Power of Story

I had a very productive writing session at the coffee shop yesterday. It was a nice day so I was able to ride my bike there—a good way to prime the mind. After settling in with my java, I wrote for about three hours. A new WIP. I’m still in the early this-story-is-awesome stage, where the words just pour forth. Always a great feeling.
Towards the middle of my session, after the noonday rush had emptied out and there were just a handful of people left in the café, a woman approached me and said, “Look at you! Still working so hard. What are you studying?”
I kinda blinked up at her in confusion and said I was writing. I was so in the zone I couldn’t come up with anything else. After some awkward chitchat (I write fiction, yes I’m published, no you won’t find my name on a book’s cover) she went back to her table where she was studying for some kind of exam, nursing I think. She was very sweet, but I was unprepared for her questions and felt like an idiot talking to her.
This incident taught me a few things.
  1. I can apparently still pass for a college student.
  2. People project themselves onto others all the time. Because she was a young woman at a coffee shop studying, I must be too.
  3. Your average person equates writers to (printed) books. When I explained I had a couple short stories published, she got a confused look on her face then smiled politely and said “Oh.”
  4. Writing could be seen as a study of the human condition, of ourselves and the world around us, negotiated on the page.
I still got another hour of work done after our talk. That’s the power of a good story, to help you forget the world around you. I could ignore the fact that she didn’t understand all the work that went into my short stories, all the work that still goes into them and my novel projects.
I could just focus on my words, my world, my story. And it was good.

Happy writing! var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”); document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”)); try { var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-15029142-1”); pageTracker._trackPageview(); } catch(err) {}

Pen Names and Other Problems

So my name is not Bluestocking. Did I just blow your mind?

Blogging under an alias is something I started for a variety of reasons, including the fact that:

  • I was unpublished.
  • I was uncomfortable with labeling myself a writer.
  • I wasn’t sure if this whole blogging thing was for me.

All those things made sense back in February 2010 when I first started the blog. But now:

  • I am slowing getting publishing credits.
  • I’m growing more comfortable calling myself a writer.
  • I’m still blogging – less as an experiment and more for a platform.

So having a blogging alias is not so necessary any more. But I’m still using it. Why? Well, as I was telling my CP Lori M. Lee the other day, it’s complicated, and it mostly comes down to what I write: historical romance and speculative fiction. Two very different genres, with different expectations and readerships. It’s not so bad as say picture books and erotica, but the gulf between the two is still there.

Despite whatever level of success I attain in either area, these are the genres I see myself writing in for the long haul. Considering the prevailing wisdom out there about author branding and platform-building, I should have an author persona for each genre I write in. Some people like Kristen Lamb predict that pen names will eventually go away in the digital era, but for now, like a lot of other things in publishing, pen names are still around.

Since I have three stories either published or forthcoming under my own name (and two of those are specfic), it makes sense to put out my historical romance (if I ever do) under a pen name:

Historical Romances —> Pen name
Speculative Fiction —> Real name

So now the question is where does my blog fit in?

Now occasionally I will talk about my historical romance or my speculative projects on the blog, but to me, these distinctions don’t really matter since ultimately this is a blog about writing and writing-related things (putting aside the whole writing blogs are bad argument).

I used to think I’d figure it all out when I had to. But when it comes to blogging or any social media presence, it is important to have a strategy. I want to know how I will handle my online presence now even though it’s rather self-indulgent to assume I’ll succeed in any genre let alone both. At the same time, I don’t want to make a wrong choice at this early start of my career, and have it haunt me later on down the line.

I don’t know. But after blogging for over a year and a half, after putting together so many posts I’m proud of, losing this blog or starting over isn’t appealing.

I don’t have any easy answers here. I’m still Bluestocking for now. We’ll see how long that lasts.

What are your own thoughts/concerns about the pen name debate? Here are some other resources for you to peruse if you are considering a pen name:

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Family Vaction or Why I’m Still in the Closet When It Comes to My In-Laws

Tomorrow we leave for a two-and-a-half week vacation of sorts, which includes two weddings, a trip to the beach, and visits with college friends. It will be fun and exhausting, and there’s an excellent chance I won’t get anything done.

But I’m still looking forward to the trip. Even though I need to make some tough decisions as to which books to pack. Frankly some books are simply better on a plane versus on the beach. Or read on the couch in front of in-laws instead of before bed at night.

And of course any time spent with extended family can lead to awkwardness as to just what do I do all day. Now that I have two stories forthcoming from Eclectic Flash, the temptation is there to finally say I’m a writer.

But here be monsters.

Why? Well, for starters, They May Not Value Writing. I have evidence that could go either way here. If they aren’t big readers or value only extrinsic measures of success, they just aren’t going to get it. But I am a member of the family, they are generous people, and they respect me. So maybe they’d respect the writing too.

They Also Have No Clue Just How Difficult Writing Can Be. And this goes for a healthy chunk of all non-writers. So much thought goes into word placement, structure, characterization… The more I learn about writing, the trickier it is to get words down on the page that I’m satisfied with.

Because they don’t understand how hard writing is, They Will Ask Me Why I’m Not Published Yet. You know, as in what really counts when you are a writer – a book deal. Short stories are, well, short, and no one is making millions on them. Publishing is a molasses-slow process, just as writing something worth publishing takes a looong time. They won’t understand milestones like getting a CP, or querying that first agent, or getting a full request. They just want to see a book.

