Friday, March 30, 2007

Short Stories

My short story is up now:

The funny thing about this story is it's really the first official short story I wrote. Ever since I was nine--creating book covers with crayons and discovering the folded, stapled page-- it's always been novels or poetry. I've never been good at the short story, and honestly I don't take Crimson Highway's act of publishing kindness to mean that has changed. It's all subjective. But lately, I've found myself moving more and more into this realm with my writing...between work on the novel, that is.

There are two things I've found necessary to short story writing. Those are patience and attention. Maybe it's the same process for novel writing, but its so much more drawn out that I haven't really noticed. It's a very strange process and I know now why I've heard some writers answer the question "where do you get your ideas?" with "from a mail order catalog." Really, they don't know. Muse, inspiration, or magic. To me, it feels like magic but since I'm always inclined to peek under the's what I've figured out.

The process starts with an irritation. A small itch. The pearl made from a grain of sand. For example, the story I'm working on now came from my reaction to what's going on in Africa. I didn't plan on writing a story based on this. And when my main character appeared, I didn't know that her environment, while set in a different time and space, would mirror that of Africa's, but it does. I will chalk this up to my subconscious trying to create a similar situation that I can inject hope into. Self-therapy. Working it out.

Anyway, she came to me complete. Not the story, but the person. I watched her for a few days. This Jadis Honeywine person. I got to know her family's trade, heard the fables passed on to her from her mother about her people. The light skinned people came from Green Ash trees in the spring, when the leaves were green and so they have green eyes. The other tribes came from Maple, Willow, Birch, and Palms and Olive trees. Silly little pieces like this.

This is where the attention comes in. Throughout the day, I have to pay attention because these bits of story drift in and must be captured or lost. I don't know her story but I'm patiently waiting for it to unfold. Sometimes I try to interject my own interpretation, push the story in a certain direction. It falls apart. This is where the patience comes in. So, I wait and watch.

I didn't have the patience for this process when I was younger. I wonder how many stories were whispered to me that I didn't hear.

Even peeking behind the curtain, it feels like magic.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Blood Diamond

I watched this movie last night. And then proceeded to stay up until two in the morning sick to my stomach trying to figure out a way to save the world. The hallmark of a succesful movie.

I've never been a big Leo fan. I'm probably the only person in the world who didn't like Titantic. I don't like my emotional responses to be so blatantly induced or choreographed. Some movies...and books for that matter are just meant to entertain. Let you escape from reality. Make you laugh, relieve stress. But, some movies (and books) are meant to raise your awareness, and these are my favorite kind.

I don't usually watch the news or peruse CNN on the web. If there's something I absolutely need to know, someone around me will inform me. Some people get desensitized by the bombardment of suffering and injustice in the world. I'm not one of those people. I get devestated.

Refugee camps have always been one of those things for me that seem to exist far from reality. I've seen pictures, I've heard stories. I was touched by the story of Sudan's "lost boys" in my National Geographic, but this movie did a really good job of taking the distance away. The horror of Africa's long history of civil war is somehow put right in your lap. At least it was for me. What human beings are doing to other human beings over there is beyond comprehension. I am trying to understand it, anyway.

So, what can harden a person's heart to the point where they can chop off a child's arm without thinking twice? How about slaughter their brothers and sisters, rip the terrified children from the dead parents bodies, stick a gun in their tiny hands and force them to kill? Drive into refugee camps and gun down thousands of women and children at a time?

My first reaction was-- these people are inhuman and evil. But, I have to say, when I got past the outrage, grief and shock and put my belief that all people are inherently good to the conclusion was that these people are all just victims. Yes, even the rebels chopping off kid's arms. They are victims of an environment that fosters hopelessness and devalues life. How do you give an entire country hope for a future? How do you instill in them the belief that all life is a gift...even their own? I don't have any answers and I know there will be no easy solution. But, surely there is something we can do besides send money, right?

One of the characters said that he wondered if God would ever forgive them for what they are doing to each other. And then he said he realized God had left Africa a long time ago.

This started a debate in my house about whether people need religion to have a moral code. Do they need to believe that there's a God waiting to punish them in order to keep from murdering their neighbor?

My thought is no, they just need to have respect for their own life, feel that they have a right to live out their life in peace and--by extension--feel the same about others.

Would "putting the fear of God" through religion in Africa stop the slaughter?

Probably not. People can justify anything.

Lots to think about anyway.

