Writer of Soul-Searching Snark

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When Life Gets in the Way

This post was originally published in the Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc winter newsletter, The Report

When I quit my job to pursue a writing career and moved back to Arkansas to be near family, I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I could have developed a daily schedule that outlined the number of hours a day I’d spend helping my mother, driving to the nearest town for supplies (an hour away,) feeding critters and writing, but I didn’t. Why? Because I approach life the same way I approach writing—by the seat of my pants.

The pantsing method worked fairly well for a while. I dedicated four hours a day to writing. I’d wake up in the morning, drink something heavily caffeinated and then sit down at the computer. Stories flew out of my mind. My fingers flew over the keyboard as those tales were transcribed into works of literary genius. Anthologies published my short stories. Publishers clamored to buy my novels (okay, maybe not clamored.) My writerly life was on fire.

Then… life happened.smshed

I live on a farm. Not just any anywhere, but in the Ozark Mountains. Why is that different than say one in Kansas? There isn’t a single building on this place that has a new piece of lumber or nail in it.

“Buy a new hose? Are you insane? This one has been in the family for forty-three years.”

“There’s nothing wrong with rust, Claire. Just get a tetanus shot every ten years. You’ll be fine.”

My dad bought the tractor three years before I was born. Fortunately, it’s in better shape than I am, but like me, it has a hard time waking up in the morning and requires a great deal of pampering.

Not only do I live on a ramshackle farm, I live near my family. It took me three hours of quality time with my kin folk to recall my reason for moving five-thousand miles away in the first place. They’re nuts!

Somehow my writing time dwindled. Sure, I still had something heavily caffeinated in the morning, but that is where the writing routine ended. Instead of sitting down to better the world with my prose, I was outside feeding chickens and planting gardens. Farm workers needed to be fed and guess who cooked lunch?

Frustration ruled. I decided to take my writing life back. God knows, the romance world would weep without a new release from Claire Croxton! I’m a project manager by profession. I know how to create spreadsheets and I’m a master of getting jobs done on time and under budget. It was time to apply my skills to my writing life. I made a schedule. Wake up, drink caffeine, ignore e-mails, don’t answer the phone, hang a sign “I’m writing smut, stay out!” lock the door, write.

Then…life happened.

farm life 024It’s impossible to plan life. You can’t predict accidents, injuries, sickness or death. It’s impossible to know that your dad will die five days after being diagnosed with cancer. How do you schedule grieving time with your mother?

When your cousin calls and asks you to meet the ambulance at the hospital because her mother has been in a car accident, do you say “Sorry. I’m writing?” No. You go. Do you deny your mother’s request for a ride to the hospital to sit with her sister? No. You go. Do you refuse to attend your favorite aunt’s funeral because she’s being buried three counties away and you have to finish chapter ten of your latest novel? No. You go.

You forget your projects and you focus on your family.

Needless to say, it’s been a tough couple of years. Seems like every time I get back into the writing groove, something catastrophic occurs.

My mother, my greatest supporter, asked me the other day about my writing schedule. “Sugar dumpling, how’s that story, Loch Lonnie, coming along?”

“Not so well, Ma. I’ve been kind of distracted.”

She looked up from her knitting and said, “Call the Sisters.”

The Arkansas version of the Algonquin Round Table is comprised of brilliant novelists, poets, and inspirational speakers. We call ourselves The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pen. Every writer needs such a group of friends—people who understand your frustration and appreciate your creative process. Folks who will look you square in the eye and say, “That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever written and you’ve written a lot of really, really bad stuff. I mean really bad stuff! And this takes the cake.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong believer in critique groups. I’m eternally grateful to Dusty Richards and Velda Brotherton for the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop. I’ll never forget the first time I read a passage at group. The stunned silence afterward wasn’t a good sign. Dusty telling me, “That ain’t bad for a government report, but this is fiction,” will forever ring in my ears. Their patience and guidance led to me becoming a published author. Critique groups are great, but they don’t know you viscerally.

