Friday, January 29, 2016

Characters in Scout's Honor - Charlie Porter


#funfriday #ScoutsHonor

I wrote about my favorite character, Charlie Porter, when I blogged about muses a couple of weeks ago. Here is what I said:

When I wrote Scout's Honor, I knew that I wanted to have a main male character who was everything that I find to be good - in not just a best friend - but also in a man. So I created Charlie Porter. I knew what I wanted him to look like, his personality, the way he saw life and people, his own internal struggles, but more than anything, I wanted him to serve as the very definition of love. It know that's a tall order, certainly in this life, but if I get to be the "God" of my story, then I'm creating this guy. My book is not a "Christian" novel, meaning it isn't Christian literature or meant to be about Christianity in particular, although it does play a role in the story because Scout's family is Christian.

1st Corinthians 13 in the Bible is generally known as "the Love Chapter" because it defines love in such a way that it encompasses all types. You can read it and see friendship. You can read it and see marriage and romantic love. You can read it and see parental love. It runs the gamut. I wanted my character Charlie to be that kind of a fixture in Scout's life - someone who truly loved her - in every way a person could be loved - for her entire life.

Charlie Porter is a boy Scout befriends when they are only five years old. I tried to describe their first meeting in a way and at a place in the story that would evoke a lot of warm feelings within the reader. By the time you learn how they meet, the reader should be long invested in both of them already.

Charlie is from a single mother household, abandoned by his musician father, and basically lives in poverty. He is sensitive and thoughtful because of how he witnesses his mother's struggles but he is also strong because he has had to be the man of the house for basically his entire life. Charlie loves profoundly but quietly and he respects others - he is respectful of women. He isn't flashy or full of himself, but he has his own brand confidence... instilled in him by his mother, his friendship with Scout, the fact that girls like him, and the times in which he came along. He isn't overly driven and goal oriented, like a lot of young men aren't when they're young, until he gets out and does some things and figures some of those things out for himself. He's not quite sure what he wants in life for himself - he has some ideas - but he does know who he loves. And he knows he wants who he loves in his life, however he gets to have her.

His personality is one of genuine kindness. He likes to talk, he is friendly and nice to everyone he meets. People say that Charlie doesn't know a stranger. I wrote him as the kind of boy/man who people trust right off the bat because his goodness shines through every single thing he does. He doesn't make enemies. He only makes friends. He is never cruel or hurtful and he stays true to himself. Always. 

I hope that the readers will love Charlie Porter as much as I enjoyed creating him. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Poetry - Poem 1


#writingwednesday #poetry

I write poetry in addition to fiction. Here is one of my poems, inspired by this photo taken on the train tracks behind Pullen Park in Raleigh, North Carolina:



Riding Rails

Tempted fate and lost
There is no end
Onslaught
Torrents of unchanging tides
No relief in sight
Will it carry me away?
When it comes at long last?
I wait.
Ticket in hand


Happy writing,
-Dori



Monday, January 25, 2016

French Press Bookworks and Independent Publishing

#manusciptmonday #publishing

When I was done with my manuscript and then done with the game of trying to find an agent, I decided to look into smaller publishing houses where I could submit my manuscript directly. I looked for ones in North Carolina and around the South, but still...most of them were exactly like agents: query letter, detailed synopsis, first three chapters, and then....rejection form letter. All I wanted was for someone to read my freaking manuscript!

I started doing some research online and learned that there were a LOT of independent publishing houses popping up the world over due to the way the publishing industry has changed over the years: the self publishers who form their own publishing houses, the publishing houses who only provide services for self published authors, and then the publishing houses who look to publish books by independent authors, some of which are niche market books. This led me to Pen Name Publishing's website.

Pen Name Publishing promises to publish "diverse" books by "bold" voices. I thought to myself...my book is bold...but not necessarily diverse..it's white bread 'Merica. But what is "diversity" if there aren't any stories about white straight people also included? After all, the end point of diversity is that we are all human and we all experience much of the same things on some level, no matter the color of our skin or who we love or what we worship. At least, that was my thinking. So when I clicked "submit your manuscript" and read the instructions, I was happy that the company took my manuscript in its entirety.

