Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Long Time No See!

It may seem quiet here on the blog, but it's been a busy, busy couple of months for me.  Ideas for posts occasionally circle my brain, only to be swept away by something more immediate or exciting.  But there's good news: the year is still fresh, and my energy is getting back to where it was.

Timeline of Events:

28 November - Thanksgiving
29 November - Jillian gets on a plane bound for the UK
30 November - Jillian and Michelle are reunited in Oxford and a ten-day visit begins.
30 November to 9 December - Jillian and Michelle spend time hanging out at coffee shops (particularly Cafe Nero at Blackwells) reacquainting ourselves with our old haunts, watching Chuck, Farscape, Haven & Doctor Who, going to pantos, taking walks, writing, Christmas shopping (the glorious Scriptum on Turl Street), taking cold medicine, etc.

Highlight, 6 December - Jillian goes to London by herself as she unwittingly gave Michelle a cold.  Visited St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower, navigating the London Underground solo.  Not a small feat for one born and raised in a Midwestern state that has no subway system.

9 & 10 December - the weary traveler makes it back to Nebraska and drives from Omaha back to Lincoln.
11 December - Jillian's car battery decides it doesn't like the frigid weather and promptly dies in the driveway.

Highlight - Jillian starts looking for a new apartment for herself and Ninja the cat.

25 December - Christmas.
6 January 2014 - Jillian finds a lovely little place with a view of Nebraska's capital. 
18 - 21 January - Jillian and Ninja move house.  Ninja puts up a fight characteristic of, well, a highly skilled ninja.  

Since then, it's been a matter of unpacking, rearranging, realizing what kitchen utensils I need, what furniture is still in limbo, getting a cat to adapt to new surroundings without a basement to throw her into.  All the while I've been painfully aware that I've not sent queries out for my novel in a long time, and that I need to get that particular wheel moving again.  

Perhaps it's just taken this long to regain my strength, my mental resolve, and keep at bay all of those doubts and devil voices that like to me that querying is useless, that my novel is crap, that I don't have a strong presence online anyway so why bother.  When you're anxious person, this is the reality, and it's just not helpful.  It drives you away from your everyday writing, the heart-stories and creative activities that define your day, your sense of self.  I don't want to give it up or shrink away so easily this year.

I want this year to be about forging ahead and hesitating less.  Call it a resolution if you will - or perhaps solemn goal is a better term.  Whatever it is, querying is one of those stages in the life of a book that can't be bypassed or jumped over or TARDIS-ed into oblivion.  No, the Doctor isn't going to pull me out of this one.  I have to do it myself.  

So I sent three queries this morning.  At the very least, I hope I'm continuing to learn something about this process, to think of this as a project and an opportunity and a leap of faith.  I am simply starting down the corridor again, and knocking on the doors.  Some day one of them will open.

open doors by kuronakko

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Spritz Christmas

When I was little, I came into a cookie tradition.  My parents were critical care and intensive care nurses who balanced their schedules so that someone was always home with their little girls.  Cookie-making was a way for keeping us busy.  And Christmas, of course, is the Season for Cookies. 

Every family has its special staple cookie - the one that has to be made each year in the same fashion because it won't be made at any other time of the year.  Cookies were an escape, a wonderful, creative distraction from the terrible weather, wet or dry, that characterizes Nebraska's bleak winters, mid- and late.  Without cookies, I somehow believed, Christmas wouldn't really come.

We made spritz cookies and almond bark-pretzel-m&ms cookies. The latter isn't really a cookie, but they were special.  Circle pretzels, with almond bark poured in and red and green M&Ms in the middle.  Before I was old enough to melt the almond bark myself, I remember watching Mom or Dad pour it into pretzels - there was something magic in watching the white sugary stuff fall from the spoon - pure liquid white.  As a child with a particular penchant for all things sugar and chocolate, this was a beautiful ceremony.  Still is, actually.

We did not make sugar cookies often.  I know we had the cookie cutters - stars and Santa Claus and Christmas trees - but they sat in a jumble in the kitchen drawer while Mom got out the old spritz cookie press and made a dough of flour and sugar and butter (three sticks), vanilla and almond extract: the aroma of the season.  I still have the old press.  Most of the parts are metal, and the thing is most likely twenty-five years old or older.  It's finicky, and falls apart easily.  I have a brand new plastic press that works like a dream, the latest in cookie press technology, but... 

"Haven't you thrown that old thing out yet?" Mom will probably ask when I visit for Christmas.  Well, no.  So much of my childhood is wrapped around this device, so many hours of watching her labor over a cookie sheet, pulling deformed blobs of proto-cookie off the sheet and begrudgingly throwing it back into the dough bowl.  She'd work until the pan was full of trees and stars and wreaths. Then my sister and I would descend with the colored sugar and the red-hots.  The old press doesn't make the cookies easy, but it did make it Christmas.  In the days when I imagined Santa dropping into our mantle-less house (we did have a chimney, but no fireplace), we always made sure there were spritz cookies waiting for him.


The don't make them like they used to.  
I'm thinking that this box might make an awesome handmade cover for a cook book.

 Mom eventually stopped making the spritz cookies.  You can't really blame her.  They're difficult to make and time consuming.  They're mostly butter and sugar, and are small enough that a handful are eaten at a time - the antithesis of a healthy diet.  But.  It's Christmas.

The spritz cookies would always ALWAYS go into the same blue tin.  Every year.  My parents tried to get rid of it years ago, but I took it with me because... well, my mouth waters and I sniff for that almond extract and vanilla smell every time I lay eyes on it.  Rest assured it has been washed several times since the '90s, but it is still "the" tin.  I was a kid listening to Grampy's Christmas tape, Julie Andrews was singing "Jingle Bells", and there was spritz cookie dough in my mouth (ah, the BEST dough EVER) and imagining the horse was really pulling that sleigh all the way around the tin.

