Friday, December 31, 2010

Jerk that Pistol: Firing into the New Year

I was talking with someone the other day about New Year's resolutions. The person I was talking to was negative in response - citing their unwillingness to succumb to peer pressure to state unattainable goals. I made some kind of blithe return that I didn't necessarily believe in 'resolutions' as such, but I did try and set myself some goals. Here is one right now: I resolve not to talk out of my ass so much. The concept of resolutions and making goals are so similar as to be totally interchangeable.

Having stated I would make no resolutions (but would have goals, insert eye roll here) I immediately started making resolutions. This got me curious. Where does this tradition of New Year's resolutions come from? A quick google around the internet revealed that it goes back to Roman times, and involves making promises of good deeds to the Roman god Janus. Janus is the one with two faces, one looking back and one looking forward. Ok, I can totally get behind a Roman tradition. Romans kick ass (please don't tell my Egyptian characters how much I love Romans). Of course for hundreds of years New Year's resolutions were quite attainable: I will a pile of gold to the poor, I will return the chariot I stole from my neighbor, I will marry the girl I knocked up, etc.

Somehow, over the years, the resolution came to be some personal goal of self-improvement. Which is, apparently, the reason that fewer and fewer New Year's resolutions actually get followed through on, with most people giving up after just a couple months. Giving a charitable donation is a very achievable goal; becoming a better person is not. Just think of all the people determining right this minute that they will lose weight, write every day, be nicer to the people they despise, or exercise more? Are you going to be one of them?

I resolve to write a novel this year. I already started it. I have the books I need for research. I'm not going to tell you how many hours a day I plan to write, or any other writerly self-improvement resolutions that I will probably break before I get a week or two into the New Year. I am simply going to set myself an achievable goal: I will finish my book.

There. Done.

What about you?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pan Historia Technical Status Report

Here is the latest news as best I know it: Pan is protected by a uninterrupted power supply (UPS) that can keep Pan's server running even when the power goes down because it has a battery backup. It is programmed to shut Pan down automatically when battery power goes low. It seems that this battery is getting old and needs replacing, or we need a new UPS, whichever comes first, and it is shutting Pan down even though there are no power outages.

Unfortunately the man, Pandaman, with the technical expertise to determine exactly what is needed and how to program a UPS, is currently on a much needed vacation in the wilds of New Zealand with no internet access, so it's just me doing the best that I can. Until the problem is resolved there will be frequent interruptions of service as I shut down Pan to try and work on a solution. Right now I'm running around looking for a new powerful UPS so we can get Pan back online. I was able to confirm that Pan's status is good. There are no problems with the server itself and the backup server looks healthy too.

Please be patient and understand that any interruptions of service are far better than Pan crashing. Automatic or manual shutdown is good, crashing is BAD.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Present, Christmas Past, Christmas Virtual

Do I scream or do I cry? It's that time of year again. I love the holidays and I hate the holidays. Remember being a child? It was all so uncomplicated then. Santa came in the middle of the night, ate up all the cookies you left him and sucked down on the cream sherry (yes, we were that kind of household), and then left a humungous plethora of joy wrapped in silver, red, and gold paper.

Year after year it grew more complicated. The first Christmas away from home, spent in another family's home as an outside was like a dash of cold water that sent my youthful emotions spinning into darkness. Later on changing family dynamics changed the holidays from my uncomplicated joy to harrowing nightmares that might involve drunken binges (not mine). Expanding connections and networks produced an overload of spending, responsibility, anxiety, and stress as big business pushed ever harder for us all to succumb to an orgy of consumerism at the holidays. As a single parent there were those mornings when I knew I had failed my offspring because I couldn't afford those excessive gifts that were commonplace, it appeared, in every household but my own on Christmas morning.

Now I have a family that demands to be together, and yet collectively sighs and moans at the difficulties inherent at fulfilling the expectations of the season. I'll be doing a little of the same, but in the middle of all the chaos and tears, there will also be hugs, and moments of genuine gladness in each other.

