Category Archives: mind

out of the loop

I have been home all week.

Usually I meet with my writerly buddies at the Sekrit Writing Location, but this week it just wasn’t possible.

I also usually attend my weekly morning critique group, but I had to skip that.

And then there’s the monthly evening critique group, but it’s not time yet.

Sometimes I go out with a friend for dinner. But that didn’t happen this week.

I’ve been home caretaking, doing errands and writing. In complete and utter isolation.


I feel like I did when I was stuck home with toddlers. I MEAN EXPERIENCING THE JOYS OF YOUNG MOTHERHOOD.

Find someone to do something creative with, even if it’s not writing–see a play, take an art class, join a book club.

Find things to drive your creativity engine.


a lack of imagination

This may sound like a dig, and I don’t mean it to be…

But how can you non-creative human beings bear to live?

As I drove to our Sekrit Writing Cave today, I thought about all those years I wasn’t writing.  Only I realize now–I was.

I wrote letters.  Corresponded on internet forums.  Took imaginative meeting notes and composed hilarious PTA announcements.

In addition, I quilted and cross-stitched, sewed adorable kid-clothes and costumes, Indian beaded on a loom and with the brick stitch and peyote stitch, stuffed sock monkeys, and gardened.  I cooked, cleaned, ran errands and changed diapers, volunteered and took care of three kids, a husband and an elderly mother.  But I always had some creative outlet, even if I could only spend 10 minutes a day on it.

If I didn’t, I was insane.

There are lots of people out there who don’t feel that way.  They go to work, come home and do something like watch sports.  Now, I like baseball.  I think it’s great if you coach your kid’s team.

But really?  Is that your only interest?  Nothing else?  Not art?  Music?  Literature?

Sock monkeys?

I confess, I wonder about people who don’t have anything to express.

Where are your souls?

what jung has to say on jung

My Twitter faux-nemesis, Mike Jung, posted a blog about the difference between his virtual-temperament and walking-around-self.  Writers are encouraged to have a large on-line presence these days, and the bigger the personality, the better.

You could say that Mike projects a rather *ahem* large personality on Twitter.

Yet he claims that if you meet him in the flesh you will be overcome with his genteel self-effacement.  What is one to make of this conundrum?

Mike Jung is a big fat liar.

No, seriously.

Let’s take the example of the guy who “goes on a toot” on Saturday night, then crawls into the chuch pew next to you on  Sunday morning smelling of Axe and Tic-Tacs.  He nods  approvingly every few minutes during the sermon on temperance.  Which of those faces is the real deal?


C. G. Jung, another Jung almost as famous as Mike, tells us that as individuals we have unlimited potential.  We choose consciously and unconsciously what parts of our character to express–whether to be kind or brusque, generous or selfish, dignified or Mike Jung.

We are ALL libertines; some of us suppress it and some of us let ‘er rip.  But we are also Puritans. Some on the inside, others on the outside.


So how much should we worry about making sure our insides and outsides match?

Not one little bit.  We should strive to to make the wall between our interior and exterior selves porous.  We shouldn’t be afraid to know what we’re hiding.  Hell.  Let it come out to play!  That hilarious sarcasm you’ve recently unleashed may like it out in the sun.

Right, Mike Jung?

living with the wild

Yesterday, as I made the first post-Homecoming


school lunch, I cast my bleary eyes out the back window.

A hawk.


Perched on our wood fence.

Now, we live in an urban neighborhood.  I have seen a hawk attack the pigeons that roost in our eaves once before, but it’s not an everyday occurrence.  As I watched, peanut butter-laden knife in mid-air, the hawk swooped down onto our rock wall and plucked a mouse from one of the crevices.  He then flew up to our neighbor’s chimney and proceeded to–um–dine.



Last week I drove down a busy boulevard that I drive every day, at least twice a day.  There was a hairy dead carcass on the side of the road.  Gosh.  Someone’s pet.  What a shame–only it wasn’t dog or cat…

It was a badger!


I had to circle around and drive by again to make sure.  Yep, a badger.  I’d recognize that death snarl anywhere.

Freckles McYoungest regularly sees a fox at a certain golf course she plays.  Every once in a while, a deer will crash around the midtown shopping district, having followed the creek into town.  Big Bopper claims he saw a coyote trot down our street about ten years ago.  We tease him about it, but he’s a hunter, knows what a coyote looks like.


I am forced to believe him.

I love when The Wild bleeds into my life.  I want to remember that not everything is ordered, codified, regulated.  Hawks and coyotes live on instinct, adapt to circumstance and opportunity.  I want to live like The Wild.

We are warned that we can’t.  That unless we are tamed, we will be amoral.

