All posts by Wendy

not one is not held

A green heart for you !! have a sweet and nice weekend.

The Lives of the Heart

Are ligneous, muscular, chemical.
Wear birch-colored feathers,
green tunnels of horse-tail reed.
Wear calcified spirals, Fibonaccian spheres.
Are edible, are glassy; are clay; blue schist.
Can be burned as tallow, as coal,
can be skinned for garnets, for shoes.
Cast shadows or light;
shuffle; snort; cry out in passion.
Are salt, are bitter,
tear sweet grass with their teeth.
Step silently into blue needle-fall at dawn.
Thrash in the net until hit.
Rise up as cities as serpentined magma, as maples,
hiss lava-red into the sea.
Leave the strange kiss of their bodies
in Burgess Shale. Can be found, can be lost,
can be carried, broken, sung.
Lie dormant until they are opened by ice,
by drought. Go blind in the service of lace.
Are starving, are sated, indifferent, curious, mad.
Are stamped out in plastic, in tin.
Are stubborn, are careful, are slipshod,
are strung on the blue backs of flies
on the black backs of cows.
Wander the vacant whale-roads, the white thickets
heavy with slaughter.
Wander the fragrant carpets of alpine flowers.
Not one is not held in the arms of the rest, to blossom.
Not one is not given to ecstasy’s lions.
Not one does not grieve.
Each of them opens and closes, closes and opens
the heavy gate – violent, serene, consenting, suffering it all.

–Jane Hirshfield

intensity of the light

image credits:

Matthew Fang via Compfight

sunset by Vala Run

Jane Hirshfield‘s poem, The Lives of the Heart, is from the book of the same name, published in 1997 by HarperPerennial. I’m re-reading it.

Planting a Paradise

I finally have a garden space that allows me to experiment.

For me experiment = play = happy me + hopefully reproducible results that can lead to happy others too.

The secret of this garden — and by that I do not mean the secret to my garden’s SUCCESS (which hasn’t happened yet),  but the secret to its focus (before food and medicinals, fibers and flowers) —  is amazing SOIL. Everything I am going to do will center on that.

 

How-to-Garden-Australia-Soil-Improvement

I am completely inspired by the thought that I might be able to assist in turning a plot of compacted, suburban fill (pretending to be topsoil) into a water-holding, micro-organism-filled, nutrient-cycling network of a landscape.

If that weren’t amazing enough – and really, that IS a pretty awesome thing to aspire to all by itself – but if it weren’t amazing enough, I am so excited to cultivate that soil (by which I mean, culture it, not dig it up) because of how it will support communities of plants! And the plants will benefit the soil – through their relationships with soil organisms and by the biomass they accumulate and add to it.

I have all sorts of strange constraints to deal with in the planting of our garden. Each year at least half the year is hot and dry – not a drop of rain in sight and hardly a cloud. Plants can struggle with too much sun and our mineral-laden ground water. Then there’s the other half the year when, if we’re lucky, we get enough rain (or maybe we don’t and the plants suffer then too) but  it can be cold. The soil here doesn’t drain well, so many plants are going to have to tolerate cold, wet, feet. We’ve thankfully got a great solar orientation for our yard, but we still have to deal with fence and building shadows – so some plants will have to do well with almost no sun in the winter. This isn’t a problem if you plant deciduous things but our warmer winter days allow for other-than-northern-region deciduous plants.

Ha ha, my inner plant geek is trying to take over this post! It wants to talk to you about California natives and perennial productivity… but I’ll stop there, as best I can and get to the next point I wanted to make.

Our garden, has another secret focus – bees! Until I grow the soil, I can’t plant the plants that will flower and produce ample, year round forage for bees, but as I select the plants and figure out which grow best where, I’ll be having exactly that in mind.

I cannot wait to have bees living here – not because of their honey – but because of THEM! I think they’re fantastic. If they do really well and have honey to share, that’ll be fine, too, but I just want to create a haven for them. It turns out that urban and suburban beekeepers are doing just that, creating bee-safe (and bee-saving) environments. Often there is more for urban bees to forage and fewer toxins than are found out in the fields, farms and orchards where one traditionally finds bee hives. This makes some sense – urban and suburban gardeners are often plant and habitat focused (if they’re not just planting the typical summer veggies). If they or their lawn-focused neighbors can be convinced to limit pesticide use, urban bees (of all species, including the natives) can flourish.

