70’s Flashback – Fashion is Dead?

Project Runway Season 9 premiered last night.  That show is my one and only TV addiction.  (Yes, even after last year’s Gretchengate.) 

Tim Gunn is my super hero.  If he asked, I would give that man my car, my cat, even my kidney.

One of the contestants this year is 57-year-old Bert Keeter, who graduated design school in 1977.  Of course, he’s my early favorite….which almost certainly means he’s doomed (but I hope not).  Anyway, in honor of Bert, I found this hilarious pseudo-serious documentary film on 70’s fashions. 

Dixie Lee Connor Writing for Children or Young Adult Award

Guess what.  A writing award.  I won me one.

WOO HOO!!!!!

[OK, it’s not exactly a prestigious national award, but the recognition still feels soooooooo delicious!]

This weekend I attended the 17th annual Harriette Austin Writers Conference in Athens, GA. Like most writing conferences, they offered manuscript critiques for an additional charge.  Unlike any other conference I’ve ever attended, they also featured a mystery theater dinner (Murder on the Disoriented Express).

There were many wonderful moments during that conference.  I met some amazing, creative, writerly people.  I’m not going to detail the full experience here, but let me just say that it was well worth the time and money.

Funny thing is, I wasn’t going to attend.  Someone posted a notice about it on the SCBWI Southern Breeze email listserve.  The presenters and evaluators were excellent and that mystery dinner intrigued me, but I ignored the burning desire that always comes over me whenever I learn about a new writing conference.

You see, I’m a bit of a writing conference addict.  And I’ve already paid to have the first 15-20 pages of NOT SO LONG AGO, NOT SO FAR AWAY critiqued by professional editors, authors and agents 8-10 times.  (Seriously, I’ve lost count.)

All of the critiques have followed the same basic pattern:

EXPERT:  “Well, you certainly know how to write.”

SLAY THE WRITER: “Thank you.”

EXPERT:  “I’ve made some comments and minor suggestions, but it’s all very minor.  This is good quality writing.  Is the manuscript complete.”

SLAY THE WRITER:  “Yes.  The full word count is just under 90,000 words. Would you be interested in seeing more of it?”

EXPERT:  “Possibly, however…”

[Now this is the point in the session where the expert can stop giving professional writing feedback and offer their own personal preferences about the type of book they would prefer to read/represent/publish.]

  • “…I don’t like epistolary novels.  You’ll need to rewrite it in another format.”
  • “…I don’t understand the Star Wars element.  If you’re willing to take out all references to Star Wars, I’d be willing to read more.”
  • “…I think you should just write this as a memoir with a Star Wars focus.”

What I think:  No, no and hell to the no!

What I actually say:  “Thank you for your time.  I’ll consider your suggestion.”

Then I walk out and try to to pretend there isn’t a black shadow squeezing all the air out of my chest.  Try to ignore the slobbering gremlin in my head screaming, Why am I so weird?  Why do I write these weird stories?  Why can’t I use this writing ability to craft simple plots these publishing folk can easily label and categorize?  Maybe I should just give up and self-publish.

After the Atlanta Writers Conference in May, I decided I would never again pay for a critique of this novel.  And I also vowed to stop attending writing conferences until my second novel is complete and ready for submission.

So, when I saw the HAWC announcement, I ignored it.  For a while.  Then a good friend of mine started a new job at UGA.  Suddenly, I had another reason to visit Athens and a free place to stay.

I signed up for the conference, but still didn’t submit my manuscript for critique.  The day before the submissions deadline, I was looking over the list of evaluators thinking I might submit the first 15 pages of my current work-in-progress and noticed something I had missed the first time.  One of the evaluators worked on the Star Wars novelizations.

Gad zoinks!  Holy Star Wars geek-out!

I printed off my first 15 pages and scurried off the the post office with checkbook in hand.

