Yesterday I completed revising and editing my novel, Never Fall.
The revision process for this particular manuscript felt like an epic journey of sorts, so I felt like celebrating a little. At the very least, I could give myself a pat on the back.
I finished another story.
Well, not quite. For I’m sure more editing and revising will follow.
The process isn’t quite done yet.
Still, I consider my work a milestone. I finished.
On to the next project . . .
Recently, while perusing in-flight television, I happened upon an interview with the director for the film The Artist.
I haven’t yet seen the film, but Michel Hazanavicius captivated me with his passion and commitment to the artistic process. He emphasized the value of the story and considers this the heart and magic of what captivates us.
The story keeps me falling in love over and over again with the the process of writing.
Today, I embark upon another journey. A new story.
I hope this year will bring you many new stories and milestones.
I had to shop for new jeans this past week. I’m not fond of shopping for jeans.
Women’s jeans come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Besides the obvious choices–skinny, boot cut, or flare, I had to decide if I needed a tummy tuck, a uplift (for the back), and a flattering wash (whatever that’s supposed to mean). I remember when I would just buy jeans based on my waist and inseam size. Those days are so over.
Prices run from below $20 to over $200. This is absurd. The expensive jeans promised miraculous changes for my body, and the saleslady assured me the expensive jeans would make me look fantastic. I felt less than fantastic when the waist came up to rib cage and my rump looked like an indigo pancake.
I’ve been fortunate enough not to gain much weight as an adult, but I’ve dropped two sizes. How can this happen? Note to jean companies: I am NOT flattered when a size that once fit is now too large. Instead, I am ANNOYED because I have to go out and find another size to try on.
Christmas songs piped into dressing rooms are not comforting when trying on jeans. It also doesn’t help that it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet.
After trying on countless pairs, I finally found a pair that fit well in the juniors’ section for nineteen dollars.
Originally published in Voices & Viewpoints: Writers Respond to September 11th and Beyond.
After watching the firefighters run into the core of Manhattan, my son puts on his firefighter outfit, complete with a dust mask and pretend air talk, and steps out into the yard to spray the garden hose on imaginary fires. I am helpless as I watch my 3 ½ year old son who is capable of doing more than I can.
Later I watch a concert on television. My favorite band from my youth, U2 performs “Walk On.” The deep creases in Bono’s face show the passage of time. There was a time when I thought music could change the world. In 1985 I woke up early and sat glued to MTV all day watching the first Live Aid broadcast. Bob Geldof and other musicians came together to raise money for the starving in Africa. I went to a Amnesty International concert and watched Bono, Sting, Peter Gabriel, and other perform; they stood up against the wrongfully imprisoned individuals of the world. While zooming down Los Angeles freeways on my way to college, I sang along with Bono.
How long must we sing this song?
Determined to save the world with my writing, I studied journalism. I would have the power to disclose the evil deeds committed by those who wanted to tyrannize others. I would provide the language and the forum for those who needed a voice. I would be a poet with the power to heal the wounds of the soul. I was convinced of the infallible power of words.
Fifteen years later, I wonder where I lost my idealism. Being a journalist left me hopeless. I grew tired of wading through the mire of injustice and turned to the cleaner task of analyzing literature and teaching college freshmen to write essays. The poetry also sits idle as I look for more lucrative ways to pay my mortgage and keep my children fed. I will not deny I am jaded and my cynicism has its roots in my experiences. I am no longer a young, single woman rising up against the evil of the world. Now I am a mother, yet that is all the more reason why I need to find my lost source of hope.
I watch my son douse the fallen leaves on the autumn lawn. He is putting out the fires of Manhattan, the fires of hate, the fires of injustice. It doesn’t matter that it is only in his imagination. It doesn’t matter at all because he is wholly involved in making a difference the only way he can. Like the real firefighters in New York, he cannot do otherwise.
I step outside and wander around the yard. The season for growing is almost over, but I kick aside the yellow leaves looking for a patch of green. I find myself singing the words of the songs I once sang. I know the grass will return in the spring; it always does. I return to my house with my son’s hand in mine to find some sort of hope in the rubble of this world.
