Potential Ax Murderers, Judgement and a Flock of Teen Girls

Wow, the past two weeks have flown by. I’m tired, but in a good kind of way.

aa1On June 12, I was all packed up and excited for my first writers’ retreat in almost a year.  After a knock at my door, I opened it to find author, Christine Steendam, someone I’d only met on Twitter and Facebook, on the other side. She looked trustworthy, so I grabbed my luggage and hopped into her car along with comic author, Andrew Lorenz. It occurred to me that I was violating every warning I’d given my kids about meeting up with people they met online. I chuckled as I told them, “I hope you’re not ax murders.”

aa2We drove out to the middle of nowhere to this trailer where we’d be staying along with another author, A.P. Fuchs and his wife. Yes, this could be the den of ax murderers and there did happen to be an ax, but it was beside a wood pile. My head remained intact, and I got to know a fabulous group of writers. Oh, yeah, and I got some writing done too. I didn’t quite make my 15,000 word goal, but I was pleased with my 13,000 words. I’ve since finished the novel I worked on at the retreat for a total of eleven completed manuscripts.

aa7At the end of May, I had the privilege of judging my first short story contest. I’d entered plenty of writing competitions, but this was my first time on the other side of the competition. What an enlightening experience! I judged the teen category and let me tell you, the future of writing is bright. The Writers’ Collective Gala was held on June 16, where I had to honor of handing out awards to these very talented young people. I also received my own award–an honorable mention for my short story, Bread for Five.

A few weeks ago, I’d been invited to speak at a teen girls retreat through Living Bible Explorers. This past Friday, I journeyed out to their camp to share during four chapel sessions. I’d chosen the theme The Fault is Not in our Stars–Bible Women with a Powerful Purpose. I spoke on the daughters of Zelophehad, aa3Rahab, Ruth and Esther. The camp is still under construction, so there was no electricity and no plumbing. Nothing like going without those things for the weekend to make me appreciate them when I got home.

aa5It was a huge blessing to get to know the ministry leaders and the girls. I’m told the retreat went well, and I’ve been invited to return in the future.

I have one more event to prepare for this week–my first school visit! The mother of one of my readers contacted me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that her son enjoyed my book so much that he decided to use it for his end of the year language arts project. She also asked if I’d be willing to stop by his class for his presentation and share a little about the book.

So, as I wrap up a busy two weeks, I take a deep breath and reflect on all of it with thankfulness. Writing is my passion, and it’s taking me so many wonderful places. aa4

Inspiration for the Setting of #Enslavement

IMG_0793 IMG_0929 The setting for Enslavement has a special place in my heart. As a young teen, I spent two summers with my aunt and uncle who lived outside of Comfort, Texas. Yes, Comfort is a real place. I returned after I graduated from high school to attend bible school. It’s there that I met my husband. I was 18, he was 19 and we were engaged by spring.

Many of the sights I talk about in the book really exist–the small deer, the narrow roads, the limestone, the dry twisted junipers. Justin tells Rielle a story about a flash flood on the Guadalupe River–that really happened. On July 17, 1987, school bus full of children was swept away by the flood waters. Ten children did not survive.  This is the same type of flood that Rielle got caught in. You can view the story here:

It was wonderful to get to return to this beautiful and sometimes dangerous place, if only in my thoughts. 

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Moms, No Matter How Hard You Try, You Will Never be Dads

I came across this meme on Facebook and it instantly made me hot under the collar. I don’t normally anger easily, so it took me a moment to figure out why it hit a nerve.AA

First, you should know that I am not a single mother, but I was raised by one and that’s the point of view I’m writing from today. As a child of multiple divorces, this meme totally pissed me off. Why? Because no matter how hard moms try, they will never ever be dads.

When my dad exited stage left, my mom gained a ton of new responsibilities that she had to tackle without support. She had to go to work full time and make ends meet when child support cheques were sporadic. She had to find us a place to live and feed us on a tight budget. She had to look after me and ensure I still had a childhood. She had to nurse her broken heart and try to put her life back together. Her job description expanded exponentially. But, she never became my dad. She couldn’t.

