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Month: December 2013

(d) Whatever

I’ve found a rhythm. While my editor in Oregon has Train Trip, I’m working on another novel. The first round, I was in Memphis and I revised Bone Trench, a Christian fantasy novel set in Memphis. Second round, I was down in New Orleans so I finished (!) Jazzy, a Katrina novel. This round—hopefully the last—I’m revising A Model for Deception, the first in a fashion model detective series.
When the editing on Train Trip is complete, I will send the manuscript back to the agent who expressed an interest (i.e., sent me a lengthy email on what needed to be done to make it publishable), thus setting in motion all this editing. Once Gretchen (my editor’s name) finally hands over Train Trip, I will send her the next novel to revise.
All things being equal, I think I’ll send her A Model for Deception. The tone and subject matter are similar to Train Trip, so it would be a logical follow-up. I will repeat the approach above: rounds interspersed with working on the other novels.
Of course, all of this could derail if (a) the agent reads the labored-over Train Trip and says, naw, it won’t do. Or (b) she has no interest in the Model for Deception. Or (c) I get hit by a bus. Or (d) whatever. We can’t plan everything but we can make a plan.
I’ve made a plan.
I feel good.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Juggling Chainsaws

For many years I kept a comic featuring a little boy juggling chainsaws. This concept spoke to me. It was the way I lived my life. This sounds negative. It isn’t. Now, I’ve discovered, it’s the way I write.
*
I’ve written six novels. They have nothing in common. I’ve wondered, for the last four years, what the hell I was doing. Now I see: I’ve been juggling chainsaws.
*
I have, on a very long arc timeline, six projects in motion. I do not have five practice novels and the one where I finally know what I’m doing. This is the standard progression. Why am I not surprised to learn it isn’t mine?
*
Since I came to this realization, I’ve been walking on air. I see a pattern I recognize. This pattern has brought me success in the past. All is coming together.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

I want to work on my novel. They want me to buy Christmas presents. And wrap Christmas presents. And think about food for Christmas. And pack to leave town for Christmas.

But Vangie Street is stuck on the runway. She keeps taking a knee—is she Teebowing? Will anyone even remember that phrase in five years?—and popping up like toast. She grins, she prays, she pivots, she bunny-hops. I cannot get it right.

The novel is written. I’m revising. This is the opening scene. Did I mention I can’t get it right?

This year, Christmas is just gonna have to wait until I can get Vangie off the runway.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

The Silence of Joy

Writing Group is often hectic. We have, on average, 14-16 writers every Wednesday. Many of us only see one another this one hour per week. We use the time to catch up on the progress of the cancer treatments. Whether the child-custody hearings were held. How the visit with the grandbabies went. The latest on the wait for housing. What, if anything is new on the Writing Group’s book. Oh—and we also write.
It’s easy, in this swirl of activity, for important things to fly right over my head. When I first began with writing group, I kept a journal. When I got home from group, I’d write down everything I could remember that happened while we were together. So very often, a crucial request or a key piece of information about someone’s life popped back into my head, until then totally forgotten.
Over the years, I’ve become more accustomed to the flurry of activity, and I no longer need the journal (I hope!) I’ve learned to pay better attention when someone is talking to me. To focus and really listen. Absorb what they are saying. When I look back on these moments, they feel like prayer.
Of course, things still get lost. Today, the lost thing was found. Between the writer who had the need, another writer who had a notecard, and me who had a stamp, we sent a note to her son. A written note with an envelope that was addressed. This accomplishment filled her with joy. Her joy filled me with joy. That she’d been waiting all week to finish this task fills me with shame. Shame at what I think is important. Shame at what I demand out of life before I call it valued. Shame at the hurrying through of important moments as if they were the same as every other minute of the day. They are not. They are the presence of God in our world. Stop. Listen. You want to know about the sound of Advent? It’s in the silence of joy.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The email notification pops up: this new person (who you don’t know from Adam’s house cat) is now following your blog! You, the email encourages, might like their blog as much as they like yours—go see what they’re up to!
As instructed, I mosey on over to their blog site.
Sometimes the blog actually intersects with mine. I write about homelessness; they write about homelessness. I write about God; they write about God. Sometimes we have more randomness in common, such as my post about my church having more LGBTQ members than straight folks. With that post, I got “follows” by bloggers writing about coming out, etc.
When my perusing of the blog is finished, I give the blogger a “follow” right back—unless the blog is basically selling services, which I consider a fake “follow” and don’t reciprocate. I then proceed to my blogreader and update my settings to “notify me immediately” so I receive copies of the new blog’s posts (we’ll return to this later.)
After I’ve received posts for a while, I determine whether or not this blog actually interests me. Not whether the blog is good or bad, mind you, but whether I want to read it. Sometimes, even for interests we share, the blogger’s take just doesn’t appeal to me—there are a million ways to write about God and homelessness. If I decide the blog is not for me, I “unfollow.” I do not keep following but simply delete getting notices of the posts, which is an option: “following” a blog but not actually reading it.
Isn’t that odd?
Of course, you can individually visit blogs, checking the latest entries. But most of the blogs I run across are following a lot of other blogs. Daily flybys seem almost impossible.
So, here’s my question: how many bloggers “follow” blogs but never read them? Is it normal to use the “follow,” as it were, to garner followers, but that’s about it? Is this simply the way the blog business works—we support one another by trading “follows,” and if any of us is pursing a path where that’s important, we more or less have each other’s back? Is it something I shouldn’t find odd, much less talk about?
Oh, well. It’s really not a big deal. I am enamored with many of the blogs I follow, blogs I never would have found without their “follow” on my blog. (N.B. there is a downside to following these blogs: you grow to care about people you earlier could dismiss as folks you don’t know from Adam’s house cat).
In the end, what does it matter whether other bloggers are reading my posts or not? The important thing is, I’m reading their posts. And really, really enjoying them.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

