“And I quote…”

17799_10151483794082906_1193378572_nI love quotes. Little nibblets of inspiration. Lessons. Advice.

I write them on post-its and stick them to my monitor. I underline and dogear books where a line surprised my heart. I rip chunks out of newspapers and magazines and pin them to my bulletin board.

My office begins to resemble a Rose Parade float, it’s so covered in little flaps of paper.

And it’s hard to give them up. They remind of who I strive to be:

Carolyn See: “All writing, all art, maybe all of life—is exactly like dating. Write one charming note to a novelist, an editor, a journalist, a poet, a sculptor, even an agent whose professional work you admire, five days a weeks for the rest of your life.”

They remind me what I’m searching for:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “The writing became so fluid that I sometimes felt as if I were writing for the sheer pleasure of telling a story, which may be the human condition that most resembles levitation.”

They remind me how to survive:

Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail better.”

Just about every writer I know saves quotes.

Do you? Share. Please.

 

Of Character & Cats

I have 2 cats. They are both rescues. One lived under a porch for the first few months of his life. He’s a very nervous guy. Runs when the doorbell rings. Runs if there’s a loud noise. Runs if you make eye contact for more than half a second. (And he hates being photographed, dahling.)

Brothers by another mother

Brothers by another mother

The other cat was actually born on the floor of the kids’ bathroom. He’s grown up with our family. Our house is a safe and happy universe—full of food on demand and large hairless cats, clearly put here to do his bidding.

“But I want to walk on the counters!” “I want to eat that butter too!” “I’m hungry NOW!”

Sometimes, I think my cats represent a real life psychology experiment titled: “Effects of early childhood on personality.”

This got me thinking about my latest WIP. I’ve worked hard to figure out what’s going on with my characters in the context of a particular story, but I realized I didn’t know much about one of my main character’s childhood.

Good excuse to take a fantasy break. (Procrastinating? Nooooo, not me.) I decided to imagine this guy’s childhood in detail. Who held him as a baby? What food did he eat? The image I found most useful was seeing the character around the age of 6 or 7, the age when you first start to have strong memories. Perhaps the age when your sense of the world gets firmed up.

Wow. Really interesting details began to emerge from that bit of back story. Juiced and ready, I went back to work.

Anyone else ever tried imagining a character’s childhood? What age do you see when you think of childhood?

Don’t recycle that letter!

So I came home to a pile of mail recently.

Big pile. Coupons. Catalogs. Change your phone company. You know what I’m talking about.

Just happened to see something interesting peeking out…a very nice letter from a New York Design magazine. The museum catalog I worked on was honored.

What a tasty little treat to find buried in my mailbox.

design award letter

March 17 Waterline Writers

Had a great time doing my first public reading at a local art studio and writer hangout. Waterline Writers.

http://vimeo.com/63190657

Thanks to Anne Veague, Kevin Moriarity and Frank Rutledge, who keep the light burning. You all are an inspiration!

Why I Write #24

Painted Man

Nourishment for the Creative Winter

I’ve been having a good run lately. Work, work, work. Time alone to think and no traumas on the front burner.

When work is going smoothly, I cook. My family eats really well when I’m writing happily. Mushroom risotto with sautéed spinach. Baked chicken with olives and artichokes, with a quinoa feta salad. Chocolate chip banana bread.

Conversely, if the writing blows— menu choices include frozen pizza, hard boiled eggs and baby carrots out of the bag.

Over the years, I’ve become more aware of the connection between my inner world and the outer world—aka “reality.” The two worlds definitely relate to each other–in both lift and drag.

When the work stalls, sometimes I look up and realize I haven’t been out of my office in hours, days, weeks. My sister has been known to call and ask: “Have you eaten today?”

“Uhhhh. I think so?”

Eric Maisel, author of “Creativity for Life” says that creative mania is similar to other forms of mania, only not necessarily cause for institutionalization. (Yay.) Creative mania is a “positive” form of mania.

It definitely makes life exciting.

