Fighting Winter Blues


It would be fair to say that occasionally, I suffer from depression. It seems to be a common thread among some writers. I don’t talk about it often, simply because it isn’t the looming monster a few of my friends and family members face. But around this time of year—every year—it sneaks up on me: a weight on my chest that’s hard to shake. img_20161130_101550I find it difficult to blog, to write, and even to return emails. And while sometimes I think it comes because my family lives too far to visit as often as I’d like, or my book is taking so long to write, or because I will never be the Stepford wife with the time and ambition to make a Pinterest perfect home,  in truth: my depression is seasonal, caused by the lack of summer warmth; the eternal shades of grey outside my window.

This January I allowed myself to slink a little deeper into my winter blues after being turned down for a grant for Old Souls. I had used a large block of precious writing time to map out my application, consisting of a budget, resume, project plan, and expected finishing date. The five-thousand-dollar grant would have permitted me to ease back a few hours at work to focus on my book. It could have contributed to financing a round of professional editing and a little advertising, if one day, I choose to self-publish. It could have acted like a pat on a back saying, “You’re good enough.” And when I didn’t get it, I allowed the rejection to become a kick in the ass that said, “You aren’t.”

I love writing. I make a little money with articles and short stories from time to time, but writing certainly isn’t how I support my family. For now, I am a hobby writer. For now, I live in a distinctly in-between world where I don’t really talk about my “real job” to my writerly friends, or my writerly ambitions to my work friends.

1hlmwvI earn my living in hospitality. I’ve worked in a collection of restaurants, sport bars, pubs, and clubs across Canada, and even a handful of places in Australia. Now, I work in a high-end restaurant in downtown Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Since I started a year and a half ago, I’ve been promoted twice. For a few months over the summer, (peak-season on our tourist driven little island) I ran the bloody place myself. But, when the work began to sabotage my writing time I was forced to prioritize, and ultimately took a step back. Now I punch the clock, tend the bar, and enjoy three quiet writing days a week while the hellions attend school.

Working in hospitality is perfect for someone like me. People who know me know I love to talk. I talk to anyone who’ll put up it with it, really. I talk to cab drivers, grocery store clerks, and the unfortunate souls who stand beside me in line. I like to talk so much that when I’m home alone and there’s no one else to talk to, I make people up and have them talk.images1KTY36UF

Some of the most interesting people in the world have saddled up to my bar over the years. It’s true, many come in looking for a man to talk to about sports. Being that I am not a man and have no interest (at all) in sports, the conversations are forced into other directions. And once my guests have finished a few drinks, some of them get . . . kind of deep.

The restaurant where I work is located just off the lobby of a boutique hotel. A number of travelers drift in our doors throughout the winter: generally, singles on work trips. They come for dinner, and to drink wine, scotch, or dry Tanqueray martinis (oh, with two olives, please), and to socialize a little before retiring to their rooms.

On Monday, a man fitting exactly that description came in on his own. “Mathew” is a couple years older than me, with what sounds like a great job and the perfect family: 2.5 kids and a stay-at-home wife. As the night progressed and my other guests filtered out through the doors, Mathew sipped his Malbec thoughtfully and began to talk about life. stocksnap_jxnkzrbv86These are the conversations I live for. The ones where I don’t contribute much. The ones when people tell me the things they wouldn’t say to anyone else, because I don’t know the same crowd they do. Because they are from “away” and will likely never see me again.

He told me about his kids. How he had his first at twenty-one. Now, his oldest was applying for college while many of his friends were delving into the joys of parenting for the first time: changing diapers and staying up all night with colicky babies. He was almost home free. All the same, the subject of his conversation kept wandering back to whether or not he would have done things differently if he was given the chance. Would he have waited to have kids when he was older? Picked a different career, or a different partner?

Looking back on our lives and wondering “what if” is one of the ties that seems to bind humanity together. One might argue it’s an evolutionary safeguard, inspiring us to learn and grow from past decisions and experiences, almost like rats in a maze.recite-lslqv0.png

But, in talking to this stranger—whose children are only a couple years older than mine—I realized something.

Wallowing in my little bout of depression and wondering “what if” about the loss of my grant is . . . stupid.

My winter blues are taking me away from the moment I’m in.

