Top 8 of 2014

I'm exhausted after this wonderful year :)

I’m exhausted after this wonderful year ūüôā

I’ve never been able to keep a diary for more than a week, so I’m amazed that I’ve been able to keep up this blog for over three years.¬†It’s easy to forget how much happens in the year, so I love¬†reading old posts to¬†remember all the great times and lessons. This was originally a top 10 list but I parred it down because I know you’re busy ūüôā Here are some of my favorite posts from the last year:

  • During the busy holiday season, this advice is a must read.

Here’s what to expect from the next year of the HeSo Project. I’m planning to change the look of the site, so don’t get scared if it looks different in January. I can’t wait to write about the retreat I’m organizing this February in the Catskills (there are only 3 spots left if you want to join), the reading series, and the upcoming conference! I hope to have exciting news about my novel in the new year.

I hope the next two weeks are joyous and peaceful for you. See you in 2015!

Stardust in Wallace, Idaho

On my way to Montana, I decided to spend the night in Wallace, Idaho, a town known for its mining history… and prostitution. I booked a night at the seedy, little Stardust Motel (with coin-operated beds)

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My home for one night.

Unfortunately the mining museum was closed because its only employee decided to take the day off, so I spent the afternoon taking pictures of the snow-covered town. I loved how the houses are built right up to the mountains.

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One of the only other people outside that day.

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The mountains seemed to dwarf everything.

While walking around, I started a conversation with a man who was digging his car out of the snow. He mentioned how most of the mountains behind the town were owned by timber companies. Hunters are allowed on the property to keep the deer and elk population in control. This little tidbit was exactly the situation I needed for my story. I could barely contain my excitement as I spoke to him. I don’t think he was use to talking to someone who was so interested in what he was saying.

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I love towns with main streets like this.

Since there wasn’t much left to do in town, I ate dinner at 5pm. I kept myself entertained by reading about prostitution in the town. As enterprising men moved to Wallace for the silver mining opportunities so did enterprising women. At one point, any woman walking down the street alone was considered a prostitute.

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This town was meant for snow.

The next morning I walked into an antique gun shop and started asking the owner some questions. He stroked his handle-bar mustache that was stained with chewing tobacco and gave me the same answer for every question: “I wouldn’t presume to know the answer to that.” I might not have gotten any information from him, but at least I can base a crazy old character on him.

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I could picture drinking many cups of hot chocolate in this house.

I stopped by the sheriff’s office to find out about accidents with animals in the town. Wallace is surrounded by wolf packs, bears, cougars and coyotes, but surprisingly enough, the citizens are most frightened of the moose. Apparently moose are very aggressive and destructive, while the predators are weary of humans and stay away. Another interesting fact for my book!

I walked around some more but I started noticing people staring at me. That’s when I remembered the history of prostitution and decided to head out before I got any propositions ūüėõ

Talking to strangers in Idaho

OK, everyone keeps asking me why I was in Idaho and Montana for the last 8 days. A section of the novel I’m writing takes place on a wildlife preserve in Northern Idaho. In the story, there’s a conflict between the local hunters and the conservationists, and since I’ve never been to Idaho and I’ve never spoken to someone who hunts, I thought it was about time to check both of those off my list.

I flew into Spokane, Washington, rented an amazing Subaru, and then drove 700 miles, stopping at every dinky diner, every remote visitor center, and every tiny museum. I even interviewed people as they scraped snow off their cars. What I lacked in a plan I made up for in chutzpah.

