Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Champagne & New Earrings

Here's a personal question for you: do you celebrate your successes and milestones? And if you don't mind my asking. . .how?

The reason I ask is that I need to learn this. I have a hard time stopping, relaxing, celebrating the good stuff. One time, the usual carton of freshly minted books arrived from my publisher and after the delivery guy set it down in my front room, I scooted it out of the way with my foot, and started to walk away. Suddenly I stopped and said to myself, "What are you doing?! Those are the first copies of your new BOOK!" I made myself turn around, go back, open the carton, pick one up and, I dunno, pet it.

Pitiful! Absolutely pathetic!

One of our friends here, Sally, celebrates each of her novels by going out and buying herself a pretty pair of earrings when a new book comes out. Sally, if you're reading this today, do you still do that? I always loved that tradition of yours. It's small, but it's yours, and it marks every lovely literary milestone in your life.

My family celebrated things we didn't have any control over, calendar events like birthdays or Christmas, but not anything that any of us did, if you see the difference. Cake for getting older, but not for getting promoted, in other words. Maybe I swallowed a little too much of that hook, line, and sinker. We were encouraged to be quiet about our own and each other's accomplishments. Maybe too quiet?

Do any of you have ways you celebrate the good stuff? Do you celebrate it? Any traditions akin to Sally's earrings? How do you get yourself to absorb the happy fact that you DID it, you really, finally, and in spite of everything, did it?

How would "Matt Daimon" celebrate it? :)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Matt Daimon?

Last week, greenminute said something I didn't respond to, because I wanted to think about it. (I know, I know, what a concept!) Green said. . .

"I might. . .suggest that you were already a writer many years before you began writing, many years before you found or were clobbered by your catalyst. I would think you became a writer at about age 10 or 11, around the same time that eventual serial killers start torturing small animals they find in their neighborhood, and bridge engineers design their first birdhouse, and veterinarians rescue their first baby bird."

Do you think that's true? Does it happen that early? Or even earlier?

There's a famous Jungian analyst by the name of James Hillman who says we are like acorns, with all of our future talents and potentials curled up tight inside of us like our DNA. He calls that stuff inside the acorn our "daimon." He points out the obvious, that no acorn can grow into an oak tree without the requisite light, food, and water. Then he takes it at least a step further, claiming that sometimes the "bad" things that happen in our lives are that food, light, and water. In his book, The Soul's Code, he points to Hitler as an example of someone to whom exactly the "right" things happened to grow him up to be the mass murderer he became, things such as a father who beat him every day. Given different circumstances, Hillman suggests, that acorn would still have been packed with the right stuff to grow a sadist, but that particular oak could not have reached its full "potential" without the particular "nurturing" it received as a young twig.

I probably was "always" a writer, even before I could even read, much less write, and it did take a particular event to catalyze that into being. A lot of good things and people fed and watered me, but there were some "bad" things and people along the way, too. There was the college English teacher who read my first short story aloud to the class--to make fun of it, and to lead the class in laughing at it and at me. There were the editors who rejected me. There were people and events like that, which had the effect of holding off my attempt to bloom until the right time, the truly right time. I still don't admire people like that teacher, but I am grateful to him in a weird way, because he convinced me I didn't have any talent for fiction, which turned me toward journalism, which turned out to be a great training ground for a novelist.

So far, Hillman's theories sound pretty familiar. But now, here's where he takes it a big step further. In an interview, Hillman talked about how the daimon knows exactly what it needs and goes after it. . .

". . .this daimon is too big a burden for children to carry, too, and the daimon doesn't want to be treated as a child. For example, the Nobel prize winner in biology, Barbara McClintock, didn't want tools that were children's tools. She wanted her father to give her real tools. She was five years old and she didn't want a kid's hammer and a kid's saw. And Yehudi Menuhin didn't want a child's violin with metal strings, he wanted the real thing even though he was only four years old. Why? Because the daimon knows what it needs and the child is not up to the task. You feel that when you are a kid. You fall in love as a little child just as strongly as you do when you're twenty or forty. You have ideas of God and death and disaster and catastrophe fantasies of that sort that are just as strong as when you are sixty. I mean it's there. So much of it is already there. . . .

"So much of it is already there. . ."

Do you feel as if you've had a "daimon" within you, an inner drive pulling you in unconscious ways to where you needed to go? Were you born with a kernel, an acorn, of what and who you would become in this life? Or maybe you've seen it in somebody else?

Or, not? :)

I have no idea if Hillman's right. It could all be just a fancy name for "fate." (I'm just barely touching on his ideas.) I do like how he encourages his readers to examine the good and bad of their lives for "symptoms" of the nature of their daimon, and then to "grow down" into that rich smelly moist soil, instead of resenting it, or trying to rise ethereally above it. That advice has an earthy, non-resisting Buddhist feeling, and I like it. For one thing, a life lived like that would be a life lived without resentment. To resent that teacher of mine, for instance, would be like a plant resenting its fertilizer.