Mathew is teetering near the brink of a change in life. That can be scary. But, it can be fun, too. He already chose his wife and had his kids. He raised them. And now, while many of his friends venture into the territory of having a family—a territory he already navigated—he’ll soon be released into the childless wild, at the tender age of forty. The rest of his life is up to him. Just like the rest of my mine is up to me.

1441996275528.jpgEvery day we’re faced with decisions. It’s how we deal with the wrenches in our journey and the decisions we made in our past that will often define our future.

While it was easy for me to see that Mathew is facing an opportunity in his future, he seemed determined to look back.

Sometimes talking to other people can force you to see everything you’re sleeping through.

Every day holds the possibility to grant us a change in life. It isn’t limited to graduations, our children venturing away from home, or our retirements. Every day we can change our future.

While I’ve been allowing myself to wallow in my “wrench,”–my recurring winter blues, and the loss of a silly little grant–I don’t have to. I can make a conscious effort to fight it. I can wake up. I can take a walk when the sun shines, enjoy my children, and will myself to write; to finish the book that has haunted me ever since my very own “old soul,” Hellion #1, was born.

Thanks to Mathew, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.


 

Greg Bardsley on The Bob Watson, Gutter Water, and Magic.


aaeaaqaaaaaaaaxaaaaajgm2ywi3owq4ltvkzditngzmys04yzhllwflytzlzjexotm3zqGreg Bardsley knows funny.

He’s the proud author of two books that you can read, and a couple others that he says will NEVER see the glitz and glamour of the publishing world. Cash Out  and The Bob Watson were both printed by Harper Perennial, the latter having been released November eighth of this year. I had the unique opportunity to read The Bob Watson while still in the editing stages, and even then it was easy to tell the novel would be a satirical comedy gem.

The Bob Watson follows Rick Blanco, a guy with a dream. Actually, his dream is similar to one many followers of Scribbles can likely relate to: the opportunity to quit his job, housesit a mansion, and finish writing a book. quotescover-jpg-72The dream is within his grasp, if only he can pull the perfect “Bob Watson” by ditching his meeting, and making it through six hours of mayhem to prove to his sister he’s not the loser she thinks.

The result of Greg’s hard work? A book that one should not drink coffee while reading.

I learned that the hard way.

Greg and I met last year, although I use the term met quite loosely. While I live on Prince Edward Island, Canada (where as I write this, I’m faced with a wind warning, storm surge warning, and snow squall warning), Greg . . . well, Greg lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where the chief complaint of residents is the unrelentingly perfect weather. bbb

We met as writerly nerds do: via an online writer’s forum.

Followers of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins know Greg has been featured here before. While many of the authors featured on Scribbles have rocked the self-publishing world, Greg is one of the few peddled by the big leagues. Harper Perennial is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishing—one of the “big four” publishers dominating book distribution in the English speaking world.

His premiere novel, Cash Out, garnered rave reviews from everywhere including The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. His writing style is fresh, twisted, and as funny as it gets. As an author of two books published by one of the big four, many would say he’s made it.cash

But, what is it actually like to go to a bookstore and see your very own book for sale on the self? What are the realities of life under the Harper umbrella, where the grass is oh-so-charmingly green?

Greg’s experiences offer an interesting perspective of life on the other side, and I’m thrilled to be able to share them here.

Hi Greg, welcome to Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins!SONY DSC

Hey there. Sorry for delay. It has been NUTS at work. On Monday night, I worked all the way to 7:30 am, then pulled another all-nighter Wednesday. I have a series of all-day meetings this week, too.

So, your new book is about a serial-meeting ditcher, and YOU can’t find your way out of them?

Ha! You know the term, The cobbler’s children wear no shoes. Actually, I have created an app for people to ditch useless meetings (the Bob Watson Meeting Ditcher ), but I am lucky that my employer is good about preventing meeting inflation. They even invested in training me and other leaders to run better (and fewer) meetings. It was funny because that training was a three-day MEETING. It was a three-day meeting on meetings.

A three-day meeting on meetings? You must really love your job if you developed an app to ditch meetings and didn’t use it for that! Rick Blanco’s big dream is to quit work and write full time. Is that something you would consider?

On some level, I of course would love to be able to write novels full-time, but it’s really not realistic for me. And I am very lucky to have a great job at a great company, working with great people. So I can’t complain. Sometimes I wonder if I were a full-time novelist, maybe I would go nuts with the new lifestyle—the isolation, the new routine, the extreme focus on just writing fiction.

