The Winter Blahs

It always hits around mid-January, doesn’t it? The holidays are over, you’ve shoveled way more than you want to, you’ve debated moving somewhere warmer for the fifteenth time, and there’s nothing left to do but sit inside in seven layers and wait for spring.

I like to write during this time. I’m not going to be leaving the house much anyway, so I might as well make some productive use of my captivity. I wrote three books in 2017, and a great deal of that work happened in January and February. (And again late in the year in November.) In the spring, I like to be outside, and in the summer, there are conferences and road trips and camping. Winter is a good time to write.

Except  – it’s January 14th and I’ve only put about five thousand words down on paper. But I’m not beating myself up. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to not be hard on myself. I’m going to follow the same advice I give my students. Sit down and write for at least fifteen minutes a day. No matter what else happens, you can make time for fifteen minutes. You’ll be amazed at what you can do in fifteen minutes a day.

It’s my commitment to myself and my readers. Fifteen minutes a day. I may not write three books this year, but I will definitely write at least one.

 

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2018 New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, I try to post my New Year’s resolutions – to commit to writing the things I hope to accomplish in the coming year. Last year, I think I came close to accomplishing most of what I set out to do.

This year, I resolve to be happy with my body just the way it is. I resolve to avoid dieting, to refuse to press myself into a patriarchal construct of accepted female appearance. This year, I’d like to continue to lovingly nourish my body with mostly plant-based foods, delicious teas, and perhaps a bit too much coffee. I resolve to continue to try new vegan recipes and to continue to delight in my own growth as a cook who can create delightful meals without stress.

This year I want to move my body more, stretch more, spend more time standing up from my desk. I want to dance without worrying what people are thinking about me. I want to touch my toes and stand on one foot and do a few minutes of yoga every day so my back doesn’t hurt after a long day of working.

I want to take Brutus out for more walks so, when the time comes that walks are no longer possible for him, we’ll know we made the most of the time he could enjoy the outdoors on his own four feet.

This year, I want to cherish my partner – I want to make sure she knows that I don’t take for granted how she loves and adores and desires me exactly the way I am. I want to make sure that she feels as special as she makes me feel. This year, I want to remember how hard it has been to spend so much time apart as we deal with immigration, and I want to appreciate how deeply we value the time together.  I resolve to appreciate the natural intimacy between us, and to continue to cultivate it as the years go by.

This year, I want to publish two of the three novels I wrote in 2017. I want to write one or two more. I want to win at least one short story contest. I’d like to submit to five anthologies in 2018.

I resolve to worry less about money while still working on upping my income. I’d like to get a job teaching creative writing. I want to sell more books. I resolve to not let the acquisition of things every become my focus, regardless of changes in income. This year, I promise to continue to give when I can, even when my finances are uncertain.

This year, I want to remember that it’s okay to feel lonely sometimes and that the best way to make friends is to reach out to friends. I want to encourage connections with old friends, and spend time with new. I want to send more paper letters, give away more books, spend more time video chatting with people I love, give hugs more freely.

This year, I resolve to turn over the pages of my calendar at the beginning of the month, rather than looking up at it in December and realizing it is still on May.

Finally, no matter what else happens, I resolve to remember that I deserve this.

Happy New Year, friends.

 

NaNoWriMo

I guess after all the updating DURING NaNo, I forgot to mention that I did complete it. I ended at just over 51,000 words, and pretty much the completed bare bones rough draft of my YA fantasy novel. It was a lot of fun and I would probably do it again.

Maybe. If nothing else, it taught me that I could/should be writing a lot more than I generally do. Not that I think I should bust out 50,000 words a month every month. But I could at least be doing 25,000 a month without the rest of my life falling apart.

I had a pretty major push on the second to last day, proving yet again that panic and fear are two of my biggest motivators. Or that goal-setting works. 🙂

Capture

What is giving up?

I sold 91 copies of my most recent novel, Eating Life. 91 copies of a book that took two years to write, countless hours of rewriting, several pass-through revisions with an editor, and, figuratively, a lot of blood and sweat. (The tears were sometimes literal.)

