Treasure Trove

Over the weekend, I moved some of my belongings out of storage and into my now not quite so new apartment. One of the items was a two-drawer wood filing cabinet that my dad bought me one year for Christmas. As I was going through the drawers, I found a treasure trove of folders full of abandoned manuscripts, some dating back to when I was in my early 20s.

I spent the afternoon reading tales of alien owned bookstores, dragons, magical mirrors, deceased mothers and prodigal daughters returning home. One manuscript was eerily similar to the horror manuscript I’m working on now. I found notebooks crammed full of story ideas, sketched out plots and character descriptions. I even found instructional materials from a Writer’s Digest Writing to Sell Fiction correspondence course I completed.

I opened one folder to find a surprise: a note dated April 26, 1987 scrawled on the inside front cover from a former newspaper editor I worked with. He wrote:

I found the story entertaining and very well written. The question mark changes I made are backed by the Associated Press book on my desk (the blue one under the dictionary). Otherwise, good folksy grammar and dialect. I think this will sell somewhere. You’ve got my vote.

 Those were the halcyon days of my youth when I was writing and submitting my work to magazines and accumulating a wealth of rejection slips in the process. And learning, most importantly. I was working at and learning my craft.

I’m older now. I’ve gotten sidetracked but am finding my way back to the path I trod so eagerly twenty-odd years ago. Looking at these old manuscripts, I remember when writing was my passion and the simple act of putting words on paper infused me with joyous abandon.

Life’s funny that way. Detours, Road blocks, Switchbacks. All are necessary in the growth of a writer. While I’ve been running from writing, it’s always been there, waiting for me to come back to it. I’ve got to go. My muse is calling.

Resolved

It is mid-February and by this point I should be halfway through my horror novel. I’m not. I have not even begun. Well, not exactly. I have written the opening sentence. What, you’re asking? What happened to the writing goals I set out at the first of the year? Life happened.

I started a temporary position the third week in December. With no new writing projects in sight, it was a simple matter of economics – keep a roof over my head or live on the street. Having been there, done that once already, I wasn’t willing to do it all over again. Between the mind numbing job, a lingering illness and my mother’s health issues, I have not written anything.

I should amend the above sentence. I have written some things – a few jokes for my upcoming comedy routine, a poem and, did I mention, the first sentence of my novel. I have also become involved in a collaborative group writing project (the details which I can’t disclose as yet) and extended my writing services to a local theater group. In the past, I would be berating myself for failing to meet my goals. The newer, mature version of myself accepts this happens and sometimes the down time reveals your true path to you.

I have been questioning whether or not I was meant to be a writer. Sure, I call myself a writer. But I don’t write. That’s a little like saying you’re reading a book but you’re still on the first sentence. However, the mind numbing job made me realize I don’t want to do it for the rest of my life. If there is a hell, hell is scheduling fingerprinting appointments and repeating the same words over and over and over and over and over…well, you get the picture.

The past week I’ve realized what made me happiest was writing. The perks of being my own boss and working my own hours weren’t bad either. Yes, I recognize I may still need to work to support myself until I land enough work to keep me afloat, but I’m seeking writing positions. I am applying for a journalism position in Alaska and offering my writing services to local businesses. It took the job to make me realize that, yes, I am a writer and this is the path I want to follow.

To that end, I am applying the following 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing (Right Fucking Now): http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/01/03/25-things-writers-should-stop-doing/. If this doesn’t motivate me, nothing will.

 

 

 

 

2012: A New Leaf

Have you made your New Year’s writing resolutions?

I feel like Lisa Simpson in The Simpson’s episode, “The Book Job.” It’s easier to talk about writing than it is to do it. I have been telling people I’m writing a horror novel for the past three years, but all I have to show for it is a prologue and the first page of Chapter One, which I keep rewriting. Somehow I’m always able to find a distraction to keep me from the task at hand.

It’s not that I don’t love writing. Writing keeps me sane. When my world is crumbling around me, I can always rely on writing to steady me. I can blame it on the inane comments of an editor who told me I didn’t know how to write or a professor who told me I would never amount to anything. If I’m honest with myself, it comes down to fear. What if I’m not good enough? What if I have nothing to say? What if I fail at my dream?

