Monday, December 31, 2007

Cheers to a New Year!

“A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” ~Author Unknown

As a new year approaches, the urge to take stock of our life bubbles up like a sip of fine champagne. Let’s lift a glass and toast our accomplishments, savoring the taste of our creative endeavors… the potential of the New Year sparkles like stars within our hearts!

We’ve all made goals… Some we’ve achieved and some still dangle like a sprig of mistletoe, just out of reach. The beauty is, no matter how far that finish line may seem, we’ve all done remarkable things. I’m not yet published in fiction, yet I’ve written three books. No one can take that accomplishment away. Every page I’ve sweated over, every idea that’s seen fruition is an amazing accomplishment. We are Do-ers. We WRITE.

Now, we can shake off whatever frustrations we’ve battled and relish the opportunity to begin fresh.

“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
~T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

The days stretch before us like pristine snow. It is up to us to step forward and forge our own path. How freaking exciting is this? A whole year to accomplish new goals, to wrap up ongoing projects, to meet the face of destiny and see that face is our own. *smile*

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.” ~Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Now’s the time to choose how to fill those pages. How best to seize opportunity. How to celebrate our awesome career and relish in our gifts. We Are Writers. No matter how onerous the task can be, we are the luckiest creatures that exist. We Create Worlds. We Are The Magic Makers.

“We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives... not looking for flaws, but for potential.” ~Ellen Goodman

And while, at times, we may be tempted to chide ourselves or bemoan the days behind us, let’s make a pact to focus on the potential instead. Who cares if we didn’t plant a seed in time to catch a particular rainstorm 273 days ago! There are seeds aplenty and a promise of sweet rain to nurture those budding plants to new heights. Plot out your garden and plant away! Harvest time will come, and we will be ready.

"A new year is unfolding—like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within.” --Anonymous

Let’s tease out the beauty within each idea. Breathe gently to encourage those petals to unfurl. Those ideas nestled deep within your soul are aching for release. We are the luckiest of all people… We Are Writers!

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. ~Oprah Winfrey

Have a lovely New Year!

--Chiron O'Keefe

Monday, December 10, 2007

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart...” –William Wordsworth

Being a writer is amazing. Carving stories out of thin air… making substantial the dreams and speculations within our hearts. Yet most of us here want more. It’s not enough to doodle vague ideas onto paper. We yearn for accomplishment. To write not just a sentence but a complete story. To see that story magically bound with a glossy cover. To know that complete strangers read our words and are engaged, amused, transformed…

Which takes us beyond carefree imaginings and into the realm of practical endeavors. *Grin*

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I'll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I'll give you a stock clerk.”--J.C. Penney

Whether the goal is to write one page or one hour. To reach a desired word count or flesh out a scene. To edit, revise or outline... All goals matter. Without a destination in mind, we are merely wanderers.

There’s an old saying by Lloyd Jones about failure and success that always appealed to me:

“Those who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.”

Hah! Yet there’s more to striving than simply setting goals. We must push ourselves always to go a step beyond our comfort zone. If success were defined only by doing what is easy, we’d all congratulate ourselves continuously for walking and breathing on a daily basis. *wink* Remember as a child, how even while playing the silliest of games we strove to better our past record?

Hopscotch or jump rope, foursquare or dodge ball. Heck, even on the swings we always wanted to fly higher and higher. Our human instincts impel us to reach for the stars. As adults, and particularly as writers, we must not let go of the instinctive urge to best ourselves—to continuously update and expand our definition of achievement.

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” –Michelangelo

As writers, we must strive to maintain a balance between pushing ourselves too much and not pushing ourselves enough. And the truth is, we may be all writers, but each one of us is an individual as well. Part of your personal journey is to find what motivates you. Some thrive with far-reaching goals that would make others blanch. Find your rhythm, find your own theme music, discover what dance steps you require to get the blood pumping and then crank up the energy and let those fingers fly!

And remember…

“Failure is the path of least persistence.” –Anonymous

*wink* *grin*

During the holiday season, time is at a premium. Few will have the extra minutes (much less hours) our hearts desire to pen a few words or edit our WIP. Yet this is a lovely time to begin contemplating our future goals. The year is nearly at an end. A new one bursting with potential beckons from the wings.

For those who have the time and will to write this week, what are your goals?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Courage

Weekly Motivational Essay for Writers:

“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call "failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down.” —Mary Pickford

Being a writer requires many qualities to succeed. Talent, perseverance, passion, persistence, and of course, the ability to learn, grow, and evolve. Yet few focus on an essential ingredient in this engaging slop of characteristics: Courage.

Writers must have unwavering courage to face each day. Courage to dare to begin a new story. Courage to push through not only our fictional “black moment” but also our own inner obstacles to finish what began from nothing more than a promise and a dream. Courage to edit and revise what we thought was perfect. Courage to query and submit (repeatedly). Courage to face the reviews and the next project. Damn.

Courage to pick ourselves up, when staying down is so very tempting…

So how do we do it? Well, as we all know, part of it is involuntary. We Are Writers. We have no choice. We simply must put words to paper. We must write—it is survival. So, in response to our need for Fresh Air and a Fresh Start, let’s look at some survival tactics. *smile*

Embracing a New Beginning…

“The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette.” --Henry S. Hoskins

Every artist starts at the exact same place. The beginning. As you type that first word remember this... all the authors you admire most, every one of them begins with The First Word. The playing field is always level. No matter how accomplished or how novice, each writer must begin the novel and finish it. That never changes.

Write What You Love…

“It's a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy." --Lucille Ball

It really is… *grin* Lucille starred in a CBS radio program, “My Favorite Wife” with hubby Desi Arnaz. CBS asked Lucy to develop the show for television. The initial pilot failed and the couple took the show on the road as a vaudeville act, which resulted in a smash success. *snap!* CBS picked up the soon-to-be-classic comedy sensation. Yet here’s a bit of trivia… When they first began filming, the show fell flat. Desi realized exactly what his wife needed in order to shine. He brought in a studio audience and A Star Was Born. Knowing what makes us happy, both in our personal life AND in our creative pursuits… that’s one helluva good start. *wink*

Every Day a New Opportunity…

"Every day brings a chance for you to draw in a breath, kick off your shoes, and dance." –Oprah Winfrey

YES! I love this quote, not only becomes I am inclined to do just that at any given moment *cough* but also because This is the way to approach our writing. Breathe deep, kick off the restrictions and let our imagination, our love of writing, our joy Dance Across Each Page. This is not just a labor of love. This is a dance. Let’s try to remember…

Each Struggle Teaches Us, Strengthens Us, Gives Us More to Work With…

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”— Friedrich Nietzsche

Ah…. There it is. The conflicts and the struggles. The sting of defeat, the exuberant laughter. Each tender, fragile moment that touches and sometimes even shatters our vulnerable self is a gift. The gift of an unpredictable life bursting with potential. The potential that each writer here can tap into. Let the chaos reign, let the birthing begin!

Stealing A Few Precious Moments To Write…

“It is better to begin in the evening than not at all.”— English proverb

Some of the best writers, and the most successful authors, started with little time to spare. Carving out moments when the first rays of dawn barely pierce through the morning’s fog or fending off the need for sleep to tap out a page or two before tumbling into bed. Some here sketch out ideas between children’s naptime and the scramble for a family meal. I’m in constant awe and touched with admiration for everyone here that masters those time constraints and manages to produce books, query agents and editors, edit and revise, and all that a career in writing requires. Take just a moment (I know you have few to spare!) and acknowledge your strength, your courage and your astonishing persistence. You Are Amazing—You Write…

When I began this essay, I hoped to provide some hope and inspiration for all those who desperately need that bit of fresh air and now, I realize my goal has evolved yet again. I want to express my appreciation, my own humble admiration for all the writers whose talent and spirit is matched by their amazing perseverance. You Are Incredible. Thanks for the constant inspiration, and for the never-ending examples of what A Writer Can Do.

In this spirit I want to offer a quote, one of my very favorites, from an author whose work has touched millions of hearts. From a story that resonates through the ages.

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they went skipping about and that was the beginning of fairies.”— J.M. Barrie ( 1860-1937) Peter Pan, Act1

Remember, always, We Are The Magic-Makers. We Are Writers!

“The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

And the creation of a thousand books begins with a single word…

What are we waiting for, let’s Write!

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Process of Experimentation

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”-- Albert Einstein

Hah! Nor would it be called “writing.” *wink* We are mad scientists of the written word. We start with the germ of an idea… “What if…?” and begin our process of experimentation. Set the stage, shove in the players and let’s see what dastardly circumstances we can conjure up. Pit falls and red herrings, misdirection and misconception, we’re more than ready to throw every obstacle in our character’s way. Happily Ever After becomes the cheese dangling at the end of the maze.

Yet strangely enough, the kinship we feel with our characters blossoms out of a shared struggle. Both fictional characters and author are racing down one blind corridor after another. The distinctions blur. It becomes impossible to discern who needs that Happy Ending more, the hero and heroine or the author herself. The struggle for a resolution is shared, and just as our heroes and heroines need an extra push, so do we. In our wacky experiment, the perfect ending is as enticing and as elusive as that fragrant end-of-the-maze cheese.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” –Albert Einstein

Deadlines, markets, editing and endless rewrites, all are obstacles that every author must face. Yet, it could be that our biggest obstacle is really our own damn selves. When the pressure of pushing forward becomes too intense we’re sorely tempted to pull away. To let go the effort. To even… *gasp* give up. And, if we’re going to be realistic, sometimes the only way to renew our faith is to retreat for a time. Retreat, rather than surrender. Approach the knotty problem from another direction, sometimes that’s all it takes to find the solution.

