Sunday, May 31, 2015

I'm having surgery tomorrow!

     I don't know about that exclamation point. I thought if I sounded excited about it, maybe I'd feel better. Like the title says, tomorrow I am undergoing surgery on my left ankle. Back in October, I had surgery on this ankle to repair a ligament and a tendon. The ligament is doing awesome, but the tendon is not. The MRI didn't provide an entirely clear picture of what the problem is, so the surgery is mostly exploratory. The doctor will repair anything that needs repaired.
     Despite the implications of my title, I'm not thrilled about this, because who gets excited about surgery? I do know that it is the best option at this point. I've been resting, elevating my leg, and using a walking boot for two months since the pain increased, and nothing has gotten better. The good news is, I have a new doctor, and he seems more thorough than the previous one.
     Since I've been injured, people will frequently ask, "What happened?" Valid question, right? Yes, but not always an easy one to answer. It started out simple, but as time passed, the answer got more and more complicated.
      "I fell and sprained my ankle."
      "I had a sprain that didn't heal, so I had surgery."
      "I'm still recovering from surgery."
      "I fell at work while assisting a client walk. He tripped and bumped my knee as he fell. I lost my balance and went down with him. After three months of a gel cast and physical therapy I had surgery to repair a ligament. Several months after surgery, once I became active again, we noticed that I had a tendon that wasn't healed. Now I'm having surgery again."
     Is anyone asleep yet? I don't blame you if you are. Nobody wants to hear all of that, especially when we're on an elevator or standing in line at the grocery store. I'm beginning to think I should make something up, yet I have yet to think of anything interesting. I know, shame on me. I'm a writer, I should be able to think of something. In my defense, I've been putting most of my energy into my novel and my blog. If anyone has any creative ideas about how I injured myself, feel free to share them. The winner gets bragging writes.
     Since I've already had a very similar surgery less than a year ago, I know what to expect. My boyfriend says this is a good thing. He's right to an extent, but it also means that I know what to expect. Pain. Nausea. Potential vomiting. Pain. My cat trying to sit on my foot. The fun of crutches. The agony of having an itch buried underneath a cast. The dignity of scooting up the stairs to my second floor apartment.
     Worst of all, I have come to fear the very idea of being in intense pain. The kind of pain that's so bad  you feel nauseous, you can't sleep, you can't think, and sometimes you can hardly even speak. The kind of pain that makes you want to scream for it to stop. That right there is the frightening part. When you're in so much pain that you feel like you don't even exist, all you are is a giant nerve of pain.
     I realize I'm being a bit dramatic, but I'm a writer. It's what we do. I've gotten through these moments before, and I know I'll get through them again, but it's difficult not to dread them.
     What I'm really upset about is the idea that I might have to take a short break from writing while I'm recovering. I know it will probably just be a week or so before I'll have the energy to write again, but right now that feels like a very long time. I write nearly everyday. The only days I don't are when I'm so burned out I have to force myself to take a break. My novel is like my child. It is a part of me. My characters feel real. They are real. I think about them all the time. The idea of leaving them even for a short period is almost painful.
     Hopefully, time will pass quickly as I binge watch Netfilx and read the various books I've lined up. I already can't wait to get back to my masterpiece. (Hopefully it's a masterpiece.) Wish me luck.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The reality of trauma and taking our characters to the darkest of places.