And, just as I’ve always suspected, the guy with an understanding of Star Wars geekery and enough life experience to remember the initial craze in 1977, he seemed to “get” my concept.  He didn’t tell me to ditch the Star Wars.  He didn’t tell me the format was wrong.  He didn’t question the genre.  He nominated me for an award.

And now I will sit here and savor the deliciousness for at least a week.  Maybe longer.

70’s Flashback – The Hills Have Eyes

On this date in 1977, Wes Craven unleashed his third horror film on the world. 

The Hills Have Eyes had a budget of $230,000 and grossed $25,000,000.  Wow. Why is it only horror movies seem to be able to perform this low budget/pure profit magic trick?

WARNING:  This preview is NOT approved for all audiences.  If you don’t love horror, don’t watch. 

I have never seen this 1977 cult classic, nor would I ever consider watching the 2006 remake.  Horror is most definitely NOT my genre.

Thing is, there are elements in horror that can draw me in for a while–the relentless building tension, the hints and innuendo, and underneath it all an element of mystery that keeps me wondering, what the hell is going on here?  I know something terrible is lurking around the edges of everything I’m seeing.  There is a black, bubbling threat under the surface of the most mundane moments.  So I will watch, hooked and unable to look away, until the first graphic explosion of violence.

Then I’m usually happy to turn the whole thing off and move on.  But sometimes I don’t look away.  Unfortunately, I usually pay for it later.  The movie Se7en haunted me with nightmares, creeps and flashbacks for days, weeks even.

What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen?  The worst “horror hangover” you’ve ever experienced?

Fight or Flight – Two Days, Two Very Different Perspectives

On Saturday, I attended a writer’s workshop entitled Writing for Health with Brenda Stockdale. Even though I have not yet read her book, You Can Beat The Odds, I’m still going to wholeheartedly recommend it.  She shared quite a few excerpts during the workshop and just those sections would make the price of the book worthwhile.  Don’t write it off as just another book of airy-fairy hope for cancer patients.

This book is not just for people dealing with catastrophic or chronic illness.  No!  In fact I think it should be required reading for every reasonably healthy American (by which, I mean people with an absence of obvious illness and/or disease).  In a very short time frame (less than 4 hours), Brenda changed my whole outlook on wellness, health and healing.

This bold statement is coming from somebody who already had a huge predisposition and momentum of belief toward most of the practices and the concepts commonly referred to as “mind/body medicine.”  Still, this workshop blew me away.

When I left the meeting room and walked into the blazing Saturday afternoon sunshine, I was filled with hope and excitement and purpose.  It felt like a thousand butterflies were dancing all over my skin.  Seriously.  My brain was buzzing, already excited to try some of the simple writing techniques she taught and also planning to post a glowing review on this blog.

However, this is not going to be the post I originally envisioned on Saturday afternoon.

I do plan on writing more about this whole mind/body healing topic in later posts.  This is certainly a subject that fills me with passion.  Plus, I can’t wait to explore the way her work and the clinical research/results she shared all relate to one of my favorite topics–weighty issues.

But right now, I’m going to focus on one tiny little portion of her presentation related to the infamous “fight or flight” response, chronic stress and the effects on the body.

Now, I’m sure just about everybody has heard of the “Fight of Flight” response.  In case anyone has forgotten Biology 101, I’m referring to the adaptive physiological response to acute stress.

Human being perceives a threat…. Adrenaline surges…and activates the sympathetic nervous system.  Heart rate goes up, blood pressure climbs, glucose levels increase, blood redistributes from the digestive tract to the muscles, and hearing gets more acute.

Generally, a psychologists will explain the physiology of the response then they will relate all of this to human evolution and prehistoric times.  Caveman obviously needed this response to survive.  Whenever Caveman needed to run from a lion or wrestle a bear, this response was incredibly efficient and effective at increasing the odds of survival.  But then most psychologists will point out that mankind no longer lives the lifestyle of the caveman, so actual threats where this response is useful are very few and far between.

