Category Archives: Karen Pellett

When Crap Hits the Fan

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

There are two major rules to being a better writer: 1) read abundantly (especially in the genre that you are writing), and 2) participate in critique groups.

In 2016, both of those rules went out the window and run over by a bus. And both for the same reason. Life happens.

Five years ago, I attended a conference at my local library with other writers where were guided in the art of critiquing. The group I was a part of clicked so well, that by the end of the day we agreed to keep a good thing going. Thus, C.R.A.P. (Creative Rockstar Author People) was formed. For the next four years, we met at each other’s homes, chowing down and glorious cookie pizzas and hummus while providing feedback on each other’s works in progress. Sometimes we laughed so hard my stomach hurt for days afterwards.

The beauty of C.R.A.P. was the individuals that made up the group: Betsy was a genius at snark, voice, point of view shifts, and story mashups, Jessica was a savant at description, plot gaps, and setting, and T.J. was the grammar guru, character flaws, and the one who ensured that we did honor to our male characters. Their feedback was incalculably valuable. Our brainstorming sessions enlivening. Their friendship immeasurable. And, they provided the perfect counterbalance to another critique group which I am a part of. My writing was propelled to higher levels as a direct result of being a member of these groups.

Then 2016 happened and our worlds were tossed about on the tempest of life. We lost one member to a move across the country. Another, changed jobs and had a new baby join their family. Two of us had family members diagnosed with cancer. As for me . . . well, let’s just say that I’m the magnet for insane life complications, so we’ll just skip what happened to me last year.

As a direct result, C.R.A.P. hit the fan and we stopped meeting. We planned on Skyping our meetings in a vain attempt to keep the group intact, but each time we had to reschedule. It took many months before I realized that since, we stopped I had not written anything new, nor had I read a single book for enjoyment. I still attend the other critique group, but always arrived with previously written works that needed drastic editing help. I was in severe writing depression and this other group was my lifeline.
But I missed C.R.A.P. They had become family.

So how do you replace family? You don’t. There will always be a place on my calendar the next moment we can all get online to meet. But I needed that counterbalance. I personally needed that second stash of writers to enhance and expand on the information gained from my one remaining critique group. I felt like an orphaned writer wandering the streets of literature town begging, “Please adopt me.” But my heart wasn’t in it.

Instead, it was time to start over; start fresh. Over the last few months some of my friends have asked me what to look for in a critique group. My advice: 1) you must be open to others criticizing your babies, 2) find a group with a blend of backgrounds and writing styles, 3) your partners should inspire and improve your writing, not tear you down, and 4) it is okay to say no thank you.

A successful critique group must work well together. But how are you supposed to know that if you have never worked with these individuals before? In talking to another critique member, we agreed on a plan. We sent out notices to those individuals who’d expressed interest in being part of a new group. As part of the selection process we requested that these individuals email submissions of their works in which we would read and provide feedback on. Then, we asked them to do the same for us. Afterward, we would make a group decision. Could work as a team for the greater good? If yes, then we have a new beginning for the new year. If not, then we would utilize our Get out of jail Free card and start the process over again.

Will it work? I sure hope so. Because writing is my therapy and my critique partners my support group.

Will I give up on C.R.A.P.? Never. I will never give up on family.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

The Devil is in the Details

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

What makes a great story? For me it is the details. A story is the sum of its parts. It is an amalgamation of plot, character, dialogue and imagination, but it all comes down to the little details of each segment as to whether or not a story is truly compelling or memorable for me.

starwars1What details do we remember most about Star Wars movie legacy? Is it how frustrating Jar Jar Binks is for some? Is it the loss of innocence when Anakin chooses the Dark Side of the Force? Is it the pivotal, “I am your Father!” moment between Luke and Vadar? For me it’s the relationship between memorable characters, the lack of consistency in plot, all twisted with its brilliant humor and dialogue. Perplexed?

So am I.

I LOVE Star Wars, and yet at the same time I am really frustrated by it. As a burgeoning author it frustrates me beyond Hades that plot gaps punctuate the story line left and right. For example, in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) we see the death of Padme Amidala Skywalker from heartbreak shortly after the birth of her babes, Luke & Leia.

