There are so many beautiful, moving passages I could quote from the prose of author Toni Morrison, who passed away yesterday at the age of 88. I have chosen this one from her novel, Sula, to share as a way to honor her memory. She will be missed.
There are so many beautiful, moving passages I could quote from the prose of author Toni Morrison, who passed away yesterday at the age of 88. I have chosen this one from her novel, Sula, to share as a way to honor her memory. She will be missed.
It’s San Francisco 50 years ago, in the wake of the Summer of Love, at the peak of the 60s Sexual Revolution, and on the cusp of the Women’s Liberation movement. America is at war and in turmoil, and all the rules for sex and relationships have been turned upside down.
In the midst of it all, a beautiful young Midwestern girl is trying to navigate her way to womanhood through an obstacle course of bad luck and bad choices, rampant misogyny, and cultural upheaval for which she isn’t at all prepared.
The lessons learned are sometimes heart-breaking, but over time empowering. For Krista, the journey to love is as raucous—and liberating—as the era she lives in.
Would you like updates on my progress toward publishing The Woman Inside Her? Just “follow” my website or “like” my Facebook page and from time to time (not too often, I promise) I’ll post more about my writing process and also The Woman Inside Her’s themes, plot, characters–who are loaded with sticky issues that are sure to complicate relationships–as well as the times (late 60s) and places (mostly San Francisco) the story is set in.
In the late 60s, when the Vietnam War raged on, Americans increasingly realized that it was not possible to succeed by our ideals alone, however lofty and sacred. In a real world, mistakes can be made even by the most well-intentioned. Acknowledging that reality, and accepting responsibility for actions taken, requires both maturity and integrity, and represents strength, not weakness.
It’s time for a good many Americans to step up to the plate once more and say: we were wrong and cannot let this masquerade of normality go on. The state of governance of our nation today is not normal. Our country needs strong, capable leadership that reveres and upholds the constitution and is willing to work to the benefit of all Americans, not just a favored few.
Please. Do not stand idly by and imagine “things” will eventually work themselves out, or assume others will act so you needn’t do so. At the very least, you can become broadly informed–and do so not just from your closely held perspective but by listening to divergent views as well–so that you can then, perhaps with some authority, speak out via the more valid avenues available to do so. Remember, there is a difference between “fake” and “real,” and only the latter, the truth, can be supported with established facts. Continue reading
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of hearing lies propagated as truths and propaganda masquerading as real news. And I’m tired, too, of the hypocrisy of the self-righteous who wear their skin-deep faith like badges of assumed superiority on the outside but have cold hearts and closed minds on the inside. I’d say some serious self-reflection is in order, because America is in trouble.
It’s obvious a whole array of BS-biased (Yes, that’s what I mean by BS.) assumptions and beliefs exist. Can we at least admit behaviors motivated by them are usually unproductive at best, and injurious at worst? We need to look inward, to self-reflect both individually and as a society, if we are to get at the roots of our fears and prejudices. They are like dirty laundry at the bottom of the basket needing to be lifted up, shaken out, washed clean and freshened in the open air. That’s where change is possible. It’s time for us to think about how we can live more consciously and, as the Buddhists say, be more skillful—in our thoughts, our speech, our actions. And hence, in our interactions―in how we love.
We were dealing with most of this crap in the 60s. That we still are is just plain disgusting.
It is impossible not to love the words and insightful wisdom of American poet, Mary Oliver. I have just read a lovely essay by her on Vox Populi and feel compelled to share it.
In my own experience, cultivating a mindful presence is so critical to being able to fully and freely access my own creativity, and I’ve made it an essential part of my Buddhist mindfulness practice. A task to be done. A commitment. A promise to myself.
It is a promise I try to keep–though imperfectly, since that’s the way of things for me–because I have found when I manage to live completely submerged in the mindful moment, wholly present, that is when I find deepest resonance with Spirit, am open to the eternity of consciousness.
When I remember to, I can allow myself to be in that spaciousness, to just be, open to what arises and falls. Sometimes a flood of in-sight-full images clear my clouded vision. Sometimes a torrent of words comes streaming through my mind and I cannot write quickly enough.
