LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING: PART THREE

There are so many forms of love!

This series will address romantic love, of which there also are multiple forms. There’s that soul-shocking first love. “You never forget your first love” is a statement made by nearly everyone who has experienced it, even after years—even decades—have passed, whether or not the love was sustained. There’s the memory love—the one for a beloved who has died. It’s a love memory that lingers, that forever makes your insides tighten with pain of the loss mixed with a yearning remembrance of that deep emotional connection. There’s the mature love—a couple growing old together with a lifetime of shared experiences. One might also add a “second-chance love,” a deep friendship that may form after one or both of you have lost your first love through death or divorce.

Today we’ll look at “memory love.” Yes, there are memories of love for a relationship that didn’t work out. But this is about the permanent loss of a beloved, one who has died, drawing again from Autumn Colors.

She needed to talk to Tom. No, she hadn’t lost it. She had some things in her head that she needed to say out loud. She needed to hear them, whether or not he could.

The group was dispersing. She caught Emma’s eye and went over to her.

“I think I’ll stay behind for a while,” she said. “Thank you for letting me know about your mom’s service.”

Emma nodded understanding.

As the last car drove out of sight, she sat down cross-legged on Tom’s grave and touched the ground affectionately. It was pleasantly warm. She remained quiet for several minutes, the only sound the rustling of the few leaves remaining on the trees, the sweet aroma of the earth beneath her giving her courage. Was Tom’s spirit anywhere around? The scent reminded her of the day he showed up after their summer apart, when she was digging in her mother’s garden, surrounded by upturned warm earth.

“Oh, Tom.” she sighed. She looked around her to be sure no one would hear her talking to a headstone, maybe to a spirit – she hadn’t ruled that out. Hoped it was the case, actually. Either way, she had to say what she stayed to say.

She stroked the ground and the stone and sighed again.

“I never said goodbye, Tom. All these years, I kept pretending that you never really left me, that you weren’t really gone. That you were just across some bridge to the hereafter, watching over me and reaching out to me.

“I went to see Rosemary Altea speak once. She said when we hold on to our departed loved ones, we’re keeping them and us from moving on. Have I held you back, Tom? I know I’ve held myself back.”

Wispy white clouds glided across the sky.

“I’m forty-nine. More than twice the age we were when you were here. I’ve been married to Charles four times longer than you and I had a relationship.”

Her eyes filled again, and the rest of her words competed with sobs.

“I squandered our love, Tom, and then you were gone before I could make it up to you. I’ve been doing the same thing with Charles for over twenty years, and I never recognized the pattern. I’ve never been fully there for Charles.

“Charles is a good man. I do love him. It’s a different love from what you and I had. But no less real or valuable. It’s a mature and steady love. He deserves better than what I’ve been giving him.

“Remember when you sent me flowers on Valentine’s Day and I called you, and you told me about your fraternity brother dying? You said it was important to let people know you love them, because they could be gone in an instant and you wouldn’t have the opportunity again. I’m grateful that I recognized my love for you and told you before it was too late. I was so angry that we had precious little time together after that.”

She dug into her coat pocket for a tissue. Her face was soaked and her nose was running. She struggled to say the last words to him.

“Now I need to be with Charles, to let him know how much I love him.”

Say it. Say it and mean it. She took a deep breath.

“It’s time to let you go, Tom.”

The breeze gusted briefly. A few more leaves drifted to the ground. The earthy smell was gone.

Blowing her nose and sighing again, she stood and stretched. Then she walked to the car and drove off without looking back.

As she left the streets of her hometown, she thought about how much had changed since she had arrived that morning. She was tired but exhilarated and optimistic. The black shroud of autumn had been lifted, hopefully for good. A light had turned on inside her where before there was only darkness. It made everything seem bright, and hummed and made her feel warm and happy.

Next time we’ll look at “mature love.”

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LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING – PART ONE

There are so many forms of love!

This series will address romantic love, of which there also are multiple forms. There’s that soul-shocking first love. “You never forget your first love” is a statement made by nearly everyone who has experienced it, even after years—even decades—have passed, whether or not the love was sustained. There’s conflicted love, when obvious feelings conflict with your vision for life. There’s the memory love—the one for a beloved who has died. It’s a love memory that lingers, that forever makes your insides tighten with pain of the loss mixed with a yearning remembrance of that deep emotional connection. There’s the mature love—a couple growing old together with a lifetime of shared experiences. One might also add a “second-chance love,” a deep friendship that may form after one or both of you have lost your first love through death or divorce.

