An ode to untouched places

Beauty likes neglected places.”

John O’Donohue
Folly Beach, SC

One of the things I like about where I work is that it’s next to a protected natural area. We get to see a lot of wildlife that one normally only sees in large state parks or zoos or nature documentaries, which is just an amazing experience.

The thing that always strikes me the most is the silence. No cars, no human noise, none of the pulsating hum of civilization. The stillness is eerie when you first encounter it. You don’t realize just how accustomed you are to constant sound until there isn’t any.

I sat on the front steps of my office building the other day and just basked in that stillness. It’s meditative, in a way, to just stop, and be in a wide open, natural space that isn’t teeming with humans and all of our various turbulence. It’s really quite joyous…at first.

For me, the joyfulness of natural, still places is muddled by an unsettled feeling. Humans are herd animals – we like to cluster. A long, long time ago, we realized that we do better if we live in groups. Now there are so many of us that it’s kind of hard not to. So most humans alive today are used to a certain amount of background noise.

What a strange thing to have forgotten – the silence of true, natural stillness. Now, it’s a thing we escape to rather than a thing we escape from. It’s another one of those shifts in the world and in how we interact with it that we simply don’t think about anymore.

Stillness was not necessarily something valued by people who used to exist within or beside it – I delve from time to time into the world of faery stories and their origins, and it was often the fear of forests or other untamed areas combined with fears about things like diseases or natural phenomena that gave rise to stories of changelings and other meddling creatures. Humans are great Explainers of Things, even if the explanation is more imaginative or symbolic than factual.

If you have the ability, find a still place. Sit in it for a while. Just be. Think about a world filled with such stillness, how different it was.

We’ve lost something more than just our stillness, I think, in filling up the world with as much clutter as we have.

Gods or sinners

As a writer, when you’re building a world and learning about your characters, you’re thinking about a lot of things. Do you ever think about how your characters perceive the world? How they process information?

I’ve been reading a book called The Error of Truth that discusses the difference between changing what one knows versus changing how one perceives the world. It takes a stroll through history, pointing out times when human perceptions massively shifted – such as when people shifted from being hunter-gatherers to planting seeds and staying in one place. It happened most recently when people began to quantify the world.

One of the stories the author tells is about the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755, where a devastating earthquake was followed a few hours later by a large tidal wave. Instead of accepting it as a mysterious event beyond their control, they began to process the event using reason.

This change in how people process large-scale catastrophes didn’t come out of nowhere – it was influenced by the ‘Age of Reason’, that changed how people perceived and processed the world. (This could be an amazing novel – setting it during the Lisbon catastrophes of 1755, and the aftermath as people begin to process what happened in a different way. Anyone want to write it? I’d love to read it.)

Continue reading “Gods or sinners”

Writing program!

I got into a two year intensive writing program for people writing books – fiction and non-fiction, though mine is fiction.

Emotions are high – I’m excited, I’m terrified, I’m confident, I’m plagued with self-doubt. The word of the week is vacillation.

I knew I wanted to do this, but I didn’t know how much I *needed* this until I got my acceptance. The need is similar to a compulsion, of which I have several – it’s that sort of feeling – like anxiety swirled with desire and sprinkled with just a tiny bit of queasiness. Looking at the first year’s curriculum is honestly terrifying – 9 classes and 3 weekend intensives.

I owe this to the 3-Day Novel Contest. It was last year during 3DN that I wrote the very first draft of my book – and it was one of those years that something magical happened. If the writing process in general is like driving through a traffic-burdened city, with lots of stops and starts and turns and merges, then 3DN is (if you do it right) like driving down a deserted desert highway in a convertible with the top down and your hair blowing everywhere.

In 2018, it paid off. I ended up with a story that…well, I have no idea where it came from. Characters just came to life, as if I swallowed inspiration and they all burst from my forehead. It was a strange experience, one I’ve had before but not for many years. It makes me understand the what the ancient poets meant when they said it was the Muses working through them. I felt as if I was merely taking dictation. The story wrote itself.

I had a feeling about that messy, complicated story that started to emerge. I worked at it months, developed a robust outline, turned in application and a writing sample…

And now, 1 year and 1 week after I began it, I will be formally beginning a writing program during which I will be doing a lot of skill-building and working toward having a complete first draft by next summer. Second year focuses on revising and editing.

I’m still a bit stunned. It feels so unreal – and I keep waiting for the universe to drop something bad on me to balance out the good. That’s how stories go, after all – the protagonist never follows a straight line. It’s obstacle after obstacle, it’s moments of doubt, it’s lots of questioning and sacrifice before they finally reach the end.

What challenges will come my way? Muses, gods, fates and faeries ~ be kind.

Prime

There’s a book I come back to periodically throughout my life – a strange piece of Scottish literature called The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

I encountered this book when I was quite young. I didn’t completely understand it the first time I read it, but it stuck with me. The main character, Jean Brodie, and her charisma were seductive and enchanting. I was a child, and easily charmed by such people, even in fiction.

[Spoilers ahead]

Continue reading “Prime”

Writer of the moonlight

Sunny mornings, thundery afternoons. That’s been the weather pattern lately, meaning the days start bright, but become gray by afternoon, making it seem later than it really is.

This weather has me thinking about things like light and dark.

Recently someone said to me, “I can see you writing some dark stuff.” They didn’t mean it in a negative way, just a sense they got, and they were spot on.

For those of us who write things that are a bit darker, there are reasons why we prefer the thunder to the sun.

Continue reading “Writer of the moonlight”

The faeries have disappeared

You can tell the difference between a dog and a coyote. I can’t explain how, exactly – but the first time you’re lying in bed on a warm spring night with the windows open, and you hear them in the distance – even though you didn’t grow up here, even though you’ve never heard the sound of coyotes howling on the plains – somehow, you know what you’re hearing.

It’s been more than a decade since I moved out here, and it still unnerves me.

A book I read said that faerie myths originated from fear. Fear of dark places. Fear of the woods, which were once wild and dangerous. Things that make no sense could be blamed on the small, dark creatures who crawled from the woods at night to poke about homes and peek in cradles.

When the world was wild and unknown, humans had to fear the night.

Continue reading “The faeries have disappeared”

Outline this.

I had a day off, and spent it drafting an outline.

I’ve never been one who was able to write to an outline. My stories like to go off on little weekend retreats without telling me then come back and start ordering me around with the pride and swagger of a newly hatched adolescent. Mostly they have no idea what they’re talking about, and refuse to listen to reason.

But when I try to force them to go in a certain direction, I always end up watching the story collapse in on itself.

I found that an important part of the writing process is figuring out your writing process. You only do that by writing.

Let go of the idea that the first thing you write will be the first thing you publish. For many people, it takes a while to get into your stride – to find your voice, your style, and how you work best.

Take classes and seminars and talk to other writers.

Then go home, forget everything you were told, and just figure out what works for you.

What works for me is this: Free write a loose first draft. Do a quick first round edit, where a loose outline is made and the story is split into sections.

And then I use the loose draft as a template, and essentially write over it. I never, ever get attached.

Honestly, there’s no right or wrong way to write. There’s just your way. I had to listen to what other writers do and try on a lot of different methods before I found what works for me.

That’s part of why they say if you can imagine yourself doing anything else, then do it. There’s a self-discovery element to writing that tends to vacillate between exhilarating and “OMG I need therapy.”

Today, I had to do an outline, because I’m applying for something that requires submitting an outline. I’m pretty sure my story is going to rebel now. I’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll be missing, only to turn up again in a few more days with new haircut and a few tattoos, including one of a heart with an arrow through it that says “Outline this” in big, bold letters.