I Live With My Editor

copyeditorEvery Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning my editor (aka my husband) comes downstairs with a varying report on my blog of the day. (Knowing for sure I have at least one consistent reader makes my heart sing. Thank you, honey.) He’ll say things like “there are some problems with today’s blog” or “I liked your blog today” or “just one fix today.”

Since the Monday and Wednesday blogs archive, I fix those changes. Thursdays I don’t save. Sorry for you that you have to see the less perfect version, but if you ever go back and re-read one, most likely my editor and I will have it all cleaned up.

My first reaction used to be from my ego. “Oh, great. Now I’m going to look like I don’t know how to use the word there.” This really speaks to my own tendency to judge companies/FB statuses/emails from adults/menus that have multiple spelling errors as lacking in intelligence somehow.

I’ve come to learn that this is often not true and in fact keeps people from bravely expressing ideas, comments, themselves. The judging thing is my issue, my own personal vulnerability. I’ve given over to firmly believing wherever you are on the spelling and grammar spectrum, putting down your thoughts and showing who you are is the most important thing.

So I’m following my own advice. What you always get from me is first draft thoughts. I don’t spend time editing myself (that’s my editor’s job) and trying to sound anything else other than what I am in that moment, speling errrrors and alll.

Procrastination Blog – Which I’ll Get to Right After I Eat

procrastinatorI don’t think of myself as a vintage procrastinator. But when it comes to writing, I can fill up 45 minutes in a flash by niggling around and doing nothing-stuff. (Nothing-stuff: stuff that does not need to be done before I can write.) I’ve mastered it.

I’m not sure I completely understand why. I love to write and lose myself in the movies I flash through my mind. I have fun hanging out with my characters and seeing what whacky things they’re going to do next. I open up my document and in the next two seconds my mind is saying, “Not before you check your email. Not before you pet the dog. Not before you call a shaman and retrieve that soul you’ve been meaning to retrieve.”

You name it. I’ll come up with it.

So today I decided, “That’s it. I’m going to get right to it. I’m not going to shower or anything. Nothing is going to get in my way.”

I set my intention last night, right before my boys announced, “We have a minimum day tomorrow. WooHoo.”


This means I’m REALLY going to have to get started on my manuscript immediately right after I drop them off. No routine, filled with shower, exercise, contemplation. Nope. I’m not even changing into my clothes. I open my manuscript.

Sure as rain falls from the sky, next thing I know I’m checking my bank balances, reading my email, checking my Facebook notifications, rechecking my Facebook notifications until I got so annoyed with myself I finally knocked out 8 pretty solid pages I like.

My boys just came home from school and here I sit, still in my pajamas. They just kind of look at me with cocked heads and half smiles and don’t say anything. Maybe they think I’m having a breakdown or something, like one of those moms in a Lifetime movie. I’m happy with my pj strategy–they go straight to their rooms and do homework like good teenagers while I sit typing this and feeling pretty proud I finally got to my writing.

I swear I’ll break the cycle tomorrow. Get right to it. Unless, of course, I don’t finish this blog. Or need to eat something. Or need to make tea. Or need to cut my toenails…

The Writer’s Ego


Talk true to me. If you knew Baby Goose was just waiting for your stuff, wouldn’t you be piping it out like a rapid-fire machine gun?

It’s hard to be a writer and not be infected by the Writer’s Ego. After all, writing is a form of communication and if nobody’s reading, how are you communicating? Most writers I know write to be read, not just to pile up long strings of paragraphs in their bottom desk drawers to be discovered when they kick it.

When I think about the reasons I kept writing after college when I no longer had to, I come to this conclusion. All along the way people (teachers, professors, peers) stroked my ego by telling me I’m a good writer. I didn’t know that, but I recognized the pattern of that feedback.  I had friends along the way who I thought wrote well, but when the professor would say, “This is just crap,” they never wanted to write again. They were embarrassed. Ego and the dark side of Humility, crawling into the fetal position, and pulling the blankie over their collective head.

And yet so many writers claim to not write for anyone but themselves. Unfortunately, it’s not themselves that works as agent, editor, publishing house, reader, library, bookstore, readers. In the end, we write to be read and we want others to love it…all others–the gatekeepers, the readers, the librarians, the award committees. There’s always somebody to please.