My inner critic starts yammering away at me and drowns out the positive affirmations I have received. One year I attended Dark & Stormy Nights, a mystery writing conference in the Chicago land area. One of the attending writers read and critiqued the first chapter of a mystery novel I was working on, but never finished. When she was done, she requested I send her the revised chapter. When I asked her if she did this for everyone, she replied no. She only requested to see revisions from persons who showed talent. Later that evening, she introduced me to a bookseller and said, “You’ll be selling her books someday.”

2012 I’m turning over a new leaf. I am dedicating this year to finishing a project. I have numerous projects in various stages of completion. I want to complete one, just one.

I turn to you. This forum is open to all who need encouragement and advice to push through the fear. I have set modest goals. Each week I will post my successes and my failures. After all, in 2010 I was gifted with an apartment, in 2011 I was gifted with a new position, and in 2012 I will be gifted with a published manuscript.

Cheers and may your writing dreams come true this year.

 

Here is my entry from Round 7 of the NPR Three Minute Fiction contest.

The First Grandmother

             “Aulea, come sit with me a moment.” Grandmother sits by the fire, warming her hands. The air is chill and her bones ache with the cold.

            The women pause in their work. The caribou hunt was good and there is much to do.

            Aulea blushes and hurries to the fire. “Yes, Grandmother.” She crouches at the far edge.

            “Tell me a story.” Grandmother fingers the worn leather pouch around her neck.

            Aulea fidgets and ducks her head. “I am not a storyteller.”

            “Please humor an old woman.” She has waited a long time to find a successor.

            “Long ago, a time so long ago not even the elders in our village remember it, a woman came out of the winter storms. She was tall and slender with skin the color of night. She carried a wooden staff in one hand and around her neck hung a leather pouch.

            “She stopped at this spot and began to speak. She spoke for seven nights and seven days. She brought the first peoples out of the snow and ice. She called the waters up out of the land and filled the sea with fish. She called forth the polar bear, the seal, the walrus. She filled the land with caribou.”

             Grandmother closes her eyes, listening to the rising and falling cadence of her story. She has chosen wisely.

            “Grandmother?” Aulea touches her shoulder. “Are you alright?”

            Grandmother opens her eyes. “I was listening.”

            Aulea laughs. “You were sleeping, Grandmother.”

            “One listens with the ears, not with the eyes.” She stirs the fire. “You have a strong voice.”

            Aulea ducks her head and stands. “I must go, Grandmother. I have work to do.”

            Grandmother removes the leather pouch from around her neck and holds it in her hand. “This was a gift from The First Grandmother.” She presses it into Aulea’s hands.

            “I cannot accept this, Grandmother.” Aulea strokes the soft leather.

            “I have watched the children when you tell your stories. You have a gift, Granddaughter.”

            Aulea blushes. “I don’t deserve this.”

            Grandmother stares into the fire. “I have emptied it of all my stories. It needs new ones to fill it.”

            The fire pops and crackles, throwing sparks into the night air.

            “Why me?” Aulea sits down, heedless of the stares from the women. Her mother starts to walk towards the fire. Aulea holds up her hand.

            “You remind me of myself when I was your age. I have waited long to find one to take my place.”

            Aulea clasps Grandmother’s hands between hers. “I am honored.”

            Grandmother picks up the wooden staff beside her, holds it out to Granddaughter. “It is time. The world beyond is unfinished. It needs a young voice to breathe life into it.”

            Aulea looks at her village. She has never ventured beyond its outskirts. Her mother turns away, goes inside. The women return to their work. She feels like a ghost. “I’m afraid. Come with me.”

            Grandmother shakes her head. “My time is past, Granddaughter.” Tears glisten on her cheeks. “I chose to remain here.”

            Aulea takes the staff. It feels heavy, solid in her hands. “Where will I go?”

            “Listen to the stories. They will guide you. Stories live through telling.”’ Grandmother’s voice dies away.

            “Grandmother?” Aulea bows her head. “Would you do me the honor?” She hands the leather pouch to Grandmother.

            Her hands shaking, Grandmother places it around her neck.

            Aulea stands, takes a last look at her childhood home.

