NEW Cover!

BETTERcoverPIC

I cannot begin to tell you how much fun it is when a novel grows into a trilogy and then has to be a whole series because you just can’t figure you’ll ever be finished writing books about this intriguing world you’ve created! This is what has happened with Way of the Serpent and The Recall Chronicles.

In preparation for the re-issue of Way of the Serpent as Volume I of The Recall Chronicles, I’ve come up with an entirely new book cover. Do you want to see it? CLICK HERE!

More news coming soon!

Have you read Way of the Serpent? Here’s a preview.

Truth and Fiction

ARTisLIES

Although I continue to hold a position as Professor Emerita of Anthropology at my former institution, I stopped being actively engaged in anthropology almost a decade ago. Or did I? The further I get beyond that watershed date called “retirement”, the more easily I see the profound influences of social science on my life as it continues to unfold.

Today I decided I needed to look back on a textbook I used for a class I taught on Neanderthals, in which we studied novels about Neanderthals alongside the scientific treatises. The book I pulled off the shelf is called Fiction & Social Research: By Ice or Fire, edited by Anna Banks and Stephen P. Banks.

The introduction the Bankses wrote for that book struck a deep chord with me and may account at least in part for my eventual turn toward fiction writing. They credit Eudora Welty, Nadine Gordimer and Milan Kundera for inspiring them “to think about the nature of truth and the place of fact in storytelling, and the relation of truth and facticity to the imagination.”

Perhaps the most important thing I learned from Anna and Stephen is that “facts don’t always tell the truth, or a truth worth worrying about, and the truth in a good story – its resonance with our felt experience… – sometimes must use imaginary facts.” From them I learned the concept of “verisimilitude”, the notion that a story can have an unmistakable ring of truth even when the “facts” are entirely made up.

So here’s a big “Thank you!” to a couple of social scientists of great imagination and courage who planted in this social scientist the seeds of a late-blooming desire to write stories – completely made-up stories – that have the ring of truth.

Lessons From the Art Studio

SOLD Morning in the Garden of Eden. 18 x 12, acrylic on lokta paper

Almost a year ago, I moved out of my art studio to devote myself full time to writing. Do I miss my studio? Of course I do – wonderful days full of surprise and discovery spent in the company of my beloved handmade papers and amazing colors and mediums. And fellow artists. I miss them, too, although I still go visit them in their own studios (one of which used to be mine).

I learned some important lessons in that art studio, some of which continue to serve me well in my writing. I was reminded of one of those lessons when I saw this quote (posted today by PEN America on Facebook):

“I think the difference between being a person of talent and being a writer is the ability to apply the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair and finish.” ― E.L. Konigsburg

Paintings are statements – images that inspire you in the moment and that you speak onto the canvas (or, in my case, paper) to the best of your ability. But you don’t go on forever rephrasing them. If you do, you will become your own worst obstacle, inhibiting your ability to receive the next inspiration, to make the next statement. If you keep reworking, you may end up with an amazing painting, but there will likely be several more – perhaps equally worthy of having been shared – hidden within it. In painting, there comes a moment when you have to look at a work, wish it well, sign it, and hang it on the wall. Let it speak its piece while you move on to the next thing, attend to the next inspiration.

The same thing holds true in writing. Write the story. Finish it. Polish it just enough. Publish it. Move on. So what if it’s not the whole story? The next one will add its own statement and then also the one after that.

Coming in May: Shadow of the Hare – Book II in The Recall Trilogy! 

Read more from Donna Dechen Birdwell.

This I Believe

"Pursuit of Happiness" 18 x 18

“Pursuit of Happiness” 18 x 18

I believe everyone should run, play games, sing, dance, tell stories, and make poems and create all kinds of amazing objects out of clay and paint and whatever they can find. I believe that we should honor and celebrate those who are especially good at these kinds of things. But we should never discourage those who are more enthusiastic than expert, more passionate than talented, more eager than educated. We reach our full potential not through criticism, but through the sheer pleasure of doing a thing increasingly well.

We have become a nation of spectators and that breaks my heart. Creativity, imagination, and physical exuberance are essential human characteristics and we deprive ourselves of our very humanity whenever we shut these qualities away, experiencing them only second-hand as we watch players on a field, actors on a screen, dancers on a stage, or listen to musicians and singers or read books or gaze at works of art.

So who cares if your paintings are not museum quality? Who cares if you’re not the best player on the court or the best singer in the choir? Who cares if your stories make the bestseller lists or not? Just go out there and enjoy the fullness of your humanity. Critics be damned.

How Do You Feel About Emotion?

"Communication" (Side One) 18 x 14

“Communication” (Side One) 18 x 14

Yesterday I attended a Writers’ League of Texas workshop on “More Than a Feeling: Writing with Emotion” conducted by author Greg Garrett. He shared with us a whole heap of wisdom he said he acquired from his own writing guru Robert Olen Butler at U. Iowa. It was clear that he had verified all of this wisdom personally. Perhaps most importantly, he told us that each of us has within ourselves a “compost heap” of forgotten things that contains every emotion we will ever need to access in our writing. This morning I found his message reinforced by a quote from Brene Brown about vulnerability and the difference between sympathy (a disconnect) and empathy (connection): “Vulnerability isn’t good or bad. It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.” And then I started to remember what my Buddhist gurus were trying to teach me about compassion and the necessity of going to “the places that scare you”…

So now I know I need to shed my armor and jump into my own redolent, simmering compost heap and return to my manuscript for one last heart-wrenching revision. Thank you, Greg!