Do You Have Time to be Reasonable?

by Dawn Groves

Most of the writers I meet are genuine, pie-in-the-sky optimists. They believe that a best-seller lurks in their subconscious minds, waiting to catapult them into glory. I’ve been a member of this club since I started writing in the sixth grade. Each article I write is a stepping stone toward my personal “50 Shades of Grey” success story, except my book will be good.

Well, recently I’ve noticed a subtle shift in my optimism. It has grown more—for lack of a better word–reasonable. There’s less urgency, more comfort with moderation.

Hmmm.

Charting Life as a Writer

Four months ago I surfed into a website called Wait But Why. It’s a playful, practical take on productivity and time management. One of the authors, Tim Urban, wrote an excellent post containing three different charts that depict a 90-year lifespan in years, months, and weeks, respectively. There’s a big laminated version the Weeks chart on sale for 20 bucks.

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Urban suggests using the chart to diagram life accomplishments. Shaded blocks represent periods of time that can be dotted with notable events and experiences. The example here is one of several displayed on his website.

It was a cool idea. I eventually ordered the blank chart, unrolled it as soon as it arrived, then promptly went into overwhelm and stashed it in the closet.

That was four weeks before election day.

The morning after the election in a pique of god-knows-what, I fished the chart out of the closet, grabbed a couple of highlighters and started dragging long lines of color left to right. I used blue for the weeks in the past and switched to green for the weeks in the future.

Below is the result I generated. The green ribbon is my working future. I ran out of ink on row 70 but at that age I’d like to be playing and living on—guess what?—proceeds from my best seller.

dgroves2As I toyed with the 70-year line of demarcation, the ribbon of green started looking mighty thin.

There’s Always More Time to Write

In my 20’s and 30’s, I gave myself plenty of time to write the grand book of books. Other things took precedence. When I hit the 40’s I shifted into motherhood and wrote very little. In my 50’s I started working again on a part time basis and did a lot of kayaking with my husband.

Then at age 57 my mate decided to start a new relationship with someone across the country. I jumped back into a variety of working gigs. It was tough but there was always that potential best seller giving me hope.

This year I’m 62. When I’m not avoiding and procrastinating, my top priorities are paying the bills, trying to get fit, and supporting my two daughters. I live a reasonable, proactive lifestyle. People think I’m doing fine.

There’s NOT Always More Time to Write

The chart was a cold shower.

Urban understood this kind of response. “It kind of feels like our lives are made up of a countless number of weeks,” he writes. “But there they are [on the chart -ed] —fully countable—staring you in the face.”

It was too much. I stood up, flipped the chart over, grabbed my car keys, and drove to my first experience of a marijuana shop.

Yesterday I was ready to face the chart again so I moved it back into the living room next to the piano and the kettle bells. I’m looking at it right now. My reasonable optimism whispers how there’s plenty of time to make money and enjoy life. I just need to be more realistic about what’s possible.

Reasonable Thinking, Reasonable Results

I put a lot of things on my bucket list and writing that damn best-seller is numero uno. But now my hope is fading. I’ve seen the green ribbon. I’ve heard the voice of reason and it makes good sense.

It’s like I’m in a real-life adaptation of the classic two-wolves parable. Here’s my version:

There are two hungry optimistic wolves living in my back yard. One wolf is a young, reasonable new tenant. An accountant. The other wolf has been with me since the 6th grade. She’s demanding and wild, forever howling at the moon, eyes filled with stars.

Which wolf should I feed?

Author’s Bio: 

dawn-205x266-einblauDawn Groves is a Bellingham author who teaches writing and WordPress at Whatcom Community College. 

www.dawngroves.com

Images used with permission from WaitButWhy.com

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The Art of Silencing

by Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal, 1656

For poetry month in 2015, I decided to do a series of redaction poems. My writing practice felt dry and uninspired, and my time was limited by a full-time college teaching position, academic leadership responsibilities, and the usual tasks of a wife and mom of two teens. I lacked the discipline I thought would be required to find and craft words into readable poems on a daily basis. As a teacher of composition, however, I already had my editor’s skills in the forefront. It seemed natural to take existing prose pieces and redact words to create poems.

The plan was simple: find a random passage from a book plucked from a shelf wherever I found myself. At home, cookbooks and gardening manuals were likely targets. At my college office, style manuals and books on culture were the norm. At the tutoring center, books on science and math dominated the shelves. Every book was fair game and the only criterion for choosing a passage was whether a word on the page caught my attention. Passages had to be at least five lines long and readable.