A few weeks went by, and I received an email inquiring about my manuscript. The diverse books company wanted it, but they wanted to publish it under its imprint, French Press Bookworks. After researching that, I realized that Pen Name Publishing was trying give authors and readers the best of both worlds: a place to publish either their diverse market books or their broader genre books under different brands and then also a place for self published authors to purchase services to help them better market their work. I was ecstatic to be asked to join the French Press Bookworks family with my first book.


My impatience with the publishing house industry, which is obviously run by the big money big boys big media big whatever, led me to look into alternatives. I just wanted to publish my book. And honestly, I think while it would be nice to sell a manuscript and get a big advance and the backing of a big name, that rarely happens to anyone and certainly not an unknown like me. There are so many writers out there trying to get published and so many out there who then, after feeling like they're losing the game, just threw up their hands and said, "Screw it! I'll just do it myself!" And they do very well for themselves. If your goal is write...then write. The rest will take care of itself because in this day and age, the market saw a need for alternative publishing and made it happen. Independent publishers are everywhere.

My experience with French Press Bookworks has been one that I appreciate more than the staff will ever know. I have learned so much about so much - really too much for this post. But I hope that if other writers out there are looking for a home for their manuscript, they will consider this Little Publishing Company that Could or other look for other independent publishing companies who want you, your work, your stories.

Happy Manuscripting,

-Dori

Friday, January 22, 2016

My Life Soundtrack: Jessie's Girl


#funfriday

In the early eighties, I was a middle school aged kid finding her way onto the music path of adolescence. Like many girls my age, I listened to whatever was popular at the time and was influenced by my peers' tastes. 

There are certain songs throughout the course of my life that take me to exact moments, specific memories and certain people. These are the songs on the soundtrack of my life.

I can picture myself on the stairs in my house singing/shouting "My Sharona" by the Knack. I see myself walking away from the Pop Warner Mighty Mites football game, in the dark, looking at the scoreboard, wearing a stupid powder blue and white cheerleader outfit, with "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen playing in the background. And then there is sitting in my friend's bedroom singing "Jessie's Girl" by Rick Springfield. I used this memory in my novel, Scout's Honor, in order to give context to the times.

Growing up, I was friends with sisters down the street. Renae was a few years older, and Dani was about a half year older than me. They shared a bedroom and had bunkbeds. Their room was very simple, no frills, and both of them had a lot of chores to do each day. Both of their parents worked so during the summer, they would be on their own during the day. They had a Collie and I'm sad to say I cannot remember its name...Sandy? Nope...can't remember. Their house was the same set up as my house, expect a mirror reflection, and their room was in the same spot that my room was on the second floor. 

Dani and I would sit on the floor next to the bottom bunk. She had a small record player and a bunch of records. We'd play "Jessie's Girl" over and over and over again. We'd sing, try to get all the inflections in Rick Springfield's voice and try to figure out what the song meant. We had no idea.

To this day, whenever I hear "Jessie's Girl," I think of Renae and Dani. I think of reading Renae's list of chores for one particular day. It would say "iron 5 pieces." That meant that she had to iron 5 pieces of the family clothing that was in a pile. They weren't allowed to go out until they were done with their chores. 

For awhile, they had an above ground pool. They had an older brother named Ray-Ray. He would play hockey on the street. We went to the same church and same schools and eventually, the same college. 

There are many more songs on my soundtrack, and this year, on some of my #funfridays, I will blog about them. What songs are on the soundtrack of your life? 

-Dori

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Writing Real in Fiction

#writingwednesday #WWWBlogs

When I told an established novelist, screenplay writer and Pulitzer Prize journalist of my intention to finish my first novel, he asked me when I came up with my story. I told him that I had the idea for my book at least twenty plus years ago, but every time I started it, I would just give up and throw it away. He asked me why. I told him that I wasn't quite sure but, at the time, I never felt like it was coming out right.