“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” Albert Einstein

So writers then must balance between pushing forward and knowing when to pull back just enough to revitalize our spirit.

Plus, of course, there’s one nagging little issue. We’ve covered this before but it bears repeating. Writers Create Something Out of Nothing. And in the barest beginning of our experimentation, the idea may seem a little… well… Out There.

“If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” Albert Einstein

*grin*

One of the trickiest dilemmas that aspiring-to-be-published writers experience is to magically discover somewhere deep in the cavern of imagination The Utterly Brilliant and Unique Idea. No matter how agents will assure you that Great Writing Tops All, the truth is, unless you’ve dreamed up that one-of-a-kind twist and offbeat hook, they’ll toss your query aside without a qualm. *shakes fist* So… Give your imagination free rein! Imagine a world where the absurd rules. As actors are often told—Play it big, then pull back. When the story is being created, brainstorm first. Second-guess later.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Albert Einstein

Questions will often take you farther than answers ever will. Which is why so many writers love techniques like the “character interview.” Remember, in fiction, there’s no handy answer guide. There’s no blueprint to follow. You’re soaring on wings of imagination and there are no limits. After reading an article on poltergeists and telekinetic activity being linked to adolescent girls, Stephen King’s mind lingered on his own experiences in school. How certain girls were singled out and picked on. Teased, bullied, pushed around… What if a young girl’s angst exploded in telekinetic activity? What might she do? Scary thoughts, yet the speculation led to a published (and bestselling) novel.

Yet sometimes we do worry. We wonder if it’s worth it. Wonder if we can write one more page, send out one more query, come up with one more idea. This is a quandary we all relate to. Writing is exhilarating but also exhausting. My idea is this… Remember the old saying that the journey is the destination? There’s something to that. What is our end goal here? I say that every story we write enriches our lives. Every page we finish and every idea we explore. We are stronger and more creative as a result. So… even if just for a week or even a day, let’s try something new…

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Albert Einstein

Let’s recognize that our writing is valuable. Let’s open up each document and think how incredible a gift we have—we write. We Create. We are the Magic-Makers. We are writers…

Monday, November 19, 2007

Thankfulness

“Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.” ~~Thomas Berger

Thanksgiving, for those of us in America, has grown and evolved like most holidays. Pilgrims, turkey (or Tofurki), football, parades, and pumpkin pie. Yet tucked within the basting and touchdowns is the root of an idea. Thankfulness. For family and friends, for prosperity and health, and for life itself. And let me add one more item to the list… Thankfulness for creativity. I love being a writer. Don’t you?

“One nice thing about putting the thing away for a couple of months before looking at it is that you start appreciate your own wit. Of course, this can be carried too far. But it's kind of cool when you crack up a piece of writing, and then realize you wrote it. I recommend this feeling.” ~~Steven Brust

I love pulling out stories I have written. Even the fumbling attempts from several years ago (when POV was just a concept *grin*). Is there a greater thrill than marveling over a sentence that you recognize is really damn good? Just like that gorgeous homemade pumpkin pie beckoning to your taste buds from yonder table, the story your eager eyes pore over started with a few simple ingredients. You stirred it up, baked it in a feverish oven of imagination, and after a suitable frame of time, produced a marvelous dish. Except one little difference. It’s all yours, baby. There are no other “pies” quite like the ones you bake. We Are Originals. How about that?

“The novel is an event in consciousness. Our aim isn't to copy actuality, but to modify and recreate our sense of it. The novelist is inviting the reader to watch a performance in his own brain.”~~George Buchanan

It’s astonishing, really. The courage and strength it takes not only to compose an entire novel (wow!) but to allow others to read it, well… that’s truly amazing. I’m thankful for the sheer audacity within my soul. Do you realize what a pioneer you are? How gutsy and innovative it is to even attempt to write fiction? What an incredible career we have. We Are Writers.

“Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.”~~ Cyril Connolly

Yet one of the dilemmas we face (and with rare fortitude) is The Big Choice. I salute us all for taking the risk to write what we please. To recognize that success is measured by happiness and self-satisfaction. Persistence does pay off (ask any of the published writers here) but they’ll no doubt agree that unless you write a book which pleases you, no worldly success will satisfy. So… if, when you read what you’ve written at the end of the day, you feel a rush of pleasure, my friend, You Are A Success.

“Forget all the rules. Forget about being published. Write for yourself and celebrate writing.” ~~Melinda Haynes

Celebrate and relish the joy that comes from this unique gift. To write is like nothing else. Nothing can compare. Harry Potter appeals to the masses because the stories tap into humankind’s deepest and fondest fantasy. To create magic. Well, dear friends, that’s exactly what we do, every time we write a story. We are magically creating something out of nothing but the barest wisp of imagination. We Are Magic-Makers. We Are Writers.

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.” ~~Brenda Ueland

Celebrate the joy, the exhilaration, the rush of pure pleasure as you write. This is a wonderful time to embrace this delightful opportunity of ours: to create magic on a regular basis. To be thankful for the gift, for the spirit, for the opportunity to express ourselves. Yay! We Are Writers!

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone…

--Chiron O’Keefe

Monday, November 12, 2007

Creating the Universe--One Word at a Time

“A blank piece of paper is God's way of saying how hard it is to be God.” --Sidney Sheldon

I love this quote. *smile*

Authors are the Ultimate Creators of a Universe. A highly personal, crazy, wacky world where our characters are expected to ponder, giggle, exchange sloppy kisses, and live happily ever after.

So… why am I staring at a blank screen and tossing around potential plot points like soggy croutons in a limp salad?

“Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.” – Arthur Koestler

I have three books under my belt. Creating those manuscripts has taught me much. An unmistakable lesson is how writing fiction really is a lifelong learning process. It does create a split personality of sorts. After all, there are hundreds of techniques and “rules of writing” and yet there’s only one person who knows what method works best for you. And sometimes she’s at a loss as well, eh?

*grin*

There’s no mistaking the rush of excitement when a moment of clarity sizzles inside the brain. The two sides of our being mesh in that moment—we become the creation we struggle to create. We Are WRITERS!!

“There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly.” --Buckminster Fuller

All we have to do is move past that “blank page.” Jeez-Louise! So… what do we do? How do we push past the frustration born out of our need to *see* the theme, the dark moment, the turning point, the inner conflict, the character arc, and everything we’ve decided is essential to making a good story?

Life is "trying things to see if they work." ~~Ray Bradbury

There’s really only one way. We experiment. We doodle out ideas in our brain. Mix and match possibilities. We take a chance.

Indecisiveness is my curse. My biggest stumbling block. What I realized is that I needed to let go of my debilitating fear of Making The Wrong Choice.

Hah!

Here’s what I found. There are no wasted words. If I write a whole chapter and later decide that direction isn’t working, I can easily start over. The time I spent writing has strengthened me and helped to improve my craft. Had I invested the same amount of time staring at blank screen fretting and worrying over a blank screen, I’m left with nothing. And here’s the rub—I will no doubt feel worse than if I had “wasted” time writing a discarded chapter.

“I learned you have to trust yourself, be what you are, and do what you ought to do the way you should do it. You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it. ~~ Barbra Streisand

It all boils down to trust. Trust that we are writers. We experiment and explore the potential within. We take risks with our ideas and dabble in intricate possibilities. We dare to move forward knowing that sometimes the direction will need to be changed. We do it all and more because…

We Are WRITERS.

And what do writer’s do? Writers WRITE.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Know Thyself

“The world is but a canvas to the imagination.” --Henry David Thoreau

Years ago, during a stroll down Main Street, I remember spying a poster slapped on the side of a newspaper bin.

“You don’t grow old; you are old when you stop growing.”

Like a flaming arrow, that phrase lit up the dark night. I felt that spontaneous burst of agreement that most of us label “an epiphany.”

In the grind of daily living, we often forget what may be the essential purpose of life itself. We are here to Become Our Self. The process of Self-becoming is also a process of Self-discovery. Part of the process of discovery requires an acceptance of and awareness of how growth requires change.

“If in the last few years you haven't discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead.” ~Gelett Burgess

There are two kinds of conversations. One is where an individual espouses his or her views as FACT, and wants acknowledgement that those views are right. The other form of conversation is where an individual recognizes that views are merely opinions and exploring those opinions can lead to a greater understanding of life itself. A person’s beliefs can become as hardened as arteries. The “flow” is restricted and the subsequent pressure can lead to all sorts of maladies.

What happens is that we can forget that self-discovery is not a static condition. You don’t carve your Self out of rock and perceive the views of others as weather—to be endured and ignored. Self-discovery is a process of growth, where we prune and plant, encouraging the tender shoots and ripping out weeds as needed.

“There's a period of life when we swallow a knowledge of ourselves and it becomes either good or sour inside.” ~Pearl Bailey

Self-discovery brings as much pain as pleasure. No person can truly grow without acknowledging bitter truths. There’s no getting around this fact. However, there are a number of methods of avoidance, all of which most people have tried in the attempt. *smile* Avoidance, projection, denial.

