A Journey of Character, Overdue Goodbyes, and Heroes With Flaws

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I’ve been maybe avoiding writing the review for this book. Not because it isn’t good. Perhaps more because it opens doors to truths I wasn’t sure I was ready to acknowledge, and that’s a sign of a very good book, but it’s also heavy on the emotional toll. Walking on this journey with Elsa made me look into some goodbyes of my own that maybe were long overdue. And now, flaws and all, is a book review.

my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry by Fredrik Backman,                                   (English Translation by Henning Koch) Washington Square Press(370pp),                      ISBN 978-1-5011-1507-3,  Buy it on Amazon ($12.80)

“Because all seven-year-olds deserve superheroes. And whoever disagrees with that needs their head examined.” Elsa, on superheroes. 

Just reading the back of the book is enough to tell you that the story’s protagonist is a seven year old dealing with the death of her grandmother. The title makes you ask a lot of questions. And the book itself? If you have ever dealt with losing someone you love, it might shake a few thousand tears free; if you have been fortunate enough to not go through this toll on the emotions then there is still a character journey that awaits you.

Elsa is an incredibly intelligent and peculiar young girl going through the stress of divorced parents, new families, a new sibling on the way, and struggling with losing her grandmother (and rock in life), and the discovery that her heroes have flaws.

In a method similar to P.S. I Love You Backman gives you Elsa’s grandmother, who takes Elsa on a journey of goodbye through letters to people she wants to say she is sorry to. In a way these letters and Elsa’s blunt seven-year-old outlook not only help Elsa, but those throughout her quest to understand how to let go; of her grandmother, but also of events that have taken place in the past that continue to add weight to their present. This aspect of the journey does not become apparent until the second half of the book – and the way that Backman does this is subtle, and surprising. The foreshadowing does not clearly outline how the events take place, but like a puzzle, once the final piece is in place, you can clearly understand how the scenery is connected to make a whole picture.

Through the power of imagination and love, Elsa and her grandmother help bring a community together. As a stronger community, unified and hole, they are able to support Elsa in healing of her own. The final result? Maybe a broader understanding of grief and the healing process for the reader as well.

Some Planning, Some Shiny Distractions, Some New News

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Yesterday was the autumnal equinox – which is my absolute favorite way to say this – and with the changing of the season we often see ourselves looking at what we can change in our day to day. And yet it’s so easy to see something shiny and find ourselves distracted.

In the spirit of autumn I have spent the weekend cleaning out closets, prepping for the cold weather on the way. I’m very ready for boots and sweaters, scarves and coffee, finger-less gloves to do some typing in, and this has taken up a lot of my focus over the last couple of days.

With the thought of typing in mind, I’m trying to not let myself dive too deep into the story I’m working on because I can’t write anything until November 1st (NaNoWriMo here I come!) while at the same time trying to create a realistic road map to work off of when it’s time to get started. Sounds like it should be easy enough. Unfortunately, as I am figuring out, this is not the case. Although I guess if I am eager to get started I should take that as a good sign, and be positive about what’s coming next.

Because I’ve reached an impasse with my writing – I don’t want to wander too far down a road into other stories right now – I’ve been thinking about some of my other projects that I have coming up, and I realize that maybe now is as good a time as any to get started on them.

Podcasts are coming back! I spent the summer taking some time off from my podcast, thinking about where I really wanted to take it and I’ve come up with some great thoughts. It’s definitely taking a different path than the episodes I started with and I think this is a good thing – I was definitely wandering a little lost trying to find my way and I think I’ve got some great ideas that will help keep me on path a little better  – recording starts next weekend and I can’t wait to get that out to everyone.

Prepping for the upcoming blog posts. Sneak peak: an upcoming book review (I know, I fell behind here, and definitely have some catching up to do), a review on writing tools I have recently been checking out, and of course a run down on the NaNoWriMo prep I am doing. November is going to be the week by week check of NaNoWriMo progress and newbie walk through of how things go and what I find to be the most helpful processes. Looking forward to the journey!

Let me know if there are any specific tools you’d like to hear about, or blog posts you are looking for either in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

Now That You Know You Can

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Friday has come, and Friday has gone, but I DID IT!! I made my deadline, created my submission account on Writer’s Digest, and submitted my short story. My first piece that is going to be read by someone I’ve never met. Pretty daunting when I think about it that way. Pretty exciting too.

I’ve spent the last few days since I hit submit thinking about the process and wondering what I’ve learned that will make this easier in the future. To be perfectly honest, the online submission process itself (creating an account, verifying file formats, submitting) was the easiest part – Writer’s Digest has certainly made their online process streamlined and incredibly user friendly. You get an email receipt as confirmation. I am not sure about the mail submission process; if someone has ever gone through the steps to mail in their submission I’d love to hear about it.

Everything else? The outlining, planning, writing, and editing? I’ve talked about all of that over the last few weeks as I’ve agonized over getting ready for this contest. One thing to note here, I’ve always hated the idea of planning my story out, the whole process of outlining has always made me feel overwhelmed. This is often because I start with a sentence or conversation in my head and work my way out from there, an outline – I’ve always thought – limited my ability to do that. This experience has shown me that I can merge the two methods together – outline my overarching story and then begin writing with the lines or conversation pieces that occur to me. I have to say that doing it this way is what made all the difference to me actually finishing the piece.

