“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“What underlies great science is what underlies great art, whether it is visual or written, and that is the ability to distinguish patterns out of chaos.” ~ Diana Gabaldon
“When I am writing best, I really am lost in my world. I lose track of the outside world. I have a difficult time balancing between my real world and the artificial world.” ~ George R. R. Martin
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle
I love sharing the work of fellow writers, so this post is about my friend, Michael G. Cerepanya’s new book, Army Brats. I got to read it through several drafts and it was exciting to see how he developed the story and grew as a writer. This is not his first book (the other is about his hiking adventures) but this one is more personal. It’s a novelization of his experiences being an Army brat in the late 1950s and early 60s in Germany.
One thing I loved about the book was that it’s funny, poignant, tense, and sad. It’s about difficult family relationships, and can’t we all relate to that? Michael doesn’t shy away from the torment of feeling his father doesn’t love him, or having a sister who is always trying to trip him up. I cheered when he gets in a good hit to his father during a boxing lesson, and it was particularly satisfying when his sister finally gets punished for being a tattle tale. What I particularly liked about the book is that by the end, his main character finds self-confidence.
Another thing I loved was the glimpse it gives into what life was like growing up with a dad who was career military. My dad hated his stint in the Air Force and was openly anti-military, so it was nice to see what life was like for Lucas Baryskivka and his family as they moved from posting to posting. Luke, the oldest boy in a family of five children, is sensitive and Michael relates with equal sensitivity how he learns to cope with his domineering father while at the same time managing to enjoy many funny and even dangerous adventures. Some of the adventures of Luke and his friends made me gasp with anxiety, or laugh out loud, a sign of a well written adventure. The relating of those childhood antics alone are worth your time.
Some writer once said, and I’m paraphrasing, the best writers mine their own lives for material for their books. Michael has done this with Army Brats. He has shown courage in examining his life and in the end we get a sense that he’s come to terms with the ups and downs of his childhood in a particularly satisfying ending.
Army Brats is available as an ebook or in paperback at his website. I hope you’ll consider adding it to your late summer reading list.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.
“I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.” ~ Henri Matisse
“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” ~ James A. Michener
“The best and most beautiful thing in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller
I love books that move me to tears, or laughter, or foreboding. That’s how I want to write, but often, like this morning, I wake up with the certain knowledge that I’ve failed on a certain scene and must go back to rework it.
When I’m trying to write the physicality of emotions, how my body would feel if I were in the character’s situation, I find myself in a quandary. As an actor/director I know about body language and facial expressions. They convey our inner states of being, but an actor doesn’t necessarily need to experience the bodily reactions when they are supposed to be demonstrating strong emotion.
I’ll tell one short story to illustrate what I mean. The first play I directed as a public school drama teacher was Our Town. The actor playing George Gibbs could not cry in the crucial scene near the end of the play. So, I told him to lay over his wife’s grave on his forearms, head down, and move his shoulders as if he were weeping with the appropriate crying sounds to go with the action. It worked! We cried during rehearsals and the audience did during performances.
But you can’t fake emotions in a novel and describing them is something I struggle with as I’m sure many authors do. I’m going to include a portion of the scene here that I was thinking about this morning. I made a few changes but it will undoubtedly need more work. You can tell me what you think.
* * * * *
Once Jenna had read those words something was pulling her into a vortex of swirling energy. Panic overtook her but no matter how hard she struggled, she could not free herself. Her mind was paralyzed with fear. Though her present life was a mess, it was familiar.
As her vision cleared, the calming voice of the woman came to her, All is well. “Fine for you to say!” She was not prepared for this experience but she was trapped. The one thing that came to her paralyzed mind was something her father used to say, “The only way out iss through.” She would have to trust. That was difficult for her. However it was her only option. She took a deep figurative breath, and allowed the mists to engulf her.
When they cleared, She was standing in an old style kitchen. There were three women working there wearing Civil War era dresses like her apparition’s. Somehow Jenna knew this was Morgan’s home and who these women were. It was the day of Morgan’s father’s funeral. Jenna’s writer’s curiosity supplanted the panic of only moments before. Looking up from her task, Morgan’s best friend Emma said, eyes dancing, “We’re here if you need us.”
Jenna had only a moment to comprehend that her consciousness had merged with Morgan’s as she said, “Thanks.” Emma’s motto was, “Why put off until tomorrow what you can do this minute.” Morgan knew she was right. She couldn’t put off the confrontation any longer. She walked to the door of the small sitting room where her aunt sat fuming.
Looking at Veronica’s stoney face at the funeral, she was glad her father had decided to keep his illness from her. They’d sent the telegram informing Veronica of Thomas’ death the day before the funeral. When she arrived just in time for the service, storm clouds filled her eyes and each word she spoke was covered in ice crystals.