Implying that my mother could become mother and father, would have negated my need for a father, negated the gaping hole his absence left in my life. There was a hole. There is a hole. And that hole was impossible for my mom to fill. She was a good mom, but never for a moment did that make up for the fact that my dad left us. I’m glad she didn’t have the outlook conveyed in this meme. I’m glad she recognized that she couldn’t be my dad and that instead she strove to be the best mom she could be.

Dads own a special dynamic within the parent/child relationship. I’ve watched my own children with their dad, like one watches a wildlife documentary, thinking, “So this is how it would have been to have an attentive father.” I could never replace him in their lives.

I have other family members who were raised without their father—they’re all the same, they want to know their dad. They desire a relationship with him no matter how much of a douchebag he’s been. If moms could take the place of dads, no one would feel that way. And yet we do.

Hats off to all you moms out there going it alone. I remember my mother’s tears, her exhaustion, her frustration, her quest to give me the best of everything even though she was suffering. Be a great mom. But, don’t be a dad. That’s something that will just be missing. It always will be missing, even if you don’t want it to be. If you can recognize the loss and stop pretending that everything is a-okay, everyone concerned can heal, learn how to move forward and learn how to live each day without Dad. It hurts. It just does. 

Nobody Wants to Hear About My #Failures, or Do They?

IMG_20150502_162838Over the past few days I’ve had a couple of new, stretching experiences that I count as successes.

On Saturday, I participated in Authors for Indies day, a campaign to support and champion independent bookstores. As a guest salesperson at McNally Robinson Booksellers, it was my job to help connect customers with great books. I was super nervous coming up to it because I’m not much of a salesperson and I do have trouble walking up to people and initiating conversations. IMG_20150504_141632316_HDRStationed in the children’s books section, I had the opportunity to connect with a couple teachers, a librarian and some young readers and their parents. I had a great time and will definitely sign up to do it again next year.

On Monday, I had my first radio interview. I was so nervous coming up to it that I almost ended up in tears. Some stern self-talk kept me from slipping over the edge. The interview was on a Winnipeg radio station, IMG_20150504_135829453680 CJOB on the Dahlia Kurtz show. I came prepared to talk about different aspects of my book from the writing process, the struggle to get published to Enslavement’s theme of dehumanization and how the idea for the book came to me. The interviewer immediately put me at ease and though I could feel my hands shaking, I got through the interview. If you’re curious, click here for a listen: https://soundcloud.com/680cjob/melinda-friesen?in=680cjob/sets/dahlia-kurtz

Both of these opportunities were exciting. I pumped them up on my social media sites. But, yesterday I took a moment to go over my SM posts and it struck me how I’m trumpeting my successes, but silent about my failures. Do people want to hear about my failures? Do they want to hear how I’m struggling through my most recent edit? Will it come off as whining or as me being real with my readers?

Rejection ScreenshotFor the first time in a long time, I opened up an email file called “Queries.” It’s a positive name for a file full of rejections. I didn’t bother counting. There are a lot and I got weary of scrolling through all the rejections I’ve received for my novels and short stories–and that file doesn’t even include old rejections I didn’t transfer to my new computer, hard copies that were mailed instead of emailed and those who just never bothered to get back to me. I suppose I want my readers to know that I trumpet the successes, but behind the scenes there are at least 40 failures for every small victory.

I want to focus on the positive because focusing on the negative would drown me. But, I admit, it makes my life sound idyllic. Look at me living the dream while you suffer failure after failure, which simply is not true. This is a tough road, no, it’s not even a road–it’s a jungle you hack your way through inch by inch.

What do you think? Do you want to hear more about others’ failures? Does hearing about failure make you feel like you’re not alone, or does it make you feel hopeless? Does hearing about the successes make you feel envious or does it give you hope? Where is the balance between the two?

Writer as Artist: A Unique and Surreal Experience

I’m always looking for different ways to get my work in front of readers.

I heard about Mennofolk a few months ago. An exhibition for Mennonite artists, they described themselves as, “a visual overload of art in various media and a traditional Mennonite Faspa.”Mennofolk2

After doing some research, I decided to submit my short story, Bread for Five, a perfect match for their theme, Interaction/Isolation.mennofolk6

First, just a little about my Mennonitism. There are cultural Mennonites and denominational Mennonites. I did not grow up Menno nor come from a Menno family. I married a cultural Mennonite and became a denominational Mennonite, if that makes any sense. 

