j. leigh bailey

...because everyone deserves a happy ending

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Change, Challengs and #ChiWords

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on June 27, 2014 at 8:00 AM Comments comments (2)

Today it is my pleasure to sponsor Chi-Words! As a member of both the Chicago North and Windy City chapters of RWA, I get a special thrill when the two groups work together.

  

For many, writing in the summer is a challenge. Children are out of school and suddenly those quiet, interruption-free hours for crafting the manuscript are gone. And thus #Chi-Words—like it’s older sister Summer of All the Words—is born. I’ll admit, not having children of my own, the change of seasons doesn’t impact me as much as it does others. However, I lack a certain amount of discipline. Sad but true.

  

I’ve never been afraid of change. Change is good. Change keeps us from falling into a rut. Change doesn’t have to be big, or pushed in on us from outside forces.

  

Sometimes the change we need is a change in the way we think.

  

As writers, this is especially true. Insecurity battles with ego and we constantly think about all the things we can’t do. We read an outstanding book or manuscript and immediately think “I’ll never be able to write like that!”

  

That kind of negative thinking is dangerous.

  

So, how do we change the way we think? We challenge ourselves. I like challenges better than competition. Luckily, we’re in an industry where there is room for all of us—we don’t have to compete with each other.

  

When I started writing seriously, I didn’t think I could do it. I ran across a call for submissions for a horror anthology looking for short stories. Well, I can’t even write a short email, let alone a short piece of fiction (or so I thought). So I challenged myself. I would write a story that fit the guidelines. I maybe wouldn’t submit it—goodness only knows it would probably be horrible—but I’d try and write it. Of course, this challenge was made worse by the fact it was supposed to be horror. I didn’t read horror. I didn’t watch horror movies. Heck, I had to go to Wikipedia to find out what the “elements of horror” were to make sure I met the criteria for the submission. When I was done, I had a horror(ish) short story with a complete arc and reasonably developed characters. Hot damn! No one was more surprised than I when it was accepted into the anthology.

  

 

  

Then I saw a call for submissions for flash fiction erotica. A 6,000 word short story was one thing, but less than 1,000? That was pushing it. And erotica? There’s a reason I write YA—I’m scared of the sex scenes! But I challenged myself. Over the next three months, I had five erotic flash fiction stories accepted for publication (I blushed the whole time, but I did it!)

  

My third manuscript is out on submission—it’s a YA action/adventure, with character-driven overtones written in first person. I had never done first person before. I’d never written anything character-driven before. I’m pretty sure this is the best piece I’ve ever written. I can tell you it’s the most fun I’ve ever had while writing. All because I challenged myself to change.

  

This year has been a big year of change for me. I’ve had weight loss surgery and had to completely change what I eat and how I deal with stress and emotions. I challenged myself to improve my credit and save some money and am now in the process of buying a house. My new challenge (as any of you who follow me on Facebook may have noticed) is a Couch to 5K program. No, it’s not writing related! It’s a 9 week exercise program that will presumably allow me to go from being a couch potato to actually running a 5K. Me running! Craziness. But it’s a challenge and a life-style change. And so far I’ve been able to do something I never thought I would be able to do—I’m actually running. And not dying. Change and challenges are changing my life for the better.

  

So, since I’m about as subtle as a sledge hammer, the point of this is: change your way of thinking by challenging yourself. If your first reaction is to say “I can’t” or “No way,” give it a shot. You’ll probably surprise yourself. And if it doesn’t work out, don’t beat yourself out. Just making the attempt at something new is worth being proud of.

  

Okay, now that my little inspirational speech is done (maybe I should consider a career change?), don’t forget to join me tonight from 8-9 for ChiWords—be sure to use the #Chiwords hashtag and include @ChicagoNorthRWA and @Windy_City_RWA –there will be a prize for a lucky participant!

 

See you there!