Later, in Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), as Luke is about to leave Leia with the Ewoks to go in search of Vadar he asks Leia is she remembers her mother, her real mother. Leia responds that her mother died when she was very young, but she was “very beautiful. Kind, but…sad.”

It is the little inconsistencies and plot gaps like this one that make Star Wars iffy in my book when it comes to great storytelling. However, the impeccable world creation, complex casts of characters, dialogue interplay and down-right humor and quotable quotes that act as a counterbalance, thus bringing me back time and time again to soak myself in its brilliance.

Now I adore Star Wars, but I am Doctor Who geek for life.

As I child I would sneak out of my bed at night to lie on the floor to peak around the living room couch to watch the classic episodes with my father. I wasn’t supposed to, but he never sent me back to bed until the episodes were over.

I have found memories of Tom Baker (#4) with his fabulous six foot scarf and Jelly Babies, Peter Davidson (#5) and his stalk of celery for identifying radiation leaks and his many, intriguing companions (most importantly, K-9, the sarcastic robot canine companion).

Sure the props seemed made of cardboard and dryer vent pipes, but the concept of the Daleks, the Cybermen and so many other villains, captured my young mind and wouldn’t let go. It was with eager anticipation that I watched the reinvention of Time & Space with Christopher Eccelston’s (#9) version of the Doctor in 2009.

With Eccleston, as well as with each regeneration since, I was hesitant at first to accept the new Doctor and their inherent catch phrase. I was also hesitant with the shift from more science fiction to science drama when it came to so many of the female companions falling in love with their Doctor.

Then I met Donna Noble. She is my penultimate idea of a Doctor Who companion—feisty, brilliant, empathetic, with a desperate need to believe more in herself, but willing to see the good in others, excited learn and to explore, and in it for the friendship of a lifetime. She was the modern-day equivalent of Elisabeth Sladen’s character, Mary Jane Smith. So once again, I find myself compelled, even drawn to a story/series that had its weaknesses, but the complexity of the details, the humor, and the interplay between characters made it come alive.

So what makes great storytelling? It may be different for each and everyone one of us. Our take on books is subjugated by our experiences, our emotions. For me, I am drawn back time and time again to those stories that show me who a character is as a person. It is the details of their lives—their sense of humor, their faults, how they choose to react with others and their world—that make them come alive. And if they are alive, then they are a part of me.

Yes, plot and character growth matter; there is no story without them. But what makes the story compelling is the details that make up who those people are. The devil or God (depending if you’re the antagonist or protagonist) is in the very details of their lives.

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.

Have Counselor, Will Write

A Guest Post by Karen Pellett

Just last month, I was lying in the same-day surgery wing of the hospital prepping for knee surgery when the pre-op nurse asked what kind of work I do. I smiled as I took the marker and dutifully wrote “Yes, please,” on my right knee, a protective measure against the surgeon working on the wrong leg, and answered, “I’m a mom and a writer.” Over the next hour we talked more about what I do for a living. Finally, she shook her head, and asked, “How do you do it?”

“I have a fantastic counselor,” I said.

She broke out laughing.

It is true though. Life is chaos. That is a given fact for pretty much everyone. It is a big mess of trials, failures, joy and heartache that all mesh into one big ball of fun.

Once upon a time, in a land known as Seattle, I quit my full time job as a business analyst to write. I’d wake up in the morning, kiss my husband send him off to work, and then sit down at my computer and……twiddle my thumbs. I had all the time to write, and struggled to write a single word. It honestly took my friend giving me a random writing prompt before I wrote my first short story Curse of the Light Switches. Believe me, it was totally and completely pathetic. But it was what I needed to kick my imagination gears into motion. Over the next two years, I wrote and edited seven drafts of my first ever epic fantasy novel. Thinking the project finished and a work of art, I started submitting to agents. The mail box remained empty for months. The few responses I did receive were form letters. The greatest rejection stated that while I was a talented storyteller, I was not a fit for their publishing firm.