And it is good.
And now, the essay reblogged from Vox Populi:
It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.
But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist. Continue reading
There is a kind of narcissistic pathology–yes, it is sick–that masquerades as “goodness” but, in fact, represents a most insidious kind of cruelty, even evil. It includes the “do-gooders” who make a pretense of helping in the service of their own ego aggrandizement. In effect, they are saying, “See what a good person I am?” so that others will affirm their self-image, NOT because they truly seek to help people in need. Genuine caring for others requires humility, but for narcissists, giving is selfish. Their love is self-centered, not for others. Doing good for others and in the world is indeed righteous if done with integrity, but wearing righteousness like a badge on one’s sleeve means nothing if one’s actions, including speech, do not demonstrate sincere intent and virtue. Talk is cheap. And pretense is only skin deep.
Lately, the words “narcissism” and “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” have appeared in a lot of news commentary, usually bandied about without much explanation.
In the words below–while I cannot speak for him–I think Sam Keen may be referring to the most extreme forms of narcissism when he says that people who commit evil acts are on a deep, unconscious level motivated by a need for ego-aggrandizement or self-importance. In effect to matter, for our existence to have meaning, some impact. How we experience “self”–thus our self-image and self-esteem–is vital to our sense of “being” in the world, particularly as individuals in relationship to others, including from infancy onward.
There is healthy narcissism, and there is pathological narcissism, on a continuum from very positive to very negative. While self-confidence and pride are good qualities, self-righteousness and a need to win or to dominate can lead to harming others and authoritarian superiority. When our earliest experiences are not adequately positive to build a strong, integrated sense of our body/mind/spirit personhood, self-esteem is poor and the ego is fragile. Tragically, trying to preserve that fragile “self”–especially if feeling threatened or seemingly pushed into a corner–can result in lashing out in pretty awful ways, including cruelty and abuse. Continue reading
A new book worth reading! The passage from girlhood to womanhood, particularly around sexuality, should be one of pride and discovery leading to an enhanced sense of one’s self as a woman and genuine capacity for healthy intimacy and meaningful relationships. Too often it is a journey fraught with unnecessary challenges due to ignorance and misinformation or painful wounding, whether of the body, the mind, or the spirit.
My forthcoming novel, The Woman Inside Her, is the story of one young woman’s struggle to find her way through the labyrinth of distorting influences which have–so far in her life–formed only shaky foundations on which to build her selfhood and ability to love and be loved. I chose to write the story of The Woman Inside Her because I believe it is one too seldom told, too readily swept into the dim light of secret places. For far too many girls, coming-of-age sexually means confusion, shame, and physical / psychological / emotional abuse by others, including family, friends, lovers, religious authority, politicians and government institutions, the media and other messengers of culture. As a society, we don’t easily speak openly about girls becoming sexual–even now, in 2017–and frankly, that is both crazy and crazy-making.
Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Girls and Sex, is a welcome contribution to helping heal this significant handicapping of girls’ and women’s health and happiness. I’m glad to see it on our nation’s bookshelves! Click on the link below to see a full review.
(And thanks to the Shelf-Awareness newsletter from Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland OR for bringing Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex to my attention. Support your local bookstore!)
Beloved poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote the words below in one of ten letters exchanged during 1903-1904 with a young student, Franz Xavier Kappus, who had sought his advice, initially about becoming a writer, but ultimately about life. The collected letters were first published in 1929 and later, in 1984, translated into English by Stephen Mitchell. Published in a small volume entitled Letters to a Young Poet, they are among the most beloved letters of all time.
On this International Women’s Day, and in light of my novel’s themes of female empowerment at a time, the late 1960s, when modern-day “Women’s Lib” was first hitting its stride, it seems fitting to share Rilke’s early twentieth century perspective on women’s potential:
“Love trumps hate,” the protesters’ signs say. But sadly, fear closes hearts and ignorance breeds contempt.
America is a nation grown rich from its diversity, its wealth of variations in cultures, religions, lifestyles, viewpoints and beliefs. That is our strength. It’s who we are. And as we grow more so over time, we should be eagerly opening up and building bridges to understanding, nurturing community–not building walls and closing doors. Hate won’t make us great. It will make us lose our soul.