This post (posted last week but somehow lost in cyberspace) exemplifies the powerful feelings of first love, drawn from Chapter One of The Eyes Have It.

He stopped in front of me.

“I need to ask you something,” I said, as I tossed the last of my desk litter into my bag, Then I looked up at his face.

He smiled. The room around us receded into a haze.

Omigosh. What was that, a surge of electricity? The one that just passed through my center and blurred my vision and drained the strength from my legs? I hoped leaning on the desk to keep myself upright wasn’t obvious. I had never been this close to him. That smile could melt an Alaskan glacier! Not to mention the way his eyes lit from the inside out. They glistened. Not in a weak, teary-eyed way. Just so perceptive. No, intense. Nah, that wasn’t it either. It was like they spoke to me personally. His focus was entirely on me. What color were they? Brown with green flecks? Green with brown flecks? Not brown flecks—gold! The color seemed to change with the slightest movement of his head, like colors in a kaleidoscope. I could lose myself in those eyes. But his mouth was moving. With reluctance and difficulty I pulled myself back from that other dimension.

“You wanted to ask me something?”

His soft voice contrasted with his hard body. Good grief, I sound like a porn movie. Not that I’d ever seen one.

“Uh, yeah. A friend of mine asked me to ask you for one of your senior pictures.”

Lame. That sounded lame. Especially with my voice so high and squeaky.

“A friend of yours?” This time his voice was teasing. His eyes crinkled at the outside corners, and his smile evolved to a smirk.

“Uh, we’re going to be late for our next class. We can talk about this tomorrow.” When in doubt, escape.

He smiled again. The first one. The warm—make that hot—one.

Holy crap. My God, my legs feel like rubber.

“What?” he asked.

Did I say that out loud?

His eyes crinkled upward at the corners again. Some alien force sucked the power out of my chest and my heart fluttered.

No way. I was not like that. Boys didn’t have that kind of effect on me.

And yet….

“I have my package of pictures in my locker. Meet me there after school.”

“Where?” I asked, before my more controlling inner self thought to say no, that it could wait until tomorrow.

“1302,” he said, started to turn, then added, “north wing.” He glanced at the clock, added, “Gotta go.” But before he left, he flashed one more smile. And a wink.

A wink.

And where was my inner control freak when I needed her?

And, by the way, why was I not wearing my skinny jeans? For sure he would have been more impressed, right? Maybe then he wouldn’t have noticed the empty space where voluptuous boobs were supposed to be. He’d probably be relieved to know it was Chris who wanted his picture. Her chest could rival Dolly Parton.

By the end of the last period, I was back to my normal self. What had happened with Ethan was just a fluke. Maybe I was getting my period early or something. Whatever it was, the real Olivia Regan was back in charge.

My homeroom was on the first floor. Ethan said north wing. Number 1302 would be on the same floor, but at the other end of the sprawling school building. I grabbed my bag and headed for my own locker, which was almost directly across the hall from my homeroom, pulled on my jacket, and mentally itemized what I needed for my homework assignments. Including 1984. Could I read it in time to write the paper Mr. Dickenson assigned? Not a chance. Methinks I’ll see what I can find on line. Piece of cake. Methinks.

I strode confidently down the north wing in the direction of locker number 1302. Other kids crisscrossed the halls, some rushing—probably to grab a good seat on their bus—some leaning against lockers talking to others. Weaving through the human traffic, I waved to those I knew and proceeded on, scanning the locker numbers.

I felt Ethan before I saw him, and it nearly did me in. He came up behind me. The heat of his breath reached my neck before he touched my arm. My face burned, and yet I shivered. I turned toward him, convinced I was coming down with something.

We somehow communicated silently to move out of the people traffic and lean against his locker.

“Are you okay?” he asked, grinning.

“Uh, I’m fine. Just been rushing around a lot. And now I have to figure out how to write a paper on a book I haven’t read.”

He studied me.

“Here I thought you were the studious type.”

“I am!”

