More than one of the members ran local bed and breakfasts and inns and said they were placing the book out for guests to read.

It’s always nice to hear they like the way you write, but it warmed my heart to hear it helped them get into the Christmas spirit, especially when, as one member said, she definitely wasn’t.  I smiled when they said at least two of the stories would make good Hallmark stories because my stories always seem like movies to me.  I would love to see them made into movies because I like to help lift the spirits of people.  Having people in a good mood around me makes all of life so much easier.

Especially when I still don’t have a working toilet and I have to clean house.  Merry Christmas!

How I Roll

One of the Facebook pages I follow, Novel Encounters, is about several historical romance novelists.  (I only read historical romances.  I’m still working on writing one that popped into my head, which of course doesn’t fit any historical period I know of.  Maybe if I call it a historical fantasy romance adventure…) This week they were asked to describe their writing process, and since all of them are different, it has been fascinating to see how they think and create and do the practical details of bringing their stories out of their brains and onto a published manuscript.  It got me to wondering just how I would describe how I create.

This  is how it usually begins:

I do mental movies of novels. I write a few chapters. Then I go do something else, usually another mental movie of a different story. I come back, read what I’ve written, vaguely feel there’s something not quite right, put it back and run through the movie in my head and discover much has been left on the cutting room floor and many scenes added.

I start thinking in scenes, detailing them in my mind. I think, maybe I should make a note, then it might not change. Now I have a general – well, not outline, really, but mostly a time line of actions and conversations – and as I look closer at each scene, I begin wondering about details like landscape, environment, odors, temperature, what side characters are doing while the main characters are busy at the front of the stage, clothing, food, shelter, etc.

I then begin to look at early scenes and wonder if they should become backstory instead. For example, mentally, I have had several stories begin at the birth or in one case, the rape conception of the main character. Then as the story developed, I began to think it might be better as backstory to be mentioned casually in a conversation between characters. Suddenly what was becoming a very long timeline of scenes shortens and I begin to feel the story is workable.  Crazed sessions of unstoppable typing ensue.

That is how my novels begin.  My short stories come from somewhere I’ve never been able to track down.  For all I know, God just puts them there.  Many times I finish typing and have to read them over to figure out what I wrote.  My two collections in print and ebook right now, Once Upon a Christmastime and Standing Next to a Miracle, are like that. I have a third collection to be titled Angels With Attitude, just about ready to go.  Of course, I’ve been saying that since 2014, I just discovered.  Sheesh!

I am going to try the Scrivener program since it seems to use many of the methods I do for setting out a story idea.  I have heard some published authors can’t stand it, others just love it.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, I’ll go work on that collection of short stories and try to get them out.

Finally!

I’m sure you’ve been wondering what I get up to between penning the next best seller and jetting off to see the world’s most exotic scenery.  (Hah! And even harder: HAH!) Here I sit, thinking longingly of the days when I could call my boss and convince them it would be best for the health of my coworkers that I not come in and start a pandemic.

Instead, I have been muttering as I try to coordinate transporting family members to doctors appointments and grocery shopping, church services, Bible study, visits to Mom at her nursing home and volunteer duties like calling Bingo games and chaperoning outings with her fellow residents, writing my next book, and now, because I am a compulsive overachiever, starting an online store.

I have previously designed and tried to sell teeshirts, because I figured if I was going to be constantly coming up with slogans I should try to make money out of them.  But while design was easy, keeping track of inventory (not to mention finding the space for it!) and getting it to the buyers were definitely not.  I told God glumly that it was a failed attempt and swallowed my disappointment because I really liked some of the designs He was inspiring in my mind.

Apparently, though, He has plans for those designs and while I was idly browsing through the Internet one day, I ran across an ad that trumpeted “Start your own teeshirt business in 20 minutes for free!”  My natural skepticism, honed by a lifetime working in government bureaucracy and convenience stores, made me look it up just to see how their scam worked.  It wasn’t a scam, and it was only free for two weeks, but set it up in 20 minutes?  Puh-leeeze.  Hey, there are YouTube videos you can watch that will take you through it step by step!  There’s a Help Center with all the information you’ll ever need! You could even live chat!

