Posted in Life, Writing

The Unexpected Evolution of Character

I just came across this unfinished blog post from a year and a half ago, and it made me laugh, so I decided to finish it. I no longer spend all day writing in coffee shops, and the manuscript I mention here has been collecting dust for months, but come summer, I hope to be having more awkward conversations in public and putting more words on the page.

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The Unexpected Evolution of Character

I spend a lot of time writing in coffee shops. Recently, I walked into one and saw a man standing in line with his little boy. The man looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. I claimed a spot at my favorite little table in the corner, grabbed my wallet, and headed to the counter for my large café au lait. The man was still there. Worried that perhaps I did know him and was being weird by not speaking to him, I said, “You look familiar. Do we know each other?”

He said, “I don’t think so. I’m Jeff,” and he offered his hand to shake.

A brief conversation led us to the conclusion that we didn’t know each other but both frequent this coffee shop and had probably seen each other here before. By then it was his turn at the counter. He handed the barista a large glass jug and asked for a refill of the shop’s cold brew coffee while his toddler toddled around between us. By this time, a woman had entered and was standing in line behind me. Out of the blue, she said to me, “Do you like to heat it up?”

I stared at her. I said nothing. No appropriate responses came to mind. After standing there awkwardly for a moment, wondering if her words would make sense if I’d already had some coffee, I said, “Um… what?”

She nodded toward the man in front of me and repeated, “Do y’all like to heat it up?”

Well, this was completely inappropriate. No, I did not like to “heat it up” with this man. I didn’t even know this man. I suddenly, desperately wanted to be safe in my cozy corner table with my headphones on to block out the world, especially crazy women who asked me shockingly inappropriate questions. Seeing the confusion in my eyes, the woman said, “Oh, are you not together?”

Me and Jeff? No! We just met, barely, sort of, in line. It turns out the woman was referring to the coffee. She also likes cold brew coffee, but in the winter she likes to heat it up. Well, not Jeff. He never heats it up. In fact, he likes it better cold in winter. I stood there while they bonded over their favorite beverage until it was finally my turn to order my café au lait and scuttle back to my corner table, slightly scarred by the whole ordeal.

In a way, though, it fit perfectly with what I was struggling with in my current manuscript: I didn’t know who my main character was. I mean, I knew who he was in general. He was a kid being haunted by ghosts who were mad at him for skipping Halloween. But the specifics of the kid—his age, his family situation, his attitude—kept changing, making him feel vague and hard to pin down. I was employing the bracket method I learned in a workshop at The Writing Barn with YA author Ashely Hope Peréz. While writing my messy first draft, I placed brackets around prose that needed to be fixed or blanks that needed to be filled in or story ideas that I wanted to come back to later. It’s a great tool to keep you typing when your brain wants to second-guess or micromanage every little thing, but my brackets were getting out of control.

In one paragraph, my character (whose name kept switching from Donald to Miles) went from being a carefree, ten-year-old orphan to a surly, twelve-year-old kid who resented his parents for going on a vacation without him. At one point he even (briefly) changed gender. I was feeling discouraged about my lack of consistency.

But after my encounter at the counter, things suddenly seemed less dire. I mean, here, in real life, in less than five minutes, a man had gone from being a familiar-looking stranger, to an acquaintance, to my husband with whom I possibly liked to “heat it up,” and back to an acquaintance again.

So I dove back in to my messy manuscript, and I allowed my character to be whoever he/she wanted to be in that moment. I typed and typed and bracketed and bracketed, the only rule that I keep the momentum going forward. And after half an hour, I actually felt closer to my character, who at this point I was sure was a boy named Miles with parents who were alive. Slowly but surely, he began to reveal himself to me, and I felt more comfortable about where we were going together.

Much like Jeff. After all the confusion, I can now say with certainty that Jeff is a man who lives in Austin, has a young son, and likes cold brew coffee, even in the winter. That is all. Our story ends there. Miles’s however, is still going. I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

 

Posted in Life, Teaching, Writing

3 Publications and 1 Excuse

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I’ve always loved the fall. Cool weather, crunchy leaves, and of course Halloween. This year, though, the season is throwing a few special treats my way, and I’d like to share them with you.

Coming Soon

My short story, “The Night Children,” will be published in the October issue of Havok Magazine. The theme is “Hallo-Whimsy” and my little horror story boasts a considerable amount of boogers and farts. 🙂

Next, my sci-fi flash fiction piece, “Reap,” will be published soon at DailyScienceFiction.com. I don’t know the exact date yet, but I’ll be sure to post the link when it appears. It will be free to read online.

Last, I’m thrilled to announce that my poetry chapbook, Death Can’t Sleep, was selected as the winner of the Yellow Chair Review chapbook competition! Here’s what Logen Cure, the contest’s judge, said about my work:

“Carie Juettner’s Death Can’t Sleep personifies Death in his everyday moments: waiting at the post office, ordering a latte, flying coach. Juettner strikes the perfect balance of fanciful and mundane in creating a reality in which everyone knows Death on sight; they make way for him in subway tunnels, avoid his doorstep on Halloween. These poems are imbued with sensitivity, humanity, and wry humor. Juettner’s Death is an ambivalent anti-hero, a necessary outsider, and I am grateful for this window into his world.”

