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Happy Birthday, Year 4

Originally published September 2007

As I said Monday, I turn four years old as a writer this week.  If you’re interested in previous years’ reviews, you can always check the archives–although I noticed yesterday that something went a little wonky with the import into WordPress and some of the entries are doubled.

Two big things occurred to me last year.

So it finally dawned on me. It’s never going to get any easier. I’m never going to have more time. I whine now about having too many ideas and too little time. How much worse will it be if I ever am under contract?


The most important thing the past year has taught me: no doubts. I’m trusting my heart, my instincts, my path. I’m going to write hard and wildly and I’m not going to stop and worry about what anyone else might say or do. Whether anybody else will like what I’m doing or hate it. I’m bleeding Story with my heart and that’s all that matters.

What does this mean?  It means I finally found MY story.  I found the kind of story I *have* to write.  I can write that story with authority, with belief in my heart that it’s the right story for me, right now.  Instead of wavering, whining, and wandering around in the darkness, I hacked my own path out of the wilds.  Most importantly, I FINISH.  When I commit to a story, I finish it.  I think that’s one of the most important commitments a writer can make.

I also paid attention to the state of the market, New York publishing, and how that fits with what I like to write.  When I stumbled across Drollerie Press and saw mythic transformative fiction and the glorious graphics on the site, I can’t explain it.  My heart skipped a beat.  I felt a resonance deep inside.  And I knew I had to submit.  Three pieces officially accepted for publication this year!  Another under consideration.  Inspiration brimming inside me.  A brilliant editor who’s teaching me to keep my voice while fine-tuning the story to our utmost ability.  What more could I want?

Well, someday, a NY contract too and an agent would be nice.   But I’m writing what I LOVE, and I found a place that loves the same thing.  It’s a great opportunity to grow with a new house, and I’m loving every minute of it.

So this year, I learned to listen to my heart.  I committed to daily writing, 500-1000 words, even if that means getting up at 4:00 a.m. to do it.  I have an accountability partner, my beloved sister, and my dearest friend, Wanda, all whom I trust unquestioningly. In 2007, I’ve written over 194,000 words already and finished SEVEN projects.

I have a vision for where I’m going, and I’m writing stories I love to get there.

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Happy Birthday, Year 3

Originally published September 2006

Oh, the exuberence, the giddy joy, the frantic nerves when I received the news TWO years ago today (rather, the night before). That was the pinnacle of my first year of writing. As with all Freshmen, I was too stupid to know that I didn’t know anything.

My writing birthday is September 30th. I’m nearly THREE years old. I look back on this last year, and MBB is still sitting in NY (is there a record for the longest submission? I mean, TWO years!).

I’ve been slogging through the Valley of the Shadow of Death much more often than scaling any glorious heights, but I wouldn’t give up this Journey for anything. My Shadowed Blood walks with me every step of the way, as well as my very dear friends.

These past two years taught me heartache and doubt. I wondered if I had any hint of talent at all, or if I should simply go bowling instead. I feared every word I wrote would be meh at best. When I finally realized how awkwardly I built MBB, I was afraid I’d never write anything I loved as much again. Despite its glaring flaws, I still see magic in that beloved story. That first dream suffered a painful death after the hopes and joy of the first full request, but was reborn in a new vision. I sacrificed Shannari and sculpted her again from blood and suffering, already carrying just a little bit of Shadow. A new vision, a new promise, a new heartache waiting to happen.

I learned all these things about character development and plotting and structure, and instead of improving, my writing tanked. I lost something, and I was afraid I would never get it back. I was afraid I’d never FINISH anything again.

But I also learned several truths while stumbling around in the dark.

Writing really is a Hero’s Journey, not just “to publication” or for a specific manuscript, but every single day. I will find myself in the Ordeal, the Inner Cave, not once, but over and over and over, and the only way out is to keep writing. The night really is darkest right before the dawn. The light never looked so miraculous unless you doubt deep down in your heart whether the sun will ever shine again. The road less traveled really is the only way for me–I must forge my own way, and fail and slog and struggle and bleed on my own. I can’t hand the reins over to anything or anyone ever again and expect to keep the magic alive. I learned the truth of the old saying about opening up a vein to write. Without blood pouring out of me and onto the page, the magic isn’t there for me.

I don’t know what the future holds any more than anybody else. I don’t know where this path leads, whether I’m bound for the Valley again, or whether the current foothill of joy and success will lead to a new marvelous peak.

It doesn’t matter in the long run. There are many more mountains to climb.

For so long, I wondered whether the path was right. One of the great agonies, I think, of the aspiring writer who works and has family with very limited time left over for writing. What if I wasted a whole year on something stupid? What if I chose a different project, a different path–would I reach a mountain any sooner?

If nothing else, this past year has brought me a certainty that I treasure. I know my path. I know it’s my path, and every step resonates with a melody that only I can hear with my heart. If that’s sentimental and foolish, so be it. If this path never leads to Mount Dhoom, so be it. The Impossible lives in my dreams, and all I can do is try to capture that beauty with words to the best of my ability.

When the Butterfly soars, I will rip off its wings and offer the blood on my hands as sacrifice. When the Butterfly crawls, I will throw it up into the sky again with heaven ablaze in my eyes. Because the Butterfly will fly again, as long as I keep writing on this endless mercy mile.