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Once I found a passage, I copied the page, enlarging the text for readability. Then I took out my favorite Sharpie pen and went to work. I allowed myself to redact as many words as I wanted but required myself to leave at least one word per line. As the month went on, I found myself particularly attracted to active verbs and vibrant nouns. The practice became a game for me to find and keep the best, most interesting words. In the end, I would review the poem by reading it out loud and redact those few remaining words I thought unnecessary. More than once, I regretted the haste of my Sharpie that obliterated a word I would have rather kept. I resisted the urge to start over. The poems were trulyexercises of creativity, experimentation, and surrender.

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I posted pictures of the poems on my FB page and didn’t think I would do much with them after the end of Poetry Month. In early summer, though, a call for poetry submissions crossed my email and I wanted to participate. The familiar dread of not having the time or creativity to write new work came over me – then I remembered my redaction poems. I reviewed several, chose a few, combined a couple, and edited them further.

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To my delight, one poem titled ‘muskeg’, a combination of two redactions, was accepted to the anthology Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, Washington.

muskeg

exposed and scrubby,

proceed north along the wide

coastal landscape covered

with peatlands.

Travel to Prince Rupert,

thread your way, stunted and gnarled,

to large pools of yellow pondweeds snaking

between thick forest of bog laurel and

common juniper in the humid,

subdued slopes of considerable steepness.

Seek muskeg to the west like the Queen, or

Hecate, or Alexander. Find the continuous

Tangle, diverse and mixing with Indian

Hellebore and partridgefoot.

 

Misapprehension of place, sense of proportion

Lost. A way of seeing predicated on balance.

Move from sight to insight. Create a vision,

an understanding of place.

Creation began a story older than this place,

these steps, that bramble tangle water churn.

Interpretation alone is fitting,

looking away from the light

that is God.

Redaction poems are similar to found poems in that they reflect the idea that art can be found in the most mundane, unexpected places. Redactions, however, seek to show that a silencing has occurred; if you look closely enough, the missing can be found again. Although my poems began as redactions, they became found poems in the final edits because the redactions are not visible. Ultimately, the poems I wrote in 2015 reflect my own continuing conversation about silences, something of deep concern in this post-2016 election time. People like me are in fear of being silenced in subtle and violent ways. We fear our histories will be blotted out with black marks of denial and revision. This is one way to look at the future.

The possibility redactions represent culturally, though, is the sense of what was hidden has been revealed. Things overlooked and unseen are voiced because the noise of the expected is silenced. Ideas can find new connections, much like we allies and advocates can find each other to work for a better world despite the shadow that rises before us.

Author’s Bio:

rebeccamabanglo-mayor_garywadeRebecca Mabanglo-Mayor’s non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction have appeared in print and online in several journals and anthologies including Kuwento: Small Things, and Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, Washington. Her poetry chapbook Pause Mid-Flight was released in 2010 and her memoir of identity and motherhood titled Long Way ‘Round is in development.

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What Excites Me About Writing

by Dick Little

Words!

All those words. I love `em, list `em, hoard them. Steal them. Don’t you?

I think they’re why I write, when it comes down to it. Especially when all that plot, character, story arc stuff eludes me.

Words are the pretty candies in a story, the chocolates on the pillow* where so often I lay my brain.

Sometimes they start rolling around in my head and won’t let me fall asleep at night — “floating into my head on the wings of darkness,” as friend Nancy Adair wrote. Some mornings, when I sit down to my computer, I’m like a little kid opening his first box of crayons — the big one with all those pointy colors lined up in rows.

Phrases, figures of speech, metaphors, similes — the currants in the warm scone, the oysters in the stew — they jump unbidden onto the page, and I shake my head. How’d that happen!

“Words, words, words! I’m so sick of words!” said Eliza Doolittle to Freddy Eynsford-Hill (“Show Me,” My Fair Lady, Lerner & Lowe). Not me. Words are but playthings, possibly dating to the time in my twenties when a boss to whom I’d handed a memo for his review told me I was “quite the word merchant.” (Ahem.)

There are those fabulous opening lines — from Ishmael, to the winter of our discontent, to Aureliano Buendia facing a firing squad. (A dark and stormy night, maybe not so much.)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree….”

