Writing Discussions: Beyond This Blog

I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time talking about my writing projects outside of my blog.

When friends and family ask about my writing endeavors I clam up, and then to compensate, I ramble for 20 minutes about my novel or this blog. I make a mess of explaining my projects.

People are always nice and they nod their heads, looking somewhat confused. Even with my husband, the one person I am the most comfortable with, I fumble to convey what my projects mean. Luckily he reads my blog so he knows I can form a coherent thought, but when I say my ideas out loud they sound flat and pointless.

I avoid discussing my writing with people, which makes it a lonely craft. (Reason 1,2234 I am grateful for this blog.)

Do you struggle with explaining your art or big projects?

-Rachel McKee

Photo by Miles McKee Photography

Favorite First Sentences

The first sentence is (arguably) the most important sentence in a book. Here are some of my favorites. I scoured my bookshelves and found the most intense, descriptive, catchy sentences I could find.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London. 1903.

“Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.”

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster. 1924

“Except for the Marabar Caveand they are twenty miles offthe city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.”

A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton. 1994.

“I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error, or else an unfortunate accident.”

Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange. 1982.

“Where there is a woman there is magic.”

Charlotte’s Web. 1952.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs. 1857.

“I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away.”

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. 2006.

“All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths.”

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. 2000.

“My name is Indiana Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.”

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———-

It’s a lot of pressure to follow-up after those incredible intro sentences, but I thought it would be fun to share the first sentence from the YA novel I am writing.

Not By Blood by Rachel McKee

“When the ferry that carried Brian Colt smacked into the arrival dock, his past collided with the future.”

Do you have a first sentence from a manuscript that you would like to share? How about a favorite first sentence that sticks out in your mind? Please comment below.

-Rachel McKee

Guest Post Questionnaire – M. Miles

A few weeks ago, three of my favorite bloggers agreed to form a writing panel for today’s post. I asked them to respond to five quotes about a writer’s identity, and in their responses, they produced some smashing quotes of their own.

via Writers Respond to Famous Quotes — M. Miles

I had so much fun participating in M. Miles’ questionnaire. I’m honored that I was asked to join the discussion.

Perhaps you are familiar with the other guest bloggers: Paul from WindBlownWords and Kristin Twardowski. If not, check them out today.

Have a great weekend!

-Rachel McKee

Selective Editing

I thought I would give everyone an update on my novel-writing progress.

Just a recap, here is my (work-in-progress) synopses for Not By Blood:

Brian Colt is seventeen years old and alone. After losing his family in an automobile accident he is forced to leave Alaska and is sent to live with his uncle in Washington State. What’s super awkward is that Brian has never met this side of his family because there was a major fallout that no one ever talks about it. What’s even more awkward is when Brian meets his cousin Rebecca Colt (step-cousin, thank God) he is reluctantly attracted to her. Brian plans to go back to Alaska and take over his family’s logging operation as soon as he turns eighteen, but first he must survive senior year and live with an unforeseen, violent opponent.

Rebecca Colt dreams of becoming a marine biologist. She knows that the odds are stacked against her and nobody believes she will amount to anything. Her nickname at school is “Hot Garbage” because her family is trash. The trailer she lives in is less sanitary than some of the dumpsters in town. Her step-father tells her exactly what he thinks of her with his fists, and her mother is lost in her pill addiction. Rebecca’s one-saving-grace is her best friend.. That is until her cousin… (eh hem) …step cousin comes to town…

I’ve almost completed my first edit, and to tell you the truth, it was overwhelming. There are so many things that I want to change. I realized that I needed to break the editing down into toddler-sized chunks. This first edit I simply looked at the story aspect of my manuscript. I asked myself: Do you like the story? Does the timeline work? Is it believable? Do you want to keep reading?

I’m happy to report that I do indeed still love the story. I’m going to go in and cut some scenes and add a few more for clarity, but overall I’m happy with it.

This is the plan-of-focus for future edits:

Second Edit-Character development.

Third Edit-Scene building.

Fourth Edit-Add more poetic language/descriptive detail.

Fifth Edit-Remove clichés.

Sixth Edit-Grammar.

Seventh Edit-Formatting.

I’d love to hear other writer’s editing process. If you would like to share, please comment below.

-Rachel McKee

Post-Holiday Post

Happy Monday.

Is everyone recovered from their post-holiday hangover? I’m still getting there.

If you hadn’t noticed, I was M.I.A last month. Here are a few things I did over the month of December:

  • Started working on a Guest Post Questionnaire for the lovely blog M.Miles. I’m looking forward to reading her post and I will make sure to link to it so that you can read it.
  • I read A Court Of Thorns And Roses by Sarah J. Maas. (Book review coming soon.)
  • I’m currently reading a novel called A Journal For Damned Lovers by S.K. Nicholas. I’ve been following his blog for a year now. He is a fantastic writer. His blog is also called A Journal For Damned Lovers.
  • I’ve had more people volunteer to beta read my book.
  • I missed you all.

Here is what I did not do last month:

  • Look at my own novel.

But yesterday I picked up where I left off in November and started editing and rewriting.

Did I mention I missed you?