Now if only the holidays could be like they are at Pan Historia: full of fun and games, where gift giving may be real or virtual, but it hardly counts which because everyone is just happy to be involved. No one worries about the stresses of real life too much because it is where they come to escape such concerns. The tree is big and gaudy with plenty of love decorating it, but no needles to sweep up at the end. The food is fun, but will not make you fat or give you indigestion. And it really doesn't matter what the holidays mean to you. We have something for everyone.

Oh, and I love our red cardinal and snow theme this year, simple and elegant.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

To Publish or Not to Publish - That is the Rub

back cover art for Panthology artwork by Jack KnightHaving spent quite a few months working on the Panthology it's time to ask myself: what's next? I'm happy to get back to reading and writing in my collaborative novels at Pan Historia, but ultimately I thrive on goals and projects that can yield tangible achievements. Writing on Pan is the most pleasurable form of exercise I know, but I still consider it exercise. It's social, it's fun, it's interactive, but the end of the day it's building things that last that I enjoy the most. Tinkering with the structure of Pan is something that gives me great satisfaction and joy as I strive to increase membership and participation by increasing the ease and functionality of the site. Of course I'm only a tinkerer when it comes to site construction but I believe that Pan reflects its users to a large degree. It's not so much about bells and whistles and high tech apps, but about being a comfortable place to express one's imagination. Writers just need to write, ultimately.

Perhaps that explains my mild obsession with publishing Pan Press books? I mean the logical conclusion of a writer's work is to be published. It's as old as the hills—or as old illuminated manuscripts anyway. To be published is to be real, genuine, accepted, legitimate. Technically it's considered a form of publishing to post material, such as this blog, on the internet for others to read, but both you and I know it's not what WE mean, as authors, when we say we are "published." Even when we boast, as I have done, of my status as a "published" author deep down in my heart I want that book with pages of vellum, binding, rabbit skin glue, and black ink. This is probably why authors, as a group, are the most resistant to the idea of eBooks. It's not quite... printed... is it? Of course it is, and I would be thrilled to be selling millions of copies of my novel in eBook format, but that will never cure my schoolboy crush on the first object of my desire: the book; either paperback or hardback.

So what is next? Besides going back to work on my own novel, a supernatural/horror adventure, I think I will prepare one of my collaborative novels, FLESH, from Pan for publication. Like the Panthology it will be a collection of writers, but this time we will bring the whole stories. It will be a challenge to edit the pieces together in order to tell each story (it will be a collection of about 4-5 stories set in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has turned people into zombie-like killing machines). Zombies are hot items, and some of the stories are really very good with some great writers from the site. This is a piece that I feel has merit beyond the site, and can engage a larger audience of readers from hardcore zombie fans to general horror lovers. I would love to see if I can expand beyond members of the community and engage the interest of other readers for our publications. If it's even mildly successful it opens the door for any number of such projects for any number of genres represented at Pan.

Illustration by Jack Knight

Friday, November 26, 2010

Panthology


I've been gone from the blogosphere a long time. Life got a wee bit hectic (marriages, moves, family, and much much more!). But here is the most interesting (for my bloggie buddies) reason for my absence:

I have been compiling, editing, and designing Panthology: A Celebration of Ten Years of Pan Historia. I'm really proud of this second volume of Pan's creativity. We published The Pan Historia Birthday Book in 2004, and the second anthology has been long overdue, but how wonderful to be celebrating ten full creative years online as a collaborative writing community.

Here is my preface to the piece (and I hope it whets your appetite):


Trying to explain to bemused friends what I spend so much time doing online is a challenge mostly likely ending in mystification whether they are writers or users of social networks.

Media is increasingly filled with alarm calls that the internet is destroying our minds, our children, and our ability to interact with one another. Few people dare to challenge that notion. People apologize for spending time on their computers. Studies (skewed to the bias of the researchers no doubt) show that we are all increasingly unhappy, particularly when seated at our computers.

I cannot address these concerns except to counter with my personal experience, and then present the evidence to you with this anthology of one community's creative soul. There is at least one place on the internet where the mind is stimulated, the soul is fed, the imagination set free, and people find genuine warmth and community: Pan Historia.

The stories and excerpts that follow are eloquent testimony to that assertion. Every day for ten years I have logged into Pan eager to see what the day will bring: forays into outer space aboard a derelict spaceship; a gunfight in a dusty silver boom town; romance in medieval times; blood feuds between faery races; fan fiction; good conversation; a new recipe for the best chocolate cake; battles with slugs and snails in the garden. The possibilities are endless, and in ten years, always changing.