Yet the message you hear over and over again is, “This business is so subjective.” What one person loves, the next reader can outline a list of bullet points about what’s wrong with it. You just can’t please them all, and you want to posture as if you don’t care, but there’s a place inside that wants to please the reader. As I was growing up. I never had anybody tell me anything except, “You’re a great writer.” I’m pretty sure if I had, I would have stopped. I may even resist posting Facebook statuses.

When Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson came to speak with American writers, he told them to find their own voice, that part that is uniquely them. We hear that over and over today from agents and editors at conferences who speak to both new and veteran writers about the elusive “how to get published” conundrum. But to be uniquely you requires not only a knowledge about who you are and how that differs from the rest of the Earth people, but also how that connects with the rest of the world. What I see much more regularly is people getting caught up in meeting the criteria of publishing, which often has little to do with being uniquely who they are.

What’s the Ego’s block then? When too much chatter lords over the creative process, it deadens it. It’s harder to access. When too many rules dictate the flow, the writing feels stale. On the other hand, at least for me, when I sit down to pour out on the fertile landscape of my journals, I see ideas blossom in a way that’s very hard to copy when I work on manuscripts. My current goal is to dismiss my Ego at the bottom ot the stairs, before I go to my office, and write like nobody’s watching.

Sorry, Baby Goose. Right now, it’s not about you.

We All Have A Story

tellyourstoryI’m both drawn to and repelled by the current story I’m working on. As a Pisces Sun and Moon, I’m used to living in the world this way. It’s a story that I’ve always felt was mine to write, not in a autobiographical sense, but in that way where I feel my muse holding me close and whispering in a no-nonsense way, “DANCE.”

Here’s an article on the front page of the local paper last week on the project that’s making me two-step. (I would like to point out that I am not yet 50!)

Jamie Weil of Cottonwood reads from an early draft of her next novel, based on the exploits of serial killer Darrell Keith Rich, also known as the Hilltop Rapist during the summer of 1978.

Jamie Weil of Cottonwood reads from an early draft of her next novel, based on the exploits of serial killer Darrell Keith Rich, also known as the Hilltop Rapist during the summer of 1978.

Cottonwood author Jamie Weil, 50, is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects.

Her first young adult novel, titled “First Break,” is the story of 17-year-old Paige who leaves a small town to attend an urban university.

Two weeks into her first semester at college, Paige hears voices telling her to kill herself.

After trying to make the voices stop with a bottle of her roommate’s prescription sleep medication Ambien, Paige ends up on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, then stays in an adolescent psychiatric hospital until her 18th birthday.

Weil’s latest project for young adult readers is a fictional murder mystery based on her real-life acquaintance with serial killer and rapist Darrell Keith Rich, also of Cottonwood, who was executed for his crimes in 2000.

“When I was younger, say 5 or 6, I would go to a baby sitter,” said Weil, whose family moved from her birthplace in Salinas to Cottonwood when she was still a toddler.

“At first, I would stay for the day with Mama Lillie Rich and Daddy Dean Rich. Gradually, as my own mother and stepdad would go on fishing trips to the Klamath River, I would sometimes stay overnight or even several days with them,” Weil recalled.

Years before, Lillian and Dean Rich had adopted Darrell Keith Rich as a 2-day-old infant. Mrs. Rich ran a day-care in her Cottonwood home, Weil explained.

During the summer of 1978, a series of violent rapes, abductions and eventually killings were reported along Hilltop Drive in Redding, just 14 miles north of Cottonwood, Weil said.

“I was 14 at the time and Darrell was 23. I had a major crush on him when I was 11 or 12 and he was in high school. I even knew that he had been born in Torrance, where I later had my own children,” she said.

Previously, while Darrell was still in high school, Lillie and Dean Rich divorced and Darrell started getting into trouble, Weil recalled.

“He would go to the park and threaten to beat up people,” she said.

During his murder and rape trial, more of Darrell Rich’s combative exploits came to light including an incident apparently driven by despondency over his adoptive parents’ divorce in which he fired a gun over the head of a police officer in hopes the officer would retaliate by killing Rich, stated defense attorney Russell Swartz in an account from “Season of Madness,” a book on the case written by Robert Scott and published in May 2013 by Pinnacle Books/Kensington Publishing Corp.

