People ask me why I write . . .

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Like jazz, stories are meant to be heard, to strike resonant chords in our hearts or rumble down deep in our gut. Soul music. Melodies and words about what matters. When we tell our stories and they are listened to, and when we listen to other people’s stories, we build community, come closer. We grow in understanding of ourselves and others, and hopefully become more curious, suspend old ideas and assumptions … Read more about why I write.


 “I am a bud beginning to unfold, a story waiting to be told.”                                                                       –Sam Keen


Red-orange rosebud on dark background.The Flying Girl is my novel-in-progress, and much of this website is about my journey toward its completion. Throughout, I will share with you bits and pieces, questions and conclusions, about the story’s overall themes: dysfunctional parent-child bonds and their relevance to adult relationships and sexuality, coming of age in sexual terms, and the unconscious patterns that bind and blind so many struggling to achieve healthy adult intimacy.

As the story begins, the year is 1969, “the pill” has arrived, the Sexual Revolution is in full swing, and all the rules about relationships and sex have been turned upside down. Read more about The Flying Girlthe story and characters, the setting and times–as well as a brief excerpt from Chapter One.

Instead of trying so hard, try more softly.

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“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” 

                                      ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


A comment on my last post–He made us laugh. He made us cry. He left us asking why.has prompted me to share the eloquent, wise words above. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote them in one of ten letters exchanged during 1903-1904 with a young student, Franz Xaver Kappus, who had sought his advice, initially about becoming a writer, but ultimately about life. The collected letters, translated into English by Stephen Mitchell in 1984 and published in a small volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet, are among the most beloved letters of all time. And it’s no wonder! Over the past twenty years I have read and reread multiple passages in the letters, for comfort, for inspiration. The depth of understanding about life which they reflect is revelatory, stunning when one realizes that Rilke was only twenty-seven when he corresponded with Kappus. We know he had a painful childhood, that he struggled greatly with solitude, a burden he felt necessary for self-preservation. Even so, he loved deeply and had a rare appreciation of women. (One of the paragraphs about women’s strengths is remarkably fitting for today; I will share that quote, and others, in future posts.) There is so much in these letters. If you are not familiar with Rilke, seek out Letters to a Young Poet and read his poetry. I wouldn’t be at all surprised you don’t also come to treasure his words.

duck-ringed-teal-by-karen-arnold

 

He made us laugh. He made us cry. He left us asking why.

robin-williams-2011-per-wikipediaMany of us, I suspect, experienced an anguished sting at the moment we learned of actor/comedian Robin Williams’ recent death. Suicide usually surprises, and it always raises questions. We try to understand why, perhaps wonder if anyone tried to intervene? Over and over, we hear and speak that word: Why? Why? Why? If the person who died was someone we knew or a loved one, we wonder why he or she didn’t come to us or if there wasn’t something more we could have done. Along with our pain at the loss, we may feel shame, even fear or anger, all normal feelings in the wake of such tragedy. Suicide challenges our assumptions and beliefs about the way things are supposed to be, and death always leads us to try to make sense of life. Our awareness of death substantiates life and reminds us to make each day count.

That someone who brought so much laughter into the world could feel such despair seems incongruous. We want to believe it impossible. Seeing that it is not, we imagine reasons for Williams’ choice. Even those close to him, who loved and understood him better than any others, have likely struggled with such questions. No doubt they tried to talk to him, to give support, engender hope. Somehow it wasn’t enough; whatever happened, he chose to leave us. Some say a prescription he was taking to treat his Parkinson’s disease may have triggered suicidal thoughts. As most of us know, it wouldn’t be the first time that an otherwise useful medication has led to such tragedy. But we don’t know the circumstances or Williams’ reasoning, how clearly he was thinking or carefully he had weighed his options. And we certainly have no right to judge.

maya-angelou-quote-do-the-best-you-can-on-orange-dahliaSadly, few of us recognize the tell-tale signs of serious suicidal threat or know how to respond helpfully. We all have personal beliefs about depression and suicidality, sometimes well informed by training or experience, but all too often motivated by ignorance and emotional bias. While we care and mean well, when faced with another’s despair we tend to be at a loss for what to say and do. Perhaps we feel expected to “fix” the problem, and feeling frustrated or impotent, end up turning our backs. Or maybe we look the other way because shows of emotion, especially when “heavy,” make us uncomfortable. Sometimes others’ depression and suicidal feelings challenge our beliefs or frighten us, so we judge and ridicule so as to push the threat they represent away. “Get over it!” we say, or “Stop wallowing!” or “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself! Nobody likes a pity party!” Maybe we try to help by pointing out what we see as positives and say, “So c’mon, you’ve got nothing to complain about!” Does anyone find such statements helpful? I doubt it. All such words do is diminish and invalidate what the suffering person is feeling, as if the pain is something to be ashamed of or inconsequential; they make it sound as if he or she should be able to simply flip a switch and find everything okay.