I remember this great episode of Friends I watched long ago. The three women are laughing over a copy of Playboy they found. “Remember the good old days on the farm when we’d unbutton our blouse and lean backwards over a fence?” They’re giggling and having fun when Monica asks casually, “So if you were a guy, which one us would you date?”

Rachel answers immediately that she couldn’t choose, which Monica happily agrees with. But Phoebe says, “Rachel.”

Uh-oh.

Monica is incensed. She demands how Phoebe could say such a thing (translation… Why wasn’t I your choice?). In typical blunt fashion, Phoebe says that Monica is a bit of a control freak and Rachel’s more of a pushover. Yikes!

Monica is astonished and pissed. “Oh yeah? Well, we think you’re a flake.”

Now, Phoebe is in touch with herself enough to recognize, acknowledge and embrace her flaws as easily as her assets. She nods vigorously and agrees, “I am a flake. That’s true. And I’m okay with that.”

The girls are nonplussed. Monica then throws out, “Well, maybe I’m okay with being a control freak and Rachel’s okay with being a pushover. How about that?”

Phoebe, once again, doesn’t miss a beat. “Good for you!”

I love that episode. What great examples of psychology at work!

“We run away all the time to avoid coming face to face with ourselves.” --Author Unknown

It’s a scary business, this coming face to face with ourselves. Ah, but how liberating! The process of self-discovery is the ultimate creative act. We aren’t just brushing paint on a canvas, we’re Creating Ourselves. How awesome is that? The world is but a canvas to the imagination…

And we are the artists.

This is the last “daily” essay. I will, though, be posting the motivational essay I write for my chapter every Monday. And occasionally, I might post my thoughts when time permits. Thanks to everyone who’ve been so supportive! I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts even a fraction as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing them.

--Chiron O’Keefe

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Essence of Heroism

“Responsible persons are mature people who have taken charge of themselves and their conduct, who own their actions and own up to them--who answer for them.” --William J. Bennett

“Self-responsibility is the core quality of the fully mature, fully functioning, self-actualizing individual.” --Brian Tracey

We live in a time where Reality Shows create celebrities, and being notorious can lead to instant fame. Let’s face it… Self-responsibility is not hip. This is the age of Gangsta-Rap. A time when being a victim of circumstance is celebrated and the true heroes who strive for honor and integrity get lost in the shuffle.

I read this great article by Naomi Rosenblatt in “Women of the Bible,” a U.S. News collector’s edition. I’ve long been intrigued by mythology and theology, and, with a Jungian perspective, like to explore the stories that lodge within the collective consciousness of humankind. This article, titled “The First Rebel” reexamines the Adam and Eve myth with a unique view.

The details we know. Eve tastes the fruit and offers it to Adam. Although Ms. Rosenblatt explores a common theme—the fruit represents an awakening of sexuality—the writer twists off into a new direction. When the first couple hears God, they panic and hide. God calls out “Where are you?”

Now, being all-knowing, the deity obviously is well aware where the two are hiding. And what they have done. Yet he questions them. Why? To find out how they will choose to handle their transgression. Their choice immediately becomes apparent. Adam blames Eve and the serpent. Eve blames the serpent.

This leads to a revolutionary interpretation of the age-old story. One where the Original Sin is actually Avoiding Responsibility.

“It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.” --Josiah Stamp

Self-responsibility is not glamorous. There are people who file for bankruptcy not because they’ve been hit by hard times but because they racked up too many credit card bills and they’re not willing to take the action necessary to pay them off. Who wouldn’t want a clean slate? Especially when the only thing lost is self-responsibility. And maybe the last shreds of integrity. Too many people find that a small price to pay.

I once knew a woman who insisted I provide emotional support no matter what actions she took. If I objected, she would throw in my face that she’d support me no matter what. “If you were to become a Russian spy, I’d still stand by you.”

Except I wouldn’t have become a Russian spy or whatever outlandish thing she proposed. To say to another, I'd love YOU even if you had no ethics whatsoever is a perfect ploy. It implies that you're shallow and mean if you don't offer the same. It's also convenient, since the ethically-challenged person making the lofty proclamation knows full well that you won't ever cross that line. The strategy is common among conmen and thieves. By tapping into their victim's own moral code they elicit and imply trust.

Had I been wiser and stronger, I would have objected long ago. I wasn't. And I was hampered by the love I held for this person for many years. I simply wasn't clever enough to see the manipulations for most of my life.

Had she wanted to convince people she was the Princess of Caraboo and not demanded my endorsement, it might have been different. But that wasn't the rule she laid down. If she were to tell everyone that she was actually from another planet and used me for a reference, I was expected to back her up. No matter what. If I didn’t, I would be labeled judgmental or be told I had no compassion, no heart. Basically, I was a Bad Person unless I compromised my integrity entirely. Lovely.

“It is not size or age that separates children from adults. It is responsibility.”— Jules Feiffer

I finally called a halt when she created an elaborate childhood fantasy that I supposedly took part in. Something akin to Athena springing from the head of Zeus. The indignation and anger I’d suppressed for decades came flooding out. I simply couldn’t take anymore.

“Half of the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm. But the harm does not interest them.”--T.S. Eliot

Everyone yearns to be special. Yet few yearn to be self-responsible. Today’s essay is a personal exploration of a quality that gets little fanfare in today’s world. To me, it is the essence of life itself.

“I believe that all of us have the capacity for one adventure inside us, but great adventure is facing responsibility day after day.” --William Gordon

I’ll be posting another essay tomorrow before switching to a weekly publication. My other writing is demanding more of my time. A good thing, right? Thanks to all who’ve been reading my words.

One final quote for the road.

“Self-truth is the essence of heroism.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Embrace your heroic self!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Choice Not Chance

“It's choice - not chance - that determines your destiny." --Jean Nidetch

We all make choices. Some are conscious, others automatic. What is most frustrating, I think, is our inability to perceive how each decision affects the outcome of our lives. We blame other people or outer circumstances, not realizing (much less acknowledging) how our own decisions led us to whatever path we’re currently stumbling down.

With writing, the choices seem easy. Before faced with the daunting prospect of piecing together a plot, the initial idea of writing a novel appears simple. Like… baking a yummy dessert. Choose your ingredients, give ‘em a stir, and pour the batter in the pan. Piece of cake! *grin* Yet what I discovered when I began to experiment with fiction writing is much more complex.

The choices I make impact my life. The choices my characters make are just as significant.

Unless you grasp how compelling each choice is, in fiction as well as in life, your story will seem haphazard. We can ignore our own decisions and go along with the happy illusion that the consequences we face are bad luck, karma, or a nefarious conspiracy by those who seek to undermine us for reasons beyond our ken (the World Is Out To Get Us syndrome). Yet that won’t fly in fiction. Darn it.

We can avoid self-responsibility in many areas of life, except when writing a novel. Grrrrr. *smile*

How many times have you witnessed a friend or co-worker lament about some personal grievance for which they blamed everyone but their own actions, while you hid your reaction and privately thought “Well, what did you expect?”

Hmmmm?

In a novel, that person doing the inner “Duh!” is your reader. And it’s an intricate balancing act because your protagonist has only so much leeway before the reader gets disgusted and believes s/he is too dumb for words. Of course, we may think that privately about the people in Real Life shooting themselves in the foot. *grin* The difference is that the novel can be tossed away and most often, the person griping about their constant headaches (while banging themselves repeatedly on the noggin) often must simply be tolerated.

"The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense." –Tom Clancy.

Let’s all give a nod to the choices we make and strive to recognize the impact those decisions have on our life. Fiction isn’t the only thing that has to make sense!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Literary Kiss

Research tells us fourteen out of any ten individuals likes chocolate.--Sandra Boynton

Who can argue with statistics like that? *smile*

To me, reading is like tasting chocolate. As a tiny tot I remember stumbling over to grab books that were beyond my reach. A passion for reading developed. A passion that expanded the older I got. A vivid memory still amuses me. The local librarian refusing to let me check out books that she deemed beyond my comprehension. Perhaps it was a tad unusual for a ten-year-old to be lugging a stack of books geared towards high-school and beyond. Yet within my household, despite the usual smattering of dysfunction, one rule stood out. We could read whatever we desired. A wonderful gift for any reader, although I was the only one of three children who saw this as the equivalent to being handed the keys to a candy store.

Mom let me peruse her sci-fi and mystery novels, her psychology books and Alfred Hitchcock magazines. Heinlein, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, the best in pulp fiction all at my fingertips. She took delight in my ability to comprehend and enjoy literary works written for adults. When the aforementioned librarian looked down her nose and refused my reading choices, my mom raced over and confronted her in person. Words were bandied about, fists shook with indignant zeal, and within short order the restrictions were lifted. My reading list would no longer be censored. And one better. I no longer needed to limit my pile to the standard three books. Thanks to Mom, I could check out an armful that would leave me staggering for the door. It’s no exaggeration to think I read over a dozen novels a week.

What baffles me to no end is the recent statement made in the press stating one out of four adults say they never read books.