I read a recent book review in the New York Times on a biography about Harriet Beecher Stowe called Mightier than the Sword by David S. Reynolds. In this biography, Harriet is championed as a writer of change. He argues that because of the publication and wild success of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, many people were ready for the end of slavery.
A few years ago, I was approached by an editor to write biographies of American authors. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s biography was my first assignment. I admit I felt a little disappointed. I had tried to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin in high school and had found it soppy and melodramatic. And, yes, it is as soppy and melodramatic as many other nineteenth century novels.
What I found compelling, however, was the life of Harriet. As I started to do research for my book, I unearthed quite a bit I didn’t expect to find. Raised in a house where intellectual curiosity was fostered, Harriet, along with many of her siblings, was a strong proponent of the abolitionist movement. As a married women with little say and power to make a strong political stance, Harriet chose instead to write a novel to show her readers the horrors of slavery.
When it was published, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was as popular as the Harry Potter and Twilight series now. Harriet became a wealthy and famous woman, but, more importantly, many readers warmed up to the idea of abolition in part–some argue a large part–because of Harriet’s writing.
Is the pen or keyboard mightier than the sword? Can any fiction writer do what Harriet did when she decided to do something about slavery? I hardly think any writer should be writing with an agenda. Instead, writing, at least for me, should reflect the human experience–A reminder of who we all are.
>This past weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. I’m so happy the conference is up and running again. We met in Coupeville this year, and I had a great time feeding my writing soul with words from amazing writers like Garth Stein, Mandy Hubbard, Michele Torrey, Deb Lund, and many more.
We had a great fireside chat in a beautiful house overlooking Lake Pondella where Mandy Hubbard told us of her journey and amazing perseverance in getting her first novel published (something I needed to hear). Michele Torrey talked about theme (a favorite subject). She read the first paragraph of several books so we could hear the voice of each work. She has a great reading voice! Deb Lund brought out the actors in us all as she used her great collection of cards to find ideas for story direction and act out emotions. I love this because writing does have to get the heart and emotional level of the character.
I’m back recharged and ready to go again. I love my Whidbey connection. I cannot believe it’s been ten years since I first volunteered. Back then, I wasn’t even sure what genre I wanted to write in. Deep down I knew I needed to write fiction, but I was terrified to even admit that to myself. My journey thus far has taken me where I never thought I would go. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years bring!
>What were your favorite books to read when you were a child?
A favorite series of mine? The Shoes books.
Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, first published in the 1930s, was followed by many more, including Theater Shoes, Skating Shoes, and my favorite, Dancing Shoes. Most of these books involved orphaned children discovering hidden talents for dancing, acting, or singing (with a few surprises).
The theme: Follow your dreams.
By the time I became fully engrossed in Shoe mania, I was ready to have my parents send me to London so I could attend some sort of stage school. I had forgotten I had the grace of a hippopotamus on the dance floor, sang perpetually off key, and was far too shy to stand up on stage before an audience.
It didn’t matter; I was stagestruck. I started taking dancing lessons, belted out songs from musicals, and searched the library for plays to read. I couldn’t find any, so I used the section of Maeterlinck’s strange play, The Blue Bird found in the pages of Ballet Shoes. In the privacy of my bedroom, I rehearsed playing all the actors’ roles. From The Blue Bird, I used the play as a template to start writing my own plays.
My dreams of limelight stardom in the theater may be over, but I’m still writing.
>Ah, Valentine’s Day. Chocolate, a romantic dinner, roses, wearing a great dress and slow dancing to a sultry jazz tune . . .
Well, not quite. A mad dash to make dinner, help with homework, and remind the boys to clean their rooms. Wrestling with a stalling Internet connection while I try to set up a grade book for a class starting tomorrow. Dirty dishes piled up in the sink.
Not exactly romantic.
February. I’m thoroughly tired of winter and am impatient for some early spring blooms. My work grows monotonous, and I long for some good news.
Yes, patience. This is something I think I have little time for, yet it is exactly what I need. The daffodils will bloom (and soon). The days will grow warmer, and the frog and birdsong will return.
Most of all, I need to be patient with my craft. My writing works best when I take the time to pause and reflect.
A pause, and I can begin again in a flurry of passion.
I hope your Valentine’s Day is filled with passionate activity!