His response to that stuck with me: "Sometimes you need to live a little more, have more life experience behind you, to make it all come out in the right way."

He was 55 years old when he wrote his first novel.

My novel, Scout's Honor is not a memoir (thank God). I think memoirs, while probably painful writing, certainly have their place in our hearts and on our bookshelves. But fiction writing is a unique way to write real life experiences into an alternate universe altogether.

When I completed my first manuscript and started sending it out, I was 44 years old with a wealth of life experience behind me...I had to grow up a lot faster than most of my peers...but I'm also still young enough to have a wealth of life experience ahead of me. I'm wiser but not yet wise.

I started writing Scout's Honor in my head when I was in my early twenties. I can even recall telling a supervisor, while in the Army, to be on the lookout for my book someday. But I don't think that this particular book could have been written without the last twenty years also lived. I supposed I had to go through more of life in order for it to be written how I wanted to tell this particular story.

I had to experience more of real life: death, heart break, grief, love, suffering, inexplicible pain, joy, personal success, personal failure, and all the highs and lows that come with a twenty year marriage and raising two children into adulthood. I think that fiction writers do what memoir writers do: take the wealth of emotions that come from real life experiences, and instead of putting them all into a true story, push them into a fictional one...creating something almost as real as a memoir itself.

What do you channel into your writing?

-Dori  

   

Monday, January 18, 2016

Agents Schmagents

#manuscriptmonday #submitting #agents

When I finished my first manuscript, I took the advice of other writers and sent out queries in an effort to get an agent. I followed the samples of query letters and synopses, researched the agents and what they were looking for, followed their query submission directions to the letter, and then held my breath, hoping one of them would be interested in reading the manuscript.

No one was.

Rejections came in, and they all seemed like form letters.

I was warned: agents receive more queries than they can handle. I would be lucky to get a look at all.



At some point during the rejection phase, I decided that there had to be a better way.

I knew that without an agent, I had no chance of having my manuscript in front of one of the major publishing houses. But the more I learned about the state of the publishing industry, the more I thought that while the agent has its place in that industry...maybe it's also an outdated concept in the current book market. Do I really need some person out there with connections to attempt to sell my book to a publisher? And then, if he or she does, the agent gets a cut of whatever meager earnings I'd receive? What if the agent sold it to a small publisher for a lot less and I got even less than a pittance for all of my work?

Once I realized that it was likely I'd get nowhere in the agent process, at least not without endless submissions for years, I decided to forgo the middle man altogether and search for smaller publishers that allow authors to submit directly.

I suppose I could have continued to try to get an agent. But I wanted to publish my book, not beg and plead for the whims of another human being who reads and looks for a selling point. I was warned that whenever I had contracted for publication, it would take about a year to get published anyway...and that was a true statement.

If you want to make it with one of the big boys, then you have to play by their rules. So submit to agents and don't stop. The above Chuck Sambuchino blog is a great resource for agents. It took Random House thriller author Jenny Milchman thirteen years to get published - eleven years of continual rejection. But if you don't want to endure that, consider being your own agent. You might have to work harder, but it will be all yours. And honestly, I think even the represented authors have to work as hard I've been working. 

Happy Manuscripting,

Dori

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Review: The Drunken Spelunker's Guide to Plato by Kathy Giuffre

#funfriday #bookreview

The Drunken Spelunker's Guide to Plato gets your attention by its title. I bought it because I was told that the story was based around people who frequented a basement bar in Chapel Hill during the early 1990s. While the story never comes out and says it takes place in Chapel Hill, it is clear that it's similar. Also, the bookstore owner recommended it.

I like reading books when I can pick out places in which I believe the author was referencing within the story...for example, was Millboro really Pittsboro and if the barbecue place near Millboro is supposed to be Allen and Son's in Pittsboro? She used a lot of Socrates and Plato and Greek mythology on life themes and coming out of darkness to parallel Josie's journey of self discovery as she experienced first love and heartbreak, disappointment and the harsh realities of young adulthood in the early 1990s. It was intelligent reading with a mostly light hearted story with a tinge of darkness thrown in here and there...about the concept that family isn't always blood and isn't always a rubber stamp...there is plenty of unresolved injustice that we all live with for the rest of our lives...and how fate is really a result of our choices, not some predestined eventuality.