When I was in junior high I read Lord of the Flies over and over again.  A tremendously well-written book.  But now that I’m an adult, I think it is, philosophically, baloney.  Golding’s view is that without the threat of authority, humans become vicious and demented.  Even Ralph, who tries to keep a semblance of society on the island, does it for the approval of the adults who will eventually find them.

What a lousy view of children, teens, and the whole human race.  Of course, now that we know the truth about Mr. Golding and his teen years, we understand where his ideas come from.

To be Wild is to be creative, adaptive, free.  That doesn’t mean without morals.

I feel like eating a mouse.

wounded writers


The ones you can’t see.

How much writing comes from unresolved grief?  I’m not sure even the writer knows.

You might start with the barest wisp of an idea.  You diddle around, you form a sentence or two, and then it’s like you’re channeling another dimension.  Anguish spatters across your screen.  Venom, confusion, self-flagellation.

You grope in the dark.  It feels so…so…alien.  So not you.

But it is you.  It’s the part that never sees the light of day.  The orphaned part that scutters around the trash-strewn alleys where your ego refuses to go.

You’ve got to let it breathe.

Oh, it’s scary.  It’s mottled and pock-marked, rancid and and a bit feverish.  But it did the heavy-lifting for you.  It’s how you learned some hard lessons, found out what you’re made of.  This pain isn’t just useful to you, it is necessary to you.

Respect it.  Cherish it. Give it voice.

It has a great story to tell.

writing in the dark

So I’m toolin’ along on my lil’ ol’ WIP:

and things get darker and darker.  Until I feel like this:

(That’s right.  I’m thinking in Spanish.  See how upset I am?)

I’m working on a YA novel that will probably certainly appeal more to the male side of teenland.  It forces me to dig deep into the squishy groady violent mean ugly nasty evil vicious unrepentant seamy unsanitary side of myself.  Uh-huh.  I said, “unsanitary”.  Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it.

Not that boys are any more squishy, groady, violent, mean, ugly, nasty, evil, vicious, unrepentant, seamy, or unsanitary than girls.  They’re just more willing to look at that part of themselves.

The truth is this stuff is pouring out of me like maple syrup on pancakes.  Like oil and vinegar on a salad.  Like queso sauce over a burrito.

Wait.  I think I missed lunch.

Anyway.  I am beginning to wonder a.) Where in tarnation this stuff is coming from. 2.) What the heck kind of person will want to read this and III.) Who the devil will be brave enough to publish it?

Starting with III.):  Doing It by Melvin Burgess.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.     Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden.   Forever by Judy Blume.   godless by Pete Hautman.  Things that need to be published will get published.

2.):  The WIP is pretty riveting, if I do say so myself.  (Insert appropriate blushing here.)  When your critique group reads your first chapter and looks at you as if they’ve never seen you before, you know you’ve got something.  When you write your first chapter and read it over, and YOU, YOURSELF wish there was more to read, you’ve got something.  And it’s just the first draft, ladies and germs.  I’m going to polish this puppy until it bays like a champion hunting dog.

a.):   This would be the scary part.  I’m mining so deep I think I’ve struck reptilian brain.  It’s not a comfortable place.  Full of strange things.

Like the ugly, misshapen creatures at the bottom of the sea.


gotowardtheliiiiiiiiightFull of fears, rational and irrational.  The gray, rubbery things that nibble at your ears at night.  Chisel away at your confidence in justice and happy endings.  Make you realize that yes, we must have climbed out of primordial ooze, because we still carry that primeval instinct within us.

Hold my hand, Peeps.  I’ve got a flashlight.  We’re goin’ in.

back in the saddle again: seven steps to a first draft


How do you get back into the writing routine, when you’ve had a reeeaallly long holiday?

I haven’t abandoned writing altogether, though you couldn’t tell by reading this blog.

I continued to put together my regional SCBWI weekly e-newsletter.

I blogged. Kind of.

I guest-blogged.  Once.

Took notes, researching my next opus.

Wrote e-mails.

Grocery lists.

But I haven’t entered that strange place where you inhabit another body, walk around in another world.  I’m kind of itching to get there.

Got a premise.

Got the main character.

Now, how to re-enter the realm where reality, imagination, symbolism and other universes collide?


And more importantly, bring something back.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you…


1.  Read books about what you want to write.  Is it a middle-grade novel about sibling rivalry?  Read other such novels, psychology books, parenting magazines, memoirs, watch movies.  Train your brain to ponder the subject subconsciously.

2.  Engage in a monotonous physical activity: walking, jogging, swimming laps.  Let your mind manhandle the ideas you’ve put into it.  Or womanhandle, if necessary.