It is not just the writing, but the companions that you take with you along the way. Read the story "Farewell My Heart" on page 499 by KhemumRa Hatshepsut to fully discover how imagination, fiction, and reality intersect. This heartfelt piece was the end of a long
collaboration between good friends, both at Pan and in real life, due to the death of one of the writers, Meritites. "Farewell My Heart" is a tribute, an ending - a perfect example of how deeply a community like Pan can touch people's lives.

In Clio's blog entries: "Musings" on page 497, the writer chronicles for her friends at Pan, one of the most grueling and painful experiences of her life - because she trusts us.

Behind most of these stories is another, true life, story. Marriages have been made, friendships have grown, children have been named in honor of Pan friendships and associations, and people have found solace for their real life afflictions and troubles. Young writers have literally grown up on Pan, maturing into seasoned adults. I could write a whole book about the incredible interactions I have experienced with my friends in this community. I have been moved to tears on more than one occasion when someone has confided in me how much the site has meant to them, and how it has helped ease them through a difficult period in their life.

There is so much to Pan Historia that one anthology cannot possibly encompass it all. When the Publishers were faced with the daunting task of choosing pieces for this collection it was simply impossible to include all the great stories, writers, and friends, that have graced our virtual world in the last ten years. We simply had to do the best we could. Hopefully we captured enough to give a window into our soul. At Pan Historia we don't just write the stories, we live them.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Slow Progress Report

The Tortoise and the HareI resolved to slow down on January 31st. We're well into March and I'm still no master of the art of taking it slow and easy. The tortoise would still run the race and I'm still a bit like that hare: rush, rush, rush, crash. The road to the finish line is paved with good intentions, but we don't always come in first. That said I can definitely state that it's not a waste of time to slow down. I think today I'll try not to gulp my lunch so that I send burning cheese down my shirt front and burn the roof of my mouth. Easier said than done considering my lunch, today, will fall on a ten minute break. Not burning my mouth or incurring another dry cleaning bill to get the oil stains out of my shirt are both positive results - if I can swing them - of slowing down.

In what ways do you believe you could see some results if you slowed your own life down? If you took the time to prepare your own food from good ingredients you might not only see a result in increased health but perhaps increased pleasure and satisfaction? Maybe taking meals with your family instead of eating in front of the computer or TV might increase the value of your loved ones in your life. Don't let time run away from you. You might have a paper to write, an exam to study for, or just trying to fit all the stuff you want to do between the times you have to punch the time clock, but think how much more energized you'll approach those tasks if you had some good relaxation or pleasure between?

I got a good night's sleep, but I didn't sleep in. I got up early. I drank coffee. I didn't rush into my tasks. I allowed my brain to catch up with me, and then I wrote this morning. Man, that felt good. It wasn't a marathon writing session, but it was a productive one. Then I made a nice breakfast that a hobbit would be proud of (it involved mushrooms). It so energized me that... oh look, I'm writing a blog post even and it's not even 9:30 a.m. I still have time to take a nice hot shower and dress for the job. Of course it helps that I start late today. Tomorrow it's just going to be: up, coffee, fire up the brain, breakfast, shower, dress, drive - but I'll take my time and be ready to start on the job with all synapses firing. Taking it slow doesn't necessarily mean not doing stuff. We all still have to do our things. Life is not something that will wait for you, or rather not too long. But taking your time, getting in your relaxation, and focusing more should lead to greater productivity and creativity rather than less.

Avoid that heart attack. Take your time.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Taking Responsibililty for the People in Your Life

ScoldingThe definition of insanity, or stupidity (I can't recall which) is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I, at times, suffer from this. I am self-aware enough to realize it so maybe I'm not insane or stupid but simply a perpetual Pollyanna? Recent events in my life and around me have caused me to reflect, again, on how people in your life can effect you, from the most casual of online acquaintances to the most keenly bonded relationships.