Morgan paused outside the sitting room to gather her thoughts with sweaty palms and a roiling stomach, before facing the ogre. Veronica was nothing like Morgan’s mother Julia who had been loving, open minded, fair and generous. Morgan always thought of her mother as the perfect representation of pink, lavender and green, caring and restful.
Veronica was made of different colors. She was gold, silver and shimmering diamond. Lovely to look at, but cold and hard-hearted. She wanted riches, power and position. That’s what she got when she married into Boston’s highest echelons.
Morgan took a deep breath hoping to regain her ability to think as she opened the sliding doors of the sitting room.
“So, you and your father decided to deceive me,” Veronica said with malice. “How do you think this will look when my friends back in Boston hear that you did not tell me of Thomas illness? Don’t you think I had a right to know? After all, I am family.”
Morgan felt a shiver run down her spine. Jenna understood very well how she felt. It had been the same for her when interacting with Fletcher and Mr. Dayton, but they weren’t family, and she didn’t have to associate with them any longer.
Morgan squared her shoulders. “Father wanted us to be left in peace, to spend what time we had together uninterrupted by fussing nurses, which you no doubt would have insisted upon.”
Veronica sniffed. “Your father never knew what was best for you. I’m sure he did this to spite me because I wanted to take you away and give you every advantage he couldn’t.”
Morgan crossed the room and stood in front of her aunt. “Aunt Veronica, father was a good and kind man who loved me very deeply. He knew that I’d be just another bobble for you to polish and have admired.”
At this statement Veronica bristled and lost control of herself. “Morgan, you are too independent by half. I see now that your father has taught you too much and not had a thought for your future. If he’d cared about you, he never would have raised you to think like a man nor would he have involved you in this underground railroad nonsense.”
Morgan gasped. How had her aunt found out about that?
A malicious smile spread across Veronica’s face. “Ah, you’re surprised I knew about that. Your father exposed you to filthy, shiftless slaves who ran away shirking their duty to their masters. Any number of terrible things could have happened to you because of your father’s thoughtlessness. I intend to change your foolish notions by taking you back to Boston with me and see that you’re properly looked after by marrying the right sort of man. I will brook no refusals. You’re not getting any younger, you know. Go upstairs this instant and pack your things. We’re leaving on the evening train.”
Deep calm swept over Morgan. Ignoring the bait her aunt wanted to distract her with, she spoke softly. “No, Aunt Veronica. I am not going with you.”
* * * * *
Thanks for reading and sharing with friends. Feel free to leave a comment from a reader’s point of view.
The other day I was thinking about my writing process and I realized that I do it backwards to the conventional wisdom. When I get an idea, I sit down and begin writing. I don’t do an outline, or any research. I get my ideas down on paper and it’s only as I write that I see the shape the story is supposed to take. If I need to do research, I do it on the fly, and I don’t apply a plot outline until after I’ve finished the first draft.
Some of you may think I’m weird but as I was considering my process it occurred to me that the reason I write in this way might be because of my theatre background. For many years I analyzed plays from an actor/director point of view. I was handed a script and discovered the shape of the story and character arcs from the finished product. For that reason, I find it difficult to create the plot outline from scratch before writing the story that is in my head. In a way, this is very inconvenient because I find myself waking up in the morning realizing I left out a vital part of the story. I must then go back and rewrite that scene I worked on the day before, and I may have to do that four or five days in a row before I’m satisfied with it. When the first draft is completed, I go through the manuscript dropping out scenes that slow down the story and creating new scenes that add to building the suspense in the plot.
Many writers advise newbies like me to keep writing the first draft without going back to revise because it slows down the process. We have the opportunity to make changes when the rough draft is finished. Maybe they’re right. All I know is that if I don’t get the improvements down on paper when they occur to me, they sit in my head clogging up my creative flow until I add them to my story. This does slow me down a good deal, but it’s my process. At some point I will change my method, but for now I’m stuck writing backwards.
I have never been a big believer in one right way to do anything. It’s true that there are as many ways to create a piece of artwork as there are people to create them. So my writing advice is find the method that works for you and expand upon it. If you attend writer’s workshops or take creative writing classes, remember, the method of writing that the instructor is proposing is their method. It doesn’t have to be yours and don’t let them bully you into thinking you are doing it wrong. There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to creative thinking. In fact it’s the people who think outside the box who come up with the best stories, theories, inventions, or artwork.
Having written that, I thought I’d include a portion of a new scene in my novel that I added in my latest round of revisions. It’s one of those scenes that I had to work on for several days before I felt it had all the elements it needed. I will no doubt do more work on it after I get comments and do more revisions, but for now, I’m happy with the way the scene turned out.