Then, after seven years of fertility issues, we invented the child. Not just any child, but a little girl who rolled over in the hospital three days after birth and has never stopped moving. She was our little miracle, but the moment she came into existence my motivation and ability to write drastically dropped faster than an Olympic skier racing down a bunny hill. Two months after our daughter was born we moved from Seattle to Utah so that she could grow up near her half-brothers. A short twenty months later I had a son after four and a half months of bed rest. When he was ten months old, I informed the doctor that I wanted to have one more child, but that they had to be farther apart. Either I was a totally suck-tastic mother or my children were literally more than I could handle. The doctor informed me in return….Guess what? You are already pregnant.

Three kids in three and a half years. Try writing anything through that and I’ll personally bake you a cake.

I attempted to salvage my feeble writing career by attending a myriad of local writing conferences and by joining two different critique groups. Their feedback was invaluable. But as I read their stories and compared them to mine, I wanted to cry. However, I’m the type of person who is just too stubborn to give up. I hung in there, submitted crap, and took the feedback as my saving grace and ran with it.

Our chaotic life then spiraled out of control. I ruptured a disc in my back that required major surgery. What writing I did attempt felt like crap, and I felt like the grand prize winner of the Worst Mother of the Year award. On top of that, my husband had a bad reaction to medication, sending him into six months of suicidal tendencies.

That is when I met Bonnie (a.k.a. the most incredible counselor in the universe). She was exactly what I needed in a counselor—long almost black hair, bangles up the arms, at least four necklaces, ripped leather pants, camouflage shirt, combat boots, and a bike jacket. Bonnie became my counseling version of the fairy godmother. She helped me learn what I could control, what I couldn’t, and how to see the difference.

Then in 2014 my littlest son hit me in the head with a car seat, giving me a concussion and one of the greatest miracles of my life. Because of my concussion the doctors did several MRIs and identified “three white matter brain lesions in non-MS typical locations.” This simply means… I’m a writer in transition to superhero glory.

I wish.

At the same time all three of my kids were diagnosed with special needs—running from ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Moderate-functioning Autism, aggressive tendencies, and developmental delays. My kids are pretty much creative geniuses that learn uniquely and see the world in remarkable ways while not grasping social expectations. The truth behind the difficult paths I traveled hit me when I made Bonnie cry. (There’s no crying in therapy! Oh wait….yes, there is. Just not usually from your counselor.)

So how do I balance life and writing in this chaos? I don’t. Thanks to those tiny aliens in my noggin’, the three precious miracle children in my life, a very supportive husband, and my genius counselor, I’ve had to learn to let go. Instead I wing it. Personally, I can’t write at night. I cherish my sleep way too much. And I already get up at oh-dark-thirty thanks to my autistic son who doesn’t require anywhere near a decent amount of sleep. So instead, for four days a week in the precious two hours that all three kids are in special needs classes, I attempt to write. Just like in college, I still tend to work best under pressure, so I set deadlines and goals to keep me motivated (and yes, chocolate and caffeine are often involved). Then there’s my amazing husband who will stay home with the kids and send me off to the library to work when I require a much needed sanity break. (Back off ladies, he’s mine!)

Through it all I’ve written two novels, unpublished to date, but they will be published someday. I’ve had a piece published in a magazine about what it is like being a stepmom. Another piece won first place in an online writing contest and was included in an anthology on being a mommy writer. My third essay came out last year on the trials my husband and I experienced going through fertility issues. And my first ever short story was published this last Christmas to help raise money for Primary Children’s Hospital.

Yes, my life is still a ball of intense chaos, but I love it. It is not easy. But the fight is worth it. And thanks to a brilliant counselor, I’ve had to learn that if I want to survive, if I want to thrive, I must do something that takes care of me—and that something is writing. I’m worth it.

 

Karen Pellett:

Karen Pellett is a crazy woman with a computer, and she’s not afraid to use it. Most of her time is spent between raising three overly brilliant and stinkin’ cute children, playing video games with her stepsons, and the rare peaceful moment with her husband. When opportunity provides she escapes to the alternate dimension to write fantasy & magical realism novels, the occasional short story, and essays on raising special needs children. Karen lives, plots & writes in American Fork, Utah.