But, like other kinds of mania, it’s often followed by a rest period. A few days or weeks of low energy. Fallow time. Creative winter

Um, hard boiled eggs and carrots, anyone?

I used to fight that shift. I would wail and nash my teeth at the “wasted” days without any good work happening. OK, I can’t look you in the eye and say, I totally embrace it now. But I have accepted it’s part of the package.

Over the years, I’ve developed a few tricks to feed my spirit when I’m in the creative winter:

  1. Rest. Sleep is the first medicine. I try to make time for crazy all day napping. Turn my weekend into vacation mode. Sometimes one long day in bed will do it. (It helps to pretend it’s olden times, when Sunday was a day of rest and leave the TV off.)
  2. Go outside. Be reminded of the physical world. I can’t write about the world unless I feel it on my skin and let it settle in my bones, every now and then.
  3. Clean the desk. I make room for new ideas when I clear up my physical space. Dust. Vacuum. Take a loofa to the desk and slough off the old.
  4. Read. Strangely enough, words follow words. When I’m stumped, I’ll go hang out in the library for a while and see if that doesn’t get the juices flowing.
  5. Sweat. Okay, this is one of my least favorite options, when it pertains to my semi-daily walk and or motivating myself to the gym. There are a few sweaty non-gym related activities. Dwell on that thought for a moment…Ahhh. Nice. (I am, of course, referring to gardening. You did think I meant, gardening, right?)

Now, I’m off to cook a lovely dinner. Ravioli and grilled asparagus? Or polenta and meatballs?

Next week we may be eating oatmeal and Raman.

Just remember–it’s all good.

Alternate Universes, or Why I NaNo

Participant2_120_200_white[1]NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is in November every year. I’ve done it twice now. Both years, I’ve been grateful to follow up with December. I need a holiday (or two) to recover.

Partly, I do it for the intensity. 50 thousand words in 30 days is the goal. (I average about 30k.)

Partly, I do it for the chance to learn some new tricks. Writing is a habit of mind and my habits are fairly ingrained. To increase the number of words I write in a given period, I have to change how I write. Don’t stop and mull. Don’t go back and revise. Keep moving toward the conclusion.

I thought I understood the NaNo rules.

Then, I participated in my first write-in. Write-Ins are the writer version of boot camp. Nano peeps gather in libraries, coffee shops, hotel lobbies, under the street light on the corner …and they throw down. Give it all you’ve got, and then a little more.

At my local coffee shop, we cram into the back area near the outlets. Some clever woman brings a power strip to increase our options. Every seat is taken. Laptops up-light a wicked blue glare onto faces intent on screens arranged back-to-back and side-to-side.

Picture an impromptu storytelling factory.

Write-Ins last for several hours. They offer the chance to focus on work, surrounded by people who support your goal. There’s a Buddhist word for this: Tsonga–a group with like intention   Tsonga is good to have when you are doing something as crazy as attempting to write 1667 words a day for a month.

Write-Ins feature lots of fun exercise,s including “word wars.” These are timed writing exercises. The object is to write as many words as possible. Everyone competes. The winner gets bragging rights.

Now, I’ll admit right here, I hate competing. Sports, Top Chef, class rank—you name it, I hate that kind of stuff. Count me out, if there’s gonna be a fight. I’m Ferdinand, sitting under a cork tree, smelling flowers.

But I entered the NaNo universe with an open mind and a plan to try new techniques. I was curious. How fast do I write? How many words could I write in 15 minutes?

“Word War?” Okay. I’ll play along.

Which is how I met my nemesis: Alternate Universe Julie.

I took the last seat available at the Write-In, and pulled out my battered, ancient PC. This machine takes a good 10 minutes to power up, run its start program, open Word, open a file. My husband has been known to ask, “Light the coal under the PC?” in the morning, meaning: Shall I start your computer for you now, so it’s ready to go by the time you finish your coffee?

Hey. Don’t hate on my old girl. She gets the job done. I started her up & set up my name tag.

