Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Where Writers Get Their Ideas. And Their Paranoia.

Okay.  It's winter.  What one might call "The Dead" of this season.  Lake E is locked down under an unknowable number of inches of ice and about ten inches of snow.  The quiet presses in.  The sky is sulking.  Even the wind is sleeping.  The writer is frozen in place. Stir crazy.  Cabin feverish.

That might explain it.

This object arrived last night. Shipped by Amazon.  Delivered along with another package ordered from Amazon.

"What is this?"
"I ordered the other thing, but nothing else. Did you order something?"
"What IS this?"

Well, there it was. A largish manilla envelope, very heavy for its size.  Sent to Ann Hogsett by the vast, intricate, rapacious, behemoth from its vast, intricate, rapacious, behemoth "Fulfillment Center" in Lexington, Kentucky.

Sent to me.  Not ordered by me. Very. Heavy. For. Its. Size.

So I am a writer.  I write mysteries. I watch Castle and The Blacklist -- lately a very, very heavy binge diet of Red Reddington.

So.  OMG.  Here's what you should do when you get a package you didn't order that weighs more than a manila envelope should reasonably be expected to hold. You put it down. Gently. You grab your spouse and the cat, not necessarily in that order -- especially since Spouse is chortling, "Oh, yeah. It's a bomb all right. No question about it.  Yuck, yuck, yuck."

You should sprint from your house through the snow to a "safe distance" and then you should think "BLEVE!" because a thriller writer/explosives expert guy, named John Gilstrap, has recently acquainted you with the Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion which you've planned for Book 2 of the current series and which you like to think of as the Big Loud Extra Very Explosive explosion. And realize you should run at least to the front gate. For starters.

And what did I myself do?  I unleashed some swearing at the Spouse and ignored the involuntary increase in heart rate.

Then I opened the envelope.

And found that thing.  It looked kind of like a bottle of balsamic vinegar.  That weighed about 2 pounds. Sealed in a heavy plastic bag. Smooth. Slick. Cold  It had a yellow cap that said, "Remove yellow cap before installation."

Balsamic Death Bomb.  Obviously.

I did the next best thing to the run-to-the-gate maneuver.  I put it in the garage.  Ha.

I took the (radioactive, I was pretty sure) envelope to the laptop, checked to make certain I had not somehow zoned out and ordered a Black Vinegar  Bomb of Extinction.  (BVBE.)  And then used my extraordinary sleuthing/hacker skills to find Amazon's phone number.  (I'm good.  I'm really good.)

I got the sweetest guy on the phone. So helpful and kind.  He explained after considerable searching that the item I had a tracking number for "does not exist."

Oh, man

He assured me that since the item did not exist, I did not need either to pay for it or return it.  The BVBE was mine all mine.

Cool.  So, I did the sensible thing.  I reviewed in my mind everyone at Amazon who might have cause to want to blow me up. Starting with Jeff Bezos and working my way through the folks who are sick to death of sealing up another smiley box on my behalf.  I decided that this number was unimaginably large and therefore I should forget the whole thing.  Have dinner.  Watch an Elementary.  Start speaking to the spouse again.

So what IS that thing?  I'll tell you what.  This morning -- both calmer and dumber at the same time -- I went out and looked at the sealed plastic bag and read the teeny little label:  "Replacement Short Office E.../Adjustment Range - S6103. New."

It's an Office Chair Lift Cylinder Pneumatic Thingie.  Worth $27.00.  And not, apparently, lethal at all.  It just makes a chair go up and down.

Somewhere out there this morning is a guy whose chin is resting on his desk.  Poor thing.

And how about me? Am I older?  Wiser?  Less paranoid?


I am in possession of a thing from that doesn't exist.

There's got to be a story in there somewhere.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When a No Is a Yes.

"It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey."
~ Wendell Berry

In the middle of last week I finally heard from the agent who was considering the first hundred pages of Somebody's Bound to Wind Up Dead.  As many of you know, she'd been considering it for six months. Actually, it had been lost for four of those six. So for two months. Her response was gracious, kind, encouraging. She liked it, it was good, I should not give up.  And so on.

And no. It was not for her.

Basically, I was relieved because I don't think I'd ever have the guts to say no to an agent's yes. And although she was kind and encouraging, based on things she's written online about what she's looking to represent, my novel did not seem to be a very good fit for her. Today's agent really needs to find a good fit. I so get that. Therefore, I'd already moved on. About 97% on. 96% maybe. 94%?