Good little read - I enjoyed it a lot. It moves quickly and has interesting, relatable characters. Also, since I was not much younger than Josie during the time period, I like relating myself to the times.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Writing Schedules


#writingwednesday #amwriting #WWWBlogs

"Discipline" is oftentimes a bad word to an artist or a creative person. I think of myself as a creative person, but discipline - in several areas of my life, certainly not all - is something that I have mastered. If you are serious about any craft or passion in life, you do need some kind of discipline. And that includes discipline with writing.

It is easy to plod along in life and wait for things to happen to you...or near you...in order get inspiration or ideas for stories. But another very valuable asset in unearthing ideas is the art of writing discipline. 

For Christmas, my daughter gave me a writing prompt journal. It was a very thoughtful gift because it   combines two things that I love: writing and discipline.  

I used to wait for inspiration to hit me over the head, so honestly not much writing ever happened on any kind of regular basis. Sometimes, I'd sit down and just start writing a poem with no particular reason forcing me to do so, and ideas and heart and pieces of me inside would spread out over an entire page...poem complete. When I wrote Scout's Honor, it started out because of inspiration, but as I began churning out page after page, and the story took shape, I needed discipline to finish it. There were times when I had no idea where I was going with it - the story started to write itself in parts.


Inspiration is fleeting - it hits you in the face and then runs away. But it is the discipline that brings out what is inside of you - all of it just sitting there in the shadows, immune to your inspirational moment.

When I began to work on expanding my personal writing, I decided to add in the (three times per week) discipline of writing this blog. I hope that it will help other new writers and authors like me who are trying to figure all of this out. The three times a week blogging commitment that I've made - whether or not anyone actually reads my blog or gains anything from it - is mostly a form of self discipline. It helps me write out what I'm doing, what I've done and figure out if it is working for me. It forces me to think deeper about how I'm spending my time on my book and other writing. It makes me engage more online and seek out others like me.

Find ways to discipline your writing so that it can help you maximize your time, ideas and inspiration. Whether it be writing in a journal or a blog or letter writing or scheduling a time each morning to write a poem or a chapter or X number of words, do it. Treat it like exercise, eating, sleeping - make it a part of all you do. You will be surprised what hidden treasures are within you that otherwise would have remained buried.

Happy writing,

-Dori

Monday, January 11, 2016

Reading Out Loud

#manuscriptmonday #amediting

It takes a lot of work to write a manuscript, but it is hella lot more work editing a manuscript. I finished the final draft of my manuscript for Scout's Honor last April. I had already gone though and edited, copy edited, reworked and rewrote parts after my beta readers offered their suggestions. Then I submitted the manuscript. Well, ever since I signed a contract back in June, I have been editing it - again - and with an editor.

Last week, I sent off the 2nd huge edit, and to me, other than final read throughs...this puppy is done. It has been edited to death. This last edit, however, seemed to take me so much longer and had me doubting my work, fixing things that I long believed had been fixed.

One of the most helpful ways in which to edit a manuscript - or anything, really - is by reading it out loud. Or if you live in a house with other people, and you don't want to sound like a crazy person, read out loud quietly. It helps keep your eyes focused, it helps you catch a stray typo, it helps you hear whether or not a sentence makes sense. Another thing that I found out it does is that it helps you see unnecessary words or repetitive words.

I went through the whole thing, and after thinking that I had already done this, found that I needed to slash an awful lot. My word count went down by 1,000 words just because I read things out loud.

No matter how you go through your own personal editing process, do what works for you. But reading out loud might help you edit your work in a way that you haven't yet experienced. It might help you find flaws that you otherwise cannot find. Give it a try!




I pushed Send...and it was a great feeling.

