Where to Find Writing Inspiration

IMG_0027Before I was a published writer, I used to read writers’ biographies and letters for inspiration. I still do, but not so much. Instead of biographies, written by biographers sometimes even after the writer is dead, writers often pen their own memoirs these days. I love them. I’m not sure writers write letters to each other anymore–they’re more likely to email or chat in a private Facebook group. The internet has changed everything about the way we write. It has changed the entire writing landscape. Author websites and interviews abound online and of course they  inspire, but best of all is hearing an inspiring writer speak IRL. Nothing beats it.

Yesterday, Michigan Sisters in Crime (writing groups like Mi_Sinc are where you go to find great writer/speakers) hosted Michigan writer Karen Dionne, whose novel The Marsh King’s Daughter captured the attention of thirty publishing houses a few years ago. I’d heard Karen speak before, at another conference. Her story six or seven years ago was inspiring, but what was still to come would be a very happy surprise.

Karen had written in school, but didn’t continue writing once she married and had kids. In the 1970s, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula invited homesteaders, so Karen and her husband (along with their six-week old baby) moved to the UP and lived in a tent while they built their cabin. Karen remained busy for a long time making a home in a fairly isolated area and didn’t think much about writing until her son won a creative writing award at school. Karen found that several famous writers would be at the award ceremony, and she was determined to go.

Those famous writers inspired Karen so much she set about writing a book and finding an agent. She credits her agent with teaching her how to write as they went through six drafts of her first (still unpublished) effort at a novel. Then she snagged a book contract with two science-based thrillers. When they didn’t sell zillions of copies, her publisher dropped her. But her agent stuck with her and she landed a project she calls “work for hire.” A television show wanted her to write a book using the characters and setting of that show. She was paid a flat fee and does not own the rights to that work.

Meanwhile, she was busy in the writing world with her public speaking and with an online community she helped form. The popular writer’s conferences they held in New York each year took lots of planning. She wasn’t writing, but she was in the writing world, putting on conferences, speaking about writing and helping to nurture new writers. She was learning and networking as she went along, too. Then, after a number of years, the conferences came to a natural stopping place, and Karen was suddenly free to write another book.

She wasn’t sure she had one in her, but the first sentence of The Marsh King’s Daughter came to her as she was falling asleep one night. She remembered it the next day and she still thought it was a good first line. She was intrigued by the voice that had spoken and wanted to see what else this voice had to say. She worked on the novel steadily for a year and a half with no contract and no publisher. Her agent encouraged her and praised an early draft as her best work yet.

When the book was ready to be submitted to publishers, Karen received dozens of offers from major publishing houses. Editors loved it. There was a buzz about this fabulous new work. Many offers were made by editors and finally she signed with her dream editor and her first choice publisher for lots of money. The book went on to receive praise from The New York Times Book Review and many other literary stars, authors and reviewers alike. The book, still with that same first sentence that came to her in the night, became a best seller.

It was an overnight sensation that was some thirty years in the making. Karen had set her book in the small UP homestead where she’d lived as a young wife and mother. The authentic feel of the setting is one part of the book that makes it special. The voice of her main character is also often singled out for praise. Then there’s the brilliant concept: the story is told by the adult child of a woman who had been kidnapped, raped and held for years against her will. There’s a dual timeline as the reader slowly gleans what life was like for the young girl who thought her family was perfectly normal.

Karen is warm and funny. She’s also a generous writer who answered all our many questions about the craft and the business of writing. I know I was not the only writer to come away with a new determination to keep pushing myself even when it seems like that big break is never going to come. Because if you keep writing, you never know where your career will go next.  If you don’t write the book, there is zero chance of landing a fabulous publishing deal.

Many of us wanted to know Karen’s secret formula for success. Her #1 piece of writing advice was to fearlessly write the best book you can. Follow your gut, not the writing rules. Try new things if they feel right. She promises that if you write a great book, agents and editors are out there ready and waiting for it.

