Some People Rescue Dogs

Some people rescue dogs: old, young, abused, abandoned, incorrigible, lost, or otherwise rejected. I admire those rescuers, both for their compassion and for their willingness to dedicate a significant amount of time and resources to restoring an animal’s security.

I’ve rescued a few cats over the years, including the current one, who has never, in her 13 years, been able to decide if she wants in or out. Mainly though, I rescue plants. There is less care involved and, if they totally fail to revive, I don’t have a guilty conscience over tossing them into the trash can.

Summer is the time of year I go into full rescue mode. Although the savings are significant, that’s not the real reason I gather scraggly, wilted plants from clearance tables–preventing them from being thrown out by the garden store or market vendor.

Perhaps I’m influenced by the advice my parents gave me, “Don’t discard anything that’s “still good.” However, I have a more compelling reason for hauling home half-dead plants every year. It’s the challenge. Can I revive this plant? Will it flourish? Surprisingly, nearly all of them do. They are tenacious; I love that about them.

My kitchen window sports a large pot full of blooms. An outdoor container has moss roses spreading their vivid color, and a geranium outside the kitchen door is doing it’s best to produce a flower cluster now and then.

And . . .

I also have a hard drive loaded with short stories, both partial and complete. Add to those the completed manuscript of a novel I’ve decided to revive, numerous essays, some creative-nonfiction pieces, and assorted poems. Some were rejected; some never submitted. A number of them are uneven, rough, or outdated. The question? Are they worth rescuing?

During an NPR interview with Nora Roberts in which Peter Sagal asked her if she ever experienced writer’s block. Did she ever run out of ideas? She told him, “Oh, no. There are 88 keys on the piano, but do you run out of music?” I couldn’t stop thinking about that answer, because why not rescue bits and pieces of our writing and give them a second chance in a different form.

If you are one of those incredibly talented–or just damn lucky–people who haven’t garnered a collection of rejection slips, I applaud (and definitely envy) you. But, if you have, like many writers I know, felt the despair of defeat a few times, then consider my rescue theory. Maybe that novel, story, essay, or poem isn’t dead; it doesn’t need to gather digital dust in your documents folder. Treat it like the dog, cat, or plant that’s been given another chance to thrive.

Your work may fit into a different genre than you thought it did. It may require tweaking to make it age appropriate, or interest a slightly different audience, but that usually doesn’t require an extensive rewrite. Maybe it just need to be condensed to fit current publishing guidelines, or expanded to enhance your overall theme.

Sometimes all it takes is a shift in chronology to appeal to the contemporary reader. A nod to the pervasiveness of social media might suffice. Changing the titles of the songs your characters listen to; upgrading the model of car they drive; modernizing their language, including slang, can make your work seem fresh and new.  Even recognizing current concerns–economics, politics, the environment–can revive a moribund manuscript.

The publishing market for genre changes as well. For a while, memoirs were in demand, then they were glut on the market. With the advent of reality shows, there is still a market for good memoirs that have a universal theme. A former adult novel may now be suitable for YA with few changes. Dystopian fiction, ignored by publishers in the past, may be highly relevant in 2017. I hope you root around in your file drawer, or on your computer, and find something wonderful you forgot you wrote.

Happy salvaging.

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Finding Your Tribes

Using the terms tribe or tribal can be risky. To some, these words carry deep meaning, while to others they are simply convenient nomenclature.

On the serious side, tribe can indicate a deeply traditional group sharing a common culture, ethnicity, religion, economy, or circumstance. The term tribe or tribal in this case is not only serious, but often sacred.

In a more casual usage, it can refer to people who form a community (often scattered) because they share a common interest, experience, or goal. In this case, they are usually more ”kindred spirits” than actual “kin.” To say, ‘My tribe,” is a way of aligning oneself with a group: mountain climbers, knitters, survivors, artists, or maybe just the people you went to school with or that lived in your neighborhood.

I live in a border state–not completely southern, but not northern either. April seems to be the month everyone chooses to plan their yearly events, probably because Spring is usually lovely here. This April was no exception: book fairs, receptions, award dinners and cultural events all fell within a two week span. The book fair brought me into contact with my “writing tribe.” I enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new authors I admired. It was fun; it was comfortable; it was great shop talk.

Near the end of April, I was invited to a potluck luncheon at the college where I’d formerly taught. I left teaching over a decade ago in order to spend time writing, traveling, renovating a dwelling. I almost didn’t go, thinking I’d not have much in common with the current group of profs and instructors. At the last minute, I made a dish and showed up. True to my expectations, I didn’t know most of the people teaching there now. Some of my former colleagues had retired; two had died; several were still teaching, but had skipped the luncheon. What I didn’t anticipate was the benefit of being in touch with people I hadn’t talked to for a dozen years.

The pleasure of connecting to several former colleagues and friends outweighed any awkwardness I’d initially felt. We hugged, we gossiped, we laughed, and of course, we ate. I’d still like to know who brought the great chicken wings, and where they purchased them.

I left the luncheon thinking, “That was great; I was with my tribe.” Tribe is not a term I use; I never even think to use it, but it was the phrase that kept running through my mind. I realized then that we can, and do, belong to more than one tribe, and that for someone interested in writing, it’s a valuable tool.

Although several of the people at the luncheon were writers–and in fact taught English–others taught science, mathematics, computer programming. Our shared teaching background, however, soon established a level of trust, and our casual conversation became more serious, touching on the real concerns, joys, and sorrows we’d all experienced.

Why is finding more than one “tribe” valuable to writers? One of the more obvious is that writing is a lonely endeavor, often isolating. We sit at our computers, tablets, or maybe an old IBM and write. It’s not like cooking with friends in the kitchen, cheering us on and refilling our wine glass while tasting our latest dish. Rather, it is a room or corner where we can concentrate–and agonize–alone.

Fiction writers need to create a variety of characters with depth, personality, believable motivation and authentic dialogue. If we are writing a story or novel set in the present day, we need to keep the technology and jargon current. I can’t think of a better way than to connect with a former group with which you shared an interest, even if it seems like a couple of lifetimes ago. The old maxim, “Nothing changes; everything changes,” couldn’t be more true.

While the warmth and shared memories may give you pleasure, your writer’s mind can also file away a lot of useful information and impressions. The next time you create a character, he or she may present as a more authentic personality; speak the current language of their environment, pursue new dreams, and face new challenges appropriate to the times.