On the fist day of driving, I followed signs for The Museum of North Idaho. It was snowing hard (with already a foot of snow on the ground), and when I arrived at the museum it looked closed. Hilariously, there was a sign to pay at the “parking machine” which was a stack of envelopes for people to send a dollar to the city. The door of the museum was locked but a kind gentleman said I could come in just to get out of the cold. I started telling him about my book, and it turned out that he was the leading historian on Northern Idaho. He spoke with me for over 2 hours about Idaho and why the people don’t like government control, how hunting is a part of the culture, and what originally brought people to that region. It was fascinating. I’ve read a lot about Idaho, but his knowledge was so much more intense and nuanced.¬†

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Gil and his animals

A few days later I talked with Gil Mangels, owner of The Miracle of America Museum and Pioneer Village. He killed all the animals in the picture above and had a story about each one. Before coming on this trip I thought hunting was the dumb man’s sport. I had a picture in my mind of guys getting drunk on bud light and shooting whatever moved. Gil, and every hunter I spoke to, loves animals, loves being out in nature, and loves the fine¬†craftsmanship¬†and history of guns. He can tell you about every species of plant, the difference between a white tail deer and a mule deer, and the year and make of practically any rifle. His aim is a point of pride because he knows he will hurt the animal more if he’s not well-practiced. he eats all the animals he kills and even says a prayer for them after he brings them down. Gil and the other hunters I spoke to gave me such great insight for my story.¬†

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I never thought I’d get to hold a gun.

I realized half way through the trip that my main character was going to have to shoot a gun at some point in the story so I should know what it’s like. I found a gun and rifle club in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and introduced myself. I spoke with the NRA representative who couldn’t have been nicer. I was a little scared of talking to him because I don’t think people should own guns, but he believes as long as people want to own guns it’s his responsibility to teach them how to use them safely. He taught me how to shoot a 9mm hand gun and holy camoly that thing is scary. I could feel my arm shaking for a few minutes afterward. I cannot ever imagine pointing that thing at a person and I don’t know how anyone could carry it on their body, but to each their own. I’m glad I got to try it out, and meet so many people I normally would never come across.


My Journey Out West and Within

The beautiful mountains of Montana!

I’m getting ready to head over to Idaho and Montana to do some research for the novel I’m writing. I’m excited for the adventure, but most of all I’m proud to be taking my writing this seriously.

Last year I was hesitant about spending $300 on a writing course, now I’m spending twice that just on the rental car for this trip. Someone, and I can’t remember who, once said, “show me your calendar and your bank account and I’ll tell you what’s important to you.” I got to a point where I realized that I wanted to be a writing but I wasn’t backing up that claim with time or money. Not only is this trip going to help crystallize the details of my novel, it is a symbolic gesture of my commitment to the craft; a honeymoon for me and my writer-self.

I can’t wait to share more about it in upcoming posts. Wish me luck!

Jumping into an Open Mind

Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in the O...

Reynolds Creek southwest of Boise, Idaho.  (Wikipedia)

My reward for finishing the¬†first draft of my novel is a trip to Idaho; however, I wasn’t that excited about going to Idaho. Correction: I’m really scared to go to Idaho. In my story, the main character visits a fictitious big cat (cougars, lynx and bobcats) sanctuary in northern Idaho in late January by herself. My idea was to recreate the trip. It was very easy to come up with excuses not to go:

  • I don’t know anyone in Idaho
  • Plane tickets are expensive
  • It’s still the first year of marriage, I can’t go on a trip by myself!
  • There’s no guarantee my book will get published so this is a lot of time and money to spend on a potential hobby

Last week I decided, what the heck, I’m going to buy those tickets. Here’s how I responded to those excuses:

  • People are friendly; I’ll just stop in different dinners along the way and introduce myself as a curious writer.
  • Yes, plane tickets are expensive (about $600 to Boise),¬†but¬†a ticket to Spokane, Washington, which is closer to my ideal location anyway, is only $250.
  • Ok, the marriage excuse is just ridiculous. I’m scraping the barrel of excuses here.
  • My writing will certainly remain a hobby if I don’t take it seriously. My book takes place in Idaho so how can I possibly not go to Idaho?!?

A funny thing happened as soon as I stopped making excuses, and bought the ticket: opportunities began to appear. My brother’s sister’s college friend said she’d host me in Missoula, Montana (only a 4 hour drive from Spokane). She also said I could visit her parents in Idaho. I found another person who works with wolves who said she’d meet with me.

