Writerly Concerns: Stepping Out of the Social Comfort Zone

Young Woman Reading, Mary Cassatt 1876

Young Woman Reading, Mary Cassatt 1876

As has been said before, writing is a lonely business. The time that we work, that we put down words, is all done in our heads. It can be fraught with frustration and self-doubt, wondering why we do this to ourselves and are we ever going to be good enough? Lonely indeed. Combine that with an inherent introvert nature, and it’s amazing that I have a social life at all. But life has been good to me and I had two distinct opportunities over the past few weeks to get out, socialize, and talk (writing) business.

A few weeks ago Mieke Zamora Mackay, the author in training, invited a few of us to join her at a SCBWI social gathering (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Since I’m not a member of SCBWI, I thought it might be a good time to network and see if it is something I would be interested in. We met in the Library room of Dub Linn Square restaurant, fittingly enough, and it was a great experience. I met several lovely and interesting people who inspired me with their knowledge, talent, and dedication. What really struck me was how many of the women I met said the same thing – I’m not really good at these social things. I’m afraid to go and meet people at things like this. I was nervous coming here.

But yet, kindred spirits we were drawn there, despite our collective social anxiety, to share our lives, our passion for writing, our fears, disappointments, and successes with each other. It turned out to be a great night and, for my part at least, felt that we had all left with some new friends and colleagues. You can read more and see some pictures here at Kathleen Temean’s blog.

On a slightly different note, Wednesday night I attended at local AAUW meeting (American Association of University Women)  to present, along with Amy Hollinger and Jordanna East, on publishing in changing times. It was a fun evening filled with good questions and interest in the writing and publishing process. I talked a little about submitting, querying, and dealing with both rejection and acceptance in traditional publishing, while suspense thriller writer Jordanna East talked about her self-publishing journey and success and Amy Hollinger rounded it out with information on publishing industry changes.

Despite my experience being in front of a room full of people for both my day job and the my duties as monthly meeting facilitator for the South Jersey Writers’ Group, my knees were shaking as we were introduced. However, everyone seemed anxious to learn (we had a few budding writers in the crowd!) and interested in the changes that are affecting all of us – writers and readers alike. It was a great joy to be able to share my experiences and to also learn from both my fellow panelists and those in the room.

South Jersey is a burgeoning and fertile place for writers (really it is!), and many of us share the same anxieties and fears, but when we come together we lessen the loneliness and the fears that plague us.

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National (mmm) Pancake Day!

In case you were unaware, today is Shrove Tuesday/Fat Tuesday otherwise known as National Pancake day!

I absolutely adore pancakes of any kind but my top three favorites would be pumpkin, toasted coconut, and banana choco chip pancakes. Of course, buttermilk are great too.  But remember, use real maple syrup, not the artificial pancake syrup. You just cannot beat real maple syrup from Vermont or Canada and it’s not full of chemicals (boo hiss!).

Find out Five things to Know About Pancakes!

 

mmm pancakes!

mmm pancakes!

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2014 and the SJWG – Getting our Groove On!

Starting last fall, the South Jersey Writers’ Group – SJWG – opened for new members through the end of December. I was pleased and shocked to see that we added around 60 new members. This is testament to the fact that South Jersey has an expanding and prolific writing community and I am glad to not only be a part of it, but to help facilitate the education and networking experiences of local writers.

 

Each month, the SJWG offers a monthly discussion meeting where participants and/or professional writers (sometimes they are one and the same!) present for approximately one hour on a given topic. Last fall, our speaker lineup included Jon Gibbs, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Merry Jones. In 2014, at our January meeting, local author Kristin Battestella led the group on a journey through The Toy Box – using props to help writers expand their knowledge of their characters. Marie Gilbert wrote about the meeting here at the South Jersey Writers’ blog. This week, for the February meeting, Kathryn Craft will help “tune our storytelling engines.” Ms. Craft’s debut novel, THE ART OF FALLING, was released late January to rave reviews.

