Storytellers: Expanding Minds and Hearts

“Expand your mind by reading non-fiction books.”

This is advice I’ve heard several times from a popular radio personality. Sounds great, except he goes on to qualify it by insisting fiction book-reading isn’t edifying. It’s “only for fun.”

Yes, fiction books can be fun. (And he and I both agree there’s nothing wrong with that) But they can also be devastating.

And a great fiction or narrative nonfiction book ALWAYS expands my mind.

Good stories, well told. They influence decisions and view points without effort. Without being didactic. And a story doesn’t have to be “real” to be true. Eleanor Estes’s, The Hundred Dresses, Margery William’s The Velveteen Rabbit, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. These stories shaped the lens through which I view the world.book-1760998_1920

Yes, you should stay well-informed. You should know what’s going on in your world. Facts are important. But facts tend to fray if they’re not sewn together by a story.

“Top Ten Ways To…” and “self-help” books have value (though in the interest of transparency, I’m usually not drawn to them). But if a reader is really looking to expand their mind, they should reach for a story.book-2624494_1920

Tips are forgotten. Facts misplaced. Names spend a lifetime wondering around on the tips of our tongues. But stories, stories are remembered.

I am not a prolific author. I am not a world-renown anything. But I’m still betting on my side. Because I work for stories.

And stories shape souls.

Writing Conference: A Family affair by Tacheny Perry

Writing Conference: A Family Affair

A couple weeks ago I attended the Nebraska Writers Guild conference with my dad and sister. It was the first non-pregnancy/birth related overnight away from my oldest children. And so, naturally I was both excited and nervous.

I made an itinerary, promised a special prize for good bedtime behavior, and then I got on a plane and prayed everything would be fine. Those worries however, I’m going to save for a moms blog.

This post is about the writing.

Writing Conference: A Family Affair by Tacheny Perry
My baby and my sitter!

Friday evening, with baby and built in babysitter (aka grandma) in tow, we headed to the conference center to enjoy reading from other Nebraska Writers Guild members and share some of our own. I was actually called second and was able to share one of my favorite moms blog posts: Boy: Why I Cried when I Found out I was have my Third. It was a lot of fun to hear all the different voices and genres, and though we had to leave before my dad could share, I had a wonderful time.

Saturday morning opened with a talk by Sabrina Sumsion about press releases, which I found informative but difficult to write on the spot. (No one’s allowed to read my worksheet 😉 ) Then we were treated to some very interesting stories by retired journalist George Ayoub. He also had some wonderful quotes. Some of my favorites were:

“Don’t be a writer; be writing.” – Faulkner

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” – Tom Stoppard

My pitch session came during the last (and my favorite) talk of the day. Before you get excited, I wasn’t successful, not in the “Yes, I’m going to sign you today!” way. However, I felt much better about it than I did about my first in-person pitch. For one thing, this time I actually sounded like I was familiar with my book. The agent asked several clarifying questions and I was able to give coherent answers to almost all of them. AND when it was over I got to rejoin a talk about creating compelling characters.

Danny Manus, the final speaker, works in Hollywood, mainly on scripts. But he had some wonderful ideas and specific tools to help any character, whether on screen or in print. I loved that he had exercises and questions I walked out excited to apply to my projects. His presentation was a condensed section of a 4-week webinar series. (Writer buddies, if you’re interested in checking it out here’s a link)

A couple of my favorite character exercises:

  • come up with 5 core traits/adjectives for protagonist and antagonist
    • for each, write 3 ways you bring them out in the story
  • What are 5 things that brought your character to page 1
  • Create 3 ‘deal breakers’ for you protagonist; make him/her break one
Writing Conference: A Family Affair by Tacheny Perry
Right around here I got this picture…thanks mom ;-/

I loved learning new tools for my craft. I loved meeting new people with whom I share a dream. But mostly, I loved being able to go to a conference with my family. More than any book, or lesson, or experience, my family, their writing legacy, has influenced my writing. My dad, my mom, and my grandpa were my first readers, critique partners, and champions.

During his opening remarks, the Nebraska Writers Guild president mentioned our family and the fact that I was a third-generation member. My father took me to my first guild conference and his father took him.