Good news for modern, city-dwelling folks, right?  No more wild animal attacks so all is well?  Not exactly.

In my experience, most of the experts will tell you this adaptive response, which was such a boon to our ancestors, is now a bit of a modern curse.  Most of the time we are having this response to stupid inconveniences like bad traffic, mean bosses and the evening news.  With no one to fight and nowhere to run, this handy dandy little evolutionary gift just wears us down and robs us of our vitality.

Most of the time.

Until you need it.

On Sunday, I wanted to go section hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  After a whole week plus most of a Saturday spent mainly sitting on my butt, my body was craving some serious exercise. My honey, always up for a good long hike on a pretty day, agreed.

We looped around one short section for about an hour, then headed up another section to sit on a rocky outlook with a spectacular view of the nearest mountains.  I’ve been there once before, he’s been there many times. It’s one of his favorite spots in all of the North Georgia mountains.

For some reason (psychic moment maybe?), I didn’t really want to tromp through the weeds to sit down and enjoy the view.  I tried to talk him into enjoying his sandwich alone while I hiked on a bit further and came back.  He was having none of it.  We bickered.  Begrudgingly, with a grumbling statement about how I was doing this even though I was not wanting to do this, I followed him to the outcropping of rocks.

It really is a spectacular, magical view.  I was thinking that as I sat down and started to take a deep cleansing breath to get over my earlier resentment.

To my left, just at the very edge of my sight, there was a sudden movement accompanied by a dry, papery rattle.

I was in motion before my brain even registered what it was.

“Rattlesnake!”  I heard him announce behind me.

Not with a note of (to my mind) fully appropriate terror.  No.  He was fascinated.  He stayed behind and observed the thing, calling back useful statistics like, “It’s a really big one.  I’ve never seen one out here before.”

Well, super Nature Boy.

My modern, city-dwelling butt was already halfway up the hill.  Let me tell you something, that Fight or Flight response, it can be a beautiful thing.  In fact, I was so hopped up on adrenaline when I arrived back on the AT, I could not sit still.  He decided to stay down there and eat his sandwich from what he assured me was a “totally safe distance.”

I decided to take the dog (canines and rattlesnakes do NOT mix) on up the trail (which was what I originally wanted to do anyway).  We ran most of the way.  That is not an easy trail.  We were flying!

At first I was thinking, I’ve got to keep moving, work out this fight or flight, use up all my adrenaline.  Then I was thinking, Oh my goodness, I feel like I could run for days.  This is powerful stuff this adrenaline.  Today I am thinking, ouch.

According to the Snake Whisperer, I was gone over an hour.  I would have guessed 30 minutes tops, but he is the scientist and was the only one wearing a watch.

Snake Whisperer would also like me to point out that sightings of the Eastern Timber Rattlesnake or Crotalus horridus are not terribly common in the North Georgia Mountains and bites are pretty rare.  The Eastern Rattlers are not as aggressive or dangerous as their Western counterparts.  They are usually calm, preferring to stay still or crawl away from humans instead of striking.

Methinks this means the snake maybe has more sense than the Snake Whisperer I am dating.

70’s Flashback – July 14, 1977: NYC Blackout

34 years ago, on a hot, humid, sultry summer night, the lights went out in New York City…

July 14, 1977: NYC Blackout | Video – ABC News.

I truly cringe as the ABC hairspray jockeys talk about the “animals” in New York City (even though they are quoting NYPD, or maybe that makes it worse).  Yeah…NYC had a whole different reputation back when I was a kid.

A Room to Write, Create and Just Be Weird…Coming Soon

I am plagued by this rather persistent fantasy…oh, I know it’s a mundane, sadly stereotypical fantasy among writerly types, but it still feels wondrous and magical to me.  Every time I think of it, my toes tingle and my creative heart flutters.

I am wanting a writing room.