            Grandmother has fallen asleep by the fire. Aulea kisses her on the cheek.

            “Goodbye, Grandmother,” Granddaughter whispers as she walks into the night.

copyright 2011

Roberta Codemo

My Evolution as a Writer

I’ve always had a book in my hands. My earliest memories are of walking across the street to my grandmother’s house with a stack of books. “Reada, reada, reada,” I’d say, and she’d pour me a glass of Vess cola and we would sit at her red and white chrome kitchen table and she would read to me. My mom still loves to tell me how if my grandmother skipped a word, I’d make her go back and start over. She fostered and encouraged my early love of books and reading.

 I was reading on my own by the time I was five years old. I remember going to the library and seeing the Wizard of Oz books. They were shelved in the adult section and I wanted to check them out. However, the head librarian didn’t believe me when I told her I knew how to read. She made me sit down and read the books out loud to her. I read every one the library had.

 As I grew older, my tastes expanded. I checked out biographies of women sports figures like Shirley Muldowney (I wanted to drive funny cars when I grew up, and still do), Alfred Hitchcock and horror novels. I cut my teeth on horror novels. My early love of horror fiction influenced and continues to influence my writing. My current work in progress is a horror novel.

 I was the only reader in my family. I read constantly. When we would go to southern Missouri to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in the summer, I would take three brown grocery sacks full of books with me. My dad would always stop on the way out of town and buy us comic books. I always wanted horror comics. My first “novel” was my version of the “Exorcist.”

 When I exhausted my book supply, I would read the collection of miniature books my aunt kept in a bookcase behind glass. I was probably the only one that read them. To this day, I wonder what happened to them. I would have loved to have had them.

 Reading and writing went hand in hand. I absorbed the flavors of my favorite writers, mimicing their writing styles. I didn’t have a shortage of books to choose from. On our weekly Saturday outings to town, my dad would let me buy one book at our local Ben Franklin five and dime store. He would buy me Harlequin romance novels at IGA when he went grocery shopping. I still have the very first romance novel he bought me. One year, IGA offered a collection of children’s literature as a premium. My dad was so proud when he brought the first book home to me. I still have every book.

 One of my most prized collections is my Hardy Boy books. I am probably the only girl who has never read Nancy Drew. When my grandmother would visit her daughter in Bloomington Normal, she would always bring me back a Hardy Boys book.

 I don’t know when I had my defining aha moment when I said to myself, “I can write better than (fill in the blank).” I do know I’ve only wanted to write horror fiction. Not to be smug about it, but I think my current book is way better than anything Stephen King ever wrote. Luckily for me, I didn’t confine my reading tastes to horror. Somewhere along the way, I’ve learned how to write dialogue, how to plot, how to create characters, how to tell a story.

 Did I learn this innately through reading, or by practicing the craft of writing? Why am I a writer? I don’t know. Writing for me is like breathing. I just do it.

Let Me Introduce Myself

I am a writer.

 As a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had a ready answer: “I want to be a writer.” It is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be.

 I have been writing since I was five years old and could hold a pencil in my hand. I still remember one of the first pieces of dialogue I ever wrote: Let’s join Mrs. Jones in the delivery room as she gives birth. Alright, so it’s not “dialogue.” I was six or seven years old at the time. I was taking the first baby steps on the road to the writer I am today.

 While other kids were outside playing, I was typing away on an old manual typewriter. From my earliest imitations of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories and the “Exorcist,” I have been learning the craft. Along the way, I have accumulated a roomful of rejection slips from such notable publications as Twilight Zone magazine. I’ve always aimed high, even as a child.

 I have started and stopped, stopped and started, started and stopped along this journey. Over the intervening years, I have collected college degrees in legal studies (Sangamon State University class of 1991) and anthropology (Illinois State University class of 2009). I worked as a journalist for The Hillsboro Journal for ten years. I’ve held a variety of mundane jobs including: administrative assistant, title examiner trainee, polysomnography technician, account representative and retail store clerk.

 I always come back to writing. In my current incarnation as a freelancer, I have written for The Illinois Times and the State Journal-Register; written and edited newsletters and brochures for clients; and written content for internet sites.

 I am returning to my beginnings. Let’s travel the road together, shall we.