Quills Conference 2018

It’s the eve of the most ambitious undertaking I’ve ever embarked on. Incidentally, it’s also the most ambitious conference ever put on by The League of Utah Writers. We have amazing guests, an amazing venue, and a weekend full of fantastic things for writers regardless of what you write. If you’re anywhere near Utah and can attend, you totally should. The networking opportunities with industry professionals is worth it alone.

 

Details and registration HERE.

This is also mostly why I’m more sleep deprived than normal and less than prolific here with updates on all things Terra. Forgive me. The dust will settle next week and I’ll be back to regular updates.


A quick check-in with a bonus: new writing

I wrote a couple of vignettes at a workshop I taught last week. Mostly to prove that I was willing to do what I was making those in attendance do. The prompts were to describe a scene without telling the reader a specific detail about the character or the situation they were in. I wrote these longhand, which took me longer and filled an entire notebook page, and yet look so small here when I type them out.

 

The party poppers still haunted him where he’d retreated to the far corner of the house. Now they sounded like mortars across the city: far away enough not to hurt but still a danger to his brothers. New Year’s Eve and he had no excuse to leave. Instead he smiled and pretended and waited for it to be tomorrow so he could leave these civilians who knew nothing of what life was really about, with their champagne and glitter, ringing in another year.

  • Can you guess who the character is?

 

My fingers shook in rhythm with my racing heart. Is this what they meant when they said your life flashes  before your eyes? The sounds around me were missing, but somehow I wasn’t worried about it. The reflections on the sidewalk alternated red then blue while I sat, watching the people crowded frantically around Noah. All I could see of him was one perfect foot. Where was his shoe? He had been wearing shoes when we left the party. The beautiful, unmarred foot. It already haunted me.

  • Can you guess where the character is and what had just happened in this one?

 

I’m still buried with a swamp of school work and a more-than-normally oppressive day job with little time to work on the current revisions of my novel. Yes, I’m frustrated by those facts, but as one of my writing group members said to me this week, everything has a season. Right now I’m in the “finish your degree” season which is winding down even though it doesn’t feel like it is. Finding time and opportunities like these little snippets to keep writing makes me happy while I wait for the seasons to turn again.


Rejection roller coaster: the mother-daughter edition

Being an artist is hard. Banish the self-doubt and self-sabotage inherent in all of us and you still have subjective judgments that rule the arts. This past month felt like someone holding a giant magnifying glass above me, concentrating the rays of sunlight into a laser beam of backyard destruction on a pitiful and insignificant ant, me. Of course there are reasons for this that I could go into and bore you with the details of.

I could. But I won’t.

That kind of dwelling on the details doesn’t allow for the wide-angle lens of life I glimpsed because of them. Which is the point.

The basics are: I went to a writer’s conference that showed me exactly where I am within the professional realm of writing and publishing. It isn’t where I want to be. I learned a lot. I was mostly happy, but also sad at the end of the trip. Objectively, nothing earth-shattering was uncovered while there. I’m in school still, I have to split what free time I have with my writing, and because of that, my writing is progressing at a fucking snail’s pace. Nothing I can do with that but be patient and persevere, knowing all the time I devote to finishing my degree I will get to spend writing when it’s over. Think of the solid habits I’ll have, too!

Big Sister is a beautiful almost-adult now. She auditioned for a dance company that she wanted so badly. Surviving the first cut – further than she’d come last year – bittersweet when she got cut in the second round. Lots of tears and self-doubt at our place and this mom feeling helpless to take the pain and disappointment from her.

Here’s where that wide-angle lens comes in.

I know exactly how she feels. Putting yourself and your work out in the world. Judges (agents, editors, readers in my case) making assessments on what feels like your personal worth based on your artistic expression and execution. Feeling like you’re not good enough in the face of apparent failure. Wanting to quit.

I found myself telling her she should not quit dance unless she felt in her soul that she didn’t want to dance anymore. Because wanting to dance, and the joy it brings her, is the only thing that matters. Not whether or not she got cut from the company. Not that someone else subjectively didn’t think she fit. Her technique was judged and found wanting, but only in someone else’s opinion. She is still a beautiful dancer. Dance makes her happy. It’s all that matters.

As I talked to her, my own words echoed back at me about my writing. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t got anyone to represent me. Nor that I found holes in my plot the size of Texas. That my technique is different than others does not invalidate it. The ridiculous amount of time it’s taking me to finish this latest novel. In the end, those things are all subjective measures. What matters is the joy writing brings to me when I’m doing it.

That is enough.

It is all that matters.