And there’s the whole They Will Want To Talk To Me About My Writing Projects. They might ask out of courtesy or maybe they are genuinely interested. Which is great. I can appreciate that, even though I don’t like talking about my work until it’s far enough along that I’m comfortable sharing it with others. Ideas are just that, and until they get to the page, I don’t have a strong sense of how things will turn out. A careless word by someone else can destroy a story before it even starts. Plus, can you imagine me discussing the finer points of love scenes in my historical romance with my father-in-law? Neither can I.

But I guess it all comes down to the fact that They Will Stop Thinking I’m A Mystery And Start Seeing Me As A Dreamer With No Prospects. In some sense, the question of what I do – do I stay at home all day? Do I volunteer? Do I watch soap operas? Do I secretly want to have babies and be a stay-at-home mom? – protects me and keeps them from knowing the truth. Rejection is writing’s constant companion. I don’t need someone telling me writing is impossible, that I’m a dreamer for even trying it. I already know that. But I do it anyway, and that can be hard for some people to understand.

So yeah. Not telling them. Yet.

My husband and I discussed the best time to tell them the truth. And we decided that a professional short story sale or an agent would necessitate telling folks about me writing and all that. You know, which ever came first.

(cough) yeah, right (cough).

But for now I’m optimistic that one day I will be able to share this part of my life with them. I am a dreamer. Or a masochist. It’s hard to tell some days.

Because of all the travel, blog posting and commenting may be spotty, but I wish you all happy writing! I’ll be back for sure by the second half of the month.
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Hiding in Plain Sight

Being a writer, I’ve come to accept the fact I’m more observant than other people in my life. I have to be, if I’m ever going to be any good.

So it always surprises me when my husband or a friend or family member makes a canny or clever observation. My hand reaches for the notebook even as I wonder just what else they make of the world around them that’s never voiced. After all, that’s a wonderful thing to aspire to as a writer – giving voice to what people never articulate for themselves. Those truths that resonate with readers.

I’m an intensely private person – the anonymous blog is one clue. Only a few people in real life know I write, and it will stay that way until I have a bit more to show for my efforts. I’m flying under the radar. Hiding in plain sight. Or so I thought.

My conception of myself was thrown for a loop recently when I received a gift from one of my aunts. A book on writing, with the note: “I think this is something you like to pursue in your own way.”

At first I thought my father spilled the beans to his sister. He swears he didn’t. This was just my aunt putting two and two together. Somehow.

I’m still struggling with how she guessed since I’ve never acknowledged that side of me when I’m around her. Of course we both share a love of books and have been trading novels, recommendations, and reviews for years. And my vague answer to what I’m up to these days is probably eyebrow raising to her, considering my past academic and professional achievements. But that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable admitting it. To her. Yet.

But the fatigue of keeping up appearances, of pretending this huge part of my life doesn’t exist, is wearing on me.

The fantabulous, always-articulate Tahereh Mafi wrote a post this week on Writers Coming Out of the Closet. Even looking through my old archives, I’ve noticed this issue of identity recurring again and again. And there are hundreds of posts out there from published authors, bestsellers even, who still feel insecure in their writerly-ness.

Do you find yourself hiding in plain sight? How do you own being a writer? And if anyone could tell me who started the silver pin “I am a writer” badge, I’d be much obliged. Happy writing!
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Odd Woman Out (and Blogging Anniversary!)

I’m the youngest member in my prompt-based writing group. I knew that going into it. Younger writers have come and gone, but I’m the one who stuck. Usually this isn’t an issue. We’re all adults, we’re all writers, and that’s all there is to it. Except when it’s not.

Our group meets just about every Monday. And you may recall how Valentine’s Day fell on Monday this year. My husband made dinner reservations and I sent my regrets to the group.

This past weekend, I ran into one of the women from the writing group who told me, yes, they still met despite the holiday. She informed me I was the only one young enough to still enjoy such things. And that they had a few jokes at my expense.

Now, I know this is all light-hearted teasing. As the youngest by two decades (at least), I have to expect some ribbing.

But it does make me wonder sometimes. Because I’m the youngest, do they treat me differently? Are they less critical about my work so they don’t discourage me?

The group is comprised mostly of hobbyists and those who turned to writing later in life, some after they retired from an unrelated career. Then there’s me, someone who also turned to writing later in life, but a few years after grad school, not decades. I often lament the fact that I didn’t do it sooner – say when I was still in school and in a position to take creative writing classes. And now, everyday, there’s more rampant speculation about ebooks and the state of the industry, of writers younger and older than me getting book deals.

I’ve heard if you don’t publish by 30, you won’t make it. Like any piece of writing advice, you can take it or leave it. But as someone who’s barely clinging to what’s left of my twenties, statements like these strike fear in my heart.

Then I think about the people in my group. They write, regardless of the odds, regardless of the fact some whippersnapper like me is snapping at their heels. They simply write. And so must I.

In other news, today marks the one-year anniversary of The Bluestocking Blog. This time last year, I posted my Declaration of Intent. And it’s been a crazy fun ride (and a lot of work) ever since.

Thank you to all who have commented, followed, tweeted, shared, and otherwise welcomed me to the Writing Blogosphere. I am humbled. And I am looking forward to another year!

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