Um, no.  Not for all of it.  I spent the last ten years of my career at IRS writing training material and proofing our procedural manuals (I didn’t even get asked to do most of that, I’m just pushy that way) so when it comes to missing procedures, I find them with ease. You wouldn’t believe how many times I had to point out there were some gaps in the set up instructions.  Worse were the times I had to communicate with a linking website, only to discover that only a computer would speak to me, and it had apparently been programmed to pretend human customer service did not exist.

I THINK it’s finally done.  I finally set up a print on demand shop on Shopify (https://words-are-my-life.myshopify.com) and loaded my first designs.  The others are coming, hopefully at a minimum rate of two a week, and can be bought with credit cards, PayPal, and even Amazon.  I set up a Facebook page for it.  I blog on it.  I have to keep track of advertising spending but hey, there’s an app for that!

It’s a whole lot more work than just writing my stories and uploading them to the publishing company for printing.  (By the way,  I’m hoping to start selling my books on my shop site…) But it is rather satisfying, in the same way working on the procedures and training material at IRS was.  I think it has to do with bringing order out of chaos.

In the same way I tried to make my training classes (and my fiction) both entertaining and memorable, I’m hoping my products will amuse buyers and also make them think.  There will be an entire line of faith based products showcased here as well as some humor just because I’ve always felt God had a sense of humor (really, when you look at some of His creations…).

The print on demand company that produces and ships the products have good reviews from merchants and buyers, which is a load off my mind.  All I really have to do now really is come up with concept, send it to an artist who really seems to grasp my vision and doesn’t charge a fortune to put it in visual form, and handle the advertising.  At least so far.  We’ll see how it goes.

I hope you’ll take a look, and consider buying.  I hope you’ll be inspired, entertained, and maybe even educated occasionally.  I am shooting an arrow into the air, and hoping it doesn’t come straight back at me.  But I really feel the Hand of God pushing me around through this, so I’ll let Him worry about the results.

The Importance of Self-Education

When I was a senior in high school our school newspaper sponsor, our English teacher, assigned me the job of editing the various articles that would be posted in the local town newspaper.  I’m pretty sure I got the job because I was the best speller.  We posted little ‘what’s been happening’ paragraphs by each grade’s representative reporter and occasionally published poetry.  One introverted girl who rarely spoke offered a pretty decent poem once that I thought would be excellent with just a change to a couple of words.

When I suggested it, though, she blew up.  You would have thought I suggested sacrificing her first born child on Satan’s altar!  It was my first negative reaction to my editing, and I decided if she wanted an inferior version of her work, then so be it.

Later, when I submitted some of my fiction for critique by editors and agents, I understood her reaction.  My writing is my baby!  Nobody knows my story – or poetry – or anything else – like I do.  Nobody can improve my deathless prose (and rhyme)!  Of course, none of it sold.

Then at work, I was assigned to teach some of the worst training material I had ever been forced to use.  I complained so much that of course, they then assigned me to revise it.  Trust me, there is nothing like technical writing for educating a writer.  I was paid to write it and therefore was forced to do it the way my supervisors wanted it, or be able to successfully argue that my way was better.  Since my supervisors generally had college degrees in education, they tended to win more often than I did, until I got some real experience and self-confidence under my belt.

It was very humbling to realize how much I didn’t know about the technical aspects of writing.  I never got to go to college and graduated from a very small rural school that was unable to provide much of an education.  During my first session of revising the training material, I was totally unprepared for the supervisors’ total dismissal of it and their orders to rewrite it.

I was astonished to discover they wanted me to return and write more training material, but one supervisor told my team bluntly that even though we weren’t perfect, the others who wrote essays for their applications were even worse, and read a few anonymous essays to prove it.  Over the years, my technical knowledge combined with my improved writing skills gained me the name recognition necessary to be allowed to unofficially edit many of the technical procedures we used in our jobs. When I sent in a needed correction to a section because it was either incorrect or made no sense as written, it was accepted without argument.  Many times, it was the way it was written that was the problem.

As a teacher of adults learning new complex procedures for dealing with our job, I quickly discovered that a huge problem was the technical language used.  The instructors, including me,  were experienced and used to the terms and acronyms used on the job.   Since I encouraged questions from the students, not to mention being able to read their expressions, I realized that learning a new language had to be the first step in every training session for new employees.

Once I retired, I didn’t worry about teaching new terms and acronyms to bewildered students or trying to simplify complex procedures into a step by step list that could be easily followed.  I was relieved, thinking that finally, FINALLY, I would have the time to concentrate on my fiction and see about finally getting published.  I began reading various professional writing blogs to see what was selling, by whom, and why.