91 copies of what I consider my best work yet.

91 copies of the book that made the most rabid fan of my first novel, Man Enough, the person who read my next two books and said, “Excellent, but no Man Enough,” finally, finally say, “And now I have a new favorite Beth Burnett book.” And it got excellent reviews. Read them for yourself here. And if you have read this book and haven’t reviewed it yet, why not?

91 copies. Enough money to pay the electric bill. For one month.

I know I don’t know how to market. I know I don’t do enough for my books to give them an audience. I know I’m not out there pounding the pavement looking for bookstores that will sponsor readings or repeatedly asking my library to carry my books. I don’t like it, it makes me anxious. I know sitting around hoping someone will set up an event for me and tell me to be there is not going to sell books. I get that.

But I have to admit that I really wish there was someone that did that.

The thing is, I fell in love with Eating Life. I fell in love with the characters. I thought one of them, Ben Stagg, was one of the best characters I have ever invented. So much so that he is going to come back in another book. I love him and the rest and I wanted everyone else to love them, too.

91 copies and I’m finally beginning to wonder if maybe this is not supposed to be my career. I know money isn’t the whole point, but it is part of the point. And it’s a special kind of sadness that comes when my alter ego, who writes short and easy little erotica stories on Amazon, makes more money from those little hour-from-start-to-finish stories than I do on the novels I’ve worked so hard on. Long ago, when I was complaining to a friend about my books not selling as well as I wanted, she said, “Write for yourself, not for an audience.”

Well, if that’s the case, why bother publishing? If the goal is to just write what you love and not let it matter whether or not anyone is reading it, why share it at all?

I’m still writing. I finished an excellent YA fantasy during NaNoWriMo. I have a completed lesbian love story that just needs some revision. And I have a women’s fiction book that is, in my opinion, funnier than much of the bestselling women’s fiction I’ve read.

I still love writing. But I don’t have the heart to deal with everything that comes after. I can’t seem to make myself  research publishers and agents or send out query letters. I think I just need to take a break from it all. Not from writing – from writing for reasons other than to just write.

I’d love to know how other writers deal with this. What do you do when you don’t sell? How do you reconcile marketing versus writing versus deciding to just go get a day job? When do you decide to stop seeing writing as your dream and relegate it back to a hobby?

 

Top Ten Ways to Have a Happy Life

This popped up in my Facebook memories today. A couple years ago, someone asked me to write my top ten rules for a happy life. It still rings just as true today as it did then.

 

1. Follow your dreams. At least one, at least once, even if it screws up all of the rest of your plans.
2. Love. Love hard. Love even and especially after your heart breaks.
3. Cultivate radical honesty. Some people won’t love the real you, but the ones that do will be the ones you want in your life.
4. Do something really difficult that you thought you couldn’t do. Me: Quit smoking. Got my degree after the age of 40. Walked a slackline. Threw tomahawks. Once you’ve done something you thought you couldn’t do, you have confidence you can do it again and again.
5. Take care of a someone or something that can’t give you the same level of care back. A dog or a child or a cat or a fish.
6. Love your family. Grow your own if you can’t do that with your biological one.
7. Learn to stop talking shit about yourself! And don’t let others do it to you, either.
8. Develop loving friendships with women.
9. Base your happiness on your own life, not on how it compares to others.
10. Recognize your own worth every day in some way. Value you.

Jennifer

Many years before The Love Sucks Club was even on my radar, before I had even entertained the idea of writing any novels at all, I wrote a short story called “Dreams.” It started in high school, with a short story about a woman who told her dreams to her partner every morning when she woke up. The main character was Jennifer and my teacher found it fascinating – as did I – it stayed in my head for almost twenty years until I wrote the following story.

A few years after writing this story, a conversation with my best friend Aj led to the idea of The Love Sucks Club and Jennifer popped into my mind again. Something about her appealed to me and though I didn’t see her having her own book, I wasn’t quite ready to put her in the bottom of the dead ideas pile. I pulled it out, polished it off, and opened a novel with it. Jennifer from this story became Esmé in The Love Sucks Club and the narrator became Dana.