Okay, can I please tell you my FAVORITE part of the book now?

Please do 🙂

 David Sagan.quotescover-jpg-52

That is so funny. I haven’t heard anybody talk about David yet. He’s inspired by an old friend.

Really? I bet he’s the life of the party!

He is a pretty interesting (and funny) person. I’m not sure if he’s like that much anymore. But he is a true original, that guy. I remember trying to really come up with the right things for him to say in the book.

I had to put it down, I was laughing so hard. My kids kept asking what was so funny.

quotescover-jpg-60Oh no! I actually worked with somebody who had a lover who wanted her to urinate on him.  The real David Sagan was a master at getting women to have sex talks with him on the phone. I always thought those stories were super funny.

I will admit that I’ve never had a woman urinate on me, nor have I engaged in sexual play with a goat. Call me boring, I don’t care.

 Do you think the real David will read it?

I did mention to him that there is a character that is inspired by him a little bit. I’m not sure if he’s read it. I once wrote a book (that will always be unpublished) with David Sagan as a central character as a college student. untitledPeople liked that character. He did like to say that thing about being a large man. He was a tall man with broad shoulders. He’d say it to ladies. It was really funny.

I can imagine the plot of that book was full of dastardly twists. You have a wicked imagination.

Thanks. I finished it more than 10 years ago. That old book will always be screwed up, unsalvageable. I have given up on it at this point.

How many of your characters in The Bob Watson are inspired by real people?

Not really anyone except a few characters—and I should emphasize the term, “inspired.” It usually was just something a person did or said. No one will see themselves in this book. That’s really the truth Bob himself was originally inspired by a real person. I tried to connect with him a couple of months ago, with no luck. The character Bob in the book, which admittedly is a small character, is not anything like the real Bob who I haven’t spoken to in more than 20 years.untitled1

People just always loved the idea of “pulling a Bob.” So I kept the first name. The real Bob also was super relaxed, and really did ditch a meeting one day. I looked out the window, and there he was crossing the street with a cup of coffee in his hand. That was when I realized people could approach meetings in a different way.

Were you focused on the plot first and foremost, or the characters? It reads like a largely character driven book.

Interesting. Let me think. Actually, I thought of the plot first. I had always talked about the guy who used to ditch meetings. People always loved that. So I had an idea to write a book in which a guy ditches an all-day meeting and goes on this crazy adventure and  nobody realizes he’s gone. That was the original idea, and then I had some things I wanted to satirize.

Oh wow. So how long did it take to turn into a story?

I think it took about a year. I signed the deal in February 2013, and turned in the full manuscript the last day of that year. I had written the first 60 pages and done a little bit of story development before we signed the deal, but then needed to complete the majority of the book in 10 months. I don’t think I’d ever written so much in such a short amount of time. When I turned it in, I heard nothing for five months.

That wait must have driven you nuts.

After a certain amount of time, it did drive me nuts. I had really busted my ass to turn the manuscript in on deadline. But then, I got a lot of feedback about the book—primarily about my main character in that draft, a guy named Randy who was a lot different from the ultimate character I would later develop, Rick Blanco. quotescover-jpg-34It was really, really, really good feedback, and I was grateful for it.

My editor, Cal Morgan, was super busy and worked with lots of writers who are much bigger “fishes” than me, so ultimately I was willing to work in a way that worked for him. Then Cal left HarperCollins, so they gave the book to another editor, Eric Meyers, who also gave me a lot of great feedback. The way I look at it as is: this book is so much better than it would’ve been had I not gotten that feedback, guidance and inspiration from Cal and Eric. I’m just terribly grateful.

Tell me a little bit about the editing process.

Cal, who had bought the book on concept, started with a “global” approach, meaning we spent a lot of time looking first at my protagonist and his behaviors. Ultimately I ended up completely changing his personality and motivations. The first character was very self-righteous, very serious and appeared (unintentionally) to be preoccupied with his nephew. So I reinvented him.untitled4

After we worked on character motivation and story arc development, we got more specific with my second editor, Eric. Then we got into different scenes and how to get the best out of those scenes, which also was super helpful.

The help with editing would definitely be one of the benefits of going with a publisher like Harper.