Darrell Rich was eventually sent to the California Youth Authority for that and other incidents. He even spent time at Crystal Creek Conservation Camp outside Redding, Weil said.

“I remember his adoptive mom would take us to see him at Crystal Creek,” she added.

In 1978, when Darrell was released from California Youth Authority custody, he appeared to be settling down, Weil said.

“He had a job, got married and lived in a house not too far from his mother,” she said.

At that time, neither Weil nor anyone else in Cottonwood suspected Darrell Rich was the notorious Hilltop rapist, she quickly added.

“One late summer afternoon, I was walking into Cottonwood from my mother’s home on Gas Point Road and Darrell’s car pulled up alongside of me and he asked me if I wanted a ride. There was something very strange going on because his eyes were really glistening. His eyes were just manic, yet he was trying to be very charming,” Weil recalled.

“All of a sudden, I had this sharp intuition not to get into the car,” she said, noting she plans to title the book “Sharp Intuition.”

“Get in the car,” Darrell said to young Jamie in an even more threatening tone, Weil said.

“That was about the same day or so in mid-August 1978 when he picked up 11-year-old Annette Selix, an innocent child who was walking home from the market,” she said.

According to trail testimony, Darrell Rich took the young girl to his Cottonwood home where he raped and sexually assaulted her, bit her thigh, stripped her naked except for panties, then drove her 30 miles to a bridge where he threw the girl, still alive, to the rocks 105 feet below.

Battered and broken, Selix curled into a fetal position and died there some time later.

Selix was Darrell’s final victim.

Court testimony shows Darrell Rich had previously sexually assaulted and killed Annette Edwards, 19, a vivacious young woman on her way to watch the July 4th fireworks from her apartment on Hilltop Drive; Patricia Moore, 18, a former beauty pageant contestant who hitched a ride along a busy street in downtown Redding; and Linda Slavik, 28, a young mother enjoying a night out in Chico with a friend.

Darrell Rich also admitted to, was tried for and convicted on charges of kidnapping, rape and other sex crimes with four other young women, including a 15-year-old from Red Bluff and a 14-year-old girl Rich dragged into his car by the hair as she was walking along a Redding street at night with her boyfriend.

“At that time, Cottonwood was a small, innocent town where you could leave your front door and windows open,” Weil said.

“My story is set in a similar Norman Rockwellian town that also loses its sense of innocence under the tyranny of one person,” she said, noting she will not use Darrell Rich’s name nor the names of any of his victims in fictionalizing her close brush with death.

“The protagonists in my novel are two teen-age girls who are going to figure out what’s happening because the police are taking too long,” she noted.

“I’m not going to use his name, but I want to capture the essence of the story. I’ve avoided doing this book for a long time because it is so dark and dangerous, but every time I try to step away from it, something draws me back to the story,” Weil said.

“I’m about 50 pages into it, and actually, I’d like to have two months clear to finish it,” she noted.

Meanwhile, she continues to plug away at two other books she is writing as well as complete a blog three times a week, Weil said.


We all have a story, an experience that only we can tell. We may feel too protective of that story, like we need to keep it locked up where nobody can see it lest we endure it again. I believe, though, that each of us has a story that only we can tell. That story makes itself clear to us over and over again as we either embrace it or push it away. In the end, we have a responsibility to share that story. And sense those are the stories I love to read most, those are the stories I will write.

Writing tips: Santa’s Good List

Santa Writing a letterMy friend, Kevin, sent me this list. It’s not mine. Perhaps you’ve seen it before. One thing’s for sure–you can just never get enough writing tips. (Probably a Pulitzer waiting on the other end if you follow them.)

How to Write Good

1. Avoid Alliteration. Always.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. Avoid clichés like the plague. They’re old hat.

4. Comparisons are as bad as clichés.

5. Be more or less specific

6. Writers should never generalize.

Seven. Be consistent.

8. Don’t’ be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.

9. Who needs rhetorical questions?

10. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.

Oh, Santa. You so funny.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

The Torch Carriers

torchWriting blog? What writing blog?

I marvel at writers who are disciplined 12 months out of the year. They have routines where they spend two hours each day most days (or even 7 hours each day) on their works in progress or other creative projects. They make time for journal entries, stream of consciousness writing, snail mail letters, blogs. You, my friends, are the Torch Carriers.