I found this story again tonight while going through the old “fragments and short stories never published” folder and decided to bring it out to show how sometimes the writing process really can take over twenty years from start to finish.

 

Dreams

       It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “This is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.”

Jennifer looked a bit like a teenage boy. She was slim and long. Her legs seemed to bend at strange angles when she sat and somehow, she always seemed in danger of knocking something over with her elbows. Jennifer’s deep brown hair, longish over the face, short everywhere else, stuck up in impossible pieces all over her head. Yet, there was something so female about her, something in the curve of her jaw, or the length of her neck, or the perfect shape of her ears.

I saw Jennifer for the first time at a beach bar on Strand St. I was sitting alone with my notebook, nursing a beer. I heard the men in the bar muttering to themselves, but I didn’t pay much attention. On an island as small as this, any new girl is a reason for a press release. I continued to scribble dream worlds in my notebook. I fancy myself a writer, some cross between Robert A. Heinlein without the nipple fixation and Robert B. Parker without the testosterone.

I didn’t look up again until a few droplets of water across my page interrupted my thoughts. I blinked against the glare which was outlining the most striking woman I had ever seen. I don’t think I thought she was beautiful, or even hot, not then, but she left me stunned. Her mouth was full and smiling, and her face completely open. Her eyes, hazel, with flecks of gold were full of amusement and vitality. I just looked at her, my face impassive.

“Hi, I’m Jennifer.”

I nod. Look pointedly down at my notebook and back up at her.

“The guys at the bar told me not to talk to you.”

“They were probably right,” I answered, looking back down at my notes.

“They said you believe that your dreams tell the future.”

I ignored her and  sat, trying to write, trying to think of anything that could take my attention, while she stood there for several moments. I could feel her eyes on the top of my head and I fought against every impulse in my body that was telling me to look up. Finally, I heard her leaving. I waited a few minutes, then got up and left. They know me here, I spend enough time at this table, drinking their booze and eating their overpriced fried food to warrant a tab that I pay on a monthly basis. There are advantages to being the local celebrity.

Three days later, I took my morning coffee onto the deck and Jennifer was sitting on a lounge chair. I glared at her.

“You’re on private property.”

“I asked the bartender where you live. She said I couldn’t miss it. She was right. It’s beautiful up here, do you live alone?”

“I live alone because I prefer to be alone, “ I snapped. “What do you want?”

“I read Annabelle’s Lies,” she said quietly. “I had a dream that we met and fell in love.”

I sat down, and passed a hand over my eyes. Annabelle’s Lies. I didn’t want to be reminded of Annabelle or her lies. I glanced at Jennifer, resisting the urge to straighten the hair that was blowing across her face.

Several hours later, Jennifer was still occupying my space, drinking my booze and rummaging in my refrigerator. She moved constantly, opening and closing books, looking at my artwork, touching the glass frames. Her hands were always in motion, she had a frenetic energy that kept me in a constant state of anticipation. Everything she said, everything she did seemed like a prelude to something else. My head was spinning.

Five days later, she hadn’t left. I took her back to her hotel to get her clothes. I took her to K-mart, the island’s only store to stock up on bathroom supplies and makeup and postcards. She cleaned my kitchen and cooked for me. I didn’t eat fried bar food for five whole days.

During the day, we went to secluded beaches and snorkeled and swam. On shore, she fed me fruit and wine from her picnic basket, while I rubbed her pale skin with suntan lotion. She jet-skied while I watched.  She went diving. She jumped off of a cliff. She learned how to kite surf and parasail and skydive, and I paced obsessively on the shore, sure she was never coming back. At night, I made love to her on the porch, under the stars and let her gently mock my awkward fumbling.

“It’s been three years,” I muttered. “And there was no one before Annabelle.”

“I know,” she whispered back. “I know.”