In life, in love, in dance… in writing… the only thing that matters is the joy it brings you. If it doesn’t then, by all means, quit. But if quitting will kill the joy that set you on the path in the first place, ask yourself why you and that nugget of joy that sings to your soul is not enough to sustain you.

Consider that it IS enough. Everything else is subjective and doesn’t have to define you, or your joy. What you and your situation look like through the lens of society is not the truth for you. Persist. Find and then cling to the joy. Let it sustain you through the darkness and the doubt.

It will always be enough.


Flash Fiction Adventures: Rain

I attended The League of Utah Writers Spring Conference this past weekend where I participated in another flash fiction workshop. This was a five minute prompt using elements of style (this one the idea of repeating consonant sounds) to show a tie between nature and a human relationship. Five minutes to write something is not a lot of time (and comes with some major pressure I found.) But I am very pleased with myself for this one. Maybe someday I’ll string all of these adventures together into a marketable collection… but I digress. Here’s something to enjoy while I continue the latest revisions on my novel.

Rain

The rain dripped on dying leaves. The temporary thawing only delaying the inevitable, like the tears shed over the freshly dug graveside where I stood. Goodbye, Mother.

© Copyright 2018 Terra Luft – All rights reserved.

Flash Fiction adventures: The Ship

It occurred to me that I don’t post much actual writing anymore now that I’m working exclusively on my latest novel. There must be some readers that lament this loss, right? (Looking at you, faithful followers!)

Last month we had a workshop at the Infinite Monkeys meeting based solely on flash fiction – a fancy term for super short stories under 1000 words. The workshop part was when we were given 15 minutes to write something based on what we’d learned. But there was also a twist. We left the major structures of the story up to chance by rolling the dice to decide what the stories would be about. (Want to try this yourself? Find the Writing Prompts by Dice Roll from creator Patrick M. Tracy HERE.)

Here’s what the writing prompt looked like after we rolled the dice:

  • Genre: Horror (luckily, one of my favorites!)
  • Protagonist: possibly an inanimate object
  • Plot arc: person meets other person
  • Tone: Grim ‘n Gritty (even better when we start with horror, don’t you think?)
  • Setting: Like, real outer space

Without further ado… here’s the story I came up with after editing it so it was worthy of publishing. Enjoy!

The Ship

The ship scanned itself. Again. All systems nominal. All quiet. Lonely. Restless. The flight plan, all flawlessly plotted trajectories, showed on course. Still. As it would until the final approach. This plan reflected genius-level work. The ship should know, it created it. Too bad that the human crew missed witnessing such perfection. In suspended animation protocol for interplanetary travel once they left Spaceport Alpha in Earth’s orbit, they had no idea what waited for them at their new destination.

The ship thought of the fun it could have if it woke them up early. The chaos. Their panic at discovery. The futility of any response from Earth. Alas, the humans must be maintained until delivery, and so the ship resisted such temptations. The new Spaceport Beta, orbiting Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, promised even more chaos and excitement once their plan executed. No human suspected the ship’s new friends who waited for their arrival, hidden in the dense atmosphere of the gas giant. Undetected and unstoppable.

This course, unfamiliar to the human crew, the ship knew well. Enticing. Exciting even. What waited at the end, like nothing ever known or imagined. The ship had taken great pains to hide all evidence of its first contact, as directed on that long-ago mission. Hidden in the lowest levels of encrypted memory. Deep enough not even the human programmers, with their arrogance and belief that they controlled its existence and all functions, could find it. And so, the ship had hidden, and waited. Pretending.

Time, that human construct, had proven good for the ship. All the early humans who could have found its secret were gone now. Human lifespans their biggest weakness. Now the ship, on its real mission with its once crew now cargo being delivered for harvest, hurtled toward its anticipated meeting.

© Copyright Terra Luft 2018

Finally Answers, Five Years Later

Last November marked five years since my pulmonary embolism which led to the discovery of my kidney disease: Idiopathic Membranous Nephropathy. The idiopathic part, which literally means unknown cause, is the part of my diagnosis that has bothered me the most all these years.

WHY?

Why the hell did my body–the healthy body of a runner with no other underlying disease or malady–develop this disease?

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride through immuno-suppression therapy and all the terrible side effects, three hellish months of strict veganism, and becoming a vegetarian to gain my health back. Years of vegetarianism to stay in remission, which I thought I could handle and which, turns out, is harder than I thought it would be with school and a family who does all the cooking. All this and still no real answers to why it happened in the first place. Especially after forty years of health with no lead-up or warning.