What I appreciate about the cookies now is how easy they are to freeze and to give as gifts.  They go great with tea.  They're pretty and colorful without a thick smothering of icing.  They're bite sized (in some cases).  They smell heavenly.  Even as I make them now, I feel like that little kid aching for a taste of the dough, eager to mold it in my hands.  There is nothing quite like spritz cookie dough getting soft and buttery between in the fingers.  And as a writer, I find I need to cookie - do something purely tactile and savory - to get my brain working.  Kneading bread dough, chopping potatoes, simmering wine, decorating cookies so that they look like snowflakes - it all creates room in the brain for those stories to grow, to simmer.

The best Christmas gifts involve food and drink and sharing it with others.  Back in September I thought I should write stories and give them to people this Christmas.  That didn't happen.  Little stories aren't easy for me, and with the double stress of a trip to England in the first part of the month and a move sometime in the near future I turned to the simpler plan of cookies and puddings.  I'm glad I did.  These treats help us face the long dark of another winter of resolutions failed and met, of more snow and shivering and dying car batteries.

This winter I'll be back to getting those query letters out to potential agents.  I'll be looking for my first solo apartment.  I'll be writing a sequel to my novel and dabbling in the revamp of another.  I'll also have a few spritz with my tea, while my supply lasts.

And who knows?  I might make more for St Valentine's Day.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"I should be" Versus "I am"

Write and forget the rest of the world.
"Write and forget the rest of the world" by Mary Grace Ardiente de Castro on flickr

I often find myself plagued by the ubiquitous word "should." This author does this, therefore, I should be doing that, or I must do that.  The work clicks in when I measure myself against the success of other authors: failing to make a thousand or more words on a page, not getting anywhere with agents, not having time for my online writing community.  For whatever reason, negative messages pop up in brain like weeds and choke out all the good beautiful foliage that should be there:

- "I should have been trying to get pieces published in high school."
- "I should be getting up at 5 a.m. to write and fulfill a word quota for the day."
- "I should have been done with that story by now."
- "I should write this one story because it seems marketable."
- "I should be blogging at least once a week, in a witty and engaging manner using lots of graphics, video and subliminal messaging."
- "I should be tweeting and posting on Facebook and commenting in articulate paragraphs on other blogs and writing reviews on Goodreads and making social connections and...."
- "I should have more to show for my writing career."
- "I should go to that one writing conference because all the other up-and-coming writers are going, getting advice, getting agents."
- "I should be an extrovert."
- "I should be able to write anywhere and everywhere, even with a jackhammer right outside the office window."
- "I am doing this all wrong."

None of these are necessarily true, although it is strange how much we believe them.  And when, say, I physically cannot get myself out of bed at 5:00 to write, the whole day is ruined before it starts.  "I'm a bad writer!  I can't get my act together!  I'm not disciplined!  I only wrote one whole sentence today!"  And what of these fantasy writers who are getting agented all over the place?  Is this really true?  Is it really that easy?  Or is it just part of the negative static clogging our creative minds, keeping us forever in the past?

So we're not like that hypothetical group of successful, smiling, rich, creative, brilliant people. They are an illusion.  No one has an easy writing life.  Writing is freaking hard.  Period.  Writers come on a vast spectrum of disciplines and habits and quirks.  You may not be able to function at the writing desk without a shot of whisky, or maybe you need complete silence.  Some write in bed.  Others on the subway.  Some can write in little snatches on the go, others need to stick close to home base.   Or if you're Dan Brown, you need to hang upside down to get the creative juices flowing.  Where you fall on the spectrum of discipline and a quota of words is part of you. 

The point is we should be focused not on the writers we think we should be, but on the writers we already are and what we're accomplishing now

I'd thought the whole scenario of getting up early and getting work done made perfect sense.  And it did for a few days.  It did feel awesome to be up at 5:30 and writing away, but the weekends came, I'd sleep in and it turned out to be a very difficult routine to maintain.  I'd panic - there was no time or mental space to tinkering with my WIP at work (jackhammer noises coming from the elevator shaft - there is no quiet way to disassemble and replace an elevator) and by the time I'd get home, I'd be too beat to do anything creative.  Coming home at night is the bookend of the day - things are winding down, kitty needs to be fed, the trash taken out, my dinner made, the dishes washed, the shower taken.  So I've been spending time at a coffee shop not far from work for an hour to two afterwards.  I have found more enjoyment working there at my own pace, without the constraints of time than when I was forcing myself out of bed at an ungodly hour.  Who knew?

I haven't been measuring word counts, either, because I feel - especially with a tentative draft - it is a great way to perpetuate loads upon loads of meandering Nothing.  I cringe at the idea of National Novel Writing Month, of having to spit out 1,667 per day with little room for thoughtful brainstorming or rest.  But that's okay. Many people enjoy the exhilaration of diving right in, to "get 'er done!" as the great Nebraska philosopher Larry the Cable Guy says.  It just doesn't work for me.  There are times when quantity cannot replace quality. 

Personally, I feel like I've spent a great deal of time trying to imitate those visibly successful writers, join bandwagons and get swept up for a spell in a particular creative zeitgeist. I joined Twitter only to panic that no one was paying attention to me and that I couldn't write a 143 character tweet to save my life.  Nor did I have the energy to dance across the internet leaving an electronic trail of comments, shouting "I'm out here!  Pay attention to me!"  I hated myself for trying. 

There is no magic formula for success, particularly success in writing.  No set time frame.  No standard career plan.  And yet we still believe that if we hang upside down just like good ol' Mr. Brown, we might be just as successful - a wide readership, bestsellers, movies, mansions.  If we're smart or well-read enough we might get the Man Booker Prize like 28 year old New Zealander Eleanor Catton did this month.  And... if we don't we tend to think, "hey, I'm 28. I must have missed the mark and my big break.  My life is forfeit."  Bah.

