Yes, I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year for the first time since 2009 (which I don’t really count, because I signed up and then never did anything, so let’s just call it 2008, ’kay?). Even though writing is a priority in my life and rises above all else—when I need to write, I stop everything and do it—NaNoWriMo seems to be one of those writing projects that I have to be in the mood to do, because for me, it’s about Read the rest of this entry
Ever notice that when you start feeling sorry for yourself because you haven’t accomplished very much in life, the universe reminds you it isn’t true?
This recently happened to me.
From 2003-2009, I founded and moderated Pencils! Writing Workshop inNorwalk,CT.The group not only resulted in lasting friendships and relationships (it’s how I met Nathan, but I know of a few other couples who met in Pencils! and are going strong today), it launched a few writing careers or brought existing ones to new heights.
I was having one of those days when I wasn’t feeling great about my accomplishments when I purchased early Pencils! member A.J. O’Connell’s recently-released novel Beware the Hawk. I remembered A.J. would often bring pages of the novel to group, and after so many years I was dying to read it in its final form.
She’d gotten feedback from Pencils! on those early drafts; then she’d gone on to pursue her MFA from Fairfield University, where she continued to make improvements. After she graduated, she submitted the work to Vagabondage Press Books, which accepted it; as with any publishing house, the manuscript probably went through a couple more rounds of editing and improvement before it was published in both print and e-book formats. A.J. had invested years in herself and her work, and it had paid off.
So imagine my surprise when I purchased Beware the Hawk and read her dedication: For Pencils, my first writing group.
It was an amazing thing to see; Pencils! had been there in the beginning, but it had really been A.J. who had spent so much of her time and energy on making Beware the Hawk what it had become. Still, would Beware the Hawk be on the shelves today if there hadn’t been a Pencils! for her to go to? Would it have been started and never finished, or finished and just in some drawer somewhere?
A few days later, I found another early Pencils! member, Tamela J. Ritter, had written a review of A.J.’s book on Goodreads. Tamela’s early ventures with Pencils! included her novel-in-progress From the Ashes, which is being published in the coming year.
I’m extremely proud of both of them, and I’m reminded my doing that one small thing—founding a writer’s group—affected someone’s life in ways it may not have been had I not founded the group at all.
I suppose if I never do another thing, I’ve done enough. I brought two people together who are good friends to this day, and both of them have their books on shelves.
I’ll remember that the next time I’m feeling sorry for myself.
Tamela has given me permission to reprint her review of A.J.’s Beware the Hawk here. This originally appeared on Goodreads and on Tamela J. Ritter’s website here: http://tamela-j.livejournal.com/14898.html on February 11, 2012.
You can purchase Beware the Hawk just about anywhere; it’s in print and in all e-book formats. For convenience, here’s the link to the Vagabondage Press Books listing, which contains links for purchase:
Tamela J. Ritter’s review of A.J. O’Connell’s Beware the Hawk
It’s pulp fiction. Real pulp fiction, though, not like the movie. John Travolta is not in this book. Sorry.
That’s how A.J. O’Connell describes her new novella “Beware the Hawk” on her website. I’m not suggesting I’m an expert of the genre as I can honestly say that I have read very few (if any) pulp fiction novels (wait, does Elmore Leonard count?) I’m just saying, even I know there are a few things that are absolutely essential:
Feisty Dames (check) The protagonist of the story (who, lol, I didn’t realize until writing this up, is nameless and when I figure out how O’Connell managed to do that so effortlessly I will gladly share it with you) is nothing if not feisty. Jaded, yes, but not so much so that she’s unreachable and isn’t constantly surprised and dismayed. You can feel shocked by her predicaments, because you sense that she is too, no matter how above it all she tries to portray herself.
Clandestine Meetings (check) Protagonist and her Boston contact, Leo have a number of meetings in a seedy bar where things get more confused the more they’re explained.
Code Words (check) The title alone tells you this is true and yet it avoids being gimmicky.
