Category Archives: Family

Surviving Co-Authorship: Guest Post by Jennifer Pallanich

By Jennifer Pallanich

 

Co-writing a novel can be the best idea you’ve ever had. Or it can be a miserable experience that causes you to swear off co-authorship for the rest of your life.

Think back to those group projects in school. Sometimes the group was a dream team, and everyone contributed well and evenly, creating something that was far better than any one person could have done solo. The project was fun and you got an A. This is what you want.

But more often than not, one or two people did all the work while the rest contributed some or none at all. The keeners felt taken advantage of and the others felt nagged by the barrage of requests to participate. Not fun for anyone.

I hated group projects.

But I love co-writing: the collaborative process, working with someone I trust completely, each bringing our own writing strengths to the table.

What’s at the core of our co-author relationship? My brother and I make a good team. There’s the trust I mentioned, developed from earliest childhood and our shared upbringing. We have similar tastes in reading, culture and entertainment. We share many of the same interests and outlooks. We have similar work ethic and drive. We share certain writing ambitions and have a shared vision for what we want to accomplish.

We started our co-author lives with a deck stacked deeply in our favor.

But there are three more essential elements that make our collaboration enjoyable: artistic chemistry, mutual respect, and clearly defined expectations.

Artistic chemistry means bringing out the best in the other person’s writing and thinking. We spend countless hours kicking around ideas and brainstorming to work through knotty plot problems together. His ideas spur mine, and mine spur his. The artistic chemistry that is evident when we brainstorm makes me happy. It makes all the hard hours in front of the laptop fun.

Mutual respect is huge, and is borne of the trust we share. We treat each other well. We know the other person’s strengths and weaknesses as well as we know our own. We can see the other grow and improve in the craft of writing. We listen to the other’s opinions and respond respectfully, even when we disagree or just don’t like a suggestion. In the end, we make choices based on what’s best for the story we’re trying to tell, not based on whose idea it was or who just gave up and gave in because they just wanted the discussion to be over. To us, the story is bigger than the ego.

Probably the most important thing my brother and I did when we decided to create a superhero universe and co-write and co-publish a trilogy is draft a set of responsibilities and expectations. Our co-author agreement stipulates who has final say over story points and who has final say over the words. It outlines who handles which marketing actions. It states who works with the editors and who works with the artists. These roles are obviously in line with our strengths. I wouldn’t ever dream of collaborating with someone without clearly setting out the expectations of each party.

So, for example, if one of us believes the story should go one way, and the other thinks it should go the other, we’d both make our cases. Through the discussion – which often will include the question “what’s best for the story?” – one or the other of us might be swayed, and the discussion ends. But sometimes the person in charge of story makes a ruling. Once that’s done, the discussion is over and we move on, no ego involved.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that co-authoring is less work or somehow easier than doing your own thing. Collaborating makes far more work, although I think the final product is worth it.

We’re both plotters rather than pantsers, so while we share the same writing approach we must harmonize two different writing styles. To address this, he revises the chapters I write and I revise the chapters he writes. This approach helps blend our styles and ensures every chapter shines with both of our voices.

Right now, my brother and I are in the final throes of revising the fourth draft of our second book to send to our editor at the end of January. It’s pretty intense, with each of us spending two or three hours a day on the project. Some of that is solo work – laptop hours editing and revising. But we spend a lot of time discussing the draft and fixing loose ends and broken logic.

The process isn’t perfect, and we’ve fine-tuned it a bit since we starting writing the first draft of the first book, but it works for us.

Happy writing.

 

Jennifer Pallanich is a freelance writer. As a trade journalist, she has bylined over half a million words about the oil and gas industry. She and her brother, Baltimore Russell, created the Children of the Solstice universe and between October 2014 and January 2015, they co-wrote the first draft of the entire trilogy. They co-published book one, Awakening, in late 2016 through their publishing imprint Pair Tree Ink. The second book is expected out in mid-2018. Jennifer loves to read good versus evil stories. An avid scuba diver, traveler, reader, and writer, she lives with a lab mix named Houdini and a cat named Possum. She volunteers with a local no-kill animal shelter.  Check out her Amazon page.

