Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday Feedback: Where Will Your Spark Come From . . . ? And, THE RULES.

Dear readers
(campers/teachers/librarians/aspiring writers),

here is what you might want to know about me as I lead you through a summer of writing:

I have no idea how I've written well over ten manuscripts, sold half of them, had four already come out in traditionally published form.


Like, zero.


I mean, yes, sure, fine: I know I did certain things, dug down, persevered, sat "ass in chair" for endless hours, hitting keys, and so on. But the stories themselves? Still after all this time, I have NO idea how those come.

Here's the hard cold truth:

I am not a person who has stories spilling out of my pores.

The world interests me -- moves me infinitely -- but it's the small moments I get caught up in, sort of free-floating curiosities -- beginnings, perhaps, but not more. Sparks of ideas, clearly without middles or ends.

A father walks out.

A boy too young to swim dives into a pool.

A tower comes down changing everything.

Someone draws a mark across someone else's artwork.

There is a moment of breaking.

A moment of healing.

Possibly, a moment of falling in love.

That's it, people. That's all I have when I enter into my stories. That is what I dive in with.

And, so, each time I find myself having finished one and back at a beginning, I doubt my ability, not to write the story once it arrives, but to have the story -- any story-- come in the first place.

And when it does, and I reach a middle and, finally, a shining end, I'm never quite sure how I got there.

So, HOW do I do it? Well. I can tell you how I don't. I don't sit at a blank screen willing shit to come. For me, that would never make it happen.

For me, for story to come, I take myself away from the computer and I swim.

I swim.

I swim.

And while I am swimming, I start asking myself questions:

What triggered this moment? And why does this moment matter to me? What does it say about life? About the world around us? About being human?

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?

And more questions: What do I have to add to that? What do I have to explore or impart?

What do *I* have to say?

Here's how some of the above moments might expand outward in that way to hint at story:

A father walks out.
A boy has to step up. Stop burying his head in the sand and learn how to be an adult.

To stop running away and come home.

How do we do this alone?
Maybe we don't. We find a friend.

I have something to say about friendship.

A boy too young to swim dives into a pool.

A girl is frozen, can't help him.


What has happened to make her afraid?

She has failed somewhere. Failed mightily. And now she has no self worth.

What will help her feel brave again?

Ans what do I have to say about this? Something about forgiveness:
Forgiving others and ourselves. . .

Someone draws a mark across another person's artwork.

That someone is a boy who wants to be an artist. He knows this is wrong,
so why?

He's hurting and desperate for connection.

He's got good reason: he needs help. Too much hurt and pain have piled on.

What do I have to say about this?
There are ways to seek help. There are good, skilled people who want to help us. And we also have the ability to help ourselves.

So, if you are about to embark on your Teachers Write/Friday Feedback summer, and have no story idea in mind, start looking for moments, asking questions, and walk away from the screen and jump into the proverbial or literal water and swim.

And if you already have that story started? Ask those same questions. Ask the louder and harder, over and over again. And keep answering them. Ask them through first and second drafts, and endless drafts of revisions.

AND now, without further ado, Friday Feedback Summer 2018 and THE RULES (they are there for a reason. Please read AND follow them!)


How does it work? Easy peasy:

Every week, I -- or one of my awesome guest authors -- will share a tiny bit of writing wisdom followed by an excerpt of our own ROUGH, UNPUBLISHED writing for your feedback. In return, we offer you the same opportunity: to share a brief excerpt in the comments for feedback from us -- AND from other campers!). 

See? Simple and exciting. There are just a few RULES: 

1. The Feedback should be specific and always be given in this order:

  • WHAT WORKS (and why)?;
  • WHAT MIGHT NOT BE WORKING if anything (and why)?; and

Please note the order of those. Here at Friday Feedback, our first goal is to be encouraging. We appreciate the gems in one another's writing before we offer up constructive criticism.

2. The excerpts should not exceed three (3) paragraphs, if long, five (5) paragraphs if mostly dialogue or otherwise short. This rule holds even if I, or my guest authors, post a longer excerpt. 

