I struggle most days, in the midst of this pandemic, to edit my next book, to prepare it for publication, to write the next story after this one. I rarely turn out more than a few hundred words a day and sometimes none at all. I have to ask myself: Why am I doing this? Why does it matter that I write? Why does it matter that I write this particular story?
For one thing…if I should die of this damn coronavirus thing, I don’t want to leave behind an unfinished manuscript.
But that’s not enough. Why is this story something I want to finish?
What is it about?
It’s about humanity. About all the things that may or may not be “human nature.” About our diversity and how diversity is the bedrock of survival.
It’s about a woman who thinks, because she is biracial, that she is nothing. And then discovers that she is everything.
It’s about people who hate and distrust and misunderstand one another and then end up needing one another to survive.
It’s about us.
I’m ready to launch Song of All Songs on August 28. I’m ready to tell you a story I believe in.
Wow. My last blog post was in October of last year!
I really shouldn’t let myself get “too busy” to blog. But apparently that is what has happened to me over the past four months. What have I been busy doing? Writing, editing, synopsizing… and for the past two months looking after my precious baby granddaughter every weekday.
My next book, tentatively titled Song of All Songs, is finally feeling ready to query. I’ve incorporated advice from a professional editor and three specialized (and very helpful) beta readers. (Thank you Teresa, Claire, and Cheryl!) I’ve also rejiggered a few things in the story after realizing that it is really book one in a series that I’m calling the Earthcycles Trilogy. I’ve already written about a third of book two and settled on a primary plot arc for book three. I’d tell you more, but I’d rather not until I see where this might go in the traditional publishing world.
Then there’s been the baby-tending, which is both exhausting and exhilarating. Physically exhausting because she’s not quite 16 months old. But exhilarating because this is such an intriguing time of discovery for her. How tiny humans learn language (verbal and gestural) and figure out how to coordinate bodies that don’t come pre-programmed as other mammalians’ bodies do is amazing! Of course, this particular little human goes about it in her own way that is different from the way her big brother did it, which also differs from the path taken by her dad (my son) or aunt (my daughter). I’d show you pictures of her, but her parents have decided that until she is old enough to consent (or object), her image will not be shared on social media. And I respect their respect for their children. So the image I selected to accompany this post shows the gifts the little girl gave me one day when we went walking…
In March, baby girl will be starting preschool. (I’ll miss her hugs!) And I will be back to full-throttle writing and blogging!
I spent the past weekend immersed in a rather wonderful “agents and editors conference” put on by Writers’ League of Texas in Austin. I’m a newcomer to this whole writing and publishing game, so I was eager to learn, excited about pitching to an agent face-to-face, curious to see what other writers are up to and what they have to say about what we do. I was looking for insight on how to plot my course forward as I nurture my first self-published novel and ready the next one for its eventual debut in print.
Here is what I think I learned from my colleagues and the gatekeepers of our profession:
Although there are many paths forward, there seem to be two disparate directions the novice writer might take. One I would call the “path of honor”. This path is pursued by submitting material for contests and literary journals, striving to accrue accolades from the anointed and an eventual place within a “big house”. The other is the “path of material reward” – marketing the hell out of deliberately marketable stories and raking in the dollars from an adoring public, keeping them salivating for more. However much we wish to believe in a convergence of these paths, it’s rare. Exceptionally rare. I met successful and talented writers on both trajectories and I maintain deep respect for their personal choices, diligence, artistry, and generosity in sharing stories from their respective paths.
I’m not sure either of these distinct directions is for me. I’m an independent at heart, happiest when I’m doing my own thing. I don’t care much for either accolades or material reward. I want readers. I want to reach people who want to think about and talk about the things my stories are about. And I believe stories always have to be about more than a sequence of events. As an artist, I finally had to accept the label of “conceptual artist”, however uncool that may be. I’m also a conceptual writer.
I come away from the conference still uncertain of my path forward. If I found the “right” agent, could I be happy on that path? If I could tap into and inspire the “right” audience, would I be willing to market to them in order to keep them as fans?
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!
A year ago, I had just returned from travels abroad, during which I had diligently blogged and sketched my way through Spain, France and Nepal. Realizing that my journey is not just about travel, I am declaring a resumption of the blog, to include at least occasional sketches and artworks. The new blog title – “Simulacrum” – is meant to convey something about my intention to write and draw and paint in ways that will evoke, however imperfectly, something nearly true about this world we share.
The novel I have recently completed – Way of the Serpent – is a work of “speculative fiction”, akin to science fiction but without the space aliens and mutant beasts. It takes place barely more than 100 years in the future, and my protagonist and friends are only too human. I say the novel is “completed”, but hesitate to use the word “finished,” as that would imply it has reached a state of such perfection that no further tinkering is permitted. I reserve the right to tinker.
There is a second novel in the works – The Fourth Time. It takes place in the here and now… sort of. My protagonist in this one is an archaeologist married to an author who writes about time travel, and much of the action takes place in Belize, a country I have known since my earliest anthropological fieldwork in the 1970s. This one is about 30,000 words to date.
And then there is the germination of a sequel to Way of the Serpent, which I am provisionally calling Flight of the Owl. It will follow the experiences of one of the survivors of Serpent. This one frightens me a little bit, but I’ll get over it and get into it soon enough.
(NOTE: I have just reposted some of my sketches from last year that I was unable to properly blog from Nepal due to technical difficulties.)