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Romance IS the Plot

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on October 29, 2013 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (0)

 

I was talking to a writer friend of mine—the amazing Juliann Rich—who also writes LGBTQ YA novels. In our discussions we realized we came to this, on the surface at least, common place from two very different directions. We were debating author tag lines and missions. She’s all about the journey and the building bridges and sparking conversations that will bring people together. Her newly minted tagline is “Open books. Open minds.” That’s her purpose, her goal. I worried maybe I didn’t have a purpose, not like she does. My tagline… the one that’s sort of hung around for years as a place-holder until I could find one that fit me better is “Because everyone deserves a happy ending.” You see, for me, I write for the romance.

 

My novels will always have a happy ending—a romantic happy ending—not just a completion of a journey. * Or, as I overheard the incomparable Z A Maxfield say in a panel at GRL, “the romance is the plot.” Everything is about how my two characters overcome obstacles—whether it’s high school bullies, pretentious parents or international mercenaries in Africa—to achieve their Happy Ever After. Now there’s more to it than that, of course. There needs to be something that stands in the way to that romance. Also, the romance is likely what will, in the end, overcome the external conflict.

 

I love the warm and fuzzy feeling I get when the couple (or triad or other poly relationships) declares their love and decide to make a go of it as a unit. I like it when a character is willing to sacrifice everything important to him in order to save/protect the love of his life. I sigh when the couple makes love (note: NOT the same as sex, though there’s nothing wrong with that… different intonation.) I cheer when an over-the-top proposal earns a teary “yes.” I assume that every Happily For Now ending (seriously, is the 16 year old protagonist going to be with the love interest for the rest of their life?) is a Happily Together for Ever and Always ending (realistic or not, YES, I assume my two 17 year old boys will be in love forever and grow old together in a house in the suburbs with two dogs and two adopted children).

 

There’s more to it than that, though.

 

  • Romance is a guy holding your hair back for you when you puke your guts up.
  • Romance is searching the swamp for hours to find Miss Kay the perfect turtle to replace Mr. T (yes, a Duck Dynasty reference!)
  • Romance is your grandpa still calling your grandma “Babe.”
  • Romance is when the boy you have a crush on tells you you’re not fat, you’re squeezably soft.

 

I love those moments. THAT is why I write romance. Now, I write gay romance because, on top of the other conflicts in the way of the characters getting their happily ever after, they have other obstacles, like social stigma, to be out or not to be out, family acceptance, stereotypes and ignorance.

 

A lot of this was brought home to me at GRL. While I was in Atlanta for the conference I saw several male couples holding hands, or resting a head on the other’s shoulder. I LOVED that we were in venue in which they could share in public displays of affection. (Obviously, it’s rare enough in my current locale for me to notice and grin.) There was even an honest-to-goodness marriage proposal. (I’m so irked that I didn’t attend that panel so I missed the moment.)

 

I want to live in, and write about, a world where two people can hold hands and no one reacts negatively because the two people are the same gender or different races, or different paranormal species

 

Ultimately, I think my place-holder tagline just might be perfect for me.

 

BECAUSE EVERYONE DESERVES A HAPPY ENDING.

 

*Please note: I am in no way denigrating Juliann or any other author who can write excellent character or emotion driven fiction. I’m a shallow plot girl, and have total admiration for those with more depth. :)

 

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Traveling Thru Africa... from Home

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on September 25, 2013 at 1:15 PM Comments comments (0)

One of my favorite parts of starting a new project is the research.

 

In my first novel I didn’t have too much to research. I got to look up some information on baseball and soccer, parts of the uniforms, seats at Wrigley Field. Nothing too in-depth or out of the realm of the normal.

In my second novel I got to learn a lot about power tools, the location of a state park, the rivalry between two colleges in the same town, and the name of the truck stop near Northfield, MN. Again, nothing too in-depth or out of the ordinary.