Not a home office.  Not a library.  Not a “room of her own” which mainly functions as a safe space to shut the door when other people are clamoring for my attention.  No, I am wanting a creativity studio designed for storytelling.  A safe, nurturing place just for me.  In my mind’s eye, I see a room filled with chalkboards, bulletin boards, bookshelves, comfortable chairs, non-invasive lighting, plenty of power outlets and lots and LOTS of little drawers.  Maybe some funky typographic decor.

I’m talking about a working studio, not a picture-perfect, utterly clean HGTV creation covered in fabric and bows.  No. no, no.  I’m a messy girl.  I tell messy stories.  My creativity studio needs to breathe.  Power cords, Post-it notes, chalk dust, the fabulous elliptical machine (physical activity sparks my creativity), copious amounts of cat hair, mountains of mismatched books and ink/paint spatter are all part of my decorating scheme.  For me, it’s about function over form.  Still, it would be nice if the room was colorful and attractive.

There’s a whole magazine dedicated to this sort of fantasy called Where Women Create.  Yes, I’ve been know plunk down my $15.00 just so I could sit and drool over the “Inspiring work spaces of extraordinary women.”

Now here’s the sad/hopeful part. There is absolutely no reason why this fantasy room cannot become a reality in the very near future.  I have an unused spare bedroom.  Why don’t I have a writing room?

When I first rented my current home (a cute little cottage near Lake Lanier) in September of last year, it felt like a dream come true.  This home marks the first time in the history of me where I have had a space other than my bedroom or the living room to create my fantasy writing space.  I moved in over 9 months ago.  Why is that room still a horrid little dumping ground?

Right now, the room’s inventory includes:  one skinny bookshelf filled to overflowing, the fabulous elliptical machine (non-negotiable), a desk, a matching-but-uncomfortable chair and a lamp…oh, and five huge plastic bins chock full of more books, writing files and art supplies.  Unfortunately, there is not enough storage space to hide these ugly plastic bins and I need to have easy access to the materials inside.

I’m addicted to those design shows where the designer is given a very small budget to work magic in a single room.  My room probably wouldn’t even require $500 to transform into my dream studio space.  If only I would just “get ‘er done” and “make it work.” (Ha…I just referenced the catch phrases for the Cable Guy and Tim Gunn in one single sentence.)

Last week I decided to make it a top priority to whip that room into shape.  One week later, it’s not going so well.  The room is slightly less cluttered, but hardly a functional space.  I think it’s time to shame myself.

Here’s the BEFORE pics:

Walking into the room (the view from the doorway)...

...and the view from the elliptical (not exactly inspiring).


I am going to post AFTER pictures of this room within 30 days (so on or before August 12).  Even if the after pics look pretty much the same as these pics, I’m going to force myself to post.  If I can’t transform this room into a decent writing/creativity studio (not a designer showcase, mind you),  then I need to admit to myself that my will to achieve this particular little fantasy is simply not sufficient to make it happen.  End of story.  In which case, I’ll just keep writing at the kitchen table and move on.

Don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t an excuse for procrastination.  And I don’t think this writing room will make me more creative or more productive or anything like that.  I’m not waiting until I have this space to start writing.  (Currently, I’m about 1/3 of the way through my second novel and still going strong.)  No, this is just an itch I really need to scratch.

Any helpful suggestions to transform this room into a writer’s studio would be greatly appreciated, but keep in mind I’m a renter who cannot paint or permanently alter the cottage in any way.

By the way, in a separate but related topic, I recently read this post by River Jordan and experienced much envy.  Her “real life” as a published author is pretty much my fantasy life.  She has an editor.  She has an agent.  She has a marketing person.  She has a radio program. She’s published 5 books.  Feh!  Who needs room service in Cairo?

