Tuesday, September 7, 2021

"I may be defective, but at least I can fly." - E. B. White


Read The Trumpet of the Swan for the first time this week. It's meant for children but somehow until recently I missed the fact that E. B. White wrote anything besides Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little

It's a cute little story, full of coincidence, action and outdoorsy adventure. Don't be expecting deep and elaborate plot intricacies and approach it with your imagination wide open, and you'll have quite a pleasant afternoon listening to the trumpet of the swan. 

There's a quote near the beginning that caught my attention. I adore quotes, especially short ones, deep themes that reflect life and summarize an illustration that takes 1000 pages in a dozen or so easy to understand words. 

The main character, Louie, is a swan who can't speak or make sounds. He is worried when it is time to learn to fly that he won't be able to do that either, and is delighted to find he can. "I may be defective," he thinks, "but at least I can fly." 

That resonated with me more than the trumpet sound Louie couldn't make. For aren't we all like that? 

We all have 'defects' or weaknesses, things that make us imperfect. It is far too easy to focus on these. 

We all also have the ability to 'fly', things that make us soar, to enable us to rise higher than we realized we could when we were born, to spread our wings and expand ourselves.

I'm impatient. Self-centered. Short-tempered. I have chronic depression and an anxiety disorder. I can't make rice. I'm defective. 

But you know what? 

I'm also compassionate. I'm generous. I can write. I can make people laugh. I rescue animals. I can ice skate, and, at least right now, until this hip gives out, I can jump out there. 

I can fly.  

This mix of strengths and weaknesses something we all have in common. It's what makes us human. It's what makes us interesting. 

But what makes us even more interesting, is that everyone's mix of defects and flight feathers is different. What does your mix look like? 

What about your characters? 

What are your characters 'defects' and what do they possess that enables them to soar? 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

It's not okay.


This is the Opal Pool at Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park. It looks beautiful, but it is very dangerous. Yellowstone was made from and still is, an active volcano. The Earth is angry there, she is vaporizing water, boiling mud, spewing sulfur. She is seething, simmering, hissing, waiting. Do not take her for granted, do not waste her resources with things you do not need, do not squander your privileged time on her surface with thoughts you do not need: petty fears, envy, narcissistic self doubt insecurity you try to mask with manipulative lie and insidious calumny. She deserves better than that. You deserve better than that. And you know what? So do I. 

I have a shirt with a feather on it that I wear for special original fiction writing events, like when I recite at readings or special meet ups with author friends. It was from a fundraiser to save children from abuse, a cause for which I care, a cause for which I 'write the book' and it contains the words, "It's not okay." 

They are simple words, but they are true. 

It's not okay. 

It's not okay to take the earth for granted. It's not okay to lie. It's not okay to manipulate people into helping you believe the lies you tell yourself. It's not okay to not treat what you love with respect. 

What if we respected the earth as much as we admired her beauty? 

What if we respected ourselves enough to use the Grace we have been given? 

I saw a lot of things on this trip and not all of them were beautiful. 

"I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough." - Bob Dylan. 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Never give up on your stupid, stupid dreams.

One of those quotes you see all over the internet, but there's really a lot of truth to it. Recently, I went to see a show for the first time since the pandemic. What a joy to be back in an amphitheater! I cannot put into words how wonderful it is that it is now reasonably safe enough for the return of live performing arts.  Aptly, the show was Man of La Mancha. When the actor portraying Don Quixote finished The Impossible Dream, well, let's just say, if there was a dry eye in the house, it wasn't one of mine. 

Been spending some time tonight working on identifying and strengthening the themes of my novel and realized I've been working on it for over 10 years. Realistically, it might be another 10 before it's done. It might never happen. Should I give up? Not according to Don Q. 

If there ever was a play with a good them, Man of La Mancha is it. 

Keep fighting those unbeatable foes. Keep righting those unrightable wrongs. Keep reaching for those unreachable stars. And most important of all, keep dreaming those impossible dreams. 

And keep supporting live theater and the arts. Those people haven't worked in a long time. They need you!