 

One thing I appreciate about the SJWG is the diversity of meetups we offer – monthly discussion meetings, roundtables, retreats, blogfests, write-ins, author panels, critique groups, and open mic nights. We also have a workshop series on editing coming in April! Whew, that’s a lot of activities! We encourage our members to participate not only in our scheduled meetups, but to suggest and perhaps lead a meeting of their own, to network with other writers. Some of our members have found permanent writing or critique partners, cheerleaders and supporters.

 

Last Sunday, we met at the Treehouse Cafe – one of our favorite local haunts – for a blogfest. Glenn Walker answered questions from those with blogs already in place on how to promote their blog, as well as other technical questions, while Fearless Leader Amy Hollinger helped several writers start a blog. New and old members came together to socialize and help each other out, which you can read about here. No one denies that writing can be a lonely pastime but with the right support group, it doesn’t have to be quite so lonely all the time.

 

SJWG blogfest February

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New release – We Walk Invisible anthology

This has been a crazy autumn for me. I’ve been working on a few short pieces, 2 of which have been accepted for publication so far. I also attended the Push to Publish conference at Rosemont College, pitched to an agent and received insightful and helpful feedback from said agent.

Most exciting so far, is the release of We Walk Invisible, an anthology published by Chupa Cabra House and available here on Amazon. My short story, Invisible, is within! I’m so excited because this was a story I had first written several years ago, received feedback on, but wasn’t sure what to do with it as far as revision. Time definitely provided perspective and when I saw the call for submissions, I immediately thought of Matty and his invisibility in life. i couldn’t find the original so I rewrote the story from scratch.

I would love if you shared this with your reader friends and maybe even thought about giving a copy as a gift this holiday season.

Here is the blurb:

Come right to the edge of reality with this collection of modern, edgy short stories that deal with the theme of Invisibility, both literally and figuratively. Horror, bizarro, magical realism, science fiction and speculative fiction are all represented in this book. A man finds that retirement makes him invisible to society. A group of weird plants allow one man to act on his impulses. A desk clerk uses the cover of darkness to play with his guests. Someone finds out his mother is wasting away, maybe on purpose. After an accident a man suffers from a ghost limb, among other things. Sometimes being invisible just means disgusing yourself, more so if you are a murder suspect. There is even an invisible suit to try on, if you have the guts. If you don’t enjoy this stuff, you’re probably already dead inside.

 

Invisible - front

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Release Day: Diaries of the Damned!

 

So here at Literary Debauchery, I have the great pleasure of presenting a new release called Diaries of the Damned by Alex Laybourne. Alex is a wonderful inspiration to me, not just because he writes great horror but because he manages to write with a full-time job and family. And when I say write, I mean this guy can bang out the words. I stand in awe from across the pond.

So without further ado, let me introduce Diaries of the Damned:

Diaries of the Damned 

 The dead have risen and a desperate struggle for power has begun. The military are evacuating all survivors in passenger planes. With their destination unknown, one group of survivors led by a journalist named Paul Larkin, decide to share their experiences with the hope that when combined, their stories will reveal the answers that the government had not been willing to give themselves.

 Nine survivors banded together, yet none of them realized, as they stood to tell their tales that they stood on the brink of discovering a conspiracy the likes of which the world has never seen. 

 Grab your copy from Amazon today for just $2.99

 

About Alex Laybourne:

 

 Alex Laybourne

 

Born and raised in the coastal English town Lowestoft, it should come as no surprise (to those that have the misfortune of knowing this place) that he became a horror writer.

 Married with four children; James, Logan, Ashleigh and Damon. His biggest dream for them is that they grow up, and spend their lives doing what makes them happy, whatever that is.

 ‘Diaries of the Damned’ is his third full-length publication along with numerous short works.