Needless to say, if it was that simple, people would do it. Contrary to what some believe, people don’t like to suffer. Folks who imagine there are those who enjoy misery should try it. Serious misery, I mean, the kind that comes from wounds beyond belief or things that can’t easily be made sense of. And who but the one who has been injured can describe it as beyond belief? No one. Pain is subjective, and can be hugely complicated. So is change, hard. Being stuck emotionally points to a need trapped in confusion and begging for illumination. Until a person can peer into the darkness and see at least some light, or at least have some reason to trust there is no drop-off or trip wire, it’s not easy to take steps forward. Continue reading

Standards be damned?

Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read.                          I know of no shortcuts.                                                                                                                          — Larry L. King


When I first put pen to paper (or fingertips to keypad) and began filling the pages of my novel, the process was exhilarating. When I shared my initial draft with family and friends and they applauded my writing, I was encouraged. But as I said in my first post on this blog, I soon discovered there was more to this business of writing fiction than I had first imagined. It’s true; I could have believed the flattery I received was sufficient, patted myself on the back, and jumped on the self-publishing train so as to quickly launch my book and pin on a shiny badge of authorship, but I’ve never been inclined to proudly wear something I haven’t yet fully earned. I knew I had dues to pay before I could really call myself a novelist. A writer, yes, but still only aspiring to be the author of a debut novel I could be proud of. And so I’ve learned to write, and rewrite, and rewrite again.

Hemingway-first-draft-is-shit-quote. Hemingway didn’t mince words. Indeed, I do agree, and let me add: Shit don’t shine! And, you know, it might even stink a bit when fresh, making it especially important to clean up any boo-boos and polish things up well.

I take the craft of writing seriously, with pleasure, and with no small measure of patience. I think most writers feel the sameor at least they say they doand I have no doubt they mean it, but I have noticed that in the sometimes heady rush to be a published author, patienceeven the patience necessary to first learn the basic mechanics of writing, let alone refine the art of good storytelling—is often lacking.


Secure writers don’t sell first drafts. They patiently rewrite until the script is as director-ready, as actor-ready as possible. Unfinished work invites tampering, while polished, mature work seals its integrity.

                                                          ― Robert McKee, Story


The truth is, in this digital age, anyone can publish a novel, even if the language is jibberish. Being able to write is no longer requisite to publishing, nor will filling pages with content that is pure nonsense stop a literary imposter from producing a book. For better or for worse, in the world of self-publishing, the traditional gatekeepersprofessional agents, editors, and publishing housescan go home, and the relative pros and cons of their doing so depend on your perspective.
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Fiction, not an autobiography

african-monarch-butterfly-on-flowersSome people have asked me if my novel is really a memoir. No, The Flying Girl isn’t the true story of a part of my life nor is it a full autobiography. It is fiction. But I won’t deny that, like most if not all novelists, I’ve drawn from my own experiences, particularly earlier in life and certainly including the times and places I was living in, to help me create my characters and conceptualize the plot. Of course I have! That’s the fodder that feeds a writer’s creative muse! But then I’ve mixed it all up with other sources of information, other approaches to the story. I’ve mined psychological case studies and poured through the professional literature related to my characters’ issues, read “pop” psychology books, and even other novels to gather research data and prompt inspiration. And then there are, of course, all the people I have known over the years, closely or in passing, at home, work and at play, as well as the familiar characters of stage and screen.


I don’t think writers ought ever to sit down and think they must write about some cause, or theme, or something. If they write about their own experience, something true is going to emerge.

                                                                                       ― Doris Lessing


There is nothing I enjoy more than people! So in the end, my characters are composites of all my sources of information about people, and my story is my imagination’s way of weaving it all together. You know, I think the best part of writing a novel is that moment when I wake up in the middle of the night, click on the light beside my bed, grab a pen and my notebook and start scribbling a line of dialogue, a scene, a character’s quirks. “Ah-ha! I’ll have the character do ………!” It’s just so darned much fun to make up the stuff! Where else can you do that every day, all day, without being considered diagnosable? It’s fiction, and it’s really fun!

I believe in flying.

Seagulls-over-water-orange-sunset-I-feel-free.I collect birds. Not live birds, but beautiful little birds of pottery and porcelain, glass and mirrors, bronze and silver, straw and paper mache. I keep most of them on a round, glass-topped table in my living room, graced by a window’s natural light by day and illuminated at night by the soft glow of a table lamp. I have a few more birds here and there throughout my home. My sweet and simple birds wouldn’t be found in the cabinets of serious collectors or gallery displays, but I treasure them. For me, their value is in their meaning.