How can that be? How can anyone not derive the same wriggle of pleasure when their eyes pore over the written word? Even now, when the internet age provides podcasts and Youtube as a clear alternative, I can’t let go. Watch a news video or read the same article? The choice is clear.

Not that I don’t love movies and television. Not at all. Falling into a story is rather like swimming in warm fudge, after all. Yum! But without the reading, I’m lost. As a kid, I would read the cereal box while munching away, rather than do without.

This leads to the latest news. The writer’s strike is underway. Contracts are up and the time has come when the people who pen the words that make us chuckle believe they deserve to get a piece of the profit. As a writer, I applaud them all, despite my grief over any missed Daily Show episodes.

For all they do, the writers of the world, I’m grateful. From the daily comic strips to the lengthy commentaries, from the brilliance of Herman Hesse to the light-hearted romps of Janet Evanovich. May writing, and reading, never go out of style!

--Chiron O’Keefe

Monday, November 5, 2007

Fresh Beginnings

This is a repost of the motivational essay I write for my RWAOnline Chapter:

Every morning is a fresh beginning. Every day is the world made new. Today is a new day. Today is my world made new. I have lived all my life up to this moment, to come to this day. This moment--this day--is as good as any moment in all eternity. I shall make of this day--each moment of this day--a heaven on earth. This is my day of opportunity.— Dan Custer

Last Monday, when I realized the day for reopening the Challenge Board drew closer, I felt a tingle of anticipation. A Fresh Beginning. I love that feeling. Something NEW. Yet how often do we forget the excitement with the ongoing stress of Finishing a Book, Sending Out Queries or Meeting The Deadline?

Ever watch a child at play? Their sparkle and glow comes from a freshness of experience we now only carry in our hearts as a faint memory. We’re like the lazy cat watching, amused in a distant sort of way, as the kittens leap and tumble ecstatically in the air. Youth recognizes instinctively that every new day is a new life. After many years of patiently greeting my cat when she’d arise from one of a dozen daily naps, I woke up to the fact that her enthusiasm wasn’t just because she loved me. To her, each new awakening was a Brand-New Day. “Good Morning, Good Morning,” she purrs. “Aren’t you thrilled? A New Day!!”

Imagine that. A dozen mornings in a scant twenty-four hour period. It boggles the mind.

When I read the above quote, I felt shivers. This is my day of opportunity. How might my world view change if I make this my chosen perspective?

Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.--Meister Eckhart

While the birds chirp out a vigorous salute to the morning sun, we too can celebrate each day as if our world was today newly born. I relish the experience and wisdom I have garnered with each writing year I tuck under my belt. Yet if I don’t remember to approach my work as a beginner, I may become complacent or worse, jaded. Somehow, I suspect, when I read a “NY TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR’S” work and become dizzy with a POV that jumps with erratic glee six times in one paragraph, that this is a writer who doesn’t care. Not anymore. We all know such laxity would never fly while in the desperate process of seeking representation or publication. Perhaps there’s a sense of relief to reach a point of success where one can just phone it in. I hope that won’t be me. Or you.

So many authors here sweat out the hours required to pore over each manuscript with a magnifying glass—smoothing out the wrinkles and sewing up the gaping holes. We may curse the effort required but what makes the work truly stand out is that willingness to be a beginner, every single day. And besides the obvious reward of having a manuscript that is “blemish-free”, something else occurs when you give that extra push. Something magical and wondrous.

Sometimes when you think you are done, it is just the edge of beginning. Probably that's why we decide we're done. It's getting too scary. We are touching down onto something real. It is beyond the point when you think you are done that often something strong comes out.--Natalie Goldberg (author of Writing Down the Bones)

Ah-ha! And it’s true. We all know it. Writing the “good stuff” takes more than effort. It takes courage. Tapping into that primal spot deep within your soul can be as pleasurable as… well… la petite mort. *wink* Yet sometimes it’s more like a damn root canal. Ouch! *heh-heh*

The result, though, is paramount. A story that resonates. That’s what we all yearn for, right?

So… touching down on something real, remembering to approach each page with a beginner’s eye, and seeing that This is our day of opportunity. What else could be left?

“You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”--Joe Sabah

Oh, yeah. *grin* There’s that.

Welcome to a new week of writing! Let’s carve out some goals.

--Chiron

Friday, November 2, 2007

Checking the Ingredients

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” ~Carl Sagan

How’s that for a goal?

*grin*

Ironically, that’s exactly what a novelist must do. Create the universe. One page at a time. It’s an awesome power and yet… Oh-so-fun!

Writers have their own methods of creation. Some start from the outside in. Methodical research of locations and time periods, detailed lists of characteristics for each hero and heroine, specific arcs of change and action, and a complete outline before beginning page one. Other writers get a *feel* for the story, coupled with an intuitive grasp of their characters and let the fingers fly.

No matter which category you fall in, one rule remains the same. The universe must be consistent. Whether your novel is set in historical times or present day, whether your protagonist is a demon-slaying vampire or a lingerie-turned-bounty hunter, no matter what the locale, consistency is essential. Think of it as Point of Focus. If the first lesson a novelist must learn is to keep the Point of View from wandering, the second lesson must be to maintain a Point of Focus.

If the unknown killer is methodical enough to put on gloves and sneak up on the dentist (who’s whiffing laughing gas for relaxation), then reach out and hold the mask down on the victim’s face while flipping the dial down on the oxygen tank to asphyxiate the dude, well… your killer can’t then turn out to be a crazed half-wit who responds to questions with hysteria while waving a butcher knife. It just doesn’t make sense.

This is where beta-readers or critique partners come in handy. They’re the ones who will point out faults in your logic or say “Huh?” when you’ve wandered off track. While television gets away with outrageous leaps of logic—some of the most memorable ones: the Brady Bunch dog who is there one episode and gone the next, the infamous Darrin replacement on Bewitched—books simply don’t have that luxury. You must maintain consistency throughout.

Even the authors who write spontaneously (we call them “pantsters”, since they write by the ‘seat of their pants’) should take the time and work up a methodical sweat going over the story to make sure all the pieces fit together.

By the time you finish and edit the first draft, you should know:

The hero and heroine’s backgrounds. Now’s the time to check… Do their actions, their choices, and their dialogue match up with Who They Are?

Your voice. The personal expression must have the same feel from that delicious opening line to the satisfying conclusion. If your thing is short, snappy lines crackling with witty dialogue and sparse description, and you spontaneously decide to toss in a few pages of prose which could come straight out of a Dicken’s novel, your reader will get confused. Or bored. Yikes!

The chain of events. This means Time-line as well as the arc of action. What season is it? What month? What day? What time? If you don’t know, neither will your reader.

The place. Are you in the midst of a busy city or a tranquil suburb? Is the air gritty with smog or fragrant with the scent of a newly mown lawn? Details bring the story to life and (once again) help maintain the consistency of your story.

Ready for your rewrite? Good!

So then… pull up a chair, dish up some ice cream, and help yourself to a fresh slice of your homemade universe.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Persistence, Patience, Faith...

“A leaf that is destined to grow large is full of grooves and wrinkles at the start. Now if one has no patience and wants it smooth offhand like a willow leaf, there is trouble ahead.” --Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Ah, those pesky first drafts, and the ensuing edits. That first glimpse of a lovely idea, plots branching out all over, leaf-pages that are smooth as lovely and completely wrinkle-free.

And here I am stuck with a couple of acorns and a muddy plot.

So what's the key? Persistence, Patience, Faith.

Persistence—It's not enough to wish or want, one must DO. Just as we urge our characters to take action to resolve the many dilemmas we put them in, WE must take action and push ourselves to keep on writing.

Patience—Rome wasn't built in a day. Nor was it made out of paper. Yet here we are with the power of Olympian Goddesses, able to construct vast worlds, birth amazing heroines and heroes, and pick those (sometimes) hapless heroes and heroines up and toss them in the most delightful muck we can think of. However, no matter that the mind can race faster than a speeding chariot, the fingers can only do so much. We may envision the whole book in one day but barely make it through a scene in our precious writing time. So… patience. One word-brick at a time. Build the foundation. Add some walls. Throw in some roads. The city will be built.

Faith—We must believe. There's no getting around it. The Wright brothers didn't say, "Oh, well, if it doesn’t work the first time we can always just go back to repairing bicycles." No way! They believed Man was Meant to Fly. Just as your book is meant to be written. Believe. Look in the mirror as you brush your teeth. As soon as you've spit out the toothpaste and rinsed your mouth, tell yourself, "I am a writer."

And away we go!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Catch the Wind

“To dream of a person you would like to be is to waste the person you are. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -–Mark Twain

Writers are alternately ecstatic and surly. When the pages fly by, we’re floating on a cloud of optimistic dreams. When the computer screen is blank, we snarl and curse anyone foolish enough to cross our path. Yet what we struggle with most is taking risks. Writing fiction is scary. Submitting that fiction is like stripping naked and exposing every flaw you’ve ever cringed over in the privacy of your own mirror.

Every writer has encountered, at least once, a person who snorted and with a haughty sneer proclaimed, “I could write a book if I wanted to.” Or the friends who try to hide their contempt behind a polite smile when they discover your literary aspirations lean more towards Bridget Jones than War and Peace. Who can blame us for nurturing our private fantasy of hitting the bestseller list and Proving Our Worth? Writing is a lonely business.