The set up: The Space Between Time is a time travel story of sorts. Jenna Holden in the present finds her three times great-grandmother’s journals. When she begins to read them, she enters her great-grandmother, Morgan’s consciousness. For her part, Morgan slowly becomes aware of Jenna’s presence and takes comfort in it as she travels from Vermont to become a teacher in Southern Oregon. The year In this scene is late fall 1859. Morgan is facing the town council, school board, and other town organizations on charges of indecent behavior. This fracas is lead by banker, Herbert Perry who does not keep it a secret that he does not like Morgan. This is Morgan’s explanation about what happened.
* * * * *
Charles cut him off by saying, “I agree with Mrs. Cobb. Let Miss Carlyle tell us what happened.”
Though Morgan was warmed by Charles support, he was only one man. Rage licked through her veins as she studied Herbert’s bloated face. He looked like the slugs that left slimy trails on her sidewalk. Resentment clamped its icy fist around her heart. Why does he hate me so? Getting herself under control, she cleared her throat and said, “I’ll be happy to respond to the charges.” Charles sat down. She stared into Herbert’s cold eyes for a few moments gathering her strategy. The silence lengthened and as he was about to speak, she cut him off by saying, “However, first I’d like a few questions answered. Mr. Perry is it not true that you have disliked me from the moment I stepped off the wagon train?”
Herbert glared at her, “What does that have to do with your conduct last night?”
“It has everything to do with why you’ve accused me of misconduct.” Again he was about to speak but she went on. “Isn’t it true that your first words to me had to do with the fact that you thought it inappropriate that since I was an unmarried woman, I should have an entire house to myself?” He started to speak, but again, she proceeded as if she were a lawyer interrogating a witness. “However, wasn’t the building of the house suggested by Mr. Evans and Mr. Pendleton, and was duly approved by the school board before my arrival?” She didn’t give anyone time to answer before continuing, “In addition, can you deny that every time I attempt to withdraw money from my account, which is legally and rightfully mine since I have no living male blood relatives, that you force me to produce the notarized letter from my lawyer, of which you already have a copy, stating that I am to be given complete control of my account? And, unlike other members of the community, I must wait an entire month before you will release the funds to me?” At this question, the women behind her gasped, while the men mumbled and shuffled their feet.
Mr. Wheeler startled everyone when he spoke up. “Yes, that is true. Miss Mancruso, who also has an account, receives her money on the day she fills out the withdrawal slip.” Morgan was grateful that Mr. Wheeler had spoken up. He had whispered those facts to her upon her second attempt to withdraw money from her account. Attention shifted from her to Herbert who turned his venomous gaze upon Mr. Wheeler. He, however, was unperturbed. She was sure he’d lose his job over the revelation.
“Thank you, Mr. Wheeler. I may need your testimony if I notify my lawyers of what has taken place today.” Herbert’s face looked like mottled stone. Morgan went on. “I wonder, if I were a man in this situation, would we be having this inquisition?”
“But you are not a man,” said Herbert, “and women must be held to a higher standard.”
“Why, may I ask?”
“Because it was Eve who ate of the fruit and led Adam to sin. Women must redeem themselves.” said Herbert lifting his chin. Some men nodded in agreement but most of them sat as still as statues.
“And that is an account of the creation of the human race written by a MAN in a culture where women were property, much like they are today.” She paused to let what she had said sink in. “As you well know from my credentials, among the subjects my father taught me were biblical criticism, world history, and world religions. The bible is one of only a few such accounts where the woman is to blame for a moral fall from grace. Many other religions revere the feminine aspect of God.” This statement created another stir in the room. “That having been said, I cannot help that I was raised for half my life by a man who taught me to think like a man. I can’t go back and unlearn what my father taught me, nor do I have any desire to do so. However, I have always followed a moral path as evidenced by my behavior since arriving, and by the references which I sent with my application. Yet at my first assumed offense, you decided that I should be sacked.
“However, to get to the point of this meeting, this is my side of what happened last night. When I discovered that neither the O’Days, or the Jeffries could attend my dinner party, I did as my friends have testified, I consulted not only Mr. Jeffries, but Mrs. Cobb. They both approved of my plans. We had our dinner at which we conversed, and played a game. Nothing more, so, I can only conclude that you have a personal dislike for me and have brought forward this vendetta for reasons of your own. I surmise this from the fact that you frequently come to the school to observe my teaching.” She had not mentioned this fact to the other school board members. Charles directed his disapproval in Herbert’s direction.
Before she could continue, Herbert sneered, “And it is evident by your teachin’ that you are an abolitionist. Ah am not sure that is the kind of teacher we want.”
Charles spoke up. “Herbert, Oregon is a free state, albeit a white one. What Miss Carlyle believes about slavery is her own business as is yours, I might add. I’ve had no complaints from any parents about her spreading her personal views and since you have no children in school, you have no right to harass her by showing up unannounced in her classroom. You jeopardize your seat on the school board. But that is a matter to be dealt with at another time. Miss Carlyle, will you please continue.”