Very sad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Writing With Light

I've been thinking recently about one of my other passions--photography--and how it's actually born out of the same need to express the world around me, only using a different tool to tell the story.
I took this picture this morning. It's the first time in a long time I was moved to shoot something just for the hell of it. After having a photography business, I kindof lost the urge to use it as an art form. But, this morning the sky was this certain shade of chalk-dust pink and everything was so still, peaceful and full of promise. The best part was this dump truck on the hill. One, because I love dump trucks (don't ask) and two because it symbolized for me man's ability to change his environment, to change the landscape of the world...and it sat there on the hill majestically, patiently as the sun rose to start a new day.
Now, someone else might look at this and say, "You know, that would have been a great picture if that stupid truck wasn't in the way."
And so you have it. I took the picture with the truck in it because I like the perspective of this story. As writers we do the same thing. Each scene is a snapshot of the story we want to tell. Just like a photograph, we pick a viewpoint, we frame the shot--deciding what details should be in it and what should be cropped out--we pick a point of focus, depth of field, etc. It's all the same.
In one of my photography classes, the instructor told us to go to the park and take a picture of a bench. "Get the first couple of shots out of the way," he said. Then change your perspective: lay on the ground, climb a tree, change the angle you're shooting from in as many different ways as you can think of. Don't just think of it as a bench, wait for the lighting to change, shoot just one leg with the shadow, use the macro lens to shoot the dirt embedded in the grain of wood. I love the macro lens by the way, which is a very telling thing for my writing...digging out the smallest detail of the story gets me high.
So, I'm going to try to remind myself to do this while writing: get the story out of the way and then look at it from a different angle, change the focus, find the hidden beauty and the darkest secrets. I believe this is where the deeper meaning of the tale lives.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


I feel a few sparks from the ol' fried brain this morning, so I guess I'll attempt to write here and see what happens.

Besides crawling slowly through the soul-sucking muck that is the last stretch of winter, I have been busy re-working my first book. It's a scary prospect, reading something you wrote years ago. I'm not the same person I was back then. So, would I still think it worthy of requerying? Would I even still like it? Gratefully, I did. I am a firm believer that we write the books that we want to read. So, visiting the characters again was great fun.

I did change the beginning to add more urgency to something the main character had to do. This was actually suggested to me by an agent a while back but I thought "no, no...the urgency isn't there because the character is depressed and depressed people have no urgency." But, I've learned quite a lot about hooking the reader since then and damn it, she was right. I hate when that happens. I also fixed a horrible punctuation mistake that I made through the entire book. How embarrassing. Then, I packed it up and sent it off to a writer/saint that agreed to read it for a possible blurb! Very excited about that.

I've also been immersed in book two and am almost at 100 pages. That will take up the bulk of my free time now as I'm at the point where I'm thinking about it constantly...which includes waking up in the middle of the night with pieces of dialog or whatever forcing me to find my little broken reading light and write things down. Apparently, my subconscious is a workaholic. Can't say I'm not having fun though.

I leave you with a poem for the mood of a Monday.

"I've given up on my brain.
I've torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.

If you're not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you

and sleep."


Thursday, March 01, 2007


So, the owner of the agency wrote back and said my agent is no longer with the agency. She said she is trying to get a submission list from her. Apparently they work very independently. The bummer here is I can't look for a new agent with that book without a submission history.

I have a right to be furious, I know. Strangely, I'm not. I almost want to laugh. Not in a belly-chuckle kind of way, but in a 'okay universe, I've got your number' kind of way. I'm beginning to notice a pattern in life, in mine anyway. I go de da da...and bam, something that could be construed as a negative event comes along and derails whatever I was trying to do. I know this happens to everyone. I'm just noticing my pattern as an observer.

The funny thing about this though is if I wait awhile, something useful always comes out on the other side. Something better. So, I guess that's why I was frustrated at first, confused, a bit down but now that I've had a chance to think about it, I'm actually excited. I've gotten a bunch of good advice from writers much wiser in the mysterious ways of the publishing industry than I. After processing it all, I''ve decided on a plan that feels like the right course of action and am looking forward to a new adventure.

Here's the plan: I'll wait two weeks to see if the agency comes up with a submission history. If they don't, I will operate with the assumption it wasn't submitted at all. I'll revise the book, which by the way, I'm changing back to my original title 'Sahara's Song', solicit some blurbs and requery. Meanwhile, I will work on book 2, which I'm about to throw myself into because I'm at that point finally where the story is pouring out. Love this point with a capital L!

Yes, it is a daunting task to revisit book 1 on these terms but I'm up for it...or I'm just stubborn.

Lots of work, long road ahead...still happy.