Feeding My Creativity

Today’s DIY MFA book writing prompt is about what feeds creativity. As a “graduate” of the DIYMFA program, and by that, I mean I went through the whole program and keep inspiration boxin the loop through the various Facebook pages and Gabriel’s emails; I have several of the tools she suggested. These include a box with special rocks (rocks talk to me – don’t laugh – I know there are others out there with the same talent), colored paint chips from the hardware store, an envelope full of words randomly cut, and some dice.

My office is also a source of inspiration. I have two quilts my mom made, a stained glass my dad made, photos of friends, photos green soap box licenseI’ve taken, ribbons from my wine making and writing endeavors, my guitar and a music stand, a sip-and-paint picture of flowers that isn’t half-bad, my father’s soap-box, and stacks of books to read.

And with all that, my most creative time is right after I get up. When the sun is just starting to tinge the horizon and the birds are ruffling their feathers after a night of silence. In the stillness of my mind I find heroines, plots, and questions that linger only if I can get them down on paper. Later in the dsunrise san miguelay I’m better at organizing my thoughts, exploring the ideas I’ve scribbled down in my journal. The creative window for new thoughts lasts only about an hour. But the opening they make into my whole creative process is enough to fuel the rest of the day.

#METOO – Finally

For some reason the phrase “abuse of power” struck me as odd today. I wasn’t doing anything special, just driving back from my Pilates class, but it occurred to me that that specific phrase was an oxymoron. All abuse is a misuse of power. Whether we are talking sexual abuse, physical abuse, political abuse, or bullying, the main driver is one person’s expression of their power over the fate of another. I’ve anguished over the #metoo movement because I felt I was the victim of abuse but could never put my finger on one over-the-top example. I wasn’t locked in a room with someone, or forced to perform a sexual act to retain a job or succeed in my career.

I was however, towered over and intimidated by large (read – tall) men who were my bosses and managers at work. I realize that being a tall male isn’t a crime. And the fact that I’m a shorter than average female isn’t a crime either. But I certainly felt that way in my work world. While I learned to make fun of my height, and play up to it so that others didn’t feel uncomfortable with my perpetual examination of their nose hairs, that was a defense mechanism.

Large men, especially bosses or bosses of bosses made me feel inferior. I know, I know, that was my doing. I’m in control of my response – Eleanor Roosevelt taught me that. The thing is, usually the intimidation was in my mind. I viewed myself as somehow less experienced or not as smart because I wasn’t able to look a man in the eyes – as my Dad had taught me to. Okay, so shame on me.

But there was one boss. My quintessential Bad Boss. The one I’ve been stewing about since I left the corporate world and haven’t figured out a way to exorcise. Then along came the #metoo movement and I thought now is my moment! Except he never explicitly sexually harassed me. Instead he ignored me, went around me, made up bad stories about my work group and worked behind the scenes to demote me, with a goal of making things so bad I’d leave. He almost succeeded in breaking me. And by that, I mean literally. Before it was through, I had to seek outside mental health help, took anti-depressants, and saved myself by leaving that division and finding a job in another sector of the company. One where people believed in me and wanted me to succeed.

From parents who abuse children, to bosses who abuse employees, to men who abuse women, the abuser is typically someone who can change how others live their lives. Precious few of these power brokers choose to change others’ lives for the better. I heard on the radio this morning that we, as (fill in the blank), can choose to fight to get rights or choose to claim the rights we already have, and move forward. I choose this path.

fist 3I’m a smart, thoughtful, creative individual who happens to be a woman. I choose the right to be accepted and rewarded for those traits. And my boss from hell can go there.

P.S. as an aside – and another example of the subtle shades of gender bias – when I went to find a clip art of a fist – they were all male fists. So I took a picture of my own hand.

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Introducing – The Protector! Faster than a misplaced comma…….

Today I took an online quiz to determine my storytelling superpower.

superhero woman

I’m a Protector – my superpower is writing superheroes. My favorite characters see their world in danger and will do whatever it takes to protect it and those they love in it. These characters may not wear spandex and capes, but they show almost superhuman fortitude in their quest to prevent disaster, whatever the cost to themselves. I’m drawn to characters who stand up to the forces of evil and protect what they believe in.

This makes sense, as the book I’m currently editing is about a fifteen-year-old girl who battles pirates and a Nazi U-Boat captain to save the world from evil. She doesn’t wear a cape, she’s a typical freshman in high-school, with a strong sense of adventure and the difference between right and wrong.

So, of course, I dug further to decide what my superhero name would be. There are several websites that will generate a superhero persona for you after answering a few questions. In the interest of science (because as anyone who knows me will tell you – I’m a nerd of several types), I visited several sites. Mashing them all together, I’m Dr. Polygraph/Jupiter Moon/Ghost Surfer.