She paused looking at Herbert, who had turned a dark shade of purple. Taking a look around the room she continued. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am perfectly willing to resign my position if that is your wish. However, I will not leave Table Rock City. I have funds elsewhere and can live very comfortably working with Mr. Evans at the paper and doing all I can to contribute to the growth of this community. You may get rid of me as a teacher, Mr. Perry, but I will still be a thorn in your side.”
By the end of her speech, Herbert’s jaw seemed made of stone. He was about to speak, when Arthur stood. Charles said, “Arthur, I hope you can bring some wisdom to these proceedings.”
“I hope I speak for others here when I say that I think Miss Carlyle acted in a most considerate manner last evening. She was deliberate in seeking advice from more than one quarter as to the appropriateness of having dinner alone with three bachelors, all prominent and respected members of our community, I might add. As Miss Carlyle has pointed out, it is no secret that you, Herbert, have not approved of her since she arrived.”
Arthur took a deep breath and continued. “May I also say, that she has been an asset to our town and our children. If we condemn her and release her from her position, it will take a great deal of effort to find a replacement with as wide a range of knowledge. I for one want her to remain in her post.” Turning to Charles, Arthur asked, “Is it appropriate to call for an indication of support for Miss Carlyle by a show of hands?”
Charles smiled as if he thought it good that for once someone else was taking the lead. “It is entirely appropriate. Before we call for a show of hands, does anyone have have anything else to add?”
The atmosphere in the room had changed markedly and it appeared that Herbert was resigned to his defeat for the present. After a considerable pause, Charles surprised everyone by adding, “Ladies, I would like you to vote as well. If you are in support of Miss Carlyle retaining her post as teacher of our school, please raise your hands.” A majority of hands went up immediately, others more slowly.” With a wicked smile, Charles said, “Those who do not support Miss Carlyle, raise your hands as well so she knows her accusers. Mr. Cobb and four older men looking over at Herbert, slowly raised their hands. Herbert only glared.
“Support carries for …”
Just then Emmet burst into the room. His clothes were covered with dust as if he’d been riding full tilt from his ranch. “What is this I hear about sacking Miss Carlyle?” His face was contorted in anger and his voice hard as rock. “If one of my hands hadn’t heard what Herbert said to her at church and told me, you would have cut me out of adding my two cents worth.” He looked around and saw for the first time since his entrance, that the room was full to bursting.
“We’re not sacking Miss Carlyle, Emmet. This is not an official meeting of any of these bodies, though we are keeping a record of what is said and done for future reference.”
“Well, why meet then?”
“To clear the air and see how to proceed,” said Charles.
“Well, I still wish someone had sent for me. I’d have things to say in her defense. Have you voted yet?”
“Yes. We’ve decided by majority vote to support Miss Carlyle which means no further action will be taken against her.”
“Good.” He put his face near Herbert’s. “Thwarted again, Herbert!”
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed that scene. Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment from a reader’s point of view. Also feel free to share with a friend.
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.” ~ Albert Einstein
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” ~ Joseph Campbell
I’ve been reading some nonfiction books for a change and as they always do, they make me think about my life. I wrote about reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert last week. This week, I’m reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown. Both books have stirred the pot of my well of creativity. All of a sudden I’ve got ideas about new projects coming at me. In one way, that’s fantastic. In another, I don’t feel like I’ve got enough time to write them all down. I guess the ideas that are meant for me will stick around. The others will float off and land in another writer’s lap.
One idea I got about a week ago has taken hold. It’s a story about a young girl in an as yet unnamed kingdom who is secretly taught to be a warrior by her father. The young women of the villages in her kingdom must submit to a lottery during their sixteenth year to be sacrificed to a dragon who terrorizes the countryside. Or at least that’s the rumor. No one has seen the dragon for many years. However, the girls who are sacrificed never return, so everyone believes the rumor. The girl’s father teaches her to fight, which is forbidden, in an attempt to save her life. His reasoning is that if she can fight and strategize she might be able to slay the dragon and save the kingdom. I have some ideas about what really happens to the girls, and the discoveries the main character makes because, of course, she is chosen to be the sacrifice. But I have to let those ideas sit on the back burner for awhile before I write them down. The cool thing is that every day I get new ideas about the world in which the girl lives and what might happen to her after she meets the dragon.
It’s fun to have a new project in the works, however, I’m on another round of revisions on my novel, The Space Between Time and I want to get through it a couple more times before sending it off to my writer friends for more comments and possible corrections. Sometimes ideas flow too readily, yet, I’m grateful that they are flowing at all. I want to take a shot at writing them down and to see if the stories take shape.
Something else rumbling around in my head is that it’s almost eight years since I quit teaching full-time to become a writer, and at this juncture, I feel like it’s time to take some classes, or submit some work, do some research for my sequel novel, or do something different with all these ideas.
