Periodically! #9: The Lost Seasons Edition

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Well, well, well. I’ll bet my followers thought I must have fallen off the edge of the world. (Pretty damned close.) The last Periodically! was released in February. Friends, that was a good five months ago. Let’s just refer to this black hole of nothingness as the Lost Season (as in Lost Weekend…only much, much longer).

In the blur that was the Spring (that wasn’t – we here in Michigan were hosed again with cold and snow until the end of May), several things happened: people died, people sickened, people were institutionalized, people adopted a homeless Detroit chihuahua, people bought a second home (heretofore renamed Money Pit), people bought another home (heretofore renamed Minor Money Pit), people dumped tons of money into the Pits and their adult children, people sprint-planted a vegetable garden, people applied to an art contest, and people readied to enter the Ann Arbor Art Fair while working a full time job (business is b-o-o-m-i-n-g!). Some people actually wrote for a hot minute.

Now this Person will take a break and fly to San Francisco for a long weekend and eat decadent food and search for sea glass. It’s not running away from home, but it’s the next best thing.

Outdoor Updates: The Guerrilla Urban Garden

The wacky spring wreaked havoc on my fruit trees. They blossomed, then we had a frost. This means NO cherries and precious few pears, so if you were expecting a hand-crafted cherry tart or pear preserves, not this year.

The potatoes, on the other hand, are none the worse for wear, but they are underground for the most part, so they managed to survive the snow. My first planting is nearly ready to harvest (that’s what four weeks of hot weather will do for you).

We’ve eaten our first peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and blueberries. The backyard is a jungle of edibles.

What I most enjoy from vegetable gardening (besides the eats!) is that working the soil bonds you to Nature. There are many analogies to the writing perspective as well. Gardeners take seed; add water, light, and fertilizer; tend by weeding and warding off pests; and finally reap the reward at the end of the season. Writers take a small idea; expound it by adding characters and plot; work the literary landscape until it makes sense; and finally reap the reward at the end of the story.

On Writing

Ever hunker down on your Twitter feed looking for inspiration? Ever buy all the writing reference books Amazon offers during that dry spell when you can’t seem to scratch out your grocery list? Yes, I’ve been there, mining golden nuggets, for inspiration and education. But here is a very good article on looking for and perhaps not taking advice. There is such a thing. It’s called a grain of salt. (I know. Funny coming from me, who is always looking for writing references online. See more below.)

Your brain is a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it will get flabby. So in the spirit of mental gymnastics, Book Baby’s article on using your TV and movie time as devices in your own writing make a lot of sense. My husband and I actually did this a lot with our kids, in pointing out the “bad” guy, the struggles of the “good” guy, and what the projected ending might be. (Now that our kids are grown, he just likes to guess the ending sometime within the first ten minutes. He’s usually right, dammit!)

Is it really stylish when YOU do it? Probably not. That’s why reading this (gently) ass-kicking blog post on the rules of writing (which can be broken – sometimes) can serve as a wake-up call for those of us writers that might be a tad full of ourselves.

Read Lately

One thing I do is write scenes in a real notebook. (By hand. In pencil.) I’ve taken classes with Christina Katz and this is a very easy way to commit to prompts on a daily basis. The summer I started doing these prompts, I would write different scenes with the same characters. I’m putting these together in a novel about random strangers who meet in San Francisco in 1978.

I started the sequence of scenes during modern times, but I liked the idea of a lack of modern conveniences like cell phones and online banking for this story. My characters weren’t easily traced, meaning they had time before they could be found out (and therefore, time for the story to be told). In some ways, 1978 wasn’t that long ago, but in others it’s light years in the past. Placing the setting of a story four decades ago makes for some interesting challenges. Most of my reading time in the last few months has been devoted to research, which might sound dry, but is actually quite compelling.

The Final Leap: Suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge is one such book. Since the Golden Gate Bridge and suicidal souls figure prominently in my story, I thought this should be a fine reference, and it is. Besides providing a wealth of statistical data, John Bateson also interviewed survivors including family members and those who lived.