The young woman across from me watches, curious. Her eyebrows squeeze a little frown, as if she’s wondering what exactly I’m doing over there. Her name tag hangs on her computer: Julie.

“Hey,” I say. “I’m Julie, too.”

She nods but I’m not sure she can hear me. She’s wearing candy red Dr Dre headphones. Dark haired with perfect China doll bangs, she’s working on the thinnest, sleekest Mac I’ve ever seen outside the Apple store. Maybe 20 years old, she’s a tiny thing. I can hardly see her when she ducks behind her screen.

Six feet tall, light haired, well over 40 and working with a technological dinosaur, I am suddenly aware, we two Julies exist in alternate universes.

I dig around for the grey, ratty earbuds I saved from a recent plane flight and jack into my Glee soundtrack. Somehow, I’m betting Alternate Universe Julie is an Indie Music Girl.

We all get down to work and after an hour or so the Write-In Host calls for the first word war.

“Make a note of your current word count. 15 minutes! Go!”

Hmmm, okay. I can do this. No…don’t correct! Keep going. Hmmm, what’s the word I want? No! Just throw in any word. Ok, how about rutabaga? Very funny. No! Don’t erase!…

“Time’s up! How many words?” Host points at me.

Uh oh. I know I’m not great at this yet. “648?”

Host gives me a Special Olympics smile, then points to AU Julie. “How about you?”

“1726.” AU Julie looks as if this was a bit of a disappointment. She’s done better.

I blink a few times. I can’t even type that fast, much less string together sentences that have both subjects and predicates.

Paradigm shift. People can write that fast? Splutter, splutter. My brain tries to absorb this.

If I wrote that fast, I could write 5, 10, 15 thousand words in a day….I could write a book a month. I could write George R.R. Martin style and still produce multiple books before I die….

“Great! Next word war in 30 minutes.”

What would it take to write that fast?

Well, I’d have to take a typing class for one thing. I’m a self-taught, hunt-and-peck girl. More importantly, I’d have to have a plan. Not just write my way into the scene. I’d have to know who, what and where I was going.

This is the greatest lesson that NaNo offers: there are other ways. There are alternate universes. And you can go there.

By our final Word War of the night, I was ready. I picked a clear destination for the scene and committed to getting to that resolution as fast as I could.

“This will be a 5 minute war. Go!”

I wrote like a fiend. I wrote with a focus and intensity I’d only blundered into before on those great writing days every writer lives for—the days you find your flow, your groove, your bliss.

“Stop!” The Host turned to AU Julie first this time. “Total?”

“539.”

I check my word count and report, “282.”

That’s almost 300 words in only 5 minutes. Not that much less than AU Julie, percentage wise. Holy cow, I’m in the ballpark! The Host gives me a thumbs up.

“But—” AU Julie pulls off her headphones to clarify, “I was on ebay during that one.”

“During the Word War?” the host asks.

“Yeah. I bought a snake. And a cage. And some other snake stuff, you know.”

“You were bidding on eBay during our word war, and you bought a snake?” Our host sounds confused. “While you were writing?”

“Yeah. I like snakes. A lot.”

Cue the awkward silence.

Until I jump in with, “Cool.”

She smiles at me, a little shy. I smile back.

That’s when it hits me.

This is the reason I NaNo.

For the stories.

My Other, Other Writing Job

I write all the time. Sometimes I write for my local newspaper. Here’s one….

 

Cosley Zoo Welcomes New Exhibit

By J. Eakins

from the Wheaton Patch

Sal and Val moved here from California. They don’t mind a little weather. And they really like their new place, especially the waterfall out back.

Sal and Val are Cosley Zoo’s two newest residents, lynx rufus, known as bobcats. Named for its stubby tail, the bobcat is one of two cats native to Illinois and has been sighted in all of the fifty states except Delaware. (Rumor has it that the people of Delaware haven’t been looking very hard.)

For many years, bobcats were listed as endangered species in Illinois due to degradation of their natural habitat. Sal and Val were discovered in an attic as babies by a family that were not entirely sure what type of animal they’d found.