Happy manuscripting,

Dori


Friday, January 8, 2016

Characters in Scout's Honor: Scout Webb


#funfriday #ScoutsHonor

Scout Webb is the protagonist in my debut novel, Scout's Honor. Her story opens in August 1983. She is a 14 year old girl in the small (fictional) town of Haddleboro, North Carolina and playing on a summer baseball team with her best friend, a 15 year old boy named Charlie Porter. Charlie has been a centerpiece of Scout's life for her entire childhood; they are very close and underneath of everything, they love each other. They're kindred spirits. 

Scout has a sweet, kind and innocent disposition and personality, with a bit of spirit or spit fire thrown in there for good measure, which matches the family in which she was raised. She is intense inside, but not at all rebellious or overly self-confident. Scout is a tomboy who loves sports, especially baseball and the New York Yankees. She isn’t afraid to play with and against the boys, is well liked among her peers and has the normal insecurities of girls this age. Scout is an animal lover, especially dogs.

            
She was born on October 21st, 1968 to her parents, Lee and Raelene Webb. The family is working class. Her father is a stoic, calloused-hands type of man, with a strong quiet faith in God. He's also a southern gentleman with a dry sense of humor and owns his own auto shop in their small town. Her mother is a sweet southern woman with a very strong moral center. Her family and church family are the center of her life. She is a reading teacher at the town elementary school. Scout and her younger brother have a typical sibling rivalry relationship. The Webb family attends a small town Southern Baptist Church, live in a typical rural southern home off of a gravel road, and enjoy a simple life with no real frills. In some ways, but certainly not all, Scout’s personality and upbringing are similar to her namesake, the young narrator from her mother’s favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Her name and her Christian faith are both deeply woven into the fabric of her identity, and she always feels an internal pressure to live up to something more. While she is smart and hard-working, she still feels like she should be better or more than what or who she is. This is not due to anything her parents have done or put upon her…this is due to her tendency to take what she has learned in church and apply it very harshly to herself. Instead of focusing on God’s love, she focuses on how much she disappoints God due to her thoughts or imperfections. She is very, very hard on herself, more-so than the average person.

Scout is coming of age, and so she is starting to question some of the things she believes and some of the demands of authority, but her nature is to conform to that authority and not make any waves or problems for others. She keeps her troubles to herself. She is trusting and naïve, and so this is how a simple school girl crush can go into a completely different direction when the right kind of situation - or "perfect storm" - develops.

Without giving up too much information about the entire story, I hope that the readers see Scout as I tried to portray her: a typical good hearted, nice, genuine all American girl from a good salt-of-the-earth place. She is you and me and our sister and best friend and the girl you know from the down the street. She's all of us. And bad things happen to all of us and affect our lives...sometimes forever...in intangible and profound ways.

I hope you enjoy getting to know her over the course of 20 years (32 years if you count the Epilogue), as much as I enjoyed creating her.

-Dori

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Muses o' muses

#writingwednesday #inspriation #WWWBlogs

Where do you get your inspiration when writing your characters? I'd guess that there are lots of places, but usually they come from people you know - or used to know - during the course of your life. People come in and out of our lives. Some are here for a brief period but are memorable for a reason, good or bad. Others are with us for the long haul. But there are some, maybe only one, who come into our lives in a way that touches our heart forever.

When I wrote Scout's Honor, I knew that I wanted to have a main male character who was everything that I find to be good - in not just a best friend - but also in a man. So I created Charlie Porter. I knew what I wanted him to look like, his personality, the way he saw life and people, his own internal struggles, but more than anything, I wanted him to serve as the very definition of love. It know that's a tall order, certainly in this life, but if I get to be the "God" of my story, then I'm creating this guy. My book is not a "Christian" novel, meaning it isn't Christian literature or meant to be about Christianity in particular, although it does play a role in the story because Scout's family is Christian.

