Summer Reading Challenge – July 9th Update

We’re doing a reading challenge here at Teish Knits this summer, and it’s not too late to join in! You can download the challenge prompt list and bookmarks here. This is a strictly fun, no pressure challenge, so you can interpret the prompts as broadly as you like, and choose to do fewer of them if reading 13 books this summer seems too overwhelming. Every Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my own progress here on the blog, and I hope you’ll stop by and comment either on the blog or social media and let me know what you’re reading!

A favorite the you want to re-read.

I read The Kobayashi Maru as a teen. I’ve gone through phases of reading Star Trek books off and on since then, but this book remains one of my favorites. I enjoyed how they walked through four different main characters and their very different approaches to the famous (or infamous) Kobayashi Maru simulation found in Star Trek lore.

The Kobayashi Maru is a short read, but just what I wanted while I relaxed in the AC with some iced tea over the weekend. If you’re not at all familiar with, or a fan of Star Trek, this book likely won’t appeal to you, as it won’t make much sense without the context of the show and movies. It’s not what most would consider fine literature, but it’s a fun, interesting book featuring some of my favorite fictional characters. You’ll have to find a copy used if you want the print version, but you can also find it in e-book format.

This isn’t exactly related to the Summer Reading Challenge, but I got my print copies of Heroes of the Realm in the mail today! I’ve long enjoyed reading the works of other authors included in the anthology, and it still seems a little surreal that I have a story published in the same book as their work. Not to mention the beautiful cover art by Kirk DouPonce. It’s been such fun to experience every step of the process from editorial notes, to getting my first galley proofs, to holding the book in my hands. The editor, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, further convinced me that editors are some of the heroes of the publishing industry. And I don’t think anyone could overstate just how much Rebecca and Scott Minor have done for the Christian speculative fiction writers and readers out there. All this to say, the people involved in publishing this book are people I admire and respect, and I’ll never stop being thankful that I got to be a little part of such a special project.

Summer Reading Challenge – June 18th Update

We’re doing a reading challenge here at Teish Knits this summer, and it’s not too late to join in! You can download the challenge prompt list and bookmarks here. This is a strictly fun, no pressure challenge, so you can interpret the prompts as broadly as you like, and choose to do fewer of them if reading 13 books this summer seems too overwhelming. Every Tuesday, I’ll be sharing my own progress here on the blog, and I hope you’ll stop by and comment either on the blog or social media and let me know what you’re reading!

A book related to your career or goals.

How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson is one of those books that I read a number of years ago, but never really tried out the advice. (I’m not the only one who does that, right?) I found myself needing to outline the novella that I’m writing for Camp NaNo next month, and I decided to read through the book again and give it a try. I’ve read the Oxygen series that Randy co-authored and enjoyed the writing style, so I decided to give his Snowflake Method a try.

Two great things about this book is that it’s short and it’s not boring! Sometimes practical books are long, and hard to stick with. How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method isn’t a regular how-to book, it’s a how-to book written as a story. The story itself was creative and interesting enough to keep me engaged. Since the story is set at a writing conference where the main character is learning the method herself, it almost felt like I was sitting in on a class. The format didn’t just give me the principles, it also demonstrated a new writer, like myself, applying them to her own writing. The end of the book has a nice summary of the method so that you don’t have to go back through the book to remember the instructions for each step of the process.

I’ve been working through the method for the story I’m writing next month, and I can already see how this method has helped me get a stronger plot and stronger characters in place, even before I start writing. I’m excited to see what writing the story using this instead of my usual index card or traditional outline will be like! While there’s no method that’s just right for everyone, the Snowflake Method is worth checking out.

I’m also nearly finished reading Paul Reigner’s Paranormia, and I’ll be sharing about that in my Tuesday update once it releases!

The Hopes Unfulfilled

Four years ago my heart broke on Father’s Day. Having a parent deliberately cut ties with you is crushing, but when it’s your dad making that choice on Father’s Day of all days… There are some wounds that I’m not sure ever completely heal this side of Heaven, and this may be one of them.