Hypnotized

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A few days ago, not quite halfway into my three month experiment of living alone in a Florida beach town, I was waiting for something to happen. I’m reading Julia Cameron’s It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, the book that had promised to break things open for me, I was living an experience I knew would challenge me and maybe, I hoped, release some kind of something inside.

My hopes for this time alone were ambitious. I wanted to finish a book, start blogging and lose weight (again). I was so far away from inspired when I came down here. I’ve been round and round the weight loss routine for too many years to really believe I could create lasting change. I was starting to give up on ever finishing the book I’ve been writing off and on for a few years now. I needed help, but only the kind I could provide for myself. I had to do the work, whatever that was.

Julia’s book is at the center of my plan. At the end of each week, she concludes with a series of questions about how things went. She always asks about synchronicity. Synchronicity is when you notice that certain themes keep popping up in your life. After weeks of faithful work, I wasn’t having any of that, and I wanted some. The thing with synchronicity is, you might be having it and just not notice. It might be tugging at you and you’re brushing it off.

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Two weeks ago I read a novel by one of my favorite authors with a hypnotherapist main character. Since I read that book, I’ve been thinking about learning more about hypnosis. Then out of the blue the other day my dad (who quit smoking via this method) mentioned hypnotherapy. This propelled me to the bookstore where I found Instant Self-Hypnosis. When I got home I realized I’d just experienced synchronicity.

Hypnosis is not exactly what I thought it was. There is no “going under” there is no time where the hypnotized person is not in complete control and fully aware of what’s happening.  After you’re hypnotized, you remember everything that happened while you were in the trance. It’s like the flow I enter when I meditate, or when I write.

The difference is, with hypnosis, the place I enter is not the still calm center of my consciousness or the place in the story where my characters are currently playing out my plot. The entry point in hypnosis is your subconscious. By relaxing, the conscious mind opens a door into the unconscious and then slips in an intention, like losing weight or finishing a book. It’s a simple process, takes about 20 minutes. The author suggests you undergo the process three times for any one thing you want to change in your life. So three 20 minutes sessions for weight loss, three more for finishing the book.

I’m going to try it. The thing that made me really believe that hypnosis can work was not that the AMA (American Medical Association) has given hypnotherapy its stamp of approval as a solid method to help stop bad habits and start good ones. No, what intrigued me most and felt most promising to me was something that I intuitively knew was true about myself. On a conscious level, I really do want to lose weight.

But on an unconscious level, I know I’m ambivalent about the weight loss. Does it mean I must forever forego chocolate? Wine? Pizza? Chips? Not Fun. And that formerly unconscious false belief that all fun will be drained from life if I lose weight is what has kept me from losing weight for good. I’ve lost 25-30 pounds half a dozen times. But I always gain it back…probably when I decide, on an unconscious level, I’m done being deprived and want to have fun again.

I understood this dynamic in a flash. But understanding a false belief is not the same as changing it. For that, I’m going to try hypnosis.

Point of View

Thrillers are not my usual reading choice, but when my dad moved and left me with a shelf of Patricia Cornwell novels, I decided to give her a try. They are bloody, the bad guys horrid beyond belief, but the blood and horror didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I didn’t have nightmares, but was a little more spooked by someone suddenly knocking on the front door. (My friends and UPS use the back door.)

Working my way through these books, enjoying them very much, hasn’t done what I hoped it would: help with my descriptive abilities. I still have to remind myself to slow down and describe important aspects of setting or character. I plan to work on my last three scenes with description at the front of my writing mind. Yes, description can be overdone and dull but I don’t worry that will happen to me and if it does I will mercilessly cut it out.

One thing I really liked was the first person point of view of Kay Scarpetta. The novel I finished last night, Blowfly, used a bunch of POVs and I missed the singular Scarpetta. At the same time I could see why readers would like the quick change suspense as PC raced through short scenes, switching POV like a mad scientist whose test tubes are boiling over. The reader is always left wanting more, always turning pages.