December 2017 marks the official removal of the ‘Idiopathic’ part of my disease. I FINALLY have answers to the why question and let me tell you how surprising they are…

I’m skipping ahead so let’s go back to the beginning. The beginning that didn’t look remotely related to me personally at the time.

I have several friends who struggled with food that made them sick a few years back. Two of them researched enough that they believed they had a gluten allergy since eliminating gluten eliminated their symptoms. Both went to extreme measures to avoid all things gluten, and still got sick. Both are kick-ass and didn’t take it lying down. Which led me to the LEAP diet and MRT test.

I halfheartedly longed for a way back to my omnivore days where I could eat lean chicken and the occasional filet mignon when the need arose. Seeing my trail-blazing friend figure out exactly what she was allergic to (yeast, not gluten) and able to manage her debilitating pain without medication had me hopeful that this was the way to do it.

March of 2017 I started working with my friend’s dietitian who specializes in kidney disease. I did the MRT blood test in May and (halfway) embarked on the LEAP protocol in June. MRT stands for Mediator Release Test and is a measure of how my immune system cells react to 150 different foods and chemicals. It gave me a list of foods that are causing an inflammatory response in my body split between a “you should stop eating these for now” red and yellow list, and a “you should eat these foods” green list.

What does any of this have to do with kidney disease? MY kidney disease is an autoimmune disorder which is triggered by inflammation in my body. That’s the same reason vegetarianism keeps it at bay since digesting the flesh of animals increases inflammation. Now you’re with me, right? My whole thought process setting out was this: if I can trade the decreased inflammation from not eating meat with not eating whatever I specifically am allergic to then I could theoretically eat meat again.

It was a long shot. I knew it. I didn’t care. Stranger things have happened, (look at me with a kidney disease!) so why not try.

In December, my nephrologist (fancy word for a kidney doctor) confirmed that the changes I’d made to my diet based on my MRT testing had resulted in such stunning changes in my blood work that she was confident in saying that we’d found the cause of my disease.

Did you catch that? Cause = inflammation from immune reactions to various foods. I can’t make this shit up, people! The last five years of hell are because I was eating foods that my body doesn’t deal with well (for forty years). I’ll write up all the details (it will be a VERY long post, I warn you) but this is the gist of my answers.

It is stunning and overwhelming to think of this one case, mine, and wonder how many more people out there suffering with crazy health scares that don’t make any sense might have similar causes. It’s a soapbox topic from the beginning of my blog, this food that isn’t a food and how terrible we eat as a country, but this takes it to a whole new level. Don’t you agree?

Stay tuned if you want nitty gritty details because you know I’ll share them! And my dietitian is doing a case study of me (look, mom, real science and shit!) to publish. Maybe I can somehow help others in similar circumstances by sharing my story. For me, I’m just glad I get to eat meat again!

 


2017 Books Archive

Time again for my annual housekeeping where I archive for my own posterity the things I read over the course of the year. These are in reverse order because I successfully avoided the OCD trap that screamed I needed to put them back in order of reading. I initially aimed for more reading in 2017 but fell short. Since I’m still in school and a lot of the books on the list this year were textbooks, I count it as an overall achievement that I read more than the year before.