That teasing smirk again.

“Funny, I thought that would mean you always did your homework.”

Smirk or not, that was uncalled for.

“I do always do my homework. I just—well, I just don’t like reading phony history, which is what 1984 is. It was over three decades ago, and it’s not real history. But it didn’t feel like fiction. It was stupid. I couldn’t get into it.”

“Isn’t that so-called history a lot like today? Like what’s going on around us in today’s world? Maybe the reality Orwell described just took longer to evolve.”

“Hey, I thought you were a jock.”

His smirk drooped to a frown.

“What’s that mean?”

“The jocks I know don’t have a lot of interest in studies of any kind unless they involve balls.”

He cracked up. After being baffled for a few seconds about what was so funny, I wanted to climb into his locker and close the door behind me when the double meaning of my words hit.

“Why’s your face so red?” he asked, grinning, those eyes penetrating into my mortified soul.

“I must be coming down with something,” I mumbled. Lame. “Can you just give me the picture? Please? I have to get home. I have a whole book to read and write about before tomorrow.”

His eyes gleamed, but the smirk had morphed back to that deadly smile.

“Something tells me you’ll write a paper with or without the reading part.”

He touched my cheek, and I flinched. I wasn’t prepared for actual touch, and the way his touch burned my skin and turned me into mush all over scared the crap out of me.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted, pulling his hand back. “I’m sorry. It was an impulse. Obviously the wrong one.” He turned toward his locker, reached inside a bag on the top shelf, and brought out a photo. I noted he had no pictures of girls hanging in there, so maybe he didn’t have a girlfriend. Geez, what did I care? He pulled a pen from his pocket and, leaning against the neighboring locker, wrote: “Dear Olivia, I hope we get to know each other better this year. Sincerely, Ethan.”

“Uh,” I said, when I realized what he wrote. I knew he didn’t believe I had a friend who wanted it. “The picture. It really was for someone else. You know Chris? She sits next to me in class?”

His expression darkened briefly.

“So you don’t want this?” He held the photo toward me.

“Um, yeah, I sort of do. But I did promise Chris.”

That warm, melting smile returned as he studied me.

Legs, please don’t let me go down.

Ethan reached for another picture and scribbled, “Chris, hope you have a great senior year. Ethan.”

“Not very personal,” I said, reading it and returning his smile.

“Not meant to be,” he said. Closing his locker, he added, “See you tomorrow?”

“With essay in hand,” I joked.

********

I saw the shadow as I reached to pick up my bag. My body tensed and flashes of my self-defense course power-pointed through my brain. My bag was loaded with books and pens, ready to be weaponized. I picked up my pace. My possible assailant mirrored the move. The shadow was gaining on me. I was surrounded by a city in transition. Most streets were crammed with houses. Some older blocks had been razed for new development. The side of the street I was on was dotted with vacant lots, awaiting an eager investor. Across the street was a convenience store I rarely went in, both because I had no need most days, and because it was dark and crowded, with aisles close together. Still, it was a possible escape where I wouldn’t be alone. I remembered it was better to face the attacker than to be attacked from behind. If you couldn’t avoid a physical confrontation, aim for the parts of the body where you can do the most damage easily—eyes, nose, ears, neck, groin, knee, top of the feet. Avoid first. I stepped off the curb to cross the street. He followed. As I stepped up on the opposite curb, I gripped the handle of my bag and spun, swinging the bag as hard as I could.

“Hey!” Ethan shouted, his soccer reflexes kicking in as he deflected the bag with his elbow. “What are you doing?”

“I thought you were an assailant!” I scowled at him. “What were you thinking, following me and not telling me you were there?”

He looked a little sheepish. “I wanted to see how long it would take you to realize I was behind you.”

“I knew someone was behind me. How was I supposed to know it was you? I don’t have eyes in the back of my head! What are you doing here, anyway? Do you live around here?”

Ethan shrugged. “I live that way,” he pointed east. “Just over the bus line, but I usually walk. I just took a little detour today when I came out of school and saw you walking.”

“Why?”

His turn to blush. But it only made his smile brighter. He had luscious lips.

“I wanted to spend more time with you.”