Oh, yes. I felt like I was very lucky to be working with full-time pros in the book game, who make a living putting out great books, and who were helping me turn out the best book possible. Without them, the book would not be what it is today. The book is much better because of their collaboration with me. After spending so much time on the first draft of your book, I really think you need a new set of eyes—somebody who knows what they’re doing—to help you make important decisions and provide feedback that the author will not have. You are too close to the story at that point. It’s really hard to be objective about anything.

steveI am a lunchtime basketball player. Using a basketball analogy, I felt like this was having the chance to go to a weekend clinic for one-on-one instruction from the NBA’s best coach, Steve Kerr, and that I essentially was getting paid to receive instruction and guidance and coaching that I never would’ve gotten, had I just done this myself.

Would that make it hard to fight for your ideas if you disagreed with their advice?

Not really. I have always felt that if a committed, smart, experienced, and skillful person is weighing in on my writing, I should really give what their feedback a lot of thought. Nobody wants to waste their time to give somebody a bunch of bullshit feedback. This is what these folks do for a living, and I want my book to be the best, so I think about all that.quotescover-jpg-89

I have to say that, ultimately, I agreed with almost all the feedback. It’s really important to have an open mind about that kind of thing, if you want your book to get better. I try to have a very open mind about the book, that it is a work in progress, and that if someone hates the book, they don’t hate me, and they probably don’t think that I’m a bad writer. They just don’t like the book right now.

So, after publishing two novels, tell me a little bit of the reality of being a published author vs. the fantasy.

Well, I have to say the experience surprised me. It taught me a lot about myself, and about life.

Essentially, we’re all ingrates.

Satisfaction is elusive.

And that shiny object up ahead? It isn’t what you thought.

quotescover-JPG-34Selling a novel had been a goal of mine for a long time, and over the years I guess I had created this vision of what the realization of that goal might be like. Basically, I imagined that I’d be awash in satisfaction. I’d see my book in a store, or in my hands, and I’d relish in the delight of finally “getting there,” dancing in the hills as the hunger pangs of my ambition finally dissipated.

With two books out now, I have had some really satisfying moments of accomplishment. But of course, what I learned was that getting your book published is not the end of a long journey, but only the beginning. It’s the beginning of new kinds of stress, new highs, new lows, new kinds of pressure, new kinds of hurt and new kinds of love and delight and growth.

The truth of the matter is, the statistically overwhelming probability is that the world won’t give a shit about your book. To have a remote chance of changing that, authors need to work it, and work it hard—otherwise, very, very, very few people will care (sorry). Even if you do work it hard (doing bookstore events, pitching to media, creating promotional items, and a variety of other things), the chances are that the only ones who’ll care are your mom and a few friends. The book business can be both unbelievably exciting (and rewarding) but also freaking brutal. It can break your heart a dozen different ways. It’s crucial that you find a way to brush aside the stress and disappointment so you can appreciate the good moments (because they are there in very real ways).

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You can’t be too proud or aloof. In the world of authors, I force myself to be a shameless tramp walking the busy boulevard in my candy-apple short-shorts and tiny terrycloth tank top, pacing the corner, winking at all the passing bookstore people, the media outlets—anyone, really. They’re tooting their horns at me as they blaze past, spraying gutter water all over me, and I’m getting catcalls. Very few of them actually pull over and the roll down their window. But when one of them does, it’s magic.

These publishing “streets”—it’s hard out here for an author pimp.


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Greg worked as a Silicon Valley speechwriter, a newspaper reporter and a global communications leader. His ghostwriting for high-profile business executives has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, and the Financial Times. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. His debut novel, Cash Out, was listed by The New York Times as one of five notable novels written about Silicon Valley.


San Francisco aside, (damn you, far away, beautiful weather) Greg Bardsley lives in a place where many of us want to be.  He’s a published author backed by the big leagues. And, while the big leagues played a part in shaping his story into the gem it is today, it doesn’t mean that he hooked a free ride. He’s just dealing with life on the other side of the dream: the good, the bad, and the little moments of magic that make it all worthwhile.

Thanks for laughs, Greg!

And as for YOU?? You can find The Bob Watson here.