No foray into Bridge jumpers would be complete without diving (sorry, pun not intended) into Cracked Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt, by Kevin Hines. He miraculously survived his drop from the Golden Gate too.

Ten Years that Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978 by Chris Carlsson helped me to define the mood and tone of City. However, I happened upon the biggest bonanza of paraphernalia through my Twitter feed, when SF Gate posted this breathtaking photo essay.

Movies

I don’t go to them anymore (too expensive, too crowded, I’d rather be comfortable in my own house, thank you), but I do have a Netflix account. Here are a few movies I found to be entertaining. Keep in mind that my mentions might have sustained some terrible reviews along the way, which is why I don’t read reviews until after I’ve seen the movie/read the book/dined at the restaurant/etc.

The Fundamentals of Caring: it’s a Netflix original movie. Honestly, I’m starting to like Netflix originals. They did a kick-ass job with House of Cards, right?

Life is about a Life magazine photojournalist who finagles a way to cover James Dean just before Dean scored his role in East of Eden. Overlook Robert Pattinson as the journalist, because he still looks like a Twilight vampire to me, but Dane Dehaan as James Dean…WOW.

The Do-Over, (another Netflix original) but I’m a sucker for Adam Sandler. Yes, even his terrible movies hold an appeal to me.

Question of the Issue

What is your preferred method of reading? Are you digital only? Or do you like the smell and heft of a bound edition? Mix and match?

I personally love a nice hard-cover, particularly if it’s signed by the author – and if signed by one of my favorites, I’m in heaven – but I admit to reading books on my iPhone. I haven’t picked up a magazine in a doctor’s office in years. For traveling, it’s paperbacks all the way (same entertainment, slightly less poundage), and I’ll leave them in airport waiting areas or at friend’s houses just to share the love.

Quote of the Issue

The idea is to write it so that people hear it & it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. ~Maya Angelou

Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I do have an Instagram. I’ve had it for a long time. Be forewarned, I take a lot of photos of food, either what I’ve made or my restaurant choices. My Instagram is also littered with photos of dogs and cats.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.

With any luck, I will see you next month.


Periodically!, PO Box 207, Royal Oak, Michigan 48068

 

 

Once a Blog, Now a Newsletter – Periodically #1

After spending over a year puzzling over WordPress and wondering how I was going to import/export my subscription list into my current website (virtually impossible, at least for this Internets-challenged senior citizen) and nearly four months trying to figure out how to start an online newsletter, I have decided to make use of the WordPress site I originally started with by turning it into my newsletter. And so, PERIODICALLY was born.

This way, instead of doubling up my posts, I’ll just have a once a month entry into this blog.

Whew! *wipes sweat from brow* That takes a load off.

Introducing the first edition of Periodically!

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Right Write Tips: I’m currently working on a YA historical (if 1976 is history now) novel I wrote as a serial years ago. This time, I’m using the Paperclip Method by Michelle Richmond. (For those of you who know me, these are the Siouxy stories of 2007-2008.) I’d originally written them to elicit interest, so there’s a lot of way out there adventures. If she was going to get drunk, run away, or find a college-aged boyfriend, there would be plenty of outrageous behavior.

My problem with this tale of adolescent woe was that Siouxy lacked a real story. There was a beginning, but no end in sight. No journey of the soul. No journey period. Siouxy was a wild child without a mission. A true rebel without a cause. She was Mix Mastered into a maelstrom.

Luckily for me, I never threw the story away though. (My husband can tell you I never throw anything away…you just never know.) Finally, after all these years, divine intervention hit me square on the head and I have devised a storyline for my girl.

I usually write in a linear fashion, but didn’t with Siouxy – even though it was written as a serial, sometimes I’d slide back into time, or forward into time. The Paperclip Method – for pantsers like me – seemed like a perfect exercise in getting my story into shape.