Valentine’s Day was over a week away. But in that moment I felt like I understood why Cupid’s signature was his arrow, and it seemed he was on the prowl early. That was the only possible explanation for the sudden contraction and ache in the area of my heart. A wave of heat rushed through me. My hand had a mind of its own and reached out to touch his elbow.

“Did I hurt you?”

“Nah. Soccer balls come at me faster than your bag did.” He grinned. “You should work on that swing if it’s your first line of defense.”

I couldn’t pull my eyes from his face. How had I not noticed him before? I sucked in a deep breath, feeling like I couldn’t get enough air. An unrecognized feeling swelled within me, an odd combination of awe and anxiety, excitement and exhilaration, heat and happiness.

He raised his hand slowly. “May I?” he asked, as his hand approached my cheek.

I nodded, my breath hitching at the warmth of his touch. And this time I didn’t flinch. I leaned into his hand, closing my eyes, savoring the feeling that flowed through me.

“You feel it, too,” he half-whispered.

I nodded, still not understanding what “it” was, but relieved that I wasn’t alone in the feeling.

“We don’t know anything about each other,” I said, still leaning into the warmth of his hand.

“We know our feelings. The rest can follow if we spend more time together.”

“But what if the feeling doesn’t last?” A parade of casual boyfriends marched through my mind, mocking me. Even as they marched, I knew this was different.

“There’s only one way to find out.” He leaned down and kissed my forehead, sending a power surge straight through to my toes and back. “I have to go,” he continued. “I work for my dad a few evenings a week. I’m saving up for a car.” He sighed. “It’s so hard to leave you. What time do you get to school in the morning?”

“In time for the homeroom bell, but the building opens at 7:30.” Was he asking me to meet him?

“Would you come in that early?” His question so eager, so open.

I gulped a deep breath through my mouth, not quite a gasp, but close.

“Uh, sure.” Of course. Anything you want, you got it. I’m yours.

I was so screwed. I hated that. I also loved it. How could that be?

He smiled that deadly, beautiful, leg-melting smile that started this just a few hours ago.

“My locker, whenever you get there. I’ll be waiting.”

I would have been a prime victim for a predator as I walked the last few blocks home. I was on another planet. On Cloud Nine. In La-La Land. How many other clichés applied?

I felt it in my gut—life as I’d known it was about to change. Dramatically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING – PART TWO

There are so many forms of love!

This series will address romantic love, of which there also are multiple forms. There’s that soul-shocking first love. “You never forget your first love” is a statement made by nearly everyone who has experienced it, even after years—even decades—have passed, whether or not the love was sustained. There’s conflicted love—love that confuses and confounds you. There’s the memory love—the one for a beloved who has died. It’s a love memory that lingers, that forever makes your insides tighten with pain of the loss mixed with a yearning remembrance of that deep emotional connection. There’s the mature love—a couple growing old together with a lifetime of shared experiences. One might also add a “second-chance love,” a deep friendship that may form after one or both of you have lost your first love through death or divorce.

Today’s love will be of the conflicted variety, using a scene from my first published novel, Autumn Colors. I’d love to hear your comments!

“What’s it really like to be in love, Hilary?”

They were at the campus coffee house, taking a much needed break from studying for finals. Tables had been brought outside under an awning, like a sidewalk café in Paris. They were surrounded by the sights and smells of spring, including her favorite, the hot-fudge tease of the cocoa mulch. She would miss this.

She should have been happy. She was on schedule to graduate in less than two weeks. The paper had offered her a job as a reporter for the Lifestyles section. Her parents told her they’d help with a deposit on a car. Her life beckoned.

But she was miserable. She was stressed by the coming exams. She was saddened to leave there – which seemed ironic, considering she had rushed to escape after her freshman year. Hilary had helped her turn that corner. She would miss her friend tremendously. She hoped Hilary followed through on her plan to move to New York City. It was a much easier place to visit than the hills of Kentucky.

And she couldn’t let go of what had happened with Tom. She wondered if she’d run into him at home. She hoped she wouldn’t and prayed she would. But what would be the point?

“Being in love,” Hilary responded, “is feeling like you and Tom feel about each other when you’re not being complete asses.”

“Don’t sugar-coat it, Hilary. Tell me what you really feel.” God, she would miss this woman. She had never known anyone who could be so completely honest and so completely likeable. There wasn’t an artificial bone in her body.