In such challenging, even chaotic times, these words of Robert Kennedy are good to keep in mind:
I am reminded that Robert Kennedy was assassinated, like his brother, President John F. Kennedy before him, in his prime. I felt deep respect–in fact, love–for these two men. They inspired me as a young person to open my heart and mind to “meet” all people with an expectation of commonality beneath differences and belief in a wondrous possibility of shared gifts. The deep sadness I felt at their loss still lingers. I was in high school when the world lost JFK, and it was the tumultuous year of 1968 when, at the Democratic Convention, RFK was shot and killed.
My novel, The Woman Inside Her, begins in 1968, a time so much like now. No wonder these words of Robert Kennedy ring as true today as then.
Just like during the Sixties, when my novel, The Woman Inside Her, takes place, we Americans must be well-informed–with facts, not propaganda–if we are to navigate through the turbulent times we face. America’s greatness today, as in the past, must come from the wisdom and strength of a citizenry guided by truth, not led astray by false idols and promises. So let’s all take the advice of that sage character of British television fame, Dr. Who, and arm ourselves with knowledge. Read!
A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert. -Andrew Carnegie
Libraries. Ah, libraries . . .
They make me sigh with sweet satisfaction, feel comfort and warmth as from an old pair of mittens or a nourishing, savory soup.
These feelings are not new. Some of my fondest memories are of my mother taking my older brother and me to the local library, not just near our home in the suburbs, but to the main library in the heart of the city, too. Often. We would spend hours there, then carry books home and lose ourselves in their pages, full of fascination and wonder. When we went on trips during the summer, often tagging along with my father as he traveled for his job, she’d even take us to the library in the towns we spent time in! The local library was always on our “places of interest” list, worthy of a visit.
As long as I can remember, libraries have been for me places to learn, to heal as well as to grow, to find reasons to hope and ways to expand my dreams. They are packed full of questions and answers and bursting with surprises. To say that I value libraries is an understatement!
For me, they’re a mind-altering addiction! And one I’ll never, ever give up!
The wise words below are those of distinguished author Ursula K Le Guin, from her acceptance speech at the National Book Awards two years ago, when she was honored for her lifetime achievement. I think they are worth reading again, now.
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.” —Ursula K. Le Guin
Note: See/hear the full speech, live on video, (posted on my blog Nov 24, 2014).
Today, Election Day 2016, Americans are voting for a woman who is running for president of these United States. Many years ago, a courageous woman, suffragist Susan B. Anthony, fought for the right for women to vote, paving the way for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. While there have been other women who have run for president, she is the only one who has been nominated to be the candidate of a major political party.
Susan B. Anthony was never able to vote in her lifetime, but her spirit is voting in the hearts of millions today, and she is rightly being remembered. Then and now, she has been an inspiration, empowering girls and women to achieve equal rights and success on every level.
At her grave site in Rochester, New York, thousands are waiting in a long line snaking through the Mount Hope Cemetery to pay their respects, leaving “I voted” stickers on the headstone, flowers, and other tokens of remembrance, as well as taking photos. Once again, this election season shines a bright light on a woman worthy of being called a flying girl.
And since I’m going political . . . On this election eve, 2016, I would be seriously remiss–even if not voting for her–if I did not take notice of and applaud Hillary Clinton for being the first woman to be a major party’s nominee for the presidency of the United States of America. That is an example of a woman flying high!
Postscript, November 9, 2016: While Hillary Clinton has lost the election, nothing can take away the amazing accumulation of successful achievements she has been able to manifest in her life. Despite all the obstacles she has faced–starting with being a woman pursuing a law degree at a time when the Women’s Liberation movement was barely awakened, then practicing law when there were relatively few women attorneys, and most recently finishing with her service to this country as Secretary of State and her candidacy for president–she has forged on. Even Donald Trump has acknowledged: Hillary Clinton never gives up.