I had a close encounter with a meteor which left me with the superpower of being a human lie detector. I can instantly tell whether someone is telling me the truth or lying. This way of saying it is politer than how I think of it – bullshit detector.

I am also able to channel and summon the natural forces of any planet or moon. The volcanos of IO, the acid rain of Venus, the sands of Mars are mine to command.

Oh, and I can fly.

Can’t wait to see what my imagination comes up with for a character and plot using this!  What is your superhero – whether it’s a storytelling hero or other?  Take the quiz and share the result here in the comments.

Up, up and awayyyyyy!

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring My Reality

Today’s writing prompt, from Gabriela Pereira and her amazing DIYMFA Book Club, is about balance and honoring reality. Realizing that there is room enough for both things (writing and living) in your life.

balance

True to form, my schedule didn’t allow me time to think or write on this topic until this morning. And I’m allocating an hour to do so, because it’s a beautiful day, there is pruning to do, and I can’t sit in a chair for more than an hour anyway.

As with all difficult topics, I start with the dictionary. My handy, American Heritage Dictionary, which I won in 1975 in a writing contest, has fifteen entries for balance, which include: “3. A stable state characterized by cancellation of all forces by equal opposing forces.  4. A state of bodily equilibrium. 5. A stable mental or psychological state; emotional equilibrium.” And possibly my favorite – “6. A harmonious or satisfying arrangement or proportion of parts or elements, as in a design or composition.”

All the dictionary definitions address the give and take of opposing forces. I’ve found that all forces are not equal, and rarely do they cancel each other out in any reasonable timeframe. Rather, a broader horizon is needed to evaluate balance. In my earlier years, I put writing on the back burner (I had an uncle that actively discouraged me to write, but that’s another blog post), and engage in a financially appropriate career. The scales of my balance beam tipped way to one side and I threw myself into several fields looking for the creative outlet that writing would have provided. All the while I journaled, wrote non-fiction articles, and picked away at a novel. I honored my reality of the time by working hard, dabbling in writing, and dreaming of a time when I could focus on it full time.

Flash forward (although the actual time didn’t flash at all – at times it seemed to crawl as slow as a worm across the sidewalk after a rain). I’m able to focus on writing, but other things have popped up to challenge me. Things I didn’t have while working, like friends, time to exercise, ten acres to take care of, a fledgling agri-business to run. Sometimes I think that I purposely throw barriers in front of myself to draw me away from writing. The truth is far more interesting. Life is what you make of it. I love my friends, learn through my business, and feel better than I ever have. Writing is how I think through things, analyze my actions, dive into my imagination. Everything else I do feeds that beast; gives me ideas, distance, and enthusiasm to write when I do spend the hours in front of my computer.

So, in a way, I can’t relate one incidence of a time when I “honored my reality,” because I do it every day. I call it life.

DIYMFA Book CLub

 

 

Thank You Campbell’s Soup

As much as it feels like I’ve been writing all my life, I didn’t come out of the womb demanding paper and pen to write down a sentence before I lost it. The writing bug didn’t hit until sixth grade, by my memory. My family lived in West Bloomfield, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. At this point I attended Abbott Middle School, notable in the late sixties for not enough class rooms to educate the baby-boom kids. Not so important here in California, where I now live, but in Michigan a trek out to a mobile classroom unit in the winter was miserable.

My teacher, whose name I’ve unfortunately lost, had us cut pictures out of magazines for several months. She’d bring in a wide selection of periodicals and hand them out. We’d page through and cut out any pictures that caught our eye. Without a purpose in sight, we were free to pick anything. The cuttings were carefully stored in a manila folder with our name on the top. It seemed the most pointless thing I’d done in school. Between math, science, and history, cutting out pictures seemed soooo kindergarten.

Warhol Campbell Soup Can

Then one day she handed back our manila folders and told us to pick out one or more of the cuttings, and write a story about it. Now with a defined purpose, my structured mind wished I’d cut out different things. Interesting things, I could clearly see a story inside.

This was 1969. Andy Warhol had been painting Campbell’s soup cans for seven years, and in 1968 the tomato soup can screen print was released, among others. In my cuttings was a large Campbell soup can, whether it was from an ad for Campbell’s or his art I can’t remember. Of all the images, it is the one that struck me the hardest, and the only one I remember now, many years later.

I remember the empty hole in my thoughts that soup can picture created. What kind of story could I come up with that would get me an A? My academic career at that point (and for all of it really) was about getting good grades. The other kids were writing away, and I just sat staring at a picture of a can of soup. I put my pencil on the paper and hoped. As a rule, hope isn’t a strategy, but it worked. Words started to flow out of the pencil. Okay, I know that is a cliché, but that’s how it felt. It still feels that way sometimes when I’m writing and I’m not sure where it’s going. I can close my eyes and let something flow through, call it my muse, the creative force, or good luck. Yes, I edit heavily afterwards, because not all the words are needed, or eloquently state, but at least the idea is there.