70’s Flashback – Schoolhouse Rock! America Rock

Here’s a question for all you children of the 70’s out there–can you recite the preamble of the constitution…without singing?  Well, I can’t.  So sing along with me…

Of all the Schoolhouse Rock songs produced by ABC and aired during Saturday morning cartoons, mainly during the 1976 – 1985 seasons, The Preamble is my absolute favorite.  Followed closely by The Great American Melting Pot and I’m Just a Bill. Honestly, I believe the entire Schoolhouse Rock compendium could be one of the greatest works of educational genius ever created, right up there with Sesame Street and the McGuffey readers.

Many of my family members and friends have been forced to endure my off-key renditions of America Rock songs as part of their July 4th festivities.  Because nothing says “Happy Birthday, America” like me belting out Sufferin’ Till Suffrage into my bottle of Sam Adams.

Originally, I had planned on posting this on July 4th.

However, when I looked up the songs on YouTube, I was absolutely flabbergasted to see the comments some people have posted!  Nasty, hateful comments filled with F-bombs, aimed at our country, our president, our constitution.  Seriously?!?!

Here’s what really kills me, sprinkled in among the hateful stuff, there were these sweet little comments from middle school students saying things like “Thanks for posting this.  It really helped me learn the Preamble for my Civics test.”

Listen, I absolutely, positively do NOT want to open any sort of political discussion (which is the reason I didn’t post this on the 4th of July and have stewed over it all week).  I’m all for the First Amendment.  But since when is dissatisfaction over the current state of our government a good reason to post hate messages under an educational video produced for children?  I don’t care how right, left or middle of the road your political beliefs are, without a little common sense, decency and manners you are always wrong.

And now I will get off my soap box and continue to sing, “We the people…”

Rejected…and it feels so good

Yesterday, I was rejected:

From: Joan @ EM Literary Agency
To: Trisha Slay
Sent: Tue, Jul 5, 2011 5:32 pm
Subject: RE: Requested Query – NOT SO LONG AGO, NOT SO FAR AWAY
Hi Trisha,
Thank you for sending more of this project my way. It’s intriguing and very well written—I certainly enjoyed reading it—but ultimately I’m not sure it’s working for me 100%. Beginning with the present-day letter strengthens it considerably, but the project retains something of an adult feel to me. Despite its young characters, I can’t shake the fact that it reads more like an adult book with a young protagonist than a genuine YA. I’m sorry this isn’t right for me, but it’s very possible others will feel differently. I’d be happy to see other work from you in future.
Very best,

The bad news is…this is not my first rejection.

The good news is…this is not my first “good” rejection.  In fact, most of my rejections would be considered “good” rejections by the topsy-turvy publishing world standards.

For those of you who don’t understand the rejection classification criteria, let me break it down in the most basic form:

  • Bad rejection = form letter/email that says “Thanks for your submission, but not interested.”  Even worse is absolutely no response, ever.
  • Good rejection = personal response with any form of compliment.  The fact that this agent invited me to re-submit another project is pretty much considered a solid “really good” rejection, but I don’t want to brag.

More good news…the fact that I am getting any type of rejection means I’m following my dream, submitting my work, not giving up.

I will consider what she said about this book being better suited as adult/mainstream fiction.  That said, I still think it’s contemporary YA with crossover appeal. And that’s the way I’m going to present it to the next 3 agents I choose to be the lucky recipients of my next 3 queries.

When I went to hear Shannon Hale & Libba Bray speak on their 2007 book tour, I loved the fact that Shannon showed us a roll of laminated rejection letters that she saved from her submission process for PRINCESS ACADEMY.  The letters stretched beyond the entire length of the library (a rather large and airy library in Menlo Park, CA), and yet the book was eventually published.  Not just published, it was selected as a Newbery Honor book and is one of my favorite books of all time.  And I do NOT read princess books.

So, yeah.  Back to submitting.  And hoping.  And wishing.  And praying.

Maybe if I get a longer roll of rejections then Shannon Hale, I will eventually get an award too!