Some find inspiration in the wilderness. Others find themselves hopelessly lost.

Category Archives: Writing

Time for a break.

Between writing projects, an upcoming move, and a whole bunch of planned travel, I’m finding less and less time to write blog posts.

It’s been such fun connecting with so many readers through this blog.  Stay in touch!

I’ll do my best to get another book out for you all soon.

 


The #WritingProcess Blog Tour is connecting authors all over the world so they can share thoughts on the writing life. Each Monday a writer answers some questions about his/her process, then they tap two or three other authors to keep the conversation going.

Generally, I avoid pyramid schemes, but, as far as I can tell, as in the case of most things writing related, no one’s making any money off anyone else here. I promise, after reading this blog post, you won’t feel obligated to buy any cosmetics or kitchen devices.

The talented Kelly Ann Jacobson invited me to join in the #MyWritingProcess conversation. She’s the author of the wonderful, evocative novel Cairo in White, which I just recently read and highly recommend, as well as Dreamweaver Road and Answers I’ll Accept. You can read about Kelly, her books, and her writing process at www.kellyannjacobson.com/blog.

If you’d like to learn about my writing process, read on.

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No, I don’t use a typewriter, but I probably would if I had one like this and I’m seriously contemplating taking a hiatus from my laptop in favor of pen and paper, at least for a little while.

1)      What are you working on?

My writing seems to be shifting to a younger and younger audience. Drowning Cactus was about twenty-somethings, and could be classified as “New Adult” contemporary fiction.  I’m now working on a young adult novel about a girl whose story will change the future, if she dares tell it. It deals with environmental issues and the power of fiction. Think Never-Ending Story meets Silent Spring.

Recently, at my children’s request, I’ve also started writing picture book manuscripts. I’m not yet certain whether those will leave my living room, but I’m having a blast writing them. Children’s books are likely poetry. Every word counts and there’s a lot of space to enjoy the sounds and rhythms of language.

2)      How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I suppose I have more of an environmentalist outlook than many writers, although that’s hardly unique. Also, no matter what I’m writing, no matter how dire the subject, I find that humor always creeps in. That’s my personality, I suppose, and though I write from different perspectives, I can’t (or don’t try to) entirely eliminate my world view.

3)      Why do you write what you do?

The great mystery. Stories and characters spring up unbidden. I prefer to leave that process un-dissected.

5)      How does your writing process work?

Just about every day, I find some time to write. When I’m writing a first draft, the words tend to flow and my fingers do their best to keep pace. Between writing time I jot phrases and ideas on bits of paper. By the next day, those thoughts are usually irrelevant (and often I lose the scraps of paper) but I think it helps me stay engaged with the story.

After I finish a draft, I usually need a reader right away to give me some feedback. (Is this any good at all?!) Most of the time, I make my husband read it. He’s surprisingly frank with me and I’m grateful to him for that. Then, I get down to editing. I go through many rounds of edits, often chopping out huge sections, and then a few more rounds of language polishing before anyone else sees the manuscript.

Sending a manuscript out into the world—the business side of this—that’s a whole other process, though, and not nearly as pleasant. Perhaps a subject for a different blog day and a different blog hop.

Next week, authors Shannon LC Cate and Marisa Tejada will share their insights into the writing life and answer the same questions.

Look out for Shannon’s entry at : http://shannonlccate.com/

Marisa Tejada’s post will be available at : http://chasingathens.com/blog/

 


I’m skeptical that personal choice can save the planet from its myriad maladies but today I:

  1. Walked my kids to school.
  2. Composted the remains of the Passover food I can no longer bear to even consider eating.
  3. Put on my sweater instead of the heat.
  4. Turned on the computer to write about Earth Day and personal responsibility.

Earlier this week, I read the New York Times article about Paul Kingsworth, an activist who has come to accept climate change as inevitable. The article has kept me thinking. To my ears, Kingsworth’s perspective is depressing, probably correct, and very troubling.

What should we do knowing environmental degradation is likely to continue and even increase? Keep fighting? Make small changes we know we can achieve? Lobby for bigger ones, even those we know are unlikely? Go into mourning? Pour another drink?

One thing is for certain: On Earth Day we should celebrate. There are successes to recognize. Natural beauty abounds. Today, I’ll appreciate the splendor and resilience of the earth, the weeds clawing through cracks in sidewalks, and the tree outside my window erupting in pink.

If it weren’t raining, I’d probably be out in the woods or on the beach. Since it’s an indoor kind of day, I’ll try to make some progress on my writing.

Fiction writing is the perfect place for warnings and better worlds, a slow, introspective space for reflection. Maybe a contemplative celebration is in order today.


I’ve been down with the kind of illness that makes me wish I could dissociate from my body. Remarkably, though, I’ve produced heaps of new writing.

