Unsolicited Advice: Attending Conferences

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Last week, I had an amazing opportunity to attend the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference. I had gone before, but not for about three years. Coming back was like coming home, in a writers-bonding-with-writers kind of way. It’s a community like no other, and there’s nothing quite like talking about writerly things with people who have been there, who understand the struggles and the wins just as you do. I thought of a few things that I learned, and whether you’re a writer or not, they should apply to situations related to your own career in which you might find yourself:
1) Follow Directions/Read your handouts: It may sound like a no-brainer, but be prepared. Know where your classes are, and how to get there. Bring the materials that the instructors want you to bring, and in the manner that they told you to bring them. There’s nothing quite like missing out on some valuable information that could change your career because you didn’t double space your sample pages (which I’m certainly glad I did!)
2) Don’t be an A-hole: A good life rule in general, but definitely applies to the conference scene. The last thing you want to do is sit down to a pitch session and stare wide-mouthed at the person in front of you, thinking to yourself, “Oh (insert expletive here), this is the woman who I couldn’t be bothered to hold the elevator for this morning.” Remember, no matter how brilliant your work is, nobody likes a jerk, and more importantly, nobody wants to WORK with a jerk. Would you?
3) Read, Read, Read: Would it kill you to read a book about your craft? Nope. I admit, this is a rule that I’m trying to get better about following. Hence why I bought books by all the master class speakers whose workshops I attended. Which brings me to the next rule…
4) ATTEND THE MASTER CLASSES: Yes they cost more money. There’s a reason for that. I learned more in those half day sessions than I learned in the vast majority of my college classes. GO! You’ll be glad you did.
For more information, email me at authorreneenmeland@gmail.com. Happy reading! 

The Extraction List may not be that far off

We’d like to think that The Extraction List could never happen, but that may not necessarily be true.
Recently I was reading an article in Parents Magazine that, quite honestly, terrified me. In an age where we’ve decided everything from what we had for breakfast to a traumatic disease diagnosis is everyone else’s business, it seems there’s a new way that we can butt into other people’s lives. It was talking about the new, trendy practice of being a “parental vigilante.” Basically, instead of talking to each other like adult-type people, people are calling the police on each other if they see someone making what they would consider a parenting mistake. In the article, many a mother made a split second decision and found a police officer knocking on her door as a result. Of course, there are definitely situations where the police should be called, but as a society, do we really want to, for example, risk a child being separated from his/her mother because she left him in a car for fifteen seconds to put her cart away at the grocery store? Because yes, sending the kid into a broken foster care system is soooo much better (read thick sarcasm here) than him being in his car seat well within his parent’s sightline for a couple seconds. As I said, of course there’s a line where it’s appropriate to call the police, but how hard would it have been to just keep an eye out and let the parent be on her way? There has to be some balance. No one likes to think that there are children out there being abused, and we know that some children do need our help. But can we all agree to sprinkle a little sense into the situation and not make it worse?
What about you? Have you ever experienced a parental vigilante? Or have you been the vigilante? What made you decide to act? Would love to hear from both!

Brace yourself, I’m about to go Full Republican up in here…

Statistically, in 2014, 1 in 274 households were broken into. There’s nothing quite like waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a stranger trying to find his way into your home. Or even better, you get a heavy knot in the pit of your stomach when you realize they may have already succeeded, and the unfamiliar noise you hear is actually coming from your living room.

This has happened to my husband and I twice.

We were fortunate enough that the first time it happened, we came out of our bedroom to find the rest of the house undisturbed ( we still don’t know what the noise was. It has sounded as if someone was rummaging through our kitchen drawers. Then it sounded like someone was trying to move our eliptical. It was that loud. I’m going with “ghost” as the explanation, but that’s a story for another time). The second time, the sound that we thought was a child crying on our front porch ended up being two cats fighting like Roman gladiators outside. We’ve all heard the stories about people using a child to play on a victim’s sympathies so that they will open their locked door and find a criminal waiting for them on the other side. On a side note, if you are ever in this situation, do the safe thing and call the police.

While a part of me was still terrified, I was able to keep my cool, and have, dare I say, a sense of calm. There was exactly one reason for that:

My husband and I have guns.