Writers need to surround themselves with people who “get” them. That’s one of the great things about the Oklahoma Writers Federation Inc.  Conference. Writers can meet likeminded individuals who understand what it means to spend hours in your head working out the dialogue to a love scene or devising the perfect way to kill your main character’s abusive boyfriend and disposing of his body.

smsistersSeptMama was right—she always is—I needed the Sisters. One e-mail was all it took. Within minutes, messages of encouragement filled my inbox and our next meeting time was arranged. Over wine and pizza, the girls listened to my tales of woe. After a few minutes of commiseration, all their patience seeped from their bodies and they went into fierce-encouragement mode. It is impossible to ignore, four, strong, intelligent, talented women staring you down and doling out nuggets of wisdom.

I’ll spare you the tears and snark and sum up their advice. It’s nothing new, but something I need to hear on a regular basis. Bottom line: Making your writing a priority is the only way you’re going to be a successful writer. Sure, life gets in the way, but you must always make time for your writing. It’s your job. It’s your outlet. It’s your reason for being on this planet. So, WRITE!

Sweet Taters

I love autumn.  Just love it.  The crisp morning air, the falling leaves (I’m waxing poetic here, so go with me, okay?  I’m aware that the leaves have been falling for months because of the drought,) harvest moons and hearty stews. I missed autumn when I lived in the Arctic. There were a couple of days when the tundra turned red, but it was quickly covered in snow.

It’s such a joy to work outside on a pretty fall day.  Today, we dug sweet taters.  Personally, I detest sweet potatoes. Can’t stand them. Can’t even eat the marshmallows off the top of the casserole. Bleck! Pops  knew I hated them and when I was a kid, he always made me plant them.  How cruel is that?  When  I lived in Kaktovik, I remember getting a box from Pops in the mail. Pops didn’t mail things.  That was always Ma’s department.  So, getting something from Pops was quite exciting

Life in a tiny Inupiaq village in the middle of the Arctic Ocean can be somewhat dreary to say the least. I lived for the mail. OMG. It soooo was freaking exciting to get a box. Since it was from Pops, I knew it was going to be good. I clutched the package to my chest and ran to to the truck. I couldn’t wait to open it.  It was like Christmas Eve.  Do you open the gifts that night or hold out the suspense until Christmas morning?

It didn’t take me long to tear past the brown paper wrapping and rip into the cardboard. Pops sent me something. Oh boy! Oh boy!

Imagine my surprise when I reached into the package and pulled out a giant sweet potato. Yep. That’s right, my father mailed a sweet potato to the Arctic. After phoning him and giving him a piece of my mind–while laughing, of course, I poked some toothpicks into it and grew the prettiest sweet potato vine in Kaktovik, Alaska.

So, as I savored the beautiful fall afternoon digging potatoes with Ma and my other brother Darryl, I smiled and thought of Pops.  I remember people telling me that he’d always be with me. It was little comfort to hear those words, but now I know what they meant and relish those tiny moments when Pops reminds me that he’ll always love me.

 

Ma and my other brother Darryl hard at work. Hey! Someone had to document the event. That’s work too!

Dig them taters, Bubba!

Yum Yum. Sweet tater pie, anyone?

 

Now, that’s a tater that would make one heck of a vine, don’t you think?

 

 

 

First Sunflowers of the Year

One of the reasons I left the Arctic was so I could have a garden.  Of course, my idea of a garden was two tomato plants and a 3′ row of corn not the 1 1/2 acre plot Ma calls the patch.  The first thing I did besides hug a few trees was enlist the help of  my other brother, Darryl, to make a flower bed.  That little project required shovels, pick axes, a tractor and a backhoe.  Then, I needed fencing, electricity (for the electric fence) landscape timbers, fill dirt, running water and a few teeny-tiny rocks placed strategically in the garden for an architectural element.  Three summers later, it’s still not done.

The one thing that I have been able to plant every year is sunflowers.  These are the first of 2011.  Well worth the 8729 hours it took to create a space to plant that itty-bitty seed, don’t you think?

First Sunflower of 2011