The bottom line is I’m restless, and yet I crave solitude. Kind of a strange combination of emotions. I think what this all means is that a big change is on its way to me, and that is exciting. I’ve got the summer off. Maybe the changes will happen then. In any case, no teaching for me this summer for the first time in seven or eight years. My mouth almost waters at the thought of eleven or twelve weeks to concentrate on my work with fewer distractions. So, if you ask me to meet for lunch or go for a walk, or some other outing during the day. I may refuse not because I don’t like you, but because I’m focusing on finishing my manuscript, and putting all the new ideas floating around in my head into the computer. How about dinner?
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.
“Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.” ~ Brené Brown
“Curiosity is what keeps you working steadily, while hotter emotions may come and go.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert
A few days ago I began reading, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s about living a creative life without fear. Some books blow your mind, others help you work through trauma, others are just plain fun. Then there are the books that confirm your feelings, your point of view. Those books can give you courage to continue on the road you’ve chosen. Big Magic is that kind of book for me.
Though I’ve only been writing for eight years and consider myself a new writer, I do have years of experience in the world of theatre. And to echo something from Elizabeth’s book, when you commit yourself to the creative life, you have to stick with it through thick and thin. I’ve been cast as characters that were very different from me and consequently very difficult to play because I had a hard time relating to them. On the other hand I’ve played characters that were so much like me that it was difficult to know where the character ended and I began.
Writing is like that too. Some days I sit down to write my weekly blog post or work on my novel and the words flow out my fingers with little need of revision. Other times I struggle with the concepts I’m trying to convey. I write, then dump whole sections or sometimes begin over. Since I’m under a deadline for my blog, I have to publish it even though what I’ve written may not adequately express the idea that’s been running around in my head looking for an outlet.
At the beginning of this year, I decided that I’d like to try my hand at writing essays and stories to send to publications with open submissions. One particular opportunity struck my fancy. The magazine, Story has called for submissions on the theme of identity. When I saw that, I thought, “I have lots to say on that topic,” and I began writing. That was over two months ago and I’m still struggling with the piece. The deadline for submission is fast approaching and I have too much to say about identity. I can’t narrow my thoughts down into a coherent whole. It’s like when I get close to a vital idea for the piece it floats away from me. As a result I may not get it together in time to submit it for publication.
I was feeling discouraged about that, but after reading Big Magic, my viewpoint has changed. Maybe I’m not supposed to write about identity. On the other hand a story idea flitted toward me the other day, and it’s demanding attention. This story wants to be written, and written by me. Elizabeth’s theory is that creative ideas float around until they find the person who is supposed to bring the idea to life. That’s how this new story idea feels to me, unlike the essay on identity. I’ll continue to work on the essay until it tells me to quit. That’s all a creative person can do, follow the breadcrumbs and see where they lead you.
You also have to put your work out into the world anyway you can. Last night in the section I was reading, Elizabeth related a story of the first piece she had published. The title of the story was “Pilgrims”, and the editor of Esquire magazine wanted to publish it. She was ecstatic. Finally after years of trying, her work would be published in a major magazine. Then she got a call. A large advertising sponsor had backed out of placing their ads and the editor would have to reduce the number of pages for the edition that was to include her story. They wanted to know if she would be willing to cut her ten page story by thirty percent. She could wait for a future publication, but the magazine business was changeable, her contact warned, and her story might never be published. She chose to rewrite the story and it turned out to be a good thing she did, because two months later, the editor left for a new position and her story would have gone into oblivion.
Choosing the creative life sends the practitioner off into a mysterious world. There are peaks and valleys. One day everything is going well with your project and the next, the idea well is dry, or tastes funny, or has gone underground and is flowing toward another artist. All we can do is commit to the work. I find that the deeper my commitment, the more I’m supported by the creativity fairies who sometimes lead me in directions I had no intention of going. Yet, I’ve committed myself to them, so I must follow. The point is, I look forward every morning to sitting down at my computer and following the breadcrumbs left for me that day.
Well, this is one of those blog posts that is kind of all over the place. My ideas are still not completely formed. The ideas from Big Magic are still drifting around in my head, and out in the ethers waiting to crystalize. That doesn’t matter. I’ll publish this post anyway.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.
“Success should always call for showing greater kindness, generosity and justice; only people lost in the darkness treat it as an occasion for greater greed.” ~ Cyrus the Great
“Words, in my humble opinion, are our most inexhaustible source of magic.” ~ Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” ~ Harper Lee
As most of you know, Harper Lee died this past week. Until last year, her reputation as a world class author rested on one book, To Kill A Mockingbird. I haven’t yet read her latest book, Go Set A Watchman, its on order, but if I rely on the description, it rounds out the maturation of the character of Scout. She learns some things that change her perspective of her childhood, her life and her community. To me that’s what life is all about, learning and growing, accepting the good and the bad without judgment.