There may be 30 - 50 excerpts up here on a busy week for me and/or my guest authors to read. If you put up more than the requested length, we do not promise to read beyond the stated limits. You may post excerpts through Saturday and I will check in, but I do not require my guest authors to read past close of business Friday. 

3. We ask you to remember this: there is only so much we can realistically glean from a brief excerpt out of context. Friday Feedback is intended to be instructional and inspiring, but please know our feedback out of context of a full work must always be taken as merely that. Your job here is to take in the information as you will. Keep what you like. Toss what you don't. In the end, you are the boss of your own writing.

4. You may be the recipient of one of my patented "Superspeed Flash Edits."

Okay, fine, they're not patented, whatever. Sometimes, if your excerpt lends itself to me doing one of these, I will do so: namely, zip through your piece editing for passive voice (where not intended) unneeded words, wrong punctuation, repetition, etc.

I will NOT edit your own unique voice or substantive writing. This is an exercise intended to demonstrate how revision/clean up/intentional writing can truly make our voices pop and shine. And this is almost always SECOND DRAFT STUFF -- the stuff of REVISION -- and is merely intended to make you aware of potential tics and such that take away from your own beautiful worl.

If you do NOT want to be the recipient of a Superspeed Flash Edit for any reason, please message me at and I'll remember not to edit you. :) 

5. I know many of you work summers and may not find time to post your excerpt until late Friday evening. I do not ask any of my guest authors to return Saturday, but some of them are willing. I will often return Saturday morning to give stragglers feedback. Please don't post beyond that. Please note that Friday Feedback takes a lot of work -- often a whole day's work, offered to you for free as a source of inspiration and encouragement. If you participate here, please either order my newest title, IN SIGHT OF STARS, and the newest title of my guest authors, or if you are unable to purchase a copy, please reach out to your local library and ask them to order it in! And if you are an audiobook lover, I HIGHLY recommend Michael Crouch's stellar narration of IN SIGHT OF STARS. 

And, now, since I always go first, I just happened to have written a potential new beginning to my next novel (for those who have known me a while, you have seen this title floating out here for a long while now....), JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME.

I'm doing a major revision under the guidance of my fab editor, Vicki Lame, and playing with some voice and technical stuff in the story, so I'm anxious to hear what works for you, what doesn't, and whether you are compelled to keep reading?

The day is hot. We are running through a sprinkler in my backyard, dodging in and out of the water that fans over us, shrieking gleefully as cold droplets rain down on our tanned shoulders, our stomachs, our legs.
You push me closer as the arc of water returns, and I fall onto the grass, laughing, managing to take you down with me. The sod under us is new and soft, and the freshly mown blades stick to our limbs, our bodies, our faces.
We don’t care; we have no one to impress but ourselves. We are giddy with summer, with each other. We are still on the cusp of everything.
After, you turn off the hose, and we lie on faded chaise lounges we have dragged to the middle of my yard. Our chests heave with rapid, satisfied breaths in our barely-filled-out bikini tops.
You reach out and take my hand.
“You are perfect, JL, you know it?” you say. “I have never had a friend as perfect as you.”
“No I’m not, don’t be stupid,” I snap back, wanting to untangle my fingers, detach for a moment, but you only squeeze harder.
“Well, I think you are. I wish I were more like you, pretty and free, and not afraid of anything. Like your mother. Plus, I can tell you anything, all sorts of secrets and they’re safe with you – with us.”
You think it’s a compliment when you say this, to tell me that I am like my mother. To think I am unfettered in that way. Yet even as you say it, something else lurks at the edges of your words. You have judged me, decided who I am. And, at some point, I will prove you wrong and fail you. Something scares me deeply about this truth.
“I am not,” I say, my face reddening in protest, but you don’t look to see, and even if you did, you couldn’t tell my blush from the spreading color of heat from the sun.
“Are too,” you insist. “I wish I could be more like you.”
So maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe you’re not judging me at all.
I squeeze your fingers back, wanting to agree with you instead, to get back to the lightness, and hold onto whatever spell has you so enamored with me.
Or maybe I’m weak and don’t have the heart to call out the lie, or tell you how afraid of everything I really am.