If our original thought had been correct, and there had been someone in our home, we would have been able to defend ourselves. We would have been able to protect our nine-week-old daughter. I understand that some people say that a knife or a baseball bat is still a weapon, but I’ll tell you one thing: if the person in your house has a gun, they aren’t going to let you get close enough to stab them or hit them.

I realize that some people don’t believe in guns, or aren’t comfortable with them. That is entirely your choice. But there’s nothing that shatters your sense of control quite like a break-in. Part of why I am comfortable with guns is because from a very young age, both my husband and my families taught us that guns are to be respected. They are not toys. My husband and I ALWAYS treat our weapons like they are loaded. When he was younger, he did competitive shooting. By all means, if you have a gun, you need to familiarize yourself with your weapon if you plan on using it. If you aren’t willing to use it when the situation calls for it, then yes, maybe for you it’s better to not have it at all.

Something else that my husband came up with that I recommend all responsible adults do: we practice loading our weapons at inconvenient times: when we’re tired, when we’re stressed…why? Because a criminal is not going to make sure that they break into your house after you’ve had a full night’s rest and just took a calming bath. You need to be able to think, and use your weapon properly in any circumstances. Believe me, the first time my husband made me load my gun at one in the morning,  I was not amused. But after I thought about it, I knew he was right.

I know you anti-gun advocates are probably seething as you read this. That’s ok. That’s why I love America: we can disagree. And I’m not saying we should take a drive to the nearest  mental hospital and start handing out AK-47s. Most of us do want to make sure we don’t let guns fall into the hands of people who have cruel and horrendous intentions. But we have to be careful of the slippery slope: we don’t want to regulate guns right out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Regulations don’t fix bad common sense either, and unfortunately, that will always be a factor in the gun control saga. By all means, disagree with me. The minute we’re afraid to have a healthy dialogue, we all lose. All I can speak from is my own experience, and in those instances, I am more than happy with the fact that I live in a country where I have the ability to defend myself and my family.

Another important note to remember: we all would like to think that when we call 911, the police can be at our door within a minute and a half to save us. That is not always the case. It’s not like each house has its own police officer who is assigned to protect it and only it. Sometimes, 911 operators have to prioritize because there aren’t always enough officers to go around. Scary thought, right? Of course, if you call and say “someone is in my house,” they will probably be there right away. But what about in situations where you aren’t sure?  I can tell you that  when we called 911 and said there was crying coming from our front porch, it took at least fifteen minutes for the police to show up. Thank God it was only cats, but what if it wasn’t? What if they were wrong in thinking that our situation wasn’t an emergency? Fifteen minutes is plenty of time for someone to break our door down, or climb through a window. When it comes to your family’s safety, do you really want to have to depend on someone else’s judgement call?

Thank you for reading.

Confession Time

Confession time. Everybody ready? Can I get a drum roll from someone? No? Ok…

I am not sure I’m writing for the “right” reasons. I’m told you’re supposed to do it for the joy of doing it, for the love of your readers, etc. This all may be true, and those things are very important to me, but…

I like to win.

I have a closet competitive streak. I don’t show it much, but several times a day, you’ll see me checking my best seller ranking on Amazon.

Because that, my friends, is the only scorecard I have for this writing thing.

Yes, I love getting a great review. Those keep me going when sales aren’t where I would like them to be. But I’d be lying if I said I would be ok with staying exactly where I am as a writer. The joy of doing it isn’t enough. I’m grateful to anyone who has ever bought my book, I truly am, but I look at that rank to get the next high, the next feeling of victory. That sale is my scorecard.

I want to win.

I realize that everyone dreams of being on the New York Times Best Seller List. But that’s truly the mark of where I would feel like I won. My dad taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to, and I can’t help but hope that maybe, just maybe, he’s right. I know that’s a long ways away, if ever, and I don’t know what to do in the meantime, because I need those highs, I need those wins. So my quest now is to find those little victories: the new Twitter follower, the new “like” for my blog…something to sustain me. Because we all need to feel like we crossed a finish line before everyone else, to feel like we got first place in something. If you don’t, bottle it up and send me some. Until then, I’m going to continue the hunt.