-Rachel

New Year, New Focus

I went to a psychic once in Las Vegas. (Bare with me.) I was there with a group of friends for a bachelorette party, this was about five years ago. On a whim, we decided to visit Old Town and as we were walking we spotted a little shack in the middle of the sidewalk. We stepped inside the tiny trailer and huddled around a woman and her table. The trailer was clean and tidy. No unnecessary frills, thrills, skulls, or crystal balls. Each girl took a turn and to my surprise, instead of predicting the future she dug into our pasts and advised us on the current predicaments in our lives.

My hands were sweaty when it was my turn. She asked me whether I wanted my palm read or if I wanted the tarot cards. I chose the cards. She gave me a lot of sage advice, but the one aspect of our session that stood out to me was when she looked me in the eyes and said, “You have a lot of chaotic but powerful energy bouncing around inside of you, but you have no idea how to control it. You could achieve amazing things if you can find a way to wrangle and focus that energy.”

Obligatory disclaimer: I realize that her observation can apply to just about any creative soul, but hey, it’s a good reminder right?

So what does this have to do with 2017? My mission, my goal, my pledge to myself is to take that energy and focus it on my book(s). I haven’t been taking myself seriously as a writer. I have had multiple offers from people to beta-read my current novel and I haven’t allowed anyone to see it yet. Every time I think it’s ready to be handed off, my heart starts racing and I remember ten different things that MUST be changed before anyone else can read it. I get overwhelmed with my ideas and it all becomes too much. So I sit on my couch and binge-watch Gilmore Girls and waste time. I’m not focusing my energy. I let it get out of control and to cope, I ignore it. I ignore everything creative in my life because it’s too much work to harness that chaotic energy.

2017 has a lot in store for me, I can feel it in my core. I’m excited to learn, grow, share, love, and focus.

Thank you for following.

Happy New Year.

-Rachel

Do you have any resolutions or thoughts about the new year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

 

Five Famous Writers Who Were (Harshly) Rejected

Here is a list of five famous authors who felt the harsh smack of the “Rejected” stamp.

As I’m getting closer to my spring/summer deadline, I keep praying for thicker skin for when those rejection emails come pouring in. I have a lot of fellow writers who follow my blog, but I think everyone could use a little reminder that all great people have faced rejection at some point.

James Baldwin: Author of Go Tell It On The Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, The Fire Next Time.

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Source: Click Hole

J.K. Rowling: Author of the Harry Potter Series.

Rowling was rejected from 12 publishing houses before she landed at Bloomsbury In June 1997.

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Source: Wikipedia

Louisa May Alcott: Author of Little Women, Little Men

Alcott was rejected by publisher James T. Fields who said, ““Stick to your teaching, Miss Alcott. You can’t write.”

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Source: Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.

Sylvia Plath: Author of The Bell Jar

A harsh comment on the rejection letter Plath received in regards to The Bell Jar:

“I’m not sure what Heinemann’s sees in this first novel unless it is a kind of youthful American female brashnaess. But there certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”

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Source: FlavorWire  Image found here:We Love It

Charles Dickens: Author of Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol

Dickens didn’t tell his friends that he was mailing off his manuscript to publishers because he was afraid that they would make fun of him. Here is part of the rejection letter he received from one publisher for A Christmas Carol:

“Our primary issue is its preposterous main premise. We will grant that readers may indeed be willing to accept the idea of four omnipotent ghosts returning to Earth to do good for the betterment of mankind. However, it stretches the boundaries of credibility to their very limits to expect anyone to believe a CEO would repent his ways via voluntary monetary penance. Pay his secretary’s mortgage? Double his salary? Are you certain, Mr. Dickens, that you did not intend to submit this manuscript to our humor publishing subsidiary?”

Ouch.

Image result for charles dickens a christmas carol

Sources: Writer’s Digest and USA Today.

-Rachel McKee

When I Realized I Couldn’t Fix His Mental Illness

I posted a poem last week called Everywhere I Go You Follow. I wrote the poem when I was nineteen years old and experiencing a rough relationship. Daley over at The Invisible Moth asked who the poem was about and I told her to stay-tuned and that I’d answer with a follow-up essay.

I wrote the essay, When I Realized I Couldn’t Fix His Mental Illness at the beginning of this year and XONecole published it on their site in March. Even though this breakup story is far in my past, and I’m very happily married nowas you all know. I’m so grateful for this relationship and all that it taught me. Writing this essay cleared my creative voice that had taken me years to rediscover.

Here is the link to the original article.

When I Realized I Couldn’t Fix His Mental Illness

Loving someone with mental illness is driving through mountain passes at 2AM in early spring.

Climbing up switchbacks and taking hair-pin turns way too quickly and listening to The Beatles’ White Album. It’s nurturing someone who is running from their demons–holding them on the side of the road while you huddle under a blanket and look at the stars on the edge of a mountain lake, and concurring the darkness and greeting the morning sun while inhaling your victory into burning lungs and gazing into sleepy eyes that radiate relief that the night is over, only to take a new adventure the next night to divert the memories again.