So here’s to another year of writing.

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Happy Birthday, Year 2

Originally published September 2005

In a few weeks, I’ll be two years old as a writer. Two years of conscious commitment to writing.

I’ve got three monsters under the age of 6, so the terrible twos are all too familiar. The “baby” turned two in June. Several times this summer she has caught me unaware. I’ll look at her and think… Who is this little person? Not a baby, no, she’s a child. An independent, strong willed child, yet at the same time, she’ll turn away and hide her face against my shoulder or leg. Confident and strong, she climbed to the top bunkbed yesterday and gave me heart failure. But the next moment she’s afraid to try something new. I never really know which way she’ll act until she does it.

I think in a lot of ways I’ve gone through these same things as a writer. That first year was glorious. The rush of finishing not one but two full-length novels. Seeing some moderate successes. Waking up and burning with excitement, the need to sit down and put those words on paper. Toddler-like impatience when anything kept me from doing what I wanted to do. My job? Dishes? Laundry? You’re kidding, right?

Like any reckless, impudent child, I believed I could do anything. I could climb to the moon if I wanted. I could write anything and everything if I set my mind to it. I was invincible.

And then I fell and scraped my knee. It wasn’t a huge injury at all. Just a bump in the road. But it was enough to scare the child writer in me. I needed to hide my face for awhile. I needed my pacifier. I started carrying my blankie around. I kept quiet, afraid to say too much and look foolish. Mostly I was ashamed that I fell in the first place. Didn’t I know these things could happen? Did I expect it to be a cake walk? Instead of picking flowers alongside the road, I should have been doing something useful, more important, more…

No, maybe I should just stick to flowers after all.

Long after the Band-Aid was no longer necessary, I still remember that injury. I have been afraid to try again. What if I split my head wide open next time? What if I fall and never get up? What if everybody SEES me fall again–how embarrassing would that be?

Eventually, though, I missed playing too much to hide with my blankie. I started writing again. One thing–safe. One thing–crazy. If I needed solace, I knew where to go. If I wanted to feel the rush of exploration again, I had that, too.

Recently, I noticed something. Even the familiar safety I expected is no longer there.

Somewhere, somehow, I grew into this gangly clumsy teenager, pimply faced and all knobby knees and sharp elbows. I look at my work and think, my God, what happened to that sweet, pretty little baby? Look at how awkward and sparse this is! Where’s the childish glee? The headlong rush of words? The capering play and laughter?

Once I grew a little, I learned I couldn’t go back. There’s a little bit of innocence lost. It doesn’t matter how much I long for the carefree days of heedless writing and boundless joy, deep down I know I really don’t want to go back there. I can see the childishness. While there is a definite charm and sweetness in that writing, it’s clearly immature.

The problem is that I don’t like where I am now, either.

The gangly teenager writer is struggling to figure out how in the hell these learned skills and ability work together. Instead of running, I trip over my own feet. Instead of singing confidently, my voice breaks at the oddest times. The more I understand, the less I know with surety.

Even the safety net doesn’t feel safe any longer. I wonder if I’m butchering it. While I know exactly how I want to eliminate some of the immature writing, I’m not sure that what I’m doing now is really any better. Part of me wonders if perhaps I should leave well enough alone. Maybe I should let that beloved work remain a child with all its sweet innocence.

And so I trudge onward, stumbling and blushing as I go. I work on my writing every night. I’m working through the growing pains. I’m trying not to be too dependent on external confidence.

[Sis? Wanda? Waaaah! Does this suck?]


The adolescent writer looks in the mirror and grimaces. No figure. Stick body. Stupid hair. Pimples. Glasses.


The mother in me looks at that child writer with amusement and aching love. This too shall pass, and before I know it, I’ll look back on this awkward year of growth and remember it fondly.

Well, one can certainly hope. In the meantime, I’m a bull in a china shop. I’m a two-year-old writer; watch me bust everything all to pieces and throw a temper tantrum.

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Happy Birthday, Year 1

Originally published September 2004

Remembering this past year….

When I first gave MBB to my Beloved Sis, it ended on a huge cliffhanger. Literally, Rhaekhar turned around and said something like, “We may already be too late!” Molly knew something terrible was getting ready to happen. Shannari was trapped in a prison cell. She’d nearly died twice already, while Rhaekhar had been stopped on the road to her aid by an army of outlanders.

Here’s Molly’s response (with her permission):

Joely, you gotta write more! They HAVE to get back together! Vulkar forbid they should spend even a week apart….

Now to the casual reader, this may not mean so much other than a tug on the heart strings thanks to her loving encouragement. But what struck me the most was her use of MY language. MY world. She didn’t say “God forbid.” She said “Vulkar forbid.” Vulkar, the Great Wind Stallion, the Fire God of the Sea of Grass that lives in a three-crowned Mountain belching fire and smoke to the heavens.

How could I NOT finish this story? How could I leave Shannari in that prison, and Rhaekhar frantic to reach her? How could I ignore Vulkar’s demand to finish the story of His Chosen Khul? How could I turn deaf ears to the Blessed Lady’s plea to continue Her last Daughter’s fight against the greatest Shadow the world has ever known?

I couldn’t. So here I write every single night to document their story.

Thanks again, Sis.