Baltimore Russsell is an actor, producer, and writer.  He and his husband created the People You Know new media series, which aired on HereTV.  Almost from the time he learned to work a pencil, he could often be found creating his own stories.  He lives in New York City with his husband, John Dylan Delatorre.  Check out his Amazon page.

 

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Filed under Family, Guest Posts, On Writing

The Meaning of Life

Life as a parent can be tough. There are many nights when you don’t get enough sleep. There are too many mornings when they just won’t get ready for school. There are numerous afternoons when you don’t think you’ll ever get through their homework and their sibling rivalries.

A friend asked me recently if I could imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have kids. I could have dreamed of days spent lying on the couch with a book in my hand and never having to get up to help someone go potty or put toothpaste on their toothbrush. I might have thought of the numerous vacations I could have gone on since I wasn’t spending all my money on clothes, diapers, toys, and school fundraisers. I might have imagined a world where I could sleep all night if I wanted to, or stay up all night if I wanted to, and the only person that would have to deal with it would be me.

Instead, I found myself in a world where there were no little people to hug me and tell me I’m the best mommy in the whole wide world. There were no drawings on the fridge and no juice boxes inside it. There was nobody’s room to sneak in at night before I go to bed just to watch them sleep and know they were okay. It was a sad world full of loneliness, and I had no purpose in it.

Yes, life as a parent can be tough. But I couldn’t ever give it back.

The girls and I having a pink pajama pants party.

The girls and I having a pink pajama pants party.

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My Own Ruler for Measuring Success

If you do a bit of googling (which you’re probably doing anyway), I’m sure you will find plenty of articles about success. It might be tips for how to succeed, stories of how someone else already did, or inspiring tidbits for those who aren’t feeling motivated.

This isn’t really any of those.

I had a conversation recently about how success is measured. I made this absolutely crazy statement about how I don’t equate money with success, and I got some major side-eye followed by an outright rejection of my theory. No, they said, they definitely wanted to get paid and get paid well in order to consider themselves successful.

I get that. I mean, money shouldn’t be everything, but it kind of is. If you want a new car or a nice house, you must have some way of paying for it, right? And nothing is cheap these days. So in this sense, yes, money is how you know you’re successful.

But what a terrible cage that puts you in. If you make good money but you hate your job, then you’re successful? If you make good money but you never have time for your family, then you’re successful? If you make good money but it’s killing you in the process, then you’re successful?

Don’t get me wrong, I like making money. I’m not interested in working for free, because I have bills to pay, children to feed, and Doctor Who merchandise to buy. But I don’t think it’s okay to be a slave to the almighty dollar while sacrificing everything else that’s important in life.

I’ve never had a lot of money. (I mean, seriously. If you know me, you know that I have never had money.) As a freelance writer, I’m sure not raking it in. But I do feel successful. How is my success measured?

 

I get paid to do what I love.

I get to work from home, which means I am always here for my family.

My clients come back to me for repeat business, which is a huge compliment.

My husband has done nothing but support and encourage me in this endeavor.

My stress levels are pretty low.

My schedule is flexible.

I’m happy.

 

For me, all of this adds up to something that is worth so much more than a six-figure job. Would I turn down a multi-million dollar book deal? Heck, no. But I don’t need one to know that I’m successful.

 

Measure success

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Filed under Family, Finances, On Writing, Work, Work-at-Home Mom

Our Christmas List is Growing Up

I’ve been working on Christmas since last Christmas. No, I don’t put my tree up the day after Halloween, or even the day after Thanksgiving. I’m working on the gifts.

A couple years ago, we started doing our shopping the day after Christmas. It might make it sound like a drawn-out, stressful thing, but it has a lot of advantages. It lets us peruse through clearance sales, buying nicer items than we might normally be able to afford. If I want to do some handmade items (and I usually do), I actually have the time to enjoy making them. We also get to slow down and pick out gifts that are meaningful, instead of just, “Oh, crap. I don’t know what to get you. Here’s some lotion.”