In my estimation, having even one book so widely read and acclaimed is quite an accomplishment. Harper Lee’s book lays open the human condition for us to examine. She, like all authors, allows us to climb into the skin of the characters and walk around in them for awhile. Most of us don’t get to make that large an impact on the world, but that doesn’t matter. As another famous author, George Eliot, wrote of her main character Dorothea Ladislaw in the final passage of her book Middlemarch, “Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Each person touches so many other lives. We’re often carelessly wrapped up in our problems that we act in ways that we might not choose if we were thinking clearly. We forget that we have an effect on those around us. Perhaps that’s all part of our drive toward learning as well. For making mistakes with dire consequences can wake us up and cause us to be more conscious from then on. Every interaction plants seeds. Seeds of thought, seeds of emotions, seeds for good or ill.
Often as I’m sitting at the computer writing, I wonder if what I’m writing will touch anyone’s heart and I think of all the writers throughout the ages, known and unknown who recorded their experiences because they had to, because something inside called out to be expressed. For one reason or another, some work is never discovered and read. However, I like to think that nothing is ever lost and what those authors wrote is out there in the ethers somewhere and we are affected by the insights they expressed.
That’s why I write. I know that I may never be a famous world class writer like Harper Lee, but if I learn something vital about what it means to be human from my experience of writing, then I’ve lived faithfully. My hidden life as a writer will add something to the whole of humanity in some mysterious way and that is enough.
I am grateful that Harper Lee wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. She helped so many people on levels seen and unseen. I’m equally grateful that many other writers dare to expose their deepest insights so the rest of us can examine ourselves at a safe distance. What we read doubles our chances for growth as a human race.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.
“The longest journey
is the journey inwards.
Of him who has chosen his destiny,
Who has started upon his quest
For the source of his being.” ~ Dag Hammarskjöld
“Imagination is what is there after you know everything; without knowledge, one’s imagination may be too thin – lacking in strength and too fragile to build on.” ~ American director Zelda Fichandler
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” ~ Benjamin Franklin
“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” ~ E. L. Doctorow
I’ve discovered this book revision business is not for sissies. It’s a long process of peeling back the layers to get to the real thing I’m trying to say.
Before Christmas, I was very impatient to get the revisions finished during my month long break from teaching. But, of course, my hopes did not come true and in a way that’s a blessing. To tell you the truth I’ve been impatient to finish my novel for a year or more. That was part of the problem with earlier drafts. I rushed through important sections of the story. It’s never good to cheat the reader by not exploring an issue the characters must deal with.
The other day I watched Sense and Sensibility as my personal tribute to actor Alan Rickman who died last week. He’s one of my favorite actors. Part of the reason I love his work is because he never rushed through his lines. In his movies, you always know exactly what he’s saying because he enunciates every word enhancing the emotional emphasis.
After watching the movie, I was reading the trivia on Internet Movie Database. In it Emma Thompson, the screenwriter, stated that she’s a slow writer. It took her three years to finish the screenplay. When I read that, I had to admit I’m a slow writer too. And something about her saying that, allowed me to finally let go of trying to finish my book quickly. I am going to hold it within my being so I can more easily see beneath the surface of where the story is leading me.
Something else helped me decide that working slowly but steadily is a good thing. I watched the movie Proof in preparation for my dramatic structure students watching it tonight. It’s about Catherine, a mathematics genius, who has to put her life on hold to take care of her mentally ill father, Robert, who is a mathematics legend for solving an important proof when he was in his twenties. Catherine and Hal, Robert’s former student, are talking about Hal’s work in mathematics. He’s discouraged and doesn’t think he’ll ever make any significant contribution to the field. Catherine encourages him by saying something like, “You have to chip away at a problem. Sometimes you have to come at it sideways.” That’s what creative people do. They think outside the box.
It’s too bad we live in a fast food society where we demand instant gratification because the invention, the social change, the play, musical piece, or painting all take time. Sometimes many years. Building a healthy business takes lots of work too. Just as changing your life for the better takes a consistent effort and sometimes you have to sneak up on your problems from the side to get the perspective you need to solve them.
I’m not quite sure how I’ll approach my novel from the side. Perhaps being silent and listening to my characters speak to me is the best way to do it. In any case, I’ll keep chipping away at my novel until it tells me it’s finished. I’ll let you know from time to time how it’s coming.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.
“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.” ~ George S. Patton
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” ~ Michael Jordan
“A champion is afraid of losing. Everyone else is afraid of winning.” ~ Billie Jean King
“Do something you really like, and hopefully it pays the rent. As far as I’m concerned, that’s success.” ~ Tom Petty
My sister Celeste and I were talking the other day about pursuing our life’s dreams and some realizations we’ve had along the way. She is a certified life coach, but has had difficulty getting her career started. However, since moving to the Seattle area, it looks like her business will be taking off. That’s what started our conversation about success. As we were talking she said, “I think I’m afraid to succeed.” Boy could I relate to that because I’ve felt the same way about my writing.