Time is funny. In this case, four years feels like an entire lifetime. These past four years have been filled with some of the hardest battles of my life. I’ve faced difficult truths, made hard decisions, and seen parts of my past with more clarity than ever before. All of those are good things, but hard-won. I heard someone say once, “Feelings buried alive never die.” I’d buried a staggering number of them, and I’m still dealing with the aftermath of years of unhealthy coping mechanisms. It takes time—maybe the rest of my life.

It’s tempting to hate the people who’ve hurt you. I seem to be particularly prone to this sin, and I have to keep taking it back to the cross. In this situation, God has given me a rather interesting thing to combat the hate I’m tempted to harbor: science fiction.

Nope, I haven’t finally lost it, I promise! I used to watch Star Trek re-runs with my dad on a regular basis. Saturday nights were the nights when we gathered in the living room to watch Doctor Who on the local PBS station. I loved those shows as much as my dad. Memories of sitting on the couch with him and watching Star Trek are one of the good memories that I still count as precious.

It wasn’t only science fiction TV though. My dad let me read his Flying and Air and Space magazines. We watched documentaries on aviation and spaceflight together. He bought me the telescope that I still use to gaze at the stars and dream. He’s one of the few people who never insinuated that it was strange for a girl to love airplanes, spacecraft, and astronomy. He’s the reason I had subscriptions to Astronomy and Aviation History in high school. When Aaron took me to the Air and Space museum on our honeymoon, I was in awe of the famous aircraft because my dad told me about them and the stories behind them when I was a kid.

I love all of those things, and I write science fiction today because of my dad. For all of the hard that came out of that relationship, this is one thing that came out of it that I will never, never regret. It’s a part of who I am that is meaningful to me, and it’s something that my dad encouraged, even when people said, “But you’re a girl!” I will always be grateful to my dad for the gift of science fiction, and for being one of the few people in my growing up years who understood just how much the sky and the stars called to me. Because of how much these things mean to me, and because of how much of it I owe to my dad, I can’t completely hate him. I hate some of the things he did to me, to my sister, and to our mom. And yet… I am thankful for the gift of science fiction that he gave me.

Officially, I write science fiction because I love the stars, and I love the genre that allows us to explore deep and complicated things in a way that makes them seem less scary and threatening. Science fiction is an amazing genre with the potential to impact people in a very personal way. Unofficially, I write science fiction because it redeems part of a childhood made up of scary and difficult things. No writer exists who doesn’t owe thanks to the people who have made it possible for them to be a writer. I’ve got my own very long list of people who have encouraged, inspired, and taught me along the way. My dad’s on that list too because he sparked the interest in so many of the things that have made me a science fiction writer.

I think the hardest thing about healing for me has been trying to reconcile the good and bad in the relationship. Nothing turned out the way I expected when I was younger. In some ways that’s a very good thing, but in other ways it’s so very hard. Letting go of what I thought would be is not easy, and it’s weird to grieve the loss of someone still living. I always hoped for that movie moment like at the end of Star Trek IV where Sarek and Spock reconcile at least some of their differences. I wanted that moment, and I really believed that if I could be something enough, I’d get it. Reality doesn’t always work out so well as in the movies, and I had to make peace with the truth of that. Recently though, a quote from Tolkien that I always associated with my mom seems like it might apply to my dad too.

“There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Whether on this side of eternity or the next, God may yet have a miracle in store. For now, there’s something very dear to me in my life because of my dad. In the end, maybe God redeems more things than I ever dreamed He could.

Between Remembered and Forgotten

I’m taking part in the Penprints Flash Fiction Dash! My prompt was to write a cyberpunk flash fiction story based on the song Arrow by Half Alive.

Tag Stanford splashed cold water on his face and stared at the reflection in the tiny mirror. Lack of sleep left dark purple marks under his bloodshot eyes. His calf muscles ached, and his left knee screamed in protest at the extended run he’d taken after his shift at work. Too bad it hadn’t exhausted him enough to let him slip into a dreamless sleep for a change.