“How cool is that?” he asked.

Pretty damn cool.

 

They're not my Excuse from Tacheny Perry

They’re not my Excuse, They’re my Reason

People often assume it’s my children’s fault when my writing is going slowly. And it’s true. Being the mom of three boys is exhausting.

They're not my Excuse from Tacheny PerryIn high school and college there were times I thought I had no free time. But I didn’t know the meaning of busy until I became a mom. Until my idea of a break became being able to pee with the door closed.

So yes, they keep me busy. But they’re not my excuse, they’re my reason.

Every day they challenge me. They ask for more and more, and miraculously I find it. I wrestle three children into the car and drive across town. I bounce a baby, while listening to a rambling, nonsensical toddler story, nodding at all the right parts, and trying not to unwittingly promise him ice cream. Sometimes I lose it, but most of the time I don’t.

They're not my Excuse from Tacheny PerryThey count on me. They believe in me. So I am strong.

 

That momma bear instinct is real, And fierce. It grows out of a love that shouldn’t be possible and bleeds into everything.

They're not my Excuse from Tacheny PerrySo this is an ode to my children: they may not give me hours to write, but they help me find the strength to share what I have to say. They inspire me with stories. And force me to let rejection go. (Who has time to dwell when someone is biting someone else?)

I was a writer before I was a mom. But when I become an author, it will be because of my children.

So here’s to my reason.

Here’s to my boys.They're not my Excuse from Tacheny Perry

Rediscovering the Rush

I called my dad a couple days ago to ask him a serious question. You see, I’ve been starting savings-box-161876_1280to save money so I can go to the SCBWI conference in July. And the more money I put aside, the more guilty I became.

While writing the first draft of my first manuscript, I was impressively consistent. I had a toddler and an infant, but still I managed my goal of 700 words (I know Jack London said 1,000, but I figured 2 kids bought me at least a 300 word leeway). Sometimes the thought that my previous experience consisted of papers and short stories of no more than 10-15 pages became daunting, but the ever climbing word count was reassuring and I pushed on.

book-145399_1280As a newbie, I ran into other stumbling blocks as well. I remember the first time I had a critique partner read my work, say she thought it had tons of promise, and then hand me back a manuscript brimming with red marks. (…but I thought you said you liked it…? 😦 ) Still, there were more ups than downs. I discovered I enjoyed parts of the writing process I didn’t think I would (like editing, who knew?!) And I saw my accomplishments pile up: a completed first, second, 20th draft.

I started a blog (this one 😉 ), signed up to be a contributor and then editor for Albuquerque City Moms Blog, made plans to go back to school for my MFA once my children got a little older. I was confident I’d found the career I wanted to pursue the rest of my life.

And then I got pregnant, which for me meant hyperemesis gravidarum (or as I like to call it – the puke until you feel like you’re going to die disease). Writing stopped, but I told myself it was only temporary. In fact, I believe my last post said something to that affect. But even after I could move and eat without vomiting, even after our third son came and my energy level went up (slightly), even after he began to form a bit of a nap routine, I didn’t write. Not consistently anyway.

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Now, of course, I could come at you with all sorts of excuses. Legitimate ones even. I’ve got three boys 5 and under who, despite some progress, have yet to manage coordinating their schedules. I’ve got a baby who wakes me up several times a night. I’ve got family who is about 900 miles too far away to babysit or lend a hand. But none of those are the real reason I stopped writing.

I stopped because I got scared.

Which brings us back to the phone conversation with my dad.

My sister, who is amazing and extremely talented, has recently received both her desired chemistry internship and a journalism scholarship. I am super proud of her! Hearing about her exciting news brought me back to my college days. It’s not been that many years, but I feel like a completely different person. Back then, I thought I had everything figured out too. However, though I still enjoy music, I have absolutely no desire to utilize my music education degree anymore. (my kiddos are enough, I can’t handle being in charge of molding someone else’s too)

I have one manuscript, sure, but the second one has been at a stand-still for almost a year now. So I wondered: was writing my music ed degree all over again? And more importantly, am I good at it? Enough to make it my vocation?questions-1922476_1920

This is what I asked my dad. I wasn’t looking for false flattery or a boost for my ego. I was looking for honesty. And though he is my dad (and therefore bias), he’s also one of the best writers I know. So when I asked for the truth, I knew I would get it.