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Editing Woes

God help me, editing can be a painful process. Editing a lengthily, complex book (that has been edited several times already) can make you want to stab yourself in face with a soldering iron.chri.png

Characters who were removed on the third round of edits might poke their little heads out to fu@# your day in the eighth. You may come to find the escape route you so meticulously mapped out for your characters eleven months ago is as plausible as Trump getting into the White House. (WAIT A MINUTE–you mean that actually happened??) The groundwork for plotlines you thought of while working in later chapters must now be staged from the BLOODY beginning. Editing a book has become a task of flipping between pages to make sure that everything connects in a cohesive, well written (or even vaguely entertaining) story.

And, sometimes you open the file for Chapter 24 to find that every word is garbage. Did you actually write this, or did a small child with weak wrists hack into your computer and delete your glorious, errorless prose to replace them with this complete and utter trash?

Sometimes it seems like there is no hope.kuyc

Sometimes you might show your work to someone you respect. Sometimes they tell you it’s okay to give up and start something new.

And now you have permission.

Now you may give up.

Let’s face it, kids. This is the hard part.

It’s important to remember that nothing worth doing is ever easy. And, because I am not-so-secretly actually talking about me, today I am reminding MYSELF that the only way a book gets written is word by word. 1f89qlStephen King puts his pants on one leg at a time. The sun always shines after the rain.  A diamond only forms with a lot of pressure. Yahda, yahda, yahda.

If you think you have found the book you truly want to write, the godforsaken TANGLE of yarn you want to weave into a story, be prepared to fight for it. And then, be prepared to find out that the only person you really have to fight for it is yourself: the side of yourself that is scared of a lot of effort . . . and the overwhelming possibility of failure.

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Shut up, Batman.

It’s okay to take a break to write a blog (like this one), apply for a grant, read a book, attend a conference, and mess around on Twitter. They’re great ways to give your mind a rest. The human brain is an organ that often works like a muscle . . . right?

It needs rest days.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

So, (maybe) today I’m doing myself a favor. I’m taking a little time to recalibrate. After I come home from work and the kids are in bed, I may even drink.

*coughs*

Heavily.

Not that that’s a solution. But it makes me feel better. And tomorrow I’ll start writing again, one sentence at a time. ‘Cause love it or lump it, THIS is the stupid, complex, lengthily book I want to write.


 

q1

NOT the cover. Maybe.

 


 

Something Exciting is Brewing


It’s true–my last post was about attending the Florida Writers Conference, too.

But bear with me: this is going somewhere pretty cool.


12661895_10154013026448083_422715894567006278_nThe Florida Writers Conference is held near the end of October every year in Altamonte Springs, Florida.  Over the course of four days, hundreds of writers swarm to the Hilton to attend 80+ workshops, commune with like-minded keyboard junkies, and receive one to one instruction from successful authors in a wide range of genres, as well as helpful critiques from agents.

Writers Off TASK w Friends NEW SquareThis year, I was encouraged to attend the conference by my good friend and critique partner, Dan Alatorre. And I’m glad I did. Because, as an added benefit to the conference, I could actually meet the other two-thirds of our YouTube runaway sensation (critically acclaimed by our die-hard viewer, Aunt Shirley), Writers Off Task with Friends.

It was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. So, I boarded not one, but THREE germ infested planes (Charlottetown to Montreal, Montreal to Toronto, and Toronto to Orlando) to arrive at my destination. And do you know what happened? I didn’t get sick. I got to hang out with over seven hundred writers and geek out completely. I got to talk about writing from the time I woke up till the time I went to bed.1euzup

And alligators.

We talked a lot about those, too.

They’re everywhere.

Attending the conference was especially fun because, being Canadian, I got to enjoy lounging by the pool in my down time (in OCTOBER), check out various restaurants nestled between palm trees, and  sample food and wine from around the world at the Epcot Food and Wine Show, which–coincidentally–is the EXACT same time as the conference.

b6e27351ae8fd24879ff56d5ef3910a713be5c324d7fe1345f9d7a1e3aefd16c

No, Oprah, just me. I have a point.

So, what’s my point?   (you may wonder)

Well, something pretty exciting just happened, and if you start planning now, you could be a part of it.

My writerly partners in crime: bestselling authors Dan Alatorre and Allison Maruska, have recently been accepted into the FACULTY of the Florida Writers Association.

And you know what? I got in, too.