Each one, both unique and universal, reminds me of an experience years ago that changed my life forever, a transformation that lifted me from the darkest night to sustaining light. I suffered terrible angst and despair during my teenage and young adult years—yes, I was one of those “at-risk” kids. I hid it, though, turning my pain inward and wrecking havoc on myself rather than acting-out and making trouble for others. In my parents’ and teachers’ eyes, I was a good girl, and a great student. Even so, I was unable to hold onto any confident thread of hope for a fulfilled life, desperately searching for answers to questions I couldn’t even clearly formulate.

Many-flying-seagulls-blue-sky. One day, exhausted by my struggle, I just stopped trying. In the days that followed, I felt a profound sense of anticipation, akin to an intense feeling of foreboding but oddly without threat, until finally sensations and light overtook me and a vision of an exquisite, translucent white bird lifted me up from my dark night of the soul, took me on a journey up and out of my limited self, and led me to the mountaintop and an opening to all eternity. Continue reading

Maya Angelou: A Woman Without Shame or Blame

May Angelou smiling, poet,educator,author,playwright,activist,historian,producer,actor,director.

Source: MayaAngelou.com

Some of us choose to tell (or read) the stories between the lines, where the truth lives, without pretense and uncensored. Maya Angelou was such a writer. She was such a woman. For Angelou, there was no shame in having been a victim, no weakness in having to struggle to survive and find her way to a quality of womanhood perhaps only arrived at when the dues of wounding and injustice are paid. She didn’t hesitate to say the journey wasn’t easy, but with singular grace and courage, she rose above the abuse and humiliation she suffered to affirm her dignity as a woman. And did she ever! Continue reading

Love poetry from the Sufi poet, Rumi–with layers of meaning.

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Rumi quote Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all the time. over two pink and yellow roses.

I love Rumi’s poetry, the surface simplicity of his words and the depth of meaning they convey. He writes of love, and lovers, and the Beloved–not only the people we hold dear, but God–and the way all weave together and are joined in eternity. Sometimes I wonder: Do moments of synchronicity present opportunities to connect in realms of consciousness beyond our normal awareness? Is our destiny realized when our streams of consciousness cross paths of recognition in the universe and we seize the moment? Is that the essence of “soul mates”? (Or is destiny derailed and reoriented because we fail to open to what is offered us?) My novel, The Flying Girlasks such questions . . .

What Is Meant By Mainstream Fiction?

Stacks of colorful books displayed on a table.In several recent posts I described the essential characteristics which differentiate popular or commercial “genre” fiction and “literary” fiction. Floating somewhat porously between these two types of fiction is another over-arching category called “mainstream” or “general” fiction, sometimes also referred to as “literary light.” Combining elements of both genre and literary fiction, these novels have the potential to attract broad audiences. The best are exceptionally good stories of substance that are written really well.

In writing mainstream fiction, some but not all genre conventions and rules can be broken. Like commercial genre books, these novels must have a strong “hook” to draw readers in, but in addition to a compelling plot, well-developed characterization is important. What characters say and do isn’t enough; readers of mainstream fiction also want to know something about what motivates the characters’ behavior. Continue reading

What Is Literary Fiction?

Books on table with flowers, wine bottle and glassIn previous posts I discussed what is meant by the literary classification described as “popular genre” fiction as well as provided a descriptive list of genre and sub-genre types. There are two other over-arching labels applied to literature: “literary” fiction, the subject of this post, and “mainstream” fiction, also known as “general” or “literary light.”

So just what is “literary” fiction? Many refer to literary novels and short stories as “serious” fiction. Everything about literary novels seems a little larger or a step up: big ideas and underlying themes that transcend plot; complex, in-depth characterization; prose that is both technically excellent and beautiful; writing that may reflect innovative craftsmanship and experimentation; longer length; and premium printing and presentation quality. Unlike the writers of genre novels, literary fiction writers are not required to follow particular conventions or rules, but their works must reflect such common characteristics and high standards. Continue reading

A List of Fiction Categories, Genres and Sub-genres

Jumble of colorful letters on black background.