Allrighty then! Enough heavy pondering for one morning. Maybe we'll see who's got a daimon and who's just a little demon. :) I'll see ya in the comments, where the truly important stuff, like coffee and tea, is being served up!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Bulletin Board

A Weekly Spot

to Post Your News

or Views (Photos),

Favorite Recipes,

Flog Your Blog,

Or Say Howdy

Friday, July 27, 2007

She lied

She's not back today, even though she said she would be. Hrrrmph! This is Nancy's robot reporting in for her. She still needs to be submerged, but she claims that she's also putting together a post based on some cool things you guys said in the comments this week. Yeah, yeah, she's just trying to get you all to come back! I'll put up the Sunday Bulletin Board for her, but she won't resume real posting until Monday, by which time I could wreak all kinds of havoc. Ooo, Mondays. Love 'em. See? I really am a robot. Meanwhile, she wishes you a happy and creative weekend. I think she actually means it, too. Sheesh, humans. They're so earnest! But cute. And tasty. I'll see you Sunday. She'll see you Monday. If I let her back on, heh, heh.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gone today, here tomorrow

Today, I need to disappear from the web world and submerge into my fictional world. Speaking of which, for you Harry Potter fans who have finished The Book. . .Meredith Vierra will do exclusive interviews with J.K. Rowling on the Today Show (NBC) this morning and tomorrow morning, and they say she will fill in some details that aren't in The Book--like "which character she spared at the very last minute."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Got a second love?

I don't sing, don't paint, don't dance, though I did want to be Fred Astair when I grew up. I do some flower gardening, and that has an artistic feel to it, but it's such a modest amount of gardening that it barely counts as a hobby, even.

But there was a time about ten years ago when I fell madly in love with another art--making paper. I'm not talking about making paper for writing letters on, but real paper "art," created at a studio full of vast lovely sloshy vats of mushy vibrant colors. I did abstract stuff that probably only a mother could love, but I LOVED doing it. Got obsessed with doing it. Spent money I didn't have over at that studio owned by a "real" paper artist. Forgot about my writing, wanted only to create visible beautiful weird material things out of mushy wet sopping drippy mess.

I finally forced myself to give it up. It felt like adultery and giving up a lover! But I was already deeply "wedded" to my primary art, writing, and that's how I made my living, such as it was, and, and, and. . .

Obviously, I'm waaaay too obsessive. A sane person could probably have their cake (writing) and eat it, too (paper making). But my creative channel seems to be a single wide one, rather than one with many tributaries.

What's your main "art"? Do you have another artistic love, too? More than one other? How do you balance them? How do you justify the cost, if it's expensive? (Seems as if multiple arts ought to feed each other, but when I tried it, the second one threatened to devour the first one. )

Is there an art you have always wanted to pursue, but never have?

One that you once fell in love with, like me, but "had" to give up?

Well, I'm off to take my one horse out of the stable now and give it some exercise. :)

A most happy and artistic Wednesday to you!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Open a vein

As some of you said yesterday, sometimes we create out of happiness.

I can remember at least two prolonged times in my varied writing careers when I felt so grateful and joyful to be writing that I couldn't wait to get up every morning and get at it. One of those times was in my late twenties when I switched from writing training programs for a corporation (filmstrips for selling lawn mowers!) to freelance writing. Oh, my god, the bliss! Working at home! No more rush hours! The other time was in my mid thirties when I switched from that to writing fiction full time.

But the thing of it is, and to tell you the total truth, both of those experiences were preceded by misery. I hated working for a corporation, hated regular hours, etc., and that unhappiness finally exploded into quitting my job, wandering off to Europe for several months, and then coming home to try freelance writing, where I made half as much money, worked twice as hard, and had three times as much fun. The happiness didn't come until the first day I sat down to write in my own apartment, on my own time. But eventually, over seven years, that pleasure paled, too. For some reason, I didn't discover much meaning in writing ad copy for funeral homes and catalog copy for auto supply stores. Go figure. :) And so the misery of that, along with the unhappiness of the miscarriage I mentioned yesterday, blasted me into being a novelist, as I still am.

Intensity of emotion seems to have a role to to play in creativity, for sure. Family Man pointed that out in the comments yesterday, and there was some agreement with that, including from me. I think there's also something to be said for emotion that has been suppressed for a long time--misery with a job, for instance. Tamp that strong feeling down hard enough, for long enough, and something's gonna burst out.

As I thought about it, though, I had to admit that I certainly don't feel intensely emotional every day when I sit down to write. (As if I wrote every day, ha! But that's another topic.) Far from it, alas. Most of the time--when it's going well--what I feel is something on a scale that could be labeled with "Misery" at one end and "Joy" at the other, and usually I'm somewhere toward the middle. Either I feel an inner eagerness to get something flowing out of my fingers, or I feel a kind of gritchy edginess that will turn to something worse if I can't get to work soon.

I have a dear friend who has been a professional writer for years and she says she has never felt unhappy before she starts writing, but I'll tell you that her family would disagree with that. :) They know what happens if events/people keep her away from her computer when she wants/needs to be there.

I'm not drawing firm conclusions here, or at least I don't think I am. I think maybe. . .maybe. . .the key is feelings, but they aren't always strong ones and they aren't always unpleasant ones. It's just that strong ones do seem to catapult a person into creativity sometimes, or at least they have done for me. At fairly rare times, I feel shot out of a canon. Most of the time I either feel pulled over to my computer by an invisible cord from my solar plexus, or pushed over to it by a nervous feeling that I have to get the words down NOW.

What's the point of pondering all this? I can only speak for moi. Partly, it's curiosity. Because I spend my life creating an apparent something out of apparent nothing, I'm deeply curious about where all that comes from, and how to keep it coming when it doesn't want to. Sometimes, I have used this information when I've been stuck, frozen, paralyzed, and I've been able to get the flow going again. Not always, but often enough to make me sit up and pay attention.

Lately, it's not working so well. But this conversation is giving me clues as to why, and once again, it's coming back to feeling--my characters' and my own. Who was it who said, "writing's easy. Just open a vein."? Indeed.