Speaking of which, in the last few novels, there’s been a thru-line that effectively leaves one piece of the puzzle unresolved, compelling this reader to pick up the next novel asap. Even while I see this admirable manipulation, I miss my first person Kay. I understand that most fiction readers prefer third person. I know lots of people who cannot read first person at all. But I love to read it and write it. I often write in first person if I hit a block. Then I switch it back to third, where, for today at least, it belongs.

Our Family Star

I come from a very creative family. My son Mike writes apps in his spare time. Tim builds cars. My dad builds beautiful rooms onto existing houses. My mom draws and wrote a story I included in my first book. It is everyone’s favorite part of the book. My grandmother was a painter, my grandfather a writer. Both my sons married creative women. And my uncle, Tom Weschler, is a rock & roll photographer. He was and still is my role model: he’s never had a “real” job. He has made his way through the world by his photo lens. I admire that so much!

Now Tom can add movie star to his resume. He’s in the film “Louder than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story.” This film premiered at the Detroit Institute of Arts Thursday night, and I was there! Two sold out shows. It’s going on now to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Tom is a natural storyteller, and his skills show in the film about the broken down ballroom that came back in ’69 & ’70 as a rock venue. Bob Seger, The Stooges, The Who, Janis Joplin w/Big Brother, Led Zepplin, Ted Nugent, and the list goes on.

About a year ago, Tom’s book on his travels with Seger, Travelin’ Man, came out. Many never-before-seen photos and Tom’s trademark anecdotes make the coffee table sized book a real treat. You can see the reviews on Amazon. I wrote one–really short. I want to show my friends that writing a review is not a difficult thing. After all my pleading, I still only have 3 reviews. Tom has 21!!

Happy Easter!

 

 

Let Writing Rescue You

Last night, carrying a large laundry basket downstairs, I tripped over my cat and fell face first into the air. The basket flew from my hands as I tried to grab the handrail but got air instead. I thought about how to minimize landing impact right before my chin and mouth hit a bar stool just to the right of the stairs. That was enough to slow my body’s descent and I landed seconds later on my right knee with my right hand spread out to take the brunt of the fall.

I collapsed onto my side, wimpering in fear. Nothing hurt. Nothing felt broken. Maybe I was okay. Meanwhile my cat was nowhere in sight. Neither was my husband. Surely he’d heard me fall? I started to cry, laying there. I’m not sure why. Adrenalin, fear, hope of being rescued. My sobs were increasing; I decided to try to stand. Carefully I pulled my body from the floor and stood with my back to a wall while I tried out various fingers, toes, elbows. Everything worked as it should. Except the crying thing. By now I was sobbing uncontrollably, and badly in need of a Kleenex.

I went upstairs to let Al know that even though I was crying so hard, my body heaving with each deep hiccup of breath, I was fine. I just needed tissue. But even after I found the tissue, even after I looked in the mirror and found only mild redness on my chin and lip, only a skinned knee, I continued to cry. “I don’t know why I can’t stop crying,” I said. “I’m fine. Really. I’m fine.” When I had looked in the mirror, I’d seen the twisted grimace of heavy sobbing.  Not pretty. Oprah calls it the ugly cry.

Finally, I quieted. But I was puzzled. Why cry after the fact? When I knew I was fine? Maybe adrenaline release forced me to burst into those spasms of deep gutted sobs. But they were over, so I went to look for my cat. He was fine. I finished putting away the laundry, but a dark disquiet still rattled me. I could have broken my neck, bashed in my face, really hurt myself. I didn’t, and I was grateful but unable to settle down.

I spied my journal open on my writing room table and sat down to see if my right hand, which is what hurt the  most, would work. Yes! I could write. And so, like millions of other times in my life when something scares me or hurts me or upsets me, I wrote away the worry. I let writing rescue me.