Christina Marie's Blog

April 23, 2019

How I Found My Literary Voice Part 2

Filed under: Writing Life — Christina @ 8:00 pm
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After I graduated from undergrad with my BA in English, I had a plan. I wanted to find a job that paid me enough to live and still left me with free time to write. I got my wish with an electronic publishing company in Northern Virginia. The job was interesting and the people were great. I didn’t make huge amounts of money, but it was enough to pay the bills.

I had been so inspired by Raymund Chandler, I thought I would write mystery novels. Through out my teen years, I read Mary Higgins Clark, Jonathan Kellerman, and the Nancy Drew stories. So after settling into my new adult life complete with my own apartment and new job, in a new city, I started to write my mystery story. It was slow going. I liked the idea, but it just didn’t feel right. After a few months, I put it aside.

I had a dilemma now. This was my best idea. If I wasn’t going to work on it, what would I do? My typical writing schedule was to work on my lunch hour and a couple of hours when I got home. In March 2000, I started a short story on my lunch hour. I was just playing around, trying to think of something to write, when an idea came over me. The story would be about a girl who was scared to grow up, so much so that her fear came to life. It was a strange, weird idea that I found compelling, so I followed the thread.

A couple of weeks later, I had to put the story aside. I was being laid off and job hunting became a priority at lunch time, instead of writing. Plus my apartment turned out to have so many problems that my roommate and I needed to start looking for a new place to live. My strange story would have to wait. I packed it away in a box.

Months later I had a new job and a new place. The apartment was good, but the job was taxing. I had a long commute and had zero energy to write when I got home. I also made the mistake of moving myself and instead of doing it in one or two days, I moved little by little over the course of a month. (Pro tip: Never move yourself. Pay people to do it. Trust me.) I didn’t really relax until the holidays.

I opened my writing box and there, on top of a stack of papers, was my story. Funny thing, I didn’t remember writing it. I read it with fresh eyes and realized: 1)I didn’t write an ending and 2) the story was good. I wrote the ending right there on my bed. Also, I realized I needed to quit my job. Writing was my calling and this demanding job that drained me, added thirty pounds of stress on my body, and left me unhappy had to go.

By the end of January 2001, I had a new job (back to electronic publishing) with a sensible commute and plenty of time to write. I enrolled in a community writing class and work-shopped my story. I had no idea how people would react, but I was damn proud of the story. It was the first thing I wrote out of school that I felt was in my true voice.

The class was good and most people reacted to it just as I hoped. But there was this one woman (I can’t even remember her name.) who hated it. She said to me, “I don’t understand anything that is going on here. Why don’t you just get rid of all this supernatural stuff and write a real story.” I was utterly confused by that and, at twenty-three, had never met people who were so hostile to genre stories. I have since met plenty of others who were just at snotty and I steer clear of them. My stuff is not for them, plain and simple.

Anyway, after this lady said her piece, an older woman named Carol took one look at her and shook her head. She leaned closer to me and said, “Ignore her. You write magical realism. That’s who you are.” I had never heard the term, but you’d better believe I went home and googled it. I took a look at my bookshelf and sure enough next to the Chandlers and the Dashell Hametts were Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and quite a few of those teen horror/fantasy books from Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. (Remember those?) Turns out I had a strong streak of the supernatural in me.

And to even solidify this realization, I found a note written on a realistic story that I had written while at UNM in Advanced Creative Writing. My professor wrote in the margin — This is good, but it is all a bit magical. My true voice had been inching out years earlier and just didn’t see it. After that class, I knew who I was as a writer.

I knew my voice.

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April 22, 2019

How I Found My Literary Voice Part 1

Filed under: Writing Life — Christina @ 7:58 pm
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In December 1997, I quit writing for the first time. I was twenty years old and had just finished the first semester of my junior year at college. This was the end of my first writing class and I was completely disillusioned. My first real, honest-to-God creative writing class was so disappointing, I wanted to quit right then and there.