There is no twist to this part of the story. He did, in fact, as I’m sure you all suspected, tell me I was a very talented writer. And though he admitted this didn’t guarantee me a career, he assured me it wasn’t a waste of my time/money to try.

It was a nice conversation. But it’s not what inspired me to write this post, though it did motivate me towards what did.

The phone call ended with us deciding to exchange writing by the following week. So Saturday, though I still wasn’t convinced I had what it took, I sent my husband to the park with our children and I dutifully sat down to write.

A few hundred words in I found myself thinking, “God, I love this.”woman-1245817_1920

The rush. The high you get while creating a story. There’s nothing like it.

It’d been so long since I’d forced myself to sit down for any length of time and just write. I’d forgotten that feeling. I’d let doubt take its place.

But when I write, when I let it take over, the doubt dissolves.

So even if I never get published. Even if I’m not really any good. I’ll keep writing. Because I’ve rediscovered the rush.

And there’s no way letting that go.

Writing: A Dream Worth the Thud

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Dreams are amazing. They fuel our passions and send us flying. But then they get hard. They collide with reality. Gravity takes over. And falling hurts.

I want to be a writer. I want to be an author (published please!). And I know it takes work to get there. I knew that from the beginning. But knowing that what I’m going through is normal, isn’t all that helpful during the slumps.

It’s been several months since I sat down to seriously write. For a few of those I had a good excuse: my body tries to kill me when I’m pregnant. But thankfully, not for the full nine months. And so, almost six months in and able to eat food like a normal person, I should be trucking away. I’m not.

megaphone-911858_1920My inner critique is loud and obnoxious and incredibly unhelpful. My energy level is non-existent (yay pregnancy). And my inbox is full of old form rejection letters, because I haven’t been submitting enough to collect new ones.

One question keeps replaying in my head, “Why are you writing book two when no one is
interested in the first one?”

But here’s the thing, I do have an answer.

I love my story and my characters. I believe their journey deserves an ending, even (though this would be sad) if it never gets published. I just need to make sure these answers are bigger than the question.

To do this, my expectations have to change. I can’t get up at 5am anymore to write. Littlest guy won’t allow it. Nor am I truly functioning by the time we get crazy boys one and two sleeping. But there are other options. I can sneak away when hubby gets home and on the weekends. I can make time. And I should. I am happier when I am writing, making real progress.

And I can tell my inner critique to CHILL OUT. It’s different writing book two. I have a little bit too much information about how much work happens after you type the words, “The End.” But that’s not a good excuse. One of my writing buddies shared a quote by Shannon Hale a while ago that I loved:

 “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”

Now, I just need to have this running through my head when I sit down to write…

And most importantly, I have to decide that the dreaming, the soaring, is worth the thud. Because it is. (Yet another life-lesson I learned from Ann of Green Gables 🙂 )angel-1008398_1280

An Unexpected Encouragement

It only takes one yes. That’s what you’re supposed to tell yourself, right? Because it’s true. But on a day like today, when I sit down to work, only to be greeted by yet another rejection letter, that message can be difficult to internalize.

20160213_085257I love writing, but it’s hard to know whether or not I’m chasing after a lost dream. Even though everyone experiences it, rejection can make me question why I’m working on my computer instead of washing the pile of dishes currently sitting behind me on the counter.

This week has been tough. My children seem to be permanently sick. My 5 o’clock alarm has gone off several times in a row, only to be ignored. I’m tired. And my internal assurances haven’t been enough to motivate great or even mediocre strides forward in my manuscript.

But sometimes outside help finds you at just the right moment.

I got an email saying I needed to moderate my website, which was surprising. Because even though I’d vowed to keep posts coming, I’ve already fallen behind. The email contained a comment in my About section, from my Dad.

“As I write this, I am thinking how proud your grandfather would be that his granddaughter is a writer!”