Postscript, February 22, 2017: We are now one month into the new administration. I can’t help but think that America could, and perhaps should, have this dignified, experienced woman as president. But that is not the case, so . . . . Since this is not a political blog, and I more fully express my concerns and opinions elsewhere, suffice it to say here that I believe we, the people of America, have much to look closely at, revitalize, and fortify, if we are to truly move on and be the great nation and community of people that we are capable of being. To this end, I believe priorities range from the importance of education in civics and learning how our government and participatory democracy works, to an insistence on journalistic integrity and support of a free press as a vital cornerstone of democracy, to a cleansing of the electoral process, ridding it of all efforts to interfere in fair elections, whether by gerrymandering, hacking computer systems, tampering with voting machines or shenanigans at the ballot box, as well as all the many shameful ways some have used to suppress the vote in communities across the nation. If these things are not attended to, now, none of the rest will matter. It’s time to be awake. Be watchful. Act.
It seems it’s true that wonders never cease, and in this case it is the United Nations naming Wonder Woman as the Honorary UN Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls around the world. I have no doubt she has and will continue to inspire flying girls to be all that they can be for many years to come. Wherever you women and girls may be and whatever your hopes, dreams, and pursuits, fly high!
POW! BAM! WHAM! KAPOW!
A woman’s life isn’t all sugar and sweetness. It’s full of challenges, losses, and, yes, heartache. It’s the journey that strengthens, and the survivor that wins.
Amazing women accomplish amazing feats–particularly when they come in the embodied spirit of Diana Nyad, who four times attempted to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage and finally, at age 64, succeeded on her fifth try! I find her words upon finishing her fourth failed attempt inspiring. She tells us to persevere in our dreams, to never give up. So on this International Woman’s Day and ever after, keep flapping those wings, women of the world, and let’s rise up together!
Krista, the young, female main character of my novel-in-progress, The Woman Inside Her, sings. She sings jazz, and through music finds a source of empathy and solace, a means to express aspects of herself that are otherwise trapped within, even a way to safely love and be loved. It sustains her, and is in many ways her source of life itself.
She is not alone in this, I know. There are many who through performing express what is in the depths of their souls as fully as she does. But there are few who do it better than Aretha Franklin.
Given this resonance, and since the theme of The Woman Inside Her is all about becoming a woman in spite of hard obstacles and pain, it seems fitting that I share this YouTube video with you, recorded at the December 6, 2015, Kennedy Center Honors, honoring among others, songwriter Carole King.
The Woman Inside Her takes place in the late 60s, a time when the music of Carole King filled the air waves and concert venues, and when, in 1967, Aretha Franklin was the first to record and release a single of this Carole King (written with Jerry Goffin) song. We were blessed to hear the great lady of soul do it again at the Kennedy Center Honors.
Aretha Franklin, in my view, was one hell of a woman. She died in 2018, and is missed.
Stuff happens. We all know how that goes, don’t we? Moment-to-moment and in more ways than we can imagine, life happens. It gets in the way. And when it does, it interferes with our plans and progress, disrupts our connections, even limits our growth. There are lots of reasons, from daily routines to the demands of family and friends, to work and other commitments, to the unexpected: all those emergencies that can foul even our best intentions.
But rather than detailing excuses for all the months that have passed since my last post–way back in November, 2014! Yikes!–I’ll just say I’m sorry and take responsibility for my failure to follow through as promised. Fortunately, we can always begin again. So hello again. Hello!
In her acceptance speech at the National Book Awards a few days ago, when she was honored for her life’s work, science-fiction author, Ursula K. Le Guin, demonstrated once again her ability to view the world as a visionary, this time turning her perceptual acuity to the evolving world of authors, publishers, and booksellers.
I have no doubt her powerful words rang loudly in the scholastic halls of fine arts programs, rattled the shelves of bookstores everywhere, and embraced the weary shoulders of writers working endless hours on their creations. Hopefully they also struck lightening in the minds of those who put profit over art and seek to diminish the value of writers and their work.