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Fresh Air Always Helps


Had to make an unexpected decision this weekend. I hate decisions, particularly unexpected ones. I know I need to make them for work, major life choices, dealing with family, etc. Somehow they are always hard for me. Something ingrained inside me is fearful of making the wrong choice. I frequently experience regret after I make them, second guessing. I have an impressive, but dubious and often times incredibly unhelpful ability to convince myself that the other choice would have yielded better results. Sort of a multi-dimensional FOMO. 

After spinning on it for hours and not getting anywhere, I decided, since it was a beautiful day, to put my thoughts aside for a while and take my dog to the park. Getting outside, experiencing the fullness and the beauty of nature, being present in the moment and focusing on the external world often helps me when faced with these sort of mental crossroad moments. 

After being on the trail no longer than five minutes, a second unexpected thing happened. I was overwhelmed with a calming sense of peace and a crisp soothing moment of clarity. The answer came to me. It's not the easiest path, or the shortest, but it's the one that honors both kindness and truth. 

The red tailed hawk in free flight soaring past as I rounded the next turn of the trail? 

A beautiful extra bonus. 

Fresh air always helps. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021



 The Calumny of Apelles, Sandro Botticelli, 1495, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I'll talk about my character, and why he hates calumny so much, I promise. But first, I need to talk about this painting and why I love it so much. Unlike many paintings, I saw this one for the first time in person. I was fortunate enough to get myself to Florence about a year or so after I began this novel. I spotted this painting across the gallery and was drawn to it. It struck me as an illustration, a perfect, immaculate pictorial representation of everything I (and my character) had spent a year oh-so-clumsily attempting to articulate in words. 

The painting depicts a praying man being dragged toward some sort of king for judgement. Calumny, attended by Fraud and Perfidy, has him by the hair; she carries a torch that appears to illuminate, but its true purpose, as evidenced by the grip of Rancor/Envy is to blind the king, whose judgement is further clouded by his advisors, Ignorance and Suspicion. Meanwhile on the far right stands Naked Truth, ignored by all, save Punishment, who spares her a bored glance as she impatiently awaits the opportunity to commence her dark task. 

What I love about this painting is how much detail there is. Every little fresco in the background walls is intentional and deliberate. It's complicated, the way reality is, the way the quest for true justice, for true equity, for full truth is. My character, my novel's hero relishes this complexity. He sees the beauty in it. He needs that complexity to be beautiful, to be valued, to be recognized, because he sees it in himself. He is complex on his best days, conflicted on his worse, and contradictory (at least as it appears on the surface) on his worst. Faced with a world, that seems to desire the opposite, that seems to favor the simple and equate that with the divine, that blinded by the torch of calumny and motivated by Rancor would rather allow Fraud and Perfidy to wrap it in righteous indignation and join voices with Suspicion and Ignorance to call out for the punishment than face the truth, my character struggles, he fears. He's been lied to, all his life, by his family in the name of protection, and by his enemies, who attempt to manipulate him. He will ignore much grace if disguised behind a lie, and allow much malice if it is only bold enough to show itself for what it is. 

If you show him you value his complexity and are unashamed enough to show him your truth, you can bend him to your will. You will not need to drag him to Judgement or force him toward Punishment. 

He will walk to him freely, and give himself to her.

By the way, it is quite possible I am in love with Sandro Botticelli. I wrote about him for my term paper in high school and have been enamored ever since. A recent viewing of Sebastien De Souza's portrayal of him in Medici the Magnificent did nothing to temper this passion. You know that 'who from history would you like to have dinner with' question? Botticelli is very high on my list. 


Friday, July 2, 2021

Who Is This Character I Created?

A writer I follow, @tkjamesauthor, posed the following intriguing question in a recent tweet: 

What is something that your main character hates?

So, that turned into my morning; thinking, pondering, delving into what exactly it might be that my main character hates. 

Though-provoking character study questions such as these fascinate me. Not only are they fun, they can be incredibly revealing. Creating a character is so much more than slapping a name down on a piece of paper. It's a responsibility. I think we all realize, as writers, that the more consistency, dimension and depth a character has, the more interesting they are going to be to the reader. But what specifically does that mean? Considering how long it took me to answer what sounded on the surface like a simple question regarding a character I've created and spent time with for ten years of my life, it has struck me that, just like actual people, no matter how well you know, or think you know a character, you can always know and learn more about them. 

The more you know your character, the better and more accurately you can predict their choices and reactions, which means the faster you'll be able to develop a plot, create conflict and generally do all the magical things that move your story forward. 