Hilary and George had seen each other a few times since January. It was different somehow, Hilary insisted. They still had some laughs. Occasionally they slept together. But there was an invisible barrier between their psyches that hadn’t been there originally. She had never learned what it was last summer that changed him.

“Did your relationship with George change when you began sleeping together?”

“I thought it brought us closer together. Now I’m not so sure. Or maybe the glow wore off.”

“What do you mean?”

She searched the horizon for her response.

“The first time we did it, it all happened so fast. I mean—I suppose I shouldn’t be telling tales out of school—but what’s the difference at this point? I mean he was fast. So fast that we had to go a second round before we did it.” Hillary looked at her sideways. “Do you know what I mean?”

“No, I want you to spell it out for me, Hil,” she teased.

Her roommate shook her head and smiled.

“I thought, wow, he’s really hot for me. When we finally did it, though, it took forever. I mean, women all over the world complain about the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am syndrome. It was the opposite with George. I was so horny that first time, I was popping off one orgasm after another for a while. I was drained and satisfied. But he kept going. Hadn’t made it to the top yet. And kept going. I was getting dry and sore. And he kept going. When he finally came, I was so grateful, I let out a little shriek. He of course, being a man, thought I’d had yet another orgasm, and he was just as proud as a man can be. I don’t mean to make fun of him. I really do love him. I just mean that in the sex department things weren’t all that great right from the beginning. But we had fun together. And until last summer, we could be relaxed and comfortable with each other. I feel sometimes now like I’m getting to know an entirely different man.” Hilary lifted her cup to her. “I’m getting another – want one?”

“Keep that caffeine coming.” She handed over her cup.

She wondered how things would have changed for Tom and her if he hadn’t had so damn much self-control that last weekend. She sighed. The relationship could go only one way – away. And not because of sex. Because he wanted something she couldn’t give. Over the last two months she had given it a lot of thought. Did he just need to fulfill that expectation to marry and have children, and anyone would do, or did he really want to spend his life with her? She’d find out soon enough. All he needed was a job. If the “who” was less important than the “what”, she’d be reading about his wedding plans before too much time passed. Maybe she’d be writing the announcement – weddings were in the Lifestyles section. Wouldn’t that be something?

Hilary returned with two coffees and a napkin full of cookies.

“They’re really taking pity on us during exam week. All the sugar you can eat with your coffee.”

“So, do you and George have any plans for the summer?”

“Oh, same as last summer. He’s supposed to come for a visit. But he cancelled once, he could do it again. My parents are beginning to think he exists only in my imagination. He can’t take much time from his summer job anyway. He has to make as much as he can before he goes back to school.”

Kerry nodded. George was taking the full four years to finish college.

“Do you mind if I ask you something?”

Kerry laughed. She had just finished probing Hilary about the intimacies of her sex life, and Hilary’s seeking permission to ask her something?

“What are you really afraid of with Tom?”

The therapist was in.

“It’s not Tom I’m afraid of. It’s what he seems to want out of life.”

“Meaning?”

“He’s programmed to live a traditional life—husband, father, bring-home-the-bacon kind of thing. The very thought of that gives me an anxiety attack. I picture my haggard mother and how miserable she is. You know she told me if she lived in our generation she wouldn’t have had kids, maybe not even married. It’s not that my father isn’t a good man. It’s just that pigeon-holed existence women get forced into when they marry. You see I’m having trouble breathing just talking about this.

“I’ve watched her get more miserable and more phobic with each passing year. Because she’s trapped in a powerless, unfulfilling life. She’s a bright woman. And what has she got to show for it? She’s a wife and mother. Period. I want to make something of my life.”

She took a deep breath.

“You know how I feel about being a wife and mother,” Hilary responded. “We’ve had that talk before. But we also said you have choices. Have you ever talked to Tom about this without automatically shutting him out, like it’s black and white, no gray?”

“Ever the therapist, encouraging open communication.” She smiled fondly at Hilary. “But it’s more than that. Even if Tom were open to an alternative relationship, I don’t want to live my life with him.”

Hilary looked genuinely confused.

“You’re crazy about him,” she exclaimed. “Why would you not want him?”