     Before I begin I would like to make you aware that this is a controversial topic. It is a topic that has been coming up a lot lately, thanks in part to HBO. Please know that everything I’m about to say is purely my own opinion, which is based on things I’ve seen, heard, felt, and experienced. I’m always open to hearing new opinions, as long as they are put forth in a constructive, non-argumentative fashion.
     I believe that in order to elevate a story to new heights, you must take your characters to the darkest possible places. Why do I think this? Because life is suffering, and fiction is about life. It doesn’t matter if your story is set in a fictional universe. If your characters are human, or creatures with qualities even remotely similar to humans, then your story is about life. Bad things happen in real life. All the time. Therefore, they have to happen in fiction as well.
     In order to take your characters to these dark places, traumatic events must take place.
For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to focus on rape. Unfortunately, rape happens. It is real. It happens every day, to women and men. Sometimes people don’t want to think about it, but that isn’t going to make it go away. Rape occurs much more frequently than statistics will tell us because a vast number of victims never report it. I never did, and I wish that I had.
     Therefore, why shouldn’t fictional characters experience rape? It is a real thing that really happens. If you want your story to be real, you must include real events, even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. No one wants to read a story where nothing bad ever happens. That would be boring and unrealistic.
     I am going to very briefly mention HBO’s Game of Thrones, simply as an example. Unless you have never seen a single episode ever, there will be no spoilers. Promise. One of the reasons why it has become so controversial to explore rape in fiction is due to the graphic way in which HBO has depicted some of the rapes that have taken place in the story. It has sparked a lot of debate on what is okay and what isn’t. Okay, end of Game of Thrones talk. See? I kept it brief.
    In my opinion, the problem isn’t the fact that rape is taking place in fiction. The problem lies in the graphic depictions of the event. I do not believe writers need to describe intricate details of a rape. To be clear, I’m referring to the actual physical act. What is important, and sometimes necessary, is to describe the details leading up to the event and what happened afterwards. It is absolutely necessary to describe the way the victim feels. But the event itself? Unnecessary. It is traumatizing for the reader and leaves us feeling violated. I realize that the distinction I am trying to make here is a very, very fine line, one that I am currently tiptoeing across in my own writing.
      My current work in progress heavily explores rape and its aftermath. I hadn’t initially intended it to be such a major theme, but the story led me down that path. Yes, my stories and my characters lead me, not the other way around. I have not written out a rape scene, nor will I ever do this. Ever. However, what I have done is have characters describe their experiences out loud to other characters. I have one particular monologue that comes very close to crossing the line I have described above. It’s even possible that I have crossed that line, and am simply in denial about it. It’s a work in progress, so I can always dial it back if I have to.  
     These scenes have not been easy for me to write, not in the slightest. I’ve cried during a number of scenes, been forced to take breaks, and needed to journal about my feelings afterwards. Why am I writing about topics that are emotionally difficult for me? Because in order for a character to reach that dark place, the writer has to reach it as well. If a writer isn’t emotionally invested in something, the reader isn’t going to feel it either. Only by touching the darkest places within ourselves can our writing truly shine. And yes, writing this blog post has made me a bit emotional. My stomach is flip-flopping, I had a teary-eyed moment a few paragraphs back, and I am a little light-headed. I think that means I should keep going.  
     My point is that I do not believe these subjects should be ignored. By ignoring them in fiction, we risk ignoring them in real life. Exploring trauma in fiction allows us to explore the different ways in which victims cope and heal (or not) from these events. We can address how the rest of the world reacts and hopefully make readers more aware of real-life issues. Writers have a responsibility to be aware of how their depiction affects their readers. I’m not saying that my way is the only right way, or that I’m even doing everything right. I hope I am, and I aim to continue to learn and grow as a writer. I am always open to new ideas. While I expect my readers to feel hurt over what’s happened to my characters, I absolutely do not want them to feel so traumatized they can’t continue reading. Like I said, it is a fine line, and I welcome any tips on staying on that line.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions, even if they differ from my own. I only ask that people keep comments constructive and non-confrontational. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. As always, thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, etc.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The sting of rejection.