I like to think of myself as a pragmatic optimist and so eventually I always have to back away from my optimism in a negative situation and assess. It's important in life to realize that we cannot change other people; we can only change ourselves. If something keeps happening to you over and over again you can either whine, bemoan everyone else's stupidity, or you can ask yourself: "why do I attract this to myself?" Once it becomes your responsibility and something you did or created or attracted it suddenly becomes a problem that is solvable rather than a perpetual source of anxiety. In the instance of someone in your life that continually reflects back negativity you have to ask yourself what about you draws that? Are you being negative? Are you too defensive? Perhaps you open yourself up to perpetual criticism because you feel inadequate in yourself?

This swings me to my other character defect: wanting to fix everything. Much as I can take responsibility for the things that happen in my life, and then do something about creating better results and situations, is equally important to understand that some things, like the weather and tides, cannot be changed. If you find, after careful self-examination, that you have taken all the steps you can to ensure the most positive results it's time to step back. I don't mean you should resume the blame game however. I can't foresee every possible problem and ensure that it doesn't come up and disturb the glass-like surface of the sea on a calm day I would like to create in the world around me. Waves happen. There are Tsunamis. When such events occur in your life it's time to get out the surfboard and ride it out.

But you don't have to ride out bad behavior when it comes to people. The people in our lives are there by our choice. People, as much as events, influence us. We can't always choose our family ties, but we can pick our friends. If you have a friend or acquaintance that always seems to be drawing bad feelings to you through their criticisms or dramas it's time to assess their true value to you in your life. Some people just do not add value. Don't allow people around you who continually make you feel bad. Healthy criticism is one thing. Harping discontent is quite another. Family is one area where I often endure more than I would from people not related, but even within the family boundaries must be drawn. Even there you have to state your position and require good behavior, or possibly, in the end, withdraw. Even with your family you do have a choice, even if at times that choice is a painful one to make.

Again it's not about blaming. It's about taking responsibility. If there is a person in your life that brings you bad feelings or continually causes disruptions it's not about blaming them. It's about asking yourself why you allow them to behave in negative ways towards you? If you have clearly stated your boundaries and they still ignore your needs, then why are they in your life at all? Some people may require interventions, others just a good talking to, and some you might just need to brush off like mosquitoes, but it's all still about the choices you make in your life. As long as you know you have done what you can to right the balance and take responsibility for your actions, you can feel free to remove those negative influences, maybe once and for all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Start Some Slow Connections

Four days into my resolution to go slower in my life, take a little more time over my actions, and chew experience like it was a meal by Bobby Flay, I'm seeing only the most intangible of results, and yet... I do feel better. I seem to be just a bit more relaxed, and just a little less stressed. As a result that is highly desirable, but, of course, like with anything I want more. I'm not beating myself over the head for my lack of writing, instead focusing on the positives that I have achieved by taking tasks one bite at a time.

The biggest obstacle is going slower at work. Around me my coworkers are rush rush rushing while their clients rush even faster; everyone falling all over themselves to get more done, seem more efficient, get onto the next task. With the bathwater of apparent inefficiency goes the baby of connection. Exchanges are superficial. Even evaluations tend to quick catch phrases that are modern shorthand to get to the emotional heart of something without actually doing the foundation work that should proceed it. Things get broken; other things get neglected. Sometimes what gets neglected is anything meaningful at all. We're not on this planet to provide services or sell things. We're here to live each our single life and hopefully in the course of that life achieve an experience of richness through our personal achievements and meaningful relationships.

You can't have a meaningful relationship with a person in a quick and hurried uber-efficient conversation or in a five second tweet. I'm not suggesting that every client, every customer, every time you pump gas, that you stop and make friends, but certainly with those people that you touch throughout your day, day after day whether it be family, coworkers, village, or just your tribe, that you take it slow, savor it a little, and by doing so making some connections that can enrich your life and your work.

