Monday, August 25, 2014

Welcome...One and All

Due to the recent posts, my blog has received a higher profile in the last few weeks, prompting readers to ask about writing. I apologize for answering via social media but most of the questions were repetitive and could easily be addressed here.

Where are you in the process of writing/submitting your book?
Two editors from two separate publishing houses have the manuscript in full - which is typically the last step once you land an agent. (I do not have an agent as of yet, that's an entirely different post). 

What are your thoughts on NaNoWrimo?
I have a love/hate relationship with NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month - in November). I think it's a fantastic way to urge writers to do just that, write. It forced me to sit my butt down and churn out 50,000 words in a 30 day period. However, that churning is closer to word vomit than an actual story. Writers need to realize that a) 50,000 is not a complete novel. Depending on genre, you still have anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 more words and b) welcome to another year or so of editing and re-editing.
Do you have readers or a critique group?
Yes and yes. 
I have friends who are not writers who read the manuscript (if you could even call my first draft a novel). 
I am a big believer in quality critique groups - quality is the key word. A critique group isn't a cheer leading squad. The best groups give "tough love" and honest feedback. The entire goal of a critique group is to help each other become published. It's better to have your fellow writer tell you what's missing than an agent delete your submission (or offer a form rejection). You get one shot with agents/editors. If you're turned down by that one agent, you're done with his/her entire agency.

I've always wanted to write. Any suggestions on how to begin?
Become involved in a writers group. 
If you're local (and even if you're not) check out Writers of Kern, or WOK for short. We are a professional writing group, the local chapter of California Writers Club (the very group founded by Jack London). The WOK board has proposed the following activities over the next few months all of which are included in the annual membership fee. The New Membership Application is available online as well. You do not have to live in Kern County to be an active member.

Biweekly:
Critique Groups are an absolute must have for every writer. WOK provides an ever growing list of critique groups. Once a member you can subscribe to a group with openings or start your own WOK sponsored group. 

September
If you're unsure about writing a novel but would like to hone your craft you can 1) enroll in our A-Z Blog Challenge starting on September 10th and/or 2) submit to our Fall Writing Contest
Again, neither one limits your residency to Kern County.

November:
For the entire month of November you will produce a minimum of 1,667 words per day. No editing. No researching (you can do that in the months preceding). Just pure writing, plus or minus copious amounts of caffeine.

January:
 30-day (intensive editing) bootcamp
The word vomit from NaNoWriMo will be sliced and diced into a smooth, seamless novel. From there, you're able to join the various critique groups for more feedback. If you do not live in Kern County, there are online and skype critique groups.

For February, March and April:
From Inspiration to Publication
Spring 2015 for WOK members will look more like Publishing 101 and less like a "run of the mill" writing group. The know-how and how-to of publishing: query letter, pitch, proposal, genre, agents and editors will be covered in these months. Don't fret, this will be a step-by-step process.

Any questions or comments, please feel free to email either myself or any other WOK board member.
 Best,
Clarissa Kae

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mother on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

It was roughly six years ago when I braced myself against the toilet. My three year old and eighteen month old were banging their tiny fists against the bathroom door. Sleep deprived and borderline crazy, I called my husband to tell him the news. I was pregnant, again.
He nearly died from excitement, while I imploded from exhaustion.

But then something miraculous happened, my youngest daughter was born. She came out swinging and dug her little fingers into my heart, never letting go. When my oldest went to school, parenting became easier. Then when my second daughter began Kindergarten, life changed. I'd save my Target runs for when we'd be alone together. We had our inside jokes. By the time she turned four she'd deadpan, "seriously?" and "this is not negotiable."
And then Monday came. My husband and I walked to our oldest daughter's class while the school swirled with parents and nervous children. My youngest turned pale at the chaos. Only during gymnastics does my child become gregarious. She'd lock her sisters in the garage and wrestle them 'til they screamed for mercy, but put her in a room of people and she's done. A melted puddle of emotion on the floor.
We turned to my second daughter, who walked in like a Prom Queen, minus the crown. She waved to her adoring audience while she floated to her seat while donning a leopard print fedora. Children from several grades shouted her name - while my youngest tried ever so desperately to escape the circus surrounding our family.
We then faced the door to her Kindergarten classroom, her face stoic and stone. I hugged her rigid frame and kissed her on the cheek. She offered an awkward smile when her dad took a picture.
I felt her nails grip my heart ever tighter as I walked home. Alone, I drove to Target and parked the car across two stalls. Not because I'm an idiot, but because I couldn't see through misty eyes. I sat and cried in the car like the baby I was missing. 
In six short years, a baby girl changed me (and my life) from tired chaos to a complete, satisfied mother.