“They’re very cute animals when they’re young,” said Ali Crumpacker, the Director of The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in southern California. “But they are wild animals. After a few weeks, the family realized those teeth and claws were still growing.”

That’s when Sal and Val were brought to the Wildlife Center. Unfortunately, the animals had imprinted on their human benefactors and were too comfortable with people to ever go back into the wild.

According to Crumpacker, the brothers are both curious and social. “When we’d turn on the tractor out in the fields, the rest of the bobcats would run. Sal and Val would come to watch.”

Cosley Zoo approached the Wildlife Center as construction of the new bobcat exhibit got underway. The Center is one of a handful of rehabilitation facilities in the continental United States that also provides long-term living arrangements for bobcats.

Russ Wennerstrom, of E.P. Doyle and Son, served as Project Manager for construction of the new exhibit at Cosley, which includes sculpted rock walls, an enclosure, specially constructed fencing and a waterfall. “We were really happy to work on a project that our whole community can enjoy,” said Wennerstrom. “I think this exhibit sets the bar higher. It’s a very natural setting. And the cats seem to like it.”

“With a wild species, we’re always looking for natural habitat placements. Unfortunately, they don’t come up very often,” Crumpacker said. “Cosley Zoo is a perfect placement for Sal and Val because it’s a natural, yet social setting, that’s great for their curious personalities.”

By sending the brother bobcats to Cosley Zoo, the Wildlife Center makes room to care for other animals. This year they helped rehabilitate sixteen bobcats.

Sue Wahlgren, Director of Cosley Zoo, is excited to see the bobcats settling into their new home. “They are doing really well. Their first interaction with the wider public was at the Bobcat Bash; they were watching the guests, as much as the guests were watching them.”

According to Wahlgren, “Bobcats are a conservation success story. In the 1960’s they were almost gone here in Illinois. Through education, habitat preservation and controls on hunting we’ve made real changes in wildlife populations.”

Conservation is an on-going mission for the zoo. Since 2001, the zoo has worked together with the Forest Preserve of DuPage County to preserve and protect the endangered Blanding’s Turtle. Recently, that partnership expanded to include the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, St. Charles Park District and Brookfield Zoo.

Working with the Wildlife Center has been the longest distance partnership yet for the zoo, but also one of the most satisfying.

“Each of us has limited resources, but together we have more of everything—money, expertise, facilities—so we can do more to help,” says Wahlgren. “The party we gave to welcome the bobcats brought it home for me and all the staff. Watching the people and animals interacting, you really feel the power of what we do.”

Cosley Zoo is located at 1356 N. Gary Avenue, Wheaton, online at www.cosleyzoo.org phone at 630.665.5534.

For all you Book Lovers out there

Ever been to a fan Expo? Comicon? Star Trek Convention?

I attended my first fan conference for book lovers this year. The Romantic Times Conference, held at the local Hyatt Regency (complete with four towering pink-glass turrets.) It was the perfect setting for this extravagant weekend for women with “rich interior lives.”

This was my first time playing fan-girl.Booklover (640x470)

I liked it.

Women from all over the country arrived in costume and full stage make-up. Steam Punk was the fashion statement of the year with dashing figures in tiered skirts and beribboned bustiers. Scientific eye-wear was all the rage. And the fascination for the fascinator has not faded, especially with females who prefer fuchsia.

I hope you brought your rolling suitcase to Saturday’s book fair. Readers collected armloads of books. (I haven’t seen lines like that since my Disney fast-pass expired.) With hundreds of authors on the scene and thousands of books for sale, bibliophiles could be seen indulging with abandon.

Anyone who purchased a book at the book fair often had the chance to say hello to the author, while they had their new book autographed. I noticed several Kindle and iPad owners packing sharpies and asking author’s to sign their readers. It made me think of rock fans signing t-shirts. Totally cool.

Quite a few NYT best-selling authors–Ann Rice, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, JR Ward—were there to meet fans. The lines snaked around the room.