So far, I’ve printed all the installments. Some are in a “hmm, don’t need this but maybe later on I might” pile. The rest have been paperclipped and put into an order I can deal with. Now I must weave in the storyline and see what I come up with.

If anyone else has ever used this method, I’d like to know. Does it work? Any pitfalls? Is there a speedier way of working?

Art News: I signed up for the Ann Arbor Art Fair, South University, as part of the Michigan Silversmith Guild next month. I hope to make enough money to bankroll a trip to Asia, but who knows? Speaking of Asia, the last time I was in San Francisco, I *finally* visited the Asian Art Museum. Wow, and WOW. I don’t know how I missed visiting before. I especially loved the Japanese exhibits, my favorite pieces being the netsuke on display. There were also some interesting woven basketry. I will definitely be returning on my next trip to the City.

Music: Two things: One, classic rock will never die. I’m currently listening to my favorite sounds from the mid-1970’s, which puts me in the mood for writing pre-disco era YA. LOVE early Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly. Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan – yeah, they’re not ‘rockers’ but listening to them gives you a real flavor for the times. And while disco sucked (at the time, I can enjoy it now), I listened to the Eagles, Tom Petty, emerging AC/DC.

Two, my son has his own YouTube channel. This sounds extremely self-serving, but I’d appreciate those who enjoy classical music (particularly the romantic, early 20th Century Russian modernists who are especially depressing) to favorite his channel. Oh, come on. At least, give him a listen. I’d like to think that four years at a prestigious West Coast conservatory is worth something.

Quote of the month:

The most interesting thing about writing is the way that it obliterates time. Three hours seems like three minutes. ~Gore Vidal

That’s all, folks! Sign up or check me out next month.


Here’s the real action: check it out.

Find me on Facebook! I’ll friend anyone. Ask anyone. I even approve the weird guys from another country who IM me to ask about my life but clearly have never read my profile.

I’m a Goodreads author! Honest to God. Ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer. Even if it’s a *stupid* question. (Or a questionable question. Those are the best kind.)

Follow me on Twitter! I’m not sure I have anything wonderful to say. I will say that I follow some interesting people. I can’t believe I can say this, but a few interesting people follow me, too. Twitter: the cyber cocktail party – alcohol not necessary.

I’m also on Pinterest! Rarely, but I do hit up the boards every now and again.

Another Set of Eyes

I’ve spent quite a few months in inactivity. My creativity hasn’t dried up, it’s just taken a sabbatical. Hopefully, somewhere nice and warm, like the French Riviera.

As an artist and a creative person, when the well threatens drought conditions, you start to worry. The worry turns into a bigger monster, into self-doubt and self-loathing. You begin to second guess your choices, your methods of operation, your intelligence, and your stamina. All of that conspires to make the largest black hole of negativity that will swallow you whole if you allow it to.

If you allow it to.

If your writing life pitches to these historic lows, there’s only one thing you can do: Get another set of eyes. Meaning, find someone else to read your work, to offer honest commentary and critique, even to read and gush. Yes, these are times when even your mom or your sycophantic employee will do. When the stakes are that low, you need all the uplifting you can scrounge up.

It’s not going to be easy. You may have to beg someone. Not your mom, of course, she’s always going to love you, but that employee who claims to love your writing while rolling her eyes behind your back, yes, you might have to beg her. You may have to barter one skill for another. Find another writer and offer to do the same. It doesn’t have to be a long term critique-partner commitment. What you need is short term. The idea of a set of different eyes works for everyone – we as writers ALL feel deficient at some point. Plus, I find it interesting to read the WIP of others.

In my case, I turned to my Editor for Life. I try not to bother him too much, as he has other clients, most of whom are NOT tied to him in a lifetime commitment. This time, the urge to cry for help was overwhelming.

We normally email, occasionally text, but this time he wanted to Skype. (I don’t really like Skype, but what the hey? At this point, I was willing to try anything.) Our first meeting was a blur. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me. The next was the “light bulb” moment. I saw clearly what vision he had for my novel. It’s “okay”, it just needs a little je ne sais quoi. It was as if my writing block needed a tow truck to pull it out of the mud. I’m not on the highway yet, but I’m on my way.