As we talked we acknowledged that the same situation applies to both of us. We get used to our life circumstances and it’s hard to visualize living any other way. Does that ever happen to you? It takes a great deal of effort to create a new way of living. If you choose to create an unconventional life, you have to give up some things that are fun but not productive in your old life. And you face opposition, people will not hesitate to tell you that your dream is not worth the effort, or that you will never succeed so you may as well give up. It’s difficult to shut out the naysayers. You have to be willing to fail, perhaps many times before you succeed and that’s scary.
Celeste and I both want to live a new kind of life. We want to help people while we do what we love and make money doing it. We both long to travel, be open to new and unexpected experiences, and we want to meet new and interesting people with a different perspective than our own. These are dreams we’ve talked about over the years, but for some reason it’s been difficult for us to break out and go for that new life. Both of us have suffered through some difficult times, especially financially. That’s one thing that is the hardest to overcome, our financial circumstances. We get so used to living with less that it becomes hard to see ourselves as being prosperous.
Celeste and I both think that visualizing what it feels like to have abundance and success while at the same time helping others is essential to making our dreams come true, which got me to thinking about the circumstances in which we were born. Our parents struggled with money until later in their marriage. I’m the oldest so life was more difficult for me than for Celeste who is the youngest. For example, I wore lots of hand-me-down clothes growing up. When mom and dad had more money, mom continued to act as if they didn’t have enough to buy my younger sisters the clothes they needed. She was stuck in her old thinking that they had to do without many of the nicer things in life. Dad on the other hand embraced their more prosperous situation and always made sure my sisters had the things they needed. Sometimes Celeste and I find ourselves stuck in our mom’s pattern of thinking instead of our dad’s. That’s one of the struggles we each face in making our dreams come true.
Most people continue on much as their parents did. There is nothing wrong with that, but there are people who long for a different kind of life. They have dreams that go in a different direction from their “tribe”, as Wayne Dyer called it. My sister Celeste and I, and our husbands are such people. Something inside drives us to seek out a new kind of life, one that doesn’t appear to be outwardly secure but is highly creative. We want to take the road less traveled and that’s the tension we feel each day as we struggle to support our families yet create something new.
Even though we’re taking the road less traveled, there are others who have forged the paths that we want to take, it’s just that not as many have chosen these paths and that makes our desire to follow them a little scary. There aren’t as many footprints to follow. Sometimes the footprints are lost all together and we have to guess how to reach our destination. Every day we have to reassess and move forward with our plans. We have to give ourselves a break if we take two steps forward and one step back. That’s all part of the game.
So, we’re both excited and a little frightened to think about how we’ll react when we succeed. Celeste and I feel that if we’re not a little frightened of the outcome, it’s not worth doing. The thing we look forward to is the fact that we’ll both be living very different lives than the ones we’re experiencing now and as far as we’re concerned, that will be wonderful.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” ~ Rumi
The above quote opens my novel, The Space Between Time. You might say it’s a theme of the book. Below is a very short segment from Chapter 3.
The Set-up: Jenna has had a life shattering week. She’s gone back to her childhood home to recover and regroup. This is a portion of the scene where she finds her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan’s, journals begins to read and starts an extraordinary journey of discovery.
“Just then Jenna felt a rush of energy swirl around her. As she looked at the attic walls trying to determine what was happening, fog obscured her vision. She felt as if she were shedding her body like she would a cloak. Within the span between breaths the scene changed in front of her and she found herself sitting in a rocking chair looking out at an early spring afternoon just like the one Morgan had described. Something about the atmosphere was different than her home – more than that, it smelled different. Wood smoke instead of gas fumes permeated the air.
She looked down at the hands that were resting on a sketch pad. They were not her hands, nor were the clothes hers. She was wearing a dress that she thought was from the Civil War era. After a few gut wrenching moments, Jenna realized she was not only in Morgan’s world, she was sharing Morgan’s consciousness.
Panic overtook her, and she hyperventilated, or she would have had she been in her own body. This was far different than seeing the spirits of her parents, or reading a bunch of old journals. I’m going to get stuck here! How do I get back? The moment she thought that, Jenna felt the grief that was washing over Morgan. Grief – that was something she could related to. As Morgan took a deep breath, calm settled on Jenna. As crazy as it seemed, somehow she felt she was going to be all right. Okay, I’ll just go with it. I can panic later. What else could she do but trust? Hard as it was to admit, that was something Jenna didn’t know how to do well. Her mind merged again with Morgan’s.
She, they, were sitting facing the window of Morgan’s father’s room, a forgotten sketch pad on Morgan’s lap with a half finished sketch of Morgan’s father, and the greening mountains beyond. The apple tree just outside the window dripped with leaf buds. The daffodils she, they had planted near the front gate serenaded the sun. It was warm. Children laughed and played on their way home from school. The ice wagon rolled by hurrying to finish the day’s deliveries. Across the lane Mrs. Gardener gossiped with Mrs. Webb about the new dry goods shop owner. Their voices were audible inside the sickroom.
