Rhoads_Gilchrist_1517Last week, I was lucky enough to take a few days out from my life to go back to the Gilchrist Retreat Center.  I went with my friend Mart again, for two half days and one glorious rainy day that held us at our computers for the better part of 12 hours.

This year wasn’t the triumph that I felt last year.  I struggled with the book I brought to work on.  The work itself was an emotional roller-coaster.  Someday day I’ll write about the stages of grief an author endures during a novel revision.  I managed to go through all of them in the course of our brief retreat.

Dies Irae, the book I struggled with, is the sequel to As Above, So Below.  When Brian and I wrote the original draft of our novel in 1998, it came in around 600 pages.  When I revised it to get it down to salable size, I chopped the monster in half at the exorcism, which is the natural ending of the first half of the story.  That left the true ending of the story as the climax of a second book.

I worked on Dies Irae for Nanowrimo one year and wrote a new beginning to introduce the second book.  Later, I pulled the rest of the book together in a rough order.  I remembered it as being a nearly finished book.  Reading through it earlier this week, I realized there’s still a lot of work to do.

And I was completely stumped by what to do with it.  Wednesday morning, I was beating my head against chapter four, which had become a dumping ground for time-filling scenes that didn’t advance the plot or address the main characters.  There was some good work, but it didn’t fit the book I was trying to finish.

Rhoads_Gilchrist_1536Then I realized that I didn’t really need those scenes.  At least, I didn’t them where they were.  I could pull them out and get back to the plot.  Without the dead weight, the story would fly ahead.

It was the simplest realization, but it felt blinding.  Inspiration poured into me and I fell in love with the book again as I saw my way forward.  It was amazing.

Unfortunately, Mart and I had to pack up our stuff and clean up our cottage and drive the several hours back across Michigan to return our rental car.  I didn’t have time to do the work to finish the book — and I don’t know when I’ll have the time to work on Dies Irae again.  If all goes well, when September begins, I’ll finally get the notes to finish up the science fiction trilogy that I was contracted for in February.

This has been a rough year for me, writing-wise.  I’ve managed to do some good blogging and I’ve written the monthly column for Scoutie Girl, but I have been waiting around since February — with month after month of short deadlines that whipped by with no progress — to get the trilogy out of the way.  I haven’t dared to dive into a big project because I didn’t want to miss my deadlines on March 1, April 1, June 1, and June 28…  I couldn’t concentrate with the impending trilogy hanging over my head.

Instead, as the deadlines have been missed on the other end, I’ve been mourning that the year is more than half over and I don’t have anything concrete to show for it.  I felt increasingly drained of inspiration and unable to let the words flow on anything that really meant anything serious and long-term to me.

Going to Gilchrist changed that.  I’m hoping I can steal some more time to chip away at the Dies Irae revision, now that the way forward is clear.  I don’t want to waste any more time.

How do you find inspiration when it seems to have escaped you?

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Checking in

Loren & Mason in Japan in the spring.

Loren & Mason in Japan in the spring.

Sorry for the long silence.  Last week was rough: two things that I was very excited about either fell through or got postponed, and I don’t really know why.  The twin disasters spun me and choked off my voice.

Good things have been happening this week, though.  I’ve been plugging away on a new memoir on Wattpad.  It’s called All You Need is Morbid: A Travel Love Story.  Most of the pieces have been published before, in various places, but some of them are original to the book.  They’ve never been assembled this way before.

This is the way I described the book on Wattpad: “Join my husband Mason and me as we poke through ossuaries, love hotels, medical museums, old graveyards, and hot new restaurants — and almost get sacrificed to a volcano. My brand-new memoir, exploring the world from San Francisco to Japan by way of Paris, Prague, and Pompeii, is debuting on Wattpad.”

I’m going to wrap the book up in the next couple of days, but you’ll be able to read it for free for the next six months.  In the meantime, here are the illustrations for the essays. They don’t click through to the stories themselves, but you can follow the Wattpad link above and find them.

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The Haunted Mansion Project trailer

Learning iMovie has been a slow and agonizing process, but I think I am finally happy with the book trailer I’ve made for The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two.