So, thanks to another set of eyes, I’m on my way to (yet) another rewrite. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’ve found the spark that was missing in my writing. Thanks to another set of eyes, I’m back on my way.

Yes, writers are a solitary bunch. But if you don’t have that other set of eyes, you might as well fold up your tent and go home. Because even if your ideas are fabulous and your technique is flawless, you don’t know everything.

The Excavation of Words

I just noticed my two WordPress blogs are not posting at the same time, if you are signed up for email here, please consider signing up for email notifications here. That way you won’t be left off the loop. Thank you!

I don’t know how I’ve been struck with the ambition, but I am in the middle of deep cleaning and purging my house, in advance of a monster garage sale I plan on hosting late in August.

I’m not a consummate slob. I tend to veer toward the lived-in but not dangerously germy look. Deep cleaning is something I haven’t done in the ten years we’ve been here. Just consider: a four-bedroom house with plenty of nooks and crannies, a basement full of boxes (most of which haven’t been opened since we moved), and a walk up attic bulging with the hastily packed mementos of my children’s school years. (Yeah. I didn’t oversee that operation, and I should have.)

Back at another place I wrote for online, an orange, hazy, huge toxic bubble, I remarked in a post that I had misplaced my folder of poetry, and asked the pressing question, “Where the hell is it?” The resulting comment thread blasted me for being a dumb ass, and how the hell would the Internets know where my poems were?

Even back then, my feelings were rarely hurt. Just temporarily slapped silly. I imagined I’d thrown my folder out by accident (I grew up in the Ice Age, and had only the typewritten copies, having not had the time or inclination to put the work on an actual computer, where my words could be backed up on a flash drive or by Carbonite), or maybe the guy we had staying at our home as it was being sold decided to run off with my silly scribblings.

Eventually, I chalked up my loss as a learning experience. My teenage and new adult angst-ridden lyrics and poetry forever absent, never to be enjoyed by posterity.

(Now I back up in several places and pay Carbonite for the stuff I’m apt to forget.)

Imagine my pleasant surprise last weekend. After fighting years of cobwebs and nearly retching over an army of dead bugs, I opened a box labeled “Kids Books” to find my folder of poems prominently sitting atop well-loved copies of Pat the Bunny and every book ever penned by Mercer Mayer.

Win! (clean basement) – Win! (possible garage sale windfall) – Win! (my book of poems). I momentarily died and went to heaven.

I spent an hour reading them. Most of my “poetry” was set to music. I played the guitar back then, and wrote simple songs with (what I thought were) tender lyrics about unrequited love and loss. Reading the words brought back the music, and I found myself humming. Most of my songs were god-awful, music and lyrics, but some of it wasn’t half bad.

What was most interesting that my writing voice back then isn’t that far removed from my writing voice now. The excavation of words cements the fact – in my mind – that I was destined to write.

Now, to celebrate my wonderful find, I will regale you with one of my favorites, written after a trip to Sioux Falls, SD, where we lit sparklers during a midnight tornado warning after ingesting Black Star.

 

Black Star

 

his grandpa was a cowboy, he said

you nod in silence–

your dreams are riding the range.

 

a little wine, a little smoke

helps to ease the loneliness,

shake off the chains —

lose those midnight blues.

you laugh and joke,

ha! your smiles are plastic

flowers molded from pain.

and still you choose

too much wine and smoke

the strawberry madness.

so you’re backed against the floor.

from another galaxy, he leans toward you

and shouts in a foreign frequency

heyareyouallrightdownthere?crazybroad!

o-zoned again.

 

lonesome cowboy,  roll me in your arms

just once.

i know i ruin everything good

but sometimes one kiss is all i need.

 

what space tripper? you’re returning home?

but you’ll soon return to ride the range

blue skies your rolling prairie

unlimited, weightless, darkened void.

you’re always searching for the light

in a heaven that gives no easy answers,

in a heaven where the sun

is just a black star.