He dragged on some decent-looking clothes and stuck a dented metal mug under the drink dispenser. He had to hit the panel twice to get a full cup of coffee out of the stupid thing. He’d have to save up for a new one later. Gulping the lukewarm brew, Tag picked up the note from his employer and read it again. Phrases like, “negatively impacting productivity” and “strongly suggest professional treatment” screamed at him. Employers couldn’t legally mandate any kind of medical treatment, but they could fire him if they determined that his productivity was on a downward spiral. He downed the dregs of what passed for coffee and stuck the mug in the sterilizer. It was hard to be productive when the nightmares started every time you closed your eyes.

A quiet ping from the band on his wrist drew his attention and the reminder scrolled across the tiny screen.

“Appointment at New Mind Clinic in 1 Hour”

Dr. Ataca assured Tag that he’d come through the exact same procedure once before with no problems. Tag couldn’t remember the previous treatment, but then that was sort of the point. Remove those troublesome memories and the memory of the treatment and then just go along with your life like it never happened. The mind is a funny thing though, and the doctor told him that in rare cases the brain starts to remember trauma in the form of nightmares and inexplicable anxiety. Tag could attest to that. A second treatment would take care of any residual memories. He would go the the clinic this evening, then wake up in his apartment tomorrow morning and go to work. He’d sleep through the night again. He gathered up the note from work and the brochure from New Mind Clinic and stuffed them into his pocket. It wouldn’t do to leave those here where he’d find them tomorrow.

The door locked clicked behind him and his elderly neighbor, Mrs. Leisha poked her head out the door to wave. He waved and smiled back, trying not to think about her opinions on the memory erasure treatment. She likened it to the lobotomies her grandmother talked about. Tag looked that up on the internet once and immediately wished that he hadn’t. He got a headache every time he envisioned an ice pick being shoved in his brain. Thankfully, the dark ages of medical care were over.

Photo by Derek Story on Unsplash

Tag walked the short distance from his apartment building to the mag train. It was only drizzling a bit, so he didn’t bother flipping the hood of his jacket over his head. The crowds waiting at the stop were typical for a Tuesday evening. Most of them were checking messages, ordering take-out, or watching the news on their wristbands. Tag couldn’t focus enough to do anything these days. He would be glad to get this over with; being stuck between remembering and forgetting was the worst place to be.

It wasn’t a long ride to the stop near the clinic. As soon as he finished checking in at the front desk, a medical assistant took him back to a treatment room and handed him a pair of scrubs.

“Just change into these Mr. Stanford and I’ll be back in a few minutes with Dr. Ataca.”

Tag left his street clothes in a neat stack on a chair in the corner and sat on the exam table, studying the pattern of the flooring until the short knock before the door opened.

“How are you doing this morning, Tag?” Dr. Ataca put a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye.

He rubbed his sweaty palms on the thin scrubs. “Little nervous. Are you sure this second procedure will take care of everything?”

She patted his shoulder. “Of course it will. I’ve been doing this a long time, and we have every reason to be confident that after this treatment, you’ll never have these dreams or memories again. Don’t worry, you’re in good hands!”

Dr. Ataca nodded to the med assistant as Tag settled back on the table. A micro-needle anesthetic patch was applied to his wrist and bio-monitor patches on his chest and forehead. His eyes drifted closed when the drug finally hit his bloodstream. This would all be over soon, and he’d never have to come back to the clinic again.

***

“Is he out?” Dr. Ataca asked.

The med assistant checked the bio-monitor readouts and nodded, “All ready to begin.”

“Good.” She stepped closer to the table and began inputting the parameters for Tag’s memory erasure treatment. “Be sure to make a note in his chart that he needs to be referred every eight months. If his Primary Med Provider’s office hadn’t messed up the scheduling, he’d never have gotten to the point where the memories resurfaced at all. Thank goodness his employer’s HR department picked up on what was going on before it got worse.”