And a feelingful morning to you, one and all. :)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Corner of Lonely and Heartbreak

Photo: http://fireflyforest.net/firefly/

What if I suggested that the first stage of creativity is unhappiness?

"Yeah, well, welcome to Monday," you might retort. "Considering how unhappy I am about going back to work today, I must be going to have one hell of a creative week."

Could be, could be. . .but it all depends. . .

I'm going to start out this week by telling you one version of a story I have heard told in a lot of different forms.

Let's say there's a woman. She gets pregnant. She's 34, been trying to conceive for a while, so this is a very welcome pregnancy. At the fifth month, she miscarries. Over Christmas. Afterwards, people ask her, "How are you?" "I'm fine," she says. "Fine," she insists. She goes skiing three weeks later and cries all the way down the mountain. "It's only because I'm out of shape," she says. "Really, though, I'm fine."

She seems to be fine. For a year, she gets along. . .fine.

The next Christmas rolls around. One day she's shopping and suddenly she feels an overwhelming urge to sit on the curb of the busy street and weep. She has no idea where this profound feeling of loss and sorrow has come from--until she realizes it is a year since the miscarriage, and suddenly she admits to herself, after a whole year of denial, that she is not so "fine."

She finally lets herself grieve. A need to express that grief in words arises. She begins writing poetry. It's not bad stuff. Some of it gets published. A couple of her poems win prizes. And then suddenly she wants to write short stories. They're not great, but they're not bad, either. And then she wants to write novels. For the next two years, creativity pours out of her in a joyous stream, tempered only by the rejections she receives for her early work. In the spring of the third year after the miscarriage, two things happen: she gets pregnant again, and a New York publisher buys her book.

And then, four years. . .TO THE DAY. . .after she left the hospital following the miscarriage, she walks out of the same hospital with her newborn son. While she was in the hospital this time, her first published novel went on sale at bookstores all over the country.

It all started with unhappiness, or rather with her full admission of her unhappiness, and when I say "admission," I mean both the full confession and the full feeling of it. When that dam broke, many kinds of creativity surged through.

You've probably guessed that woman was me. But I'm only one small version of a many-times told tale of unhappiness turning into creativity. In the book about the emotional journey of writing that I wrote with psychologist Lynn Lott, Unhappiness was the first of our 7 Steps on the Writer's Path. This week I feel like exp0ring this subject, and a Monday is the obvious place to start.

I wish you a most, awful, terrible, unhappy Monday, if that's what it takes to get your creative fires glowing.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sunday Bulletin Board

A weekly spot
to post your news,
or flog your blog,
or share photo links,
or just say howdy.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Potter reports & other sightings


Owls are flying in to report on book-buying, or crowd-watching, experiences. Just inside, in the first comment, Jason, has an incredible report from New York City. (UPDATE: We now also have reports from Florida, North Carolina, and Kansas in the comments.)

I haven't been out to pick up mine yet, how about you?

And for those of you who, unlike me, actually have a life outside of Harry Potter today, it's okay to talk about other things. Not that those of us with our noses in books will notice, but you can try. . .

Just don't spoil our fun, please. :)

Wands up! Now point to the comments! Shazam!

Friday, July 20, 2007

G'morning, Muggles!

Until Harry arrives. . .

My current reading is eclectic. . .

One is The Vaults of Time, by Stephan A. Schwartz, a book about the application of psychic viewing to archeology, and two are books about the history of cowboys in Kansas, by Jim Hoy.

At my left elbow is a collection of poetry by the two-term Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, titled, The Trouble With Poetry.

The trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits hopping out of their mothers
into the dewy grass.

Collins is very funny, and charming as can be. I once saw him give a reading to 1,000 people in Kansas City, Mo. One thousand people at a poetry reading!

Down on the carpet to my right is a well-loved book I've had for years, a collection of poems by, and biography of, Emily Dickinson.

Presentiment--is that long Shadow--on the Lawn--
Indicative that Suns go down--

The Notice to the startled Grass
That Darkness--is about to pass.

Emily's no stand-up comedienne, but like Billy, she sure does tell the truth

Tomorrow, I'll start that new book by that little known author J.K. Rowling. Will you? Maybe I should post a special Harry Potter thread, just for those who've finished the book, so we don't have to worry about spoilers.

I hope you have a perfectly wizard day, and I'll see you in the comments. Y'all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Well, that was fun yesterday, talking about what scares us. You guys seem to be game for almost anything, as long as it doesn't involve squid. I think we can pretty much avoid squid here at A,SMoL, which isn't to say we'll never get into deep water. Ho ho ho.

Speaking of which. . .there were hints of this in the comments yesterday, but I'd like to take this a little further. Have you ever gotten over a deep fear? Was it just a matter of growing up? Or, have there been fears you consciously set out to conquer? Any fears you tried to beat, but didn't? Fears you think you ought to conquer, but just can't work up the nerve to do it yet? And have you ever done something just because it scared you?

I was a timid child when it came to going on any adventure scarier than reading Nancy Drew novels, so most of my getting-over-fear has been on purpose. I was scared of heights. So I climbed a construction ladder 80 feet to the top of a train station. Over time, I got scared of flying. So I took some flying lessons. I was frightened of skiing, so I skied. (No, that is NOT me in the photo.) I was scared to quit my day jobs and write fiction full time. So one day I called every client I had, and give them 30 days notice. I was terrified--scared to death--to talk to an agent for the first time. So I signed up to do it. (She accepted me, and we're still together.) If I hadn't done all of those and other things, I'd still be the timid little girl I used to be--and still am at the thought of ferris wheels, scuba diving, and ever getting married again!