If you missed her short but oh-so-sweet speech, hear it below:
Ms. Le Guin is one of those rare, intuitive individuals who sees not only between the current lines—in this case, Amazon and those publishers who devalue authors’ work and challenge libraries’ worth—but far beyond to pages on which the literary world’s story is yet to be written. Not only did Ms. Le Guin boldly call out capitalism’s corruption of art, but she voiced a prescient warning that should be heeded if the value of American literature—not just to writers and readers but to our culture’s health—is not to be denigrated or lost.
It has been gratifying to see her words recognized and repeated. We owe her a boatload of gratitude, but now need to take up the cause lest it be forgotten or is defeated by apathy due to assuming “others” are doing the job.
In Ms. Le Guin’s words:
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”
To my literary colleagues: We are writers, and our written words can be powerful actions to push against the forces she warns of. Everyone, let your voices be heard!
I’m so excited to be one of the writers starting off this season’s Oregon Writers Colony author reading series at Rain or Shine Coffeehouse. The free event is this Thursday evening, October 1st, starting at 7 PM. Address: 5941 S.E. Division, at 60th, in Portland. Everyone is invited!
I will be reading three “light literary” short stories: Irresistible, Waitin’ for Normal, and Loose Papers. Meant to be entertaining as well as convey a message about the importance of reserving quick assumptions or judgement and appreciating people for who they really are, the stories are written to make readers, and listeners, not only smile but chuckle, chuckle, chuckle–a tone far less serious than my novel-in-progress and much of my other writing. All three stories have a surprise twist at the end, and I can’t wait to see the listeners’ responses.
Reading as well, I’m delighted to say, is novelist Kate Dyer-Seeley, author of Scene of the Climb, the first in her Pacific Northwest Mystery series in which a twenty-something female heroine finds more than she bargained for–murder, anyone?–mixing intrigue and outdoor adventure, all set right here in the Portland region. I can’t wait to hear her read from her novel, and hope she brings lots of books to sign!
The OWC is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most respected writers’ organizations, serving the literary community in Oregon and nearby Southwest Washington in multiple ways, from reading events to networking forums, workshops to annual conferences, and more. I have found membership highly rewarding, not only because of all the programs I’ve participated in, but because the community is full of really great people. One of these days I want to head out to Rockaway Beach to enjoy OWC’s charming writers’ retreat cabin on the Pacific. It sounds like a fabulous place to write!
While I haven’t necessarily set out to do so—not consciously, anyway—it seems that, one way or another and more often than not, the underlying themes of both my fiction and non-fiction writing are rooted in certain needs central to the well-being of us all:
Pretty basic stuff.
As you’ve probably noticed, people aren’t always what they seem. We make assumptions and think we know who others are, then find we have a lot to learn—hopefully, anyway, assuming we have a capacity for self-reflection. Misperceptions come easily, and many are quick to judge. Age, race, size, gender, religion, occupation, education level, liberal/conservative, married/single, gay/straight—the labeled lenses through which we view ourselves and others go on and on.
Maybe we try to deny we have our own pet prejudices, but they’re likely there, somewhere, tucked away in embarrassment or shame. Out of ignorance and fear, we needlessly, and often cruelly, separate ourselves and others into groups and categories, types of “we” and “they,” then look the other way. Continue reading
“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 Xavier 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.
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. Death substantiates life and reminds us to make each day count.
Many 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. Death substantiates life and reminds us to make each day count.
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.
Sadly, 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
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 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 same—or at least they say they do—and I have no doubt they mean it, but I have noticed that in the sometimes heady rush to be a published author, patience—even 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 gatekeepers—professional agents, editors, and publishing houses—can go home, and the relative pros and cons of their doing so depend on your perspective.
Some people have asked me if my novel is really a memoir. No, The Woman Inside Her 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 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.
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
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
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 Woman Inside Her, asks such questions . . .
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
The Woman Inside Her 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.
As the story begins, the year is 1968, “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 Woman Inside Her—the story and characters, the setting and times–as well as a brief excerpt from Chapter One.
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
In 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 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. Even this list isn’t all-inclusive. Take a look at the long list below and see what you think. Continue reading
We’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.
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.
I’ll be honest. When I embarked on my novel-writing project—working title, The Woman Inside Her—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 McKee, Story
Well, I’m now working on a later draft of The Woman Inside Her, 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.