What ensued then was what I can see now was kind of a mini dark night of the soul. I had traveled from Ohio to the Rocky Mountains last summer (in the company of my extraordinary spouse) to meet this agent who had judged my entry to be a finalist in the writer's contest for the Crested Butte Writers Conference. I could tell from things she said that she appreciated a lot of things about the novel that I myself think make it special. She'd had a chance to meet me face to face in all my charming irresistibility -- and still she said no.

Moreover, I'd finally permitted the whole screaming flurry about The State of Traditional Publishing and Publishing In General to penetrate the carapace of my resolve to a) find an agent b) get a publisher c) become a real bunny after all.  The odds against against that happening -- especially that last thing which is not now nor has it ever been in the purview of publishing -- seem vast.  So very vast.

So there it was.  The freaking abyss.

I fell right on in. I sulked about this, my lost grail. Wept some over it.  Ate a few -- well, maybe six -- brownies for it. (Good choice, IMHO.) And felt really, frighteningly, adverbially lost for ... I think it's been exactly one week.  The question I kept asking myself was, "What am I going to do with myself?  Who am I if I'm not a writer?  Wherever will I go? It's too late to take up figure skating."

Then last night I was burrowing through some old emails and I stumbled upon the Wendell Berry quote I've posted above.  It seemed kind of fuzzily apropos.  I put it back in my email signature and this morning it all came into focus for me.  At last.  So I'm sharing.

Oh, for Pete's sake.  Here's who I am:  I'm a writer.  I've been a writer since I was about eight.  I can't remember when I wasn't one.  I'm a writer washing dishes.  I'm a writer driving my car. I'm a writer, eating brownies.  I'm a writer, most especially, when I'm writing anything at all.  And when I'm in gear, fully, physically, word-to-page writing, in that space between Infinity and the keyboard of my laptop?  Then?  I am a writer as deeply, profoundly, miserably, exaltedly as any writer can ever be. What's more I've been an author since I finished my first of four complete novels in 1997.  Writing is not publishing, it's ... ummm....writing.  And letting people read what you write.

Will I ever find an agent? Maybe. Who knows. I haven't given up. Will I ever be published?  Oh maybe.  I hope so.  Will I ever -- and this is the only question that makes any difference whatsoever to me at the end of all things -- have readers?  Heck. I have readers.  Honey, I have you.  Every single reader counts like crazy.

I'm not sure why this feels like such a revelation to me. Maybe because I'm a prisoner of my time and place like everybody else on this beautiful planet. I believe I actually subconsciously thought I'd have to give it all up if I couldn't sell it. That I equated "real writer" with "best selling author."  That's my good old "real bunny" problem again.  Everybody has one.  Let's all make a pact to give that one up and be our own real bunnies all the time.

This post is mainly for all my dear and devoted friends and readers who've been waiting for six months to hear from that agent, too. Hey, thank you, my beloved people, for caring, for reading, for liking my books, and for loving me. All y'all are the best. The very best.


P.S. This post is also for some other folks who are part of my life, my one and only writing life.  Perrin, Lefty, Ed Brown, Ananda; Tim, the Aunts -- Luticia and Monica -- Maylene, Mr. Kim;  John Pritchard, Andy and Emily Corrigan, Emmett Chapman and Archangelo Bianchetti; Allie, Tom, Margo, Rune, Tony, Diana, Otis; Agatha, Liam, Arthur, Doc, Virgil, Hastings. I know you. I know how you talk, what you'll do, what you want, what you're thinking, and what's going to happen to you next.  Some of the time.  Sometimes y'all get to drive and I get to sit in the back and enjoy the view. You guys, I may never make you famous, but I will never, ever forget you or throw you away. Promise.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Poem For Christmas Eve

We're always supposed to read a poem or something at our December book group and I can never find anything I can read without crying -- nothing, not even the stupid stuff.  So I always end up writing something to read.  Which should help but this year's poem was unreadable in the crying department. 

I seem to only write poems at Christmas time and it takes severe chutzpah to share them because poetry is not necessarily my thing. (This is an ecumenical sentence.  I like it a lot.) But this poem is for sharing with my friends.  (And Mark Zuckerberg, of course, because he always reads my posts.  I see you, Mark. You think I don't but I do.)  It is my Christmas wish for all of us everywhere. Sometimes wishing is about the best you can do.

Merry Christmas, O Blogosphere!  May you find peace and joy.


The Christmas Door

Ah!  Here is the door to Christmas,
the Christmas we loved, the one we remember
even if it happened to someone else
in a book, a movie, or on TV.
Somebody else’s sacred dream.