Every morning, she made me tell her my dreams, sure that there was meaning in every one. She quoted to me from my novel, in which I wrote about my dream of the Old Man and the Sea. I was a young boy, and I sat in a boat, and the old man wanted to tell me something, but I could never understand what it was. After Annabelle died, I finally figured it out, but it was too late. I talked about the old man, but I wouldn’t talk about Annabelle. I wouldn’t talk about those dreams. I talked about all of the others, though. Jennifer loved to hear about my dreams, and I elaborated on them, weaving her into my tales of lucid dreaming, precognition, and fairy tale worlds.

Five days.  This morning, I refused to tell Jennifer about my dream. I didn’t want her to leave the house today, but she insisted we go out and be among people. Jennifer didn’t want me to be a hermit, she didn’t want the others to hate me, to tell the tourists not to talk to me. She wanted to go snorkeling, she wanted to be in the water. Jennifer insisted. It is important to remember that Jennifer insisted.

It all comes down to this. Her body under mine is slim, yet soft. Her wet bikini leaves smears of water on my clothes. I push salty strands of hair out of her face and as I press my mouth against hers, I think, “this is the moment in which my entire life changes forever.” I breathe hard into her mouth, then switch my hands to her sternum. I fall into the rhythm of the CPR. Push, push, push, breathe, repeat. The familiarity weighs on my shoulder. I breathe into her mouth over and over, until the ambulance shows up and the EMTs take over. This is it, this is the pattern of my life.

I don’t think I will dream tonight.

Are you a real writer?

I belong to several online writing groups. Some are geared toward feedback, some are instructional, and some, the bulk of them, are simply places for writers to get together and talk about writing. Online groups are an excellent way to connect with other writers when a live writing group isn’t a possibility.

Lately, I’ve found a disturbing trend happening in my groups – maybe it has always been there, but I’ve seen it a lot recently… People telling other people that they aren’t real writers. I have been seeing it constantly in my groups and it is pissing me off. Some new writer who is just learning to break out of the cage of self-doubt and flex those creative skills is going to read these judgmental posts and slip right back in. These are just a few examples of what I mean:

  • You aren’t a real writer if you don’t write every day.
  • You aren’t a real writer if you don’t feel compelled to write.
  • You aren’t a real writer if you aren’t almost overwhelmed by your ideas.
  • You aren’t a real writer if you haven’t studied the craft of writing.
  • (My personal favorite) Writing is hard. If you tell me you love writing, I’m going to assume you aren’t a real writer.

 

I’m a writer. I don’t write every day. I don’t always feel compelled to write. I am sometimes overwhelmed with ideas and sometimes, I stare at the blank screen for an hour paralyzed with the fear that all of the ideas have dried up forever. I have studied the craft of writing. I continue to study the craft of writing. I can’t imagine I will ever stop studying the craft of writing. There are a lot of ways to do that and they don’t all involve going to college and many of them are free. The fact that I have a degree in Creative Writing doesn’t make me a more genuine writer than anyone else. In fact, I think I’ve learned more about the craft of writing over the past year than I did in my years of school.

I love writing. I also hate it. Sometimes, I’m afraid of it. And sometimes, it even bores me. It’s a job, it’s a life, it’s a passion, it’s an addiction. It’s a dream come true and a way to make a living. It’s creating worlds and it’s forgetting to move the laundry to the dryer because the story is so compelling, it can’t be stopped until the end. Some days, it’s deciding all the heating vents in the house need to be cleaned because that’s easier than writing. Writing is hard and sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes writing is busting out an incredibly brilliant short story in twenty minutes and sometimes it’s laboring over a submission with a deadline for three weeks.

There is one thing that makes someone a real writer. They write. They write when they can, they write when they’re able. They write. End of story. If you want to be a writer, write.

Now, if you want to be a published writer or a freelance writer or a working writer or a novelist or a blogger or —- Well, that’s a different story.

But whatever you do, don’t sit in judgment of someone else’s writing process. A real writer is too busy focusing on their own work to point a finger at everyone else.

 

Conference Call

The incredible Bella Books and GCLS anthology Conference Call is a delightful collection of short stories by some of the best writers in lesbian fiction. The proceeds go to the Golden Crown Literary Society, an organization designed to promote, education, and recognize lesbian literature.