And don't worry about the time wasted. Once you truly take everything slower with more focus there will be less time wasted, less mistakes and mishaps, and less time spent cleaning up the split milk. By slow I mean deliberate.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Slow Down Slow Before You End Up Like a Bug on a Windshield

The Tortoise and the HareIf I had sat down to write this piece yesterday morning it would have been very different. As it was, since I was forced to wait by virtue of being at work, I had time to ruminate for many an hour on this simple thought: people need to slow the heck down. Everyone is running too fast. Certainly they are in my neck of the woods. By the way how do woods get necks anyway? After ruminating, chewing the cud as it were, I was handed a magazine called Good. I haven't seen this magazine before but I bought this issue immediately because the cover proclaimed: Slow Down; perspectives on a smarter, better, and slower future. Leafing through the articles on driving slower, Slow Food, and building things to last reflects many of the thoughts that had been tumbling like stones in my brain, slowly being polished in anticipation of this essay.

Was it serendipity or fate that I was thinking 'Slow Down' just before someone handed me a magazine of the same thought? I think it was synergistic. It's time we all start slowing right down before we grind to a messy halt altogether. Drive too fast and you risk crashing. Oh yeah, you think you have to get somewhere in a hurry? You need to save a few minutes of your precious on the go multitasking lifestyle? You save no time when you end up in the emergency room, or on the mortician's steely slab. Worse yet you save no time when you put someone else there. Are you saving time when you rush through all of life's experiences to get to the next one? We're choking on our fast food lunches. We're giving ourselves ulcers and cancer and diabetes. We're speeding by so fast, all so we can get to the grave just that bit faster. And fast people are cranky people. Trust me. I have to deal with them every day at work and on the road.

Life expectancy might be higher than ever, but I have a feeling that the humble farmer of a century or two ago, plowing the soil, moving through the seasons at a sedate rhythm, even if he lived less years than you will, had a longer life for he was there for almost every minute of it, rather than rushing through them so that they die like bugs on your windshield.

I've looked at some of the other sites and articles about slowing down, and most of them seem to focus on relaxing more and doing less. I'm not necessarily going to say you should stop reading your email, or spend more time in bed, but I am going to say that I am determined to do everything with a little more deliberation, a lot less rush, and always allow time for stopping, smelling the roses, and just plain breathing while I absorb the experiences I'm having, instead of always projecting my thoughts into the future, ignoring the now. I'm going to cook my food, eat less of it on the run, spend time in the garden, write without distractions, drive at the speed limit, not honk or cut people off, or drive so fast through the pouring rain I take out someone's beloved pet. I promise to appreciate the moments of my life. No matter how I do the math I'm at least halfway through my life and many days, weeks, months, and maybe years of it I have spent in a speedy blur where I can't remember what I did or why I did it. I promise not to waste what's left. I'm going to slow down slow.

Join me in slowing down on my new Facebook page: Slow Down Slow - let's see if we can start spreading the word and making a difference to the quality of life. I'll also be including other articles on slowing down, multitasking less, and related topics here on my blog in the future.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bombs Bursting in Air

I suffer from multi-taskitis and project-overload. No matter how I try to trim down on activities and interests and procrastination it seems I keep on piling them on my head until I'm in danger of drowning. When that happens I find myself stuck on mindless distractions (anyone that is a FaceBook friend of mine will know exactly what I mean) to turn off the anxiety or napping, but of course both of these end up giving me twice as much anxiety in the long run because I become more self-critical of myself for wasting valuable time. I feel like I'm on that proverbial treadmill at the gym, going nowhere fast.

Another symptom of my over-involvement and the impossibility of focusing on one task at a time is the increasing tendency towards losing the thread, brain stutters, and memory lapses. When I sit down to work I make repeated resolutions that this day I will start to focus my energies, cut out my time-wasting activities, and structure my day. I never follow through. The miracle remains: I still get shit done.

I'm like a poor mule beaten about the back to keep on pulling in the traces, but the whip hand? That's my own. I beat myself black and blue every day just to get through the day and get something accomplished of the long list of projects I have set myself due to the incredible firing of my brain. Basically I get ideas. It never stops. Day in day out, night time too, I'm getting ideas. I find almost everything interesting. Inspiration sparks me where ever I go, from the slow times when I actually walk somewhere and have time to smell the gardenias, to the crazy overload times where my fingers are racing across a keyboard to get the ideas down somewhere before they vanish in the ether.

Of course the key to all of this is two-fold: make a plan and stick to it; and pick less projects. Maybe even schedule projects to be consecutive instead of all at once? How to reject great ideas though? It seems such a shame to consign interesting little tidbits to a murky "might never get around to this one" file.