Wouldn’t you give your best shiny black and gold Mont Blanc knock-off to have written those lines?

Also, words set to music:

“… and it was grand just to stand with his hand holding mine…” “The Trolley Song,” Meet Me in St. Louis, Martin and Blane.

“…flying too high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do.” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” Anything Goes, the inimitable Cole Porter.

“Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.” (Cue the tears.)

Prolix, verbose, articulate, loquacious, eloquent, lucid (I unabashedly confess to consulting a Thesaurus), call me what you will. But oh, the delicious fun of sorting through all those curious parts of speech, like so many jigsaw puzzle pieces spread out on the card table in the rec room. Adverbs (use sparsely), nouns (which get to name themselves), adjectives (that tell you what I want you to think of those nouns), prepositions (the salt and pepper and bouquet garni), pronouns (ho-hum), and most of all, verbs that do the heavy lifting. No, I haven’t forgotten articles and conjunctions; try writing a sentence without them!

There are words we love (frisson, porcine, saunter, quotidian, pixilated); ones we hate (it, feel, like, very, trump). We each have a list, don’t we?

There are words we have to look up (e.g., apophasis, n. — rhetorical device bringing up a subject by denying it should be brought up; e.g., “I won’t even mention so-and-so”; frequently ad hominem.) Also, pretty much one puzzler per paragraph in any David Foster Wallace piece.

I’ve been known to make up words: vape, v.t. — a portmanteau combining “vapid” and “gape, meaning to sit and stare mindlessly; c.f., stoned on a downtown street corner.

So fellow writers, when in despair in my otherwise solitary, agoraphobic, navel-gazing, wool-gathering, low self-esteem writerly pursuit, haply I think on thee, O Lexicon, or pick up my copy of Anna Karenina.

It’s gotten me past many a bad plot block.

*Note to You-Know-Who, I did cop to being a thief.

dick-little-truck-orcasAuthor’s Bio:  Dick Little is a retired attorney and government lobbyist who’s lived in the Pacific Northwest for over thirty-five years. His work has been published in the Santa Fe Writers Project, the Seattle Times, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; recently, also, in the 2016 Summer Solstice issue of Cirque, and in the upcoming issue of Clover. He has published a collection of short stories, “Postcards from the Road.” A novel, “City Haul,” is being reviewed for publication, and another collection of travel stories is in the works. Other work can be found at “The Write Stuff,” http://pepys2000.blogspot.com.

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Character: 4 Rules for Writing and Revising

by Jesikah Sundin

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Polonius, in Hamlet

In the Elizabethan era, the audience understood Polonius’ message to mean that a well-to-do person in society could still be good to others, even if he sought his own interests first.

Words like “self” and “true” carry different meanings in our modern culture. Memes plaster cyberspace with pithy reminders. Forget the unearthed skull. It’s a kitten contemplating her reflection in a rain puddle that motivates our morale and grounds our courage. But at the heart, the aim is still for authenticity. We expect “true self” in personal relationships—and also with characters we read in books. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that perhaps readers hold fictional characters to even higher standards than they do real people.

Ever read a book and found yourself annoyed when a character deviates from their personality? I’m not talking about the personal growth and development the character naturally undergoes as they battle myriad conflicts to reach their end goal. Allow me to elaborate…

Maybe she’s a total klutz and lacks the normal grace of most upright human beings. But, suddenly, she whips across the page like a ninja formed from the night, full of aerial moves, dancing in the wind, taking down bad guys without a single hair of her own moving out of alignment. If she had attended the University of Badassary for the Hopelessly Clumsy and struggled until she gained supernatural skills, I might find the character change believable. Might. Otherwise … No.

Or perhaps the character is an alpha male, a bad boy with a heart of stone. But a girl turns him into a slobbering puppy dog, and suddenly he’s this mushy teddy bear of a man, spouting poetry, all toughness melted away to beta status, heart of stone now beating as the flesh-and-blood organ it should have always been. An awakening of tenderness? Sure. Becoming the total opposite of who he was? No.

So why do storytellers unwittingly create a character arc identity crisis? I’m not sure, exactly. In my writing, however, I often find my desire to help the hero conquer their inner demons, or prematurely comfort their pain, disrupts the flow of his or her journey. My empathy eventually changes who they are to make their reaction to suffering and revelation different, more bearable. But fundamentally inauthentic.