The professor was more interested in not teaching, than teaching. We would show up and he would walk in and say, “Go off and write.” I had a friend in the classroom next door and she said to me one day, “Do you ever have class?” It was a general writing class, so there were a lot of students from other disciplines. Once we were sent on our way, everybody would pretty much blow off writing in favor of video games, TV, or doing work for other classes. Ya know, the ones where we actually had to do work. I could count on one hand the number of classes we actually had and then when I did turn in work, it was no good. The criticism felt fake to me, like he didn’t read my work, and instead gave generic guidelines. I remember on the last day walking out of the building thinking, “Well I’m done with this! I need to think of something else to do, because writing is not for me.”

The next semester, everything changed. A year earlier, I applied to an exchange program, so I spend the spring of 1998 at the University of New Mexico. Not only did I change schools, but I changed climates, school size (UNM was a whopping 25,000 students compared to my campus of 2,500.), and campus life. I was still an English major, so I kept taking literature classes, but the grades didn’t transfer. All I had to do was get C’s or better and I would pass the class.

There are two classes that are important for the story: Advanced Creative Writing and Spies and Private Eyes. I started out just going through the motions of attending class, reading the books, and writing whatever I was supposed to. It was too late for me to change classes. (I had to get special permission for each class when I registered.) I liked the classes fine, but I wasn’t invested. I did enough and nothing more.

All that changed in March 1998. As my class was starting in Spies and Private Eyes started, my professor held up a copy of Raymund Chandler’s Lady in the Lake. She said, “What kind of book is this?” Various answers were called out. “It’s detective fiction!” “It’s a mystery book!” She nodded her head and said, “Yes, yes, it’s all of those things, but there are some people who feel like this is literary book too.”

If a thought bubble could’ve appeared over my head, it would have said, “That’s the kind of writer I’m going to be. Wait… didn’t I quit writing? Aren’t we supposed to be looking for a new career?” Too late. My intellect was peaked. My brain was off and running with new ideas, inspired ideas, that I wanted to write down. I left that class with my head full of ideas.

So much for quitting.

Advanced Creative Writing was changing me too. We had an honest-to-goodness real class with homework assignments that worked on various techniques. We would read and analyze stories and write our own work to be critiqued by our classmates. It was my first time ever being critiqued and not as bad as I thought it would be. To this day, I consider Tim O’Brien’s story The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong to be one of those definitive stories that would shape me as a writer. I read that story in this class.

I left UNM in May 1998 feeling renewed as a writer and excited to keep working. I would have another year before I would graduate. In that time, I would continue to write, while I finished up my degree. I didn’t have anymore writing classes, but I continued to read and hone my craft.

Tomorrow, in Part 2, I’ll write about what happened after I graduated.

April 21, 2019

Happy Easter 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Christina @ 12:00 pm

 

 

If you don’t celebrate Easter — Have a Happy Sunday Too!

April 20, 2019

Twenty Days Straight and Still Going

Filed under: Writing Life — Christina @ 5:05 pm
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It’s day twenty of my little experiment to write everyday for a month. So far, it hasn’t been too hard, but we’re coming to the end of the month, and usually this is when things get tough. Ending of stories are difficult and, if you don’t get them just right, the reader can be unsatisfied. Endings are an art form.

One of my favorite pieces of advice about writing is that an ending is, “Endings are inevitable, but not predictable.” I want readers to leave my stories thinking, “Of course that is how it ends.” So far I’m 50/50 with most of my stories. Sometimes I change the ending, because the beginning has changed too. Sometimes I leave it alone. (My story Future Virtual Love had and ending I never changed.)

I’m not sure how I’m going to feel on April 30th. Probably proud that I accomplished this task I set myself. No one pushed me to do this, I was ready and decided to try. I also know that on May 1st, I’m going to write because I am used to the routine now. I may not share it on the blog (it will probably be more fiction.), but the habit is there.

Hey, if I can write through my birthday, the last season of Game of Thrones, Avenger: Endgame, and Easter — I’m good.

Also, tomorrow is Easter, so the post will be very, very brief. Holidays should be with family and friends, not staring at a computer. And if you don’t celebrate Easter, have a happy, relaxing Sunday. Read a good book. Watch that GOT premiere! Do something good for yourself.