I’ve got a few theories about this phenomenon.*

  1. The Conversation Theory. I have no voice and so can’t communicate with others. Dialogue and description continue to rush into my mind. I can still type.
  2. The New-Found Free Time Theory. I’m attempting to accomplish almost nothing. All social outings have been cancelled. The house isn’t tidy. I’m not getting any exercise. Suddenly, I have much more time to write.
  3. Pep pills. Yes, I’m on drugs. Maybe some of the credit for this creative outburst belongs to Merck or the makers of that zippy wellness tea I like.
  4. The Food Theory. Or rather “the lack of food theory.” With such a sore throat, I’m subsisting on sorbet and instant oatmeal. No food prep. No cooking time. I’ve got very few dishes to wash and dry. This one is similar to “The New-Found Free Time Theory,” but there’s another angle. It’s also about a sensory void.  Without the pleasures of taste and smell, I’m less distracted.  Or maybe my imagination just needs to work overtime to supply delight.
  5. The Low Standards Theory. I may very well be experiencing fever-induced delusions and writing nothing but nonsense. Time will tell on this one. Actually, I suppose this might already be obvious to all you blog-readers. Wait until I’m less fragile to break the news, alright?

Today, for the first time this week, I went out for a walk. It was the perfect Scottish morning. Within the span of an hour, I experienced every possible combination of sun, clouds, wind, rain and calm. Snowdrops carpeted the hills. Here and there a crocus surprised me.

SnowdropsI headed out because my shaking chills finally subsided, and because my friend Johanna wrote a timely blog post about getting outside to counter doldrums. The walk really did lift my spirits and I feel energized. Let’s just hope it didn’t quash my flu-induced writing explosion.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll walk by the sea. That should be uplifting but cold and windy enough to help this illness linger a little longer, at least until I finish another round of rewrites.

*Just a disclaimer for those writers thinking of going out and licking dirty tissues at your local pharmacy: In truth, “The Flu Writing Phenomenon” involves a trade-off I wouldn’t recommend, even for the most ambitious writer. Aside from the fun writing, I’ve mostly been huddled under a blanket unable to focus on anything, except Olympic figure skating highlights.


My husband is writing a eulogy.  He showed me a first draft and I was blown away. In a few paragraphs, he managed to evoke a woman we both loved, and communicate the depth of his feelings for her.

The power of his eulogy came as a surprise.  He is an intelligent, well-spoken person who writes quite a lot, but the majority of what he writes is scientific and technical.  The remainder of his written communications are probably comprised of emails, grocery lists, and thoughts jotted on post-it notes.

We could discuss what made his eulogy work so well (specific details, including those that revealed the complexity of her character, rather than just praise, humor, sharing of himself…), but I suspect he wrote such a powerful piece because he felt so strongly about his subject.

Sometimes memories and thoughts can’t become vivid, even in our own minds, until they’re typed out.

I am not one of those people who believe writers should only write about things they have experienced or things they have strong feelings about.  Surely not!  Imagination and empathy are powerful tools. A writer can be a generally happy, fulfilled individual and compose heartbreaking stories. Similarly, one can write of great joy while in the doldrums.

Still, my husband’s eulogy writing experience has been instructive. We all experience triumphs and tragedies over the course of our lives, including death of loved ones. For our own mental health, it’s important to dwell on both our joys and our losses. For writers, especially those who hope to create emotionally engaging stories and characters, spending some time with sorrow might be essential.

If you’re given the opportunity to write a eulogy, take it, whether you consider yourself a writer or not.  You won’t regret the hours spent reflecting on a person you held dear, and the chance to crystalize your memories through words.

You might impress your wife. You’ll probably surprise yourself. Sometimes memories and thoughts can’t become vivid, even in our own minds, until they’re typed out.


Pens down. Computers off. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is over.Image

For those who don’t know, as the name suggests,  National Novel Writing Month is a month during which participants attempt to write a novel, ideally one of fifty thousand or more words.

I didn’t participate. Instead, I set myself a different goal: a short story. 5,000 or less words. Brevity can be its own challenge.

So, for all those NaNo writers (and less ambitious short story writers like me), now what?

Writing a novel, or even a short story, is such a joyful, immersive process. Editing, on the other hand, can be a slog.

Too often, at the outset of the editing process, I treat my work of fiction like a cake. Brush away a few crumbs, smooth out the surfaces with frosting, add some flourishes: a flower or a few well-chosen words, e.g. “Happy Birthday, Doug!” Frivolous stuff lacking depth and nuance.

When editing is going well, though, I treat the story like a hunk of bread dough. Knead. Leave to rise. Punch down. Leave it alone for a while longer. Maybe rip off hunks and reshape into a braid, or a pattern of rolls.

When it comes down to it, even though I appreciate an attractive cake, I far prefer both eating and baking a hearty loaf. The same goes for fiction. I’m happiest when the editing process is muscular, intensive work that yields a dense, satisfying product.

So, here goes. Hands in the flour. Ready those wrist muscles. NaNo-Edit Month begins now.


Maybe you’d like to take a break from the reading about the U.S. government shutdown, angry finger-pointing, and exasperated hand-wrenching. If so, I’ve got something completely unrelated but equally troubling today.