 

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Alex-Laybourne/e/B00580RB18/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alex-Laybourne/212049612180183

Blog: http://alexlaybourne.com/

 

 Chapter 1 – Boarding

 

Paul Larkin sat in his seat and fastened his seatbelt. His body was caked with sweat and dried blood. His ears rang from the gunshots, and his ankle was swollen again; remnants of an injury he acquired jumping from the first floor window of his suburban home. At least, it used to be suburbia, before everything went to shit.

He sat back and let out a long, deep breath. Shock threatened to take hold of him, so he closed his eyes and waited. The plane filled up and the cries of those refused admittance echoed down the walkway, swiftly followed by the sound of their execution.

Paul spared but the most fleeting of moments thinking about it. He found it strange how killing and death had become such a large part of his life.

“Excuse me,” A fragile sounding voice stirred Paul from the calm place he had just started to settle into. “I believe this is my seat.” An elderly woman, late seventies at best stood before him, her face was smeared with blood, while one eye had been covered by a filthy rag that had been hastily secured to her face with what looked like duct tape.

 

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The Seated Woman, Part Two

Last week I posted Part One of The Seated Woman, a piece I wrote many years ago. Here is the final part. Enjoy and share.

 

The Seated Woman

 

The Seated Woman (part two)

He wouldn’t say anything about what made him so jumpy. “Come by my house. I have some poems I want you to listen to that I wrote for Creative Writing class.” He hustled her out of the cemetery and Kayla let herself be hustled, but only for the moment.

The next afternoon Kayla didn’t even bother to go home first. Mrs. Dettering had caught her daydreaming in biology. She had almost fallen out of her seat when old Dragonbreath bellowed in her ear: “Miss Waites, are you with us?” Everyone looked at her, laughing, and she reddened, managing to mumble something.

Once in the cemetery, she stopped to breathe in deeply. Now, she could be at peace. The early December air didn’t bite. It was still early enough in the season for the days to be pleasant. Kayla sat under a large bare oak and tried to capture her dream visions. Marguerite watched from across the clearing. Strangely the images did not come. Her flow was gone and her hand felt like lead on the paper, which shook as she doodled, waiting. Emptiness chilled her.

Finally she gave up. She would go home and forget this place, forget Marguerite and the eyes that beckoned her. Too much sadness. She could not alleviate the pain she saw there. It was carved in marble but might as well been carved into her heart. Maybe Edward was right. Maybe she should get away from this place of mourning.

She was lying to herself. She could not, would not abandon the one who sat there as she must have through all the long seasons. Longing for something, someone she could not have. She tried to bring those eyes alive on the paper, the pleading look that caressed her. She let it all pour forth: the pain and sorrow for her mother, for the life she, Kayla, could have had, even for the woman’s lost ones. For those things gone. She wanted to giver herself over to the woman, let herself be wrapped up in those arms. She remembered her mother holding her. Could she turn stone to flesh? It was a foolish thought but nevertheless, it flittered through her mind.

She lay down, resting her head against the stone base and slowly fell asleep with the whispers of the dead all around her.

Something soft tickled her chin and she opened her eyes. Kayla found herself being cradled by a woman so ethereally beautiful, so otherworldly, she could have claimed descent from angels. Her eyes were a silver violet and she pressed soft lips against Kayla’s cheeks and brows, her warm breath sweet. White-blonde hair glinted in the moonlight that penetrated their secret grove.

“Mother?” Kayla asked and the woman’s soft laugh was like silk. Small animal sounds scuffled in the dark and Kayla realized she must have fallen asleep in the cemetery. She looked up again at the woman holding her and gasped.

Marguerite!

Not Kayla’s mother but what did that matter? She nestled into those arms of protection. The woman smelled of orchids and spring breezes and promises. For the first time in many years, Kayla felt content and secure.

Time passed. Fear came with awareness, slow yet inevitable. She slid down from the woman’s lap.

“No, wait,” the woman said, trying to draw her back in but Kayla stood away, just out of reach.

