Good Morning!

It’s ten a.m., and I’m sitting at the computer in my jammies. I’ve lost count of how many cups of coffee I’ve inhaled, or how many times I’ve thought about taking a break only to push the thought aside and keep writing until the kids wake up and need me. Don’t judge me for letting them sleep in; it’s summer vacation.

I’m hungry. My ankles are swollen. I really have to pee.  And let’s face it; I’m pretty sure I stink.

This is not my fault.

I blame the writing workshop I attended last night. The instructor has been talking about plotting and structure, and I don’t remember ever feeling so driven to hurry home and write. I was home by eight, and I figured I could “burn the midnight oil” to make a lot of progress before going to bed. I felt like a real writer, like an artist starving to create a masterpiece. Yessir, I had a real fire in my belly.

Have I mentioned that I also have kids? More specifically, kids with nothing in their bellies.

My seven year-old greeted me on his bike at the foot of the driveway, surrounded by a posse of small people on similar bikes. “I’m hungry,” he announced as soon as I stepped out of my friend’s car.

“Didn’t your brother feed you?”

“Nope.”

My sixteen year-old sat on the couch, reading. “Is there a reason you chose not to feed your little brother any supper tonight?” I asked.

Shrug. “It’s not supper time yet.”

“Son, it’s after eight.”

“He never said he was hungry.”

This is the child I have entrusted with his brother’s safety while I work. Honor Student, National Honor Society member, general overachiever academically speaking, but apparently a bit lacking in common sense when it comes to child care. I may have to re-think this particular arrangement.

Out came the Foreman grill and burgers, plates and buns. Thirty minutes later, they’d been fed and the youngest was begging to be allowed to go back outside for s’mores at the neighbor’s bonfire. Which, of course, resulted in a sticky child in dire need of a bath, despite the fact that this child is terrified of my bathtub because he believes the rust stains are bloodstains. Every time he gets a bath at my house, he is absolutely convinced that something is going to climb out of the drain and kill him, so I have to stay in the bathroom with him for the entire bath to ensure his safety.

At one point, I also had to start texting my wayward daughter, who had taken my car to work nearly twelve hours earlier and apparently vanished from the face of the planet. Or at least outside of the calling area. Otherwise, she would surely have called or texted to let me know where she was and whether or not she was safe.

Shortly after learning that the Princess was safe but forgetful, I got a giggly phone call from a friend who thinks she has found me the perfect man. There was talk of a blind date with a handsome acupuncturist she met in the hot tub at the local wellness center; however, she doesn’t know his name or anything about him beyond the fact that he is “book smart” and has some distinguished gray at the temples. She wants me to come with her on the next family night so I can meet him, but somehow I don’t think I’ll be feeling my most attractive in a bathing suit, in a hot tub, or meeting a man who just may want to stick needles in me.

So what it boils down to is that I didn’t even get a chance to look at my computer until this morning, and I have been kicking butt ever since.  Their Love Rekindled is finished in rough draft, but I’ve made the decision to go back through and apply what I’ve learned in the workshop. I’ve been doing some restructuring, cutting, re-writing and –I hope – improving upon what I had already created.  I feel like I’m making it so much stronger, so much more coherent.

I had originally planned on releasing this one at the end of July, but now I want to push that back a bit. I want to make it the absolute best book it can be, and that’s going to take a little longer. I am going to aim for Labor Day Weekend, and I plan on sharing my first chapter here within the next few weeks just to give you all a taste of what to expect.

I’m also seeing a lot of things I wish I had done differently in my other books, although I’m not really sure whether I’m going to go back and make changes or not. To be honest, I’m sort of feeling ready to put my Beach Haven series aside for a while and dive into the new series that’s been percolating for a while.  It’s about three childhood friends, a fortune-teller, and the idea of Love and Destiny.

I’m thinking about making one of the characters an overworked, overstressed single mom who works four part-time jobs while writing romance novels and falling in love with a handsome acupuncturist after a chance meeting in a hot tub.

Or maybe it’s just time for me to switch to decaf.

Monday, Monday

When I was in my twenties, I was part of a writers group that met every other Monday night at the local library. It wasn’t a genre-specific group; there were romance writers, fantasy writers, sci fi writers, and even one guy who wrote erotica, which was actually kind of sad because he was a twenty-eight year-old gay virgin who insisted on trying to write heterosexual sex scenes.