“I’ve set up a reminder to ping his PMP’s office in 8 months if they haven’t referred him yet. Is this really the 16th treatment he’s had?” The med assistant looked up in surprise.

Dr. Ataca nodded, “Yes, Tag was one of our first patients here at the clinic.”

“And he has no idea that he’s been your patient for more than a decade?”

“No, and if we all do our jobs right, none of them ever know.”

A Thread of Grace

I want to chicken out. I’m berating myself for telling anyone that I was writing a memoir for NaNoWriMo this year because now I can’t chicken out. That’s why I told people, because I knew that my stubborn streak would kick in no matter how badly I wanted to bail if other folks knew my goal.

I’ve read and heard the suggestion in more than one place. Write out the story of the abuse to help you deal with it and heal the old hurts. Writing is how I process. But writing makes it real. If I don’t write it down, maybe I can pack it away into boxes and pretend that since it was in the past it doesn’t have anything to do with my present. The only thing that strategy has gotten me is a pile of health problems and a heart in turmoil over things that I never faced head on. Life throws enough at us without dragging around a bunch of junk from the past because you never bother to sort through it and let the stuff that you don’t need anymore go.

The times when I’ve written little bits and pieces of my story have done more than just allowed me to face the things I’d rather not. In the writing, I start to see the lesson, the miracles, and somewhere along the way, that piece of my past doesn’t seem to hurt me quite as badly as it used to. Some days I wish I was an artist or a musician who could translate all of it into a painting or music. I feel like those mediums can express deep feelings better than mere words. Words are my medium though, and so I pick up the pen or sit at the keyboard. I think it was Steve Saint who said, “God doesn’t waste hurts.” I hope that’s true. Humans are always searching for the meaning in life, and if there’s some meaning, some purpose to the hurts, then maybe it’s easier to make peace with them. I’ve seen God bring beautiful things out of terrible circumstances. There’s something about knowing that a struggle is not in vain that gives us strength and hope. I find myself in need of both at the moment.

And so I’ll write.

I’ll write a story that I desperately wish was fiction. A story not meant to be read by others or published anywhere. Somewhere in that story, I’ll find a thread of grace that runs through the whole tapestry – the handiwork of God in my life. Maybe there’s a reason after all.

I know that I’m not the only one walking around with a bunch of junk from the past. I couldn’t avoid it forever, and neither can you. But if I can decide to deal with it, then so can you. (Really, I’m the biggest chicken in the world, and if I can be brave enough to do this, then you definitely can!) Whatever medium lets you express and process all of the overwhelming feelings you have about what happened, use it. Find that thread of grace in it all, and you’ll find God’s fingerprints all over your life, even in the hard places.

The Brave Art of Motherhood (And how this book helped me pick a NaNoWriMo project…)

Because the FTC has nothing better to do than make life difficult for us bloggers, I’m required to disclose the following at the beginning of this post: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation, and the opinions expressed, whether positive or negative are completely my own. Personally, I’m waiting for sponsorship disclaimers from all of the politicians in DC, but I’ll probably be waiting a long time…

When I had the chance to be part of a launch team for a book called The Brave Art of Motherhood it was the word brave that caught my eye. The tagline sold me: Fight Fear, Gain Confidence, and Find Yourself Again. I’d never heard of Rachel Martin before, but oh man, I want to be brave so badly. Fighting fear to boot? I’ve never quite grown out of being that scared kid sitting on the floor of my room next to the closet. I need all the brave and fear fighting I can get.

What I didn’t expect to get from Rachel’s book was the push I needed. I’ve read the suggestion a few times that someone who went through abuse or trauma during their childhood may find writing their whole story down to be helpful in the healing process. I’ve written bits and pieces here and there, but no matter how many times I tried to write the whole story, I just never could. I kept giving up. I knew that it was something I needed to do, eventually. Reading The Brave Art of Motherhood is what it took to make me decide that this year for NaNoWriMo, I’m not writing a completely fictional novel. I’m writing my memoir. I’ve set an end date, made the commitment to do this, and I’m not going back. Whether or not I’ll ever let anyone else read it is something that I haven’t decided yet. I’m not writing this one with an eye for publication. I’m writing it so that I can let go of some of the past and finally, finally let some of the damage start to heal.

