This weekend was the 2016 WV Book Festival. Wonderful event. The staff really outdid themselves again this year. There were wonderful seminars for Creating Vibrant Characters with WVU Press/Vandalia Press and If You Want to Write for Kids! Writing Workshop, with Sarah Sullivan. Both were full of information and rivaled the wonderful workshops from last year.
After the 2015 evening with Neil Gaiman, I worried that this year's speaker wouldn't be quite as entertaining. I was very wrong. Though Erik Larson is from a completely different genre, his take on writing and his personal experience was invaluable for anyone interested in writing, or, where my husband is concerned, anyone involved with a crazy person who stalks authors regularly. Larson's use of humor was abundant, his knowledge and skill clear to even the most casual of his fans. (Plus, he liked my tweet you guys ZOMG...). There was one thing he said though, that really hit me: when you stop writing for the day, leave off in the middle of a paragraph, or even a sentence. Let your brain work on it for you while you're sleeping. When you come back in the morning, you'll have it all neatly worked out and be able to begin with fervor.
Although my goal was to spend all of my morning on day two in seminars, I got hungry. So after spending too much money at the book fair and marketplace (Tara Tyler and Ashley Chappell, I blame you), I went to lunch and wrote. I'd left off mid-paragraph the night before and holy hells it worked! I finished two chapters before going to listen to the hilarious Maggie Stiefvater at 1:30. If I'm being honest, I'd never actually heard of her before. I was just curious about the title listed on the program, "An Average Work Day." I'm certainly thankful I went. She was engaging, funny, and refreshingly real with her audience, sharing personal stories and giving them a glimpse into how she does what she does. I'll definitely be giving her a read based on this alone. Plus, she reinforced what I've been doing lately: plot it out before you even open the page. Let it be fully formed in your mind before you write the first word.
The final part of my day was spent with the amazing Patrick Rothfuss. His approach to the importance of reading and how it fosters empathy between people was an interesting and insightful view. He took something that seems mundane and made it fresh. Plus, I'm pretty sure he started a cult: Hail The Book!
For the love of all that is good and pure in this world, November 9th, come quickly. That's right, I said the 9th. Not the 8th, when we all have to do our civic duty and vote for one of the impossibly awful candidates who we've determined to be the best we can get. I want the day after election day to come quickly and shine its glorious light on us, so that we can finally be done with this sh*t storm of an election.
I wanted Bernie. Still do. I keep trying to convince myself that there is still a candidate worth voting for, but I just can't buy into it. The three main reasons I've been told repeatedly that I should vote for Hillary are::
1. She's a woman. I'm a woman. Ipso facto, I should vote her.
Let's be real: my vagina has nothing to do with my vote. AND IT SHOULDN'T! Anything related to a person's genitalia (the size of Trump's "hands")and how that qualifies them for the presidency should immediately be dismissed.
2. She's the closest to my values.
Eh, except that my values don't really include dishonesty, a barrage of lies, and a general shadiness that I can't quite pinpoint. "But Shelly," they say, "just because she rubs you the wrong way doesn't mean she isn't qualified." I'll give you that one. She's spent her life in politics, and at some point, I believe she probably did it because she wanted to make a difference. But after years in said politics, it seems unlikely that she hasn't been swayed by the negative aspects in her rise to power. Sure, she isn't a racist bigot like her opponent, but that should really be a given when you're talking about someone who is going to be POTUS.
3. We need to make sure Trump doesn't get in office.
Well, this one I can almost stand behind. The thought of that man in office terrifies me. As someone who has experienced sexual assault, specifically being, as he so eloquently put it, "grabbed by the p*ssy," I can't accept his words as "locker room talk." He says they are just words, but these words are powerful and damaging, and give permission for other men to do the same. I don't believe that he intends for his words to do that, because if I thought he meant to make those actions permissible for all, I'd rather go hide in a hole somewhere and wait to die than to experience Trump's America.
His callous words aren't the only reason my disdain for him seems to grow stronger each day. His experience in the business world would be valuable, but his inexperience in every other facet of government makes him laughable. The rest of the world probably thinks Ashton Kutcher has somehow rigged the election and they're being Punk'd. Were I not living in this strange world where my neighbors, coworkers, and family are actually voting for the man, I'd feel that way as well.
There's plenty of argument for 3rd party candidates in this election, but we all know they won't win. So we are left with these two people and told to vote for the "lesser of two evils." As I've stated before, I don't feel like I should have to vote for evil. I want to vote for someone I can trust to do the right thing, even when its hard. I don't trust either of them to do the right thing.
Where does that leave me and the others who feel like I do? Stuck between a rock and a hard place, waiting for it all to be over.
Let’s remove ourselves from the conversation of whether or not the primaries were rigged. Let’s not talk about Debbie Wasserman Shultz resignation or the emails. Instead, I want to talk to you about why it is so difficult for people to let go of Bernie.
Like many Bernie supporters, I’ve never been involved in politics. I’ve voted in the presidential elections, sure, but this was the first election year where I participated in a primary. It was my first time going to a rally. I followed the debates and speeches with interest, for the first time. I was actively creating opportunities for discussions with family, friends, and coworkers about current issues. Some of you out there are already rolling your eyes and shaking your head that someone in their thirties has been so reckless with democracy that they didn’t pay attention in the last four elections. And you’re right. I was careless with my country and its leadership; however, I’m awake now.