I’m so proud of the little collection of poems and so excited that it will be published in 2017.

Excuses, Excuses

My biggest piece of news this month isn’t about a poem or a story or a book. It’s about a little bit of soul searching and a big decision.

Last week, I went back to teaching seventh grade English.

It happened fast, and I think the universe had a hand in making all the pieces line up just right. The short version is that I applied for the job, and one week later, on a full moon Friday, I was meeting my 150 students. I still don’t have an email address or any posters on my wall or even a mug with the mascot on it, but I’ve been teaching for a few days now and I feel pretty good.

Some of you are probably remembering this post about why I left teaching. I remember it too. I’m not taking it down. Every word of it was true. But it’s four years later and there are new truths to consider. It’s true that I’m older and wiser and better at managing my work/life balance. It’s true that I’m at a new school, in a new district. And it’s true that I’m a teacher. Deep down I’ve always been a teacher, and I was ready to go back.

I’m also still a writer. But… (Here’s where that excuse comes in.) While I’m learning the ropes at my new school and getting to know my many students and balancing the scales of work and life, my writing life may be a bit neglected. Already, my social media presence feels more like a social media absence, and I’m typing this post on the couch with my sore feet propped up on the coffee table, keeping one eye on the clock which is telling me I’d better get to bed soon if I want to be awake to greet my first period class.

So, if you don’t hear from me for awhile, don’t worry. I’m here! I’m okay! I’m just trapped under a pile of grading and trying to get 150 twelve-year-olds to stop asking me to “dab.” (<– I didn’t know what it was until last week either, and I refuse to discuss it in case my students found this post and actually read all the way to the end. Look it up. Or ask a middle schooler.)

Posted in Writing

Inspiration Only Gets You So Far

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Austin is such an amazing town for writers. Independent book stores, author events, poetry readings, book festivals, literary archives, professional organizations, classes, workshops, meet-ups, indie presses, conferences—we have it all. I gushed about some of my favorite local literary highlights in this post, and I stand by everything I said.

I have friends in other parts of the state/country/globe that don’t live on such fertile writing ground, and I feel a little sorry for them. They can’t even imagine the number of opportunities I have for networking, listening, and learning. There’s just so much inspiration here!

This summer alone, I participated in a writing conference and an online workshop, attended a panel discussion and an author interview, led a write-away day at The Writing Barn and met up with various writer friends to drink coffee, share ideas, and bond over this strange and wonderful writing life. All of it was excellent.

But… (Yeah, there’s a but.)

This may sound a bit blasphemous, but I’m actually starting to envy those writers who DON’T live in a thriving writing community because, well, I bet they get a lot of work done.

The thing is, inspiration only gets you so far. Eventually, you have to actually sit down and WRITE. Otherwise, all those techniques you learned and exercises you practiced and great advice you heard and connections you made don’t matter. You have to put the inspiration to use or it doesn’t mean anything. The writing is the key.

Calendar

I recently went back to work full time-ish. (I’m a substitute teacher, so my job is pretty flexible, meaning random and confusing and literally all over the place, but I’m trying to book a job every day because I like having money to buy things.) All of a sudden, my available hours have shrunk and my available hours that I am awake and running on at least 70% brain power have shrunk even more.

This weekend, I looked at my calendar for the month and—man, oh, man—it is full of so many amazing things! Volunteering for one writing organization and monthly meetings with two more. Two book launches at my favorite local book store and one poetry reading followed by an open mic. An author interview, and a meet-up with writer friends, and a panel discussion, and a poetry festival, and one event that even has free wine. Yes! Yes! Yes! Wait… Noooooo! When am I supposed to write???

I sat down, put my head in my hands, and wished I lived out in the country or possibly in a city of illiterates. I found myself envying those friends who don’t live in thriving literary communities.

Which is silly. Utterly and completely silly. Because, obviously I don’t have to go to all these things. There is literally ONE event on my calendar that I have to go to because I’m assisting at it. The rest? I can just say no. Remember that, kids of the eighties? JUST SAY NO.

But it’s not that easy, because I WANT to go. The book launches are both for friends of mine, and of course I want to celebrate their amazing successes. The poetry festival is always so much fun and all my poet friends will be there. The author interview is with someone really interesting who I’ve been wanting to meet. And free wine? Come on!

Sadly, though, I can’t attend everything. I will have to pick and choose. I will have to say no. I will have to live vicariously through others when it comes to some of these events because I am a writer, so what I have to do is write. There’s no point bottling up all that inspiration if I don’t make time to let it out.

So here I sit, erasing some events from my calendar. I’ll miss you, friends! But if you don’t see me at a meeting or a workshop or a festival in the coming weeks, don’t fret. If I’m not there, it means I’m writing. And that’s a good thing.