I guess you could say I was in my “literary” phase at that point. I wrote a lot of self-involved, pretentious bits that I referred to as “stream of consciousness writings” or “slice of life vignettes” because they really couldn’t be called stories in the purest sense of the word. They never went anywhere. Nothing ever happened. They had lots of showy prose, tons of descriptive passages and . . . not much else.  Looking back, I am appalled that I actually had the chutzpah to share that crap with anyone, much less other writers.

And the other writers were savage. Ruthless. Brutal. They shredded my little pages of crap in ways that any critique group would be proud of. They talked to me about the importance of things like plot and conflict, and they introduced me to the term “purple prose.” I went home every other Monday night shaken to the core and rattled by their honesty, sometimes more than a little pissed off.  There were weeks when I didn’t stop sulking until Thursday or Friday, because I thought they just weren’t smart enough to see the literary glory of what I had created. By Saturday, I usually realized they were right, and I was ready to dive back in and start editing.

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When I look back on that time,  I don’t remember ever thinking of them as bullies. I never got discouraged or questioned my dream of someday being a writer. Sure, I got my feelings hurt from time to time, but that was the first time in my life that I really felt like I was a writer.  Those brutal critiques of my work didn’t make me want to give up; they made me want to do better so I could prove to everyone that I was as talented as I believed myself to be.

Now that life has given me the opportunity to start writing again, I’ve been searching for a new critique group, and I’ve discovered that the world has changed in the past twenty-odd years.

“Don’t listen to the bullies,” moderators will advise in the online critique group I recently joined. “Anybody who says there’s a problem with your work is probably just jealous.”

“If people don’t understand your work, it’s because they just aren’t trying hard enough.”

“They’re just trolls/bullies/competing authors.”

Are you freaking kidding me?!

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Look, guys, it’s one thing to be self-confident. We all need to believe in ourselves as writers or we’ll never find the courage to share our work with the rest of the world. We’d be foolish to listen to every suggestion and change everything we write just to please everyone else. Of course we need to have faith in our own abilities. That’s one of the things we’re told over and over again as newbie authors: “Don’t stress about the bad reviews, because even famous writers get bad reviews once in a while.”

It’s absolutely, undeniably, 100% true that not everyone will like everything we write. We are all going to get the occasional bad review or return. We’re all going to hear bad things from people who don’t like our work or just don’t like us.

But . . .

At some point, don’t we all need to hear criticism of our work? I know I’m not a perfect writer, and that’s why I want to be a part of a critique group. I want to surround myself with other writers who care enough about our craft to tell me what they really think of my work. I want to spend my time with other writers who take the kind of pride in their writing that makes it okay to give and receive honest feedback.

That’s why I love the new review I just got on Love’s Little List that points out some potential problem areas. This reviewer isn’t bullying me. She sure as hell isn’t jealous of me, and I strongly doubt she’s a troll.  She’s expressing a valid opinion and giving me a chance to see my book through her eyes and possibly learn about ways to make my next book better.

Pardon my bluntness here, but when did we writers become such a bunch of pussies?

I’ve had to walk away from one of my favorite writing forums. I need the support and friendship of my fellow writers, but I just don’t need all of the drama. While there are some really smart, helpful people over there who are willing to help, it’s a sad truth that the majority of posters are just looking for things to argue about, trying to pick a fight so they can cry “Bully! Troll!” For every helpful thread with proofreading tips or suggestions for self-publishing, there are ten others with arrogant asses bickering about the true definition of the term “justify” or whether Word is an acceptable program for uploading manuscripts.

Nine times out of ten, an author who posts a link to his book there and asks for feedback will end up leaving the forums in a flounce. See, they don’t want “feedback.” They want “praise.” But too many of the current generation of writers just don’t understand the difference between the two.  When they ask for feedback, they are really asking for gushing adulation, not a true critique of their writing.

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Stories abound of self-published authors who argue with their reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads. I’ve seen one guy who likes to remind his reviewers that he has a PhD and they don’t, so their reviews are worthless. Another one responds to criticism by saying that readers who spot plot holes in her book are just overthinking the story.  There’s another who rants that all negative reactions to her work are being left by members of some grand conspiracy who seek her out just to tell her that they didn’t like her work.

These writers have to believe that anything less than praise is underserved because to believe otherwise would mean that they are not perfect. And that is just not acceptable to them.

And I find that terribly sad, because the savage, ruthless, brutal feedback I got on those long-ago Monday nights made me a better writer. It’s heartbreaking to realize that so many of today’s crop of writers will never have that chance to improve because they are unwilling to listen to criticism.

I miss my old critique group. I really need to thank them.