*rueful grin*

Taking risks leads to heart palpitations and makes writers prone to panic attacks. Yet risk is the foundation of art. There can be no progress without that terrifying leap into the unknown. There are no “write-by-numbers” book kits out there. You too can write Moby Dick! Just fill in the blanks and go. (Words included). Writing is a process of self-discovery as well as manual labor. Unless you push beyond the safe harbor, you’ll never tap into the deep water.

“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” ~Erma Bombeck

Life’s short, eat dessert first. Grab a fork and dig into that story!

And speaking of sweet treats… Author Misty Fanderclai’s Halloween story, Witches Anonymous is particularly yummy. Grab a piece of chocolate (you know you deserve it!) and savor the exciting conclusion.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What Dreams May Come

“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.” –Douglas Adams (from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy").

Maybe it’s the philosopher in me (or the mad scientist) but I love stories that question reality. Heinlein’s Number of The Beast focused on four characters zipping around in a quantum-leap machine, jumping into alternate worlds that (they soon discover) were spawned by the stories of favorite authors. Great concept!

Even as a child, reading the delicious Oz books by L. Frank Baum, I wondered, casting a hopeful eye up towards the sky, if Glinda the Good would read about me in her Magic Book. How long need I wait before she, the Wonderful Wizard and Ozma, all gathered in front of the Magic Picture in the Emerald City Palace and zapped me straight to Oz?

Of course, when one grows up, one tosses out such fanciful notions. Right?

*cough*

*peeks out window up at sky*

Truth is, despite the many scientific studies and the pedantic droning of the Greatest Minds, nobody truly has a clue about the nature of reality. Not really. At one point in our history, the Greatest Minds believed the earth was flat, after all.

Sometimes I speculate that we can only *know* as much as we can imagine. And perhaps for that reason, the future of technology is as dependent on fiction writers as they are on scientists. Hah! Robert Heinlein “invented” over a hundred technological breakthroughs. All of which were contained neatly within his action-packed sci-fi stories. Another perspective might be that he Predicted these inventions. Yet that too opens up an intriguing doorway. What is prediction then? Is it tapping into a future reality or a future probability? Does the future spring from the present or… from the imagination?

One of my favorite realizations is this. The only moment that truly exists is the present. The past is just a memory, no matter how much irrefutable proof we think exists. The future is just a dream.

Decades ago, a brilliant author penned a short story called, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Phillip K. Dick’s tale featured a company who specialized in implanting memories. Don’t have the time, the stamina or the money for an actual trip to Mars? No problemo. For a fraction of the cost of an actual launch off the planet, one can be the proud owner of carefully created recollections, along with a smattering of “souvenirs” all of which will prove to you (or at least to your mind) that you actually took that Vacation of a Lifetime.

I won’t give away any of the cool twists, in case you ever get a chance to read the story, yet the implications are much greater than mere entertainment.

The only moment that exists is the one right now. Memories can be changed. The future is still but a dream.

Writers are a fortunate bunch. We get to create stories. Yet everyone shares that gift to a certain extent. Each step we take, each decision we make, we write the story of our life. In the present moment, of course. The rest is just a dream…

*wink*

How about you? Any times when you wondered just how “real” reality is? As a child did you peek into mirrors trying to *see* around the corners of that other world? Or perhaps wondered what civilizations might exist beyond the stars?

For me, my absolute favorite speculations revolve around dreams. I’m constantly intrigued by the possibilities and potential of a non-physical reality we can only visit while sleeping. I could spend hours discussing the ramifications and theories. What about you? Any aspect of the unknown that continues to fascinate? Any theories you care to share?

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Glint of Light

Special Motivation Post for Writers:

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." ~~Anton Chekhov


The greatest gift a writer has is the opportunity to manifest "something out of nothing." Here we sit with a lovely blank canvas-page stretched front of us, the artist-authors ready to splash words in the air and conjure up a new world. A new world that is ours to create. Yet the truest challenge is not only to manifest the intricate plot, the dastardly twist, the unique characters that spout the clever lines we conjure up after way too much caffeine.

What truly takes patience, focus and never-ending persistence is the art of constructing a three-dimensional world. Is our heroine hiding in fear? Or does she crouch behind a dusty dresser, trying to contain her gasps, as a board six feet away squeaks from the weight of her pursuer?

We try to resist filling in the gaps when the reader doesn't need to know (or care really) that our leading lady has always had a hard time breathing ever since she was three years old and her mother (who was laid off from her job because of her anxiety over her husband's issues with his father) first rushed her to the ER and the doctor there told her it was likely that for the rest of her life she’d have breathing issues which would require her to carry at all times a prescription inhal—

No. That won’t work. Can’t move the plot forward by dropping in chunks of back-story. Hmmm… Maybe something where she drops the inhaler? Or… maybe she reaches for it and it's not there and so… she sees it? Maybe… inches from the pursuer's foot? YES! And just like that… we’re off!

It's not the easiest task, to see the "sculpture" and remove all the bits that don't belong. But oh-my-oh-my it's glorious when we finally do see. It's what we strive for, after all. Because… We Are Writers! Let's take a moment and remember the magic, the Art of Writing. Adjust your 'beret', swirl the verbs and nouns on your palette, and Write On!

Hope everyone has a great week of writing!
--Chiron O’Keefe

Friday, October 26, 2007

Monster Mash

It’s the last Friday before Halloween, and my mind is still veering towards spooky stories. Since I am a classic film buff (okay-more like a glutton), I’ve seen many of the original monster movies including the 1922 film Nosferatu (the original Dracula based on the Bram Stoker novel). As a child, I loved a good scare (what kid doesn’t?) but the early films were of a different mindset. Vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy… The monsters were archetypes, often exploring the human psyche as much giving a good fright.

Consider Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The idea for this novel reputedly came to him in a dream. The story is very black & white, the struggle between good and evil. Yet most people consider this a tale of one man’s struggle with the perils of alcoholism. The “monster” then is to be pitied as much as feared and reviled.

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Shelley in 1918 is as much as moralistic tale as a fright fest. You might remember in Greek Mythology that Prometheus, son of a Titan, stole the sacred fire from Zeus and gave it to the mortals, forever changing their destiny. Woven deep into the fabric of this story is a stern warning against the arrogance of man who might overstep his bounds. As the Industrial Revolution exploded, this concern could be considered very real. Should Man play God? How far will he go in his quest for immortality? Heady stuff indeed.

Even Dracula, while certainly a dastardly monster, generates a note of sympathy. To be “undead.” To never know the sweet release of mortality. He is driven too, by a compulsion he cannot control (yet another hint of addiction).

Dracula was written in 1897, yet while the tale is certainly the most well-known, Bram Stoker was not the originator of the “aristocratic vampire.” That distinction goes to John William Polidori who published The Vampyre on April 1, 1819. The Vampyre was written on that same fateful night Frankenstein’s Monster was born. The group which included Mary Wollstonecraft (later to be Shelley), Percy Shelley and Lord Byron, all competed to write the scariest tale during an eve fraught with gloomy weather.

I also remember The Wolfman, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. Here a man returns to his hometown, is attacked by a creature and is now cursed to be a monster. This is one of the only true classic horror flicks that did not come from a famous novel. Originally intended to be a vehicle for Boris Karloff, this film did manage to capture the “folklore” feel and generated a truly sympathetic monster.

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

Now, after the spate of Hollywood horror flicks wound down, a new breed of chills hit the town. The monsters lost their archetypal feel and crossed from the obviously fictional to a sense of potential realism that chilled the bone. I remember one sign being the emergence of such movies as The Night of The Living Dead. Although clearly “unreal” the movie stood out because The Hero Is Killed At The End. There was no positive resolution. No “whew, we made it” happy ending. That, to me anyway, marked a turning point in cinematic history.

Since then the movies have gradually become more grisly, and the focus shifted from subtle psychological transformations to guts and gore. Yikes!

Now, as All Hallow’s Eve approaches, I can’t help but feel nostalgia for a certain lost era.

My favorite “monster” book had to be Frankenstein. Yet the movie I loved most was Dracula, followed by The Wolfman.

How about you? Any favorite monster classics?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Finding Your Voice.

When novelists began that dangerous and lonely trek up the Mountain Of Publishing Dreams, there’s one cry that echoes above the rest.

Find Your Voice.

Editors say it. Agents too. “I just fell in love with the author’s voice.”

Not to minimize the necessity of an original plot and decent writing, yet it’s the distinctive tone that sets the story above the rest. And some authors are so unique that you can literally hear the words as you read them.

A couple of weeks ago I read a Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker. Now, for those who don’t know it, a few years ago, the Television Powers That Be produced a few Spenser movies starring Joe Mantegna. Perfect. The casting was so ideal that now, when I read one of Parker’s novels, I *hear* Joe speaking the lines. Amazing.

The writing style is so unique to Parker that there can be no mistaking it. Casting such a role would be a joy, no doubt, simply because the Character is so finely drawn. Not by description. But by… voice.

When I was nineteen, and an eager and enthused musician-wannabe, a kind and talented performer took me under wing. He was quite the character. The songs he performed were almost exclusively written before 1940. That was his “thing.” I still love (and play) the song he taught me—Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out. This was my first introduction to the plaintive blues of Bessie Smith.