Now that I’ve learned a bit more about my outlining style I’ve become an insane person – I have ten pages in my notebook with brightly colored post-its to scribble down notes and ideas for scenes or locations. The bright colors and the clean notes make me happy when I sit down to work on my research and outlining, instead of making me dread the process, and I think that’s going to make a huge difference going forward in November for NaNoWriMo.

The last several weeks has been a rewarding learning experience. I’ve discovered new ways to work with outlines, learned that editing isn’t nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be, and discovered that I can complete something when I set goals.

Do you have other ways that help you with your writing process? I’d love to hear about them in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

Reaching the Finish Line

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This is it, coming into the final stretch of my goal – submit 4,000 words (or less) to a short story competition. Am I going to make it?

Yes! A loud, and resounding yes. I still have some tweaking to do, but I have sat myself down and done not one, not two, but three edit reviews. After slashing an additional 200 words (you’ll remember that I started with removing just the first two paragraphs, and dared to call that editing) I went back through and started thinking about how it all flowed. I managed to add another 190 words back in, but this time it added to the story, it maintained the flow, and gosh darn it, it added consistency. I feel like everything makes sense and it was a story that even though I wrote it I was excited to read.

I’m sitting on the current final version right now, I want to do one last read of it before I decide I am actually 100% fully finished. At this point I think I am just holding on to it because of nerves; I’m not quite ready to hand my work (physically or virtually) off to a stranger for judgement. That’s the next hurdle I have to overcome. It can be done. It WILL be done. Just maybe I need to hold on to it a teensy, tiny bit longer.

In five days I will officially be done with this side of things, and the agonizing wait to hear final results will begin. I’m not even sure what the time frame is for that waiting period. Weeks? Months? I imagine it will be a considerable amount of time. After all, I anticipate thousands of submissions for this contest along with mine, so there will be many days of reading ahead of the judges. And many days of waiting on pins and needles for me.

Actually, not really. I imagine the first few days will feel agonizing. However, as the days go by I have lots of new projects on the horizon. Next up: I’ve decided to take the plunge this year and try to complete a NaNoWriMo. 4,000 words had seemed difficult at first. Now I want to see what I can do with 50,000 words. In thirty days. Think this is something you would be interested in? Check it out at their website here. Have you already completed one and have some insights to share? I’d love to hear about it in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com

 

The Importance of Following Through (even just for yourself)

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I want to start this week by saying … I DID IT! 4,000 words (well 4,079 words, actually) completed. I finally finished an entire project. Since this has been the hardest part for me I have to say I already feel like I can do anything. Now for the part I never thought I’d get to … the dreaded editing.

Some people like editing, it’s like a puzzle that soothes the soul. And in some cases, when looking at other people’s work, I can relate. It’s easy to stand outside of things and see where changes should be made, or what can be cut. It’s so much harder to stare at your own work and tear it apart limb from limb. A bit dramatic, sure. But that’s how it feels. Each piece you read feels as important as the one before. You took such effort, such painstaking effort, to create the story and now you have to acknowledge the parts that maybe are not that great.

So that’s where I’ve been this week – I completed my rough draft immediately after the blog update last week so I had plenty of extra time to start slow. So I did. Start slow. And I’m still going slow. Actually, I have managed to get as far as cutting two paragraphs. Then sending both the original rough draft and the minor edits to a few people to read for a sanity check. And then avoiding all work on it. And I do mean all. So much so that I avoided my computer yesterday.

Today I am smacking some sense into myself and reminding me I have a deadline I need to meet. I have exactly eleven days until the early bird deadline. Add another month onto that for the final, no more submissions accepted, deadline. My goal has been focusing on the early bird deadline. Because I am a firm believer in rip the bandage off and get on with it.

Let’s look over the accomplishments. Story finished, check. Ahead of schedule, check. Editing, not check.

How will this affect me moving forward? Really the two paragraphs I removed bring me to under the word count required. That’s good. Feasibly I could submit that and call it done. Should I? I’m going to go with absolutely not. No way in this lifetime should I submit an unedited, not reviewed piece.

Why Not? After all the impetus for submitting to this contest was to finish something. Goal accomplished.

Because now that I have completed something I feel like it would be wrong to submit something that I didn’t give everything I have. I feel like if I should submit something that has not gotten my full, 100%, absolute focus then if I don’t win I won’t know if it’s because I only went half way, or if it’s because it really wasn’t up to par with the other submissions.

I’ll never know, really, what I’m capable of if I don’t bring everything I have.

So, I’m almost done hiding under my covers, avoiding the computer. It’s about time I force myself to follow through and go all the way.

What does that mean for what’s next on the horizon? This time next week I will have at least one attempt at editing done, and a better idea on how I feel about the final.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with writing goals; you can share in the comments or feel free to contact me directly through the contact page or via email: hsellers@heather-sellers.com