That’s right! If you’re looking for the perfect excuse to escape your family soak up the spectacular Floridian sunshine next year, check out the Epcot Food and Wine Show, commune with hundreds of other writers, partake in a plethora of writing workshops, meet agents, and hang out with me, Dan, and Allison–you’ve found it.untitled

The three of us will be returning to the conference to teach. And THAT’S pretty cool.


For more information about the conference, check out these handy-dandy posts:

Three Things to Know About Writers Conferences

The Teacher Has Become the Teachee

10 MORE Things to Know about Writers Conferences

Dan’s Special Announcement

The Florida Writers Association


So, keep this destination in mind when planning your vacations for the year. We would love to see you there!


 

 

What’s up with Writers Conferences?


Last Wednesday I woke up in the wee hours in the morning, caught a quick shower, and made my way to the airport. Three planes and a very stern immigration officer later, I stepped out of Orlando International and into what all Floridians seem to refer to as “Paradise.”

They aren’t far off.
But, I didn’t leave my hellions at home with the ol’ hubster for the beautiful palm trees, the perfect weather, or the practically tax-free American wine that flows like milk and honey.

The main reason for going?


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A writing conference.

The great Allison Maruska and I were invited to Florida by Dan Alatorre. Dan a good friend of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, a great critique partner, and also the best-selling author of stack of books that are killing it on Amazon right now. Actually, Allison’s books are doing pretty furr-eak-ing amazing, too. Given the opportunity to chill out in the Florida sunshine with these two . . . who could possibly say no?

untitled.pngNot me.

And so, I got to partake in my very first writers conference. Over the course of the next couple of days, I participated in a plethora of workshops that ran from 6am till 9 at night. The conference was attended by agents, critically acclaimed and best-selling authors, blogging phenoms, and beginners.

Now, I am what many would refer to as a self-taught author. I decided to write a novel on a whim without having ANY idea how hard writing a godforsaken book actually is. (Did I mention it’s hard?) That said, it doesn’t mean that I went about learning how to write in a half-@s$ed daze. As a fiercely self-conscious/perfectionist/control freak, I hit google up for writing tips with the tenacity of a trick-or-treating eight year old. ocd-2I bought eleventy-billion writing books, and then I bought the audible versions so I could learn about writing (and torture my children) while folding laundry, washing the floor, and while getting ready for work. I joined multiple critique groups. When I ran into a problem with my story–be it grammatical, or to do with structure, plot, or outline–I was able to figure it out pretty quickly. (Or I just asked Dan.) I wrote short stories for competitions, and eventually sold articles to websites . . . for money.

I learned the skills to teach myself and then taught myself. And, immersing myself in a hotel filled with seven hundred authory types on a quest to broaden our writerly horizons has helped me realize something. I know a hell of a lot more about writing than I’ve given myself credit for.

That said, a fair number of workshops at the Florida Writer’s Conference were geared toward newbies.

The beauty of the schedule was that several workshops ran at the same time, so Dan, Allison, and I were able to sit through bits and pieces of what we found applicable.

By the time the end of the weekend rolled around, I found that I benefited greatly from the very act of immersing myself in author culture. As writers, we are responsible for plugging our own work. leather-bound-booksAt first, we’re the only person who CAN. It’s hard in the beginning. But, when you surround yourself with like-minded authory individuals . . . it gets easier. Because of the conference, I was able to identify a weakness–talking about Old Souls–and overcome it. I learned the importance of talking about my book with finesse. I wrote down and memorized a blurb to recite when people ask me about it. And, I started work on a killer elevator pitch. Not that I EVER plan on running into Eric Simonoff here. Prince Edward Island is rather un-surprisingly agent free . . . not to mention elevator limited. Which is great because sometimes I get nervous.

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GAAAWWWDDD!!

Looking back,  I don’t think attending a writers conference is crucial to authorly growth. But, talking to other writers is 100%, absolutely essential. It’s important to surround yourself with people who have attained the kind of career you want. So, find a place where you can submerge yourself in a pool of writerly kinship.

And–if you do go to a conference, it should probably be somewhere like Florida


Guest Post by John Clifford


Finding a Voice

By John Clifford

johnc


This post is a departure from my norm. My wife and I have a parenting blog, in which we write about all of the ups and downs or parenting from both the mother’s and father’s perspectives. However, left to my own devices I would not write exclusively about parenting. I love my child, and my wife; they are the lungs and the soul that breathe purpose into my life- an unshakeable, unquestionable purpose. This post, though, is about everything that came before. Before purpose, before happiness, before peace.