“Who are you?” she asked the woman, her voice full of fear and awe. There was power in the embrace of the dead. It felt as if the outside world no longer existed, that only this tiny corner of a forgotten cemetery held anything living. They faced each other, the woman with sad, wonder-filled eyes and Kayla hugging herself as if to ward off any spells.

“I don’t know, don’t remember,” the woman said, musing. “I was someone once. I must have ate and drank and breathed. I know I must have because I miss it all so much.”

“Are you dead?” Kayla asked, unwilling but unable to stop looking into those eyes that held her in thrall as much in the flesh as in stone.

“I don’t know. Perhaps.”

The woman was evidently perplexed. A vague air had settled around her like a fine mist. Kayla figured it would be a good idea to run yet the eyes even now compelled her to sink herself in them. There was love in those eyes, those arms. A mother’s love. But she also felt other things, dark things she could not explain. If this woman could give her warmth and understanding, then running would ruin everything. It would destroy the dream, break the web of understanding that had been woven between them.

For a long time neither spoke. There was only the wind and the crickets singing. The woman stared all about her, at the trees, the tombstones, the moon above. To Kayla it seemed as if the woman was trying to comprehend who and where she was.

“Come and sit here. Let me hold you again,” the woman said, her arms outstretched just like they were when Kayla had first stumbled upon her. Kayla hesitated, fear and yearning wrapped in her heart like two snakes entwined in a struggle.

Kayla then moved forward. The woman cooed in her ears as Kayla yielded herself up. How much like her own daughter Kayla was, she said. That much she remembered. It was coming back, bits and pieces of a long ago life. Marguerite whispered in her ear of a slower time, when women wore bustles and crinoline. A time of sashes and bows, waltzes and hansoms. “How could I have ever forgotten those sultry summer nights? Ballrooms filled with powdered faces and bosoms, waxed moustaches and light satin slippers dancing on hardwood floors,” she said, her voice faint with memory.

Marguerite told her story with a certain detached horror, holding Kayla close. They had become ballrooms of grinning skeletons. The stench of mass graves filled the air. Dances long forgotten as the fever swept through the towns like a deadly wind whipping past with its foul breath. A touch, a whisper and you were helpless, a wretched and retching thing. The woman shuddered and touched herself, now whole flesh again.

And years and years passed. She had watched the centuries roll by, longing for a way through the wall, past the gauze that kept her prisoner as surely as any bars. As Marguarite told her story, Kayla felt the weight of years descend. At the end, the sat in silence listening to the sounds of night, amplified in the darkness.

“Please, sit here while I stretch my legs. Just for a minute?” Clarissa finally asked.

Oh, it felt so good this smothering. Kayla pressed against the warm fragrant neck, nestling her face in the long hair. Like food to her starved soul. Like when she was five and the world was still open to her and there were no barriers, no sadness.

Kayla slid from the woman’s lap onto the cold, stone seat. The woman rose slowly, unsteadily. She took a few furtive steps, shuffling in the dead leaves. An owl hooted and Kayla looked up. The moon was gone. Surely her parents would be looking for her now.

She watched the woman raise her arms in the air and swing around, her long skirt flaring out, like a pinwheel. She ran her hands up and down her body, kicked out one foot then the other and took a deep breath.

She turned to Kayla, her eyes no longer sad, only regretful. “Thank you. I won’t forget you.”

She walked away, indistinguishable now from any modern women, her old-fashioned clothes gone. Kayla reached out but already her feet and legs had hardened, wrapped in an unfamiliar long, crinoline-lined skirt. She tried to wrench herself free but she was welded to the stone.

“Wait! Come back!” she called just before her throat hardened.

 #

            Sometime later, voices echoed through the trees, someone calling her name. She tried to answer but it was useless. They found her sketchbook lying beside a white cemetery statue. She saw her father’s shoulders droop, his eyes fill up. She was reaching out to him, her eyes pleading for him to release her. But he did not recognize the old-fashioned girl sitting there and he walked away with the others.

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