Hey, I know. I could gain 32 hours a week if I quit my job.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who Cares What Color Their Eyes Are?

Really - who the hell cares what color their eyes are? Heck, most of us don't even remember the color of our own spouse's eyes. I think they are sort of a grey green and mostly I remember that because she told me and it's important when picking out colors for her to wear. When I meet a person I don't say "gee, it was nice to meet Bob, he had brown eyes." I don't remember people by their eye color or their hair color or their height; unless it's unusual for some reason. So why is it so many writers write lines like this:

Darkly handsome Antonio, with bronzed biceps and chiseled jaw, gazed deeply into Allura's violet eyes, so big and moist, fringed with thick luxuriant black lashes.

Yawn.

I'm pretty much done with a book right there, aren't you? This kind of description tells us nothing except that the characters are artificially good-looking and probably going to be one dimensional. I bet he's sardonic and prone to misunderstanding the heroine until he takes her roughly, and she's rebellious and spunky, but she'll yield in the end.

Writing the introduction for a character that starts with a physical description is, generally, a pretty good signal that whatever follows will be clich├ęd and hackneyed. Yet I have seen decent young writers make this mistake and follow it with a ripping yarn. They're going to be fortunate indeed if they can get away with this and expect someone to keep reading. I don't know about you but nothing about the color of the heroines eyes tell me much about her personality, and eyes simply are not windows on the soul. You can't see anything in their depths. All the nuances of expression we human beings observe in each other is caused by hundreds of muscles in the face causing the skin around eyes and brows to crinkle and furrow, the turn of a mouth. Body language is a whole body affair and so the tilt of a shoulder, the jut of a hip, or a slouched back is telling us more than a study of an iris.

Here is a great quick sketch of a person:

He is not a guy who cares a lot about how he looks, unless he cares a lot about appearing not to care. He has angular eyebrows, and tousled hair. His disposition was serene, but you could sense a prickly, Jesuitical undercurrent coursing beneath it. He speaks softly with a gentle Texas twang.

No hair color there, no eye color either, but you get a real sense of a living breathing person with personality. I took this quote from a description of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey by Nick Paumgarten in the January 4, 2010, issue of The New Yorker. The writer has picked out some salient features because they stand out and they tell us more about John Mackey than a mere physical description. After reading the article I know a lot about Mackey but not a thing about the color of his eyes. Tousled hair: he's not fastidious about his appearance. Angular eyebrows: gives him an intense look that accents what the author said about the prickly undercurrent underneath the serene casual appearance. Speaks softly? As Whole Foods CEO he's knows people are listening. He doesn't have to shout.

Here is how F. Scott FitzGerald describes his tragic hero Jay Gatsby for the first time:

He smiled understandingly - much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced - or seemed to face - the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished - and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I'd got a strong impression he that he was picking his words with care.

No idea what color his eyes are - well probably he's blond and blue-eyed and that's because he was portrayed by Robert Redford in the movie, old sport. This description, that concentrates so much on the smile and how it affected our narrator, while seeming spare in physical details actually tells us a great deal about Gatsby. He's self-made, very self-conscious, and yet he has a gift of making someone feel very special. Gatsby himself is very concerned with the external: his appearance, his speech, his house, but at the core there seems to be something empty. This image of Gatsby is then amplified and then drawn to its tragic ending throughout the rest of the book. Even more cunningly FitzGerald doesn't even introduce Gatsby until he's fueled our interest in through several chapters of mystery and gossip about the elusive Gatsby.

The fact that the movie version tends to stick in the mind of anyone that has seen and read the book is another good example of what it really shouldn't matter what color your heroine's eyes are. Casting Robert Redford as Gatsby was an admirable choice because his boyish good looks, so blond, really mirror FitzGerald's characterization of his protagonist. Movies are a visual medium that need to make the choice about exactly what a person looks like whereas books do not. But once that choice has been made it becomes fixed in the mind. I cannot read The Great Gatsby without seeing Robert Redford but if I had read the book prior to the movie I might see a dark Gatsby, a small Gatsby, a burly Gatsby. My own mind would add details to the important clues that FitzGerald has drawn me and this internalized version of Gatsby would hold far more meaning to me than one created for me of whole cloth.