     Rejection is probably one of the hardest things for people to deal with. Rejection of any kind. Being turned down for a date, a job, your novel being rejected 23 times, anything... It just plain sucks. Even if you know the rejection had nothing to do with you, it still hurts. Maybe you knew you weren't qualified for the job, maybe the person you asked on a date turned out to be married, or maybe you're competing with thousands of other people for the attention of one agent. It still stings.
     As I mentioned in my "I wrote a novel, now what?" post, I'm querying agents about my first novel. So far, I'm at 23 rejections. I still have a fairly long list of potential agents to query, but it is definitely getting a little harder as time passes. In the beginning, I'd see the email from the agent, close my eyes, and take several deep breaths before reading it. After I'd "prepared" myself for the potential rejection (there is no preparing yourself), I read the email. My heart dropped a little every time I read "Thank you, but…" or "I must pass" or "Your pages just didn't pull me in" or something.  Now I see the emails and I think, "Yep. Here's another rejection." I open it and am not surprised that it is.
     After being rejected, I go through this process where I try to pretend that I didn't just get rejected. I try to just go about my day like normal, but my legs weigh a bit more, and everything I do is with just a little less excitement.
     Like I said, there is no way to prepare for this. I was fully aware that I would receive crap loads of rejections long before I was ready to send out my novel. It's just the way the industry works. There are way more writers than there are agents and publishers. It's extremely competitive. But knowing you'll be rejected, and actually getting those rejections, are two totally different things.
     What makes it even harder is that it's extremely difficult to know why you are being rejected. Very few agents provide a reason or feedback. I understand why they don't. If they did, they'd never have time to get anything else done. And if they engaged with every person they were rejecting, they'd probably get a lot of crazy people arguing with them. So I understand why their responses are usually vague and generic, if they even respond at all. Many agents just state on their website that if you haven't heard from them with a certain time period, they've passed.
     So, I'm left to guess why I was rejected. It could be that my query letter sucked, rather than my story itself. Maybe my query was good and my story was awful. Maybe the vampire boat has already sailed. I'm fully aware that this is a strong possibility, although I feel a bit better because I know the vampire ship will dock again eventually. It always does.
     When I first set out on this journey, I didn't talk to many people about it. I didn't want people to know I was being rejected, and I didn't like to relive the sting every time I made the announcement that another agent had rejected me. I've since realized that I will become extremely depressed about this if I keep it inside, so now I'm doing the opposite. I tell everyone who will listen about my rejection. Everyone is being really awesome about it. Thank you everyone.
     My friends are cheering for me. One friend mentioned someone (I can't remember who), who had pinned all their rejection letters on a board. Since then, I've been racking my brain to think of some kind of art project to do with my rejection letters. I'm not a visual artist. I know many writers who possess other artistic talents as well, but not me. I can hardly draw a straight line. Although there was one time when my nephew was around 2 or 3 that I drew a car for him, and he said, "Car!" I was very excited that he knew what it was. I'm pretty sure it didn't look much like a car. But still, I'd been validated. Maybe I'm not so bad after all.
     So, last night I couldn't fall asleep. It's pretty much a nightly thing right now. It sucks. But I often have ideas as I'm half awake and half asleep. Some have turned about to be good, others not so much. Most of these ideas are experimental and related to my current novel. Thank you to my writers group for putting up with reading the ideas I've come up with at two in the morning. Like that scene I wrote through the perspective of an owl. That was a two in the morning idea. You guys are awesome.
     Last night I finally had an idea of what to do with my rejection letters. I'm thinking something along the lines of bright colored paper and those stickers teachers use to tell you that you're awesome.  I'll be working on this project later today, and putting it on instagram and anywhere else I can think of. Yeah, that means I have to make an instagram account. I don't even know if I'm spelling instagram right. I just started tweeting last week. Still trying to figure that out.
     Sigh. So much for staying away from social media. Oh well, I suppose it's time to get with the times.
     Anyway, stay tuned for more rejection woes.
      Update: I've completed what I'm calling my, "Wall of Encouragement." Check it out on Instagram:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Turns out that the discomforting taste in my mouth is blood.