And I can’t wait to see the transformation from this

SONY DSC

and this

SONY DSC

into something more closely resembling this

PINC-straw-bales-

and this.

pollinator-garden-1024x576

 

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soil image from http://howto-garden.com.au/rejuvenate-your-garden/the-soil/
the picture of the cob studio at Permaculture Institute of Northern California is from the Regenerative Design website
and the pollinator-friendly garden photo is from the website of permaculture.org.

Fiction Going Nowhere, Part 2

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Sometimes, when weeks aren’t like this last one where I was so busy with multiple, sometimes pressing tasks, that fiction was farthest from my mind, I practice just letting what wants to be written get written. Sometimes those things shadow me all day (I can hear the whine: “When’re ya gonna sit down somewhere and write me, already?!”) but sometimes they just show up the moment I pick up a pen. And yes, I like to write by hand now and again – it taps a spring just off from the main one – because it brings up what is unplanned and swimming just under the surface. Sometimes what is revealed surprises me. Actually, often it does.

I like that.

Surprise and novelty and the unexpected make my muse-mind happy and a happy muse-mind is a good thing.

Now, generally and with only a few exceptions, these pieces of writing aren’t complete in any way. Even though I might write through to the end of what they demand in that moment, they’re not finished and never will be. I look at them as practice runs – like finger exercises for pianists, made of notes, but not the kinds of things that make for fully satisfying wholes. They sound neat, but aren’t complete.

Some months ago…Oh. Heavens. it was almost a year ago (yikes!)… I posted what was supposed to be first in an occasional series  of fiction “things.” This is Not a Story, the first piece in Fiction Going Nowhere, the category under which I’m filing them, turned out to be one of those few exceptions to the “going nowhere” bit because I actually DID finish the story and I’m prepping it for inclusion in an upcoming collection of short stories. In general, though, most of my fragmentary things, the small pieces that are practice, really aren’t going anywhere. But I still kind of like what they promise and the possibilities they embody.

I thought, rather than coddle them in my mind (or my hard drive, as the case may be) and cultivate some sort of strange attachment to them, I should just set them free here, off into the ether. As far as I can tell, the random snippets really have no plans or goals of their own other than that they’d actually kind of like to see the light of day reflected off their brief little surfaces. Who knows, maybe they will spark something that calls for further development. If they don’t that’s fine, they’ll just serve as signposts pointing toward places my writing mind has stopped briefly.

So, without further verbosity, here’s a second installment of Fiction Going Nowhere:

Stuart didn’t think she would’ve agreed with the label scatterbrained but on any given day it would not have been surprising to see Lucy walking to the market with one pant leg tucked into a boot and the other loose on the outside. There were other signs, too. Like the way she’d forget the task she was in the middle of and start in on something new. No, not forget, exactly — just be done at that moment and move on to the next. Like a honeybee moving from flower to flower, sometimes stopping to burrow in deeply and sometimes just pausing long enough to paw at the bloom with the barest amount of interest, moving on if no indication of morning nectar remained. What was more difficult about accepting that analogy, though, was the obvious and apparent absence of any results of her attention’s foraging.

What was the honey of her gathering, he wondered, the sweet gold of her interest’s wanderings. Weren’t her distractions, her distractedness, flights of fancy that bore no sustenance? That thought, and others like it, crossed Stuart’s mind several times a day and in spite of Lucy’s blasé attitude about unevenly buttoned blouses, unopened official-looking envelopes, and the stack of to-be-read- and half-started-books teetering at the bedside with said envelopes used as bookmarks, she thought it too….

-end-

… and if you think Lucy might bear any resemblance to me, well…uh, hmm… I’d have to deny it vociferously. But only after I get back from, ummm… something else. 😀

image credit: Geoff Llerena (from flickr)

Making a Career – Writing as a Hobbyist

the writerAt the end of November, when the residual effects of the move and settling in seemed to taper off, I sat back down with my trusty computer and started to write again.

Over the last few years, fiction writing has seemed to be a more and more viable option for writers to make a living – made more so due to e-readers and the vacuum that existed momentarily when traditional publishers couldn’t fill readers’ desires for ebooks. The ensuing indie-rush is well documented by others who have been following it longer and with deeper understanding than I have (see The Passive Voice, Hugh Howey… etc. etc…).