I’ve touched this discipline at times. And if nobody gets sick, or runs out of toilet paper, or has one of those out-of-the ordinary demands that are ordinary in my world, I can keep it going for maybe a few weeks.

Then it’s like anything. My writing time–which I’ve so nicely slotted out on my Google calendar–has been mulled over by life and the priorities I’ve chosen instead.

And this is a choice. It’s not like a bulldozer from my subconscious emerges and I have no control over it. It’s that I’ve looked at what’s most important to me right now in the present. I have two teen boys, one here only until June when he goes back to Germany, and one here for the next three years. Those moments are measured out and of highest priority as I know from having a 26 year-old that these moments fly by so quickly. My husband and I love date nights and daily walks with our 11-year-old lab. Those moments are measured. I exercise every day and coach others into a healthy lifestyle. I meditate each day, and spend time learning something new (right now in the form of weekly classes) and this is what keeps me balanced and inspired. I’m not willing to give any of that up.

When the day is over, I ask myself where I might have fit my writing in and I may or may not see a place. I ask myself where I might find a place the next day and I balance my priorities accordingly.

Whether or not it fits, there is this driving force in me that yearns to create, to explore the ideas that flow through me like Niagra Falls and never leave my lips or my keyboard, to tap into that utterly divine collective unconscious that so often arrives at similar tracks despite the allusion of individual creators.

And I know I will. Meanwhile, I am so grateful for the writers out there who write daily and keep the torch burning. Thank you, Torch Carriers.

Creativity Blossoms

vinhorneflowerI’m mentally back on the creative process and you know what that means.

The creative process is not a thing reserved for a select few who convert their first names to initials and write about wizards. It’s a thing that we all have access to and use in many different ways.

How it blooms depends on each of our unique seeds. Where we plant it, how we water it, how we sun it, how we fertilize it also matter. We can amp it up or turn it down, but it’s there for all of us to play with.

This past weekend I was doing one of those things I love most–talking with people and getting to know some friends of friends. It had been a full weekend in Austin with wedding festivities and touristy things. This was Day 3, Sunday brunch out on a patio overlooking the beautiful Austin hill country with a lake in the distance. We got on the subject of creativity which came after that question you know I always get. Wait for it.

“What books have you written that we can read?” There it is, followed by “I hate writing.”

But then the man talked about a class he and his wife had taken. He was surprised he liked it, but found it a great creative outlet where he didn’t usually get a chance to dabble in his more technical job. The class was called “Painting and Merlot” or something like that and the concept was each person got a canvas, a prompt, and a glass of wine. The man said as they all began to paint their “trees” each very unique painting became more and more beautiful as they drank.

First of all, I want to take this class. Next, I wondered, “What is it about the alcohol (substitute chocolate, food, etc.) that helps the creator become more creative?”

There is obviously a trend here if we look at all our creative types lost to addictions of various types. I remember hearing a guy say the best thing you can do for your art is to drink. I remember another one saying that was a horrible thing to say. I guess my curiosity lies more in the question of the “why.” Why does it take shifting the chemicals in our brain in some way to let the creative process open up?

I think it’s because of the Gremlin. That inner voice that mocks whatever it is that is being created. The one that shouts out, “Really? You just published that blog with all those freakin’ ass mistakes? You used “are” instead of “our?” Pretty ballsy, aren’t you?” or “That’s a tree?”

But here’s the thing. We don’t create to be perfect and put out perfect product. We create because it nurtures our soul. We create because it’s part of our natural process that yearns to be activated. We create because there is something that is so uniquely us that it is meant to be shared with the world.

It’s really just part of our job here to go forth and create.Through this process, we blossom. On that note, if anybody finds that “Paint and Merlot” class, sign me up! I’m in the mood to paint a tree.

What’s a Good Name for A Serial Killer?

nameI wonder if all writers have such a hard time naming their serial killers.

Can’t use the real name, can you? I’d really rather do that, because my novel is based on a particular one (my babysitter, actually, which is a pretty freaking weird feeling), but there are rules against that, I think.

