Ghosts on the line.

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I’ve been working on a story the past week that was inspired by this very old phone from my attic.

My main character cleans up the phone and hangs it on the wall where it used to hang, according to a picture she found. Then she starts receiving calls on it from someone who is no longer among the living.

I’ve been trying to look for old pictures online of phones like this but none of them are quite the same configuration. Has anyone ever seen one like this?

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The Artist’s Way and Coincidences

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The year has not begun well for writing, (though I did manage a couple short poems while I was up with my daughter during the night last night,) so I thought I’d talk about something tangentially related – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

I picked up my old copy of the book this weekend to teach a little intro on it at my library. I pulled three sticky notes out of it. One was about a novel I’m working on editing, one was about the book itself and one was a bit of a shock. It was about the diagnosis of a friend who passed away just before Christmas. The note was roughly four years old. I had spoken at his memorial service exactly one week before.

I’ve always taken such coincidences as sign posts in the road, saying that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing. As my friend says in his memoir, Cancer Just Is, not everything happens for a reason. But do “some” things happen for a reason? Sometimes I think yes and sometimes I think no.

I first bought a copy of The Artist’s Way in my early twenties and read through it but it didn’t really speak to me. Nearly a decade ago, when I was starting to seriously write, I took the book off my shelf and opened it again.  I didn’t remember it but as I browsed through it, it occurred to me that I could do this as a course, since I couldn’t afford to take any writing courses at the time.

I started reading one chapter every Sunday night. I would now say that this is one of the three books that changed my life the most. It opened me up to writing in a way that nothing ever had. It taught me a lot about myself. It also got me writing every single day.

One of the great things about this book is that it is not just for “artists” but rather for anyone who wants to be more creative in their thinking. Every aspect of your life can benefit from a more creative approach – work, parenting, partnering. I highly recommend it.

Writing is my present to me

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Christmas is coming and I’m in full present production mode! However, the writing must go on.
 
Now that the post-Thanksgiving cold has finally begun to abate, I’m back to adding to my NaNoWriMo novel, Unprepared. It’s a lot slower going than during NaNoWriMo, I only added 400 words at lunch today, but I’ll keep chipping away at it until it is done.
 
What is Unprepared about? When an agricultural engineering professor loses his wife and daughter to a bioengineered virus, he also loses his will to live but he may be one of the few people who can put his town back together again when it’s all over.
 
The book picks up when a quarantine goes into effect. The powers that be at first believed they were dealing with a particularly virulent flu pandemic, possibly bioengineered. However it is clear that it is even worse than that. They are losing people quickly and towns are soon isolated, dealing with their own disasters.
 
It’s amazing sometimes the ideas that come to light when I’m writing fast. This novel includes: chicken broth, a backhoe, biogas accelerating enzymes, Albuterol inhalers, and an inverter.
 
I’m looking forward to saying this draft is done.

Bit by Bit

You know, I feel like I’m not getting much done . . . all . . . the . . . time. But that’s just a feeling.
 
The truth is that in the last ten years, I’ve self-published a book of poetry, written a good number of short stories, drafted three novels, with a soon to be fourth, and edited several of them to a point I feel is nearly ready for publication.
 
And, it seems to be getting a bit easier to envision and complete a novel length story arc.
 
I said to a friend the other day that when I started out, I struggled to write a short story that went longer than 2,000 words. They were complete, but very bare bones.
 
Now everything wants to turn into a novel!
 
So, I finished NaNoWriMo on my novel Unprepared with 50,000 words. Then I added in the 25,000 I wrote on it previously. 75,000 words . . . and it’s not even done!
 
I still have a bit more to write to finish the story arc and some fleshing out to do, but I will soon have a complete trilogy. It’s an exciting prospect.
 
And there’s so much more in my head to write. It’s a little frustrating and also invigorating. I love the writing life.
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NaNoWriMo: The Second Half

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So, we are over halfway through National Novel Writing Month and I am, well, behind but not behind.
 
My personal goal was 2,000 words a day but the NaNo stated goal works out to 1,667 words per day. I’m at 35,102, which is a bit behind the 38,000 I wanted at this point but ahead of the 31,673 the regular NaNo would put me at.
 
I started strong with my novel, Unprepared, about a professor of agricultural engineering who loses his wife and daughter during a pandemic, but I’ve lost a bit of momentum.
 
I think that is natural, to some degree, and life happens, but I suspect part of it was that I was reading a book in the beginning which helped inspire me – “Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America.” I’ve finished the book and need some new inspiration.
 
So, last night I got a book I’ve started before but never finished, which also works with our book club theme this month of finishing something. It’s called “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman and describes what would happen to all the man made things in the world, and the natural world, if humans suddenly disappeared.
 
Once more into the fray!

Of Time and Memory

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“What was and is, always will be,
but what about what will be?
Is it happening concurrently?
Have I slipped this time stream unaware?”
 
From the poem, “Time, Free Will, and our Monomyth,”
in my book, “A Sanctuary Built of Words.”
 
I’ve been fascinated by the interplay of time and memory for as long as I can recall. It started, perhaps, with the Science Fiction and Fantasy reading I did in middle school. From the book “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle to the more recent, brilliant movie, “Arrival,” based on a Nebula awarding winning story by Ted Chiang, I have been inspired by the stories people have written related to these concepts.
 
I know smells and musical rhythms can be powerful aids in recalling memories but can a simple change in elevation or even the rhythm of driving around mountains work the same way? Perhaps. It seemed to me that as we drove into the Catskills this past weekend, it began to “feel” more like home.
 
It felt a little like I was experiencing a tesseract, Madeleine L’Engle’s concept for a wrinkle in the space-time continuum. Like I was peering through a door in the hills, back toward my childhood. It turned into a poem, of course, which I plan to post on Friday.