It didn’t take long before my forehead began wrinkling just like my former students. What were all these terms these writers were using?  Sure, I could look them up in a dictionary, but they didn’t make any sense in the context they were used in the article I was reading.  Nuts.  I had to go back to the basics and learn THEIR language.  Why bother?  Because one very old saying still holds true: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

If you want to write without worrying about being paid for your efforts, you can do it however you wish.  If you want someone to give you money for it, it has to please them. If they ask you about it and you don’t understand the question, it’s up to you to learn the language they are using.  Very few professionals in the publishing business have the time or interest to educate an amateur for free.  They don’t have to.  Writers, even incredibly talented writers, are a dime a dozen.  Sure, some editors probably bitterly regret passing up J. K. Rowling, but life happens.

Don’t think that self-publishing offers a way around that problem.  I have a Kindle, and about 1500 ebooks so far, to go with my print library of several thousand soft and hardbacks.  With ebooks especially buyers can return the book if they don’t like it soon after they buy it.  Most can be previewed and if they are badly written the books may never be bought.

I once bought a book that started out sounding terrific, then evolved into such excruciatingly bad prose, I gave up on the rest of the book.  I was furious.  The book was only about a dollar, but I was angry because the promise of an interesting plot, fascinating characters, and plenty of action was ruined by poor grammar, worse spelling, and ridiculous punctuation.  The only time I have seen worse writing is work by writers who don’t believe in using capitalization, paragraph breaks, or punctuation at all.

I don’t want people criticizing my work for poor writing, so I am learning to write like the authors of books I like to read.  I hope someday to have my work praised by well-known professionals, and if I have to learn their language to understand their criticism, to be able to answer their questions about my work, and to discuss my work in order to improve it, I’ll do it.  I have the Internet.  I may live out in a rural area and still not have transportation and money to get to college classes, but I can still educate myself.  I must, if I want to engage in the conversations I want to, with professional writers and editors and publishers. It’s my responsibility to find a way to make my dreams come true.

 

Talk To Me!

Communication is important, especially between large numbers of people all coming together for the same reason.  No, I’m not talking about protest marches or football games.  I’m talking about something much more important: pot-luck meals.  Don’t think that’s a big deal?  You must not have ever been to one.

If you’ve never come across the term, it means everybody attending brings some kind of food.  It is also referred to as a covered-dish meal, probably because not that long ago, you had to keep the food covered against insects and dirt until the meal started.

Family or friend pot-luck dinners are one thing.  You generally call around, checking to see what everybody is bringing, and the hostess usually makes sure there will be enough meat and side dishes and desserts.  But when the occasion becomes bigger, communication is even more important.

Church pot-lucks, for example.  All you have to do is go to one where the meat runs out before the line of eaters is finished to realize somebody should have been in charge of coordinating what everybody brought and figuring how many would be there.  The latter is sometimes impossible to predict, but at least there was a chance that somebody would be aware that there were only a couple of meat dishes and way too many side dishes.

These past few weeks I have been at functions that brought home the importance of communication.  In our area, the usual ritual is to have a meal after a funeral or memorial service, so that family and friends could gather and share their grief and love for the departed one.  Friends always took care of planning the meal, because the family had their hands full with grief and trying to deal with arrangements for the funeral or memorial service.

I have been to many of these meals since I am friends with many in our rural area and small towns.  Some of them are small with mostly family attending, but a couple have been enormous with a huge number of relatives and even more friends.  At one of the largest, the deceased’s employer had offered to cater the meal, and the family paid a young woman to meet the caterers and arrange the food at the community center where the meal would be held, while the mourners were finishing up the funeral at the graveside nearby.

Not everybody knew this, including me.   I personally brought several foods, meat and a couple of side dishes, I think.  I got there early, forgoing the graveside service, figuring I could help with the meal since the ladies who usually dealt with it were family members of the deceased and were at the graveside service.  I discovered the young woman arranging everything in the kitchen, which had two doors and a long counter, with two or three long tables for added surface space.

This immediately told me two things: one, she didn’t know how meals worked in our community center, and two, she had not seen how many mourners had been at the funeral.  I had and knew her arrangement was not going to work.  She was surprised and balked a little when I advised her the drinks and desserts needed to go in the main dining hall on larger tables.  She began to believe me when more ladies began showing up with more food, and the counter began being covered.  She had not even set out the meal the caterers had brought yet, keeping it warm in the oven and cool in the refrigerator.