     Yeah, I know. That's either a gripping title, or an "eek, I don't think I want to read this" title. I guess I'll find out.
     This is a follow up to my very first blog post "Comfort Dental leaves a discomforting taste in my mouth." I promised a follow-up and here it is. I'm sure that my three regular readers have been on the edge of their seats waiting for the exciting conclusion to my dental woes. Yeah, I know, it says I only have one follower (yay for my one follower!), but I think I have a couple more regular readers that just haven't clicked follow.
     So, we last left off this harrowing tale of my brave little tooth with me wanting to get the root canal done at Boulder Dental Center (BDC) rather than Comfort Dental (CD). BDC's quote was double what CD's was. I emailed BDC, explained my financial situation, and told them that I really wanted to have the services performed at their practice. They lowered the price by $500, but it was still higher than CD's price.
     I was able to obtain funding through an organization for half the root canal at CD, and worked out paying for the other half. I really didn't want to continue going to CD, but I didn't have a choice, and I was grateful that I was getting help at all. I scheduled the root canal for last Thursday. Little did I know what was to come.
     The dentist came in, looked at my tooth, and the first thing he said was, "Oh, I didn't know this was a retreat." (Meaning it was a tooth that had previously had a root canal and needed to be redone.) The hygienist asked him if he did retreats, and he said, "Not often."
     He then left, telling me he'd be right back. He was gone for almost twenty minutes. I was starting to get worried that they weren't going to be able to do it. I really wanted to get it taken care of and over with. While he was gone, I imagined him sitting in the back room watching instructional videos on YouTube about how to do a retreat.
     He finally came back and explained that he has done lots of root canals and some retreats. He told me my tooth looked complex because he couldn't tell why the root canal had failed. He explained that if he could immediately see what was wrong with it, he would feel more confident, but that he couldn't actually see why it had failed. He confessed that he was fairly confident he could do it, but not 100% confident. I really appreciated his honesty, and told him so. 
     He said I could see a specialist, who might know better what needed to be done. He explained that the fees would be higher, and since many specialists don't accept Medicaid, I wouldn't get the Medicaid discounted price. I mentioned that I would soon be having surgery on my ankle (yep, more on that in another post) and asked if having an infection in my mouth would be dangerous going into surgery. He said it could definitely be a problem. After thinking about it,  I told him to go ahead and give it a shot. 
     After the novocaine kicked in, the dentist tapped around on my tooth and stopped. He sat the chair up and said we needed to talk. He explained that my tooth or crown (I'm not sure) had a crack in it, and that he didn't believe it was viable for a root canal, meaning the tooth couldn't be saved. He recommended extraction. He explained my options after extraction, which were implants and bridges. He didn't think that the area would be a good candidate for a bridge since the tooth next to it had had a root canal. He quoted me roughly $2000 for the implant. 
     As he was telling me all this, I started to laugh. Yep. Why? Because life isn't going well for me right now. It's not horrible. It could always be worse. There are good things in my life. My boyfriend is awesome, I have a roof over my head, supportive family members and friends, a kitty, and I'm enjoying working on my novels. But still, in other avenues, things aren't looking so hot. I've been out of work since October, when I first had ankle surgery. I was expected to be fully recovered and returning to work right about now. Instead, my ankle's taken a turn for the worse and I'm looking at a second surgery which means at least four or five more months of unemployment. And now I have to deal with this stupid tooth. 