I got over my growing fear of flying by taking flying lessons, but really, that's nuts, because there is no logical connection. Just because I flew a little two-seater a few times should have no bearing on the comfort I feel in the back of a 747, but it does. The illusion of control is a wonderful thing. Feelings of safety can be just as illusory as feelings of danger, but they're a damn sight more comfortable!

Personally, I think that stretching my fear boundaries is good for my writing, and probably healthy for my relationships, too. I haven't skiied for years, but sometimes I still use it mentally to prepare me for something that scares me--I picture myself whizzing smoothly down a mountain, zipping over moguls, and having a fabulous time.

There's fear. . .and there's liberation from fear. The Big Whew. I guess that's what mystery and suspense novels are about. Maybe most novels are, and maybe life is about that, too?

How do you deal with fear?

See you in the comments. . .unless you're too scared to go there. :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How you look at it

Our pal Andif and her husband Jim left for one of their hiking trips today, and in the comments last night she gave us us this cool photo to hold us until they get back with some new ones. I'm posting it because I like it, but also because she has managed to make something ordinary--a few leaves--look strange and otherwordly and maybe even a little threatening. Which just happens, heh heh, to synchronize nicely with the post I had already written for today. Of course. If you'd never seen a leaf before, what in the world would you think those were? They look to me like hot air balloons, but also like pods, possibly full of pod people. . .

If you don't mind my asking, what scares you? And I'm not asking about just any kind of scare, either. . .

I'm interested in a particular kind of fear, the kind that is in no way supported by any facts whatsoever at all. Like, how kids are scared of the bogie-man under the bed. Like, how I was terrified of werewolves. Like, how my neighbors deadbolt their doors as if we live in a high crime neighborhood when in fact we live in a no-crime one.

Are you scared of anything that can't be supported by the facts? Or, do you know somebody who is?

Half of why I'm asking is that as a fiction writer, I like to know what creates tension. But the other half of why I'm asking is that it interests me to watch society as a whole, and individuals--myself included--barricade and circumscribe and expensively defend our lives against things that not only will probably never hurt us, but which may not even exist.

I say "probably" and "may," because you can't actually prove there's never been any such thing as a real werewolf, can you? Sure, sure, you say that nobody has been attacked by a werewolf lately, but you'll never catch me strolling across the moors, alone, at night. . .

But, whew, it's daylight right now, so I think it's safe to get out of bed. And get coffee. And meet you in the comments. As soon as I pick these strange black, coarse hairs off the carpet. . .

Monday, July 16, 2007

In praise of velociraptors

Or, musing on killer dinosaurs and killer fiction. . .

Some friends and I subscribe to a certain principle in regard to the cinema: "There are few movies that can't be improved by the addition of some velociraptors."

Ditto, books. Ditto, blogs. Ditto, life.

When we've seen a movie we didn't like because it moved like moooolasssesss, we tell each other, "Coulda used a velociraptor."

If you need to know the literal meaning of "velociraptor," I pity you. No, no, just kidding. What I will do is direct you to the movie, "Jurassic Park." And I specifically direct you to the kitchen scene and to the scene of the big game hunter in the woods. "What a smart girl," he said to the velociraptor, before she ate him.

Every piece of art needs "tension." So does life, apparently. It's how fictional characters and our own characters get built. Some artists and real-life people can pull that off without resorting to dinosaurs. They can produce nail-biting tension between two people sitting at a kitchen table just looking at each other. Others of us need the fictional equivalent of velociraptors, or floods, or hurricanes, or dead bodies, or some other crises. We need them to shake things up, raise the stakes, and make the journey build to a satisfying payoff at the end. We need them to test abilities, courage, and yes, character, and to build more of same. Either that, or our characters get to endure those crises and see how well they can fail. And that, too is a matter of character, whether in books, movies, or life.

When it comes to my stories, I tend to find my own missing velociraptors during the rewrites. That's when I check each scene to see if it has conflict, action, tension, or if nothing really happens in it. And how can I tell if nothing has happened in a scene? By whether or not the emotions of the main character have changed to any degree from the beginning of the scene to the end. If she enters the kitchen feeling scared, but she exits it feeling terrified, something has definitely happened in those pages.

Fear not the velociraptor! Or, well, no, that would be stupid. Go ahead and fear the velociraptor, but just remember she has a peabrain and you have a greenbean brain, so you really ought to be able to out-strategize her. The problem, of course, is that she and her mate have been stalking people for a living, and you have probably not been escaping for a living. This is where the tension (and imagination) comes in, heh.

When we're writing, maybe we should say to ourselves: There's a velociraptor to the left of me! And to the right of me! Now I will try to keep that tension in my writing, maybe even without using dinosaurs.

Got any velociraptors facing you today? In the comments, I'll tell you about mine. Oh, and by the way, I promise I will talk about something besides writing sometimes! But when it calls, it calls. . .:)

Come on, Baby. . .

So I'm driving in my car with my radio on, and this country-Western song comes on that makes me roll up the windows and crank it up.

Come on baby, give me a little more of you. . .

It rocks. And it speaks to the writer in me. I have myself a country-Western epiphany: that's what readers and editors want from us writers. Come on baby, give me a little more of you. . .