My grandpa, Robert T. Reilly, is one of my writing idols. He could do funny, serious, novels,Untitled design poetry, articles. For children and adults. You name it, he could write it.  And, as a child, every time I shared something I’d written, he’d ask for a copy and add it to the file he kept of my work. I loved seeing him slip my white sheet into that manila folder. Since his passing, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could share my latest projects; see him add them to my file.

It made me happy, picturing him smiling down at me, his granddaughter, the writer.

So thank you Dad for reminding me, that even in the tough weeks (or months), and even though I can’t send him anything to critique, I have to keep going. Because I have a legacy to live up to. And someone on the other side who’s waiting to put my first novel on his shelf.

Writing Lessons from a 2-Year-Old

Writing Lessons (1)I was watching my two-year-old son play the other day, running from home-base (which was me on the couch) to his kitchen play-set, his car, and then back.

Each time he left, he’d say, “Bye mommy. I go to work now.”

And I’d respond, “OK, have fun!”

Then he’d beam up at me and say, “OK. Fun.” And run off again.

I found myself wishing I could capture that pure joy. Feel the pride that completely transformed his face when he knew he’d said something and I’d understood it. I found myself wishing I could write like my 2-year-old. Not in broken –English, of course (unless the story calls for that), but totally absorbed in the wonder of words.

So, for the next couple days, I sat back and observed him with this questions in mind: What writing lessons can I learn from this crazy ball of energy? This is what I came up with.

  1. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Ever watch a kid launch himself off a rock? Or belly-flop from an ottoman to a couch? (Mine likes to preface this last one by saying, ‘Doggie, doggie, Doooo” –not sure why) They are fearless. And sure, sometimes that leads to scraped knees or a knot on their heads, but it also leads to new experiences. Some mornings I find myself sitting in front of the computer, paralyzed by the idea that I don’t know what I’m doing; worried that I’m venturing off to ‘parts-unknown’ without a map. But that’s where the stories live, and really, the worst that can happen is several hours later my delete button gets a real work-out. As one of my high school math teachers used to say, “Buck up little campers!” Adopt the courageous (and sometimes foolish) heart of a 2-year-old, and just go for it!

  1. It’s OK to talk to yourself.20150828_165243

So honestly, this is one I was pretty good at already. Hanging out with two kids all day
I’m the only adult around to talk to so I take advantage, but the way children talk to themselves is different, better. Usually when I’m holding a conversation with myself the content is boring. Chores, lists, plans for supper. When my son talks to himself he does voices (usually high and squeaky); he takes on invisible bad guys, argues with Mickey Mouse, and travels to the moon. Think of all the adventures I could write down if only I was brave enough to have them in my head first.

  1. Keep trying until you get it right.

I tend to be impatient. I try things a couple times and if I don’t get it, I move on. Imagine if I’d done that as a kid. Imagine if, after the first couple times I fell trying to take a step I’d said, “Oh well, I guess that’s not happening.” I watch my son, with his tongue stuck out in concentration, try again and again and again to stack blocks. And every time they fall he just picks them up and starts over. Writing takes drafts, lots of drafts. Publishing takes nos. But I can’t just move on. I have to keep going until the writing is right and until I get a yes.

  1. It only takes a few words to get your point across.

My son, in four words or less, can tell me he needs a drink or something to eat, wants to go to the park, can’t reach a toy…etc. But it takes me four hundred words to set a scene. When I got my first set of real edits from a critique partner one of the biggest ones was, ‘cut, cut, cut.’ And I thought to myself, “But all the beautiful words! I worked so hard to string those suckers together.” Of course, when I sat down and actually studied them, there were a lot of things I could delete. If you can say the same thing but in fewer words, you probably should. Now if only I could remember that the first time…

  1. Language is magic.

This is what really inspired the post. I take communication so lightly now. I’ve been doing it for years. I’ve forgotten its magic. But I see it again when I watch my son talk. His face illuminates after even a simple phrase like, “More yogurt please.” He’s discovering the power I take for granted. Words. Thoughts made audible.  Transformed into something that can be shared and understood. It really is magic. And if I can only tap in to the wonder I see on his face every time it works, my stories will sing.