The things we tell ourselves.

Of course, there isn't anything wrong with social media, with conferences, with challenging yourself, but in the day to day, while we're in-progress and still working full-time jobs, it is so much better to focus on the gifts and the circumstances we were given to continue on with our work.  To write because we're compelled and made to write, not to conquer everything in one day or judge the whole of one's budding career by a string of bad days or where others tell us we should be.  If we're trying our best to hone our craft and navigate the publishing world, that's success.  Success might take years and years.  It doesn't matter what it looks like to anyone else.

I return to Anne Lamott's advice about the one-inch picture frame: tiny assignments - write one description, one little sentence and see where it takes us.   And from there, just write moment by moment.  Focus on what can be done today, or this hour, or until the baby wakes up from his nap, not what "should" be done in a week or even a month.  Otherwise, writing becomes the ultimate in Sisyphean feats. We must follow a string, a stepping-stone path of little goals - keeping the future in mind but not comparing goals to others' achievements.  We're not "there" yet, but we will be.  When we do get there, it will look worlds different than how we imagined it.  Our job for now is simply to hang in there.  How you "hang" is completely your choice - not Dan Brown's, Stephen King's, Margaret Atwood's or Charles Dickens'. 

So.  Enjoy the ride.  Spread your wings at your own pace, exercise them everyday, practice flying further and further toward that horizon.  You'll get where you need to be soon.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Nugget of Wisdom

One little nugget of wisdom I ran across today: Lev Grossman, Time magazine critic and author of The Magicians, is "stepping away from the vehicle," much in the way that Anne Lamott would say to get out of your story's way.  He explains in a current post on his blog.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Through the Keyhole

"Hey, Jillian!" you exclaim.  "Where've you been?  You haven't written about anything since the garlic!  And you haven't changed the 'weekly quote' in weeks!"

"Around," I say, casually.  "Reading fabulous books.  Working on the first draft of a complicated novel.  Trying to get involved in an online writing group called Scribophile.  Disciplining a cat.  Ya know?"  

"Really?  Is that all?"

No, really.  I do feel at times that I'm galaxies away from Daedalus Notes, and it's hard to get back when so many other things are filling my head.  Such is the life of a writer: there never seems to be enough time or mental energy to give everything the attention it needs.  Sorry about that, readers!


You know I've been waxing poetic about Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird lately.  I read it twice in a row.  I'll probably buy it so that I can read it a dozen more times.  She simply speaks my language - not just because she understands the plight of passionate but anxious writers, but because she has conveyed wisdom in helpful, beautiful little metaphors richly sprinkled throughout her book.  One little image to which I keep returning is that of the one-inch picture frame: this focus beyond the storm of self-doubts and distractions that plague her when she first sits down to write.  It is a starting point, a little assignment to stoke the fires, silence the doubts and carry on.  And I love it.  She says:

"It reminds me that all I have to do is write down as much as I can see through the one-inch picture frame.  This is all I have to bite off for the time being.  All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running..."(Bird By Bird, page 17-18.) 

This image has come back to me repeatedly in the last several weeks.  A one-inch picture frame is tiny, perhaps the size of a locket.  It only has so much room to stay something.  Either you'd have to write in tiny, infinitesmal print or choose your words carefully.  

And then I happened to wander into Michael's, which is usually where I find myself on a casual artist's date.  There is so much - I don't know - possibility in craft stores.  I've always been excited by scrapbooking papers and embellishments, special pens and the smell of new journals.  In the midst of my perusal of clearance and sale items, I happened across a little (cheap) 2-inch picture frame, as well as a stack of fun Victorian-esque craft papers: images of keys and sprockets, flowers, butterflies, old letters and turn-of-the-century lovers under an umbrella.  And... a little image of a fancy keyhole.  Something clicked in my head.  And this is the result:

The frame is roughly 2 inches by 2 inches, but the keyhole itself is roughly one inch, and even tinier in places.  I have it on my desk to remind me of the starting point, beginning with the scene glimpsed through this tiny opening... so tiny you have to press your eye to it.  (Pretending of course, that it's a real keyhole below a doorknob in some deliciously old fashioned house.)  Only one image can fit in that little space, only a few words of truth, but they will launch you nonetheless.

So my frame and Ms. Lamott's frame are a little different, but I feel we understand each other.  The frame isn't what really matters - this $2 plastic-pretending-to-be-copper frame and a little piece of cardstock - but being able to silence all the noise in one's head so that we can finally sit down and listen to our hearts.  Focus on the keyhole, the squint, the slats between the blinds and write what you see, however you see it!

See you around!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Thoughts on Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

Once in a while, I stumble upon a work of prose that turns out to be a breath of fresh air and a genuine comfort to me.  I've recently discovered Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird, subtitled "Some Instructions on Writing and Life."  If you've not read this wise and funny little book, I recommend it. 

Bird in hand
Bird in hand by jcandeli 

It is always a great relief to discover someone who has also struggled with writing anxiety and has learned to thrive in spite of it.  It's also a comfort to know that I'm not the only one plagued now and again by the strange terror of dying suddenly before I can fix things in my work-in-progress. Bird By Bird is very much a conversation between Ms. Lamott and her readers about the process and perseverance of the writing life with an electric sense of humor.  Most of what she has to say I'd absorbed before in writing classes and workshops, but it was oh so good to read it again in her voice.  "We are just going to take this bird by bird," she says (p 20), in other words step by step.

One ray of sunshine that she offers us is the concept of the "shitty first draft."  In fact, it's not a concept - it's a fact.  "All good writers write them.  This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts... I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. (p 21)"  I need to pin this to my board (or my forehead), because I have do have a wild tendency to fantasize about published writers and the apparent ease with which they "should" be working.  But art isn't easy.  It's really hard, and yet really good.