I don’t mean to bore you, or begin this post in a pathetic voice. I am not lamenting anything, nor am I subtly imploring you for some sympathy and pity. I am just stating circumstances as they were, factual and without any shred of emotion (unless irreverence is an emotion). I’m just setting the stage, so to speak.

And so we begin about 27 years ago, give or take…

All of my happiest childhood memories were made when I was alone. To maintain my solitude I would ride my bicycle, faster than my little tag-along brother could possibly pedal, for hours on end. quotescover-JPG-11.jpg This was back in the day when child sex predators were not a staple of sensationalist news and fodder for hushed dinner conversations. They simply were not on our radar, and we were all the freer because of it. I would ride miles away from my house, equally through wild wooded lots, as well as across the paved streets and sidewalks of our little metro-DC shitsplat city. I had no destination in those days, and in some ways I wouldn’t know what it meant to have a destination until I was in my mid-twenties. But I was maybe seven at the time, give or take, and free as a bird.

In this regard, I grew to love my solitude. I was a withdrawn child, practically a mute. I was asked in equal measure “are you okay?” and “what are you thinking about?” People often remarked that I looked lost in deep thought. That was okay for a child, almost commendable. Adults were undoubtedly projecting promise onto me, hoping to have met a child that might someday achieve all that they had abandoned.quotescover-jpg-85 There’s just no way to be sure after so much time has passed. Nowadays, when I go blankly to someplace else in my head it draws criticism and judgement. Adults should be raising the next generation of thinkers, not ambling through adulthood pensively hoping to still become something. But that is neither here nor there.

I grew further withdrawn after my parents split. We were never well-off to begin with, but we fell hard and fast into poverty in short order. We spent some years in a cycle of evictions, about every three to six months we were forced to move, that were followed by one more sympathetic landlord who couldn’t bear to turn away a mother and her five children. My mother was great at plucking the heartstrings of suckers. She had no way to pay rent, but that didn’t stop the cycle, not for a while.

And then, one day, the cycle did stop. My mother ran out of suckers, and we got turned out with no home. We were homeless for a little while, staying in hotels until they got wise to the lack of money, and then staying in the basements of family friends. I will not drill down deeply into the details, since that is not at all what this post is about. It isn’t about how hard my childhood was, or how I managed to make a woeful few meaningful friendships in any of the five high schools I would end up attending; I’m still learning proper social skills, even now into in my thirties. This post is about how I was turned inside-out, or rather back outside-out, after years of turning inward and seeking refuge and escape in the limitless expanses of my mind.

It was, and is, a slow transition. To write that it was just a matter of “letting others in” is a gross oversimplification. I never had issues letting others in. Rather, I just had issues with sharing the words which reverberated between my ears. Hence, the mute.



quotescover-jpg-71I had no audience, and fittingly I let my words dissolve and fade. I had to get them out of my head, so I wrote as a way to quiet the noise. But once they were out, exposed and open, I relegated them to the trash can, or shredder, or to moldy notebooks. I had no audience, and didn’t care.

I have forgotten far more than I have ever saved.

This trend began its metamorphosis, practically overnight, during my time in Colorado. I initially moved to Colorado from Virginia when I was 21, chasing a business opportunity presented to me by my brother-in-law. He had a kiosk selling knock-off Nokia cell phone covers to tweens in a mall in Denver. His kiosk flopped in short order, and he and my sister moved back east to pursue newer knock-off sales opportunities while I stayed in Colorado.

quotescover-jpg-62I wasted a year or so in this manner, but for one thing- I found an audience, and I found writing for my audience very rewarding.

I have no clue what it was that I wrote, but I suppose that is irrelevant. At my bar, or the bar to which I referred as mine, I spent a great deal of time. It was my preferred watering hole, where I went to accomplish the second and third steps of my routine. Over time, and through over-tipping, I grew pretty close to the bartenders there.

One night, I left behind, quite apropos for this guest blog, some scribbles on a cocktail napkin. I left it there on the bar, assuming that it would get swept up by a bar rag or tossed in the trash. Instead, the bartender, Krissy, read and kept my scribbles. And then she asked me every subsequent night to write her something more. I did so in exchange for vodka and gin.