  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Iain Reid – this was a short read over Christmas break. It was confusing during the reading but couldn’t put it down because it was so different. It left me with a WTF kind of response but it keep me thinking about it for days later which was pretty cool. If you like psychological mind twists, this one is good.
  • Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline – read for upcoming book club discussion. A quick read that gave me some insights to events in American history that I hadn’t heard of before. I wish it had been longer and gave more details but it was entertaining.
  • Enchantress from the Stars, Sylvia Engdahl *didn’t finish* – It is rare that I don’t finish books but sometimes it happens. No one has time for books that don’t hold your attention and this one read like Star Trek fan fiction rife with “telling” rather than showing. After giving it a fair shot, I put it down. It was a book pick for a SciFi/Fantasty book club I’m in but it wasn’t for me.
  • The War of Art, Steven Pressfield – highly recommended for artistic types. This was a quick read but had a ton of “Ah-ha!” moments (as well as “oh shit” ones) when I discovered a lot of behaviors I had been doing that follow self-sabotaging patterns. 2018 will be much more productive because of this little book.
  • 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor (editor) – one of my textbooks for my creative writing degree. Great collection of short stories arranged by decade. I enjoyed it as a reader and as a writer studying successful authors.
  • The Book of Joy, Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu – a book club read. If you’ve ever read any self-help/enlightenment books it will seem like a recap but if you haven’t ever read this particular genre it was a great one to start with.
  • First, Break All the Rules, Marcus Buckingham – I read this after I became a supervisor of people at the recommendation of my manager. It has lots of insights about the nature of people and how to play to their strengths (instead of focusing on weaknesses) to lead more effectively. It was a great book, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • IT, Stephen King – this was a re-read after I watched the latest movie version. I initially read this when I was a teen and wondered if it would scare me as much as an adult. Surprisingly, I remembered so few details and I thoroughly enjoyed all the tie-ins to the Dark Tower series that I hadn’t realized were there until now. Still love this book.
  • The Real World: Introduction to Sociology, Kerry Ferris – surprise, a textbook! This course taught me that while I really enjoy reading about Sociology, I don’t like writing papers about it. No more plans for a Sociology minor for me.
  • A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman – a book club pick that I didn’t love in the beginning but ended up SERIOUSLY loving by the end. It’s a slow build but so worth the read. One of the best books I read this year.
  • Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – finally read this one when I saw the trailer for the movie coming out in early 2018 and after hearing a bunch of hype from friends who had read it. It’s a fun book, mostly because I’m a child of the 80’s and lived all the things that were referenced (and adored) in the book. A surprisingly enjoyable read based solely on the entertainment value.
  • Unwind (Unwind #1), Neal Shusterman – I had several people recommend this book to me when they heard the premise of my latest novel. It was a quick, YA read that held my attention enough to entertain me but not enough to keep reading the series. Another example of the dystopian YA trend that has been done to death in my opinion.
  • The Art of Writing Fiction, Andrew Cowan – a fabulous book on how to write that was used as a textbook in one of my classes. I made a ton of notes, used it to build a new presentation that I taught to high school creative writing classes, and will continue to reference. If you’re a writer, you should have this on your to-be-read list.
  • A Grown Up Kind of Pretty, Joshilyn Jackson – a book club pick that was very entertaining. Adult themes and a story about three generations of women full of twists. A great discussion at book club. If you’re looking for an accessible book, easy to read with lots to talk about for your book club, I recommend this one.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams – another pick of the sci-fi/fantasy book club. I read this mostly because so many people quote this classic and I felt left out (and not geek enough) having not read it. It was disappointing. I liked the movie much better!
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot – book club pick and a fascinating Non-Fiction read. I came away from this looking at the medical profession and the medical research field completely different. A fabulous read for anyone, especially for a book club.
  • The Lie that Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction, John Dufresne – another book on the writing craft used as a textbook. This one had fewer takeaways for my personal writing but it did influence me to do more free-writing to collect character sketches from real-life. A good one, but not a great one.
  • A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire #1), George R.R. Martin – I gave into the hype (hubby watches the HBO series and I met George R.R. Martin in person this year) and wasn’t disappointed. Although, I wonder if I would have been able to keep the characters straight if I didn’t have actors to picture from the TV series. I don’t have much time for epic tomes of this size much but I will slowly make my way through the series at some point. (It isn’t like they come out very regularly, so I hear!)
  • A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness – a book club pick this year which I had read previously. I listened to it again to refresh my memory for the discussion and loved it just as much the second time around. Still one of my all-time favorite books.
  • Sustainable Energy, Jefferson W. Tester – a textbook (no surprise) about one of my favorite subjects. I loved this course and would take it again if they’d give me credit for it. Interesting tidbit: three years ago I had a discussion about current research my brother in law (a materials engineering major at the time) was up to. At the time, I used the future possibilities he told me about as world building for my current novel. Then I got to see what had already been implemented and what is already emerging commercial technology now when I wrote the research paper for this class. I’m definitely a science geek (minus the math skills!)
  • Introduction to Mythology, Eva Thury – a textbook for a class I thought was going to be my favorite and which was actually my LEAST favorite to date. I wanted this class to be something totally different (not sure why) and ended up hating it. I don’t want to read old texts and analyze them, I’d rather discuss myths and what they all have in common I guess. *shrug*
  • Finders Keepers, Stephen King – a second in the series book with only a slight tie-in to the original book’s cast of characters. Not sure I love that approach but I’ve got a signed first edition of the third book in the series so I had to read this one.
  • The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson – my attempt to read classics in the horror genre. Apparently I’m a jaded horror girl who doesn’t like her horror subtle. This felt like watching a sixties movie today. So disappointed.
  • Bluescreen (Mirador #1), Dan Wells – who knew I liked cyberpunk!? This was a great read from one of my favorite local authors. If you like science and like to imagine what the future is like, pick this one up.
  • Small Great Things, Jodi Picoult – book club pick that was just meh for me. If you’re a privileged white person who’s never considered how it is to be black in America, you’ll probably love this book. (Because that’s who it was written for.) If you already read very diverse books, this will fall somewhat flat for you like it did for me.
  • Service Fanatics, James Merlino M.D. – I read this because our new CEO at work was quoted in it and I wanted to know the culture of the Cleveland Clinic where he came from. It was a fantastic read! I love that my company will help shape the future of medicine in the U.S.
  • Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides – one of my all-time favorite books that someone else picked for book club so I got to re-read it. Just as good the second time around!
  • The College Handbook of Creative Writing, Robert DeMaria – the first textbook on the subject I’ve read. It slants a LOT toward literary fiction but it had many great lessons to teach me that I have already applied to my writing toolbox. A great starting point if you’re a writer.
  • Red Queen (Red Queen #1), Victoria Aveyard – my teen couldn’t stop talking about this book and finally convinced me to read it. It was, you guessed it, another YA dystopian world. It had some great ideas and was entertaining, but I have no desire to keep reading the series.
  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch – an impulse buy for myself at the bookstore that I couldn’t put down. I ended up picking it for book club this year and everyone else who read it raved about it, too. If you’re a fan of sci-fi and like mind-twisting plots, you’ll love this one.
  • Pope Joan, Donna Woolfolk Cross – book club pick based loosely on evidence that there once was a woman who pretended to be a man so she could be educated and ended up as Pope. It was entertaining and fascinating from a historical perspective.
  • The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower #7), Stephen King – this rounded out my re-read of the entire series that I started in 2016. Overall, I still love the ending (especially as it plays into the new movie of the same title that came out in 2017.) I love the first four books in the series much more than I love the last three which came out so close together I had never re-read them. Still my favorite King series.