Exactly! Why, it's the very definition of what we call "voice." A little more of you. You, the writer. I, the writer. We, the writers. It's a huge part of what hoists books into publication and then onto best-seller lists. It's part of what makes Jane Austen and Louie L'Amour so well loved. Voice. Loud and clear, whether in a proper English village or a rough country town. It's distinctive and unmistakeable, like your baby's cry. You'd know it anywhere. Nobody else could write Robert B. Parker or Sue Grafton, because only those two writers have their particular voices. Voice is personality, strength, confidence--even when it's "voiced" in a shy character who doesn't seem to have any of those qualities. Voice is the author behind the scenes-- unabashed, unshy, unwilling to shut up and pretend to be who he is not, or to write what she is not. Voice is also what makes some blogs so popular. And leaders so followed. It has no moral quality, only a tonal one.

I learned a big lesson in voice when I wrote three novels for the estate of an author who had died. (Don't you just hate that, when a favorite author dies? How dare they?) While I could mimic her voice to some degree, the books I did in her series were really me doing ventriloquism, instead of her writing in the pureness of her own voice, or me in the whatever of mine. And it was really hard work, harder than I dreamed it would be. To get the first one of them finished, I wrote two different versions, which is to say--two books for the price of one. The problem with the first failed version was that I was trying too hard to be her, instead of me. When I surrendered to that truth, and wrote it my way, it worked better.

By the way, the movie I was on my way to see when I heard that song (Who IS that singer?) was the new Harry Potter. Talk about voice! J.K. Rowling got voice. :)

Hmm, it appears that I'm still talking about "letting go," aren't I?

And a happy start of a new week to you. May you crank it up. May you speak with your voice that nobody else in the whole history of the world could ever speak with instead of you. May you write, live, and laugh like a whole English village is running after you with pitchforks on one side, and the posse from Butch Cassidy and the Sunday Kid is chasing you on the other side. ("Who ARE those guys?")


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday Bulletin Board

(Be sure to scroll down for the Saturday Night Photo by Andif.)

Whooo, What, When, or Where?

I'm experimenting with posting a Bulletin Board every Sunday, open to anybody who wants to share something, or announce something, or just hang out. What are you reading, watching, talking about? What's new with the job, the family, your favorite tv show? (I'm so glad Hok didn't get eliminated on "So You Think You Can Dance"!) Put in a plug for your favorite blogs, including your own. Post a link to a vacation photo. You can even write an ad to sell your lawn mower, though I think the shipping would be murder.

Photo: Knucklehead--who rescues hummingbirds-- inspired me to post a photo of these baby owls who were rescued last year by an east coast bird refuge that is run by one of my (book) readers.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A picture of silence

Andif's pretty picture.


Okay, this is how crazy I am. Crazy little writer.

I didn't seem to have any ideas for what to write here this morning, so I inquired of the I Ching if it had any suggestions for a topic for today. The Ching gave me the hexagram,"Keeping Still." LOL. My first thought, upon seeing that, was, "I can take a hint." Keeping still sounded like a good idea. After a full week of blogging, on the sixth day, she rested. Time to read, think, ponder?

So, I wrote a post saying that this will be a day of keeping still on the blog for me.

It wouldn't post. Again and again, it wouldn't post. Hmm.

So I asked the I Ching, "What am I missing here?"

I got the suggestion, "There is a large fruit still uneaten."

I'm missing an opportunity for something juicy, in other words. And what might that be? Why, the role of Keeping Still in the writing life, of course.

Maybe because I'm an only child, being alone and quiet has never been a problem for me. In fact, I need it, crave it regularly, have to close my eyes if I'm surrounded by too many people for too long and need to shut them out. But it was never as important to me as it was when I plunged into writing fiction.

From the beginning of my fiction-writing career, Keeping Still has been essential for me. When I switched from having freelance clients to having no clients, and I descended into my basement office to work on fiction fulltime, I understood it was essential to carve out great chunks of time when nobody could get to me. I turned on the telephone answering machine. I resigned from organizations and volunteer work. I turned down invitations. I gave myself the luxury of time and silence, and that became part of the juicy matrix in which I grew myself as a novelist and short story writer. A year and a half later, when I had a child, I got one of those baby monitors and put one end in his room and the other end in mine. When he slept, I went to the basement and wrote in the blissful silence. The hell with housework. The hell with naps for myself. (I never could nap, anyway.) The hell with talking on the phone with friends. (I hate the phone, anyway.) Heaven was half an hour, or a few hours, with the silence and my IBM Selectric Typewriter.

I meet wannabe writers who just won't turn the world off. Everything else comes first, before their writing (or drawing, or whatever). Everybody else comes first. They're not as driven and selfish as I was, perhaps.

I can't work as a writer without hours, days of silence. I protect it. I hide from invaders, and if that doesn't deter them, I snarl. GRRR. Warning: Writer at Work. They may not take me seriously, but I do, because I'm the only one who can finish my book.

I like to reword the old submarine saying to: Go Silent, Go Deep.

I'm submerging today, but I'm sure I'll be chatty later. See you then.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Happy Friday to You

Hi, everybody. I thought I was going to do five days worth of stuff on "Letting Go," but I'm all outta. So I'm lettin' go of letting go. At least, for now. It's one of my fav topics--and experiences--so I can guarantee it'll come back around. But listen, in the meantime, whenever you have a strange and miraculous story to tell, come sit by me. :)

You should go take a look at knucklehead's brand new blog (see the blog links to the right). I guarantee that over time you will see spectacular photos, especially of animals, and you will read some amusing and/or interesting stuff. Ask him to show you a Jimi Hendrix fish, and tell him I sent you.

Today I get to help take a pal to lunch for her birthday, and visit the brand new wing of the Nelson-Atkins art museum for the first time.

See you in the comments, with coffee. What are you having?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What's in it for us? *

Why let go? 'Cause that's when the magic happens.