I sat down this evening to look over our Christmas list and I realized something: My kids are growing up. The careful lists I keep (coded for what has yet to be bought, what has already been bought, and what has been wrapped) used to be full of dolls, blocks, and other random toys. My kids still have some toys on their lists, but they’re swiftly moving away from the primary-colored plastic Mega blocks and toward finely painted Schleich figurines. More and more gifts are electronics, or accessories for them. My oldest daughter (who is nine) has items on her lists like earrings, a knife, and new boots. Yep, she’s a replica of myself at that age, but it’s strange to see it happening to someone else.

I admit that in some ways it makes me yearn for their younger years. You know, when they didn’t talk back, argue about when they take their showers or what they watch on television, or bring home a surprising amount of drama from school. I can’t help but miss their more innocent days.

On the other hand, it is so awesome that they are finally a bit independent! They are absolutely brilliant (my six-year-old has a gargantuan vocabulary!), and I can have meaningful conversations with them. As far as the Christmas gifts go, it’s nice to know that if I buy them a $30 gift, it’s probably going to last them a few years instead of getting shoved under the bed and forgotten in six months. I think it is so awesome that my nine-year-old wants a pocket knife and is interested in going deer hunting.

As I watch my children and their Christmas lists evolve, it’s nice to reminisce about my tiny babies while I share deep thoughts with my about-to-be-big kids. I’ll go buy the boots that are almost big enough to fit me, and the chapter books that nobody wants to have read aloud to them. And I’ll enjoy it just as much as I always have.

My Christmas Wish List on an old typewriter

 

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November 19, 2015 · 9:22 pm

It’s Worth It

I settle into my burgundy leather office chair and pull myself up to my desk.  I love this desk.  It’s solid cherry with an attached hutch, which it gives it that study-carrel-at-the-library feel.  (I like that feeling, cause I’m a nerd.)  We even moved my desk recently so it would be at a ninety degree angle to the bookshelf, and give me just a little bit more of that secluded feeling when I’m working.  My laptop is open, my journal and ball point pen at the ready for any side notes I need to take, and my betta in his desktop fish tank has been fed.  I am ready to start writing.

Suddenly the MIDI version of the Scooby Doo theme song on loop starts playing in my left ear, rather loudly.  My comfy chair becomes slightly less comfy as my six-year-old decides to make it into a loveseat.  I remember why the no-sound-on-video-games-being-played-outside-your-bedroom rule was established.  I’m on a roll though, feeling creative and productive, and enjoying her company as she slowly puts my leg to sleep, so I let it go.

It doesn’t always work out this well.  There are other days when the  kids seem to forget that I work at home, and think I’m simply at home.  On those days, I have someone at my shoulder every five minutes asking for a peanut butter sandwich, or complaining about a sibling.  It can make it pretty darn hard (or impossible) to get anything done.

I started working from home so I could be with my kids more often.  Sometimes I find that I am with them too often.

But today I came back to my desk after a short break and dove back into editing the current chapter of my upcoming book.  Right in the middle of a sentence I find that someone has typed “i love mom.”

Yep.  It’s worth it.

2015-09-15 16.19.36

 

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Filed under Family, Parenting, Work, Work-at-Home Mom, working with children

Why Senior Shelter Dogs Piss Me Off

2015-06-17 16.18.50-1

This is Leo. He’s eleven years old and very much feeling his age. He has arthritis so bad that you can hear his hips cracking and popping when he walks. He only has three legs, so when you throw in the fact that we have hardwood floors the poor guy moves at a pretty tortoiselike pace. The other day he lost his balance and fell off the porch into the gladiolas (he was fine). Yesterday evening he fell out of the front door and face planted into the concrete porch (again, he was fine).  He has horrible skin allergies that make him greasy and stinky. I have to lift him in and out of the bathtub when it’s time for a wash.  Leo can’t stay in the same room with my other dog, Porkchop, because they are both extremely territorial. He’s going deaf, so he randomly barks at the cats when they walk through his room and scare him.  Or, we think sometimes he’s barking at his own foot.  He’s old; he’s allowed to do that.