One thing I’ve never forgotten is the advice he gave me as a budding singer. He told me that it mattered not how well I sang. Only how distinctive my voice was. Now, obviously, he wasn’t encouraging me to sing out of tune! It’s a given that no matter what your profession, you strive to be the best you can be. Yet that’s not the key to success in the entertainment biz, he reminded me.

“When you listen to the radio, and Mick Jagger comes on, you recognize his voice instantly. It doesn’t matter what the song is, you know it’s him.”

And when an author finds her voice, you know it. Janet Evanovich is a bestselling author. USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly and NY Times. People love her books and buy them in droves. Why? Because there’s no mistaking her voice. It rings throughout every page. The plots, the characters, they all spring out in vivid Technicolor because of Her Voice.

What strikes me too as I mull this over, is how pertinent this value is in all of life. Not just in singing. Not just in writing. It’s a universal thing. We all strive to find our voice. Friends read your letters or laugh over your jokes or listen to your stories because that’s So You. Voice is how we express ourselves and it’s not limited to the words we choose or the tone we use. Our every gesture, our favorite expressions, the way we laugh or roll our eyes, the tilt of our head or the teasing grin, it’s all part of our unique expression.

And now I realize just how vital this quest is and how it’s not limited to writers at all. This may be our most important focus, this personal quest to discover our unique flavor.

So just for today, no matter how long your To Do list is, no matter how many neglected To Do items nag at your weary soul, take a moment and acknowledge this incredible phenomenon. You’ve invested years without ever realizing it. Your loved ones cherish those special things only you can do. Your unique sense of humor, your exceptional contribution to life, your beautiful, wonderful, truly amazing WAY.

No matter what you think you should do (and trust me, I know that’s a never-ending list). The One Thing that every soul must do is accomplished on a daily basis with rarely a speck of self-acknowledgement. So, let me say it for you… For us all…

Congratulations! You Found Your Voice.

*Smile*

For us writers, let’s keep the faith and remember that no matter how many books it takes, that voice will take hold. It’s inevitable. We are the voice, and the Voice Rules.

Speaking of Voice… Have you been following the fabulous Halloween Treat by Misty Fanderclai?

Her ongoing romantic comedy, Witches Anonymous,
is free for your reading pleasure! Yay! And she just posted Chapter Five. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Which Witch?

Halloween is a week away. I’ve set my DVR to record The Haunting (as mentioned, THE definitive ghost story). Ready for the chills to follow. Yet there’s more to the supernatural than the plaintive wails of the undead. After finishing the second story in Patricia Clapp’s book, Witches’ Children, my thoughts veer towards the proverbial weaver of spells.

Patricia’s story was particularly chilling. A fictional exploration of the gnarled roots of the Salem Witch trials. Spooky and more real than one would like to imagine. Most frightening is the realization that this mind-set can happen anywhere, anytime.

Still, I remember back when Casper was a friendly ghost and Wendy was a very good witch indeed. *smile* Made me wonder, which witch do you adore?

I have my hands-down favorite. Kim Novak in Bell, Book, & Candle. A 1959 classic film, also starring Jimmy Stewart as the hapless innocent Kim spells into love, with Jack Lemmon as her mischievous warlock brother. Included is Elsa Lanchester (the original Bride of Frankenstein) as a wonderfully dotty witch, and a rare and brilliant performance by Ernie Kovacs.

What I love about this movie would take pages and pages to describe so let me just say two things.

First… Kim Novak.

The epitome of coolness. In black Capri slacks and as sinewy as her Siamese familiar, she captures the essence of what I imagined a true witch to be. Somewhat eerie, beyond the human ken, yet heartbreakingly real in her discovery of true feelings.

Second… the myth. A true classic manages to tap into something deeper. The wellspring of consciousness, the primal pool of archetypes Jung explored. When someone taps into that collective consciousness, there’s a familiarity to the tale, even if it’s never yet been spoken.

“A true witch cannot shed a tear.”

With that simple statement, an image is born. An image that haunts and intrigues. So… a witch has all these fabulous powers. She can cast spells and live among humans manipulating them as she pleases. But… She Can’t Feel Emotions.

Rather like finding out you can eat whatever you want without gaining a pound. Only drawback? You no longer have taste buds.

Yikes!

To me, Kim Novak perfectly captured this archetype, which is forever stamped within my soul.

I still love the original Bewitched and her adorable nose twitch. But the hopefulness and tragedy of the witch who could never shed a tear haunts me to this day.

How about you? Any favorite witches cast a spell on you?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Angst Driven Hero

I’d been considering the Wounded Soul archetype recently after someone in my writing chapter mentioned the new vampire show, Moonlight.

A discussion of previous vampire anti-heroes ensued (most notably Spike and Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Personally, I love the new vamp in town, Mick St. John. He’s angst-driven without being a martyr. He’s not as black & white as the previous vamps noted—Spike deliciously demonic while Angel was the “strong, silent” type. More shading, less certainty. Yet he knows where he stands. He just doesn’t have to go on and on whining about it. Which leads to the crux of the matter.

Wounded Souls grate on me. At least for the most part. Not the torch-carrying souls (ala Jim Halpert in The Office). Being a romantic at heart, I have a special squishy-soft spot in my heart for them. *smile* No, I’m talking here about the Lethal Weapon type of hero who puts a gun to their head because they’re just SO gosh darn suicidal and they prey on our emotions with less remorse than an avowed bloodsucker ever could.

Now, this is just my own personal taste. Please forgive if I step on sacred ground (where our wounded soul is no doubt writhing in self-inflicted pain). It’s just I’ve had enough of guys who need to be rescued. I don’t want to be the “woman who chases the blues away.” Puh-lease! Everyone’s got problems, Bucko, time to step up and just deal.

Here’s a great example of a Wounded Soul that doesn't remind me of fingernails down a chalkboard. Michael Weston. The show is Burn Notice (a summer hit on the USA network) and while Michael has his own share of angst, he keeps it nicely contained beneath a cool exterior. Instead of whining about his woes or going off the charts with bizarre, over-the-top antics, he responds with a MacGyver-like efficiency. Sure, he has his issues, but there’s a time and a place, and this ain’t it.

I do get the appeal of the Wounded Puppy leading man. Yet, when the bullets are flying or the bomb’s a’ticking, I don’t want to kick around the meaning of life, love and impending doom. Give me a quick, decisive hero who leaps into action (and not with a self-destructive Kill Me Now recklessness either).

I like heroes who are smart and strong enough to win the battle and live to fight another day. And, lest you think that only damsels in distress dig a ready-to-jump-in-the-fray hero, the leading lady of Burn Notice, Fiona, is a kick-ass heroine who you don't want to cross. She’d kick a Mr. Whiney to the curb so fast you might as well slap a sticker on him: Garage Sale SpecialOne Angst-Driven Hero Crying in His Beer.

This is just me. As I said. Yet I know everyone has a favorite type, along with a cookie-cutter hero that makes them want to scream. Who do love? Who do you hate? What’s your perfect type of hero? Or heroine?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Donut Holes

Special Motivational Post for Writers...

"As you make your way through life, let this ever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut and not upon the hole." –Author Unknown


Mmmhhh…. Donuts. *drool*

This is the kind of line I would love to produce. One with layers (or do I mean sprinkles?) of various meanings. It works especially well for writers. How often do we despair over the holes in our donuts… er… plots, or the missing frosting, when we should be focusing on the story? We can spend countless hours worrying over a fairly miniscule matter, while the book, along with our energy and motivation, languishes.

What to do when stuck with the Donut Hole Blues?

Everyone's different, so of course, we all must find the perfect method to shake the powdered sugar off our fingers and get back to typing. Some people use strong physical labor (vacuum the floors, wash the windows!), others take a walk or sit down with a pair of knitting needles. I have found some of my best plot solutions come to me while I'm lathering my hair in the shower!

There are other ideas too. Heck, Edison took catnaps throughout the day and credited that habit for some of his best ideas—in fact, Elias Howe reputedly resolved his dilemma of the sewing machine needle by sleeping: the solution came to him in a dream. Taking a walk can be good. The exercise gets your blood pumping, the endorphins pick up the spirits, and the movement can help shake that extra jelly doughnut off the hips.

When I'm stuck, I like to pull up what I call my Free Write document (one for every book). I put in the date and began typing through my problem. I work through possible solutions adding OR This...whenever I'm working through a crossroads. Hmmmmm…she could… blah-blah-blah OR she might... There's a certain freedom I feel there that I can't experience in my 'pristine' story. Some of my best writing has come from just letting myself cut loose. I plot there too, and then cut and paste to my ever-expanding outline.

What's absolutely essential is to keep writing. Whatever method works best for you, whichever tool helps to break through, the goal is to Keep Writing. No matter what. This isn't a lark or a dream, it's a Life-Long Habit. So make it a good one! Practice these words: "Sorry, but I have to get back to my writing." Why? Because you're a Writer, that's why!! Published, successful writers ALL have one thing in common. They write. They PRODUCE books. They don't wish them into existence. They write the damn things. One word at a time. And so will we!

Happy Monday, everyone! Have a fabulous and productive writing week...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thrills & Chills

I love the changing seasons. The steady patter of rain dripping off my roof. The way my Japanese maple dances in the wind, scarlet leaves flashing against the stormy sky. The carpet of oak leaves that hints of winter’s approach. The sweet scent of autumn already bites at my nose and turns my spoken word into a puffy white cloud.

