End of the semester reflections

To quote Albus Dumbledore, “Another year…gone.” Only in this case it’s a semester. I took my usual three classes and managed to swing “A”s in all. (Thank God.)

Intermediate Fiction was by far the most challenging because the teacher had us writing a new short story every month. It tested my creativity, forced me to think outside the box. But I’m thankful for this because it yielded some surprisingly good results, with “Entering the Deep” and “To Kill a Vampire” especially. My teacher also had us students giving each other detailed feedback on our stories. There was a form with questions we had to fill out, which made us stop to think about what we just read. I’m not the greatest when it comes to critiquing. I read books for enjoyment, not with the intent to break them down or analyze them. And short stories have never been my cup of tea, mostly because they lack that character development and fluff of a full blown novel (which I love so much). So giving good feedback was also a challenge for me. But, once again, I’m thankful for this. It helped me develop good critiquing skills.

Planning and Structuring the Novel was great. As the title might suggest, we students were given the opportunity to submit excerpts from our current works in progress to receive constructive criticism from classmates and our instructor. This kind of feedback wasn’t as specific as the feedback I received for my short stories, but I was made aware of some important plot issues with “The Andromeda’s Ghost.” (This is a science-fiction novel I’ve been working on. I’ve posted an excerpt or two on the blog in the past.) This novel is my first attempt at science-fiction so it was great to hear that I was doing a good job so far. My instructor’s thoughts especially were helpful. There’s just something about working alongside an impartial adult, who has studied writing and literature, and genuinely likes your work…I’m going to miss discussing my story with that man.

My Portfolio class was filled with more feedback. I basically submitted all of the short stories I was thinking about putting in my portfolio and the teacher, the Director of the Creative Writing Program, gave me his thoughts. In order to get my Certificate of Completion for the Creative Writing Program at Phoenix College, I have to submit a portfolio with 12-15 pages of original work from two different genres, a letter of intent stating my writing goals, and a letter of recommendation from a teacher. I was asked to provide three copies of this, so I can only assume that the director of the program and two mystery people will be reading my work and making the final decision.

Naturally, I agonized over which stories to submit. The three stories I wrote this semester are my favorites out of my little stack of shorts, but they’re all at least 12 pages long, maybe more. I’d only be able to include one. I’ve written a few poems but I didn’t feel confident turning in any of those. (Although, now that I think about it, I could’ve totally turned in my prose poem about public speaking! Dang it! Oh, well…) In the end, I went with a horror story I wrote last semester and the mermaid story I wrote more recently. Combined, they fell within the page limit so it worked out. For better or worse, I’ve mailed it in. Now all I can do is wait.

I’m not technically done with the program yet. I have one more reading class I have to take, but it’s not available until the summer of 2018. I emailed the director of the program, thinking I’d have to wait to turn in my portfolio. He said I didn’t have to wait. He seemed to think I had a shot at that certificate, which was encouraging to hear.

So my schooling is pretty much over. I’ll be going back for that one class in the summer, but then I’ll be done! [insert girlish shriek of excitement here]

I still don’t know if I want to get a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. A part of me thinks I won’t need it. Another part of me is terrified that I’ll totally flop as an author and I’ll need a backup plan. I do okay in school but it’s not something I want to do for the next four to eight years of my life. I want to be focusing on kids and my writing during that time. But life is…well…to quote Forrest Gump, “Life [is] like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.” I could do really good as an author, really bad, or just mediocre. I want to be prepared for all of those outcomes. I want to have a plan. That’s who I am; a planner. So what will I do if, by this time next year, I can’t make a living off my writing? Do I keep at it? Do I get my Bachelor’s and try to get a job at a publishing company? Do I pick another major?

The thing is, I can’t think of anything else I’d want to study. Sure, for a while I thought it would be cool to be an interpreter. I enjoyed learning American Sign Language and all about the deaf community. But when my job conflicted with the scheduling of the interpreter’s program at Phoenix College, I wasn’t devastated that I had to give it up. I would be devastated if I had to give up writing. But I love reading and writing. I feel like getting my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing will make me start to hate these things I love so much…

Uuuuuggggghhhhhh.

It takes effort to trust that everything is going to be fine so long as I do my best. It’s hard for me to be okay with the fact that I don’t have all the answers. It helps that I have a great, merciful God who doesn’t mind repeating that He has everything under control. It also helps that it’s Christmas time and I have family to distract me. Tonight, my husband and I will be flying to Wisconsin to spend the holiday with his mother and brothers. I’m so looking forward to seeing them and having my first white Christmas. Another semester is over. It’s time to celebrate. That’s what I need to be focusing on right now. After the holidays, I’ll be working on book promotion and finishing that science-fiction novel. What comes after that can be decided later.

If I don’t post anything else before the new year, let me just say Merry Christmas to you all. See you in 2018!

2016 Reflections

I know it’s a little late for a New Years letter, but that doesn’t mean I can’t blog about my 2016. I’m calling last year the Year of Change.

My husband and I moved out of our one room apartment in April. My grandparents own several houses that they rent out to growing families and college aged students. They offered one of those houses to us for a very generous rental price and we snatched it up. We had been blessed with our apartment; it was in a safe, clean, quiet environment, with great management and neighbors. But we had a dog that was in desperate need of a backyard and we were tired of not being able to host visiting family members. The school semester wasn’t over yet but we had very little time before our lease was up so it had to be done quickly. The two of us, with the help of a friend, moved everything out in an afternoon. It was a stressful and emotional time for me. I had things organized just the way I wanted at the apartment and it took time to re-organize everything into our new living space. Also it was the end of another chapter and I always get nostalgic about endings. I stood in the middle of our empty apartment after having scrubbed it clean from top to bottom, smiling a little and blinking back tears as I remembered the good times that were had there.