I’m in a weird state of limbo, personally and professionally, which may set me up to be in a good position for attempting an indie career. First, by having stayed home with the kids when they were young, then needing to be flexible for our various international moves, employment stability (other than the freelance copy-editing) was never my focus. Even if I had wanted that kind of thing, that is. By conventional standards, I’m not in great job-market shape but I have the time and energy to devote to creating a home-based livelihood.

I am So. Not. a Career. Person – in that traditional sense. That generally expected and single-minded trajectory is soul-killing to me; hence the “professional traipsing” found in my ‘about me’ page. So, while I’m willing and eager to work hard on my writing (to improve it so it makes sense and is a pleasure for others to read) and I have reached a point, twenty years in the making, where I’m excited to send it out and see if it resonates with anyone — I may not be full-time, career writer, material either.

In a recent article, Kristine Katheryn Rusch, points out how the indie publishing landscape has changed. In the past few years it seemed like anyone could make some money penning books (in certain genres, especially) and throwing them up on amazon.com. That writing world wasn’t for me either – first of all, it required tons of social media presence (I lasted about 3 months on twitter with one or two feeble-death-throes thrown in for good measure and I have happily withdrawn from even my personal facebook doings. God, I’m such a hermit!). There was also the tactic that worked for some (who, one hopes, haven’t qualified as career writers, but who did manage to at least make some money): put your drafts up for sale and see how many suckers you can reel in. For obvious reasons, that was a no-go for me too.

Rusch’s article is a straight-shooting description of what one needs to do to be in this, and make a living with it, for the long haul. Those characteristics include (as I paraphrase them):

  • a nearly constant desire to tell stories and a single-minded focus on doing that
  • repeat performances of – write a novel, publish it, sell it, write a novel, publish it, sell it
  • don’t stop doing the above two things ever, or your sales, and therefore your livelihood decline. Go! Go! Go!
  • always be on top of figuring out ways to make your business better. It is a business and you must keep up with the market.

Given what I know about the traditional publishing route (“Oh, here,” say the publishers, “let me wrap you in this contract while I hang you on a spit. It’ll keep the juices in while we put all your work in perpetual “e-print” so you can never get the rights, or cancel it at our whim…you’ll taste much better at the end of your little writerly career seasoned with just a *taste* of royalties.”), the only sane response is, ““HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, WHY would I want to go in that direction?”

Now, informed by Rusch’s (and others’) educated assessment, I may be having one of my characteristic “Ohmygod the big picture is a scary picture!” moments, so maybe later I’ll have to admit that this post should’ve been taken with a grain of salt, because this was all SO DO-ABLE!!!  But… meanwhile…

this is how it looks at this point, knowing what I’m going to currently aim for, knowing what I know about both my limitations and my strengths:

– I don’t currently have any backlist to speak of. Nor do I currently have ‘frontlist’ – therefore, I will not sell anything until I have something.

– I am a slowpoke and will find it challenging to keep up with reader demand (should readers demand anything from me).

Those two things alone will make reliable livelihood generation a significant challenge.

Therefore, my option is to work on indie-hybrid publishing at my own speed and on my own terms.

This post is simply serving as evidence that I’m not going into this blind. I know what it takes to “make it” and frankly, the me I am on this date in 2015, is NOT naive enough to think “Oh, I’m the great exception! Read my work, it’s immediate best-seller-millions-making-stuff! I can rest easy now!”

I am totally ground level.

Basically, I’m in a — one-word-after-another, eventually get to decency and work on the next piece — kind of situation.

Therefore, the only rational direction – for me – is to simply do what I love, because I love it for as long as I can with whatever time I have. No matter what, since I will continue writing regardless of its financial viability, I’ll just keep writing. That doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily put it up for free, but it doesn’t mean I’ll give up on it. Any sales will be considered a blessing and reward for service on behalf of readers and myself.