A Sister Sledge Moment

“Like an adopted family,” A. said.
We were bumping along in the church van. Ten of us crowded the back seats, plus the two church members driving the van. We’d eaten lunch, opened gifts, and enjoyed Christmas caroling. Now we were finishing up our shopping spree at Wal-Mart, returning home. As we traveled through the beautiful tree-lined streets of Germantown, W. asked, “You don’t go to church there?” She had assumed I was a member of the church hosting the writing group on this wonderful outing.
“No,” I explained. “They joined us for writing group one time and sent a note afterwards, saying how much they enjoyed it. So I asked them if they wanted to get more involved.”
“And it was happily ever after,” D. added.
“Yes,” I said.
That’s when A., gazing straight ahead, said, “Like an adopted family.”
I don’t know A.’s story except that, like all the members of writing group, he has a personal experience of homelessness. At one point, after writing with us for several months, he decided he wanted to be a writer. This happens often. Someone who has no history of writing attends writing group for a while, and the writing catches fire.
Of all who have experienced this thrill of discovery, A. is the one who came most intimidated by writing. A quiet man, he sits, then offers observations that make me say, “Yes! Exactly that!” Once, when we were discussing writing group, he said, “It’s like we’re writing our dreams.”
I hope our adopted family holds together. I hope A. continues as a member. In any event, I’ll remember everyone on the van smiling at his purchase of a space heater, impressed with what he’d snagged at Wal-Mart. Enjoying the connection that’s a mix of fondness and joshing, being impressed and enjoying. The peculiar love that signals: we are family.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The red table runners glowed, the tiny gold trees sparkled. The voices rang out in clear, clean notes—some among us could sing—and the warmth of the group welled up in me to the point I needed to leave the room. Not because I’m ashamed to cry in public, but because, over the years, I’ve grown tired of stifling the emotions Life knocks loose in me, grown weary of my self-scolding: no one else is crying, buck up! Instead, when I want to experience what is coursing through me fully, I often excuse myself and let the tears flow as they will. Today, at lunch, I stayed.

We sang, “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” and even though the smiles of the group enjoying each other in a safe, warm place as if they’d never known it otherwise almost tore me apart, I stayed.

We listened as Reverend Richard Smith recounted his story of first meeting the group, and even though the ghosts of those no longer with us rose before my eyes, I stayed.

We ate a meal that wasn’t pizza or bologna—”don’t nobody feed the homeless nothing but bologna sandwiches”—and even though Major explained to me how she did what the other group leaders asked her to do, “but it isn’t El-len Pre-witt,” I stayed.

I stayed because I could not leave the presence of the group, this marvelous thing that exists with no more substance than the people who make it up and yet more than that because people come, they go and still the group continues, yet never would have been if Joe Porter hadn’t said, “You should go to the Door of Hope and start a writing group,” and yet still would not have made it into this world if I hadn’t gone to the Door of Hope and June hadn’t let me do it and LeRoy hadn’t sat down and started asking questions and Roderick hadn’t stopped me on the stairs to ask, “Tell me again what is that ‘backstory’ thing you said I did,” and Tommy hadn’t arrived a beautiful writer and Judy hadn’t decided— finally, finally—that we weren’t out to do her any harm and William hadn’t taken to the written word like a duck to water and Robb hadn’t sung his Glory of God onto the page every week—if the group hadn’t made itself a group, this atmosphere of love, joy and thanksgiving never would have shone into the world.