 

My third book, well, that one is going to be fun. It takes place in Cameroon, Africa. I’ve never been to Cameroon (or anywhere in Africa, really). Researching it—everything from the major airports and transportation infrastructure to the local flora and fauna—is So. Much. Fun. Using Google Maps, I was able to zoom in on a satellite image and trace the route my characters will take while crossing the country. I was able to tell when the roads went from being paved to dirt. I found the absolute *best* place for them to be kidnapped by mercenary rebels from the neighboring Central African Republic. I could see the actual stone wall that separated the countries and the highway that was *right there*!

 

I could not have written this story fifteen years ago, at least not with the same level of authenticity.

 

Because I went to college for International Relations with an emphasis on Africa and the Middle East, I knew that there was more to Africa than the stereotypes we westerners normally see. It’s not all safaris through the savanna or starvation in the Sahara. It’s not all primitive tribal structures and tiny villages. Do those things exist? Of course, but there are also big cities with shopping malls and McDonald’s restaurants.

 

 

Instead of relying on the stereotypes, thanks to the amazing tools of the technological age, I almost have too much information. I want to include it all! But I have to be judicious in what I incorporate where. My main character is not a zoologist or botanist, so he wouldn’t know a mahogany tree from a mangrove.

 

The great part, though, is that because of the route they are taking to get from Yaounde to the fictional refugee camp that is their destination, they get to experience several different geological areas. Cameroon is considered the “little Africa” within the continent, because every geographical terrain found in the continent is also found in the country. Also, more than half of the animal species in Africa can be found in Cameroon.

 

Thanks to the internet and the huge resources it can link me to, I know exactly how long it will take for my character to fly from Chicago to Yaounde and where he will have to layover. I also have turn by turn directions from Yaounde to the camp. I’ve also learned the intricacies of the insulin pump, how to refill it, how to wear it and the effects of certain stressors on people with diabetes. I love that I don’t have to plan a big research trip (though I do enjoy those) or do a lot of up-front research. I can write my story and when I need to know something, Google comes to the rescue.

 

And, since my research has taken me to very shudder-inducing territory, I’m sharing a snippet of my new WIP that relates to some of the “wildlife” in Cameroon. Enjoy!

 

 

 

          A flash of red caught my eye. My backpack sat under the cot by my feet. I lifted the bag and—“Holy shit!” I tossed the bag across the small enclosure and swung my legs up onto the cot. There, where it had apparently nestled in for the night under my bag, was the biggest fucking spider I had ever seen. Nightmarishly big. Huge. As big as my hand at full-spread. As big as a fricking pie. A furry fricking pie. Rust-colored fur encased its freakishly large body. “What the fuck is that?”

          I didn’t appreciate the gales of laughter coming from the other cot. I’m a guy and, on the whole, spiders and bugs didn’t bother me. But when the spider was big enough to crush my skull, I got a little squeamish.

          Henry stood up and reached for the mutant arachnid.

          “Don’t touch it!” I may have squealed like a girl. Maybe.

          “It won’t hurt you. Unless you’re allergic to spider bites, a bite from this guy wouldn’t do more than irritate your skin for a couple of days.”

          “Fuck that. If that thing bit me, it could take a finger. Or maybe an arm.” I scooted back on the cot until I hit the plywood board of the wall. I was pretty sure, if it came down to it, I could break through the cheap particle board to get out. I thought it might have become necessary when Henry actually picked it up. Its legs, and I wasn’t exaggerating, were as long and thick as my fingers and wriggled madly as Henry turned it so that I could see its face.

         “It’s a giant baboon spider. Its mouth isn’t big enough to do more than take a nip.”

          A shudder wracked my body. “Get that thing away from me. Or get me a shotgun.”

  

  

This is a giant baboon spider... as you can see, from the right angle, it kind of looks lilke a monkey with a creepy smile.

