Five Reasons Winter Is The Best Season For Writing


1.Because going anywhere else is a pain.

I timed it, last year.

I timed how long it took for me to leave my house during winter.  The minimum was fifteen minutes and only required the donning of a coat and hat and gloves and boots on what was otherwise a normal-but-frigid day.  The maximum was fifty minutes, which also happened to be the day that ice crusted over the five inches of snow on my car.  It took two scrapers and a lot of cursing and sweating for me to dig myself out – all to go to the store and buy toilet paper, which is a necessary but not appealing reason to leave your cozy nest.

Compared to that, the prospect of curling up in a warm house and writing – yes, even the same sentence nine-hundred different ways – sounds divine.

2. Because you can live the myth and feel like a Real Live Author.

Yes, yes, you’re a writer because you write.  I know.  But I am a writer and I hardly ever feel like one, even when I am smack dab in the middle of finishing a manuscript.  Something about the process is so unglamorous that it sucks all the indulgent joy out of the experience.

Winter can fix that.  Here is what you do: go make a steaming mug of something hot.  It has to be in a big mug.  Extra points for a pottery mug like these.  Find a sweater.  It’s okay and even preferable if the sweater of dubious provenance.  Wear it. Start a fire in the fireplace or, failing that, light a seasonal candle.  Sit down, cradle the big steaming mug in your hands, inhale the scents in the room, and look out the window at the snow.  Take a deep breath.  Relax.  Think to yourself, “I’m a writer.”

Whatever you do, though, don’t start writing.  It’ll shatter the illusion.

Read the other three below the cut!

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Catbird Song: Part One

I’m thinking of James tonight.

James worked with my father, but they all called him a baby: he was the youngest of all the men and the newest machinist at the machine shop where they worked.  Only ten years older than me, he had shaggy brown hair and an easy smile.

I liked James.  The first time I met him he was wearing his grease-smudged blue uniform with his name stitched onto a pocket patch.  He grinned.  “What a little catbird,” he said, and that became my nickname.  “You’re lucky you ain’t as ugly as your Daddy.”

I laughed. Dad laughed, too.

After that, I started to collect facts about James.  He was fresh out of a brief stint in the coal mines.  He’d graduated high school and said his biggest regret was not going to college.  He didn’t have a wife or any children, which was unusual in the shop, but I didn’t understand at the time why my mother shook her head with grim disgust every time that particular truth surfaced.

Only once did I glean that James was different.  His name came up once, at my uncle’s house, and my uncle bristled.  “James is funny, ain’t he?” He dropped into a mincing, limp-wristed posture and sashayed across the living room.

My dad was preoccupied dipping snuff, so he just nodded. My uncle barked a sharp, short laugh.  “As long as he knows better than to act funny ’round here,” he announced.  He made a twisting motion with his hands, violent and quick.  And he wasn’t laughing when he spoke again.  “‘Cause I’d wring his neck.”

I didn’t understand then that James was gay, or even what gay meant; my strict religious upbringing meant no one ever told me or so much as alluded to it. Nor did I understand why the last time I saw James – right before he left the shop to go work elsewhere for reasons that to this day remain foggy – he gripped my shoulder and looked into my eyes and didn’t smile at all.  “You go on to college and get yourself an education, catbird,” he told me.  His hand tightened.  “Understand? You go on and you get the hell out of here.”

This is the confession of an Appalachian woman: I grew up steeped in hatred without understanding that’s what it was.  I grew up in ignorance and with a very narrow view of the world, without the initial ability to question assumptions and flawed ideas presented to me as truth.  But reading saved me and writing saved me and kind people saved me.  I’m a different person, now.

I wish I could find James to tell him that.  I wish I could give him a hug.  But since I can’t, I’ll write about it, about what it means to make a journey from ignorance to awareness, and why words matter in that journey.  Why they mean everything.

This is The Catbird Song.

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Writers should create a community. But the community needn’t be exclusive to writers.

“Co-myuuuuu-ni-tee,” my creative writing teacher sang, and spread her arms wide as if to embrace us all to her bosom.  She divided us, college students in our first semester of creative writing coursework, into small groups of three and four.  “Co-myuuuuu-ni-tee helps writers create their best writing.”

My “community” that semester was composed of three people: a very friendly and well-meaning stoner who raved about everything that everyone wrote, a girl who liked to argue with people over their diction without knowing the dictionary definition of the words, and a guy whose poems about his “lovely pale and dark-haired muse” were so obviously directed at me that his unwanted affections became a class-wide joke.

Is it any wonder I ran like hell from writing groups after that?

Too often I found the groups staid and my presence awkward.  And then when I enjoyed the groups, I found the feedback lacking.  Over time I gave up on writing groups entirely and retreated into a cozy hermit-hole of my own making.  I felt, and still feel at times, that I am better off writing when I am writing alone.

And yet writing communities matter.  They do.  As time has passed I realize that the myth of what the “writing group” could or should be often subverts what a good group can do.  My community includes both writers and non-writers, and I want to talk about what makes it work when all the “professional” writing groups in the world left me cold.

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Poor Benedict Cumberbatch – or, Why Books Are The Best

Benedict Cumberbatch is engaged.

Whether you care or not, whether you know who Benedict Cumberbatch is or not, know this: the outcry has been intense.  The star of the BBC’s Sherlock  and a very good actor in a slew of other films, Cumberbatch is now experiencing the full wrath and ecstasy of a fandom in shock.

Reactions vary, depending on where you look.  Some fans gleefully offer congratulations and announce their hopes for future “Cumberbabies” like aunts and uncles personally invited to the wedding party.  Others wonder aloud if this engagement might not be an Oscar-bait conspiracy.  Some are disparaging his fiance; others speculate about whether or not this is a sham marriage and why; still others are predicting how long the not-yet-legalized union will or will not last.