What I really like about the character exploration work is that it can be done anywhere. Eventually you need to get everything out out on the page and there's no getting around it, I'm a big advocate of the benefits of 'writing while not writing'. When I do this, I feel I look forward to and better leverage the windows of time I do have to curl up with my laptop and get the story on the page. 

Share a car ride or a long walk with your character. Take them out for coffee, have them accompany you on errands, hang with them in waiting rooms. They'll be more apt to show up for you when you need them in your writing sessions. For those of us who are writing our novels in our spare time, we need all the time management tips we can get.  

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I went with calumny as something my main character hates. 

More on why in my next post. 

In the meantime, a picture is worth 1000 words. (I'm only a writer because I can't draw.)


The Calumny of Apelles, Sandro Botticelli, 1495, Uffizi Gallery, Florence


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A Cord of Three


Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:12


Motivation, or lack of it, has been one of the biggest barriers to my pursuance of my original fiction writing in the past few years. From 2012, when I started my novel, until 2018 when I finished the first, well, really 14th, but, my fellow writers you all know how that goes, draft, I managed to find the time and inspiration to continue. The words and the story and, most important to me of all, the theme, filled my heart and soul so completely, there was no alternative but to allow them to spill out of my fingers and onto the page. 

Once it was complete (imperfect, but complete) something in my brain checked it off the to-do list. I considered it done, and I was ready to move on. But the truth is, it was far from done. It was unread and unpublished. Considering the reason I wrote it in the first place was to awaken what seemed to me an unaware and/or uncaring world to a specific, crucial and potentially lifesaving cause, writing it and not sharing it, in truth, is analogous to not having written it at all. I had done the work, but was too afraid to 'turn it in.' 

A common roadblock, I expect, for first time novelists. You write the thing. You are exhausted. You share it with a couple of beta readers that you love and trust. They give you feedback you need and want. But that feedback reminds you of what your heart already knew, what your brain was trying to trick you into forgetting: it isn't done. You're crushed. You're busy. You feel the changes necessary are insurmountable. You think it really isn't all that good anyway, so why spend any more time on it? 

Or at least that's what I did. 

Until recently, when, through a sort of magical serendipitous alignment of the universe, I realized what was really the problem. And here, patient readers, if you've made it this far, you shall see what a verse  from the Christian Bible and a random quote from a Japanese anime series have to do with this rambling, somewhat self-pity filled post.  

You can only go so far by yourself. 

There's a place you just can't reach, 

unless you have a dream to big to bare alone.”

Mitsurou Kubo 

Even in writing, a traditionally solidary occupation. Eventually, in order to success, to fully reach and achieve your dreams, you need others. When you are alone, guilt, fear, distraction, despair, frustration, writer's-block, call-it-what-you-will can easily overpower you. If you have someone else to be accountable to, someone else who is also on the same journey, who cares and reciprocates your attention and your respect, you can go farther. And, like the verse says, a third only serves to strengthen that resolve and dedication. A thread of one, easily snaps under the slightest pressure. But a cord of three is not so easily broken. 

I'm fortunate to have several folks who, in one way or another, support my writing journey. But two in particular happen to be instrumental in helping my heart shift back to focusing on my original fiction and also have inspired me to pick up the proverbial pen (okay, laptop) and resume some form of regular activity on this blog. 

You see, this is merely an inspiration by emulation.  Both of these powerful, inspirational writings also have blogs of their own. Reading their daily posts have inspired me to rejoin the blogsphere myself. 

Viv blogs the way she writes, boldly and bravely, about her life, her writing journey and, most wonderfully, her 'true seven', the lead characters in her breathtaking work in progress, The Angels of Daria.  Bonus: If it's Monday, there's also music. Also, her dog is delightfully ridiculous. 

The third strand in my cord of three blogs All About Trixie. She's one of the busiest people I know but still has made it a priority to write and blog every single day. Her commitment and dedication to not 'break the chain', combined with the depth and complexity of her writing, are positively awe-inspiring. Bonus: Occasional tongue-in-cheek love-filled critiques of selected works in the Trixie Belden series. 

Reading these blogs every day makes my life better, makes my writing better, makes me better. 

And you know what? It's been a rough few years. 

Better sounds good.