But anyway.
Here we all are at the door.
All of us.

See?  It is wondrously carved and polished.
Run your fingers over the holly wreath.
Trace the leaves and berries,
the labor of years.
Touch the handle. Is it gold?
It must be.

Behind this door is the one warm and welcoming room
where all is calm and bright.
The fragrance of pine, cinnamon, and bay.
Fire on the hearth.
Carolers outside the windows.
(Mullioned windows, I’m pretty sure.)
Presents under the tree.
Of course there is snow.

The baby is in the manger.
His promise still perfect.
It’s all in there.

Every year we all stand outside this door of our own making.
All. All of us.
Trying to figure out how to get ourselves back in.

Now, here is a secret:

Every ridiculous exhortation of advertising,
every frenzied trip to the mall in the snow,
every single cookie, even if it’s from a package, icing hard as nails.
All of it.  All that we deride and regret.
All that we strive for and fall short of.
All that makes us tired and cross;
disappointed, aggravated and bereft.
All. All.  All of it.
Is outward sign of an inward truth:

We would all run ourselves ragged and spend ourselves poor
to gather ourselves and our loved ones again
inside this lighted room of our own dreaming.
To have it sing to us again.
All.  All.  All of us. Every one.

And here is the gift, the true and lasting gift, at last:
We are bound by this sacred dream to one another.
By this mutual longing for light and love
and singing in the night, we
are made one.

It binds us, lifts us, heals us.
It is our common soul, this truth in the heart.
This longing. This Christmas dream.
Whatever this is, we are all in here together.
All.  All.  All of us. 

God bless us every one.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Poem for the Solstice

This is it. This is the night. The dark tide draws back. Not much. Not far. But enough. We have been marking this moment since we were almost without words. We used our brute strength to build mighty monuments to it. Stone circles raised in hope and in reverence for the mysteries of the universe and of our lives. When food was hard to come by. When warmth was elusive. We gathered together to celebrate this turning point. From here until June, the light cascades back.  The dark will fail. The light will come. Tomorrow will be brighter, even if we are too busy to notice.

I have often wondered what it was like for those early almost-humans, and a couple of years ago, I wrote this for them. 

December, 50,000 BCE
A Poem For The Solstice

What is this?
The world has grown dark. 
Sunrise is later every morning. 
Sunset comes too soon. 
It creeps ever back into the day.
Soon it will surely crowd the morning. 
What will we do when the darkness is forever?

We listen to the sound the wind makes in the night. 
And the night is so long.
We don’t remember the warm time. 
Or if we remember, we say, “Perhaps it wasn’t real.”

The fire is all we have.
When we must go out, we take it with us.
It gives us shadows, then, but no respite from our fears.
We sleep as much as we are able. 
We eat whatever we can find.
Our dread of darkness mingles with the sadness of everything we don’t understand.
Where we came from.  Where we go.
We weep here and don’t know why.

We are attuned, stretched taut, to any change that might appear to be for the better.
So, when today gives us more light than yesterday, we rejoice.   
Light of the World.  We cry out to thee.
Our joy is spare, like a bone gnawed in hunger. 
But it is clean and bright.
It is warm.  Like something newborn.
Light of the world. 
Object of our deepest longings.
We wait in darkness. 
And our waiting is a prayer.
Light of the world.  
We pray for mercy.  For pity.  For redemption.  For any explanation.

In these days of inconsequentially less darkness,
And virtually no additional light,
We celebrate the coming of this sun.   

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Postmaster

Hey, all y'all.  I'm posting today with the awesome sisters of the Mojito Literary Society in The MLS Halloween Blog Tag.  True (trust us) ghost stories, one a day, between here and All Hallows Eve. Bwahahaha.   Now go read more scary stuff at the Society. 

Of all the more colorful ghosts in my small West Virginia hometown—the woman who shot her mother, the man who killed one, or was it both, of his parents with an axe—my phantom, the one who came calling that night in Apple Alley, was merely the Postmaster. Unremarkable in life. Doggedly persistent in death. Vengeful to the depths of his sorry soul.

We should never assume that the unpretentious apparition is not the one to be reckoned with. A ghost is a ghost is a ghost.

The Postmaster lived with Mrs. Postmaster, who was also The Postmistress, in a pretty cottage on the main street of town. Whatever else might have gone awry in his life, the house must have been his refuge, his satisfaction, his place of pride. At some point he told someone—someone who remembered and entered it into the saga of the town—that he was NEVER going to leave that house.