In front of our local market, pumpkins are displayed. Huge orange globes, as gnarly and misshapen as a boulder transformed by centuries of inclement weather. Within a couple of weeks, the town’s children will march down Main Street in our annual Halloween parade, displaying colorful costumes, waving their fists in triumphant glee. The fervor is upon us! All Hallow’s Eve approaches!

Perhaps it was a nod to the upcoming holiday that urged me to grab Patricia Clapp’s book featuring the story, Jane-Emily. Originally published in 1969 this is a classic ghost story set in the early 20th century. Reading this gem, I remembered how much I loved spooky stories before Fright Night flicks turned into slasher movies. I remember one of the best hair-raising short stories I ever read, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. Yikes!

Of course, Shirley also penned the definitive ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House from which the movie of the same name sprang. Don’t be fooled, the remake is nothing like the original. Starring Claire Bloom and produced in 1963, the movie, The Haunting of Hill House is a masterpiece. A timeless tale with twists and turns that will fill your mind with questions, while making you leap out of your seat. I've seen it a dozen times or more and still jump. It's that good.

Another delightful ghost story that I adore, portrayed with brilliant simplicity, is the film The Uninvited. Produced in 1944 and starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, this classic has enough chills and suspense to keep you biting your nails. Pop up some corn and grab a blanket!

Tonight, I’ll be starting the second story in Clapp’s book, Witches’ Children. And in the true spirit of October, perhaps I’ll pull out my Shirley Jackson collection after that. *rubs hands together* Keep the lights on, Sweetie! *delicious shiver*

For a special Halloween Treat, the wonderful author, Misty Fanderclai is posting her own ongoing Witchy story free online! A yummy romp of giggles and sweet kisses, check out Chapter Four of Witches Anonymous!

Not yet caught up? The beginning can be found Here.

What’s your preferred style of thrills and chills? Classic shivers like Shelley’s Frankenstein or more modern day shrieks? Do you like the campy parodies like Shaun of the Dead and Scary Movie or the more gruesome fare? Do you prefer psychological suspense or a bloodfest?

Do tell! Just... let me put on the lights first. *wink*

--Chiron O’Keefe

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Changing The Past

Last night, hubby and I watched Journeyman, a new show we’re becoming quite fond of. The premise is similar to Quantum Leap: An unwitting fellow is yanked out of time in order to make small but significant changes in the past.

Unlike the 90’s camp-fest (which I adored along with many others) this new show is darker and the producers seem to be striving for a semblance of realism. It’s like the distinction between early Star Trek and The Next Generation (remember the “tricorder” made from a saltshaker?). The premise is straightforward. The fellow involved has no choice in the matter, disappears without volition (which makes normal living impossible—WARNING: Don’t Let This Guy Drive!) and must struggle to maintain a routine (including wife, child and career) while being sent on these unexpected, involuntary missions.

As I said, we enjoy the show, and hope that it gets a chance to build an audience. I expect that over time it could develop a cult following. *crosses fingers*

The idea strikes a chord for most people, whether they like the show or not. Who hasn’t at one point in their lives (or, if you’re me, several times a day) wished they could go back and give a little nudge to something in the past? Movies like Back to The Future and even Groundhog Day all feed on that inner curiosity, that inevitable urge. What if…? What if…?

There’s an old movie I still watch, Peggy Sue got Married. This is a lovely, cheesy movie with Kathleen Turner playing a middle-aged woman who passes out at a reunion and awakens back in high school. She now has the chance to make significant changes. To choose alternative paths. The possibilities are overwhelming. What might you do differently? Nic Cage (the high school sweetheart and now ex-husband) is hilariously over the top and Jim Carrey makes an early appearance. If you’re looking for a giggle, give it a try.

Who hasn’t considered the idea of changing the past? Oh, sure, I get the whole “Beware The Ramifications” scenario. The “butterfly’s wings” theory that just one insignificant alteration can lead to complete world destruction. *yawn* I prefer the quantum approach. Many worlds to accommodate many choices.

Yet what I realized, as I was exploring this topic today, is how writers relish in the rare opportunity to fiddle with time. Maybe it’s not “real” (but then… “What is reality?” she intones in her best Rod Serling imitation), but we still we have the chance to conjure up alternate scenarios and construct a unique ending.

However, this gift is not limited to writers. Anyone, everyone can do it. When hanging with family and friends, why not give the “what if” game a tentative whirl?

What if NASA had established a Moon Base in the 70’s? What if the space program opened up to include tourists ten years later?

What if nutrition was topsy-turvy and marshmallows were like carrots and dieters could only gaze longingly at a salad bar?


What if aliens DID come to Roswell, but they didn’t crash, but landed successfully. What might they have taught us? How might technology have changed?

Everyone can play the What If game. Not only with world history but with our own personal choices as well. This is a gift that everyone shares. The power of imagination.

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

We already Know what we Know. Let’s imagine what might BE.

Any takers on the What If game?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Procrastination

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
---Abraham Lincoln

Whenever I consider the word “Procrastination”, my mind switches into music mode. The dulcet tones of Carly Simon ring inside my head. I have to stop myself from bursting into song: “Procrastinay-ay-shun is making me wait…”

Or is that “making me late”?

*grin*

Few people understand the depths of procrastination that a writer can sink to. We sneer at the lowly solitaire game, as we usually have at least a dozen Hoyle card games stored on our hard-drive and we’ve mastered them all. Along with Minesweeper, Parcheesi, Chinese Checkers, Checkers… I better stop now before I reach for the mouse and click on Backgammon.

Before you shake your head in disbelief let me add more. Besides email, phone calls, chat rooms, blog comments and message boards, writers have been known to take drastic measures to avoid the inevitable. Even… *gasp* Cleaning The Bathroom.

I know, I know. *shakes head* Sad but true.

It’s not laziness. Or stubbornness. Or even avoidance. No matter what it seems.

The actual writing--tap-tap-tapping the fingers on the keyboard--isn’t the issue. Most of us have the energy and the motivation. And if we were lazy, well… would we really volunteer to vacuum the house while keeping our eyes averted from the nagging computer screen? Hardly.

Writing, particularly fiction, requires us to push past something inside our brains. The experience is both painful and pleasurable. The pleasure for me is usually after I’ve written. Hah! Often times I’ll re-read the passage and feel a surge of satisfaction, a thrill, a YAHOO! When I’m actually pounding out the words though, it’s like reaching inside and yanking out my soul. Often as I compose each sentence, I’m convinced it’s crap. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I scan the words. Whew.

I realize too, that this avoidance isn’t exclusive to writers. We all have tasks we put off. Yet the resistance within our souls is often what hurts. The wall we’ve built inside. Maybe from childhood conditioning, maybe for our own mysterious reasons. Whatever the block is, we’ll go to great lengths to avoid confronting it, even scrubbing toilets (unless of course, scrubbing toilets IS what you avoid, then perhaps you'll pen a novel).

What I have found is this. THINKING about it, gives that stubborn block industrial strength. The process of Thinking About The Upcoming Task is like slathering concrete over a wall. Anticipating can be a direct path to procrastinating. The only way to move past the block is to plan a covert operation. Instead of considering the task at hand, just DO it. Say… “I’ll be (FILL IN THE BLANK HERE) at Blah-Blah o’clock.” When the time comes, move automatically. Don’t consider. Don’t think. Don’t anticipate. Just do.

Sometimes it’s the only way…

And for Carly… We’re on to you. We figured it out.

Now if I can only find a new song…

What about you? Any inventive ways you've discovered to procrastinate? Please share any juicy stories of avoidance. We can always use a few tips. *wink*

--Chiron O'Keefe

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Passion

“Is this not the true romantic feeling: not to desire to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping you?”
--Thomas Wolfe

In previous posts, we discussed the idea of escapism. So many people experience stories as a mini-vacation from life. Certainly, that’s how I’ve viewed them. A voyeuristic opportunity to live as someone else for a brief span of time. Yet as I read the above quote, I could feel the molecules in my brain churning.

True romance, whether in stories or life, is all about awakening and relishing the passion within your heart. In our daily grind, we often forget this. There seems little to cherish about the usual routine—turn off the alarm, make the coffee, shower, shave, brush your teeth. *yawn*

Part of what makes stories so enthralling is that the boring bits are all cut out. Through the eyes of our heroines and heroes, we can glimpse the magic that has escaped our notice. Perhaps encouraging us to open our eyes, as well as our hearts.

Stories are the greatest high. A truly amazing tale leaves you breathless, either with tears or fits of giggles, and the characters and plot linger like the taste of chocolate on the tongue. Yum.

One of my favorite birthday treats is to slip away to a fabulous movie followed by dinner out. Few things beat the thrill of discussing a movie with my hubby over a glass of wine. Part of that is the shared experience. You can read the same book, yet the sharing is not as easy. With movies or favorite television shows, the simultaneous bark of laughter, the derisive snort, the exchange of incredulous looks, all adds to a sense of intimacy. Sharing stories heightens the feeling of camaraderie between us.