In the Arms of Strangers

Within 24 hours of posting Misplaced Anger, my blog was viewed over 30,000 times. Friends and family shared my post, and then their friends shared the page again. Before the week ended, my email was bombarded with private revelations from strangers. Their shoulders were heavy with the shame-filled struggle of mental illness. 
Although I've already responded to every email I've received, I would like to address those that are still cringing in front of the computer, afraid someone will see through their facade. Put one foot in front of the other - and soldier on.

You are not a disease, you are not broken. This is but one part of your life. 

And you are not alone. You are...(wait for it)...more normal than you think. A quarter of our population is tinged with mental illness in one form or another. You and I are ordinary, run of the mill people. We have nothing to be ashamed of - how do you like them apples?


Monday, August 11, 2014

Misplaced Anger

The death of Robin Williams, and everyone's opinion is everywhere. Everywhere. More than not, it's with a culmination of both sorrow and condemnation. The latter is what I hope to discuss here.
I've read several thousand comments where people unfamiliar with the situation (or suicidal depression) judge Robin Williams for his method of relief. I, myself, have fallen more than once from the edge of sanity and have clung to fragile branches, knowing they are the only barrier between me and death.

Many bystanders have ridiculed Mr. Williams, stating "there are so many good coaches" and that he/she is "angry at Robin Williams for doing something so selfish" or "don't take your life, live your life!" These wonderful people are most likely well-intentioned, but unfortunately, they are misinformed and wholly ignorant of the overwhelming temptation of suicide.

The thought has crossed my mind on many, many occasions to burn the billboards announcing "suicide is preventable" with the number to a helpline at the bottom. Perhaps, dialing a number and speaking with an absolute stranger could help a deeply depressed person. I doubt it, but maybe that would help someone else. But perhaps, and just maybe, Robin Williams suffered from moods so severe that this would not help - maybe he was a little more like me than other sufferers who could be lifted from their dangerous state with a simple phone call.

Let me be clear, I am in no way "anti-help."

I do wish to clear the air on many misconceptions in regard to suicide as a whole. When I (and others) are in this completely irrational state, I do not feel or think like I "normally" do. I lose control of rational thought and physical capabilities. If I were rational and clear-headed enough to pick up a phone and dial the damn hotline, I would also be in control enough to not commit suicide.

Another fallacy is that those who are depressed or suffer from mood instability are "crazy," "lazy," and "selfish."

I am a thirty-three year old woman with three kids and a husband of eleven years. I took my first round of SAT's when I was twelve and attended a top rated university before I was supposed to graduate high school - and from that university I snagged an Animal Science degree (with a business minor to boot). I've run full and half marathons and written a book while juggling three kids (born within four years of each other) and a husband who's on call 24/7. If that's lazy, then I'd love to see what ambitious is.

The idea that suicide is giving up holds no more validity than me claiming that everyone could squeeze into my size two jeans if they'd just have "more will power." Both statements are ridiculous, ignorant and wrong on so many levels - it's an oversimplification of a very complex, disturbing disease.

I know to many outsiders who have not suffered from severe suicidal episodes it may appear that we are selfish. Mental illness and mood disorders are like a poison seeping into your blood, much like a cancer. To move, to think, to just be is painful. Agonizing.
You desperately need relief. You seek medical help (counselors, psychiatrists, etc) and attend the sessions while your doctors play with your medication (medicating mental illness is not science, but an art - not everyone manifests symptoms the same). This is not days, this is not weeks, this is month after month, year after year.

You are also heavy with guilt that you've saddled your husband, children, parents and friends with someone that is "broken." You want to save those closest to you from the menace you have become. You are convinced that you are an eternal thorn - at least that is what you believe when you are in an episode. You forget the lofty goals you’ve accomplished and forget the circle of influence you’ve attained. You forget, you.

I may have the correct dosage, I may have the greatest coach/counselors and I may still fail. I pray that I won't. I hope, like so many others, that I will continue to stand up again and again after each heavy blow.

Please, do not judge, do not condemn those that commit suicide. Celebrate who they are and remember that mental illness is but one facet of their lives. It is not who they are, it is one of their many characteristics. I believe we all struggle in one way or the other. Let us be kind, compassionate. I am no better than someone who suffers from addiction or any other genetic disease.

Robin Williams, you are an incredible comedian. And that my friend, is who you will always be to me.