Mrs. Gardner said, “I have it on good authority that Mr Krause’s wife left him. He moved to Rutland to start a new life and forget. It’s too bad that the truth came out. He seems like such a nice man.”
“Why should it make a difference?” asked Mrs. Webb. “She’s the one who left.”
“Well who can tell, maybe he beat her,” said Mrs. Gardner.
“We don’t know the whole truth of the matter, Gladys. So don’t spread that rumor,” said Mrs. Webb.
Bird song followed the women’s voices. The afternoon light streamed in the window illuminating the white curtains and bouncing off the mirror on the dressing table. The room glowed with warmth and light. Jenna saw it all while at the same time experiencing everything as if she were part of Morgan. It was a disquieting sensation. The charms of the spring day could not entice Morgan away from her grief. Jenna recognized those feelings. She’d felt the same way when her mother lay motionless on her hospital bed.
Looking at Morgan’s father, Jenna saw the same signs of life leaving his body that she’d seen in her mother that night only a couple of weeks ago. Fully in the past with Morgan now, Jenna shared her pain and tried to give comfort.
Thomas lay sleeping fitfully. The pain was worse each day and sleep eluded him most of the time. That morning the doctor, seeing Morgan’s strained and weary face, had given Thomas a large dose of laudanum to help him sleep and instructed her to increase the dose when he stirred. There was nothing else that could be done for him. This was the end and Morgan knew it.”
This little segment gives you an idea of the basic premise of the book. Jenna shifts between dealing with the challenges of her own life, while periodically visiting Morgan’s. Both women face difficult challenges and help each other along the way.
I’ll share another segment next week.
Remember this is a work in progress. Thanks for reading. Make a comment if you like and feel free to share with a friend.
“Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.” ~ Junot Diaz
“True friendship can afford true knowledge. It does not depend on darkness and ignorance.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
“I define friendship as a bond that transcends all barriers. When you are ready to expect anything and everything from friends, good bad or ugly … that’s what I call true friendship.” ~ Harbhajan Singh
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” ~ Helen Keller
I’ve got a terrific writer friend, or maybe she’s my mentor, who has read my manuscript more than once and tells it like it is. Last Friday I got her assessment back on the latest revisions and she wasn’t afraid to tell me I have more work to do. On the one hand, I’m sad when she tells me I need to do more work, on the other it’s a relief. It’s a relief to have a friend who knows exactly what I’m going through writing my first novel, and who doesn’t shy away from telling me what needs improving.
The first time she read my manuscript was in the spring. At that time she told me her story of sending what she thought was a finished manuscript off to a contest thinking she was going to win the prize, get an agent and have her book published by a traditional publisher. When she got the critique from one of the judges that she needed to do more work, she was devastated. “She told me things I didn’t want to hear but in the end her suggestions made the book better.” Right now I can relate to that. And I’m so glad that my friend is willing to do that for me. I could ignore her and publish my book now, but for some reason, that’s just not my style. I want it to be the best it can be.
The thing is, when artists mentor each other by giving honest critiques, there can be a hidden blessing in it. My friend told me my characters and story were good, from a new perspective, but it still needs more work. Thank heavens I don’t have to throw the entire thing out and start over again. I’m sure my friend would have been brutally honest and told me if I needed to do that. I’m not as courageous when giving critique. Or at least not with people I’ve only met online. I think bad news should be delivered in person.
About a year ago I had someone send me their manuscript so I could write a review of the book and post it to my blog. It was a romance novel, not one of my favorite genres, but I agreed. I could tell it was written by an amateur, like me. I think it may have even been a first draft. There were so many mistakes that I gave up reading it. I did learn a great deal from reading the manuscript, but I’m sorry to say I never sent any of my extensive corrections and comments back to the young writer. I was afraid if I did I would discourage her from ever writing another book. And continuing to write is one of the best ways we become better writers.
I’m sorry to say I was a coward. When I wrote the blog post about her book, I couldn’t in good conscience tell people to go buy it. So I couched everything I said about it in terms of what I’d learned from the experience of reading it for review. I have to thank that author for giving me a wakeup call about my own writing.
For those of you who are writers, I’m sure you know exactly how I’m feeling. I want to get my work out into the world. The long gestation period of birthing a novel can get tedious at times. The thing is the baby is born when its ready and not before. My baby isn’t ready to be born yet. I wish she were, but being impatient and rushing the process isn’t good. We don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression with readers. I’m not willing to rush my process just so I can say I’ve published a novel, or so I can sell some books. Nope. I’ll keep plugging away until my friend and I think the book is finished.
I’ll keep you posted about how it’s going. Perhaps I’ll include little snippets of my novel from time to time to get your take on how I’m doing. Creative and constructive criticism is always welcome.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with friends.