Someone Overusing the Term “Sweetheart” (check) Sooooo many sweethearts! But, hey, a pulp fiction book that takes place in Boston where it’s not sweetheart, but “sweet-haht” isbegging for this overuse.
If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the genre, I highly suggest you start here. It’s a short, well written read that will have you wishing it was so much longer. Not in an unfinished way, but in a “I want to hang out with these characters for many, many more pages” way.
In addition to the subtle way that she avoids naming the main character and still makes us feel as if we know her almost intimately, the writer in me also admires and wants to know how O’Connell finds the exact perfect way with descriptions so that they not only tell us the physicality of a thing, but also a bit about the character who notices them without weighing us down with too many facts. It’s a gift that’s for sure.
Here are a few of my non-spoilery favorites that, thanks to Kindle being in every aspect of my life I can easily highlight on my reader and then cut and paste on my Kindle App for my PC (annotated and everything!!). ♥
It started as a tramp stamp but kind of took over. One of my roommates calls it a tramp stampede.
O’Connell, A.J. (2012-01-14). Beware The Hawk (Kindle Locations 334-335). Vagabondage Press LLC. Kindle Edition.
I turned my head to see three skinny girls wearing black tank tops and khakis. Danny picked all of them up in one gigantic hug and then dropped them. They fell on their feet, three Siamese cats, styled by Abercrombie & Fitch.
O’Connell, A.J. (2012-01-14). Beware The Hawk (Kindle Locations 355-356). Vagabondage Press LLC. Kindle Edition.
It’s taking everything in me not to share every single example and every single witty sentence (of which there are many) that I have highlighted here. But I don’t have the time (or copyright) for that. :)) Plus, you should probably read it for yourself and highlight your own favorites.
About The Goodbye Project:
There are so many of us who can’t part with objects because of the sentimental attachment we have to them. You know—the graduation tassels, the barfed-on stuffed animal with the missing eye, the coat your late father bought for you because you begged. So what do you do when it’s time to let go of these beloved items because it’s absolutely necessary?
I’d read someplace that one of the best ways to let go of an object is to know that you have a photo. Sure, you can photograph it before you get rid of it. The Goodbye Project takes the idea a step further: go back and find photos of yourself actually with, using, or wearing that object, and blurb a bit about the memories it invokes.
Why? Everything has a story.
And because of that, the object deserves more than just a hasty trip to the Goodwill or the trash without a second thought.
EPISODE 17: REJECTION SLIPS, PART TWO: BURN THE REST!
In a recent conversation thread on LinkedIn, several writers were sharing the best and worst rejection slips we’d ever gotten. Although I remembered a few of the worst ones (Lunch Hour Stories told me that little boys would NEVER torture bugs or caterpillars, and so how dare I put that in a story?), the funny ones (I once got one that said, “HAVE A HAPPY DAY!” at the end of it), and the best ones (either signed by someone really cool, full of compliments or offering helpful feedback), I knew that I could have more actively participated in the conversation had I not burned—that’s right—burned—most of my rejection slips.
Saying goodbye doesn’t always mean just saying goodbye to objects. Sometimes it’s saying goodbye to an era, a group of friends, even an annual event. In this case, it’s all three.
In the summer of 2003, I founded a writer’s group called Pencils! Writing Workshop in Norwalk, CT (our original website is still up here: www.pencilswritingworkshop.com, although I will tell you that the layout is nowhere near what it was due to the fact that when I set up the site, it was Google Pages, which changed over to Google Sites in 2009). While the group’s main focus was to meet twice a month to critique work, its secondary aim was to create a community of like minds who could gather socially, attend conferences, and embark on writing-related outings.
(Note: if you visit the Pencils! website may see some of the copy you’re about to read over there. It’s okay—I wrote that stuff, so I’m only plagiarizing myself).
One Valentine’s Day in 2005, when the weather had dipped below zero, five Pencils! who had nothing to do decided to gather around a fireplace with a couple of bottles of wine and a plate of pepperoni and cheese. Somehow we got the idea that, because of theHoliday, we should bring our rejection slips and share them.
