So much more to a book

This photo hangs on the wall at my brother’s house. Here he is with the smiling Wildebeest and Zebu, many years ago. I’m not sure any of them remember the exact moment the picture was taken, but love and happiness are written all over this image. It’s no coincidence that a book’s involved.

There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.
~  Maurice Sendak

Every creature fast and small

Every creature is better alive than dead,
men and moose and pine trees,
and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it.

~  Henry David Thoreau

Over the past weekend, we were in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. My two sons, Wildebeest and Zebu, got into a lively debate over running ability and were finally coerced by those sick of listening to that debate into running a short race. While their uncle got ready at the finish line with his camera to capture their final steps, their father (Zippy) lined them up at the starting line. But just before Zippy shot the proverbial starter’s pistol, he saw a tiny creature on the race course:

Horned Lizard aka Horny Toad

After moving the Horned Lizard to safety, the race commenced.

 

(NOTE: Wildebeest won by a slim margin, pulling a quad muscle in the process. The two agreed to switch “lanes” and run it again, and that time Zebu won by a whole bunch. I’m guessing the Horned Lizard is as happy as the rest of us that the two of them have, at least temporarily, moved beyond that whole running debate.)

The male muse: an unaccountably rare thing

The male muse is an unaccountably rare thing in art.
Where does that leave female artists looking for inspiration?

~ Kate Christensen

Well, I’m a female artist currently working in close proximity to my male muse who is apparently lost in thoughts inspired by his whiteboard-muse. Inspiration comes in many forms.

Gotta respect the process.

Chekhov on a Bunny Monday

I’m not sure what put the light in this rabbit’s eye*, but I know where mine came from: today’s writing session was great fun. Even though I’m writing a first draft and, therefore, not overly hung up on language, I put down some good stuff. And that makes me very happy. Even after reading the following:

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
~ Anton Chekhov

Much of what I wrote today is more tell than show, but I still had a damned good time.

*okay, it was probably the sun

Radiance: a work in progress

Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen –
that stillness becomes a radiance.

~  Morgan Freeman

It’s been a hard week, stillness and radiance-wise. Every day, I’ve called the soulless Senator Cory Gardner regarding his votes on the health care repeal. His staffers don’t seem to be taking calls anymore and so I’m forced to leave messages. Confession: I don’t give good voice mail. Even under the best of circumstances, I’m prone to blithering-blathering-wandering messages that spend way too much time in the ditch before I yank the steering wheel and get the call back on the pavement. Today I shouted my entire message at Senator Cory Gardner. However, I did not curse.

Come to think of it, the last time I swore during one of those calls was a couple months back when I reached an actual human. That young man told me if I cursed one more time, he’d hang up on me.

Maybe I’m actually making progress with this whole radiance thing.

Poking and prying with a purpose

The synopsis for my work-in-progress includes a plot point in which my protagonist has an accident that results in medical costs her family can’t afford. When I wrote it, I didn’t think much beyond that general idea. For the last couple days, I’ve been working on those scenes. And it’s slow-going. Why?

BECAUSE I’VE FALLEN DOWN A RABBIT HOLE.

How are federal poverty levels determined?
How much Medicaid coverage is available if the state declined federal funding?
What are hospital costs vs urgent care costs?
What happens if you miss an insurance payment?

It’s interesting (and infuriating) to do this kind of research in the shadow of the Repugnicans’ efforts to deny health care to millions of people for the sole purpose of giving the obscenely rich more tax breaks. If I’m not careful, my story could easily turn into a one-issue manifesto. (Universal health care, yo!)

I’m trying to keep this quote from Zora Neale Hurston in mind:

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

I’m down this rabbit hole to better serve my plot and story.

So, a funny thing happened

I’m in the process of drafting a middle-grade novel, a story I started six years ago and then set aside after writing 50 pages. Those pages burst out of me with voice and vitality, from who knows where, and while it’s great fun to be reunited with those characters, my process for writing the brand new pages is very different. This time around, I’m using a synopsis as my guide.

I’ve never written a synopsis before completing a first draft. Ever.

Last spring, when I’d let my agent know about the project, she asked if I had a synopsis to send along with the newly revised 50 pages. Um, no. However, I decided to give the loathed document a whirl, with the caveat that I wouldn’t shoot for any specific length, rather, I’d include EVERYTHING. A week later, I sent her the pages plus a 10-page synopsis. And today, I did the unimaginable: I thanked her for suggesting a synopsis. I told her that it was helping me keep on track, which was, in turn, helping me keep writing.

Which is why I decided to devote today’s blog post to my newfound appreciation for knowing-what-in-the-hell-comes-next. So, I pulled THE ELEVENTH DRAFT: CRAFT AND THE WRITING LIFE FROM THE IOWA WRITERS’ WORKSHOP off the shelf in hopes of finding a passage to reinforce my synopsis love.

And wouldn’t you know, what resonated the most was an excerpt from Fred G. Leebron, a workshop student who arrived in Iowa with absolute faith in Freytag’s Triangle.

Except, the part of his essay “Not Knowing” that spoke to me was this:
One night in Iowa City, I sat and listened to our instructor recount his day of writing, how he followed a character down to the basement, where he heard a strange rustling, and the character turned and drew out his gun and shot in the dumbwaiter a rat. “And,” the instructor grinned, “I didn’t even know it was there.”

And I thought, “So you don’t have to know.”

Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!

I admit to feeling momentary panic about that blasted 10-page synopsis. But then I calmed the f*^% down. Just because I’ve charted a path for the story I’m writing does not in any way mean that I am beholden to that chart. It’s a general guide, nothing more. If a rat or gun or dumbwaiter shows up in the story, I’ll allow them time to lobby for their inclusion. I won’t automatically toss out anything that shows up to the party.

And when that panic and angst over being too structured returns, (because I know for a fact those emotions will return), I’m gonna come back to this right here. After all, I set out to write one kind of post, and quite happily ended up with another.