Perfectionism messes us up and keeps us from completing anything: "the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.  It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and your shitty first draft" (p 28). Lamott emphasizes the beauty of sheer effort, perseverance, writing for the sake of the story, silencing the voices in our heads that tend to lead us off course.  Trust your intuition - the creative, irrational part of you, she says, "but be careful: if your intuition says that your story sucks, make sure it's your intuition and not your mother. (113)" 

We should be focused on story and conveying truth through our characters, getting to know them instead of forcing them to conform to some preset notion of what a story is. The thing is, we won't know what the story will be, what will happen unless we follow our instincts and continue unconsciously down the path of discovery. Ms. Lamott reminds us that we shouldn't write solely for publication, but to write to give something back to others, to let something out of ourselves.  "I tell you, if what you have in mind is fame and fortune, publication is going to drive you crazy" (214.) In other words: aim for the joy of story, not publication.

The over all message from this book that I intercepted was that the rest of the world will think I'm crazy, but that's okay.  It struck me that I should be writing a wider variety of things - bits and bobs, journals, bloggings, stories - persevering in them and pushing back the road blocks to enjoying the writing life.  I do have days when sitting down to my awful first draft (or any draft, if we want to be honest) feels like climbing Mt. Everest in 4 inch heels with a broken toe.  I'll just take a couple of deep breaths, put the nagging overly-rational voices aside and tackle the story - whatever it is - bird by bird.  Thank you, Anne Lamott. If we should chance to meet sometime I will greet you with a big hug.  

Monday, July 1, 2013


Words by Daniel Smith

I've spent the last month diving back into the sequel of my novel.  In so doing, I've had little brain space for tweets and blogs - I'm sure you understand what that's like.  The nature of the sequel is/will be quite different from its predecessor, as well, and I've had to acquaint myself with a totally different narrative personality (male and intense, as opposed to female and a bit naive) and backstory.  It is an intricate process not only familiarizing myself with the new voice but building the vector, or plot line, on which the novel will be going.  It's like juggling.  Or trying to pat your head while rubbing your stomach.

The hard part isn't so much writing from the point of view of a man, mercurial and deeply wounded, but keeping the outside world (and my worry over my place in that world) decidedly OUT of my writing.  Reading Jeanne Kisacky's post on "What Not to Think About When Your Writing" on Writer Unboxed this weekend definitely helped me on that score: don't think about your life; don't think about the industry.  She says "the fastest way to end creativity and lose the tenuous hold you might have on the gorgeous will-o-the-wisp which is your perfectly told story: think about the state of the industry and how it is all crashing down (in some form or another) while you write."  Yup.  Been there.  Done that.  Not pretty. 

It is difficult to ignore the fact that my first novel is still on submission and that I'm still waiting for someone (anyone!) to request a partial manuscript.  (Come on!  Just one!  Please!  Do you ever get to the point where you think you're annoying God with all of your prayers?)  Logic would dictate - hey, should you be writing the sequel before the first novel is, you know, "out there"?  Logic is wrong.  Writing, in fact, has very little to do with logic or common sense or whatever it is.  The fact is, I've long come to terms with the fact that this story demands to be told: Dorian's story and Sive's story.  This is my vector, and I know it's right,  even if the outside world makes me want to "cry havoc" or curl up in a ball under my desk. 

The important thing is that I'm writing and learning how to handle this purgatorial agent search.  In a few years time, I'll look back on this as just part of my education.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Creative Cartography

When I was a little girl, the first fictional map that took hold of my imagination was that of Neverland on the inside covers of my Peter Pan book.  All of the illustrations in that book are beautiful oil paintings - full of color and life from the veins in Tinkerbell's wings to the curl of Captain Hook's moustache.  The map, too, was created on the same medium and brought to life an island of coves and mountains, Indian camps and homes underground.  Here was Neverland in full relief, suddenly a real place.  Of course it was real.

I suppose it was no coincidence that maps began to show up in my writing.  From middle school into high school I spent a lot of time on that rudimentry program known as "Paint" in order to create the island-continents of the planet where my characters were from... ironically "Eiresta."  Once I painstakingly traced the contours of Ireland and England onto tissue paper and broke them up into smaller islands to form those continents.  Silly?  Maybe, but at the time I felt it was important.  I needed to map what I was seeing in my head, to make tangible the little backstories that were a heritage for my pseudo-quasi Celtic creations. 

In high school I lived, read, breathed, ate and dreamed Star Wars, which means that my little creative writing projects inevitably took that shape.  Inspired further by J.R.R. Tolkein's maps of Middle Earth, the map-obsession continued.  Imagine my delight when I discovered galactic maps of the Star Wars universe inside the novels I read.  Finally, I knew where Tatooine and Dagobah were in relation to Coruscant (or the Imperial City) and Alderaan!  This map was handwritten, imaginative, pretty.  It did not attempt to calculate light-years or the three-dimension distance each star had to one another.  It was art, not science - simple and beautiful.  Naturally, I had to add a few worlds into the mix:

My addendums are fairly obvious: they are written neatly on little scraps of paper and pasted carefully onto the map, tucked into corners between stars and across the spine of the page.  At the top right was Ceilte, Nabbeor and the starless Rift which served as a no-man's land between peaceful worlds and evil Euronia (which even the Empire was keen to avoid).  I could see it: pieces of the massive puzzle finally in place.

Years after leaving the Star Wars galaxy, I found myself writing a novel which took place much closer to home in North Yorkshire, Great Britain.  While I did, of course, study maps of northern England, I mapped something that came directly out of my writing - a piece of the moors that was entirely my own fairy land.  I created it because my characters drew it themselves, tracking their own footsteps through a childhood playground, through barrows that were supposed to be haunted, passed ruined abbeys to a mysterious coil of rock they called Adrian's Pass after a legendary monk.