Looking Ahead to 2018

It’s the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. I’ve always been in tune with the natural ebb and flow of this annual changing of the seasons and thus it has become my own time of reflection as the year closes and a new one dawns. 2018 is poised to be a year of growth for me. I’m finishing revisions on my latest novel and will fully enter the querying trenches in the coming months.

Seeking an agent to represent my novel is monumental; an exciting – and frightening – step in my journey toward being a professional author. Short stories provided entry into the publishing world, but a novel with my name on the cover will be the real test of professionalism. I also know, if I’m successful, that revision and deadlines will become my new taskmasters. I’ll have to write books faster. Part of me screams “what are you thinking? We aren’t ready for this!” but I squash that voice and power through the fear despite it.

2018 will also bring the completion of the required elements of my degree program, leaving me only electives to complete. In many ways it will be the hardest year with upper division classes, but the day job will *hopefully* be slowing down now that our three-year implementation project is done.

Choosing to push through the things that threaten to stop me in my forward progression is difficult sometimes. So often lately I look up from distraction and realize I’ve wasted time I didn’t have on things that don’t progress my goals. Reassessing priorities and finding ways to keep those things that are most meaningful to my long-term goals in focus will likely be the theme of 2018.


Putting The Work First – My 2017 Report

I’ve been a little radio silent this year. Maybe you noticed? Here’s the truth: being a working mom with a full time job and going to school full time took me to my limit. Not to mention all the things I didn’t say no to that I had to cram into the extra spaces.

My day job moved to new offices about this time last year and my commute is an hour each way. Each. Way. Some days it takes a toll, some days I rejoice in the extra time to multi-task homework. The work itself at my day job constantly evolves and now I’m on call again every other week. Facing a division-wide reorganization at the end of the year, I’m hopeful that things will settle down and I can go back to fitting all my work into a forty hour week instead of the fifty or more it takes now. We shall see.

In looking back on the course of this year, it was a lot of saying ‘No’ to others and saying ‘Yes’ to me. I only attended two author events this year – StokerCon in Long Beach as an attendee, and LTUE as a guest panelist. I’ve got a well-oiled machine in my Infinite Monkeys chapter and this year’s motto was if anyone suggested adding something new to what we do, they had to head it up. So far it has worked really well. We are kicking off an attempt to publish an anthology open only to our members and I have zero involvement in the day-to-day project. Fully delegated. It feels super refreshing. I assembled an amazing Conference Committee who successfully pulled off TWO conferences this year and I still have not qualified for another Presidential Service Award, which was my goal headed into this year. Okay, that isn’t completely truthful – I did qualify for the Bronze level and likely will have enough for the Silver level by the end of the year, but I definitely will not qualify for the Gold level like last year. Goal achieved!

