Warp Drive

Scientists are working on creating a warp drive.

“You don’t really understand this, do you?” my oldest son asks.

“Well, I understand that warp drive means you could go very, very fast in space.” See, I have watched enough Star Trek to understand.

“But, you don’t really understand.”

Okay,  I can’t really wrap my brain around quantum thrusters, but I applaud the efforts. I understand the value of this speed and ease of travel in space.

I tell my son discussing imagery in the poetry of Emily Dickinson is a little like a warp drive. He sighs loudly.

This one is easy: A deeper understanding of a poem is like a journey through space.

When I was very young I thought I could be an airplane when I grew up. I’m not kidding. Even after flying in one, I still thought it was possible.

During my sixth year, when my family and I went on several trips across the country and to Ireland, I think it finally sunk in. I couldn’t be an airplane.

Yet, as a writer, I create worlds, characters, and stories. I transport readers to unique destinations and allow them to experience exciting adventures. Well, this is my goal . . .

See, I’m an airplane!

I need to create my own warp drive.

Drafting, Messy Kitchens, and the Fragility of Life

I’m working on a new project. I’ve written a summary and created character profiles (after a furious vetting process). I think I even discovered the core of the story.

I went on long walks.

I stared into space.

I daydreamed . . .

Now, the time has come where I need to stop thinking and write my first draft.

I confess, I hate writing a first draft. Planning is all kinds of fun, revision has moments of glory, but the first draft? Well, it’s so dreadful and unknown. I’m awkward, like I’m on a first date not sure of what to do or say. I want my writing to be perfect, but what I see on the page is so far from the beauty I first saw in my mind.

You know what I’m talking about: You envision Rembrandt, but you can’t even manage a proper stick figure.

So, here’s what I do when I have to start a first draft:

I PROCRASTINATE

This needs tidying!

There’s vacuuming to do, baking, organizing drawers, bathtubs to be scrubbed, and, of course, all sorts of day job issues to obsess over and suck up my time.

This past week was particularly stressful with all sorts of real world stuff to distract me—day job dramas, the holidays . . .

This past week I also learned the horrible news of the untimely death of a beautiful and talented young woman. I still can’t quite believe I’ll never see her again.

So, this morning I got up at five and opened a new document.

I wrote.

I know it will not be perfect. I will get stuck, and I will wander away from my desk from time to time to do Absolutely Necessary Chores; however, the story has begun, the characters talk, and things happen. Eventually, I will finish.

This past week’s tragedy is a reminder of the value of each passing hour.

I know how I should be spending my time.

I will write this book.

Onward!

Still Here . . .

Where have I been?

Working, of course!

Writing, day job, helping with homework . . .
I haven’t forgotten.

October is beautiful and oddly warm and dry. I’m enjoying this unusual weather, but I’m also concerned because this is far from normal for the Pacific Northwest.
I’m almost at the end of the long project, and I’ve been getting up at 5 to work on my writing. It’s a magic hour before email, the Internet, work, and getting the family ready for the day.
I hope your hours are filled with creative energy and beauty!

Sunset sky

 

A Letter to Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

Dear Ray,

I would have preferred another day instead of  my birthday to find out about your death.

You probably didn’t know this, but  I wrote a book about you in 2006. An editor of small publisher sent me a list of potential subjects for middle grade biographies, and I saw your name. I read a few short stories, of course, but I knew little else about you. For whatever reason, your name popped out at me, and I selected you as the topic of my next book.

I started doing my research, I was struck with your passion for writing. Your tendency to create worlds and find the landscapes of “what if” scenarios stunned me. You were not afraid.

I like this.

I reread Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles. I read Something Wicked This Way Comes and dozens of short stories.

Your writing passion and your lifelong goal to create and keep creating impressed me most. You seemed to have this headlong, wonderful enthusiasm you brought to every project.

You said many great things about the craft of writing, but this is my favorite, the one I repeat when I get stuck or over analyze what I do.

“Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.”

Sincerely,

Michèle

Star Wars, the Force, and the Power of the Play

At a recent SCBWI conference, writer Matt de la Peña spoke about the isolation we feel as writers in our inability to experience or see readers’ reactions to our work. We can hope a reader identifies with our words, our characters, our stories, but we cannot be inside our readers’ minds for the experience.

I am fortunate enough to see another play produced for the annual Orcas Island Ten Minute Playfest, and I was able to experience something unique for most writers.

The reaction of the audience.

And, yes, this can be a terrifying experience.

The play was based on a simple question: What happens when a man cannot give up his childhood obsession with Star Wars? I travelled to a galaxy of silliness. The play was written, revised, and rehearsed, but I still had my doubts.

What if they don’t laugh? What if they think my work is stupid? All of my insecurities bubbled up to the surface in an unpleasant brew of doubt.

Every night I sit in the audience and feel my body grow tense as I watch the crew set up the stage. What if something goes wrong?

The lights go out, the music starts up, and the magic begins . . .

When I write a play, I try not to visualize what the finished production will look like. I’ve learned that what comes out on stage will be drastically different than my imagination. This year, what the actors have gone beyond even my best dreams of a perfect production.