I really like book trailers.  I love the idea of a commercial for a book. I would say that I think they are difficult to do well, but maybe it’s just difficult to make one that I like.  I think they tend to go on too long if they drag on much past a minute and a half. Like any other homemade video on the net, they often rely too heavily on filters and effects that distract from the message they want to convey: please buy my beautifully produced, carefully edited, and extremely well-written book.

I’d like to think my trailer meets those criteria, but let me know what you think.


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Behind “Mothflame”

Mothflame originally appeared in Not One of Us and was reprinted in my chapbook Ashes & Rust.

Mothflame originally appeared in Not One of Us and was reprinted in my chapbook Ashes & Rust.

While I was at the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, I went through a novel that I just couldn’t finish writing and pulled out my favorite scene.  In it, a rock’n’roll singer is methodically throwing wine bottles against a white wall, hoping to express his anger and grief when his young companion dies of an inevitable OD.

I loved the scene.  It was the piece I would miss the most when I abandoned the novel, which had gotten huge and unwieldy and could not be separated from its source material.  I’d written myself into quicksand and the only way out was to dig out the scene and write a new story around it.

That’s how I wrote the story “Mothflame.”  The title seems to refer to Ysanne, the singer (who became female in the story — I think she looks a lot like Tilda Swinton), but it really refers to Chris, the androgynous first-person narrator, who is Ysanne’s opposite.

All these years later, I am really proud of the story.  The scene-setting is particularly nice.  I adore Aden, the doomed young model, and his wardrobe.  The descriptions of the concert come very close to shows I’ve seen.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because I’m experimenting with Wattpad, a site where authors can post their work for free.  Mothflame is up there now, if you’d like to take a look at it.  Here’s the link:

Please let me know what you think, either here or at Wattpad.

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It takes an army to learn to write

Rhoads_cocoa_0345I have been blessed with an army of writing teachers.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten some here, but these were so important to my growth as a person and a writer that their names are engraved on my heart.  Let this be my thank you to them.

  • Eleanor Perrone, who taught my first creative writing class at Flushing High School and allowed me to “student teach” a session of the class my senior year. I watched the other students tear each other apart, looking for a crumb of approval for being so vicious.  I felt it was my job to encourage, rather than condemn.  Thanks to Ellie, I believed that it’s possible for everyone to tell a good story and learn to write.
  • The Flint Area Writers accepted me when I was still in high school and taught me to give and receive criticism gracefully.  I’d especially like to thank Trilby Plants, Fran Bacus, and Diane Carey.
  • At the University of Michigan Department of English, I studied with George Garrett, Alison Hagy, Tish Ezekiel, and William Hollinger, Jr.  From them, I learned about literary fiction and how to avoid writing what you know, just like every other student living in a dorm room.  They made me want to live, in order to have something interesting to write about.
  • The Clarion Writers Workshop taught me about the hard work of writing and revising on a deadline.  My teachers were Algis Burdys, Joyce Thompson, John Kessel, Thomas Disch, Kate Wilhelm, and Damon Knight.
  • At the Kansas University Science Fiction Writing Workshop, James Gunn told me that I couldn’t write the sort of stories I wanted to write and expect to become the next Ray Bradbury.  Either I could drop writing about queer characters and stick to the mainstream, or the best I could hope for was to become the next J. G. Ballard.  That still seems like a worthy goal.
  • Jane Underwood taught my first introduction to personal essay class in 2002.  She wouldn’t let me drop out when my brother died and I had to go home for his funeral.  She said the most important thing I could do at that painful time was to write — and she was exactly correct.
  • The Red Room Writers Society allowed me the time and space to write when my daughter was an infant.  I’m particularly grateful to Ivory Madison and Venus Klinger, who helped me to remember my joy in writing.
  • I was blessed to be a member of The Paramental Appreciation Society, which held me accountable to literary standards on a monthly basis for four years.  I learned more than I can say from Claudius Reich, Seth Lindberg, Lilah Wild, A.M. Muffaz, and Mason Jones.  I think I miss the writers group most of all.

Who taught you what you needed to know?

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