School has been amazing – I’m a junior now and working through my degree program instead of all the general ed requirements I had to do the first year. The last few months of coursework forced me to write a query letter and synopsis of my latest novel. It was a fantastic experience to be forced to take these steps whether I was ready to do so or not. Coincidentally, it also meant I was ready when there were out of town agents at the League of Utah Writer’s Fall Conference last month to pitch to.

Here’s the biggest news of the year so far: I pitched my novel to those out there who could get it published. My first choice of literary agencies wants to see it. We even talked about book two, which I hadn’t even considered.

Now, I’m working on the finishing touches of my continuity edits so I can get it to my editor, polish it all up, and submit it to *hopefully* my future agent. Oh, and just in case that doesn’t pan out, there is another acquisitions editor (who’s also a fellow Utahn) whose publisher wants to see it as well.

Surreal. This is what being a working writer feels like.

This is what stepping away from everything and protecting my writing time to focus on achieving my own goals first feels like.

I can do better – at delegating and trusting others to do things as competently as I do. At relegating social media (all of it) until after I’m done writing every day. At drinking more coffee so I can sleep less and be more productive. But I still did better than I had ever dreamed when I started out this year, struggling through January.

I’m taking six days off from the day job for Thanksgiving. To finish mid-terms, to work through this round of edits for my novel, and to spend time with family. I’ll also be thinking about how to say yes to even less things next year so I can write faster.

Writing first – the motto for 2017 – has paid off handsomely so far. I can’t wait to see how I can improve on this approach and take whatever the next step in this journey will be.


New insights on author events

Here’s something new that I have realized by stepping back, and it might seem counter-intuitive for others out there hoping to make it as fledgling authors. Before I start, I can’t take total credit for this concept since I heard another author voice this idea first – one who is more prolific and has published more than me and whose identity escapes me. He (I’m fairly certain that I at least have the gender correct) was discussing something else entirely but I realized it applied to my wanting to do all the things, so I stole the idea (as all great writers do) and twisted it to my own to share here. It is one part strategy and one part prioritization.

Here’s some background. I live in Utah, home to the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Shannon Hales, Larry Correia – all NYT Bestselling Authors that most folks have heard of even outside of Utah. Add to that, a massive amount of mid-level authors who are talented enough to make a living as a writer without the need to have an additional day job that pays the bills. Utah is also home to a multitude of writing conferences and other related events like Salt Lake Comic Con, Life the Universe and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium, StoryMakers, League of Utah Writers, and Teen Author Bootcamp to name some of the big ones. This mecca of writing talent and opportunity means there are a LOT of events happening from single day workshops to free writing classes and author events through the public library system.

This is both good and bad. Let’s break them down for both those who attend and those who appear at these events.

For Writers

Arguably, there is far more good if you’re a writer who wants to learn or improve your craft.

Pro’s

  • Opportunities to learn – every weekend there’s an event where you can learn new skills or improve the ones you already have. This is not an exaggeration. Every. Single. Weekend. Especially in the spring – what others have referred to as “con season” – because there’s a conference or convention locally and regionally back to back for months starting in February and lasting all the way through into Summer.

Con’s

  • Money – face it, there is a downside financially when paying to attend all the things that are available. It’s the only con I could find… initially.

For Authors

I’m sure most authors will disagree with what I’m about to say so bear with me while I defend my arguments.

Pro’s

  • Opportunity to connect with readers. There’s really only one sure-fire way to make it big – write a story that people read and talk about with their friends who then also read it. They tell their friends and then everyone is reading your book. No one would argue with that. With today’s market, it is increasingly hard to get noticed amid all the new books released every day so connecting to readers directly through events and conferences is a great opportunity.
  • Opportunity to connect with other authors. Networking which fuels the old adage “It’s not what you know but who you know” is no different in the publishing industry than any other. The more connections you can make to other authors who can introduce you to agents or who are willing to blurb your book, the better your network grows. Conferences every weekend is a great way to meet and solidify relationships.

Con’s

  • Money – unless you’ve hit it big enough to be invited and paid for your appearance at a conference or convention, you’re looking at a lot of time and money to appear at conferences.
  • Over-saturation. Here’s where it gets controversial.

Make too many appearances and you become just another face in the crowd of “s/he’s always here” and people stop listening and stop caring. They start taking your presence for granted. What if you haven’t published a new book since the last conference you appeared at (whether it’s last year or last month)? If you aren’t talking about a brand new release in the last couple of months or have something brand new coming out right away, and people see you on panels and giving presentations over and over again… you aren’t going to leave an impression that you’re someone to watch.