She was astonished and a little dismayed when we finally had everything set up, with three long tables covered with desserts, two long tables covered with tea and coffee and a cooler on the floor full of ice and another full of canned drinks, and a kitchen with a long counter and two long tables all crowded with food.  “Won’t this be too much food?” she worried.  No, it wasn’t.  By the time the family and friends made their way through the line past all the food, the large amount of food the caterers provided and the extra food the friends of the family brought had dwindled to a few desserts.  If the friends of the family had not brought their dishes, only half the mourners would have had anything to eat.  NOT knowing about the catered food saved that meal.

Last week, another meal after a memorial service occurred.  The widow had asked the ladies of her church, which included me, to take care of arranging for food and drink for the family and friends later at a different community center.  One of the most experienced ladies here contacted all the usual members who donated food for these meals and figured whether we needed more or less of one food or another.  It was going to be simple, with only water to drink and sandwiches and soup and desserts for the food.  The only sticking point was how much would be needed since the family had many friends not from our area who would be attending.

The ladies of the church all brought our food, and the lady in charge made sure it got to the community center and got it set up with a few other women.  Few from our church and local area could attend the meal since it was almost an hour away and it was a weeknight with everybody needing to work the next day.  It was mostly the ladies who were retired who went to the community center to help out.  We got the sandwiches and soup set out and worried if there would be enough after seeing how many mourners had been at the memorial service.

We didn’t need to worry.  Apparently, the widow had not told their other friends that her church was handling the meal.  One man walked in with several large pizzas.  One came in with an enormous pan of barbecued sausages.  Desserts galore began crowding the dessert tables.  Boxes and boxes of fried chicken pressed up against the other meats. By the time they decided to start eating, the dishes were fighting for space on the long line of tables.

When everybody declared themselves stuffed there was still a large amount of food left, and the widow said she could not take it all home.  Then she had a brilliant idea.  She came up to us as we were contemplating all the remaining food and announced, “I solved it!  I just told all the college students they could take all this food back to their dorms!”  It was a perfect solution.  We got rid of the excess food, the kids got food for a week, and they did all the heavy labor of hauling the food to their vehicles, leaving us to just clean up.

Communication when coordinating is very important.  Sometimes you get all the information needed, and sometimes not.  Sometimes you just get lucky despite the missing information.

Not Just a ‘Writer’

I’m not just a writer.  I’m a storyteller.  I started telling stories before I learned my alphabet.  Once I discovered how to read and write, I learned that I could write something on paper and I could show it to others who had not heard me tell the story.  But writing my stories came later when my family could afford the extra paper and pencils.  Poverty sucks.

When I was a child, I was very introverted.  My family members were the only people I could tell my stories to.  When I was in elementary school, recess was an ordeal of loneliness until I started worldbuilding in my head.  It took a while to realize I was interacting with my imaginary world.  I would come out of it to see the other children staring at me.  I had been walking around, miming various actions and moving my mouth silently.  Finally one of them asked me what I was doing, and I began telling him about the sandwich factory I had built.  For some reason – hunger, maybe? – I was fascinated by the thought of automated assembly lines surrounded by machines slicing and stacking and wrapping meat and cheese sandwiches.  I had never seen an assembly line, but I guess we had been studying something on the subject.  Where were all the sandwiches going? I didn’t know and didn’t care.  It was the process that fascinated me.

The other kids thought I was nuts, but they began talking to me more, and I slowly made friends.  It helped me get through school.  Then we moved, and I had to make new friends. Since I was still introverted, it was difficult.  In the fifth grade, our English teacher discovered I had written a story.  I think it was about a horse since she had been reading a chapter a day from a novel about a horse to the class.  My story had several chapters as well, and she read a chapter of it every day to the class.  They did not seem impressed.  But they were happy they did not have to face a quiz about it, so I got no criticism.

I continued writing, the plots changing as I aged.  In the tenth grade, I was writing a teenage romance.  I had a thick spiral notebook dedicated to it.  A couple of weeks before the end of school, our history class teacher had pretty much finished everything on his curriculum and just told us to keep it quiet during class.  I immediately hauled out my notebook and began writing on my story.  The seat to my left was filled by a hulking football player.  He was a nice guy, but physically imposing.  I didn’t realize he was reading the page I was writing until I filled the page and started to turn to the next with my left hand.  He pinned my hand to the desk and leaned over.