     So I started laughing. The dentist was politely not looking at me like I was crazy. I explained that I was laughing because if I didn't laugh, I'd cry. Then, I almost cried. Almost. I was on the verge. But I thought, no way am I going to sit here at Comfort Dental and start crying. I knew if I started to cry, I wouldn't stop. 
     I decided it would be best to get a second opinion before extracting the tooth. I got a refund and left. 
I was feeling mildly confident that Boulder Dental Center would be able to perform the root canal. I knew they had a specialist there, which CD doesn't have. After some panic and talking to my boyfriend, I decided I would be able to find a way to pay the higher fee at BDC. 
     I called BDC and explained what had happened at Comfort Dental. After talking to the dentist, the receptionist told me he was 50-60% confident he could do the procedure.  I decided that was enough to give it a shot. Lucky for me, they were able to fit me in right away. So, less than two hours later I found myself sitting in a other dentist chair at another dental office, having novocaine shot into my mouth. It was an awesome morning. 
     The dentist started drilling and it began to hurt pretty bad, despite the fact that I was numb. All of a sudden, I heard the dentist make a noise that sounded like "shoot." I felt an intense pulling sensation. The assistant pulled out the air hose and there was blood all over it. Just so everyone knows, these are not things you want to see and hear while at the dentist. 
     They turned off all the equipment and sat the chair back up. The dentist explained that the crown cracked and came off. He was surprised about this because it hadn't seemed loose when he'd examined me a few weeks before. He explained that he could still try and save the tooth, but that the procedure would require a lot more appointments and a lot more work. He informed me that even if he did all of that, his confidence that the root canal would hold/be effective for any significant period of time was about 20-30%. After I pressured him a little, he recommended extraction of the tooth. I told him I needed ankle surgery in a couple of weeks, and he said I definitely did not want to go into that with an infection. Once again I was listening to a dentist explain bridges and implants. Neither of which I have the money for. 
     At this point, I realized that extraction was probably necessary, and that I needed to get the immediate problem resolved. If I left the tooth in, I would be at risk for serious complications from an infection. Suddenly, I had this incredibly liberating moment where I decided that my health was more important than looks (which it is, but that doesn't mean I'm happy).  I decided to extract the tooth and worry about paying for an implant or bridge at some point in the future. The distant future. 
     So, the tooth was extracted. If anyone's ever had this done, you know it is extremely painful. Seriously, seriously painful. Really freaking painful. Five days later, it still hurts. Of course, I'm also dealing with my ankle, so my body isn't exactly in the best shape for healing right now. 
     Yep. I've got a hole in my mouth. I'm trying not to be too self-conscious about it, but I am. My moment of liberation where I felt that looks didn't matter is gone. I'm totally upset about the hole in my mouth. I'm trying not to be. It's not right up front, so it's not super noticeable. But I know it's there. Or, isn't there. Bye-bye tooth. You were a brave little soldier. I'm sorry I drank so much soda when I was younger. 
     My plan at this point is to deal with my ankle, then look into finding the money to pay for an implant or bridge or something or other. I'm trying to be positive. At least the immediate problem is solved and the infection is gone. That day is going on my top 25 list of worst days ever. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Genre Classification and the Vomit Scale