Favorite gossip, overheard waiting on the line: “JR Ward has a curse jar. Every time she swears, she puts a dollar in it.”

“Does she swear a lot?”

“Well, she went through $70 bucks in singles. Had to borrow extra from her mom.”

In the afternoon, open workshops offered education and refreshment. I learned that Lord Byron was a Greek National Hero and the Duke of Wellington lived at Number One London.

Did you know Wellington was born in Ireland? Being somewhat ambivalent about his Irish past supposedly led the Duke to remark: “Being born in a stable doesn’t make you a horse.”

To which an Irishman replied, “Nor does it mean you are not an ass.”

Ba-da-bing. Ba-da-boom!

According to a workshop titled “Drinks with Jane Austen,” at the time of the Regency, children were allowed to drink.

“They might have been onto something,” teased author, Karen Dornabos. “If I could give my kids a drink or two, every so often, we all might be better off.”

Dornabos mixed up a batch of claret cup for all the guests to sample, along with her fellow Regency authors who thoughtfully brought along the Rum Punch, Orgeat, Ratafia. Sherry and Port were available for the gentlemen.

What? No gentlemen here?

Guess the ladies will have to make sure the tasty tipple doesn’t go to waste.

Next, I attended a “character wedding” with author, Jade Lee complete with champagne and wedding cake.

The men were beautiful. The women were funny. And the vows were priceless:

“Do you promise to rub her feet whenever she is tired and pleasure her even to the denial of your own desires?”

“Do you promise to put him in his place whenever he is arrogant and satisfy his lust even though he seems insatiable?”

Many sessions offered giveaways. Best of all was the speech by the winner of a beautiful wedding blanket. She told the audience, “Ten years ago, I received a romance book as a gag gift from my husband. I read it and decided I liked it. I really liked it.

“In fact, I’m a writer today because I read that book.”

What’s not to love about that?

Nano-ing

My Internal Editor has a voice that cuts glass. She routinely shrieks at me: wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

We’ve been together a long time, so I know she has my best interests at heart. But she can be, um, challenging. If you know what I mean.

This is why I found her a great deal on a month long cruise to… anywhere but here.

You see, the fun has gone out of writing. I used to write and listen to myself giggle. Lately, all I hear are sighs. Just between you and me, I think Ms. I.E. may have something to do with that. The harder I work, the more she shakes her head, clucks her tongue and smacks that ruler against the desk.

Yikes, that sound scares me.

When I looked up at my calendar and noticed that National Novel Writing Month was fast approaching, I gently but firmly encouraged her to take a little vacation.

NaNoWritMo is an event that started many years ago with a bunch of story-loving, Silicon Valley, smarty-pants types. It’s fun. It’s ridiculous. It produces the best marketing/informational/encouragement letters I’ve ever read. To join the fun, you pledge to write 50 thousand words in one month. (That’s the length of Tom Sawyer.)

You get regular messages where people encourage you to meet your goal, play along, try again, don’t give up, and just plain enjoy writing. (Last year, my favorite letter of encouragement came from Lemony Snicket. He began by saying: quit immediately and ended with a passionate defense of the healing power of story.)

How do you write 50 thousand words in a month? Well, I’ll tell you right now, you can’t stop and craft every damn sentence, that’s for sure. You have blast out the words.

In the words of one of my favorite pop-culture mages: don’t think, do.

There is a scientific basis to this kind of exercise. Using intuition to make a decision within your “area of expertise,” turns out to be a fairly accurate way of making effective decisions. Or in this case: good work.

Makes sense, really. If you’ve amassed hours of study and practice at something, your auto-pilot for that activity is going to be fairly skillful. You won’t necessarily need the kind of careful double-checking that you did when you first began.

NaNo starts the first day of November.

I got a fabulous deal on a ticket to cruise for Ms. Internal-Editor. She’s going to have a great time advising her fellow cruise members all about Dining Room Rules and organizing safety drills. I can’t wait to hear about her adventures when she gets back at the end of the month.

Or possibly later.

Cruise ships give their biggest discounts during hurricane season, you know.