And that’s it. Just like that I found an audience. Just like that, I found some level of comfort in turning back outside-out. There was nothing profound about that moment, nothing out of the ordinary, it was nothing more than an accident. The atmosphere inside the bar that night was unremarkable. It was likely as empty as any other weeknight (I was often the sole denizen of the bar), and undoubtedly smelled of mildew, bar-funk, and loneliness. But not everything life-changing needs to arrive grandiosely in a flash of brilliance. quotescover-jpg-77

And from then I decided to write more often, to keep what I write, and to share it with whomever might respond to the content.  I hope one or two of you experience some kind of reaction, anything that upsets the inflectionless equilibrium state of a soul at rest, and feel something in the words you read.


You can find me at bothsidesofthebed.com, where my wife and I blog about haphazard parenting from two perspectives, and at jaclifford.com. The latter is barren at the moment, but I fully intend to contribute more writing in the future. Sending vodka and gin may help to speed up the process:)john


untitled.bmpThanks, John!

For those of you don’t know, this guest post is long overdue.

John won the right to blog on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins by winning one of my favorite Sunday Scribble Challenges . . . first posted all the way back in MAY!!

If you can’t remember that far back, take a second look at the prompt and his response:


quotescover-JPG-16


The summer had been particularly harsh this year; an immeasurably minute amount of rain had fallen, the tall grass had long ago turned brittle and sun-bleached, and the hot dry earth was scorched and broken along an infinite number of cracks and crevices. He ambled closer still to the last watering hole for miles, slowly, taking his time to conserve what little energy he had left in his tired muscles, and what little resolve he had left in his hunger-maddened head. The lion drew nearer still, and was met with a scent carried aloft on a fiery breeze: the nauseatingly metallic smell of sweat, cotton, and fear quickened his nerves and pulled taught his muscles, and he knew in that instant that he was one last pounce away from either death or survival in this harsh, unforgiving prairie.

–John Clifford


untitled.bmpAh-may-zing.

Please take a moment to congratulate John for a great submission AND an inspiring guest post in the comment section below.

He certainly deserves it!


A Quitter’s Conundrum

evictionSometimes you have to put a pin in it. Plan to come back to it later, lower the position of your “dream” from your theoretical tack board of priorities and get your real-life shit together.

Over the years, I’ve done it a lot: ‘Cause baby, the act of writing your first book ain’t gonna raise your kids, and it sure as HELL ain’t gonna pay your bills.

I’ve been writing my debut novel a FURREAKING long time. The idea for the story came just after my first son was born. And yeah, he’s ten. I won’t sit here and tell you it’s because Old Souls is going to be the next War and Peace. It’s not going to be the next Interview with the Vampire or American Gods. Sometimes when I read the manuscript, I wonder if my beloved book even deserves to be published at all.

So what’s taken so long?

In the last ten years I’ve worked hard to contribute financially to my growing family. My husband and I are now raising not just one, but THREE dastardly little hellions. My stepdaughters have grown into women.

Life happened.

The book waited.

And this summer, for the very first time, I thought about giving up completely.richard-simmons

I accepted another promotion at work. I turned my back on all things Old Souls, ignoring my social media accounts, Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, and even my critique partners. I shut everything down . . . and worked at work. After all, it took years to write what I have. If I kept going the way I was, it might take years to edit. It begged the question: Was there any point in going on at all?

paulThe interesting thing is, without the dream of getting Old Souls published to keep me going I became surprisingly unhappy. Finding time to write has always been a struggle between a busy work and family life, but it turns out that not writing at all is . . . downright depressing.

I love to write. When I “grow up,” writing is what I want to do.

The moment I came to this realization, allowing myself to feel it in “the very cockles of my heart,” (as my ever so witty momma would say), I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It’s okay to have dreams. It’s okay to make sacrifices for your dreams. For the last ten years, I’ve put a pin in my writing to make room for real life. But one day, if I want writing to be my real life, I’m going to have to sacrifice some of what I have going on now.

So, I’ve taken a step back at work. It seems that whether of not I’ll ever make $$$ writing, it’s what I want to do, and funnily enough–stopping it altogether is what made me realize that. After all this time, I still love my book. I still love the premise. And I still want other people to love it too. So here I am, back on the blogging train. Back in the writing game. Back in the Imma going to get published one day rollercoaster ride.


So let’s DO this thing.