With the piece accepted and set to be showcased in their readers nook, my husband and I headed to the Exchange Community Church in Winnipeg’s Exchange District. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would anyone sit down and read at an art exhibition? Did writing have a place among visual artists and musicians?Mennofolk5

The gallery was already buzzing when we walked in the door. People, mainly twenty-somethings, milled around the room, looking at the artwork and snacking on the faspa provided–cold farmer sausage, cheese, pickles, zwieback with jam and butter. (Faspa is a light evening meal, typically served Sundays).Mennofolk3

Beside the stage, I spied the reading nook–a couple cozy chairs, an end table and a lamp and, to my surprise, readers reading. Two other pieces occupied the table alongside my short story–one poetry and one a reflective piece. 

With writing, you send things out for publication and you’re happy if they get accepted. You have the satisfaction of knowing that someone, somewhere is reading your work, but you rarely get put faces to those readers. You rarely get to be a fly on the wall and watch.Mennofolk1

I ambled around the gallery, taking in the other artwork and watching the reader nook from the corner of my eye. People would sit down and read, then get up and others would come to take their place. All through the evening one person after another would sit and read my story. Indeed, people do read at art exhibitions. 

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It was gratifying to actually get to see people reading my story and sort of surreal too. I realized how abstract the idea is–being writer. We can’t hang our work on a wall for onlookers to quickly peruse. We can’t play a song listeners can passively take in during conversation. We demand your attention–all of it for an extended period of time. Readers take a piece of writing and usually go off on their own to read. What a treat to have the opportunity to share those often private moments of story with real life readers.

 

 

A Word from the Emotionally Constipated

I was lying on the hospital bed exhausted, feeling disembowelled. I felt like I was three stories off the ground. As the doctor suctioned the baby he said, “She’s biting me,” and in my Demerol induced stupor I imagined my baby with razor-sharp little teeth. What did I give birth to? And then the doctor asked me joyfully, “Do you want to hold your baby.”

I said, “No.”

That wasn’t the way I’d imagined reacting to the birth of my first child. In movies women always cried with joy. Not me. I watched my husband walk the floor with her and name her when the doctor asked.

I’ve learned that I don’t usually react the way I think I should, or the way others think I should to exciting situations. I think of it as emotional constipation.

So when I got the call that the proof for my book was in, I excitedly drove over to see it. In the spring of 2015, it will have been five years since I wrote it. The subsequent years were spent revising and then giving up on it for a period of time and hiding it in folder called, “Completed Manuscripts.” It hid there with the others.

So how did I react upon seeing the product of five years of work? I was reluctant to hold it, but took it anyway. I turned it over in my hands, read a few words. Yep, my words. Weird. So weird. I’m still feeling weird about the whole thing. Am I so used to striving after something and not getting it, that I don’t know what to do when I get it?  I mean, five years of critique and rejection and work, work, work. I can’t process that it’s over (for that manuscript at least). I want to be jumping up and down with excitement. I don’t want to think about how the dream looked when I first formed it in my mind because logically I know those were pie in the sky dreams, but I’m also having to get over a sense of failure that I didn’t achieve that old vision.

A week after my daughter was born, I caught sight of myself in a mirror, holding my little girl. It finally hit me–this is my baby.  So I’m waiting for this to hit me too–to finally get to take some joy in my first  published novel.

That I’m-Going-To-Throw-Up Feeling

Okay, so I’m the worst blogger in the world. But, this time I have a really good excuse for not blogging. Really, I do.

You know that I’m-going-to-throw-up feeling you get when it finally occurs to you that something big is happening. I’m a master of denial, so there’s always this huge gap between when I find out something is happening and when it actually hits me that it’s happening.

So, I finally have a publisher for my book and I’ve spent my summer slogging through edits with Rebelight Publishing. It’s been an amazing experience. It’s been hard and rewarding and exhausting and exhilarating.

But, I had serious doubts as to whether they were actually going to go through with it. I really thought they’d get to a point and say to themselves, “She’s hopeless. We can’t possibly publish this.” I maintained this doubt until last Thursday.