We love our new-to-us house and so does the dog. We were able to host our friends for Pumpkin Carving and Scary Movie night in October, my family for Thanksgiving, and my husband’s family for Christmas thanks to the extra rooms and larger living room space. It’s been a blast. I for one finally feel like an adult. We’re so thankful.

Following the theme of change, both my husband and I switched career paths this year.

My husband had this dream of going to medical school on the island of Saint Kitts (in the Caribbean), finishing his degree in their sister school in Maine, and then doing his residency here in Phoenix. It sounded like a wild adventure when we were dating and, even though I had my concerns about leaving our families and friends and everything we’d ever known, I was willing to go with him. I was willing to be brave and travel to places I’d never been before so long as we were together. But we’ve both wanted to have a family since we were very young. My husband was confident that we could do medical school and raise a family at the same time. Somehow. I wasn’t so sure. Still, we talked about it and prayed about it, until my husband came to me one day and said that he had decided to give up on medical school.

“If we’re serious about starting a family in the next few years, I’m going to need a different career path,” he said, to which I heartily agreed. It was hard for him to think of another career at first. My husband is a man of many talents but he’d had his heart set on medical school for such a long time that he didn’t know what else he wanted to do or even where to start looking. He literally received a sign shortly after making this decision. He was at work, helping his coworkers hang a bill board sign about police agencies hiring in the city. (Smee: I’ve just had an apostrophe. Captain Hook: I think you mean an epiphany. Smee: No… lightning has just struck my brain. Captain Hook: Well, that must hurt.) It was so obvious. My husband is strong, smart, quick on his feet, and just. Of course, he should be a police officer! So began the application process. It’s been a fury of studying, taking tests, filling out paper work, and going on ride alongs but it has been a blast for him. The current challenge is the upcoming physical exam. My husband’s current occupation is physically taxing and makes it hard to train but so long as he keeps trying, I’m confident he’ll succeed.

Growing up, my father always told me, “It’s okay to dream but keep your feet on the ground. Circumstances might not allow you to be a writer and stay-at-home-mother as you’d like to be. Think of a subject or area of study you could major in that could help your husband provide for your family should you need extra income.” So that’s what I did. I chose language. I’m already bilingual thanks to my Hispanic father and his family. I’d heard somewhere that being bilingual made it easier to learn other languages, so I thought I’d be a translator. Despite my desire to start with French, circumstances led me to American Sign Language. I ended up really enjoying it. I took four classes and was about to start the Interpreter’s program when complications arose between my work schedule and the class scheduling. An advertisement about a creative writing program on the school’s website caught my eye.

I’ve read many articles about writing query letters, self and traditional publishing, and book marketing. I’ve sent over 100 query letters over the past two-three years and received nothing but polite rejections. Still, the beta readers who read my work insisted I had talent. My writing, which had always been a hobby and an unrealistic dream, was fast becoming frustrating. Did I have what it took to be a successful author or not? With my current career path being blocked at every corner, it was time to find out. I started with Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Writing Fiction, both of which I loved and aced. I received good criticism from my classmates and some much needed validation from my teachers (adults who had studied this area and could spot the difference between good writing and mediocre writing). I still don’t know if I have what it takes to be successful in the writing world, but I know I’ve got something good going on here.

I’ve read that agents receive millions of queries daily. To stick out from the crowd, you need what anyone else needs for a resume: education, experience, and proof of talent. Once I complete this creative writing program, I’ll have an Academic Certificate in Creative Writing (basically an associates). With it, I can transfer to a university and begin a bachelors in English if I wanted. It’s more education than I had two-three years ago when I started querying. The easiest way to gain some publishing experience is to be published. I’ve submitted some of my short stories into literary magazine contests. No bites yet but I can’t give up. Proof of talent in the writing world is having a following. Agents help with some book marketing but I’ve read time and time again that 90% of an author’s book marketing is done by the author. Having a following/readership reassures the agent that a writer is willing to do most if not all of the heavy lifting. Through blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram I hope to develop my following.

All the while I work on my manuscripts in the hopes that one day I’ll be ready to submit query letters again, this time with confidence. In my endeavors, I’ve learned a lot about writing, publishing, and book marketing. It’s become more and more apparent to me that the fulfillment of this crazy dream is going to take a lot of work, especially for an introvert who was determined not to have a social media presence not so long ago. But this feels right. Whether anything comes out of this or not, I’m going to see it through.

While all of this was happening, my husband was learning how to have long distance relationships with his family. One brother moved to Los Angeles to study film and work. Another brother moved to Hawaii to work in the student ministries department at a church in Maui. The third brother still lives in Phoenix but being a full time student keeps him very busy. My mother-in-law, who suddenly found herself with an empty house, decided it was time for an adventure and took a job in Wisconsin. For my husband, who has always been able to drive ten minutes to see his mother and brothers, this has been a huge adjustment. I went through similar stages of grief and homesickness when I moved out of my parents’ house in southern California to study and work in Phoenix. It’s been hard to go through this with him but it’s made his relationships with his family stronger. Because they’re so far away, his brothers make more of an effort to call and text. They’re learning and growing, and sharing their experiences with their older brother. That part has been fun.

2016, the Year of Change indeed.

It’s hard to think 2017 could possibly top it. But yet again it’s only January.