  1. "You think it’s a compliment when you say this, to tell me that I am like my mother. To think I am unfettered in that way. Yet even as you say it, something else lurks at the edges of your words. You have judged me, decided who I am. And, at some point, I will prove you wrong and fail you. Something scares me deeply about this truth."

    I love this section. It engages and intrigues and makes me want more.

    1. Thank you, Susan. Since this is a brand new and experimental thing i'm doing with a long, differently written manuscript, that info is helpful...

      And happy summer! Hope I will see some writing from you soon! <3

  2. Thanks fir sharing! Looking forward to Teachers Write.

    What works for me: The hot and carefree feeling of summer speaks to me right now. I feel the heat and I watch the joy of my kids running through the water and then lounging around like your characters. The feelings of not wanting to be compared to one’s mother, feeling judged, and having others who are close to you not see what your life is really like are familar and well-described! I’m definitely interested in reading more!

    1. Thanks, Jen! Helpful! Happy summer. Glad to see you here!!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this piece. I am intrigued and want to find out more about these girls!

    I like the way you hint at their age without telling us how old they are. From what I can gather from the text, it seems to me that they are pre-teens with comments such as, “We are still on the cusp of everything” and “in our barely filled-out, bikini tops.” These comments, tied with the fact that they are frolicking in the sprinkler, let’s me, the reader, know that they are on the verge of adolescence and change is coming- for better or worse!

    1. If only for the better, but worse is so much more page turning! Nice to see you here, Kristi! Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Okay, maybe three times is the charm. I keep thinking I’m posting but never see anything come up when I look back in the comments. I have a love/hate relationship with technology.. So....
    Gae, so glad you are doing Friday Feedback again. I love reading snippets of what people are working on. And I love your new piece. The description made me feel like I was right there and reminded me of times in the summer. You captured a carefree attitude and then filled it with attitutde as your character struggled with comments about her mother. Very intriguing. Can’t wait to read more. Also thank you for sharing your process of getting an idea and then fleshing it out into a story and then sticking with it into a book.
    Here is a little piece that right now I plan to use as the opening to a new YA novel I am plotting this summer and hoping to start in the fall. Thanks again and if it’s already been posted and I’m not seeing it, sorry.

    You can’t steal Jesus.
    You can ignore him.
    Use him as a cuss word.
    Say he doesn’t exist.
    Celebrate him or not at Christmas and Easter.
    But you can’t steal Jesus.
    I know.
    Because I tried.

    1. It posted, Martha! I see it and love it and am so very intrigued. What a punch you packed in those few small words. Because I tried is the very hook that, yes, compels me to keep reading!!!

      Happy summer! Gae

    2. I am also hooked...religious stories, stories where the character knows something about history always intrigue me. I WANT more..

    3. I'm intrigued! What an interesting opening!

    4. Love Nora stopping by! She'd be hosting next week!!

    5. Oooh, I'm also very intrigued! Is the whole book written in verse?

  5. I love the description of carefree youth in summer! So easy to be transported into that moment and age. And I was intrigued by the set up of deeper emotions, of being compared to a mom, of letting people down. I definitely can’t wait to get into the meat of that conflict.

    My curiosity took over in the middle of those two sections, not being able to get past my wonderings about their relationship. They go from carefree to sort of tense. Is this just the narrators anxiety or is this some sort of tension between them? Is there history here?

    Thank you for sharing with us!

    1. All helpful questions, Jen. The narrator is taking us back there -- really her friend, the YOU, after several years when conflict/history has already unfolded. Hope to read some excerpts of yours this summer. :)

  6. Oh, happy summer of writing!

    I'm intrigued to know what this relationship is. Is this relationship mutual? Who gets hurts? I know there is conflict or it's coming, but I want to know more. I love that the line about the mother just slips in, I almost missed it. I went back to reread after reading, "You think it’s a compliment when you say this".