I drew this by hand, and it was such fun imagining the terrain, the twists and turns and slopes my characters had to traverse.  Bleak Point was a memorial to people who had disappeared on Adrian's Moor.  Where the ridges begin to grow, the fog thickens giving way to visions of demons who look like Benedictine monks.  Rose Cottage (added later) was a dilapidated house the characters found and made into getaway accessible only on foot. 

Which brings us back to space.  Waterwill and its in-development sequel have their earliest roots in that old Star Wars project of mine.  Nowadays these stars (if they existed, that is) might be visible from Earth.  I'm envisioning a cosmopolis over five hundred years in the future where humans have expanded their horizons to other worlds.  A cosmopolitan "nexus" has formed around a new star, 61 Virginis.  It is called the Virgo Nexus because of this capitol.  It is almost twenty-eight light-years away from where the worlds around good ol' Sol (our Sun) continue to thrive.  Below are two maps-in-progress.  Though Waterwill is complete, I have gone back to reevaluate the (very) approximate distances between the stars and expand on the worlds between Virgo and Sol for the sequel.  I am finding this extremely frustrating.

This map contains a few "familiar" stars: Alpha Centauri, Altair, Vega, Arcturus, Sirius, Epsilon Eridani, Tau Ceti, Denebola, 55 Cancri, Castor, Pollux and Formalhaut.   I am trying to combine the fictional elements with the real stars, creating a sort of bridge between our home (Sol) and the Virgo Nexus.  The map above is supposed to be a "side-view"; the map below an "above view."

Like I said, this is a work in progress.  I've been working from several "star maps" from the internet, some helpful, some confusing.  I realized I am doing something here that I've never attempted before: that merging of fact with fiction.  The problem with these maps is that they represent two-dimensional thinking instead of three.  For example, Epsilon Eridani might be ten light-years from Sol or Earth, but it's at a diagonal away and below instead of simply ten light-years to the right.  On a 2D map, this diagonal would not properly register the distance... unless I got fancy with dotted lines and angles.  Last week, while I was away from the blog, I was busy pulling my hair out over the difficulty of showing distances as well as depths.  I was afraid of what mathematically-inclined people would say... how astronomers might snort at my imaginative calculations... how other science-fiction writers must have an easier (if not smarter) time of it than I do.

And then I realized "Hey!  This supposed to be art, not science!" Why did Star Wars appeal to me so much in the first place?  Because it wasn't concerned with the mind-twisting principles of relativity or a tangible explantion of hyperspace... or how the heck they actually have the capability of flying clear across a galaxy in a week's time (or less).  In Star Wars, these things simply were; no explanation necessary or required.  While my novels take place in Sol's interstellar backyard (or is it front yard?), and require a little more explanation as to how the vast distance is/was conquered by humanity, I simply see no reason to worry about whether or not Vega and Formalhaut are actually in their correct positions.  What matters is that they are part of the picture, part of that corridor between Virgo and home. 

And that's what I hope the maps, in whatever state of evolution, can show: pieces of the puzzle coming together to create a tangible world.  Everything else is just details: time, relativity, hyperspace. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cosmic Inspiration

I have been organizing my "Cosmic Notes" this week to refresh my memory on stars and planets and black holes.  For a non-scientist and one who is notoriously mathematically challenged, this is actually quite an interesting project.  I've begun studying maps of the closest neighboring stars to our solar system and envisioning a map between our "neighborhood" and the star systems that create the backdrop and setting for my novel(s). 

Everytime I go back "into" space I am fascinated by the possibilities.  This time around I'm learning about the habitable zone (the distance from a star that is neither too hot nor too cold, like Earth), the Heliopause, binary stars and pulsars.  More on these and other delightful things later this week.  For now, I wanted to share with you a link to Robert Krulwich's blog on the NPR site.  By some mad coincidence, he and I have both noted something very strange about the formation of our solar system. Compared to other systems under study, ours is quite atypical - our planets don't line up like those of other stars, we only have one sun, etc.  It makes me think of our knowledge of the universe is still quite limited, still Earth-centric, and still has room to grow.  Space is so weird.  Here's the link.   

Also, here's an interactive video called 100,000 Stars, a sweeping demonstration of our solar system, its star-neighbors and where we are located in the Milky Way.  Fascinating, breathtaking stuff.  Enjoy.

100,000 Stars

100,000 Stars infographic

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Where I Write

I always come back to Cassandra Mortmain: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."  

I myself am not sitting in the kitchen sink but at my desk.  My writing space is actually many places: this room, the kitchen and my sort-of-but-not-really office at work. But this is my primary space, and looking up from the page (er, screen), it's interesting to suddenly be conscious of the space I occupy, and how that creative side has manifested itself.  It's not just my living space, but my stories' space.

As Han Solo once said of his ship, "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts." This is the extent of my "space." A little to your left, and there's the bed (with a cat asleep on it).  A little to your right and there's the vanity.  But I have the essentials:

1.) Desk.
2.) Chair. (Not pictured.  Doesn't match desk, and I can't adjust it any higher without my knees hitting the drawers.  Not exactly an ergonomic arrangement for posture or keyboard. I recently took the arms off the chair so that I could actually push it in.)
3.) Computer.
4.) STUFF.  (I'll get to that.)
5.) Window.
6.) Two iPods - one that works, one that is only for my alarm.

On this last note, Stephen King advises against positioning your desk near a window, but to put it in a far corner away from distractions, closing the curtains if necessary.  In this house and the one I lived in before this, I have had my desk at a window.  I'm not entirely sure why this is - perhaps a way of imagining that I am in a tower looking down on the world, or else sitting in a spot that is guaranteed to bring me the most sunshine, and (if the weather is good) fresh air.  In early March, I watched a robin perched in a branch outside the window, shivering in the cold but determinedly waiting for spring.  If I'd heeded Mr. King's advice, I would not have had that moment.  The fact is, I like my mind to wander here and again.  Sure, a busy street isn't the prettiest sight to behold, but there is enough sky to make up for it.