I like what Deena Metzger wrote in A Brief History of a Feminist Mind,

“Literature has taught me the value of a body of work, of the slow, deliberate, heartfull development of form and idea so that one’s work and labor might contribute to the community and the future…”

though I don’t take it so far as her eventual conclusion that art or writing that succeeds commercially is inherently not fully developed or “heartfull,” and it occurred to me that the age old argument between “commercial” artists and “literary” artists is most likely and purely a difference in working process. Some people can produce like crazy and other’s are more slow. I like to hope I can embody a happy medium. Heck, do your art and live your life, right? In this day and age, to live a life requires economic exchange. It isn’t a sell out and I’d say it’s better to make your art support you than support yourself doing something artless.

Quoted on Rusch’s post, Suw Charman-Anderson says, “

“When you do something you love for a hobby and then try to turn that hobby in to a business it can suck all the joy out of that thing you do… If I’m ever going to write again, I need to reclaim it as something akin to a hobby. It’s not, at this point in time or at this point in my life, a business…”

Rusch continues, “But she doesn’t enjoy writing any longer, so she’s trying to recapture the joy. What writer among us can argue with that? I think that’s a wonderful, valid goal, and I think if you scratch a lot of writers who’ve “quite” writing, you’ll find that they, like Charman-Anderson, have simply given up writing in public.”

So, I’m following the joy. Does this doom me to failure? I don’t know. If the system (definition? The ability to write, publish, and find readers) is dependent upon my entering this work with a mindset of marketability, then maybe yes. If, however, all that I need is to remain true to my vision and the stories (or essays or poems) that ask to be told through me, and then see them into “print” and out into the world at whatever speed and abundance works for me, then no, that’s not failure.

There are many ways to be a writer. Scrambling after publication in journals, showing my wares and hoping for the favor of agents and publishers, always trying to keep up with supposedly fickle and voracious “consumers” ? None of these things are my style. None of them will work for me.

A commenter (who isn’t me, but we must be channeling each other) on Kriswrites said, “Will I ever be in the group of long-time authors? If I try to answer that now, I emphasize only competitiveness, instead of joy — It will come down to one step at a time, taking whatever step I can manage, and then repeating. Business or hobby; it doesn’t matter. More, it’s about my own joy.”

Knowing what does and does not work for me actually has something in common with sound business strategy as I consider long-term viability, and so I am approaching this as a hobbyist with a business mindset. I’m starting with realistic goals: write publishable work, make the best product I can. Find my audience, no matter how few or far-flung they are. And by extension, spread my joy.

Income after expenses is gravy.

Story Character Development

A running list of methods to discover or develop characters in stories, compiled from my experience and that of my fellow-writers all over the place:

  • Ask questions of your character, directly – and get a direct answer! (Want to know who’s great at this? Visit Kirsten’s blog – she talks to her characters and her Muse and shares the conversations. I love it! Here’s a recent conversation: Infinity Edge)
  • Mind map (cluster) with the character and his problem or situation at the center
  • Free-write – see what bubbles up
  • Daydream, but focused
  • Collect “scrapbook” stuff (physical or online) – pictures of people who look like your character, collections of things he likes, scenes that evoke the character’s “feel”
  • Move character to a new location, time, genre and see what happens
  • Believe he is real. Treat him as such. Attend to him. What’s there?
  • Start small, non-intrusively – would you ask a stranger to reveal secrets at first meeting?
  • Start writing the story – let the story draw your character out – no pressure to KEEP the writing.
  • Take the character out of his comfort zone (Shy? make him sing in front of others. Used to center stage? put him in a long line policed by pacing, barely contained armed guards)

 

I know! How about finding a magic lantern and asking a genii to help? Who knows what details will float in if you try that method!

arabiannights

Heaven knows I need this list. Characterization is my weakness (or at least ONE of my weaknesses). I have snippets of stories (categorized as “Fiction Going Nowhere) with characters called nothing more than “he” or “she.” Seriously they’re almost non-people, just carriers of Story. Sheesh!

I think that kind of thing won’t fly far in the long term, so… here I am, working at making better characters.

If you’re a writer, too, and interested in a much more detailed and informative take on characterization, I recommend Holly Lisle’s How to Create a Character Clinic. It’s to the point, filled with helpful exercises and… and it’s been far too long since I read it! I think that’s now on the top of my list! [scurries off to read it]

*** How about you? Do you have any tried and true tricks? Any character-revealing practices you rely on? Share them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list!***

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Official Stuff

 

gratitude songs

May 2014 end well for you and 2015, fed with gratitude and attention, flourish.