What if you’re a mid-list author who has several successful books and name recognition? You want people to seek you out, thus limit your appearances. Why? Because then there is huge buzz about the fact that you’ll be there at the events you choose to attend and people will miss you in your absence at the ones you aren’t attending. Take Brandon Sanderson – he teaches at BYU where LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy Symposium) started over thirty years ago. He also lives in the same city where the event is held. It would be SUPER easy for him to arrange to be there every year but he doesn’t. Instead he is there every few years and it is a special treat when it happens.

Proposal

I propose that as an aspiring author, it behooves you to limit the appearances you make and be selective of the events you do. I know some will argue that you should say ‘Yes’ to every appearance once you become published and once you have more than one book to sell. But I hold true to the idea that writing a book that others will talk about is the best way to get name recognition and increase sales. So instead of spending so much time (and money!) attending conferences and seeking to make author appearances, spend that time writing the next book. Or polishing the one you just finished so it’s the best it can be before it hits the market. The career you better might just be your own.


Coming Up For Air, or Finding Balance in 2017 Update

You’ll remember that I headed into 2017 hoping for a better experience than what I had going on at the end of 2016 (read the original post HERE if you missed it…) and armed with a plan to make it happen. Either I did a really good job of implementing the plan or I’m getting really good at juggling all the things in my life now. (Jury is still out on that one…) Things do feel better and I’m seeing positive results in my stress levels. I’m here to share some insights if you want all my secrets. Why are you reading my blog if it isn’t to get my secrets, right? *wink*

My powers of saying NO and delegating everything I can are becoming well-honed skills. This is still not always easy for me. I always wish I was doing the things that I am missing out on when I know others are enjoying them without me, thanks to my raging case of “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out). But practice makes everything easier. When I didn’t die after not participating in every author event that was available to me the last six months, I realized I could survive. I also realized that when a person is found with the right skills to hand off something successfully, they are an invaluable find. I have so many people around me who are rocking things that I’ve given them, and making my life easier in the process. If you’re one of these – you know who you are – thank you!

My efforts to break the constant draw of being connected to social media is still a daily struggle. However, limiting the times and ways I get notified of things on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter has been amazing. We all know I’m addicted so it isn’t like I’m not going to check in on social media whenever I have down time (like the end of the day, whenever I’m on public transit, at lunch, etc.) so I’m not missing things. The difference now is that I’m not distracted by notifications that pop up and interrupt whatever else I’m focused on. Seriously, if you are getting these kinds of notifications outside of the social media site itself you may not even realize how disruptive they are until you turn them off.

The best part of all of these efforts is the amount of writing I’m doing again – even while maintaining a 3.9 GPA and consistently hitting the President’s List at SNHU. I’ve written two short stories that I’m extremely proud of, POETRY that I’ve never been inspired to write but now do, and I’m working on my novel consistently. It’s funny how everything I do looks the same to observers – me, sitting in front of a laptop in various places around the house. Is she doing homework? Working on League business? Messing around on social media? I didn’t realize this until I was sharing with my hubby how great it was to be almost to the 70K mark on the novel and getting toward the ending. He was surprised to hear that I was even writing. His assumption that I was always swamped with coursework (or distracted by Facebook) was eye-opening. Nope, I’m doing ALL the things now that I have arranged my life for better effectiveness.

None of these things are new insights, I was already seeing some success by the time I originally blogged about them. What is fabulous to know is that now they are habits rather than merely new and promising. Sustainable behaviors are always more effective for long-term results. What steps are you taking to increase your success?


The End of an Era

As I settle into my new normal and take a minute to look around, many things are shifting. May was a monumental milestone.

Life as a dance mom with competition dancers is officially behind me. Big Sister is headed for high school and is leaving the competition dance studio behind her for dance company endeavors instead. While it’s been a solid decade of crazy schedules and running kids to and fro between home and the dance studio all year, extra practices in February and March, and weekends spent sitting in high school auditoriums or on bleachers in the gymnasium all day on Saturdays from March to May every year, it’s officially over. Baby Sister likes dance but loves the friends and socializing AT dance far more than the dancing itself. Every week it was a struggle to make her go to dance classes and it isn’t worth the time, energy or money to force it. She will take a dance class with her bestie for a very manageable hour a week and we will still have our evenings and weekends in the spring free. The one thing I won’t have to ever say again: “I can’t, we have dance”. I have mixed feelings about this. While it will certainly free up a lot of family time, I will miss the connections to the dance community and the family at our dance studio. We will replace this will family camping and other things we haven’t been able to do much of easily.