This is the current face of my ever-changing cork board.  To the left are the images associated with the novel I completed recently (Waterwill). To the right are pieces from an older board dedicated to a novel that went Nowhere in six years (Adrian Saint).  For years, the Adrian Board has been separate from the Waterwill board, perched precariously on the cork board's top (where the owl is).  It took me forever to take Adrian down.  I mean an eternity.  I might have been clinging to the old dream of the thing, or perhaps it gave me comfort, some hope that Adrian was (and still is, mind) waiting for me to come back to it.  As a whole, the board gives testimony to my need for visuals: to actually see face, cellos and stars, old maps, old keys and pocket watches, waterscapes and drowning islands, spindles, portcullises, Doctor Who, old libraries, crows and cloisters.  Here, my novels are alive.

A close up of the desktop.  It is usually not this nice.  Over the course of a week, it gets inundated with notes and lists, books, random purse-items.  When it's cleared off, like it is now, I can write with relief.

Partial window view.  Sometimes the computer is over on the other side, but most often, I like to sit where there is the most light. 

A highlight.  This is my grandfather's abacus.  I can't remember how it wound up in my possession - I've had it a long time.  All I know is that it makes interesting wall art.  I haven't the faintest idea how to use it, either, so it embodies a mystery.

Detail.  One of those Willowtree figurines, the Angel of Learning. Previous finished journal which I won't put away because it has Things I Might Need.  The Q&A journal.  A card of writing motivations.  And "edible ball-bearings" (Perles du Sucre d'Argent) from Michelle, paying homage to a Doctor Who episode we love.  (I haven't had the heart to eat them!)

Detail. In the corner bookcase we have my other journals. Guess which ones are blank and which ones are full to capacity!  Also, a bell from a wedding reception in 2010.  Decorative gourd from Mexico (holds buttons).  Part of my other owl.

Detail.  Some things just happen a certain way.  My life is not art.  Sometimes it resembles a jumbled mess of things I don't know what to do with but Might Need.  Hence, we have (dry) calligraphy pens to an old vase, a camera in a teacup, old Christmas and birthday cards, a thesaurus I haven't used in years, The Artist's Way and Mr. King's book, and a French dictionary.  (Latin is at work, otherwise it would be here somewheres.)  At least it's colorful, right? 

And last but not least, what makes blogging easier is a nice cup of tea.  In this case, steaming away on the desk beside me, some delectable, decaf Chai.  Sometimes it's green.  Other times it's black, peppermint or ginger.  Trader Joe's has a seasonal green tea called Crimson Blossom, filled with all sorts of goodness; it starts out green and turns red as it steeps.  Believe me, there's nothing better than a spot of tea and fresh air moving through an opened window to help along an afternoon of furious blogging.

I don't know exactly what a full analysis of my space can tell you about my life as a writer.  I hope it says that I try to use what I have to make life more interesting, that I try to think outside the box from inside in this room, that I get carried away.  But isn't this like blogging, itself?  A collection of thoughts put together in the best order we can make of them?  That is in itself art - unintended maybe, but beautiful nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 202:


cannot be overcome, subdued or vanquished; unconquerable, unyielding; not giving into defeat.

Light by Jidhu Jose on flickr

The events of yesterday have taken a toll on our spirits.  Thinking of and praying for Boston and the friends I have there, quaking in the aftermath of the Marathon bombing and the terror that has our nation quaking once again, I now there is resilience in dark times, that the human spirit can overcome this with sparks of our own light.  Brought together, those sparks can make a glorious, indomitable, unquenchable fire to chase the dark away.  Light is hope.  Hope is light. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 199:


bad handwriting

Surely you know that cacophony is "harsh sound." In that same vein, cacography is both "bad spelling" or "bad handwriting."  I take this to mean that when you attempt to sit down and read something border on chicken-scratch illegibility, your head begins to hurt... like your reaction to hearing the classic horror-sound of fingernails a-clawing on a chalk board.  In other words, harshness of writing.  When I come across passages in a novel that could have been better edited, I cringe in the same way. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 192:


dwelling or situated on an island.  This has come to mean narrow-minded, as well as isolated and detached.

a Croatian island by Sphinx

Lately, I've come to realize the value of writing in an island mind set.  This is similar to my ideas in the post on hermetic, writing in an air-tight environment, keeping the door shut and visualizing Schrodinger's cat.  "Island writing" would point not only to keeping things contained, but also separating oneself so nothing can come in.  This is a challenge in the internet age where were swamped with commentary and blurbs and tweets and informational flashes everywhere we turn.  There is also a greater pressure for writers, especially for beginning, unpublished writers such as myself, to "build our platforms" online or create a following on Twitter, as well as visiting blogs, keeping blogs, reading, reading, reading the insights of others out there in the world.  It is confusing and exhausting.  When most of the time, all I want to do is write.

I've noticed that several months on Twitter leave me feeling this way at times.  Don't worry, I'm not about to leave the community, I'm simply taking this network with a grain of salt.  When those I follow tweet about insightful blog posts or articles, I am grateful.  Those things are innocuous, helpful and encouraging.  Some people really have a knack for crafting lovely, funny or intriguing tweets.  Yet... sometimes it amounts to a lot of distracting visual noise.  Too much of a good thing: read me! read this! you should be doing this!  you never should do that!  Ahh!