Then he died. There was a funeral. There was a burial. After that, he headed on home. His wife was still there for company but then she died, too. And when they drove her over to the IOOF cemetery, she stayed where she was planted. The Postmaster had the house all to himself.

For awhile.

Then an enterprising young couple with two lovely children and a cat named Olive Jones converted it into a bed and breakfast. Now there were guests. Things got crowded. And that’s when we showed up—for a class reunion weekend—in the room at the top of the stairs under the peak of the single gable, in the old bed that “came with the house” courtesy of the man who still preferred to sleep there. Alone.  

They told us about their ghost. I knew him by name, of course. Remembered his face and his wife’s, both of them staid and efficient, managing our mail. The young innkeepers were quite merry about how he was still around. He was good for business now. The frisson of dread was entertaining at breakfast.

3 o’clock in the morning? No.

I remember moonlight filtered through lace. The silence everywhere. City people forget how still the night world can be in a lightly inhabited town. Still, still, still. Except, of course, for the sound of footsteps on the stair. Slow. Heavy. Closer and closer, as I rifled my mind for a reasonable explanation. Here’s what I came up with: The Postmaster is now standing right outside the bedroom door.

I slipped out of bed, shivering in the sultry August dark. I stopped at the door. Now what? We were facing each other with two inches of old oak between us. I put my palm on the wood. He laid his on the other side. Palm to palm, me and The Postmaster’s ghost. I know this because my sweaty hand bonded to the door as flesh always does when it touches frozen iron. And I know because our minds froze together, too, and he showed me exactly what it was like to be dead.

It was not what I expected.

Ghosts are realer than you. Truer than a Monday. More forever than a Sunday afternoon.

And here. We are right here.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Life As A Crappy First Draft

So Anne Lamott, among others, is an enthusiast of the Crappy First Draft. She says she writes only those. That all her first drafts are crappy or they are nothing at all. I myself secretly doubt this because I believe she's practically perfect in every way and merely trying to make the rest of us feel encouraged. That is so like her.  I believe that Anne Lamott, kind and generous, wants the best for me. So I accept her CFD admonition as pure truth. I believe it.  I do this for her. Out of devotion.  And, okay, yeah, I do it for me, too.

To be perfectly honest, I derive an enormous amount of encouragement and solace from my crappy first drafts. They are the buffer between me and my inner judge who maintains a work schedule that I would find admirable if she weren't so darned annoying. She is always on the job. I have decided that she's the Anti-AnneLamott--the very devil in the hell of self-immolation.

When I start out all optimistic and some of the stuff sounds just brilliant and most of it has some speck of possibility, and I'm happy?  The Anti-Anne is lurking."Well, that sucks." "Do you have any clue where you're going with this?""You were actually happy with that?" "Real writers suffer. Why are you smiling?"

My spirit sinks.

And then I say the magic words. "Crappy First Draft!" Balm for my soul.  Encouragement for my heart. Guts for the muscles in my typing fingers which is where the words come from.

Typing-Finger Guts. The secret so few writers share.

But this morning I was not writing but pondering getting into the kayak.  We have had the kayak since 2005 and I have never been in it.  Before I got my knees fixed, it was too intimidating. After that I was getting back up to speed.  After that I was probably somewhat scared. On a day in June when I was feeling optimistic and strong, I declared "This is the Summer of the Kayak."

I've been waiting for the perfect morning. The ideal confluence of weather, agility, and kayaking guts.

That moment of perfection may have been a morning sometime back in July.  I believe it was the 15th.  I have pictures.

So today I had a new thought, a corollary to the Anne Lamott Law of First Draft Crappiness:  What if life could be lived as a crappy first draft? No disrespect to Life. And not in the sense of revision or do-over (both not necessarily available in the Life Arena.)

In the sense of "get thee behind me, Inner Judge! Shut. Up."

Clearly this is a day of not smooth enough water, of not warm enough temperature, of not actually brave enough me. But hey.  Let's just do it. Let's give up all hope of optimum perfectibility. Let's just write a crappy first draft of this day, give it the very best we can, grab the oar (and the floating vest).

And take the%^&%#$@ kayak out on the lake.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Flight of the Flibbertigibbet

From Wikipedia: "Flibbertigibbet is a Middle English word referring to a flighty or whimsical person…."

Flighty. Whimsical. The person who is unable to alight for any period of time, to settle into the moment, to savor … anything, to choose one … of anything ... and stay with it, to take the "one seat" and remain. To abide.

A flitterer. A fritterer.  

This would be me. Unable on all counts.