For this reason, when writing and revising (or while beta reading for another author), I follow these four rules:

  1. Characters should never become a device to fit the plot, dead leaves blowing hither and dither in the windy gusts of scene changes. The plot should unfold as a reaction to the character’s true-self choices.
  1. Constantly ask: “What would [insert character name] do?” Some characters will react similarly. But the best stories are those with a diverse cast. For example, best friends interested in the same boy should react differently. Judy might send visual invitations with coy smiles, lingering glances, loud giggles, and more pronounced body language. Mary might avoid eye contact, even when face to face with said boy, and stutter when answering questions, her palms sweaty. Once a personality or environmental reaction is established, be consistent. Expected changes with true-self growth? Sure. Readers want that. Not the opposite.
  1. Break the rules only when the character needs to be “out of character.” Perhaps Mary starts wearing gaudy makeup to overcompensate for her quiet presence and boisterous friend. Judy moves to the shadows and watches the boy take notice of Mary without trying to upstage Mary. The reader gets that they are not being their true-selves and that learning this lesson is part of the journey. But if this is suddenly who they are? No. Well, except…
  1. Characters might change as a result of trauma or benevolence. Good guys become villains. Villains become good guys. The base personality comprising those characters should still remain the same. Think of it as editing a photograph. We can adjust the highlights and shadows. The subject true-self is still the same, just lighter or darker depending on how we want to present the image. Same is true of characters.

Struggle with wobbly characterization in your writing? How do you ensure your character is true to their own self? And not false to any man… er, reader?

 

untitled1AUTHOR BIO:  Jesikah Sundin is a sci-fi/fantasy writer mom of three nerdlets and devoted wife to a gamer geek. In addition to her family, she shares her home in Monroe, Washington with a red-footed tortoise and a collection of seatbelt purses. She is addicted to coffee, laughing, and Dr. Martens shoes … Oh! And the forest is her happy place.

Forward with Strength: Launching your Book into the World

by Susan Sloan

In July I wrote about taking a crash course in marketing my new book and a piece about why it was important to document Fred Fragner’s story. Today, I’m writing about why book launches and writer’s events in general are essential to celebrating community.

The book launch of Yishar Koach: Forward With Strength is scheduled for November 10 at Village Books. So, what’s a book launch? Well, it can be whatever the writer decides it should be.

It could be about shameless self-promotion a la Kardashian style. And it’s always about book sales because there’s no reason to write without getting that book into the hands of readers. And it’s also about celebrating because wowee zowee, you just spent “x” number of years creating and now you are ready to party with some people who appreciate what you’ve accomplished. And it’s about celebrating and sharing the content of your book and the contribution it makes to the sum total of human knowledge. So the author will most likely talk about their book and do a bit of reading from the book to share with their audience. And, at the other end of self-promotion, there will likely be many, many “thank you’s” handed out at a book launch.

So what do these things all have in common? Well, it’s all about celebrating community.

I have a quote in my book from Dietrick Bonhoeffer—the Lutheran pastor who was one of the few German theologians to staunchly resist Hitler and who was eventually hanged on April 9, 1945 for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer said:

The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community. Silence and speech have the same inner correspondence and difference as do solitude and community. One does not exist without the other. Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech

What Bonhoeffer says is profound and it is in many ways the sum total of what it means to be a writer and why book launches and author events are such an important part of the writing experience. Writing, just like speech, comes from silence and solitude, and a rich internal life and probing introspection. But once we take pen-to-paper, we move towards community. And if all goes well, our right speech has the power to change the world. And it has, time after time after time.

If you are available on Nov. 10, I hope you’ll come celebrate Fred’s story. It took him many years before he was willing to share what happened to him but when he realized that he was one of the few remaining witnesses to the Holocaust, he began speaking out. And what he had to say has great significance for our time

forward-with-strengthAuthor’s Bio:  Susan Lynn Sloan is an author and communications specialist who has lived in Maple Falls, Washington since 2004. Susan was born in Chicago and she’s a transplant from northern California. Her interests include family, gardening, snorkeling, books, and film. Her biography of Holocaust survivor, Fred Fragner, is due out this fall. It’s called Yishar Koach: Forward with Strength. Susan is hoping it will inspire readers to understand the importance of persevering even in the midst of the most daunting challenges.