 

https://www.bellabooks.com/9781594935749-prod.html

 

I contributed an intense story about an affair – written in first person collective which puts the reader in the audience with the rest of the conference goers. And that is just one among many. It is worth a read.

 

 

Excerpt from Conference Call

This is the excerpt from my short story in the Bella Books anthology “Conference Call.” All of the proceeds from this anthology go to benefit the Golden Crown Literary Society. If you want the rest of the story, buy the book – available July 20th here.

It was an affair. It was a tawdry affair between two women who should have known better. That’s what we all thought. We watched it happen at the Golden Crown Literary Society conference in DC. There was a palpable energy between them that the most sensitive of us noticed immediately. We sat in the lobby with our coffee, water, and breakfast sandwiches and watched as Maddie walked past the registration desk. Her eyes scanned the room and we held our breath, wanting her gaze to fall on us, to pick us out of the crowd. Maddie moved through the conference with the grace and confidence of someone who felt at home at the con and we all watched her. But Justine sat up like a prairie dog and Maddie’s eyes landed on her. Time froze, or we did, as the electricity between the two of them exploded into a million pieces in front of us.

Justine stood and crossed the room, her eyes locked on Maddie as she walked. They hugged and somehow, we all felt the press of their bodies, felt the way their arms wove around each other, their hips pressed together. From that second on, we were invisible. We sat in on their author readings and we went to their panels, but we were invisible. Oh, Maddie still smiled and laughed with us, and she answered our questions, but her mind was always somewhere else. When Justine walked in the room, a lightning bolt of energy sizzled between them and the rest of us disappeared. Though Maddie would turn back to talk to us, a secret smile remained, and we knew Justine had somehow touched a part of her that no one else ever had.

We stood next to them at the lunch buffet, watching as they carefully didn’t touch. Their bodies craned toward each other until they caught themselves and rearranged the space between them to an appropriate distance. We could feel the pull as they found seats next to each other at a table. They made conversation with people nearby but their arms somehow kept touching or they bumped hands as they ate.

We whispered words like adultery and cheating and homewrecker. It was an affair and we didn’t approve. We heard whispers that Justine was emotionally abused at home and we nodded righteously. Justine was married and we didn’t care how unhappily. She should leave first. There’s no excuse for adultery.

Maddie was partnered and we didn’t know if there were long, lonely nights crying in bed. It didn’t matter. It was an affair. That’s what we all thought. But we watched them laugh together at shared jokes no one else found funny. We felt the emotion underneath the attraction. It was starting to look like something more.

We saw them standing close, heads bent together, having a quiet, intense conversation. Justine blinked out a tear and Maddie brushed it away softly, her fingers lingering on the smooth skin of Justine’s cheek. They didn’t see us, though we passed quite close.  Love of my life, we thought we heard one of them mutter. We overheard them talking several times, and we marveled at the conversations. I’ve never felt so accepted in my life. I can’t remember ever being so heard.
We sat behind them at the movie and watched the way their shoulders touched as they leaned together. We nudged each other knowingly when Maddie put her arm around Justine, secure perhaps, in the invisibility of the darkened room. We ended up at the same table during karaoke and we watched the ways their eyes flicked toward each other whenever someone butchered a particularly sappy love song. We heard the sighs, we saw the longing, and we felt the pain and ecstasy. We started to smile at them during master classes and some of us were whispering the word love.

One day we walked behind them through the garden path of the hotel, and we saw their hands come together. Their fingers entwined and they looked at each other. For a second our hearts stopped. We questioned our own lives. We wondered if it could happen to us. We thought about our own long lonely nights and bitter tears. We remembered the deep love we felt for the friends and partners we’d met at the conference. We touched the hands of our lovers and smiled, wondering if Maddie and Justine felt what we felt. We wondered if they had experienced that jolt, that moment of recognition. We remembered the instant we had looked into each other’s eyes and knew that somehow, after all of the years of feeling out of sorts, we finally felt the last piece of the puzzle slipping naturally into place. We looked at their faces and thought, if only for a minute, that just maybe they were feeling the same thing we felt when we knew we had finally found the one.

It was an affair. That’s what we all thought.