What does success look like for you?

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I saw a meme the other day that showed Kermit the Frog in various poses and it was captioned, “Me, pondering whether my writing career is going anywhere.”

It reminded me of a book years ago that encouraged readers to define what success would look like for them individually. For me it was a husband, family home in the country (where I live) and children. I would get up and send the kids off to school and my husband to work, then write for the morning and deal with business correspondence in the afternoon.

I’m part way there.

It also included writing things that affected people positively, helped them in some way. I’ve gotten that too, but I want more of it. 🙂

A friend took my book on the road with her this past weekend to a festival where she had her own books, beaded jewelry and photography. She said no one bought a book but several people looked and took one of my business cards, so that’s hopeful.

I could live with just writing. I LOVE to write, period, full stop. I’d keep doing it if no one ever read a word I wrote again, though sharing my writing in writer’s group and online is a wonderful outlet as well.

What does success look like for you?

(Shown: Carol’s Coffee & Art Bar in Owego, NY from my favorite table in the back.)

Buick Enclaves are Following Me!

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This past week has been a fun one even though I’m suffering with one of those awful summer colds where zinc doesn’t diminish the fires of hell burning in my throat. I keep watching more people like the post with the cover of my book and then I invite them to like the page.

And I’m really looking forward to the write-in at my library on Saturday. We welcome everyone who writes but most of the people who come will be from my regular writer’s group. People sometimes thank me for running it but the truth is that I get just as much out of it as I put in. It helps keep me focused on my writing goals. I don’t think I’d have accomplished nearly as much as I have if it weren’t for the group.

I don’t know how close I am to the goal of my writing starting to pay me back financially for all the work I put into it but I play a little game, it’s called “Buick Enclaves are Following Me!” Whenever I go out to write, usually at a coffee shop, I always watch for the Buick Enclaves, particularly red ones. Sunday I stopped at the coffee shop to write for a bit and afterward I went to the grocery store. Just before I turned into the store, a red Buick Enclave passed me going in the other direction. As I was walking out of the store, a dark blue one drove by in the parking lot. They’re my little sign from the Universe, I like to believe, that I am in the right place at the right time, doing what I should be doing.

Do you have anything like that? Little signposts along the road?

Shonda Rhimes and Grey’s Anatomy

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One of my modern writing influences is Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, I’m as influenced by movies and televisions as books. It’s all about stories to me, wherever we find them. Some people like to say that there is nothing good on television anymore but I think that if you look for it, and if you don’t just zone out when you watch, there are some great and inspiring works. Grey’s Anatomy was one of those for me.

I started watching Grey’s Anatomy, created by Shonda Rhimes, back when it first went on the air and was immediately in love with the writing. I adored the characters of Meredith Grey and Christina Yang. I loved George. I watched it every Thursday for years, until life intervened. Six months ago, I started going back and watching it from the beginning, as time permits. (Which means I’m only through episode five or so.) But the writing still inspires me.

I read her memoir, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, this past year and it was just like her writing on Grey’s Anatomy. Now, Rhimes starts out by saying that she loves to lie, but I find more truth in her fiction than a lot of other places in life.

Her tone is completely conversational, as if you were right there with her. She talks about her writing –

“There’s a hum that happens inside my head when I hit a certain writing rhythm, a certain speed. When laying track goes from feeling like climbing a mountain on my hands and knees to feeling like flying effortlessly through the air. Like breaking the sound barrier. Everything inside me just shifts. I break the writing barrier. And the feeling of laying track changes, transforms, shifts from exertion into exultation.”

I call it the writer’s high. It’s incredible and I totally agree.

Shonda is an introvert, an extreme introvert, highly gifted with words and, it seems to me, highly intelligent. Saying yes to things is terrifying, but she begins doing it anyway, even if it finds her “licking the dust at the bottom of the Xanax bottle because oh yeah, I don’t take Xanax anymore, it’s been twelve years since Xanax was my friend.”

 “I was just an unusual kid. Lucky for me, my parents held unusual in high regard. And so when I wanted to play with the cans in the pantry for hours on end, my mother didn’t tell me to stop messing around with the food and go somewhere else to play. Instead, she declared it a sign of creativity, closed the pantry door and let me be.”

Lucky for all of us.

“As Watergate played out on the tiny black and white set my mother had dragged into the kitchen and balanced on a chair just outside the pantry doors, my three-year-old imagination made a world of its own. The big cans of yams ruled over the peas and green beans while the tiny citizens of Tomato Paste Land planned a revolution designed to overthrow the government. There were hearings and failed assassination attempts and resignations . . . Man, that pantry was fun.

This memoir is a window on her world –  vivid, honest, engaging, funny and wonderful. I’m so glad she decided to share it.

Inspiration and Innovation

I’ve been having some difficulty keeping my motivation up for this NaNoWriMo this month. Part of it is this cold that has been kicking my butt and part of it is the story I’m trying to write. I like it but I don’t know where it’s going. So, I’ve been looking for some inspiration and started reading through the blog posts of The Green Dragon Artist, Christy Jackson Nicholas, on how she organizes and writes her novels. Though they are full of good information, and inspirational photographs from Ireland, one thing in particular struck me. She talks about doing research before she begins to write, 15 hours of it for one book, and it hit me – I have let the research side of the equation slide!

I used to research, in books and online, until I reached a threshold where the information spontaneously began to recombine into something new, a piece of writing that combined my fictional story and my knowledge. Lately, however, with my intensive schedule of work, commute, home, child, etc., I have let the research side of the equation slide and that is part of why I am having trouble with this particular book I want to write about a pandemic. I need to know more about how many people we might lose and how that would affect life at every level and what would happen when the power grid went down. Without them, I am stymied.

Thanks, Christy!

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