    The lines that made me feel young were "We don’t care; we have no one to impress but ourselves. We are giddy with summer, with each other. We are still on the cusp of everything." This reminds me of summers long ago, it works. I adore when I read and can be sent back to my own memories in life. I want to read more.

    Today, I am not ready to share. I'm sure in the weeks to come I will :)

  7. Thanks Anne Marie. Lovely to see you here! Looking forward to when you are ready!!!

  8. I love this so much - first I love your post because my writing is not going how I want it to go this summer... my time, inspiration, etc. I feel like my ideas are stuck in the back of my head, and I'm just having trouble. So I loved reading about your process, etc. Thank you so much for sharing. As for your excerpt, The voice is really working for me -- the use of "you" makes me feel like I am there. I definitely want to read more. :)

    1. Thanks, onathought. Glad the post helped. Keep asking those questions, especially away from the screen! Good luck!

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  10. Hello there! 2nd year participating in TW.
    No personal writing to share, but here is my take on your writing...

    I like where the story is going. I can relate to the
    character - the world seeing one thing but you knowing they don't see everything, or if they did they wouldn't think the same of you. I think it is a relatable feeling with adolescence-age children, or even young adults who are branching out from school to real-world.

    1. Thanks, librarygirl. Guess no one is ready to share writing just yet! Happy for feedback on mine. Thanks for chiming in. :)

  11. Hello everyone! I saw this yesterday but then forgot (I was so immersed in my own writing) and had to search it out. Gae, this beginning pulls me in and sets up many questions in my mind about these girls, who they are and their friendship. I especially liked the first three or four paragraphs -- I can picture it so clearly! This is an interesting writing style. This line stood out to me: "You have judged me, decided who I am. And, at some point, I will prove you wrong and fail you." It makes me feel that the narrator is very self-aware, to realize this at a young age.

    I'm going to post a snippet of what I'm working on in my novel right now, even though I realize that it's Saturday and I was supposed to post it yesterday.

    If it were only me, I’d take the stairs to Dr. B’s fifth floor office, because an elevator is not a great place to be if the power goes out. But the stairs were too hard for Mom with her cane. I rode with my hands in tight fists the whole way. Mom and I hadn’t talked much since what she called my “outburst” yesterday and I definitely didn’t want to be trapped in an elevator with her.

    When I went into Dr. B’s private office, she had to wait outside. The cool leather sofa wrapped around me.

    “I’m here if you want to talk,” he said, as usual. “How was your week?”

    I gave him a quick summary. Dr. B must’ve noticed my eyes watering, because he reminded me that sad feelings are part of life. I wondered if he’d say that about my mad feelings too, and how long it would take to stop feeling mad at Mom. Getting Whisper was her idea in the first place and it wasn’t a good one. Not if it hurt so much.

    1. Oh, Andrea, this is a moving little excerpt. I'd forgotten Whisper et al over the months and am now reminded how compelled I am -- this moment makes me -- to know what has happened. What is going on? How can Whisper have caused such trouble and will it be repaired? I especially love, "The cool leather sofa wrapped around me." I feel that. Can even hear the soft "pffft" noise it made first when she sat and sunk down into its comfort. Keep going!

    2. Andrea I loved this. Your paragraph "If it were only me, I'd take the stairs to Dr. B's fifth floor office..." packed so much emotion into it. It made me wonder what the outburst had been about. More importantly as I read your excerpt I wondered who the actual patient was, the mother or the daughter. I also wonder who or what Whisper is. Definitely makes me want to read more.

  12. Hello! I would like to comment first on your preceding paragraphs about how you have a little idea, and then you write a book from that! I am always interested in the author's writing processes. Thanks for sharing those. about the excerpt - YES - I want to keep reading! The carefree summer days, hanging out with our best friend. Why will her best friend start to drift away? Why does JL feel this way? What is it about her JL's mother, and why does JL already feel like a failure? I am so glad to be back for my 2nd year. I really enjoyed last year and Friday feedback.

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