Why did I decide to use that for my NaNo project though? Why not just write it? I need the end date. It was this excerpt from The Brave Art of Motherhood that made me see the importance of that, “Don’t listen to the voice of fear of the unknown and let that override the bravery it takes to write the end date. This is the moment when you get to decide your path. You must have a date you want this done, completed…. Keep it in your head and you risk it staying there. Write it down and you risk it happening.” All those failed attempts at writing the whole story, and the one thing I never did was set a time frame.

There’s something healing about writing for me; it’s how I’m able to process the things that I can’t make sense of or come to terms with any other way. I’m tired of my past holding me, of it hurting me, and I want to break this cycle of being stuck in the memories.

“… in Haiti I made a conscious and powerful decision never to return to the mindset of victim. I was no longer going to allow others or circumstances to limit my ethos or potential.” — Rachel Marie Martin

That’s what I want. I want to stop being the damsel in distress, and start being the protagonist of my story. I want to be the brave one. The one who – despite all of the setbacks, struggles, and many mistakes I’ve made – keeps moving forward. By the grace of God, this farmgirl is going to find her voice.

When Art Imitates Life

Not infrequently, the hard stuff in life is what pushes me to write. Sometimes what I write ends up on my blog, in an article, or in one of my stories. Sometimes it only ends up in my journals because it’s much too personal for me to discuss publically. Over the past few weeks, writing has been falling into the second category.

Re-writes have ground to a halt because a sub-plot in Starry-Eyed Dreamers is hitting a little too close to home. My main character, Tess, had given up hope on a particular thing ever being resolved. Yet at the very end of her story, when she’d just given up on it for the last time, there was a glimmer of hope. It didn’t fix everything overnight, but it was just enough to show her that there might be something there worth salvaging after all. (Forgive my vagueness; I don’t want to give the whole story away!) Tess gets the scene that I’ve always hoped would play out in my own life someday. In this moment though, I’ve given up hope. I don’t think I’ll get that scene after all. Facing that hurts, and it makes me angry. You can see why I haven’t been able to bury myself in re-writes…

Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Easier said than done Mr. Hemingway!

NaNoWriMo is the reason why I finished the first draft of Starry-Eyed Dreamers in the first place. Camp NaNoWriMo takes place during the month of April, and I find myself toying with the idea of diving into writing another story for Camp NaNo. I still want to finish the re-write/edit with my first novel, don’t get me wrong! On the other hand, maybe taking a month to go through the writing process with a new story will get me back into the habit of regular writing time. 50,000 words worth of writing practice can’t hurt either. Tackling another project of this magnitude is definitely crazy, but maybe it’s the kind of crazy that I need right now. In any case, I’ll be pondering the idea over the next couple of weeks…

Anyone else out there struggling through writing or edits?

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Musings on Stories

There are jokes about the self-doubt that plagues writers. There’s more than a bit of truth to them though! I found myself in the middle of it once again last weekend. Going back and forth about whether to burn everything you’ve ever written and just give up on the whole writing thing is not exactly a fun way to spend your day.

It all came back to why I write stories in the first place. If I only wanted to get published and sell a lot of books, then I’d pick a genre other than science fiction. At the very least, I’d write YA dystopian science fiction, never mind that it’s not the type of thing I like to read. I write weird stuff. I write stuff that most people would have no interest in reading. So… why do I write it?

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I write the stories that I like to read. This is not to say that I’m unwilling to listen to advice and criticism when it comes to my writing. On the contrary, I value the feedback of people who are far more experienced than I am! I want to keep chipping away at and polishing my stories until they are the best that I can make them. Publishing is still definitely my big goal, but it’s not enough for me to publish just anything. I would not be happy publishing a book if it wasn’t the kind of story that I’d enjoy reading over and over.