I’ve woken up in a tumultuous time. I’ve awoken amidst scandal and distrust in my party, while anger and discord are being spread by the other. There is a war between the aisles, with both sides touting the phrase, “Vote for the lesser of two evils,” and both being sure that their candidate is that choice. It is those very words that haunt many voters. Why should we have to vote for any evil? Don’t we deserve better? And if the answer is yes, if we do deserve better than the choice we’ve been given, what can we do about it?
This is the point where Bernie supporters find it hard to get behind Clinton. We understand why he has thrown his support behind her: if he can’t have the nomination, he will use his influence to try to unite the party to avoid a Trump presidency. It’s logical, and many of his supporters have accepted it. But then there are those of us who simply can’t accept it. For the first time in our lives, we are awake, active, and participating in the political process. If we let go of Bernie and our loyalty to him, it feels like we are willing ourselves back to sleep, our dreams better than the reality we’ve found.
We were given hope; indeed, Bernie has been a beacon to us, a rallying point uniting those of us who have previously had no involvement in politics because we thought we couldn’t change anything. Some of us aren’t ready to relinquish that hope and go back to believing that we have no say.
I don’t blame Bernie for standing behind Hillary Clinton. I don’t blame her for fighting for the nomination. But I am not at a point where I can fall in line behind her and be okay with the things that have happened over the course of this primary season. Of course I will not be voting for Trump; despite the Democrats’ faults, nothing could persuade me to vote for a man who regularly spews bigotry and hatred. Unfortunately, the third party options would only further guarantee a Trump presidency. My only other option is to cast no vote, which simply emphasizes the fact that my vote doesn’t matter in the first place. That’s a hard place to land.
Where do we go from here? That’s a question that I can’t answer. Bernie is trying to pave a way into the Democratic Party for us, and help us stand behind the nominee, but it’s not an easy task to pull behind someone who hasn’t given us the same hope that he has. I don’t know what will happen between now and the election, and honestly, I’m not sure what has to happen to sway my vote to Hillary. Eight years ago, I would’ve voted for her. Now? There have been too many things that have gone unanswered for me to trust her. I know this is a point of contention with her supporters, but I’m sure you’ll find that most of us on the fence feel this way, and are still looking for answers from her.
In the end, I find that I’m left with more indecision each day. I have a little more than three months to find the answers I’m looking for, to find a place to put my hope. When all is said and done, I still want to find a candidate to believe in.
Yes, I heard you. So did the three preteens in front of you who already struggle with their appearance. But maybe that was the point of your outburst. Maybe you wanted some attention taken away from the woman onscreen, who is far more than just her appearance.
Maybe you were jealous. She has fame and fortune, a blossoming career, a talent for portraying a variety of character while still remaining true to herself and her fans, and the attention of the man sitting beside you. When he said she was pretty, it was almost as if you couldn't believe he could find another woman attractive other than you. Your scoff that echoed through a particularly quiet part of the movie could have gone unnoticed until you loudly voiced how he couldn't possibly really think she was pretty, because she is fat. Thankfully, the gentleman with you responded with the most logical and succinct assessment of your statement when he said you were either blind or crazy if you think Jennifer Lawrence is fat. The music picked up and your conversation was lost to most of the theater again, but I was close enough to hear that last jab: "Ugh, whatever. She's at least chunky."
II love West Virginia. It's a beautiful place to live, where people care about one another and want to help others, where there are four distinct seasons and each has it's own beauty, and where my family calls home. I've lived other places (Alabama, North Carolina, Minnesota, Louisiana) and I've even done the big city life (Minneapolis, New Orleans), but nowhere else has ever been home except these mountains, and I'm pretty sure nowhere else will ever be.
Living in a smaller city has it's perks, but it also has it's downside. There's rare opportunity for a writer like myself to find work in that field (hence the full-time work elsewhere that keeps me away from my passion), there's less demand for the creatives who aren't well-known, and there's little communication that passes through to help, encourage, or uplift the struggling writer.
Enter the WV Book Festival. It has been absent for the last 2 years due to funding issues, but this year it came back full force. I began my day with a workshop on Memoirs, led by Cat Pleska and Fran Simone. Although I typically don't consider myself as this type of writer, their information and exercises were wonderful and revitalized my love for creative nonfiction.
After the workshop (and a quick lunch with my rescue mutt, Gimli), I perused the booths where authors, publishers, and other book-minded people sat. It was lovely chatting with two authors with which I was unfamiliar but who I'm certain are going to be fantastic reads (Darin Kennedy and John G. Hartness). To my utter delight, right beside their table was Gail Z. Martin, an author I became familiar with around 2008. All of these authors were friendly, kind, and genuinely happy when others took an interest in their work. I highly recommend checking them out and supporting them. Writing can be hard work, and they deserve credit for making a life of it.
After lunch was a fantastic workshop with Jane Friedman discussing self-publishing. It was a very informative discussion with some great ideas, and I look forward to putting into practice the things discussed in her workshop.