The Mystery Review

I’m going to do something a little different for this review. Ready for this? I’m not going to tell you what book it is. There are several reasons. One is that I’m sure the woman who wrote it is very nice. Another is that I firmly believe that just because I don’t like a book doesn’t make it a bad book. In fact, there are millions of people who love her work, so many that she’s been able to publish a number of novels in the realm of Stephen King.

But I didn’t like it. In fact, I described it at one point as word oatmeal: goes down easy, but boring as hell.

I’m going to focus on another avenue for this review though. I’m going to focus on the fact that she breaks almost every writing rule I’ve ever been taught, yet she is wildly successful; which makes me think, if you can succeed without the rules, are there really any rules at all?

Show Don’t Tell- I don’t know the physical description of any character in this book. I don’t know what the town looks like. I don’t know what the characters’ homes look like. All I know is background information that the third person narrator told me. The world wasn’t alive to me, nor were the people, because I had to hear it all second hand. My brain didn’t even have a chance to make my own picture, make my own story, because everything I got sounded like a report, as if someone had read the book for me and was telling me what it said. Not exactly the greatest reading experience.

Make The Reader Care- Maybe I’m a big jerk. Could be. But I didn’t care about the characters. At all. Maybe that’s because there were about twelve of them. Seriously. And all of them had their own stories spread out in tiny chapters all across three-hundred-seventy-something pages. I forgot who people were and had to go back, that’s how spread out they were, which left me having more emotional involvement with the snack I was eating than the characters.

Don’t Leave Things Unresolved- Even though I was bored for 400 pages, I did want to see how each person’s story played out. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. In fact, some of them found a dead body about ten pages before the book ended. I was thinking “Ooh now we’re talkin’!” then I realized there was no more book. I am afraid I won’t be reading the next one, so I guess I’ll never know who they found. But unfortunately, she made me not care.

What about you, dear readers, have you read a book that broke all the rules?

 

 

What Science Fiction Phenomenon The Walking Dead Taught me about Mortality

I debated a long time about writing this post. I’m not usually a very deep sharer, if you will. I prefer to keep my private thoughts and fears private. But in this particular instance, I’m wondering if other people have experienced the same thoughts that I have during this whole pregnancy adventure. So please, feel free to share your own words, and maybe we can learn from each other, or at the very least, feel like we aren’t the only one to ever experience something.

I am over the moon about our daughter coming into the world. I can’t wait to squeeze her and see her tiny little fingers for the first time. But I have noticed that this whole process has triggered something else in my head, something far less fun to talk about: I know it’s completely ridiculous, and that I have no control over the world spinning, but it’s almost as though I feel like by deciding to have children, I have given permission for time to pass into a different phase, as if I’d somehow given permission for the aging process to begin. Since I found out I was pregnant I have become more aware than I have ever been that there will eventually be a time where my parents and our dogs will no longer be here on this earth with us, and my heart is breaking. (***Note: I have a HUGE phobia of something happening to my husband, a deep, penetrating fear that goes deep to my bones that makes it extremely difficult to watch him get on an airplane, but that started long before I got pregnant, and is a story for another post)

My parents and I have always been very close. I am an only child, and until I got married, we didn’t have much extended family in the area. There was never a performance or recital where I looked out into the audience and didn’t see my parents waving back at me. I always knew that my mom would be standing in the kitchen watching Northwest Afternoon when I got home from school, and if I was lucky, the house would smell of cookies. They always made sure I knew they were there for me, and we helped each other through anything life threw our way. Now that I’m married, they show the same unending support to my husband, and what was three has now become four.

My dogs are my babies. Period. They are my children and I love them as such (if you are one of those people who doesn’t think of your dogs as your kids/a member of your family, you are entitled to your opinion, but you might as well unfollow my blog because I talk about them all the time). The first year of Bee’s life, I was pretty much by myself. My good friends were spread across many states, and in some cases, across the world. Of course I had my parents, but when you are at the age where you are years out of college, you usually want to hang out with people your own age. So needless to say, my social life was scant at best. It was Bee and I against the world. She took care of me as much as I took care of her, if not more. When I’d be getting depressed as I popped in a movie that I had just picked up from the video store (again), she would snuggle up in the nape of my neck, as if to say “don’t worry, mom, you have me, and everything’s going to be fine.” And she was right. Besides that, I liked her more than I liked most people anyway.