3. Write long-hand in a cozy journal-like book.  (You find them at dollar stores for–wait for it–a dollar!)  Don’t look at the page as you’re writing.  Want to use three lines of space for extra-upper-case letters?  Go ahead.  A whole page for an exclamation point?  Brilliant!  Let it be messy.  Let it be whatever wants to spill out of your brain.

4.  Once you have a premise, ask yourself:  Why do I want to know about this?  What has happened in my life that makes me find this interesting, or challenging?  Write about the circumstances, the feelings, the outcome, what you wished the outcome had been, what you had feared the outcome would be.

5.  Blindfold yourself, open a word document, and go to town.  Do not, under any circumstances, peek.  Let the bilge run rampant across the screen.

6.  Have a character in mind?  Write his biography.  Interview him.  Psychoanalyze him.  Watch him through binoculars.  Look out through his eyes.

7.  By now you probably have enough material to play “What if?”.  What if Main Character had a little sister?  What if it was twin little sisters?  What if it was quintuplets?  What if they were sick, and his parents had to leave him with his grandmother?  What if his grandmother was a fugitive from justice?  What if she had been an eco-terrorist in the ’70’s?  And meanwhile, the healthcare cost for the quints drains away Main Character’s college fund.  You get the gist.  Before you know it, you have a great big hairy, almost unwieldy but unmistakable first draft.

writing a true myth: the hero’s journey

Myth is not a story concocted by primitives to explain natural phenomena.

Myth is not a fairy tale.

Myth is reality.

Myth is the truth from the imaginal realm that can only be expressed indirectly.


Myth is organic psychology.

We are all Heroes on our own Journey. 

The stories that we remember, the stories that we love the best, the stories that we live in, are Hero’s Journeys.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy


 Harry Potter

 The New Testament


All stories about heroes who grow into their destiny by encountering trials.

In the next several posts, I’ll be expounding on the formula for the hero’s journey in writing. 

Wear your hiking boots.

book report #9: writing disasters

No, this isn’t about garbled dialogue or a 200,000 word manuscript. 

Or typing a hilariously scathing reply to an inane memo from your boss, and instead of sending it to your cubicle buddy you hit “reply all”.

We’re talking actual, matter-of-factual horrors.  I’ve found the perfect book for writers of action-adventure-tragedy, middle-grade, YA or adult.  (I love obscure but useful reference tomes.)  It’s The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley.  (Believe it or not.)

The Unthinkable explores the ways people react in emergency situations.  Amanda Ripley begins with one woman’s story of  9/11.  We’ve been told how well people executed the evacuation of the towers, but Ripley throws a new light on the behavior of the survivors.

Rather than leaving immediately, most people waited to be told what to do.  After the first plane crashed into the twin towers, the Port Authority actually advised workers to remain at their desks and wait for further instruction.  The “further instruction” never came.

Some people fled to the roof, which was locked.  Some stayed making phone calls and sending emails, gathering folders and briefcases, logging off their computers.  They soothed each other with theories about how a pilot could accidentally slam into the building. 

They milled around.  They couldn’t find the stairs.  They zoned out.

It took much longer to empty the twin towers than was physically necessary.  Investigators wanted to find out why.

9/11 victims have been interviewed extensively to learn how the human animal responds to catastrophe.  Scientists have identified the stages people go through.  Everyone passes through these stages, but the people who survive pass through the ineffective parts quicker than the people who become krispy kritters.

Chapters include the story of a man who refused to leave his home as Katrina bore down on New Orleans.  An analysis of  a supper club fire.  A stampede in Mecca.  Plane crashes.  Virginia Tech.

Denial.  Gathering.  Deliberation.  A person in a pickle must pass through these phases.

I repeat: pass through.

Too often they become stuck. 

In her conclusion, Ripley tells us that the two key elements of creating survivors instead of victims are information and practice.  But companies and governments usually shy away from such a simple solution.  They don’t want to panic the populace.  But studies confirm that people who know what to do in an emergency do not panic.

Need to know what motivates a hero?  How a panicked person really reacts?  How to get out of a plane crash alive? 

Here ya go.

evolution attribution

Fists raised toward the sky, chest inflated, head thrown back:

…dances of victory.
According to those scientists that are always saying something, all primates react the same way in the throes of victory. 

Even if they’re blind.

Is everything evolution?  Look at your parents and pray that it’s not.

I hate reading articles that tell us we haven’t changed our behavior since we were missing links.  It makes me feel like everything is preordained.  You can’t escape your brain map. 

Michael Phelps stands at the end of his lane, screaming with joy.  Are you telling me it’s not spontaneous?  Not unique to Michael Phelps?  It’s just a genetic tape that’s been plugged in?

Well, hell’s bells.  Next thing you’ll tell me is that there’s nothing new under the sun.

Oh, I beg to differ.

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