I attribute this weakness partly to my position on the Timeline of Life.  Once the years cross the yardarm of, oh, let's just say 50 for the fun of it. Anyway. The yardarm of mental competency or of the trustworthiness of anything. We know the one….

Once that yardarm gets crossed, it's natural to apply a very keen eye to recent behavior of any kind.  Like not being able to stick to anything.  To be constantly reining oneself in and bringing oneself back to whatever it was one was doing.  Is that normal in some way?  Or not normal in every damn way?  Should I devote time to worrying about this?  Sure.  What could be more important? 

So, what was that "whatever it was one was doing" thing I was doing in the paragraph above, exactly?  


Let me digress:  Ha! 

I will throttle the next person who tells me he or she is having a senior moment.  This is your mind people!  IMHO you probably only get the one.  Don't take its passing lightly.  Hang onto it.  Be fierce.  Be grimly tenacious.

Or at least celebrate it as it goes. A mind is glorious thing to lose. As it peels away, savor the taste of each lovely segment.  Send it up like a fire lantern into the night. Bless it as it goes. Hope it doesn't burn anything down.

Back to whatever. 

I'm trying to separate the components of my attention span challenge into their categories so that I might be able to retake the driver's seat of this mind. [Is there a driver's seat?  Was I ever in it?  Was that an illusion of some kind?]

So here:

I'm older.  Conceded, but let's let that one lie for now.

I'm no longer gainfully employed.  Or at least I'm in a peculiar limbo in which I might actually be somewhat gainfully employed and not know it yet.  It's like that damn cat of Schrödinger's. Is Fluffy dead or alive?  Are any of my novels?  For the sake of convenience let's say that I don't go to a job anymore and my days, with certain constraints, are my own to deploy in anyway I see fit.

But there are So. Many. Ways.  

My priority now: 

To let the novel that's in the world awaiting answers wait in peace. This requires nothing but an exercise of will.

And retrieve the most promising and challenging of my novels-in-stasis and rethink it. Make a fresh start.

However, to start fresh invokes the possibility of different methods and MANY QUESTIONS.

1) Should I read Truby, Corbett, or Wheat first, so as to not muddle unaware? Note to self: No, Yes, Yes. Read Corbett, read him now. Read Wheat, read her first. Choose.  Augh!

Question: Is this need-to-read fetish merely a function of my "Keats Syndrome?"  (I.e, what the critics said about "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" which was:  "What the #%@!#, Keats?  You're JUST NOW looking in there?  Where have you been?  What kind of education did you have anyway, kid? What a loser.”)

Is this something I need to address or forget about?  I’m going to try to forget.  Trying now.  

2)  Should I plan this novel more?  Maybe. Am I a planner or a pantser?  Pantser of course but should I try to overcome this or ride it on down?

3)  Should I use Scrivener this time?  I think so.

Note to self: Learn Scrivener.  Do it today.  Do it now. No wait.  Read Scrivener For Dummies. Hurry. 

4)  Should I try to find that article I read about four months ago about how to write a first draft in 30 days? Don't know. Could be great. Could be useless. Could be impossible to find anyhow.

Note to self:  Find it. Find it now. No. Wait. Read Wheat first. Or Corbett. Or For Dummies. Prioritize your confusions. Do it now.

5) I must promote my books [assuming I have books. It's that cat problem again.] online.  I must have a platform, a brand, a website.  Note to self.  Read WordPress: The Missing Manual.  Read it now.  Review that webinar you took about how to build an author website in a day.  Do it now. Do that first.

Plus, on the domestic front:

6) I have two weeks worth of CSA shares stored in three different fridges. Those veggies will distil themselves into a greenish goo in another 15 minutes.  And fall out on me, all gooshie, the next time I open any door. Anywhere. 

Note to self:  Cook something with that. Do it now. What's for dinner anyway? 

7) The garden! The weeds.  The garden.  The weeds!  Note to self: Let winter solve this problem like she always does. 

8) The Temptations -- not the group, the seductions:  of email, FaceBook, Angry Birds, new, untried but terribly inventive, apps [for free, people, at no additional charge] TV, movies, (movies on the iPad) and books of course, endless, irresistible, and important for goodness sake. (See Keats, above.) I must read everything that pertains to anything and do it now.  Or at least next.  Plus I really want to read something totally trashy, something escapist….

Ah, escape….

I am frozen.  
I am playing Solitaire. 
I am losing.  But soothed now.  
Crooning "Every little thing's gonna be all right."  
Watching the cards arrange themselves in order … red, black, red, black.

And rocking, slowly, from side to side.