 

Illinois Big Twelve Conference Teen Lit Fest

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on February 18, 2013 at 6:30 PM Comments comments (0)

I have the honor of judging a high school descriptive writing contest in preparation for the Illinois Big Twelve Conference Teen Lit Fest in April. This weekend I got a package in the mail that included about 40 short scenes written by high school freshmen and sophomores. I have to read the entries, provide feedback and rank them based on criteria including sensory details, the feelings evoked, sentence structure and flow and, least importantly, grammar and punctuation.

  

I started reading some of them this weekend, and man, I’ve gotta say, these kids have some serious skills. So much so, in fact, that I’m a little intimidated. I have no idea how I’m going to decide any kind of ranking. Sure, there are some that are better than others, but these entries are amazing. One is a two page description of a bad bike crash that had me holding my breath and cringing (right now it’s my top pick, but I’ve only read ten of the forty!).

  

I am so excited to be part of an event that teaches and encourages the youth of our country to learn and explore writing, whether fiction writing, poetry, essays or whatever. The written word has always had a significant impact on my life, I love that I get to help engender the same level of love and excitement in others.

  

And to all of my writer friends out there—watch out. These kids are coming, and they’re going blow us out of the water (or the best sellers’ lists!).

  

  


 

 

Grandpa's Poem

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on January 25, 2013 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (1)

I’m not a poet. I don’t get poetry, I have no rhythm and I tend to avoid complicated or extended metaphors. I know (intellectually) that poetry is so much more than that, but it’s something I’ve never really gotten into.

 

My grandfather died almost 15 years ago. After he died, one of the things he always said to me—“You be a good girl”—kept running through my mind. I had this need to write something, to put into words something to commemorate him. And, somehow, this poem emerged.

 

“You be a good girl, Jen.”

I am.

I’ll try.

It’s too hard,

Too much work.

I want to.

I think I can.

“Grandpa, I always am.”

 

His strong, vibrant body,

Withered with age

And depleted by illness.

But there’s still that quick grin

And a story to tell.

His hand gripping mine,

He’s lost in the past.

 

It’s the last time I’ll see him.

I know it deep inside.

He lays there and smiles at me.

He knows the end is near.

He smiles, pats my hand and says,

“You be a good girl, Jen.”

I smile and say, “I always am.”

 

 

It's not very well-written, but when I read it I can picture the last time I spoke with my grandpa. I have to say, other than my sporadic attempts at journal entries and letters I wrote to people I was angry with but never sent, this is the only time I'd ever written something that truly expressed my real emotions, from and by me, not a fictitious character or situation.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on January 7, 2013 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (0)

This is a letter that my grandmother wrote to my grandfather (who was stationed in Europe during World War II) telling him about the birth of their first child, my aunt Sharron. The previously unknown letter was discovered while going through some of my grandma's things before her funeral.

 

I've typed exactly how it was written, spelling and punctuation and all.

 

It's amazing what a person can tell about my grandmother by what she said and how she said it. Also, it's a great little slice of history.

  

Wednesday afternoon

  

August 15, 1945

  

My dearest darling Eddie (daddy)

 

Yep! Honey it’s all over with except the shouting and I aint talking about the war! I hope you have my cable by now. Sharron Kay arrived about ten minutes after six last night. Darling I wish you could see her! She is a perfect little doll. Lots of black hair and eyes that are so dark blue that they look black. She is, I’m sure, the most wonderful little girl ever to be born.

 

I didn’t write you my daily letter last nite cause by the time I was finished with my celebration the mail had gone out. Anyway I hope I get this one in the mail this evening.

 

Jim + Lola are sending the cable. There was no one to send it last night and everything is closed today but they are trying.

 

Yesterday morning I got up feeling fine except every time I moved I almost left a puddle of water behind. Pa brought me down. Got here at 12:30 and I still felt fine except I was still flooding. The nurse brought me in and undressed me, then took me to the bathroom for an enema. About two o’clock I started having pains five minutes apart but they were easy. About three thirty they came every two or three minutes and got harder and harder. Was in a bit of misery from about four until five minutes till six when they had me on the push cart and took me to the delivery room. Things really began to happen fast and furious then and about the third hard pain I had out popped the baby. It was fine from there on out and I’ve never had a single hurt. President Truman was just starting his VJ speech when Sherry made her debut with a loud bawl and by the time she quit crying, the Pres. was thru talking. Sure starting the life out as an important one isn’t she? Guess she is too!