October 28, 1978

Finding Inspiration Everywhere

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While I feel writing is my artistic outlet, there are times where producing actual writing is hampered, by real life, by other interests and responsibilities, by the lack of time. This happens to be one of those two week periods where finding a good, solid block of writing time is just not possible.

It’s not that I’m lazy – well, yes, I’m kind of lazy, although I’m trying to reform myself. It’s not like I’m lying around eating bonbons and watching daytime TV (which I guess is now NOT soaps and might be Judge Judy). I work – a lot, in fact, it’s a holiday and I’m taking a break from work right now (and the phone is ringing off the hook! Shouldn’t they be barbecuing or something?) I have a huge house and a bigger yard that I maintain on my own (with the help from the other half), and there are other commitments that eat into time. It’s not unusual, in fact, you could say that outside influences are a prevailing factor amongst us “struggling” artists. It’s a monumental struggle to create.

Still, you can find inspiration everywhere.

I force myself to do writing prompts. I’m currently doing 21 Moments (I’d link you, but this month will be the last set). Short writing prompts are the easiest. They take about 30 minutes to complete, perfect for those days where a block of three or four hours just doesn’t exist.

Even without the prompts, life gives you plenty of opportunities to explore your creative side. I have a huge vegetable garden, and have had to devote many days recently (thank heavens the days are sunny and clear!) to tending it.

At my age, I rather enjoy gardening. There’s something organic about the human hand digging in dirt, getting rid of the weeds, planting new material and seeds. There’s an order, a certain Zen about it. It’s the circle of life, and hopefully in a few months, I’ll be able to bring the fruits of my labor to the table. In the quiet of the early morning hours, I can entertain entire conversations in my head, play out plots and scenes, and think about the larger picture.

During breaks, I scribble down the meat of the moment. I’ll uncover it later, and use it in my writing.

It might seem strange, but I find cooking gives me a similar artistic charge. Many modern people think cooking is a bore, that it takes a lot of time, that you can nourish yourself a lot quicker through a drive-through or with ready-made meals. Not me. Home cooking takes a little forethought but it’s not difficult. There’s a care and love in making a meal, and the machinations always translate into tasty literary morsels. In fact, I’m working on a story with food as an underlying theme.

(I used to be able to write at work; unfortunately, things are more stressful now than they used to be.)

Art can be born of any action. The artist has to take a germ of an idea and go from there.

Any art takes a commitment. The artist has to be able to carve out time from the day to create.

It’s a daunting task, but you can find inspiration everywhere.

Writing: On Which I Yield to the Idea of a Muse

A long, long time ago (holy cow, five years ago!), I wrote this article about kicking my muse to the curb.

Thanks to a workshop at the San Francisco Writers Conference this year, I have changed my mind.

When I first started writing – back in the day when dinosaurs ruled the earth – I subscribed to the idea of a muse. My muses would invariably take the form of human beings. Most likely, they would be human being males that I was romantically involved with, or were men I longed to be involved with, or were guys who had snubbed me and therefore I wrote as a way to beat down my enemies with the power of my words. I’d never really puzzled through the fact that my relationships (i.e. muses) were somehow compelling me to write, that they were responsible for my thoughts. All I knew is that I was most prolific in times of conflict and angst.

As a writer, it’s nice to have a fairy godmother muse to sit on your shoulder. She can tap you with magic dust whenever you need her and voila! you begin to type as though your keyboard is on fire and you only have twenty minutes to get it down before it spontaneously combusts, Mission Impossible style.

Yee-ahhhh… That might work for some people. I happen to be more pragmatic. If I don’t cattle prod myself to write something everyday, I’d never have completed three novels. Which is why I decided back in 2009 to kick my muse to the curb and set a schedule.

