Friday, December 31, 2010

Forecast 2011

The challenge, should you choose to accept it:

Summarize your 2010 writing world in three words.
Forecast your 2011 writing world in three words.

mine: 2010=searching, distracted, needed
2011=finding, focused, settled

Carl Sandburg said it best: "Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."

Happy 2011 from the Inkpot.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Writer Recovering From the Holidays

Christmas anticipation, strategic planning, elaborate preparation, unbridled partying and tedious cleanup beat all the energy out of me. And we haven’t even taken down the tree. Despite the exhaustion, every year the holidays retain the sparkle of magic and allow for thoughts of writing BUT NO TIME FOR IT. Do I resent that? Yes, a bit. I know this is common; I know the alternate focus contributes to the memories of my children (including one who comes back from art school for holidays); I know the tree will soon be tucked away in its box. What I don’t know is how soon the muse will visit me again, in what form, and with what energy. I’m recharging in hopes that I can dive back in where I left off and make the words sparkle as brightly as did the Christmas lights. - best wishes for 2011 from the half-drained inkpot

Friday, December 17, 2010

Ghost of Words Past

I received an unexpected parcel in my mail last week. A column I’d written in 1995 was included in a glossy coffee table book of 20 years of “best ofs.” What a delight to open the slick pages and find my article about a man I hadn’t thought of in some time. Albert Hebbert was well into his 90’s by the time I spent one spring on a series of interviews with him. And here he was, in one condensed article on page 127.

My mind reeled back to the Nebraska Sandhills one rainy spring fifteen years and a whole other life ago. I’d pull up and Albert would be waiting for me. He’d climb in and direct me all around the countryside telling me tales of his life. I think we ended up with ten articles published in a regional magazine and collected for his loving family. He was a talker but we’d discovered he needed prompts to get him started so we drove the ‘hills he loved so much and he told me his stories.

I don’t think much about the Sandhills anymore, my leaving felt like an escape and the longer I’m away, the more myself I feel. But the book reminded me of good memories of that place, of people I love, beauty I found there.

Like the ghostly visits to Scrooge, these words, written so long ago, brought me a change of heart. Maybe a little forgiveness, for myself as much as for anyone else. Maybe a little closer to peace with my past.

Words are magic.


Have you ever been visited by your own ghosts of words past? How did you feel reading something you’d written many years ago?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thoughts on motherhood and writing

Is there a connection between mothering and publishing?

Yes! Early on there was a positive correlation, on the side of publishing. Every time a baby popped out a book did too. It only happened twice, as there were just two babies--but it looked like a trend.

Then the correlation, er, shifted. My first year without a contract was 2001, the year I home-schooled my daughter to save her sparkle from the bullies. At the start of September that year, I called my agent and pushed back the appointment in New York we'd set for September 11th. That appointment was never rescheduled. While this was a setback career-wise, it was an advantage for child-rearing: it's pretty hard to fulfill two full-time career obligations at once. One thing I know for certain: it's not about quality time with children, it's about quantity time. I was blessed with just two priceless and fragile lives to nurture, whereas on the other hand, "Of making many books there is no end." (Ecclesiastes.)

Some mischievous force often seemed to present direct choices between mothering and career. In the early years of my series my agent came to Colorado for a conference. It was the exact weekend my daughter received a surprise invitation to the National Ski Team qualifying weekend at Breckenridge. Anguished, I consulted our older and wiser Brother of the Quill Jim Hester, the father of three grown sons, about which to choose. He said, "I've never known anyone who regretted choosing family over career." Another year I was asked by Dartmouth to give an alumni seminar on my own work. I was thrilled until I realized it was the exact week our daughter would compete in the bagpiping World Championships in Edinburgh. Fortunately, by then I knew which was the better choice. Jim was right: I have no regrets.

Yesterday a feature on Jan Karon in the Wall Street Journal said her hugely successful writing career started at age 50, roughly my age now. My youngest daughter leaves the nest next year; perhaps the correlation will shift again.
-Storm Petrel

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Be hopeful; be very hopeful

My first eight books were written and published before I knew anything about writing. Now that I can almost distinguish good writing from bad, my ambitious, carefully crafted new novel languishes without agent or publisher. It's been eight years, but I'm still rewriting, more hopeful than ever. Writing is all about hope, because with it comes the confidence to sit down day after day with bottom in chair, hands on keyboard (BICHOK).

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. My trouble began when I paid a man to read my sixth Plumtree series novel for accuracy in British English. He pointed out an unfortunate "chime" in the prose, meaning the way words sounded in proximity to each other. At the time I had no idea what he meant, and as I sought understanding, my journey began into the depths of all that I didn't know. I undertook an ambitious novel that I wanted to make truly beautiful in a hundred different ways. It's taken a dozen drafts, constructively scribbled upon by fellow Sisters of the Quill--thank you sisters and brother--to raise my awareness. I'm too horrified now to go back and read the earlier books with all their painful mistakes. In writing as in other aspects of life, we can only forge ahead and use what we learn to do better next time.

Here's cause for hope: if an untrained, bumbling neophyte can stumble (unfortunate chime?) into publication, you who have apprenticed yourselves to your craft should be shoo-ins.
-Storm Petrel