Where does that leave me? Well, I’m going to keep writing, and I won’t be burning my notebooks anytime soon! I’ll keep working at making my stories better. I’ll keep writing the ones that I want to read. I’ve written a lot of stuff that will never see the light of day, and I’m sure I’ll write plenty of new things that no one but me will ever read. Maybe if I keep at it though, I’ll eventually end up with something that someone else might want to read too…

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NaNoWriMo Recap

So… I wrote a novel last month.

It’s just a first draft, but it’s the first project longer than an article or short story that I’ve finished a first draft for. I’m calling that a decent accomplishment. I’m officially ignoring my book until after New Year. Then I’ll start editing and re-writing like mad. For now, I’m enjoying a little break for Christmas!

What do I think of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) now that I’m on the other side of it? I’ve got to admit that it was just the shove I needed to get that draft done. I loved having a clearly set goal, and tracking my word count helped tremendously! Knowing that I was in this thing with other writers was fun too. Will I try again in November of 2017? Can’t say for sure, but I’m not opposed to the idea.

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Going forward, I think that having a clearly defined timeline for goal would be helpful for me. Having a way to track my progress is going to be a must. I’ve got a couple of ideas for things to try, and I’m hoping to figure that out in time to start off 2017 on the right track. I’m tossing around ideas and goals that I want to pursue, and figuring out what’s worth going for.

I know now that I can get through a first draft much faster than I dreamed possible. Realizing that has opened up a whole new set of possibilities for me. Instead of thinking that I’ll have to wait for the kids to be grown before I get serious about writing, now I know that it’s possible for me to fit writing in… As long as I make it a priority. Writing a little over 50,000 words during one month was a bit brutal at times. I would not be able to, or even necessarily want to maintain that sort of pace in the long run. My family was tremendously supportive while I was caught up in NaNoWriMo writing, but there were a lot of things that I had to let slide that month. I want to figure out a way to make writing a more consistent part of my life without sacrificing the things that are important to my family. This is going to take some planning, thinking, and changes. The point is… I can do this.

Anyone else thinking about plans and goals for 2017?

NaNoWriMo 2016: Let the Insanity Begin

An author friend of mine once told me, “I bleed on the page.”

I’ve got to admit that there’s something of me in everything I write, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Often, writing is what allows me to process something, and to refine my abstract and disconnected thoughts into something more concrete. There’s a reason why I’ve had scribbled-in notebooks and journals floating around my room since I was a teenager!

Blogging and having some of my articles appear in print magazines has been rewarding to say the least. There’s still something in me though that really wants to write a book. Seeing my friends publish their books is a wonderful thing, and I can only imagine what it would be like to hold a book that I had written in my hands.

Fiction was my first love. It’s what I scribbled the most of in those battered notebooks. (Let’s forget the bad poetry. Seriously.) More than anything, I want to tell a good story. Getting through a first draft has been my biggest issue. I’m a perfectionist who can’t seem to get past the idea that I should be constantly editing as I go. Consistently taking the time to write is a close second. When life is busy (and when is it not?), my writing is one of the first things I ignore. I’m hoping that the insanity I’m about to embark upon will force me to work past those two problems.

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participant-200NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month. The goal is simple, write the first draft of your novel, at least 50,000 words, during the month of November. I can do as much plotting, outlining, and character sketching as I want to beforehand, but the writing can’t start until November 1st and has to be completed by the stroke of midnight on November 30th.

Am I crazy? That’s very likely. Will I have a lot written by the end of November? Yes. I’m certainly aiming for the full 50,000 words, but even if I don’t get that far I’ll have made progress. This is going to get me into the habit of prioritizing writing regularly. That will help my writing more than anything.

So, what am I writing? Science fiction of course! You can track my progress by checking out the word-count tracker on the sidebar of the blog here. I’ll be posting updates and photos on social media as well. If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, look me up on the website –you’ll find me listed as TeishKnits.

The tea is brewed, the story is plotted, let the writing begin!