I was speechless with shock and mortified by the immediate teasing coming from his friends behind us.  He ignored them and me and finished reading the page.  Then, still silent, he took the notebook away from me, flipped the pages to the story’s beginning, and read the whole thing.  I sat there too terrified to protest.  Luckily he caught up before the end of class.  I had no idea whether he’d let me have it back.  I had no idea what he was thinking as he read it.  It was a teen romance, written by a girl who had never had a boyfriend.  Would he make fun of me? Would he tell me it was trash?  Would he think it was about him?  It wasn’t, but would he be able to tell?

Just before class ended, he finished and handed the notebook back.  He looked at me, a warning clear in his expression.  “Finish it before school is out for the summer,” he said. “I want to read the end of it.”  He got up and left the room, still majestically ignoring his friends as they swarmed after him, demanding to know why he had held hands with me and then read my notebook.  I finished the story.  I did NOT want to find out what would happen if I didn’t.  After he finished it on the last day of school, he finally announced his opinion of it.  “A good story,” he said with an approving nod.  Nothing else, but I didn’t need anything else.

I lost my introverted nature over the next few years, but I never lost my love of story telling.  I wrote stories, I wrote poetry, I wrote songs.  I sent two books to publishers, and the editor told me that the beta readers had really liked them, but it wasn’t quite what the publishers really wanted at the moment.  I had learned about genre publishing by then, so I wasn’t surprised, but I was glad the beta readers had all liked my work.

One day I got the chance to have a science fiction/fantasy work of mine critiqued by a couple of professional writers and several amateurs as part of a science fiction convention.  You paid a fee, you sent in a chapter or short story, and received a copy of their work for you to critique.  I was always taught that if you need to offer criticism, make it constructive or leave it alone.  I learned that not everybody felt that way.

Science fiction and fantasy is such a broad genre most people have their own preferences for a certain kind.  Some have strong likes and dislikes of certain subjects.  At our session, we were supposed to go around the table, offering our critiques of one writer at a time.  The writer under the microscope was not allowed to argue with someone’s opinion, or defend their writing, or even speak until the end.  When mine came up, one amateur writer hated the whole story because it was based on a parallel world.  I didn’t worry about his opinion because that was his only criticism.  He just didn’t like parallel worlds, so he blew off the whole story.  Another young man loved my story.  He told me he couldn’t wait to read the rest of it.  I’m hoping to finally get that thing published soon, so maybe, wherever he is out there, he’ll be able to.

The other amateur writers were more focused on the technical aspects, like grammar and punctuation, and didn’t really have much to say about the story itself.  My work had been totally different from theirs, so I wasn’t surprised.  Then one of the pro writers, a white middle-class suburban mom type, complained that my characters were not believable.  “A teenage prostitute?  Where were her parents?”  Yes, she said that.  Everybody stared at her for a minute, and she looked like she couldn’t figure out why.  I don’t even remember the rest of what she said, I was so flabbergasted by that naive remark.

The other professional writer was a Canadian who wrote urban punk fantasy.  He tore my story to shreds, slapping the manuscript copy on the table.  “Nobody talks like that!” he snapped, and proceeded to vigorously point out how terrible everything else was in my story.  I was speechless about that, too.  Everyone looked vaguely embarrassed as he wound up.  When he was finished and I was allowed to speak to all of their critiques, I just smiled at him and told him I’d work on the dialogue.  I was from the rural southern United States, and he was an urban Canadian with a teenage daughter.  Maybe he didn’t get to listen to the kind of conversations I listened to.  I ignored everything else he said since it sounded like opinion, which didn’t worry me.  I was just pleased that one young man, who was my target audience for that story, really liked it.  That meant I had done it right.

I have had other comments since on many different stories I have written.  One lady told me about one story that she laughed and then she cried and then laughed again.  I said good because I had as well while I was writing it.  One lady told my church that she had not finished one of my books yet, but felt that it had changed her life, and urged all of them to read it.  Whoa!  I’m not sure I meant to do that, but she seemed happier, so I was glad.

Strong ego?  You bet.  I love to read what I write.  I like getting good reviews, but bad ones don’t bother me.  I may have to publish my own books, and I don’t make money at it yet, but I’m enjoying myself.  I get to tell stories, and that’s all I want to do.