I start thinking of names close to that original, but they all turn out sounding like church pastors or second grade teachers. I run down the list of people I don’t like that much, but that seems risky. I try to intuit it, but this is one area my intuition just goes, “Got nothin’.”

Next tactic: I ask other people in my immediate circle. My husband and I get a good laugh about last names like Killmore and Youngblood, but this is obviously too distracting and only really works for our own entertainment on our morning walk with the dog. I check with my mom who is a voracious reader and thoroughly excited by her discovery that she can buy 4 “pocket” books for a dollar down at the senior book club. She’s not sure either.

I start alliterating: Derek Durtz. Um…no. Nobody wants a serial killer with an alliterated name.

I pull up a list of ten serial killers and settle on one until I remember someone else who I really like with that name and don’t want to make their name into a serial killer name (even though the real live serial killer already did that if that makes any sense.)

I try to channel the writers of “24” because they’re AWESOME with names. Think about bars they might hang at in LA where I could go lurk and listen into their conversations over a porter and maybe they’d just bring it up. It could happen.

Sigh. Am I alone out here? Anybody got a great name for my real life babysitter serial killer?

The Lord of Confusion

lord_of_the_flies2I know I’m probably going to be flogged by English teachers from around the world, but I’m going to challenge this famous piece of literature up against today’s publishing process. In today’s market, would Lord of the Flies be published?

During my four years as an English Lit major at UCLA I read my share of complicated literature and I have a solid shelf of Cliff Notes to prove it. But what I’ve never understood is if you need a translation tool to understand what you’re reading, how do we decide these are great works of art, specifically for our high schoolers? How do they get on that elusive approved list that never dies?

On that note, I’m reading Lord of the Flies (another word for Satan as it turns out) with my high school freshman and neither of us are completely clear about what’s happening. Golding uses about four pages to describe kids playing on a beach with language that manages to complicate the picture so thoroughly, we have to read back over it. We sense there are hidden Highlights messages (I mean you don’t have to hit us over the head with a conch shell to see that), but what they are, we’re not entirely sure. That’s how secret they are.

Now, I know what I would do in a situation like this–I’d head straight for the Cliffs. But would this be okay with the teacher? Would my name come up in the staff lounge while discussing “bad parenting?” Should we be promoting translation tools to our rosy face youth who can’t even drive yet?

If I’ve learned anything from being a teacher myself, and having two kids go through lots of school, it’s that teachers can’t read minds. So I shot the teacher an email and told her we were both having problems understanding the–eh hem–decorative language and guess what she said? Get the Cliff Notes and use alongside. (Keyword: alongside.)

Sweet. Off I went to find said Cliffs and discovered them online–for free. A whole new world of literature translation. Each chapter was broken down with quizlets at the end and I thought how helpful this would have been when I was throwing back 15 novels in 10 week trimesters (often in Middle English) back in the day. I was thankful we had found this tool and that my son may actually be able to understand this famous novel before we just decided it was crap.

On the down side, understand that we just doubled our reading. First we read the summary, then the book, then the analysis. My son’s response? “How many more pages? This is taking too long.”

It’s not flawless, but at least we understand it’s an allegory written by the most likely depressed Golding, wrapped in his post WWII pessimistic view of human nature as savagery. That makes sense considering Hitler just took out six million Jews and 2 atomic bombs were dropped. Golding was grouchy and was certainly not seeing the Universe as a friendly place. But since he was Oxford grade and an English teacher to boot, we throw him a bone by passing his darkly penned novel on and on and on, all the while sharing his deep pessimism with our young adults. Fortunately, sense they don’t really understand it anyway, it doesn’t rub off that much.

But back to my original point–is there an editor out there in today’s market that would confidently take this to Acquisitions and lobby for it? From my limited corner in the literary world, I hear editors wanting clear language that gets to the point…characters the reader can keep track of…a readable text. I know. I know. Language evolves and it was different then. But here’s my follow up question. If that’s the case, and with all the new amazing literature that’s been written over the past ten years, why is it we make our high school students read the same five novels over and over? (All people under 25, exactly how many times were you assigned The Giver?)

Maybe I’m just missing something here. And just to clarify, I don’t feel like this about all novels deemed high school curriculum worthy. But I definitely think we have lots of amazing choices (which don’t require translation tools) that may be passed up in the name of what we’re supposed to revere.