Recently, Leo had to have surgery. He’s at that point in his life where he’s covered in tumors. Most of them really don’t bother him, but he developed one that was hanging off his lip. The vet determined he was healthy enough to undergo surgery and removed the one from his lip, one by his ear, and one from his leg while I waited. Half an hour and several hundred dollars later I hefted all 54 pounds of him into the back of my Subaru and headed home.

There is an amazing amount of room back here!  (Don't judge me on my dirty car, just look at his cute tractor bandage instead. :) )

There is an amazing amount of room back here! (Don’t judge me on my dirty car, just look at his cute tractor bandage instead. 🙂 )

I had to give him his antibiotic every day (as well as his allergy pill and arthritis medicine), wrapped in a slice of American cheese. I checked over his stitches on a constant basis to make sure he wasn’t picking them open.  I ran to PetCo and got him this super cool (and expensive) collar to help keep him from scratching at his wounds, and apparently to humiliate him.   I once woke up in the middle of the night with this panicky feeling that I just had to check on him (once more, he was fine).  In short, I fussed.

I must be the meanest dog mommy ever to make him wear this awful thing.

I must be the meanest dog mommy ever to make him wear this awful thing.

Are you exhausted yet?  Cause I’m pretty worn out just thinking about it, and I live it. I absolutely adore my animals, but I’ll still admit that they wear me out sometimes.

But you know what? I’m not going to give them up. I’m not going to dump Leo off at some shelter and tell them I “just can’t take care of him anymore.” He might take up lot of my time, but he needs us. He needs to have my youngest daughter curl up in his bed with him even though he stinks. He needs to know that once the kids have gone to bed, I’ll let his grumpy butt come into the living room and lay in front of the couch while I watch reruns of Doctor Who (he’s not allowed on the couch for safety purposes; see above notes about falling all the time). He needs someone to tell him he’s a good boy just for being there, and to give him a treat just because.

He wouldn’t get that in a shelter. We have some great shelters here in Southern Illinois, and they do their best, but there just isn’t enough time for all that.  How could there be?

So if you’re one of those people that “just can’t handle” your dog when he gets old, don’t be surprised if I tell you just what I think about you.

He’s been part of your family since puppyhood. He’s guarded your house, laid his head on your lap when you were sad, and been a playmate to your children. He not only needs love, but deserves it.

Leo with one of his favorite girls!

Leo with one of his favorite girls!

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Filed under Animals, Family, Uncategorized

Summer Writing…or Lack Thereof

Hello.  My name is Ashley O’Melia, and it has been at least three weeks since my last writing session.  You know why?  Summer break.  Oh, it isn’t a break for me, not by a long shot.  No, summer break means my kids are home all the time to ask for snacks, fight with each other, and basically keep me thoroughly distracted.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my kids and I love spending time with them.  Cereal in the living room while we have a My Little Pony marathon on a Wednesday morning?  Well, who could resist that?  Spontaneously deciding to bake chocolate chip cookies on a Thursday afternoon?  Heck yeah!  But all of this means that my writing schedule has been thoroughly, utterly blown off course.  And I NEED a schedule.

So after far too many days of floating along and promising myself I would do it tomorrow, I finally sat down at my computer this afternoon to write.  I edited the first chapter of my most recent novel.  I hated it.  I attempted to write a funny and poignant blog post.  It was humorless and pointless.  I did some freewriting.  I usually do this on my laptop because my brain can’t keep up with my typing speed.  I didn’t even save it.

So here’s to another writing session tomorrow (hopefully).  Here’s to finding the time to take for myself and write all the horrific drivel possible in the space of an hour, just to get it out of my system and dig back down to the good stuff.  Here’s to that moment when my brain says, “Oh, so THAT’S what you wanted me to do? Okay, cool.”  Here’s to recognizing and appreciating that moment when it happens, whether I’m at my desk, squashed under a pile of children on the couch, or hiding in the basement.  Here’s to summer writing.

Portrait of romantic young woman writing in a diary lying down over the grass. Relax outdoor time concept.

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Filed under Family, On Writing, Parenting