1st Corinthians 13 in the Bible is generally known as "the Love chapter" because it defines love in such a way that it encompasses all types. You can read it and see friendship. You can read it and see marriage and romantic love. You can read it and see parental love. It runs the gamut. I wanted my character Charlie to be that kind of a fixture in Scout's life - someone who truly loved her - in every way a person could be loved - for her entire life.

So who is my muse for such a relevant and meaningful young man? It's asking an awful lot - probably too much - to have such a person in real life. Most of us don't get to have such a thing, at least not for our entire lives. But I'm the writer of this tale, so I get to create whatever I want!

I had to look deep inside of myself for Charlie. Because I've never had such an individual in my own life, I thought instead of a few men - who were friends to me - real friends to me - during different phases in my life. They weren't necessarily romantic interests, but I was fortunate enough to have them in my personal story at particular key time periods, from my youth to college to the Army and the current day.

There was the one who was my closest male friend all through college, who looked out for me, and always had my back. We went to Airborne School together and he stuck with me during off hours because of how many soldiers were asking me out and trying to talk to me. (It was amazing how much better looking I became when I went into the military LOL) He talked me through rough times, spent a lot of time with me, worked out with me, helped me if I ever needed it, and was all around one of the best friends I've ever had in my life. Later, I'd be invited to his wedding. And that was about it. Phase was over.

Some years later, while on active duty, I made another male best friend. We met during our basic course and both got assigned to the same permanent duty station in Northern Virginia. For some reason, our military jobs tended to be either with each other or within close proximity of one another. We spent a lot of time together. He helped me though a very challenging period in my life and he, like the one from my college years, took over as the guy who had my back, looked out for me and helped me if I ever needed it. And later, I'd also be invited to his wedding. Then we both got out of the Army around the same time...and that was about it. Phase was over.

These (at the time) young men, and a couple of others later, have been truly kind to me, generous with their time and conversation, and they touched my heart forever. They defied the conventional Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally wisdom that men and women can't be friends - because the sex thing always gets in the way. I've used these guys from my personal life story, as well as certain characteristics from my husband, as my Charlie muses to help me create the kind of character I wanted to portray in my book: someone that Scout could always rely upon. Someone with strong character, spirit, a tender and giving heart, a great work ethic, and who meant what he said. Someone who did not betray her trust. Someone who was not crippled by is own insecurities but instead working on them through his own head. Someone who acted - always - from a place of genuine goodness instead of their petty self interest. Someone who did the right things and for the the right reasons. Someone who was authentic and raw and would never purposely do anything to hurt his friend.

Muses can come from anywhere. People you know is the obvious source, but they can also come from people you don't know - those who live in the spotlight. I certainly used a few of those for one of my characters. Muses can be people you wish you knew, creations of the kinds of people you always wanted in your life but never got to have.

Who are your muses?

-Dori

Monday, January 4, 2016

Choosing a Voice

#manuscriptmonday #storytelling

I'm sure most writers prefer to write in a certain style of voice when telling a story. You can write in first person, third person, etc. First person narratives are limited because they are one dimensional perspectives on an entire story, but that if that's your purpose, then that's fine. And one positive aspect of this kind of voice is that you can really delve into a character, become that character, as if you're writing a diary of his or her life. It allows you to adopt their mannerisms, style of speaking or writing or both, their views on life and their surroundings, their feelings and thought process. I personally like it because you're able to assume another identity completely and become someone else for awhile.

Third person writing is a bit more tricky because you are giving a bird's eye view on a story. It is a more accurate telling of the whole thing and you are able to include so much more. But to me, the depth of the narrative is a bit more difficult to express. When I write in third person, I find myself leaning toward a character's perspective, even though that isn't what I'm trying to do. Third person - in my opinion - is something that needs to be practiced a lot. It's easy to sit down and write a diary entry, but it's not so easy to do it in third person. Third person forces you to go outside of your vision of the characters and become almost like God.