I fell in love with a boy who was officially diagnosed with extreme bipolar disorder, but it took two years to get a diagnosis. We were both 19, young, selfish, and ignorant to the details of mental illness. There were numerous nights when I would get a phone call and the only sound on the other line would be heavy breathing and a shaky, “Help…me.” I would instantly jump out of bed and drive to his apartment and find him in a puddle of puke and reeking of alcohol. I would clean him up and put him to bed and pray that he would be “better” in the morning.

I continuously told myself that I could fix him. My touch would erase the dark circles that formed under his eyes from the impossibly long nights that he couldn’t sleep. If I held him long enough his anxious, tight, wiry muscles would relax. If we partied and had fun we could be a normal couple like the rest of our friends. We could laugh and drink and be silly, not everything had to be so dark and dramatic. I did not understand that when he was on a manic high that it was not his “normal” self. The extreme happiness would not last and inevitably the other ball of fear and anxiety would swing and the Newton’s Cradle that was his personality would slam back down again. The constant swing of emotion was torturing him. I was in a perpetual state of fear that he would die and I was frustrated because I knew that I was not helping him.

He was constantly self-medicating. He drank… a lot. He cheated on me multiple times. Our relationship was crushing me and I was already working and attending school full-time. During the year and a half we were together he ran away more times than I can count, stopping all contact completely. His illness was causing me to have severe anxiety and there were days when I desperately wanted to ignore him, leave him, and forget about him. But then he would call and I would criticize myself for being so selfish. I could never voice my worst fear out loud, especially to him:

What if I’m not there and he dies…

He was finally brought to a rehabilitation center where he was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The words schizophrenia, manic, and depressed, were tossed around like common cold and a possible ear infection. The smell of bleach and ammonia was such a sterile contradiction to the moldy, dusty appearance of the neglected building. There were cracks on the tiled floor and an eerie silence that trailed behind my reluctant footsteps as I followed a nurse to see him. I walked into a fluorescent cafeteria and to tell you the truth, I don’t remember a single word we said. I know, I’m sorry for the let down, but I honestly can’t think of what we said to each other. I remember him being very sedative and his eyes were incredibly sad. I distinctly remember going home and eating some banana cream pie only to expel it into the toilet 15 minutes later. I still can’t eat banana cream pie.

Shortly after, I went off to Western Washington University to finish my four-year degree. He went through more rehabilitation. We began to drift apart. I went to visit him at one more facility that was much nicer than the last. I didn’t know how to tell him that I had found someone else. We weren’t together, but I still felt heavy with a guilty heart that I was moving on. I made the incredibly cruel and stupid decision to tell him the day he was sent home that I was dropping out of our relationship. I will never forget the sound of his voice when he whispered in an exhausted tone, “Why would you tell me that today, the day I get to go home?” I selfishly decided that day that I was done; I wanted to leave our relationship in the past. I was bailing hard because I wanted to enjoy my two years of university life.

We have hardly spoken since that final goodbye where we literally hung up the phone and ended the conversation of “us.” From our brief interactions following our breakup, and the gossip mill of Facebook, it sounds like he is doing incredibly well for himself. He went back to school and we now share the same alma mater. Without my help or influence he picked himself up and made a new life. In my vanity I thought it was me that was holding him together when ultimately he was always in control of his own life and didn’t need me backseat-driving for him. His battle ultimately had to be fought with the aid of professionals and a loving family.

He has a new shotgun partner now. When I think of them driving through life together I feel a surge of emotion that hurls itself through the timeline of “us”. I fiercely want her to be the one for him. I want her to stand strong where I crumbled under the weight of his illness. I won’t ever get a chance to tell him that I am proud of him. Even though we shared soul-wrenching truths about ourselves, there is the ever-present barrier that holds steady when lovers decide to take different directions. After speeding through the dark tunnel of time that was “us” and the discovery of illness, I hope he basks in the light on the other side.

-Rachel McKee

Same Poet, Different Name

I wrote this poem when I was still Rachel Carroll.  I was new to womanhood, heartache, and poetry. While reading this poem I’m reminded of a different time in my lifeone that shaped me to be the person I am today.

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-Rachel McKee

 

Picture Pick FriYAY: Bookstore

I visited a cute bookstore in Snohomish, Washington yesterday called Upper Case Book Shop. I love bookstores. (Shocking!) The air hums and vibrates with the power from hundreds of books. Now that I’m writing my own book, I’m amazed by how many manuscripts actually make it to the book store. Writing a book is an enormous endeavor and then actually selling your book is an entirely different mountain to climb.

Harry Potter Bookshelf

I like to envision my manuscript making it to the shelves. Will I ever see it there? Guess I’ll have to keep writing and find out.

Book in bridcage

Sometimes I feel so close to making my dream come true. Then dark thoughts cloud my mind and I wonder if I’m living in a fantasy.

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Bookstores inspire me. So many authors have made it happen, surely I can too.

Page Chandalier

There is no time like the present. So I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep editing. I’ll keep dreaming of walking past a bookstore and seeing my book on their shelf.

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I’d love to hear about your greatest dreams. Please comment below if you’d like to share. Sometimes saying your dreams outloud or even just writing them down is powerful visulaization.

Happy FriYAY!

-Rachel McKee