In this case, the story that came out would foretell my interest in fantasy and science fiction. I wish I could say I have the story now, but it has been lost to time. What I do remember is that it was a tale of a society of very small people, who lived in a used tomato soup can, in the middle of a field. They rarely ventured out of the soup can because that was “out there” where danger lurked. I can’t walk a modern shopping mall without thinking about this story, as each store looks like a home. Come to think of it, old shopping malls might make great homeless housing. As I grew up, this story became an allegory for me of the narrow ways we tend as humans to view the world. Not realizing that there is a big “there” outside our view, whether it’s another county, country, planet, or metaphysical dimension.

So, I’ve been writing intentionally since eleven. I won’t do the math for you, but that is quite a few years, and I still find joy and frustration in the act. I know that’s what keeps me coming back to it.

Ornaments and other Treasures

Star

Tree  up

Covered with memories

Encapsulated in glass balls, felt creations

Made by hand – First date – First house – Fragile heirlooms

Hung above inquisitive noses who root around packages wrapped

In gold and silver Santa and stars – boring human gifts, hunting for the elusive

Squeaky toy – a dog’s view of the reason for

A fake fir he can’t pee

on.

Does a Kirkus “Star” Mean the Book is Good? Or that it is Culturally Safe?

In full disclosure: I have not read the book American Heart by Laura Morarity, however, I have read the NPR interview covering the Kirkus Review. It should be noted that an author or publisher pays for a Kirkus review, and Kirkus is in the business of providing editing services.

Originally, this novel was given a positive review, including a “star” within the Kirkus system, which is a significant achievement and a benefit to marketing the book. Objections were raised however, and the original review was withdrawn, and a new one put in its place. The updated review, which did not include a “star,” also stated: “It is a policy of Kirkus Reviews that books with diverse subject matter and protagonists are assigned to Own Voices reviewers—writers who can draw upon lived experience when evaluating texts.” The star originally awarded was withdrawn when the reviewer went back and “clarified” that the Muslim character is only viewed through a white protagonist’s filter.

Certainly, anyone can criticize any artistic work for any reason, and I applaud Kirkus for its corporate sensitivity to cultural differences, and accurate portrayals of, as they put it, “marginalized groups.” Yet, its actions trouble me because of the implications.

The first is that only writers of color or from marginalized group may write characters of that color or marginalized group. The second is that, perhaps, only white writers are restricted from writing characters of color or from marginalized groups.

This is a novel written for entertainment. It is not a classroom text book or a scholarly non-fiction on culture and society. It is fiction. While it is proper to insist on accuracy in text books, or the like, in fiction, the author is free to express reality, and perhaps even take the story beyond reality, to tell the tale.

I’m left wondering where the publishing and reviewing industry has been for the last 100 years, as men wrote horribly distorted female characters and perpetuated stereotypes of women that reverberate in society today. Women were historically seen through “a male protagonist’s lens.” Indeed, some say that women are a “marginalized group” within publishing writ large. Taken to its logical extreme, only women can write a female character, only men can write male characters, only blacks can write black characters, etc. Where does it end? Can fantasy or science fiction be written only by authors who are aliens?

Reading and writing characters is one way to “walk a mile in their shoes” and we should be ENCOURAGING authors to write diverse characters, and — as Justina Ireland says in the NPR interview — “get it right.” If readers don’t like how a character is written, then don’t buy the book. Literature can help bring us together, instead this short-sighted approach to punishing authors for creating diverse characters will polarize us even more.

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.npr.org/2017/10/21/559215264/kirkus-changes-review-after-american-heart-draws-outrage-as-white-savior-narrati

Black and White Challenge

I’ve been participating in the Facebook Black and White photo challenge. Lorin Cary, a writing buddy from the Cambria Writers Workshop, challenged me. I’m a photographer (amateur) from way back, and this forced me, well encouraged is really a better word, no one held a loaded camera to my head and said, “Do This!” — but I wanted to embrace it fully. I’ve been pleased with what I’ve come up with, and wanted to share it with you. Here are all seven images I chose to post. Now its up to me to challenge myself to keep adding to my library of interesting images.

Pleasant Valley School Visit

There is a first time for everything. While this is not the first time I’ve spoken to an elementary or middle grade class, it was the first time as an author. What a thrill! Mrs. Haggmark’s class of 5th and 6th graders, many of whom LOVE to write, shared the kind of stories they love to read and write and heard about my work. I passed along some tips on researching ideas and encouraged them to push through rewriting and to submit their own work. They inspired me!

A big thank you to Mrs. Haggmark and her class, and Librarian Mrs. Borden.

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