One of the first books that I read and realized I was reading a first person, multiple narrator story, all written in first person, was the book My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult. This book told the story of a young girl who was conceived to become the bone marrow donor for her critically ill older sister. It is a beautiful story that addresses so many parts of family life and the relationships within them, but it's also highly educational on the matter of Leukemia and legal emancipation for minors. This book was written with each chapter serving as a different character's narration about what was going on in order to tell the entire story. Each character had a unique voice and perspective about everything that was happening around them. I thought it was a very interesting way to tell a story - you combine the depth of first person character development with the rounding-out of total storytelling by showing so many different observations, which is usually best served by third person.

There is now a TV series on Showtime, called The Affair, that tells the show like this. Each episode has two parts of each main character's perspectives on what is happening. It shows the subtle differences in which we all view the same exact situation happening. It's fascinating storytelling but while the truth is the truth, it's like real life: you don't really ever know the whole truth.

I wrote Scout's Honor in first person with multiple narrators because I felt that it was the best way to tell this particular story. I wanted to add more depth to the otherwise perceived "bad guys" in order to show that life is really a bit more complicated than "good" person "bad" person. For the characters that I wanted to be perceived as one dimensional, they were written within a narrator's perspective. They don't really have their own voice. For example, one of my "bad guys" is written within Scout's perspective so the reader will only see him as Scout sees him. Later, the reader will see a small observation about him in Scout's daughter's perspective, just to give the reader a small insight at a critical time.

I hope you find what works for you when telling your story.

-Dori  

Friday, January 1, 2016

Chalk Powder

#HappyNewYear #FunFriday

January 1st, the clean slate day that comes around each year. Like most people who have reached middle age, I have an awful lot of chalk powder still building up on the floors of my life, as I try to erase away the bad stuff from the past. A lot of people like to appreciate the bad things, the belief that the bad stuff gets them to where they are today. Going through all that pain or suffering was only getting them to learn a lesson that needed to be learned. I don't know about all that - I think there are times when I could've done without it. Really.

I like clean slates. And I love erasing the clutter. Just ask my kids - every year around this time, I make them go through their belongings and get rid of what they don't want, need or use. My heart feels happy when I see a pile of clothing that needs to be packed up for a donation. My arms are stronger when I'm carrying the bags and boxes to my car in order to drop off at the donation center. My house feels lighter when the storage room is only holding Christmas decorations and a big box of old, outdated, obsolete and never used cables that my husband refuses to throw out.

I like looking at the chalk powder as I wipe the slate clean on the morning of a new year. It drifts slowly to the floor, reminding me that yes, the bad stuff and even the good stuff is nothing but dust after all. When the dust settles, I'm either standing on top of it or it's adorning my shoes.

Last year, I couldn't wait for 2015 to get here. 2014 was a year of heartache and pain for me, a year of tremendous failure, replete with regret and life changing reality checks. I suppose we all have months and years like that at some point in life, and that year was mine. There was nothing I wanted more than to clean my slate off completely, stand on the dusty soul-choking chalk of that year so I could then claim that I survived it and was still standing upright and give a big middle finger to life.

2015 brought real change to me personally, something profound and meaningful, necessary and new, something that I can be both proud of and excited about no matter the earthly outcome. Something that is mine and only mine. Something that no one can ever take away from me. Something real and lasting. It can't betray me or lie to me or break my heart - a real love story in the making. And if you've never experienced a love story that has nothing to do with romance or sex, then you haven't lived a full life yet. There are all kinds of love in the world, and I've needed to experience this kind more than any other.

The process of writing my first book, finding a publisher and throwing myself into this new writing journey - this is the kind of chalk powder that looks good on my shoes. It's worn well. It adorns my boots, screams a job well done. Instead of standing on top of it like in years past, as I've risen from the ashes to fight another day, this particular chalk powder is there to remind me that it's all good and the new clean slate of 2016 is waiting for me to continue with this new kind of love story.

I have my 2016 goals like many people do. They're in my head and not in any kind of bulleted or numbered format. My life isn't that organized anymore, no matter how much I've tried to force it into submission. And now, at long last, I'm okay with that.

The slate is wiped clean y'all. Go get you a 2016.

-Dori