Women understand this instinctively. We share stories all the time. It’s part of the bonding process that we are most comfortable with. Which is why we can get frustrated with the Mr. Tell Me What’s Wrong And I’ll Fix It. We’re telling a story here! Quit jumping to the last page!

Other people’s stories, whether fiction or gossip, are a way also of measuring our own life, our own decisions, our own… passion. And what I mean by passion relates directly to the opening quote. How involved are we within each moment? Do you savor each sip of tea or slam it back on the way out the door? Do you marvel over the little things or are the details washed away by the rush of activity? In our busy lives, it’s easy to be swamped by routine, which often leads to predictability, which translates into feeling as if our life is escaping. The stories help us to recapture that spirit. To rekindle our passion.

Truth is, while we all can benefit from the reminder to “stop and smell the roses,” stories are a lovely way to reconnect with the bits and pieces of ourselves that get brushed aside in our daily lives. If I re-watch Bridget Jones’ Diary (for like the millionth time), I’ll sigh and look fondly at my husband who loves me “just the way I am.” I’ll think to myself what a lucky woman I am. Not bad, eh?

The fictional heroes have the advantage over us (despite the nasty dilemmas we authors love to toss at them) simply because each story has a purpose. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Neatly contained. Our lives drift about like a blanket of autumn leaves scuttled by an anxious wind. So many details. So much energy. So little time.

Awakening our romantic spirit is how we prevent life from escaping.

While You Were Sleeping is one of my favorite movies. The idealistic dreamer who pins her romantic hopes on the perfect guy (she’s never actually met). I realized at one point that it wasn’t simply the romance between Lucy and Jack that touched me. Not even watching her awaken her heart enough to realize that her true love wasn’t the Perfect Guy but the one perfect for her. It was… the family. The lovely, normal family who blustered and jostled and giggled and hugged. Just like Lucy, I fell in love with Jack’s family.

Which movies or books do you return to time and again to rekindle your inner passion? And why? What spurs you on? Is it the characters, the plot, the theme?

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Open Vein

Each week I write a motivational essay for my RWAOnline Group. This is a reprint from a post in January:

"There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” ~Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith

There's no getting around it. Writing is personal stuff. Though the people in your book are "just characters", it's your emotion, your heart that infuses the book with life. Heady stuff. Feelings are personal, private, intimate and here they are spilling all over the page, for everyone and their mother to read.

And speaking of mothers… We don't even want to think about when our mother or mother-in-law first reads that *a-hem* rather intimate scene *cough* where the heroine reaches down and… Oh MY!!

Yup… Personal stuff. It's deep, intimate, scary and oh-so-wonderful, this process of writing, that once we start we can't let go. Not now, not ever. It's not just that it's addictive (though it is), it's not just because it's fun (indubitably), it's certainly not simply because it's a thrill to accomplish the seeming impossible (which it is, without a doubt), it's because Writing is a Process of Self-Discovery.

With each page, each new scene, we somehow (without ever quite understanding how) learn just a little bit more about ourselves. As if the computer keys (or Bic pens) are somehow triggering a complicated code that unlocks the door to the greatest mystery within our hearts. The greatest beauty is knowing that as we discover the perfect formula that throws open that door, we cast a light on the heart of every reader who chances upon our novel as well.

Again, heady stuff…

So let's sally forth, the Intrepid Explorers, the Daring Adventurers, the oh-SO-Persistent Writers who will finish each and every book.

Remember… We Are WRITERS!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quest for Integrity

Friday 10-12-07

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”--Joan Didion

I love this quote. While it certainly qualifies as a quote about writing, it speaks to much more. Everyone everywhere needs stories. We spin them in our minds, we daydream our way through monotonous activities, we conjure them up to provide a happy ending when life seems bleak.

We need stories just as we need heroes. Even more, we need to be the Hero of our own Story.

This urge drives us on. Sometimes with positive results. Sometimes not. If the need to be the “good guy”, the good daughter, the good wife, the good friend, means compromising your integrity or living an untruth, not so much.

What’s fabulous about stories, both writing and reading (or watching) is how the character’s words and actions are not limited to our own personal inhibitions. In fact, our favorites can speak volumes about the qualities we wish to embrace. Characters who reflect those qualities are especially close to our heart.

Here’s something I noticed… We like integrity. Now, what I mean by that is not Honesty, Honor, or Ethics. Obviously, in our daily existence, those three are pretty darn important. *smile* But let’s look at integrity. Integrity means being true to yourself.

In our stories, we want our heroes and our villains to be True To Themselves. If that integrity is compromised, we pull out of the story. Not deliberately, but suddenly something doesn’t click. Whatever the character does has to make sense because we as the reader or viewer demand that the character have integrity.

The challenge, in both stories and real life, is to weave in the need for evolution and transformation. That, too, is an integral part of life. Another way to look at is to see it as consistency. A few weeks back, hubby and I watched a movie that made us want to scream. Not only was it riddled with clich├ęs, there was no consistency. The “heroine” (and I use that term derisively) was supposed to be a top-notch reporter yet had the brains of cottage cheese. The “villain” who apparently was harboring a secret obsession had a shrine behind a closet door, yet left his computer running with a voice-over (her voice, naturally) so when she used the key (Tucked Over the Doorjamb! In New York City!!) to enter his apartment, she followed the sound to discover his Secret! *Gasp!*

*tears out hair*

We watched the whole thing, not believing our own stupidity because, let’s face it, the movie was consistently ludicrous from start to finish. D’oh!

What draws us to a story?

The hero’s quest for integrity. Usually our heroine/hero is not being true to her/his self. Because of this, there is an emptiness or a knot that needs to be untangled, although they rarely realize or acknowledge this. Throw in some unexpectedly challenging circumstances or an encounter with a person who pushes those buttons and you have the beginnings of a plot.

Why is this basic structure eternally appealing? Because it reflects life. We all are on a quest to discover our Self. To know ourselves. And we do encounter circumstances and people who challenge us to face the inconsistencies in our life.

We all want to be the hero of our own story. Within the pages of a book, or the scenes of a movie, we learn how other heroines discover their own True Self.

Have stories helped you to discover your own true self?

For me, the quest is about courage and embracing truth over illusion. As I said, in childhood I devoured the Oz stories. Dorothy stood up for what she believed, she challenged others to be true their own selves. I don’t need the heroine to be a “kick-ass heroine” (very popular these days) from the beginning. I do need to see an awakening of her spirit though. I love how Bridget Jones went from lusting after Incorrigible Rogue to falling in love with the Flawed But Sincere Suitor. She eventually chooses the guy who likes her “just the way she is.” Awwww!!

Stories help me too because the escape allows me to breathe. I learn, I laugh, I cry, I breathe…

A dear, dear friend sent me an email asking, “Have you hugged your story today?”

Truth is, this life we lead is our story. Have you hugged Your story today?

--Chiron O'Keefe

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What is your Favorite Book?

Thursday 10-11-07

Yesterday, agent Nathan Bransford asked in his blog “Who is your favorite author?” Which body of work do you drool over and wish you had written?

All I could think was… Just one? Come on. You’re kidding right?

Books, like poignant songs, signify passages of life. The favorites don’t change exactly, but evolve. The list grows. And unless you know emphatically that there is only one style, one genre you would choose to write, the list expands even further.

Demian, by Herman Hesse, is a book that burst within my consciousness like a supernova. Of course, I was nineteen. The crossroads between youth and adulthood. Each book became a new flavor to awaken my hungry spirit. As a child of ten, the books by Edward Eager (particularly Magic by the Lake) and the complete collection of Oz stories captivated me. More than that, they helped form my perception of the nature of reality. Weighty thought, I know. Yet to me that is the beauty and power of fiction. We step inside the character’s mind, heart and soul. We breathe in their perspective, revel in their growth and ultimately taste of their personal evolution.

Ever see the Star Trek Next Generation episode, The Inner Light? Captain Picard awakens to find he is living another man’s life. Although in reality his body lies unconscious on the starship deck, his consciousness experiences a day-to-day existence, which lasts for many years. At the end of the life he is living, he finds out the truth. He awakens on the deck, where just a few hours have passed. The alternate existence was not real. At least not literally. However, within his consciousness, everything he encountered was very real. The knowledge, the wisdom, even the skill developed through his days devoted to learning the flute, remained.

What is reality? Tom Clancy said, “The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.”

The favorite book then is linked to what we might consider our greatest emotional response. For some maybe the choice is easy. But for me… *laughs* I’m just a never-ending fount of emotional responses!

There are so many stories that explode within me. Perhaps because they present a new concept that I roll ‘round and ‘round my brain. Or because they tickled my funny bone in a new and delightful way (the classic Spit-Take Novel). Or because the characters are so real, so endearing I want to crawl inside their heads. Or even because the style of the book sweeps me away.

Anybody here have a favorite story, a favorite author or even a favorite turning point that coincided with a lovely tale?

Decades after I read “Mimsy Were the Borogroves” by Henry Kuttner (in Volume One of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame), the concepts he presented, the way he wrote the story, continues to echo deep within me.

And I still chuckle when I pull out my favorite Edward Eager books. Yup, I reread kid’s books. Go figure.

I think I might completely transform What is My Favorite Book into a new and admittedly, bizarre sentence. What is my favorite? Books!

(For those who wish to leave a comment without signing in, just click Anonymous or Other, fill in the letters and go!)