The pièce de résistance was a speaking engagement with Neil Gaiman. If you are unfamiliar with his work, I must assume you've been living under a rock or in a dark, lifeless cave. Sandman, American Gods, Anansi Boys, Coraline, Stardust, Good Omens, Mirrormask, Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, and the Ocean at the End of the Lane are just a few of the gems in his catalog of amazing work. He has this enviable career that almost makes him seem off-limits to the likes of we mere mortals, but his demeanor is kind and witty, his heart for his family made clear through every story he related back to them, and his advice for writers was pure: Writers write. There's nothing more to it than that.
So thank you, WV Book Festival, for making this happen, and thank you to all the wonderful authors, publishers, presenters, and peers who came together for this event. A special thank you to the many sponsors who provided this free of charge. This was a great weekend to be a West Virginian.
But anyway, I found this site by clicking on this article about Gender in Marketing, specifically re: Black Widow from the Avengers. After perusing a few other articles, I found an interesting contest that asks people to create an origin story for an existing character. I only had 1 day to do it, and there were already some great origins listed, so at first I was hesitant about entering. But then I thought, hey, why not?
I decided to write an origin story for Big Bird, strange as that may sound. He's a character who has been around for ages without anyone exploring why he is on Sesame Street or how he got there. I *may* have taken it a bit dark. Have a read and tell me what you think: The Day Jim Bird Died
I mean, I haven't sent her my ear or anything, but I've started following her on social media and reading her old blog. I found myself almost in tears reading through some of her old stuff, because I know those feels: she has these rambling paragraphs about how much she wants to get published and all the things she's doing to try to get there, the rejection she faces, the hurt she feels, the knowledge that writing is what she's supposed to be doing, and the lack of self-esteem to know whether or not anyone else will ever feel that way.
That's where I am right now. I have these stories that I want to get out to readers, but I don't know how to be effective. I can put them on Amazon, but I can't make anyone buy them. Hell, I can't even give them away. And everyone around me gives me the "You're really talented, don't worry," speech, but in truth, the odds are against me and I may never make it.
After that last sentence, I threw up in my mouth a little bit. It isn't about money or fame or whatever, it is about getting the stories out of my head and into the hands of a reader who will cherish them as much as I do. I know they're out there. There are people who will love these characters as much me, but I have to find them. Hocking did. Was it luck? That "Magic Hand" that she insists doesn't exist, or did she just work her ass off until it happened? Guess I'll keep working mine and hope that's the right choice of the three, because luck isn't in my wheelhouse.
I've started rewriting the next book. Even though it was written more recently and shouldn't require as many changes, the significant changes in the first one have altered the story in such a way that I had to completely change the first few chapters to get to usable material. As much as I love the new story and am excited for it to be released, I'm also worn out by it and glad it will be finished so I can move on to something new. I have a folder full of stories waiting to be written, and all they need is time and attention.
There's a young man in the coffee shop, sitting across the room from me, his eyes trained on his screen as his fingers whir across his keyboard at a feverish pace. I'm casually watching him while I wait for my muse to arrive, when I see him straighten his back, inch his fingers slightly away from the keys, and smile in triumph. He looks around the room then, blinks a couple of times, then takes a drink of coffee as he settles back into reality. He stretches and looks up again, and this time our eyes meet. I smile at him and nod, acknowledging his cleverness and encouraging him to leap back into the world at his fingertips. He sees my open laptop, and for a few seconds we share a camaraderie, before he turns back to his screen and I begin the painstaking battle to enter my own world.
Once I'm there, there's quite a lot to do. I do a quick scan of the news to remind myself of current events, and am shocked to discover that so much has transpired since the last time I was here. The villain has become more villainy, the hero has become more heroic, and the imminent battle between the two has grown even closer than when I entered their world yesterday. I hone in on my hero and listen to the last words that fell from their lips, then my fingers fly across the keyboard as I watch what happens next.
It is a beautiful thing, this movie in my head. I watch the interactions, the movements, and the changes that befall these people, and I'm lucky enough to be there to write them all down. Sure, some of the things I write down will be removed later, as they prove unimportant to the overall story I am seeing, but some of these little actions that I don't yet understand will be crucial to understanding how it all played out.
Having spent the majority of my life as a writer, I understand how the boy from the coffee shop feels when he looks up from being clever, only to realize that no one around him was there to appreciate it. Writers pour their hearts, emotions, and time into the world in their head, only to have their loved ones pat them on the back or shrug away without understanding the devastating effects their lack of emotion can cause. I've seen the concerned looks, the whispers between loved ones, and even the look of fear in someone's eyes when they realize your feet aren't firmly planted in the same world theirs are in. My sister has (lovingly) asked, "What do the voices tell you to do?" Little does she know, I'm not listening to the voices, I'm watching their vessels live full and adventurous lives, all from the privacy of my own keyboard.
So the next time you see that person in the coffee shop look up from frantically typing, give them a smile and a nod, and let them know it is okay to spend some time in a world that isn't the same one you're in. After all, the characters they so lovingly craft aren't imaginary people, they're friends.