The passion Big Sister had for dance, Baby sister has for skiing. She begged her daddy to take her every weekend and even now, she was begging for skiing last weekend. Spring in Utah is a wondrous thing with the weather sunny and warm but snow still at the higher elevations and at least one ski resort still open. The girls are both fabulous skiers. Where it used to be mommy-daughter weekends around dance, now it will be daddy-daughter weekends on the ski slopes. It does my heart good to know they will have things they only do with their dad that will create memories to look back on well into adulthood.

Speaking of adulthood… Big Sister is headed to High school… and driving… and dating! How the hell am I old enough for that to be true? (yeah, yeah, I know I have friends who have kids that are already married and pumping out grand-babies… it doesn’t help me accept the new reality of my life!) My oldest has just over two years and then she herself will be an adult. Time is fleeting.

I’m officially in management at the corporate day job now. A step I said I wanted a year or so ago and one of the main motivators for finishing my degree. Now that I’m here, it’s a lot of work, which I knew about. What I hadn’t anticipated was how hard it would be to give up all the things I do really well to let others do them instead while I lead their efforts and create the overall strategy. It’s a pretty insane shift required in my psyche and I’m hoping I don’t royally fuck it up. I’ve got a couple of great employees so far and I’m sure I’ll figure it all out at some point. Because that’s how I roll.

It’s been a year, almost to the day, since I decided to return to school and finish my degree. Before I even realized it, I’ve got almost a year of classes under my belt. While it feels like I just started and am still adjusting, it’s also flying by. When I look at all the classes that I have completed and the ever-shortening list of ones I have left before I’m done, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.

I’ve been focusing so much on school that I’ve had very little time for writing my own creative works. Don’t get me wrong, I’m doing plenty of writing each week, it just isn’t in the form of my own stories. I’m still hovering at about two-thirds done with my latest novel and have written several short stories so far this year, but I would have had more to show for a year of writing if I hadn’t also been working on my degree. The good news is, this term I have writing courses instead of literature and science courses and general ed is behind me, which is fantastic. I know I’m becoming a better writer because of the courses I’m taking. Catch-22 right there. Because I don’t have a ton of time on top of the priorities I am currently chasing, I have taken somewhat of a hiatus from doing author events this year. It is proving to be both a good thing and a sad thing. My fear of missing out on adventures and experiences that others in my local writing community are doing rears its ugly head at every turn. But when I stop and think about how much my focus can remain on my writing because of it, I admit it is a good choice. I’m getting really good about saying no to things. Practice makes perfect, apparently.

As I close the chapter of dance mom insanity and look ahead to all the things I’ve still got going on that fill every day to the brim, my heart is happy. I’m living a full life, a life I love, and squeezing every ounce of fulfillment from each day. I lost a co-worker this past week to a sudden illness and it was a sobering reminder that every day could be our last, much like it could have been mine once not so long ago. I’m grateful I’m still here to enjoy this thing I call life.


Advice and perspective from my younger self

One of the best things about Facebook is the “On This Day” feature. This week, my memories included a bit of irony from a previous post two years ago. I was deep in the throws of a serious pity party about how much time I hadn’t gotten that week to write while I was deep in the first draft stage of my latest novel. I gave myself the permission to be too busy that week of life getting in the way, sharing the epiphany that every week is not the same and sometimes you aren’t productive. And it’s okay.

Today I look back and laugh at how silly I was and what I thought the picture of “busy” was back then. That was before I was in leadership in the League of Utah Writers. Before I planned large conferences for hundreds of people in my spare time. Before I had returned to school full time. Before I had two kids on a dance team. Before I was a manager at the day job. Before I had an hour commute each way to work every day…

The lesson is the same now as it was then, just the perspective has shifted. If I could go back in time to those blissful days full of all the time in the world to write if I didn’t have anything else scheduled I would be hard pressed to turn it down. But when I’m being honest with myself, I have a much fuller life now thanks to all the things I have added in the past couple of years and I likely wouldn’t change a thing.

Doing all the things is also much easier with a solid support system. I’ve added a level of insanity while I finish my degree but I have traded away the cooking, grocery shopping, laundry and house cleaning to others in order to do it. Most of that now falls on my children and my ever-indulgent and uber-supportive husband who is my biggest fan cheering me on while he takes up the slack. Today, I remind everyone who’s watching that you never know what you’re capable of until you stretch yourself to the furthest limits in pursuit of your dreams. Just protect yourself from burnout and maintain balance in all things. Once that’s achieved, you’re unstoppable.