If you do end up picking an eye color or hair color for your heroine or hero it should mainly be a detail for your own imagination, and unless there is a pressing reason otherwise, probably isn't important for your reader. How many times have you heard a person exclaim over the movie version of one of their favorite reads that the director got it all wrong? It clashes with their own internalized version of the story. What the author does is paint enough of a picture to grab their reader's imagination and desire to know about the character, and then the reader fills in the rest, creating a truly original symbiotic relationship between writer and reader. You need to know more about your characters than you write down, and what you end up giving the reader should be revealing of their inner nature, what makes them unique, not what color their eyes are. Better you should tell us just how they organize their sock drawer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Letting the Genie Out of the Bottle

I just watched an amazing presentation on the source of genius and creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, that I want to share with you all on my writing blog this morning. Not only did it answer a few questions for me as an artist but it confirmed some of my own beliefs about art and the myth of the tortured artist. Elizabeth talks not only about writing but writing as an art form and the writer as an artist but about the other arts as well so this talk is essential for all creative people.

As a student majoring in fine arts (I have a Masters in painting) and as the offspring of artists I'm, more than most, fully aware of our stereotypes, culturally, about artists as tortured souls that pay for their genius (modern definition of the word being that genius is being really smart or creative) with terrible mental and emotional problems. The quintessential poster boy for this viewpoint is, of course, Vincent Van Gogh. The viewpoint is so all prevailing that I know artists who have considered themselves failures when they didn't die young, or bemoaned the fact they haven't had a nervous breakdown yet.

Normally sane people, in other words, will drink, take drugs, cultivate disruptive and destructive behaviors, just to fulfill society's prophecy that the creative individual is doomed. There are, naturally enough, tons and tons of examples. As I was studying art, being a rather sane individual that really didn't want to booze myself to death or suffer from mental illness just for my muse, I had plenty of cause to think about this topic. I was also studying art history at the same time and it's pretty easy to trace the history of the idea of artist as tortured individual from its origins. Great art has been produced of it, but is it really that useful of an idea? Can we change it?

Elizabeth wants to give us a new myth about artists and creativity and it's actually a very old myth. Watch and rejoice:

Monday, January 4, 2010

Counting to Completion

Old Pan Historia logoAs of this morning I'm 14,460 words, 28 pages, and 6 chapters into writing my first novel. I also have 1,667 words of saved cuts.

What's with the numbers I hear you ask? It's not about cranking it out there, but about the writing, man. Alright, that's not what you're asking - that's what I'm asking myself. I have often criticized the whole NaNoWriMo phenomena as a way of pushing output over quality. I think I understand better, now, why it's a good idea to overcome writer's block by short circuiting the whole anal retentive "it must be perfect" self-editorializing funk. Still my new obsession with numbers is not about writing 50,000 words in a single month. I am editing as I go along, and I started this particular resolution back on November 8, 2009.

I have long known that I needed something to push myself out of my own personal procrastination cycle when it came to writing my novel. I have written of my process here a couple of times in past blogs. Then in November I had the idea to start a writing group at my community web site, Pan Historia, which I dubbed Write Together. The purpose of the group, in all honesty, was twofold. One obvious reason was I felt that maybe a writing group of my peers where I was expected to show results would be a great way to give me a kick in the pants I needed. My other goal was to show that Pan Historia was not just a site where people fooled around and wrote purely for fun (though those are perfectly good and acceptable reasons to be there!) but also was a great hot house of creativity that could be a positive way for serious writers to have fun and improve their writing while doing it.

To prove that I needed to make myself a good example of it. It wasn't enough for me to know that there were a few published writers on the site, and a few people that had taken their writing to the next level after sharpening their tools at Pan. I needed to be one of those people I talk about. So here I am to tell you that I am 14,460 words farther along on my goal than I was on November 8, 2009, and that feels damn good. The counting is a game that helps me to keep my eye on the ball, and my feet on the trail. It's not about quantity, but the act of moving forward and having something I can measure to let me know I'm getting somewhere.

What game do you play to keep yourself on track with your writing goals?