Five years after writing that article, I wandered into a SFWC workshop totally by accident (because the workshop I’d wanted to attend was standing room only and I really needed to sit down) with Lisa Tener regarding writing in the zone. She insisted that we must find a muse, and went about describing other writers’ various muses: mice, insects, old men, young children, birds, etc. Dictionary.com’s definition is the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker, or the like.

Our first task was to close our eyes and imagine ourselves going down a path in the woods toward a house where we would then introduce ourselves to our muse. We’d ask for direction and guidance.

(You can imagine here how I reacted. With total skepticism. And with horror, as I had killed off my own muse a long time ago. If I revived my muse, I feared he/she would probably kick my ass in retaliation.)

I decided to humor her and play along, but when I got to the house (invariably located in Golden Gate Park) and opened the door, instead of a room, I walked onto the large plain of Ocean Beach.

I mentioned this, and Lisa said, “Yes! That’s good. Water can be a great muse, and the ocean is vast.” Whodathunkit?

Later on, as I was sorting through my handouts of the day, I thought about using the ocean as a muse. Haven’t I been doing it all along? Isn’t that why I return to San Francisco on a regular basis? To stay by the beach, walk near the water, fight a biting wind, collect my thoughts? Isn’t this where my stories are born? My attachment is so great, I’ve used the photo of the Richmond, taken from the beach, on my blog. This photograph has been enlarged and framed and hangs over my bed, so when I feel a need to connect to Ocean Beach, I can look at it whenever I want.

I might have wanted to deny my muse, but I will no more. After all, it’s been there the whole time.

NaNoWriMo 2013: I Failed, But I Prioritized

I wish I could say I completed the 2013 NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words written easily and under my belt, but it was not to be…

*sigh*

Oh, I had good intentions. I started out with a bang. I knew the story I wanted to tell. I racked up a worthy word count within the first week – even exceeding the minimum daily count. But something else happened.

One, I really wanted to finish my edit of Finding Cadence. NO, I REALLY WANTED TO FINISH IT, ASAP. This is a story that must come out, somehow. I’m not getting any younger, and this novel has languished in various stages of disrepair since 2007.

After you’ve stripped and layered a manuscript for nine months (funny, that gestational metaphor), after you’ve taken classes specifically for this MS, after you’ve deleted and inserted, sweated, re-inserted what you deleted two weeks before, ran the thing through SmartEdit a couple of times, and let two editors and a couple of BETA readers have a go, there was only one thing in my sights: Finishing this sucker.

This is where I tell you that 2013 NaNo was a bust. Yes, I’m an abject failure this year. I had to suspend my new story – which is going to be great by the way, once I get going again – to polish my old (very old) story.

I had to make a gut-wrenching decision, one that didn’t come easily. I decided to prioritize.

I fretted over it for days. I like to write while the fire is hot, because there is nothing more motivating than passion. I had a burning desire to begin the new story, but I had a bigger urge to finish the old. That’s because by hook or crook, if I have to crawl over shards of broken glass, I’m going to get this story out of the edit stage of its life and into the final production stage of its life.

This is a huge move for me. After years of cobbling together a writing schedule, I realized I can’t flit from one work in progress to another. Maybe other writers can do it, but I can’t. My novels are so different from each other, i.e. they don’t fit into a single genre, that I have to concentrate on one at a time. It’s too hard to get into the serious-literary-thoughtful voice after you’ve been playing in the sassy-fun-romantic voice.

So I spent the last three weeks of November working on Cadence, jiggering the developments, the ending, the arc. I took that baby apart and put it together. I somehow eliminated 6K words. (I might have to add a few somewhere, but I’m not so concerned about it; I think this incarnation is as tight as it can be.) Then I shipped it off for more eyes to view.

I’m going to take a couple of days off, just vegging and clearing my head, before I start working on another first draft in sore need of editing. And when I have the time, I’ll add to the new story, but my main priority is to get what I’ve already finished (two manuscripts!) whipped into shape before I finish NaNo 2013.

Sometimes you have to prioritize. It hurts. But sometimes you must. Believe me. A finished result will lessen the hurt.