“I’ve known him since I was in eighth grade. We went through puberty together. We know each other better than most brothers and sisters. God, how boring is that? We’ve already had every conversation. Life with a man with no new layers to peel off? Wake me when I’m dead.”

 

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THE EYES HAVE IT

It seems like I’ve been working on this novel forever, but it’s actually been a little over a year. My happy news is the manuscript is completed and in the hands of the editor I use to help polish my work. He’s brutally honest, so I suspect I’ll have some work to do when I get it back. But I’m all about aspiring to making my novels the best they can be. Here’s a short summary:

The Eyes Have It is a twenty-first century Romeo and Juliet meets Splendor in the Grass. A wartime affair reaps tragic consequences a quarter century later.

During the first Iraq war, Josh Regan falls for the enchanting Samar, a young Saudi Arabian woman, although he is engaged to his college sweetheart, Emily. Twenty-six years later, Josh and Emily are married with two teen children, Olivia and Carl. Josh’s family is blissfully unaware of Josh’s wartime indiscretion and the son, Jamail, who resulted. Olivia meets and falls hard for Ethan, the second son of Samar and eight years younger than Jamail, this time with her American husband, Brian.

Although raised Catholic like his half-brother Ethan, Jamail converts to Islam when he spends two tours of duty as a Marine in the Middle East. Back home, he attends a mosque known to have radical views. Jamail leads a terrorist attack at the Saratoga Race Track on the day the Regans have their annual family outing there. He kills Josh and wounds Emily, then goes into hiding. He reaches out to Ethan who, with great ambivalence, leads the two families to Jamail, hoping they can convince him to turn himself in. Instead, Jamail raises his automatic rifle toward the family members. Ethan lunges in time to block the shot, taking it himself. Olivia rushes to Ethan while Jamail coldly aims for another shot. But the next gunshot is by FBI, whom Carl texted on their way to Jamail.

Ethan spends several days in an induced coma, while his parents and Olivia maintain a vigil and, Olivia believes, are solidifying their bond. But Samar and Brian decide the relationship holds too many complications. They encourage Olivia to go home to help her mother and promise to call when Ethan is weaned from the ventilator. They break that promise, and instead tell Ethan that Olivia decided their relationship couldn’t work after all that happened.

Can Ethan and Olivia find a path back to their love through the forest of lies?

Once I complete the inevitable rewrites recommended by my editor, I’ll be off and running with queries to agents and publishers. Wish me luck!

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Writing Goals

I recently subscribed to David Farland’s communications, and this one jumped out at me. Most of us talk about goal setting, but how many of us follow through? Read what Mr. Farland has to say about goals:

https://mailchi.mp/xmission/david-farlands-writing-tips-time-to-get-serious?e=d6bb19ca2f

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How Many Story Types Are There?

Interesting perspective on what makes for a story type and what that means:

https://www.janefriedman.com/there-are-only-2-types-of-stories/

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The Comeback Challenge

How did it happen? How is it that I’ve written only about 8000 words since November 2017?

First, my litany of excuses–some valid, some unworthy.

December was, well, the holiday season! At first, I kept saying, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” (who can guess the source of that quote?). When Christmas came and went with nary a word put to paper (or computer), I simply shrugged. Everyone deserves a break, right? I’d get back on track in January.

And I did, sort of–at half pace. I have a monthly goal of 10,000 words. 5000 seemed better than the December nothingness.

Two weeks into January, I was crushed by my first flu experience in thirty-plus years. I lost the last two weeks of the month.

Then there were no other excuses except the lethargy of inertia. Each day I woke vowing to knock off at least a thousand words. Most days I did much less or none at all. By the end of February, I had barely 3000 words written by the time we left on a 2 week Caribbean cruise. I thought–hoped–I might be inspired while away. But there was way too many fun things to do, and it was our first cruise ever, and I just had to immerse myself in the experience.

So here I am, almost halfway through March with nada.

How does one break through the inertia? My past practice is to go back and read what I last wrote. In addition to providing opportunities for editing after being away from it, getting back into my story often gets my creative juices flowing. The truth is, I’m excited about this novel. It is, in so many ways, much stronger than my previous writing. Immersing myself in, say, the last chapter or two might get me moving.

And then, as with any worthy effort, the good intentions have to translate into:

Just Do It (2)

And I will.

 

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