Here's an instance from the writing life:

I was writing a book called Bum Steer. I knew who the villain was, but not the motive. When I was halfway through writing it, I started to panic, because it's kind of important, in a mystery novel, to know the motive. :)

One morning I sat down to begin a new scene. I knew which character would start the scene, and I had a couple of things in mind for her to do. But suddenly, without any conscious direction from me, she started up some stairs to the second floor of the house she was in. Huh? What was this? Where was she going? And why hadn't anybody told me?

At that point, I had a choice--let her climb, or stop her and make her do what I had planned for her to do.

I let her keep going.

At the landing, she looked to her left, into a bedroom I didn't know was there. She saw a bureau, and on top of the bureau there was a framed photograph. When I saw that picture, through her eyes, I saw people I never knew existed, and suddenly, eureka!, I knew the motive. Until she walked up those stairs on her own and looked into that room, I didn't have a clue. If I hadn't let her go, I don't know if I'd have ever found out.

Don't you think that's kind of amazing?

That's the magic of letting go in writing.

Here's an instance from real life:

I had a friend, years ago, whose eldest son had vanished from their lives. Not kidnapped, but a runaway. He'd been gone for years. No contact at all, none. Not a phone call. Not a rumor. Nothing. You can imagine how she felt during those years. Well, one day after about ten years of this, she was on an airplane and she started thinking about him again. But this time, she found herself saying, "I love you, and I let you go." And, miraculously, she really did. She told me that in that moment she felt swept by peace, a deep, inner peace such as she had not felt since he left home, a greater peace than she had ever felt in her life.

He called her the next day.

True story, unique in detail, but not in spirit. Because of the book that Lynn Lott and I wrote, many people have told us their stories of letting go and What Happened Next. I could go on like this for some time, telling their stories and enthusing about the terrors and joys of letting go, but I've talked enough for one morning.

Your turn. :)

* (Fourth in a series, all this week, about "Letting Go.")

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Letting Go, Part Troix

Two of the hardest parts of letting go are. . .

Waiting. . .and. . .

Not Following the Leader.

Oh, god, waiting. It's an art in itself. I don't know how your creative process works, but I'm a binge writer. My creative well fills up, I binge write, the well goes dry. Then I have to wait for it to fill up again. Hard, hard, hard. There's no point in telling me to change my process. I can't. Don't want to. Won't. I just want to wait by the well. I want to wait well. When it fills up again, I'll work again.

It's not limited to creativity, of course, but extends its evil tentacles throughout our lives: A teenager takes the car out. Parent waits at home. NOT waiting well. Worrying.

Waiting is hard sometimes.

And as for Not Following the Leaders? Oh, god, risky. A deadline is a leader. An editor is a leader. Society is a leader. Parents are leaders. Lots o' leaders. Sometimes I have to lag behind. They look over their shoulders: "Aren't you coming?" No. Maybe. Not yet. "Hurry up!" Can't. Won't. Doing this my way. Go on without me.

What's being released/let go in these cases? Worry. Impatience. Distrust. The clock. Paying the bills on time. Other people's expectations. Our own desires. Little stuff like that.

Maybe you have a waiting story? Maybe you have a story about letting go and taking a risk and going your own way?

Oh, and by the way. . .good morning. :)

Did somebody make the coffee?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Letting Go of Tuesday

Morning, everybody.

I have a feeling we have a fair number of people here who work at home, which means we long ago let go of Tuesday, and Wednesday, and all the other days. And holidays. And weekends. It's why (I tell myself) I never know the date or day. It's why Memorial Day and Labor Day sneak up on me, and I'm always surprised when the restaurants are closed. Of course, it also means we let go of health insurance, pensions, and paid vacations, but hey, we trust the universe to provide, right?

Letting go is exhilerating and terrifying sometimes. Or, always.

Years ago, I read about a technique for letting go that is similar, but not identical to one I've seen therapists use. I wish I could remember where I saw it so that I could credit it to somebody, because it's a miracle-working wonder, in my opinion. It's intended for use in difficult relationships, or difficult moments in good relationships, but I think today I'll experiment with applying it to my writing.

Here's how it works:

Let's say you're faced with a person who's upset about something. Doesn't matter what, just something or somebody. The ordinary response might be to tense up a bit. Start worrying about how to react, or to help. Maybe get defensive. Maybe judge the person for being in that fix, or state of mind. Maybe leap in to give advice. Whatever.

The technique says, do this:

Faced with this person, breathe.

Then, silently, and ONLY for you to know, draw a circle around the two of you, a circle where you declare silently to this person that he/she is safe with you. Safe to be who they are. Safe to say whatever they need to say. Safe to feel what they feel. And within this circle, for this finite period of time, you will make it safe for them by doing several quiet things: shutting up, listening without interruption, suspending all judgment, letting them talk. And talk. And talk, if they need to. Imagine how wonderful that must feel, to get to be with a person who makes you feel absolutely safe for a few minutes. Not many people ever get to experience that with anybody, because people can be so quick to judge, criticize, condemn, adviseand correct, defend and attack. But to feel yourself unwinding, unspooling, uncoiling, relaxing in the presence of somebody who just looks at you with acceptance and doesn't try to make you think what you don't think, or say something else than what you really want to say, or do something else, or be something else, and who doesn't even try to get the last word when it's over. . .

Well, whew!