The Team

I’ve never been a team person. I’ve always preferred solitary activities, yet there is nothing solitary about producing a play. I feel like a runner who passes off the baton (my script), and the other runners (the actors and director) take it on to the finish line.

The results? AMAZING

“Clean up this mess!”

The audience?

Yes, they do laugh. I’m part of a powerful transformative thing, for it is all the plays—writers, directors, and the wonderful actors, who make this Force come to life and give the audience a piece of something powerful.

So, as I prepare myself to go back to my writer’s cave and work on revisions for my novel, I have one more night to experience in this very public and real connection between a writer and an audience.

Thank you for being a part of the journey.

The Master of the Force, Darth Jedi

Oh, and may the Force be with you, always.

Reckless

A recent article in the New York Times discusses the connection between a novelty-seeking personality trait and well being and success.

As I read, my heart began to sink. Though I do not like being stuck in a rut and avoid boredom at all costs, my personality could hardly be described as impulsive.

I’m not spontaneous; I’m a planner. On the Myers-Briggs personality scale, my “J” reading is pretty darn strong.

As the Queen of Irrational Fear and Worry, how could I possibly be known as a risk taker?

Does this mean I will not be successful?

(see, worry . . .)

Ah, but wait!

There is an area of my life where I take many risks. I free fall and dance naked in the moonlight. There is a place I can be completely impulsive and drop from the sky to ski down a cliff face.

That place?

My writing of course.

I plan and think about plot and direction. I ask the important questions: What do my characters want? Yet, another part of the writing is reckless. Free.

“Let’s do this and see what happens.”

I can try things in my writing I could never do in my everyday life.

When I don’t like what I’m writing, I most often find my challenges originate from my need to play it safe. Insecurity.

Only when I take a running leap from the mountaintop and scream in delight all the way down I find the magic.

Spontaneity = exhilaration. Can you feel the adrenaline rush?

Narrators, Writers, and Writing (a book review of sorts)

Right now I’m in the middle of Dodie Smith’s delightful novel, I Capture the Castle (1948).

I’m not sure why I haven’t read this book before now considering my anglophile literature addiction.

I saw the film version a couple of years ago, so I know the plot. At its core, ICTC is a coming of age story told from the point of view of nineteen-year-old Cassandra living in a crumbling castle with her family in the 1930s. What draws the reader in is the cast of eccentric yet entirely believable characters. Literary references to other books, love interests, and, of course, many complications make the story highly readable.

What I am falling for is the story of a writer and the struggles of writing. Cassandra is writing about her life in her diary as a writer working on gaining experience, yet it’s not just this is what happened to me today. The narration reveals the challenges faced by writers, this is what I’m attempting to portray through words today.  At one point, Cassandra reflects on her writing about her feelings for a boy named Stephen and is terrified of her own honesty, “I should rather like to tear these last pages out of the book. Shall I? No—a journal ought not to cheat.”

I would agree. Any good story ought not to cheat.

Milestones

A sunset from Malibu.

The end of the year, and the start of a new one.

The end of one story, and the start of a new one.

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.

I agree.

Story.

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.

Happy 2012

What Harry Potter Means to Me

Unless you were abducted by aliens and spent the past week cruising the Milky Way, you probably know the final Harry Potter movie came out on Friday. I haven’t seen it yet, so no spoilers ahead . . .

I believe it was September 2000, and I was at a faculty meeting with the English department for Everett Community College where I worked. One of the other instructors was teaching a course in children’s literature. The buzz before the meeting was about a series called Harry Potter.

“Who’s Harry Potter?” I asked.

All conversation stopped, and many pairs of disbelieving eyes stared hard at me.

“Michele, Where have you been?” Someone asked.

In the months that followed, I found myself in the library perusing the children’s book section. I found the Harry Potter books, but still, I resisted. I figured out that the Harry Potter series were fantasy books, and I had very bad luck with fantasy books I had tried to read (mind you, these were adult books).  If taken the time to remember the great fantasy books of my childhood, I would have been more enthusiastic. Instead, I decided to wait.

Finally, around the end of November, I grabbed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the only one available at the library at that time). I took it home and fell in love. Soon after consuming book three, I managed to get my hands on the other books (one, two, and four) and read them eagerly.

Reading Harry Potter reminded me how much fun I had reading as a child–the beautiful experience of entering a world and forgetting the act of reading. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t thinking of character development, theme, setting, imagery, or any other literary terms as I read. I simply read for the story. I wanted to know what would happen next. I genuinely cared about Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

This experience planted a little seed somewhere in my muddled brain. I was writing and publishing at that time, but I wasn’t very enthusiastic about my work. Reading Harry Potter reminded me of what I used to love.  Why hadn’t I thought of it before? What did I love doing more than anything when I was a child? READING BOOKS. Why not write books for children?

The following year I would volunteer at the Whidbey Island Writer’s Conference, and this would continue to shape my journey in the right direction toward writing for children. I still had a lot to learn.

I still do.

So, what does Harry mean to me?

Reading and writing makes our world more magical.