All living growth is emergent, arising from a previous state as though it were the most natural thing in the world, which it is —  though of course the new state of being is only one option among many.

In recognition that each moment fuels the moments to come, each action opens opportunity for other action, each phase of being is the child of that which came before and the parent of what is yet to exist, I hope for a beginning of a year that naturally unfolds and leads toward greater fulfillment.

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For a New Beginning

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

– John O’Donohue

between the lines: fiction from real life stories

Last week I started the first in a new group of stories. I’m liking how small projects both seem (and are proving to be) attainable goals as I’m finishing up my first short story anthology. Shifted Visions, will be released in 2015 but I’m already under way with the beginnings of another collection as well.

The new group is very loosely based on family anecdotes. I know, it sounds boring, right? But I decided to just let fiction reign and so while they’re founded on a few factual details, the stories have taken precedence… and I’m working hard to make sure they’re worthwhile!

The first one in the group surprised me. It showed me it really is possible to let real-world details provide inspiration but let the imagination take over (and dig deep) for something even more rich. I hadn’t realized, until I sat down with the premise, that I had anything to write about having lived in Thailand over twenty-five years ago. Originally, I thought I shouldn’t set the story there – would I do the culture and the people justice? Could I carry off a story set both in a time (1950s) and a place (north central Thailand) that I’m really not profoundly familiar with? But that was what the story demanded and I accepted the challenge.

I’m pleased with the story in its first draft form and I think it succeeded in turning an off-hand comment said to me by my host-grandmother into a well developed story about a family able to give generously to each other even in a difficult time.

My year in Thailand was incredibly trying for me – and I imagine, for those around me – as I flailed about with the language and in a milieu of cultural practices and assumptions I was completely oblivious to at best, and unable to comprehend at worst. In all honesty, it was a terrible year. Even thinking about it now brings up a residue of all the awkward and embarrassing situations I was in, all the ways I felt like I was screwing up, felt constantly observed in my failings, and stood outside any sense of 20141214_101909belonging. All while trying to smile.

So, the fact that I wrote a tender little story about a Thai girl and her brother – and a bicycle – makes me really happy and I think: maybe that year wasn’t a total bust after all.

I don’t have any of my journals from my time there (one was conveniently “lost” by someone in my host family, the other I threw away in frustration over all the things I couldn’t write in it because I knew it was likely to be read) – so over the years details have lost their sharpness and the observations I made about the country and the people have receded. Only they haven’t, quite, and they show up in the story.

I thought it would be nice to spice up this post with a few photos of Thailand, so I looked through what I have and out of a grand total of one hundred and forty-three pictures, all of poor quality, there weren’t any that look like they describe anything in my story.

🙁

So, instead I leave you with my on-the-spot awkwardness and smiles (that’s me, front far left. With coconuts.).

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And a Santa Claus (awkwardly smiling) to fit the season.20141214_101828

help for writers, the great unwashed masses

In my continued efforts to educate myself, I recently purchased a bundle of books offering help for writers. I’m exploring established writers’ methods for telling stories and making a career out of it and the bundled set seemed like a pretty decent deal.

I was surprised, though, at the common theme I found in no less than three of the set’s volumes (I’ll let you know if it shows up in more, I’m only five books into the twelve). It seems there’s a terrible truth about writers that I never knew! Surprisingly, the consensus from the likes of Chuck Wendig and Kevin J. Anderson, is not that writers need to ease up on adverbs or stop dangling their participles.

No. What’s apparently more egregious is that writers, when they finally crawl out of their caves, are sorely in need of a bath.

Let me allay your fears, gentle reader. Should we ever meet in person, whether it’s in relation to my writing or not, I promise that you will NOT find your senses assaulted by my presence.

I didn’t really need three books to inform me that,

“If you’re going to be in public, meeting editors, authors, and readers, follow these rules: *bathe, *brush your teeth, *wear clean clothes…”

Nor did I think it was a matter of such urgency that among the pro tips I would find:

“clean your body, you musky stank beast.”

I’ll just file this one under astounded.

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What else is there about writers that I’m missing? Do enlighten me! If the comment box isn’t visible, click here.