Humor writer Scott Erickson is visiting my blog, sharing his thoughts on satirical writing, genetically modified seeds, and pesticides. Heavy stuff, but, amazingly, Scott manages to write about it with levity. Scott is the author of a number of books, including his latest, an eco-satire, The Diary of Amy, The 14-Year Old Girl Who Saved The Earth.

Thanks, Scott, for visiting!

Oh, and, in case any Monsanto executives, attorneys, or goons are visiting today, the views and opinions in the following blog post are soley those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily represent those of other contributors to this site. See, you can take the lawyer out of the law practice, but you can’t take the law practice out of the lawyer.

Without further ado, here’s Scott Erickson:

SATIRE IS HARD TO WRITE

How long until Monsanto proposes genetic engineering of the human race?

The hardest part about writing satire is trying to write things that are more absurd than what real life comes up with.

Here’s an example: I just published a satirical novel about environmental destruction: The Diary of Amy, the 14-Year-Old Girl Who Saved the Earth.  cover-AMY

In the novel, our young protagonist Amy Johnson-Martinez encounters the evil corporation GloboChem. A spill of the agricultural chemical “GrowMagic” has led to a hospital full of sick babies. Amy does some research into what “GrowMagic” is, and she is shocked – SHOCKED! – to discover that “GrowMagic” is actually ONE OF THE MOST POISONOUS AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS EVER MADE.

This is what she finds on the GloboChem website:

“Our main product is HappySeeds™ which grow 73% of the world’s vegetables and grains. Most of those seeds are Magic-Ready HappySeeds™ that are genetically engineered to accompany GrowMagic™ “agricultural helper.” As happy farmers around the world say, “I need the miraculous GrowMagic™ to keep my Magic-Ready HappySeeds™ happy!”

If you guessed that “GloboChem” is a thinly-disguised “Monsanto,” and that “GrowMagic™” is a thinly disguised “Roundup,” then good for you! You win 10 points and advance to the semi-finals.

Later in the story, things take a darker turn. Since weeds have evolved into super weeds that are increasingly resistant to agricultural chemicals, bold measures are necessary. Thus, GloboChem’s spokesperson announces a radical new proposal:

“I am proud to announce that GloboChem has developed an innovative new product that will absolutely end all problems with human exposure to agricultural chemicals.

Our new product is a highly-advanced version of our famous ‘HappySeed’ technology. As you surely know, ‘Magic-Ready HappySeeds’ are genetically engineered to go with our ‘GrowMagic’ agricultural helper. I am proud to announce GloboChem’s brand-new product, which we call ‘HappyHuman.’ It will make human beings – people like you and me – able to withstand the ‘GrowMagic’ that brings us the clean and inexpensive food you serve to your loved ones.

Each capsule of ‘HappyHuman’ contains specially-engineered radioactive isotopes that go throughout the body, miraculously altering the genetic code to change the cell chemistry in each and every cell. Then, our bodies can withstand the ‘GrowMagic’ that brings us attractive pest- free food at a reasonable price. In other words, it will make us able to withstand ‘GrowMagic’ 100 percent naturally!”

Funny stuff, huh? Well, maybe less funny after the recent announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency. Since weeds have evolved into super weeds that are increasingly resistant to agricultural chemicals, bold measures are necessary. The EPA has decided to allow larger traces of the herbicide glyphosate in farm-grown foods (http://rt.com/usa/monsanto-glyphosate-roundup-epa-483; http://truthstreammedia.com/epa-to-raise-allowable-glyphosate-levels-in-food-crops-3000).

Yes, glyphosate is the key ingredient in the company’s GrowMagic™ label of herbicides. Sorry, I meant to write Roundup label of herbicides.

Don’t worry, though – the acceptable level of glyphosate is only rising a little bit. The EPA is increasing limits on allowable glyphosate in food crops from 200 ppm to 6,000 ppm. That’s not much – only 3,000%.

Yes, scientists have linked glyphosate to cancerous diseases.

Yes, a study by The Cornucopia Institute concluded that glyphosate “exerted proliferative effects in human hormone-dependent breast cancer.”

Yes, another study concluded that “glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins.”

Later in The Diary of Amy, the story eventually takes an even darker turn. The public has so far resisted GloboChem’s plan to genetically alter the human race. But the situation has gotten worse, and the economy is in a tailspin due to a sudden oil shortage. We have to act fast! Fortunately, GloboChem comes to the rescue:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

We recently announced our new HappyHuman™ product and sought to receive congressional approval to market it. But public reception was less-than-positive and the congressional bill stalled in committee.

We believe that now is the time to pass the bill and rush HappyHuman™ to the American public. Only by genetically engineering a human race able to withstand our products can we preserve our American way of life.

We must increase the “magic” within GrowMagic™ to a level high enough to kill every form of life that has not been genetically modified to resist it. In other words, the only way to sustain human life is to modify ourselves to resist killing the rest of it.

This was much funnier to me when I wrote it. Now, not so much.

I’m just wondering how long it is before I see such a press release in real life, or before I see such a plan being proposed by a GloboChem spokesperson. Sorry, I meant to write Monsanto spokesperson.



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