Then, as I’m driving down the road, it suddenly hits me. Oh. My. Gosh. My book is getting published. After years of rejections and disappointment, it’s actually getting published. Cue the I’m-going-to-throw-up feeling. I considered pulling over and making use of the Plessis road ditch several times.

I managed to keep my dinner down, but I’m still in this panic laced euphoria. This is actually happening.

Into the Elements: A Creative Writing Workshop with Donald Miller

IMG_7337Join me this Sunday, April 27th in the North Kildonan MB church library at 1315 Gateway Rd. from 9:30 to 10:30 am. I’m facilitating the video series Into The Elements, a creative writing workshop taught by author, Donald Miller. The cost is free and no registration necessary.  Here’s more info:

Into the Elements: A writing workshop with best-selling author Donald Miller

Public speakers, novelists, screenwriters, teachers, biographers, journalists, memoirists, essayists and communicators of any sort are invited Into the Elements.Bluelike

Donald Miller delivers four lectures on the art of story, showing any communicator how to translate their ideas into stories that readers, viewers and listeners can’t turn away from.

In this four session series you will learn:
• Use the elements of story to keep an audience interested in your lecture.
• Keep a reader interested on every page of your novel.
• Learn the techniques for creating the beginning, middle, and end of your story.
• Learn to plot the story-arc before you ever write a word of your novel.
• Understand how “The Story Question” is the heart of every story.
• Create stories that are exciting, provocative and meaningful. See More

 

No Name Novel

I’m terrible at naming my novels. While some have names for their manuscripts before they noname1 even open a new Word document, I finish them and go through umpteen edits before settling on a name. My first manuscript has gone through four different names and now I’ve gone back to the third.

My eighth novel was originally called Assimilation until its final chapters when I came up with the most awesome name ever. Maybe my book naming woes were over. I was so proud of myself. This was a gooder. It matched the theme and had a deeper meaning that the reader would only catch after reading the book. I called it The Lilith Strain.

noname3It was great until I said it aloud. Go ahead. Say it aloud. Tongue get all tied up and twisted? Mine did. Say it three times fast—The Lilith Strain, The Lilith Strain, The Lilith Strain. Okay, that name had to go. So, now it’s called The Miller’s Daughter, a title I’m not enthusiastic about, so it probably won’t stick either.

I struggled to name my children too. I was more concerned about the meaning of the name and that it didn’t rhyme with any body parts than the actual name. I mean, how could I give my child a moniker that meant smelly haired (Brendan)? My daughter’s name means lion of God. It’s a good strong meaning and nonamesince she bit the doctor on the way out and, in my Demerol induced stupor, I imagined she had a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, it seemed the perfect name

I’m days away from finishing my ninth novel. And it has no title. I’ve tried out several names, but none are quite right. For now I’m calling it the No Name Novel. Catchy isn’t it? Doesn’t that just make you want to grab it off the shelf and take it home?

Obsessive Editing

Just one more edit. Just one more teensy edit. That seems to be my mantra lately. I picasso2contacted a friend who was about to read my manuscript and asked her to delete it because I wanted to edit it one more time. Not a huge edit; I just came off one of those. Just a little edit. A once over to see if the last edit did it’s job. Hmmm. There is such a thing as over-editing, over-thinking and, dare I say, obsessing.

There’s a story told about Picasso and how he would sell his paintings, then buy them back because he, probably after obsessing for awhile, would determine that the painting wasn’t quite done. I don’t know if the story is truth or legend, but I totally understand why an artist would do that.

How I feel every time I send something out.

How I feel every time I send something out.

As I’ve considered my work over the years, it’s clear that I’m a better writer now than I was when I started and I’ll, hopefully, be better in ten years than I am now. Will I look back on my 2014 work and shake my head, be embarrassed at my writing? Since nothing is ever perfect, I’m sure I will. Whenever I send anything off, whether it be to a beta reader, agent, or editor, I get this sense of anxiety. There is a finality to it. Their image of me as an author and my writing will be formed around the piece of work I’ve sent them–AS IS. As exciting as it is to have people read my work, it’s also terrifying. And so, I edit.

I’m editing the piece I have for probably the 25th time. Deep sigh. It’s probably time to stop.