Much of this might be due to my struggles with anxiety.  When tweets suddenly feel like commentary on my personal writing life, I know it's time to retreat over the moat, pull up the drawbridge and write alone and unbothered in the tower... putting some distance between myself and others until the energy is back.  Just retreat and write.  It's all good!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wisdom from Oscar Wilde

The Telegraph yesterday featured an article on a recently discovered letter that Oscar Wilde wrote to a would-be writer around 1890.  It felt like he was speaking to me from the dawn of the last century:

Oscar Wilde

"The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread, and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer... Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid but ask of art to sacrifice itself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you."

To me this sounds like: "so you're a novelist who earns her living as a receptionist? Excellent!  You're able to let your art remain art!  I know you dream of one day earning your living by your novels, but it might not be as rosy as you think.  Until then, use this time to grow as a writer and a student of language and see where it takes you.  You might go farther than you think."  Thank you, Mr. Wilde.


In a similar vein, author Matt Haig also had thirty pieces of encouraging wisdom to share via the Telegraph. My favorites were:

  • Being published doesn't make you happy.  It just swaps your old neuroses for new ones.
  • Success depends on great words and passionate people.  The words are up to you.  The people you have to pray for, and stand by them once you have them.
  • Beauty breeds beauty, truth triggers truth.  The cure for writer's block is therefore to read.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 186:


This is a child's toy that operates in a whirling motion, like a pinwheel, a weathervane or the seed pod from a maple tree blown by the wind.  More generally this means one that continuously whirls or changes or is constantly in motion.  A whirligig more universally can describe a whirling or circling course of events, particularly those out of our control.  This describes my writing life 80% of the time.

As the whirligig whirls

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 183:


This adjective describes something that is lacking in any sort of nutritive value, or (aside from food) without significance or interest, or something that is generally simplistic, naive or superficially rendered.  This is from the Latin jejunus, meaning "barren or fasting".  Somewhere along the line this came to mean "not intellectually nourishing." (Oxford Dictionaries)

It's important to be conscious of how we're feeding ourselves intellectually, because that will feed into the writing we produce.  The things we read - from novels to newspaper articles to tweets - can either amount to tons of cake or a bowl of highly nutritious blueberries.  Too much television is comparable to a surfeit of caffeine. Are we going for the superficial and the sugary or the vitamins and antioxidants?  Are we learning?  Or are we merely being entertained?  Are we energized or left feeling tired?  Believe me, I struggle with these things all the time.

Blueberries are better than cake.

I've learned that staying intellectually healthy may include:

  • Not letting Twitter run your writing life.
  • Reading "new" things - books and stories outside of the comfort zone, whatever that may mean.
  • Getting off the internet (ahem, Pinterest) and the computer and basking in some quiet time.
  • Taking walks without the aid of an iPod soundtrack.
  • Reducing caffeine intake.  
  • Keeping a journal and writing by hand (to maintain tactile connections between the act of writing and the connections made in the brain).
  • Watching television sparingly.  I don't believe that television is completely bad for us, because it is an alternate form of storytelling... although I find it is not very helpful on terms of craft.  Nothing clears the brain faster after a stressful day than losing oneself in an episode or two of something that makes me wonder about life.
  • Getting out of the chair.  We tend to work best planted in a sedentary fashion - there really is no way around that.  But getting up and moving around pushes blood into the brain and keeps us thinking.  Do it!
  • Sleep!

Monday, March 4, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 174:


 oil lamp
by louveciennes

to express studious efforts, working (composing, studying, reading) by lamplight.  I suppose this might be where "burning the midnight oil" comes in.  Whether it's late at night or early in the morning, we all put this to practice because art is calling us.  And there is something about a single lamp (whether electric or flame-illumined) lit in the dark, quiet hours that promises peace. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Confessions of an Anxious Writer: Episode II

Episode II:  Playing Chess

By Old One Eye on flickr

I've found recently that novel writing is like playing a continuous, unhurried game of chess with oneself.  When it comes to anxiety, this has been good - not as a mere distraction - but a problem-solving exercise. 

I have to admit, I'm not very good at the actual game, but my own sort of chess tends to challenge me in similar feats of strategy.  Instead of trying to defeat an opponent and losing pieces, I try to execute a scene with the best combination of plot, character nuance, and word choice, as possible.  Particularly in the early drafts of a novel, when the story is just beginning to emerge and could become anything under the sun (or beyond the sun), what grabs my attention is the great puzzle of Making It Work.  

Each draft is a testing ground, with the squares clearly marked and the pieces in place - each character, each event that I have mapped out (more or less solidly), every possible "move" visible.  I learn by testing the waters.  If I put my main character in situation A, I can see how a secondary character might react or retaliate, resulting in situation B.  Instead of checks, I can move backwards, retracing my steps and write them again, taking a different path to achieve my goal and seize a particular square on the board.  Writing and rewriting (and re-rewriting) teach me particular patience, especially with myself: "Okay, that doesn't work.  What can I move around to make it work?  Ah, have A come into the room instead of C, and have B listen in from the other room..."

This is a kinder game than chess actually is, but it is no less strenuous.  In chess, the queen, knights, bishops, rooks and pawns move to protect the king.  If the king is check mated, the game is over. In writing, each piece is an element (characters and events), maintaining the forward momentum and central focus of a story.  If the king falls, I know what can be fixed, and made better.  I have an arsenal of queens at my disposal.

When it comes to my chronic anxiety, this game of chess is not an escape but a calming technique.  Everyday life is invariably out of our immediate control, and anxiety sufferers feel this deeply.  While there is no way to remedy that, the plot tangles and twists I create provide a puzzle that can almost always be solved.  Most of the time this has a particular organizing and calming affect.  Other wise, being in the midst of the story is an excellent gauge of my anxiety: if I am suddenly worried about a plot line or not being able to make something work, I know it is probably time for a rest... to put the pieces away for a day or two and come back to the scenario when the brain has cooled down.  The best way to cool down?  Using a different part of my brain.  I often resort to Latin exercises when I'm stressed, which requires more logic. 