     As I mentioned in a previous post "I wrote a novel. Now what?" genre classification is a touchy subject. There are so many sub-genres out there that it is difficult to decide how to categorize a novel. This matters both when submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher, and when putting a new book up for sale. I think most stories contain elements of several different genres, and which genre the book gets classified as is pretty subjective.
     In my frustration,  I've come up with my own method for classifying genre. I call it the vomit scale. It's really quite simple.

A lot of action + little to no vomiting = Suspense/Thriller

A lot of action + a lot of vomiting = Horror

Vomit that glows green, sprouts tentacles, and can power a spaceship = Science Fiction

Vomit that has magical properties that can bring unicorn figurines to life = Fantasy

Characters bury their vomit in the dirt = Western

Characters vomit on stolen jewels in order to uncover secret codes = Spy Novel

Characters do their best problem solving while vomiting = Mystery

Characters are not vomiting at all, but readers have the strong urge to vomit = Romance

And here is how you tell the difference between young adult fiction and adult fiction:

Young adult: the vomiting is described with extremely vague wording and the readers aren't quite sure if the character has actually thrown up or not.

Adult: The vomiting is right out in the open in glorious detail along with everything else.

So there it is, folks. I hope that helps.


Addition: I'm ready to take my writing to new levels! My literary mystery, Pieces, is almost ready to be sent to agents. I'm looking forward to some writer's conferences, but need a little financial assistance, so check out the Go Fund Me my friend set up for me. Thanks!

Friday, May 1, 2015

I wrote a novel. Now what?

     Yep. That's right. I wrote a novel! A real actual novel! It has a beginning, a middle, and an end! Go me! I've even had people tell me they like my novel! Go me!
     I started writing this novel on Wednesday, March 24, 2010, around 5:00 PM. Yes. I'm completely serious. I can also tell you what I had for dinner that night. Chicken with carrots and potatoes. I remember the date and time so well because writing is something I'd always wanted to do, but was too afraid to try. I didn't think I'd be good enough. I didn't think I'd be disciplined or motivated enough to complete it. So I simply refused to allow myself to start. Finally, one day I just couldn't take it anymore. A particular scene between two characters kept replaying itself in my mind over and over again. I couldn't sleep or focus on anything. Either I was going insane, or a story was demanding to be written. So I gave in and started writing. I haven't stopped since, and don't plan to.
     It took me roughly four years to complete the novel, and I'm still not sure what exactly constitutes complete. This novel has seen me through five different living situations, 3 relationships, a health scare, a couple bouts of depression, a flood, and an injury. We've stuck by each other's sides through all of that. It is my baby, and the first in a trilogy.
     What's my novel about? I thought you'd never ask. It's a post-apocalyptic vampire novel. Yes vampire. Now that I have said vampire, I expect you are doing one of two things: drooling, or rolling your eyes. It's totally cool if you're rolling your eyes. I'm not offended. Everyone has their own tastes. Now if you are drooling and rolling your eyes, I'm not quite sure what to think of you.
     Now that my novel is finished, it's time to think about publishing. I've decided to start with the traditional route: trying to find an agent. I've been submitting to agents on and off for about a year now. I am currently at 22 rejections. There will be a future post about the woes of rejection.
     My friend Branden promised me beer and/or ice cream when I reach 25 rejections. He probably thinks I've forgotten this promise, but I haven't. I want my beer and ice cream, although I don't want ice cream flavored beer. Actually, on second thought, milk stouts are pretty good, so maybe ice cream flavored beer wouldn't be so bad after all. But not beer flavored ice cream. Ew.
     One of the many painful aspects of trying to get your novel published is deciding what genre it fits into. I'm still not 100% sure what genre my vampire novel is. My writers group tells me it's a paranormal romance. Yes, there is a romance that is pretty central to the story, but it isn't the only thing going on. So, I'm not quite sure if it qualifies as a romance.
     An agent I met at a writer's conference (rejection #12) told me it's only a romance if my cover features a shirtless man with an illegal amount of muscles and a woman with flowing hair who looks as though she's either having a heart attack or about to throw up. My book doesn't actually have a cover yet, but when it does it will have neither of those features.
     I was about 90% sure that my novel is an urban fantasy when someone told me that it wouldn't be urban fantasy because my characters aren't in a big metropolis all the time. So I decided to go with contemporary fantasy. Then at the writer's conference the same agent said the term contemporary fantasy isn't used much and I can just call it urban fantasy. So, I'm sticking with urban fantasy. There will be more complaining (I mean discussions) about genre in later posts.
     While I am awaiting rejections (I mean responses) from agents about my vampire novel, I'm busy working on my second novel. I've decided to take a break from the vampire trilogy and work on an unrelated story. I am finding myself having as much trouble with genre as I did previously. At this point I am calling it a young adult/or not  paranormal (ghosts not vampires) urban fantasy horror mystery suspense novel. Yep. It's got all those elements. I have no idea how to classify it. Luckily, I'm still on the rough draft, so I don't have to figure that out yet.
     I will be sharing more of my writing and publishing drama in posts to come. Feel free to give me any input or share your own experiences.