That's it. That's the whole technique. The difference between it and some similar techniques is, I think, the idea of drawing the circle--which is helpful because it "contains" the interaction and makes you feel safe, too--and the overt, silently stated idea of wanting to make another person feel "safe." I've seen it work amazing wonders. Like the time a child came to me in tears--I can't even remember why--and I sat down right then and there on the steps with him and drew my invisible, quiet circle and listened with love. At first, he was just distraught. Gradually, as the minutes passed, his upset changed to something calmer, and then finally to laughter. It was the most amazing, wonderful thing I'd ever seen, watching this child repair himself within this circle of safety.

I passed the technique onto a friend of mine some time later, because she was facing a lunch with a woman who had a remarkable talent for making other people feel defensive the moment she opened her mouth. My friend was dreading it, and trying to figure out a way to get out of it. I saw her the afternoon after that lunch, and when she walked in, she was goggle-eyed with wonder. She said they sat down at their table in the cafe, she drew her invisible circle, made her silent promise to this annoying woman that she was safe there, and then shut up. She breathed, she relaxed, she listened with patience and compassion, she didn't judge, and if she felt impulses to get defensive, she breathed through them and remembered that her only job was to make sure the woman was safe with her. Long before the end of their lunch, my friend was enjoying the woman's company!

I'm telling you, it works miracles.

So I think I'll experiment with doing that with my writing today. I mean, why not? Why not draw an invisible circle around ourselves and our work and tell it we won't judge it, or get mad at it, or denigrate it. It will be safe with us, for a little while. And then I'll see what happens, see if my work responds to kindness, as people do.

The creek's gone down, everything's wet and green, there's more coffee upstairs, and I can't wait to get to work on my novel.

Thanks for being here. See you in the comments. :)

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Week of Letting Go

Sometimes I think the world might be well served if human beings were born with the words, "Let Go" tattooed on the backs of our hands. There are other places it might come in handy, as well:

Gravestone: Let Go.

Marriage: Do you, Clyde, take this woman and let go of her?
Do you, Jane, promise to love, honor, and let go of him?

Sex: Let go.

Birth: Let go.

Graduation speech: "Let go."

And, of course, writing fiction: Let go!

A few years ago, I wrote a book, THE SEVEN STEPS ON THE WRITER'S PATH, with the psychologist, Lynn Lott. Our Step 5 was "Letting Go," and that's going to be my overall theme this week, because this is going to be a week of writing in which I really need to let go, let go, let go. Of my characters, so they'll emerge as they really are; of my story, so it will flow down the rocks and over the rills where it naturally runs, of my sentence-by-sentence writing so it (I hope) snaps, crackles, and pops.

Sometimes I do this silly thing where a few times a day I think of the words, "Let Go," and I let go of whatever is in my hand. If I'm holding a glass of water, I set it down and let go of it for a moment. If I'm grasping a steering wheel, I loosen my grip slightly. If I'm not holding anything, I check to see if my jaw is tight, which it almost always is, so I relax it. It's just a physical way of making a point to myself--let go. Let go of running any part of my adult child's life, let go of running my mother's life which she has quite effectively managed on her own for 91 years, let go of running my life which can actually run itself pretty well, and let go of whatever I'm writing, like this piece. I'm going to let go of it now and go get some coffee. There's time later this week to talk about the miracles that can happen when a person lets go, and how to create a peculiar and wonderful space for them.

G'day, Mates. What's up with you?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sunday on the Blog With You

I have an idea for Sundays, and I think I'll just go ahead and do it and we'll see if it's worth pursuing every week. What if I made my Sunday post essentially a community bulletin board for anybody who wants/needs to announce something, or maybe just share some news?

What made me think of this is that I know two members of the mystery writing community who have health problems and who could use some good thoughts/prayers. Maybe you, too, have somebody for whom you'd like to request good wishes. Or maybe there's a birth, or a promotion, or you want to test-run some kind of idea. Or just say hi once a week to let us know you're around, even if you can't really stop to talk during the rest of the week. Or maybe you want to de-lurk and introduce yourself. Or put in a plug for your own blog. Or link to something cool. Or ask about how to do something. Or sell a boat. No, wait, I've got this confused with ebay. :)

My idea is that then we can count on being able to catch up on People News every Sunday when nobody really wants to have to think very hard. Okay, "nobody" would be me. You should feel free to think as hard as you like, whenever you want to. I promise to be impressed, especially on Sundays.

Btw, don't forget--if you knew--that Man Eegee has a permanent bulletin board on his site. Anybody can leave a personal message there for anybody you're trying to reach. It's called the Eegee Board, and you'll see it down toward the bottom on the left-hand side of his site. Click on the "ouija board" and you'll see how it works.

Okay! So now I'll get the thumbtacks. . .pound, pound. . .and I'll put up our Sunday Bulletin Board.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Imaginary Mileage

Maybe you wonder why I link to something called "Distances Between Cities."

Big smile from me at this point, imagining you wondering.

Well, it could be because I love to go to that site and find out how far it is between, say, Merriam and Chanute. Or Kansas City and Paris.

That's part of it. But the deeper reason is that it reminds me of two books I read years ago that rocked my staid little fictional world. The first was Italo Calvino's novel, INVISIBLE CITIES, and the second was Donald Barthelme's book of short stories, OVERNIGHT TO MANY DISTANT CITIES.

Do you not love those titles, especially the last one?

I love love love those titles, and I loved the books which were like no other books I'd ever read before--so loose, so fluid, so wildly creative, and unexpected, and liberating for author and reader, alike, especially the Calvino, if I recall correctly. Especially the Calvino, which is a tiny book that is a conversation between Marco Polo and Kubla Khan, with Marco telling stories about where he's been, only you can't be sure that any of it is true. . .