I met Bubba on my third date with my husband. When I walked in his house for the first time, a little teddy-bear-face greeted me at the door, and I’m sure my heart just exploded. He looked up at me with his big brown eyes, and has spent his every waking moment (and his sleeping moments as it were) making me smile. He snorts when he’s happy, and I’m pretty sure if that sound doesn’t melt your heart then you have no soul. All he ever wants from the world is to snuggle and get belly rubs, and of course, to tell his mom and dad how much he loves them with a thousand kisses.

So before I get to what The Walking Dead has to do with any of this, I have to give you a little bit of background on my personal spiritual structure. I believe in God. Part of that belief comes from coming up with answers to the universe’s most puzzling questions. One of the most haunting ones that comes up when someone is trying to decide what they think about such an important aspect of life is this: why do bad things happen to good people, and vice versa? A great question, and a valuable one. The answer that I have come up with that makes sense to me, is this: all things in the universe exist in balance. You can’t know what good means without bad. You can’t know what fairness is without unfairness to compare it to. Everything is somewhat defined by what it isn’t, and some things in God’s great world come at a price.

Which brings me to The Walking Dead, and something that The Governor (of all people) said during one episode. If you are a fan, you know that The Governor is not usually someone you would look to as a purveyor of universal wisdom. But that day, he said something that stuck with me. A person was suffering, going over every good and bad decision he had made in his life, and The Governor told him it was “time to pay the bill.”

Balance.

No one likes to suffer, or looks forward to it. But in certain situations, the reason WHY we suffer is because we had something so wonderful. Loss would not be so profoundly difficult if the thing we lost wasn’t precious. If my parents spent my childhood passing me from babysitter to random relative to some random boarding school out of state instead of giving me the best childhood anyone could ask for, if they had removed themselves from my life as an adult by just not giving a shit, the suffering that losing them will bring would be significantly less. If I hadn’t been able to call my mom several times a day, and get advice from my dad whenever I needed it, maybe the wound wouldn’t cut so deep. If our dogs didn’t bring so much unconditional joy into our lives, maybe I wouldn’t be broken apart when they leave this earth. If they didn’t make my husband and I so happy every time they curled up to sleep on our laps, maybe our hearts would remain in tact.

When the tab comes due, we have to pay for the gifts we are given. The suffering that is imminent (though hopefully years away) is terrifying, and I know it will be a big job to put me back together again. I thank God that I have the best husband in the world, and that we will carry each other through it, but we will both be hurting deeply. But would either of us choose to give up the goodness that has been brought into our lives by my parents, Bee and Bubba? Never. It’s going to hurt because they are worth hurting for. Our hearts are going to break because they were made so full.

And that, my friends, is the bill we have to pay.

Question of Ethics

I asked myself a question the other day, one which I haven’t quite answered yet, and I am wondering what other people think. I was watching the cooking competition show Masterchef, and two contestants were squaring off against each other (WARNING: If you haven’t seen the episode yet, you may want to stop reading now). One had made a mistake and the result was that he did not have enough ingredients to redo the recipe to the correct ratios. The judges asked the other contestant, “If he had asked you for some extra (sugar, flour, whatever, I don’t remember the exact one), would you have given it to him?”
“Yes I would, Chef,” she responded.
Now here’s where I’m torn: on the one hand, it’s a competition. If she doesn’t win against this person, she goes home….game over. And part of competing is staying focused and not making mistakes, and if someone does, they need to be responsible for the consequences for those mistakes. So for that reason, I would initially think I would have said no.
BUT….
There’s another part of me who would want to know that I beat him strictly because of my cooking. I would want to know that I didn’t just beat him because he made a mistake. Running out of ingredients doesn’t necessarily make you a bad chef…perhaps a bad competitor, but not a bad chef. So in that sense, I would want to say yes.

What about you, dear readers? What would you say and why?