April 19, 2019

Be that Quirky Writer

Filed under: Writing Life — Christina @ 7:08 pm
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We writers are an odd lot. I started reading this book, It Takes a Certain Type of to be a Writer by Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo. It’s full of quirky anecdotes about writers and their behavior. My take away is that every writer has a certain set of rituals, behaviors, and tics that makes them create that magic that ends up in their writing.

So I started thinking about some of my own quirky habits.

First, I write 90% of my stuff long hand first. After a long day of working at my computer for my day job, sometimes I just can’t look at another screen. Hand writing my stories ensures that the writing gets done for the day. One exception is the blogging. I always compose these posts on the computer.

Second, I need a good dose of caffeine just before I start. In the winter, it’s black or green tea. In the summer, it’s ice tea. Back in the day, it was a Cherry Coke or Coke Zero, but, ya know, we’re trying to clean up our diet, so that don’t fly no more. The drink not only perks me up, but also is a break between what I was doing before and the writing time. My brain switches over and once I finish, I’m ready to work.

Third, I  don’t like to talk about works in progress. In the past, I’ve opened up about stories I’m working on, detailing plot and character, but I always regret it. So my new rule is, no details until I’m good and ready.

Fourth, I like black ink. I’ll tolerate blue (or other colors), but I prefer black.

Fifth, I used to write my first drafts to music. That habit has changed over the years. Now I prefer silence. Occasionally I will turn the tv for the white noise, but it has to be something that I can tune out like white noise in the background.

Those are all the quirks I can think of now. I’m not too exciting with my writing rituals. I don’t like writing in bed, nor do I pace around like others. My little habits get the work done and I’ll keep doing them as long as they keep working.

April 18, 2019

About Burnout

Filed under: Writing Life — Christina @ 4:53 pm
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Ah! It’s Beautiful Spring Again!

Spring is always a great time to renew oneself. Something about the new flowers, the fresh greenery, and the mild weather makes us all feel refreshed. Awake. It’s also a time when I tend to want to write more. I sometimes have these big, scary goals for the summer and think to myself, “I can do this!”

But this year, I’m trying a different approach. As I stated in an earlier post, I’m working on balance this year. I read lots of articles about people not getting enough sleep, not eating well, not taking vacations, and neglecting their mental health. Everybody is grinding, working on their hustle, and trying to make ends meet by working a bunch of jobs back to back. While I do think there is a time and a place to burn the midnight oil, I don’t want that to be my everyday life.

I believe that sleep is the most important thing you can do for your health. As someone who has gone through bouts of insomnia, not getting enough sleep causes me all kinds of other problems. I don’t sleep, so I’m tired in the morning (and all day long), so I reach for caffeine to get me through the day. I make poor choices on food (opting for things with a quick energy) and find myself tired but not sleepy at night. So the cycle repeats.

Now that I have a better handle on my health, I find myself getting a good 7-9 hours of sleep a day. I’m rested, more focused, and ready to tackle the day. I also find myself making better choices with my diet and I’m more productive. I honestly don’t think I could’ve done a blog post a day for a month challenge a year ago, when I felt so bad. Now look, we’re eighteen days in and I haven’t skipped a day yet!

Working like a crazy person may seem great and might even be fun for a little while, but I don’t think it is sustainable. After 20 years of working a full-time job and writing fiction, I know how important it is to find a balance. Your body only has so much give as you age. And mentally, it can take a toll to wake up and realize that all you’ve done is work and not built a real life.

Same is true for the other side. If you’ve partied a decade of your life away and not gotten serious about the kind of life you want to build, you may be shocked at how much time you’ve wasted not going after your dreams. Burnout from an immature life can be just as damaging as being on the grind all day, everyday.

Maybe that’s why NanoWrimo hasn’t really appealed to me. I’m more slow and steady, with my writing. Other aspects of my life, like getting out of debt, I could go crazy on for a short period of time, but not writing. A few pages, or paragraphs, a day is my speed. The story gets written and I get my sleep. Maybe this is why I am still writing after all these years. I haven’t suffered burnout from it. I write at a steady pace (although not much) and don’t get sick of it.

Balance, that’s where the magic is for me. With it, I can do the impossible.

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