A novel is a novel is a novel . . . Think so? In my previous post I defined “genre fiction” and began to differentiate between “popular” or “commercial” genre novels and those classified as “mainstream” or “literary” fiction (the subject of my next post). I also discussed the usefulness of such a system of classification. Believe it or not, more than one hundred fiction categories have been identified. Take a look at the long list below and see what you think.  Continue reading

What Is Genre Fiction?

romance-genre-book-cover-with-sexy-coupleWe’ve all seen the covers. They beckon, they tease, and excite. And they are easily recognizable, prompting recollection and motivating interest. By repeatedly displaying subtle variations of highly evocative imagery–knives dripping blood or lawyers in court, lovers in passionate embrace or men with glistening muscular physiques gripping machine guns, quaint cottages and country scenes or couples walking hand-in-hand, as well as specific author’s branding through repetitive formatting and fonts–the covers of “genre” novels signal familiarity and broadcast that readers’ expectations will be satisfied. Their titles, too, speak boldy and unambiguously of the novels’ plots and characters, leaving little doubt in potential readers’ minds about what the books are about.

Genre fiction, also labeled “popular” or “commercial,” has strong mass-market appeal that is centered in a variety of common themes that match readership followings. These are the books up front and face-forward on big, commercial bookstores’ shelves, the “pocket” paperbacks in airport book racks, the books featured for casual and genre browsers on amazon.com and powells.com, wherever the high demand for them is met. They are easy reads and the best are always entertaining page-turners.

If you are a writer, you probably know these novels are easier to write than “literary” fiction, and in many instances are turned out in multiples per year. Popular genre fiction tends to be formulaic: the length not too long and the prose not too wordy or poetic; the plot primary, straightforward, action-driven and fast-paced; and the characterization subordinate to the plot, which unfolds through what the characters do and say. The writing is clear and accessible and the story conventions followed tend to be specific to each genre category or sub-genre. In commercial fiction, these categories most commonly include romance, mystery, thriller, action-adventure, horror, gothic, historical, western, and writing for juveniles or young adults, but there are many more sub-categories–more than one hundred in all! (My next post includes a long list of genres and sub-genres.) If this degree of categorization isn’t confusing enough, many of these genres play mix-and-match, sometimes crossing the once inviolable boundaries between popular genre, “mainstream” and “literary” fiction (described in depth in an upcoming post), and there is often disagreement about the assignment of the representative labels or whether or not some sub-genres should exist at all.

This leads me to my next topics: “mainstream” and “literary” fiction.

For many of us, writing might just be the surest route to heaven . . .

These inspiring quotes speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do, and will come back to savor them again and again.

Many thanks to WritingForYourWealth.com for compiling and presenting them so beautifully.

Read more about me and why I write, or check out my novel-in-progress, The Flying Girl.

Writing The Flying Girl: The Process

Toddler working at a laptopI’ll be honest. When I embarked on my novel-writing project—working title, The Flying Girl—I thought it would be a cinch. I knew the story I wanted to tell; I had good writing skills; and I certainly had the desire—no, the passion―to drive the story forward. Little did I know, there is a lot more to good storytelling than knowing the basics of authorship or even an inspired plot. A novelist―or any storyteller, fiction or non-fiction―must first work at cooking that plot so that future readers will taste one tempting morsel at a time, each one succulent, savory and just satisfying enough to leave him or her wanting more. Then, even when the recipe is clear and complete, the writer has to perfect its execution. Ah, yes, a noble task, and one that seems manageable until one’s muse is battered by concepts previously unheard of: protagonists and antagonists, conflict, points of view, tension arcs, flow, denouement, and so on, and on, and on. Enter, the learning process–and to think I thought once I’d conceptualized a good story and developed some interesting characters I’d have nothing more to do than check my grammar, syntax, and punctuation!


“Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure. As you follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, study thoughtfully but write boldly. Then, like the hero of the fable, your dance will dazzle the world.” 

                                                                    –Robert McKeeStory


Well, I’m now working on a later draft of The Flying Girl, and I’m sure it will need revision and polishing, too. At least I know I’m in good company, among the best, in fact; while there are plenty of good, fun-to-read novels created in months, not years–especially “genre” thrillers, mysteries, romance and other “formula” fiction–there are also writers working on “mainstream” and “literary” fiction projects which often take several or more years, sometimes many years, to complete. Sighhhhh. I feel better.

If you’re wondering what these fiction labels mean, check out my posts on genre, mainstream, and literary fiction–distinctions that aren’t always clear, and, I think, are sometimes taken too seriously. After all, what’s important to you as a reader? A good read! Personally, I thoroughly enjoy being entertained by a fast-paced mystery or a sexy romance, just as I love being enthralled by a psychological thriller, moved by a heart-wrenching tragedy or subtly transformed by a nuanced yet profound tale of ordinary people. And undeniably, there’s nothing like the magic of beautifully written prose to tantalize my literary taste buds! And you? What kind of novels do you like to read? I’d love to hear who your favorite authors are.