 

She sure is grand. I sorta hoped for your sake that it would be a boy but we can have him when you come back. She is so bright eyed and lively. After they bathed her when she was born they brought her in and I darn near blew a fuse with pride. She is so sweet. Then this morning at six they brought her in to nurse. When she snuggled her little pug nose up against me I felt like I was the only woman in the world. And how she did suck. She is a regular glutton although there is nothing much but watery milk in my breasts yet. I hope I can continue to nurse her.

  

I’m so glad the war is finally over. Now maybe you can come home to us before too long. We sure hope so.

  

Ellen was in a minute last nite. Jim + Lola this afternoon. Has been raining hard all day so no grandparents have been in to see the new arrival. Will be tomorrow I guess. They telephoned and asked how I was.

 

We love you very much Eddie and hope you are half as tickled as we are. I really feel wonderful. Loads of love and hugs and kisses. Toots + Sherry

 

Part of what makes this letter so interesting to me is that by the time I knew my grandma she was already sixty years old and a very straight-forward, practical type person. The emotion and love were there, but she wasn't a particularly sentimental person, if you know what I mean. This letter shows a side of her that I'd never seen before. But then the blunt talk about the birth fits perfectly with the woman I knew.

  

 

Also, the bit about my aunt being born as Truman was declaring the war over is just an awesome piece of trivia.

  

 

People just don't write letters like this any more. It's truely a lost art.

A Letter to Taco Bell Guy

Posted by J. Leigh Bailey on October 23, 2012 at 5:00 PM Comments comments (0)

My Dearest Taco Bell Guy--

 

Though you may not recognize me, you have changed my life. I remember the first time I ever saw you. It was November, three years ago. It was rainy and cold. When I entered your place of employment, the heat from the kitchens and the aroma of your spicy ground beef immediately warmed me.

 

Normally I frequent the drive-thru. It is more convenient and generally I'm in a hurry to get home.  On this particular occassion, however, I was tempted by the well-lit lobby and the J. L. Langley book loaded onto my Kindle, so I opted to dine in.

 

Oh, what a fortuitous decision that was!

 

There you were, standing behind the register, head tilted down. Your shaggy dark hair hung in front of your eyes and it wasn't until I thanked you after placing my order did you look up. Your eyes, your beautiful light blue eyes, were accented with a thin line of black eyeliner. The shock of this, in incongruity, took me aback.  You were such a shy, quiet-seeming boy. But the eyeliner indicated a rebellious, rocker soul.

 

When you handed me my reciept, I was again shocked. Oh, how you enthralled me with your complex layers! On your arm, barely visible under the sleeves of your Taco Bell uniform shirt, was a patchwork of scars from wrist to elbow where they disappeared under your sleeve. Burn scars. Scars from the skin graft that had been done. My heart wrenched for the pain you must have suffered. My mind started to sort through ideas of how you were burned. What happened? Morbid, perhaps, but I couldn't rest until the full story was revealed.

 

I sat at an incredibly uncomfortable table in the restaurant lobby, my mind racing with plots and theories. In in that feverish bout of brainstorming, Graham Parker was born.

 

In the end, Graham metamorphed beyond his original conception. He was not the quiet, withdrawn boy who hid from the world. He turned into an outgoing, gregarious eyeliner-wearing soccer phenom from St. Louis who would change the course of one Connor Fitzpatrick's life.

 

And thus, from our brief meeting on a cold November night, Guyliner was born. So thank you, wherever you are.  May life treat you right.

 

Sincerly,

 

J. Leigh Bailey