What started as a share and wallow became a banishment of our angst and negativity toward rejection—after taking a few minutes to explain our frustrations and anger, we hurled our slips into the burning fire.
We couldn’t believe how great we felt afterward—unburdened, ready for another round of submissions. We dubbed the night “The Rejection Slip Burning Party,” and the difference it made in giving us the courage to go forward through another year of submitting our work was so positive we made the party a Pencils! annual tradition.
There aren’t any pictures from that first event in 2005—it truly was a last-minute thing; I think we just all agreed to grab a snack and BYOB and meet at someone’s house at 5 p.m. But it was the start of something that grew exponentially, something to which everyone looked forward—and what was really great was that you could only come if you had submitted your work the previous year and had at least one rejection. Over time, the evening became an incentive—people who never would have had the courage to submit anything otherwise started sending out their work.
So, I share these photos of the four rejection slip burning events we had after 2005, and in doing that, I say goodbye to the era of mid-winter burnings with my writing friends in New England.
2nd Annual March Against Rejection 2006
3rd Annual REJECT-A-RAMA 2007
The 2007 rejection gathering, held on February 10, was a smash hit and saw a jump in attendance from five people to twelve. Amid shouts of “Burn It!” and some other things not appropriate for the web, feelings of anger, hopelessness and frustration went up in smoke.
4th Annual “Oh Sweet Rejection!” Slip Burning 2008
The 2008 event, held on February 23, was the most well-attended and celebratory burning of them all. Highlights? For starters, somebody got ballsy and burned a bestseller (We have proven over time that just because it is a bestseller does not mean that it has the best, or even decent, writing.) Someone else brought an entire BAG of slips to burn. And the capper? Well, the Pencils! gave me a great big surprise that was so awesome I couldn’t even accurately express my gratitude; basically, I was stepping down from many of my duties as founder and moderator of Pencils! that year because I had my hands full with my MFA.
Pencils! Writing Workshop outdoes themselves…
Well, here it is…the big surprise. Jerry headed the whole thing up, and the story goes way back to December, when Jerry apparently sent out an e-mail about surprising me with a gift — and he didn’t realize one of my other e-mail addresses was on the “cc” list! I did read the e-mail, but discreetly ditched it and said nothing.
At that time, my Dad was really going downhill. In fact, I came home pretty depressed on a Friday night…my family was descending that weekend, the weekend before Christmas, to go spend time with him in the hospital. I stopped to get the mail and there was a card in my mailbox from Pencils!. I thought it was going to just be a Christmas card.
I was so overwhelmed with happiness when I opened it to see everyone’s signatures…and a gift card for Disney (they all know I go to Disney World at least once a year!). I just started to cry. Good tears! Here’s what I received on that cold, depressing day. I’ve gotta tell you, there aren’t really words to express how brightening and emotional this was. It made me realize that I’ve got the best thing in the world…good friends. And they’re hard to find.
In case you’re wondering, “Kaye” is my nickname. Several people know me by it, and when I move toFloridait’s likely the nickname I’ll use.
Now, fast forward to our rejection slip burning on February 23. They totally shocked me with this other gift — because they realized that I had probably seen the first gift and therefore wasn’t surprised enough, the card and gift card in December were just a “Decoy!” Several Pencils! members pointed out that Jerry is so good at this stuff that if he wanted to overthrow a country, he could probably do it.
What did they give me? Well, besides a REALLY cool card with pencils on the cover –which meant so much to me because it just proves that great art comes from great people — it was another gift card to Disney World, and dinner with Lorraine Warren — someone I’ve always wanted to spend time with but never got the opportunity!
So, here’s me, being stunned:
After the big surprise, there was another one. Jerry decided to burn a bestseller. With good reason. The first few sentences were so poorly written, why pass it on to anyone else?
5th Annual Rejection Slip Pyre & Potluck 2009
This was Pencils!’ last rejection burning event, and it was held at my house inDanburyas a luncheon on March 14, 2009. Several Pencils! were in attendance, but having it inDanburyallowed some other writer-friends who live locally to come on by and share in the festivities.