I got an eyeful of the reactions and responses today on some of the gossip blogs I read and, despite having virtually no interest in Cumberbatch – sorry, he just doesn’t blip on my radar – I came to two conclusions:

1) I feel so sorry for that poor bastard and the sheer amount of speculation and response his life choices invite, and

2) I am more grateful than ever for romance novels, which invite and reward that sort of speculation and cheerful obsession – and render it harmless.

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Yes, I am a writer. Yes, it is a “real” job.

I am a writer.

I have another job too.  It is a job that people consider a “real” job because, I suppose, I have to drive to it and stay there, in a space that is not home, and do work-related things until I leave.  No one bothers me at that job.  They do not call and say, “Hey, since you’re not busy, can you do x, y, and z?”  They do not get irritated when I don’t immediately answer texts, because they know I am working.  No one asks if I can pop out and do them a favor.

Of course not.  Because they respect my working time.  And yet very few people aside from my partner respect my writing time.  Which is also working time.

I often wonder why that is, why people treat writing as a hobby or an indulgence rather than as work.  Is it because of the pernicious and fuzzy geography of “home”: the fact that my writing workplace is also the same one where I eat cold pizza and dance to bad 80s music in my free time?  Is it because I do not have to get in a car and go to an Important Place?  Is it because I am writing sweet and sexy romances and not the next great American novel?  Is it because people think writing is a “a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” like Wordsworth said, and therefore requires no actual effort?

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Free Halloween Short Romance: “Toil and Trouble”

Toil and Trouble

A completely PG Halloween short story that teases the beginning of a sweet romance: as a hapless father struggles through the chaos of Halloween with a kindergartener, he confronts his past and meets someone new.

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The Un-Romance: Consent, Coercion, and Winning Favor

“Don’t worry,” my boyfriend said.

He was relaxed in the driver’s seat of his truck, tapping his fingers gently on the steering wheel.  His face was flushed from our earlier argument and my declarations of displeasure – I’d complained that he was way too possessive, and I didn’t really love how he always demanded to know where I’d be and when – but his voice remained soft and calm.  “Just stay calm,” he instructed again, and drove past the exit that would have taken me back to my small apartment, to my friends, to people who knew me. “I’m not going to let you run away from the way we are together.  We belong together, no matter what.  So we’ll talk this out as long as it takes.”

He’d never been violent with me, though his embarrassingly possessive nature, his obsession with my schedule, and his over-the-top declarations and acts of love both concerned and mortified me. I’d had more than enough, and I didn’t want to talk it out or be together.  Yet here I was, locked inside a truck with a man who had no intention of returning me to my home, even though I’d stated clearly and repeatedly that home was where I wanted to be.  His need to prove our love was greater than any need I had to feel safe, and I wondered what to do as he sped up to pass yet another exit.  I was excruciatingly aware that both my phone and purse were out of reach, tucked away where I couldn’t get to them.  So I did the only thing that made sense to me at the time:

I punched the window of the truck with my hand.

It accomplished nothing, of course, beyond causing bruises that would take days to fade.  But the dull thud got his attention.  And as he glanced over at me, I unbuckled the seat belt, unlocked the door, and wrapped my fingers around the door handle.  I remember that I spoke with absolute calm and absolute conviction.  “If you do not turn around and take me home right now,” I told him, “I am going to throw myself out of this truck.”

Spooked either by my tone or my intensity, he turned around and he took me home.  But that isn’t what I remember.  What I remember is that after I got back and shared the story with family and friends – expecting a horrified “he did what?” – the response I got instead was, “Well, it was a little crazy, but he acts like that because he loves you.  It’s kind of romantic, in a crazy way.”

And that is the myth I refuse to write: the myth that love inherently involves coercion and the slow erosion of resistance.

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Why I like to write working-class men.

A long while back, an editor I knew at a Certain Publisher of Heterosexual Romance described to me the sort of man they wanted in a romance novel: good-looking (of course), smart yet flawed (sure), “alpha” and commanding in personality (my inner feminist weeps, but okay) and rich as holy fuck.  Upper-class.  Elite.

Sigh.  I stopped listening after that.  It’s not that I have a problem with writing (or reading) rich men.  In fact, nothing is so much fun as writing a man who has everything and still struggles, or displays startling flaws.  But I can’t help but chafe against the notion that a wealthy man – a commanding master-of-the-universe-man – must exist at the heart of every romance fantasy.

I like to write working-class men.  I don’t like to romanticize them, and I don’t buy into the idea that a dirt-under-the-fingernails way of life automatically renders a man a saint, but I like to write them.  I like to write them because they are real, and complicated – and maybe because they most reflect what I know.

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Halloween Short Romance Poll

giphyIt’s the time of year for candy corn and pumpkins and, yes, Halloween romance.  I’ll be posting a romantic short story on my blog for free to celebrate the season – and now it’s your turn to decide what you want!

Comment here with which of the following options tickles your fancy, or tweet me (@reallexistone) your choice!  You have one week from the date of this post to get your votes in so that I can have the story written in time for the holiday.

Your choices are:

  • a pagan romance on Samhain
  • a bedraggled parent experiences a trick-or-treat misadventure
  • a costume party takes an unexpected turn
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Halloween Giveaway!

I am giving away one free copy of one of my published novellas – In The Margin or Physical Therapy – for free!

All you have to do is the following:

1) Tweet at me (@reallexistone) letting me know you’d like to be included in the giveaway, or…

2) Leave a brief comment on the “Contact Me” page here on the blog with the subject line “Novella Giveaway.”

You have until midnight on October 30th, 2014 to enter.  I’ll throw the names into a magic Internet hat, pick the winner, and send you a novella of your choice by email!

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