By opening up my search to Washington and Montana I made this trip possible. My advice to anyone who’s making excuses: keep an open mind and leap whenever possible.

Life Lessons from a Writer


My Storyboard

In all the excitement of Brutal First Impressions, I forgot to mention that I finished the first draft of my novel,¬†In the Pride!¬†216 pages and over 60,000 words, and that’s not even including the hundreds of pages from the three earlier versions I struggled with.

I started this book last November when I bought my first and only lottery ticket. The story was originally about a woman who wins the lottery but loses her life. Somehow that story became one about a big cat sanctuary (because that’s where I would go if I won the lottery). Now the story is about the connection between animal conservation and global politics — there’s still a sanctuary, but no lottery ticket in sight.

I hope some of the things I’ve learned from writing can be useful in everyday life :

  1. Show up¬†I recently came across the perfect quote by David Campbell: “Discipline is remembering what you want.” There were many days I didn’t feel like writing, but I forced myself to sit at my computer (with the internet turned off), recognizing that if creativity didn’t get me started, boredom would. Remember what you want most in life, and start doing it even if you’re not ready.
  2. Take it easy on yourself. When I write I have a constant voice in my head yelling, “crap!” It’s amazing I get anything done with that distraction. That’s when I say, “yes, this is crap, but even¬†roses grow in sh*t.” Expecting everything that comes out of you to be perfect is extremely inhibiting. Let yourself be average or even terrible, and have confidence that you’ll know how to fix it eventually.
  3. Let things go. After writing 100 pages of my first draft, I signed up for a writing class. My classmates all agreed that the writing was great but the premise wasn’t believable. I kept thinking that if I could just tweak a word here or there, I could make it work. I realized that I could work on that version for years before realizing that it didn’t make sense, or I could start over with a better premise. As soon as I let that version go the next draft was effortless. If the foundation isn’t right you need to let it go. I’ve seen the same thing apply in relationships. People don’t want to break up because they’ve invested so much time into a relationship, but if it’s not working, don’t waste even more time on it.
  4. The beginning is at the end I got this advice from a publisher and it could not be more true. While I was slaving away on the first 50 pages of my manuscript, I was neglecting the greater picture of my story. The publisher told me that I had to finish the entire story in order to know what’s really important. Now that I’ve finished it, I realize that the sections I was perfecting don’t really need to be in the story. When you get closer to the end of your life you begin to see what was really important and what was a waste of time. The only thing I can suggest is don’t waste time making things perfect. Stay curious until the very end.
  5. cover design

    A mock up of my future novel (with the old working title).

    Have fun and reward yourself¬†Throughout the writing process I’ve¬†pinpointed important milestones¬†that I wanted to celebrate. My reward for finishing the first draft is to visit Idaho, where my story is set, so I’ll be writing about that soon. I’ve also come up with different fun ideas to keep the vision of my book alive. A big goal will take over your life. It’s not enough to celebrate at the end, you need to have fun in the process as well.


Between Goals


My desk

When you have a lofty goal it’s crucial to set goals along the way, and then reward yourself for reaching those goals. It could take years to reach my goal of publishing my novel, In the Pride, so why should I wait that long to celebrate my hard work?

Recently I started posting my short-term goals next to my desk, and it’s a great reminder of the steps I need to take to get where I want to go. It’s also fun to keep track of the goals I have completed. Under each goal I write a reward. I’m currently on my third draft, so when I reach 100 pages (which I did this weekend!) I go out for a fancy dinner, for 200 pages I go to a writer’s conference, and for finishing this draft I will visit Idaho where a good chunk of my story takes place.

Another practice that has helped me stay motivated is logging the hours I spend writing. Sometimes it can feel like I’m working so hard with nothing to show for it, but watching the numbers accumulate is a great reminder of my commitment.

hoursspreadHope these tips can help with your goals!