So close we came to never being.

So incredibly lucky we are to continue being.

Thank you to Germantown United Methodist Church for being our benefactors. For providing the cozy room and gold Christmas trees and writing journals and the spinach cakes that became the talk of the lunch. Thank you for being with us for almost two years, the angels on whose wings our spirits soar. I cannot thank you enough for what you have given us: the opportunity for our group to live its life to the fullest.

Sticky Stories

When a friend sent around a “let’s play” Facebook message about ten books that stuck with you, I made the list off the top of my head. When I finished, I realized on that list I’d included three short story collections.

Golden Apples, by Eudora Welty: a collection of interlocking stories set in Morgana, Mississippi, which I’ve read more than three but less than eight times.

Welding with Children, by Tim Gautreaux: the funniest set of short stories I’ve ever read, including the title story involving the narrators attempt to discuss the Bible with his brood of grandkids.

The Stories of John Cheever, by- you guessed it: surely the most elegant of short story writers, Cheever came into my awareness in college; thereafter, I asked for one of his collections for Christmas only to receive a large, shiny red book of his ENTIRE collection, a gift that to me still spells Christmas exuberance.

Many people write short stories because, well, they’re short. We’re almost universally taught to write short stories as a way to get our writing legs underneath us, working our way up to the novel. That’s why I did it, anyway. Now I see a new truth: I’ve stuck with the short story form because it has stuck with me.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

I have such trouble switching gears. When I’m creating new work, I want to keep creating new work. When I’m revising, re-visioning, and re-writing, all I want to do is edit.

This makes transition days less than productive. When I come off ten days of re-write and arrive at the edge of my first draft, needing to plunge into continuing the story, I plink and plunk with new words, adding one here, filling in one there. Then I switch to the crossword puzzle or checking Facebook or trying to interest my dog Evangeline in a conversation.

Once I get in a groove, I’ll glide like skates on ice, smooth as chocolate melting in the sun, quick as mercury sliding in the glass-bound thermometer.

Until then, I’m like a child with a low-grade fever: I fidget and flop. Nothing quite satisfies. The day ebbs.

Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love

I’m wading off into deep water here, but as you consider your charitable giving this Christmas, will you consider taking?
Take a minute and find an organization that offers you the opportunity to actually talk to someone who is different from you.
Take up your courage and go to that organization expecting nothing.
Take your heart and enter a world that frightens you. Talk to the woman sipping from her cup of coffee. Smile at the man sitting hand-in-chin on the sofa. Don’t side-step like a horse skittering away from a snake.
Stay.
Still.
Take a breath. Sit. Let common ground emerge. Or marvel at just how different people in this world can be.
If this idea scares you, or attracts you, find a quite spot and contemplate whether it is the right path for you this Christmas. There are more ways than one to make a difference in the world. We need everyone discerning HIS OR HER OWN WAY.
If you are like me, your path might be to take a step out of your comfort zone.
In order to begin to grow into the person the God of this Universe wants me to be, I had to step off my high platform of security from which I could look “down” on people, doing for those poor unfortunate souls in a heart-warming Hallmark way, and instead discover there is no “poor” or “homeless.” There is only Warren and Robb and LeRoy . . .
Take the time. It will give you a new perspective and maybe a new life.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Choice

At St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, we are not a church that welcomes African Americans, by which I mean a white church with a hand-full of African American members. We are not a church that welcomes gays—a straight church reaching out to folks regardless of sexual orientation. We aren’t a wealthy church that helps out the poor among us. At St. Anna’s, as a wealthy, white, straight female, I am the minority. The church belongs to those not like me in race, sexual orientation, or economic status.
Yet, St. Anna’s welcomes me.
She smiles when I approach the door. He holds out his hand to pass me the peace. He thanks me for coming.
Sitting in the pew, experiencing St. Anna’s, I am struck again how my view of the world casts me in the leading role of the magnanimous one. Confused by my distorting, dominant lens, I believe the choice rests with me to accept those the world pushes to the margins, or to not accept. I am the one in control, in charge, and I bask in self-satisfied pride when I act appropriately: I am such a nice, right-thinking person.
Worshiping at St. Anna’s, I understand my choice differently. I have the option, or not, of accepting God’s Kindom. If I accept, I give up the control. I recede into the background, into the group, into community.
I kneel on the pew. Those around me kneel. Together, we worship. For this, I am eternally grateful.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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