I think that's when I "got" it. . .hey, it's fiction, folks. It's fiction, Nancy. FICTION. You can do anything you want to do. You can tell many different truths in many different ways. You can even tell lies for fun and profit (the title of a book by Lawrence Block) if you want to, if you're lucky.

I haven't read either book again, because I want to remember the shock of the new that they gave me. It was electrifying, which means it gave me power, right?

What's the distance between invisible cities?

It's however far we can travel in our imaginations, I suspect.

I wonder, to what extraordinary distance can I go on this ordinary Saturday? Will I let my writing wander as far away from home as it wants to go?

And how far did you travel last night, and what tales did you bring back to tell us, some of them even true? :)

Good morning, by the way. There's coffee on the sideboard, and sweet rolls on the table, so help yourselves. And if you just feel like sitting in a corner and reading, well, that's fine, too.

Friday, July 6, 2007

A Matter of Some Gravity


I think it's Friday. The only way I really know that is by going to Olivia's photo blog to check to see if she's doing "Friday Cloud Blogging." If there are flowers, it's not Friday yet. If there are clouds, then tomorrow is Saturday.

Hey, I'm a writer, I can't be expected. Literally, as you'll find out below.

Isaac Newton's mother said of him that "while her son's handwriting and reading were excellent, he was absentminded, inept in practical matters, and lacking in business sense."Isaac Newton! I find this so comforting. Just because you're a mathematical genius, doesn't mean you can balance your own checkbook. So maybe even Newton might have forgotten to show up at his own book signing.

Yes, okay! I forgot to do that once. Once! I was deep into writing that night. The phone rang three times. I ignored it. I had notes posted all over the house, too. But, hey, I wrote a good scene.

Mother Newton was no Bill Gates, herself. So maybe the apple didn't fall far from the tree. (Sorry, sorry!)

What do we need to remind you to do today?

Please remind me to drive to Lawrence to talk to a book club at noon!! I'll need to leave at about 11, okay?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Eyes on the Real Prize

It's Thursday, right?

I'm just checking. As a writer working at home, I'm never quite sure of the day, date, year.

Just so you'll know--I'm not quite as normal as I look, but then, who is?

I love all things "woo," for instance. Partly, because I love surprises and shivers, but mostly because I'm fascinated by consciousness, including "un," "sub," "trans," and any other.

I pay attention to my dreams, and for quite practical reasons. One of them saved my life. Another one stopped me from working for crooks. Then there was the one that freed me from the most paralyzing writer's block I ever had.

I also use any technique I can find to discover what's going on beneath my own surface. In that regard, my favorite tool is the I Ching, Ye Olde Chinese Book of Changes. It's known as an oracle, but I rarely use it to predict the future. I used to, but eventually it balked and refused to co-operate, seeming to suggest that such a use was, ultimately, beneath its dignity and mine. So I use it sometimes, not to ask what will happen, but to ask what lesson I can learn, to ask for guidance, even to get hints about my plots and characters. I think that what I actually find out from it is what I'm really thinking way down deep.

So. . .this morning I used the I Ching in the link to the right to ask if there was anything the sages would like to remind me of today.

Here's what it said:

If one does not count on the harvest while plowing,
Nor on the use of the ground while clearing it,
It furthers one to undertake something.

And here's why that meant something to me. . .I've been so stuck at the midway point in my book. So stuck. And the main reason is that I've been intimidated by the success of my last book. Everybody says it's the best thing I've done. As it happens, I agree with them. :) So now what? How can I do better than my best? The I Ching reminds me to stop worrying about the "harvest." Just plow, dammit, plow. Don't even think about anybody ever reading it, much less paying me for it, or giving me awards for it, or whatever form a harvest might take. Just write. Just plow.

In a comment this morning, jen said, "I seriously doubt I'll ever publish any of my novels; I just write because I love how it feels."

I'd like to think she's wrong about that never publishing thing, but the point here is that she's not counting on a harvest. She's just plowing, maybe because she loves the sun on her hands and the sweat on her back and the look of the furrow.

I think I'll go have me a plowman's lunch, and then get back out into the fields.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

I've got a ticket to write

Okay, I'm opening up this second post, because the one below is getting a little crowded, but feel free to keep checking into that one, too. I will, as well.

I think I see how this is going to work: as incentive to keep me writing my book.

Obviously, judging from this first day, I'm having waaay too much fun, so starting tomorrow I'm going to post a message, then go to work for a couple of hours. ONLY after those two hours will I let myself check back in here again. Rinse and repeat throughout the day and evening, if there are visitors.

Thank you, all of you, so very much for saying hi today. Come back often!!

Writers are isolated, lonely, pitiful creatures, you know, and we crave good company. :)

But for now, I'm off to a hot dog and hamburger picnic for the 4th. In the rain.

Cheers to all. See you later, old friends and new!

UPDATE: Thursday morning. Let's continue using this post for a while longer, then I'll start a new one for the day.

Solving the first mystery

Hello and welcome.

My readers and other real-life friends know me as Nancy Pickard.

(The first mystery I want to solve is how to pronounce my name. It's PickARD, just like the Captain on Star Trek, only spelled different.)

My on-line pals from other blogs know me as kansas, which is my home state.

Call me Nancy, call me kansas, just don't actually call me, because I hate the telephone. I love email and the internet, though, so I hope you'll come hang out with me whenever you feel like it.

Talk about anything you want to, whether it's about my books, or somebody else's books, or politics, or your life. I'm interested, and I'm here. Just remember that to a writer, everything is material! :)