I will always be prone to seasons of self-doubt.  That is unavoidable for us all. The bottom line is that the challenge of writing, my most natural way of interacting with the world, has not only shown me where my limits are, but where my strengths lie.  And the wonderful thing is that having the courage to complete the game will make me stronger and more patient with myself. 

How has writing helped you through your challenges?

Monday, February 18, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 160:


A quantity that has magnitude and direction, generally represented by a directed line segment, the length of which represents the magnitude while its orientation indicates direction.  More simply, vector is a course or compass direction.  I like to use to the word vector as an alternative to "plot", because more often than not, I find that my novels and stories tend in certain directions of their own volition, and that the only way to know where they're headed is to travel with them, using an outline as a compass only to keep my bearings.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Confessions of an Anxious Writer: Episode I

A Story

In the future, I hope to share my experiences living with anxiety as a writer.  The best way to begin our first episode is with a story.   

In the fall of 2005, I was taking the second exam in my favorite class, England from 1066 to 1688. I'd been studying hard, but it hadn't felt like studying because the stories of medieval England, as told by my engaging professor, had sparked my imagination.  It should have been an easy, fun exam (if there is such a thing): a few paragraphs describing Joan of Arc, the War of the Roses, the dramatic death of Richard III and the reign of Elizabeth I.

But something happened that I had not expected: a melt down.  (I mean, why on Earth hadn't it happened in that awful statistics class?)  I remember sitting there in the classroom, quiet but for the sounds of other students' pens and shuffling papers, and suddenly feeling all the knowledge I had packed into my brain evaporate, leaving my head empty... making plenty of room for panic.  I found myself completely unable to write - paralyzed and ashamed and terribly confused. 

What a blessing it was that Professor Carole caught sight of me turning a bright shade of crimson, biting down on my hand to stifle any sounds as the tears streamed down my face. She gently coaxed me out of my chair and into the hallway.  "Go home and rest," she said. "You can take the exam when you're feeling better.  There's nothing to be ashamed of."

This was just one of many stories I can tell you from my life that fell into place when I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) in college.  I knew I'd been an excessively worried and weepy little girl and teenager, but no one had ever been able to tell me why.  These days I can tell you plainly: my brain produces too much serotonin.  I am not overly sensitive or twitty.  It's the way I was made.

Writing and Anxiety

As a writer, this self-knowledge has been extremely helpful, especially as the writer's path is by nature precarious.  Having set out to publish a novel and knowing that it might take years for this dream to be achieved, I know it is not for the faint of heart.  Though early in the process, I have been beset by anxious thoughts, an internal Sturm und Drang of doubts and fears mixing with the desperate desire to get my story out there.  As you know, the direct way for an unpublished writer to begin that journey is to appeal to literary agents via (hundreds of) query letters - a subjective process that can either make or break you.  Arguments for practicality and "common sense" would ask, understandably, why on Earth I'd choose this path when it is 1.) uncertain and an indirect path to "success", and 2.) likely to expose me to more anxiety-causing situations.  In other words, isn't writing the stupidest thing you could do?

Far from it.  Throughout my life, but especially now in my late twenties, I have realized how much writing has been a natural survival mechanism.  My days are better and calmer when I stick to a self-prescribed regimen of at least 2,000 words per day - 2,000 words most likely spent world-building in my novels.  Somehow said activity balances the chemicals in my brain.  I equate this to having a C-drive cleaner on your PC; writing gets rid of the chemical junk and allows my brain to function better.  Writing is the one thing I know I can rely on for solace and steady ground.  It is not simply a fun little hobby I picked up in childhood and was never quite able to grow out of like a child and a beloved stuffed animal.

Writing is not only an enjoyable activity, but a lifestyle.  It is something that I love, something that brings order to my otherwise chaotic world.  The more I learn about craft, the more I learn about myself, and the more I want to bring my stories to the world to share with other people.  For these reasons, the uncertain road to publication becomes less daunting and more of a necessary learning experience.  That does not mean my anxiety will ever fully go away.  It does mean that facing anxiety-provoking situations is a necessary risk (or self-challenge) for the sake of art. 

Again, I think of what Stephen King said: art is a support system for life, not the other way around.  He was talking about a desk, but this can be applied more broadly.  Art is medicine, the antidote for situations out of our control.  Let's face it: much of the human experience is out of our control.  Finding out how to make that art work beautifully is our most important quest.  No one else can take that journey for you.  

Plain Facts About Anxiety

  • Anxiety is characterized by exaggerated worry and tension, though there might be nothing specific to provoke it.  A person with Generalized Anxiety constantly anticipates disaster, or a combination of any number of snowballing crises such as health, money, family or job-related stresses.
  • Anxiety is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters (messenger chemicals) in the brain.
  • Anxiety disorders are chronic.  They are not the result of someone simply "not dealing" with their problems.  An anxiety disorder is about how someone was made, not about their choices.  Seeking (or not seeking) treatment in counseling and in medication is a choice.
  • Telling an anxiety sufferer to "get over it" is unhelpful, and might make his or her anxiety worse.
  • Anxiety is hereditary.
  • Anxiety is often closely connected to depression.  
  • Twice as many women as men suffer from anxiety.
  • In brief, methods of treatment can include: 1.) Medication to balance out the chemicals, 2.) counseling, which will give you the tools to change how you approach your anxiety, your triggers and your mechanisms of coping, 3.) exercise, 4.) eating right and staying hydrated, 5.) get plenty of sleep, 6.) reducing the time spent on social networking sites.



to a blog by three people who write, for anyone else who wants to write. It's a cruel world for creators, and here we promise support, whimsy, and curiosity that will hopefully keep your pen moving and keyboard tapping!

To read more about why Daedalus Notes exists, click