The Whys and Hows of it All

Angela MyronLast month’s meeting of OCCRWA, I met a young mother of twins. It was her first meeting, and seeing the flush of her cheeks, the sparkle in her eye as she listened to the speakers and networked with other writers, it made me smile. Because I remember, because I still do this. Because underneath the exterior of a busy, inspired, prolific writer is one giant WHY that compels us.

Why do you wake at 5 a.m. every day? Why do you take your free Saturday, exhausted from a week of work, to attend a lecture on craft, or business of writing?

And then there’s the stunned HOW that emerges when you meet another parent, and they learn that in the delicate, intimate first years of your children’s lives, you launched a career as an author…

There are as many reasons as there are people under the sun why a person would want to be an author. But it’s when the Whys and the Hows combine in a compelling narrative, that’s when you find the Way.

For each of us, the Whys and Hows and Ways are different. But it’s also the same, for all of us. It’s the touchstone we revisit when starting a new work: Why am I doing this? What matters so much that I must communicate it through story? It’s how we muscle through revising and editing the story until it’s good. It’s how we weather rejection from agents, editors, and readers.

Under the surface, there is always a driving WHY.

My Why stemmed from a need to share philosophy, varied and collected over my formative youth, a combination of Science, Buddhism, Christianity, world myth, and old world magic passed down through generations before me. At least, that’s my Why was when I started writing fiction. Today, still, I’m driven by philosophy, but it’s mixed with my interactions with my readers. The kids I meet at book fairs and school events for my Ennara series are a huge inspiration.

What’s your Why?

I’ll be signing books at the upcoming OC Book Fair. More info at: http://ocwriters.org/book-fair and  https://www.facebook.com/events/516548848506569/. See you there!

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A Writer’s Palace

When I was assigned the topic Where for this post,  I considered sharing my physical writing space. A small bedroom in my house that my husband and I converted to a shared office space (I’ve done that before so, No can do). Or perhaps the dining room table, where I plant my laptop and escape to through out the day, whenever I can. Or maybe the cafe I sometimes go to when my twins are in preschool. Or the gym where I squeeze in a half hour after the treadmill while the kids are in kidwatch?

But the more I considered it, the more I realized that each of us, as writers, need not one place, but many. And yet we need a solidity within, a buckle-downed-ness assuring us regardless of where we are, we will meet our writing goals. Our deadlines will not slip. Not for guests, not for vacations, not for conferences or book signings, not for social media, or for laundry or cleaning or dinner.

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Sherlock’s sitting room from the Sherlock Holmes Museum

A fan of BBC’s Sherlock, I considered Sherlock’s famous Mind Palace. What if I had a Writing Palace? A fortress within myself, where I could memorize every piece of plotting advice, characterization profiles, a library of writerly classes, workshops, and information cataloged neatly. A quiet corner in an imaginary wood-paneled study, a fortress impenetrable by fickle muses or chatty tweeters. Or perhaps a majestic glass-paned room, overlooking snow-encrusted valleys, or wind-swept beaches. A writer’s bastion of a mind palace.

What else might we put in such a writerly fortress? Critique rooms peopled by Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Woolf, perhaps.

After all, we writers have incredible imaginations, filling in scenes with sound, touch, sight, smell. What if we turned that powerful imagination to building a writing room we can take wherever we go?

What would your mind palace look like?

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Hope for the Season of Miracles

The days are dark this time of year.

In our past, this was inarguably the most difficult season. Harvest ended months ago. The feasting ended, too. The animals huddled in the barn, their coats thick and fat waning. Depending on the year, the yuletide could be a time of cheer, but more often, it was a time of desperate prayer. Winter would not be done for another three months or more.

People died at this time of year—the elderly, the very young, the poor. If the weather grew harsh enough, even common farmers and merchants could perish. So this holiday, this festival of light, was an act of defiance for our ancestors. The wax might not last the remainder of the winter, but on the darkest days, we’d light as many candles as possible and hope.

Hope that the stores would last. Hope that the cold would break before it broke us, our neighbors, or our loved ones.

So it was, for thousands of years.

Today, we feel far removed from those harsh realities. The Season of Miracles, in which the lights lasted longer, saviors were born, candles were lit, songs were sung, and children were encouraged to play despite the cold, has been diminished to a holiday of materialism and consumerism.

But before giving into that rather depressing, hollow reality, I’d ask you to consider that the call for miracles still exists. That the stresses of winter—perhaps no longer as bleak—are still forces that require our steadfast hope, our defiant cheer, and our deepest practices of compassion and prayer.

The darkness surrounds us today. There are those who must work without holiday. The gifts we give at this time, whether they cost time or money, must be given, even when we feel so utterly bereft of either. The violence and greed that runs through the minds of so many, and the tragedies that follow, impact each of us, daily.

And so I call on this season of miracles, on its power through history and ancestry. I say we must refresh this old holiday anew. That we raise the game and bring the miracles. That when we feel there is no time, we give it anyway. When there is no patience, we stop, breathe, and quietly accept. When there is no money, we find a way to give, however small, to those in need. That when there is no hope, we dare to believe the light within us will last through our dark hours.

Let this still be the Season of Miracles. And may yours be filled with hope and joy.

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Hello from Shelley Bleackley

Chase TherouxI, too, have a confession: I’ve never thought of myself as a romance writer. After all, my published books are middle-grade fantasies (under a different pen name). There isn’t a lot of romance you can realistically put in the lives of eleven to thirteen year-olds—and rightly so.

But I also think that defining one’s writing as “not romance” is short-sighted. In fact, I’d argue every great story ever written has a romance built into it. (Even The Martian—a book hailed by scifi readers for its science—features a sweet romance between Beck and Johanssen.) Each of us craves the intimacy and connection love provides. We live love. We write love. So here I am.

My first thought to write a book—that I remember—was in the second grade. I had a whole publication plan, a co-author/co-illustrator (another second-grader from church), and who today is an accomplished author-artist, which is interesting isn’t it? We both followed that dream.

My path to publishing started back when I was a corporate author-publisher. I wrote, designed, published, and disseminated volumes of software manuals and online help (aka Click OK). When I mustered the courage to write what I wanted, I started with writing adventures for kids (simple, right? ha). Since then, I’ve learned a lot and have joined the wonderful author co-operative Patchwork Press. At times it’s been thrilling, and at other times difficult, but overall it’s been a journey for which I’m grateful.

I’ve learned that when writing a fantasy series, the bounty of ideas is wonderful, and paring them down while editing is absolutely essential. That while you definitely need to know why you are writing a particular story, you need to express that subtly. And when you come up against a block, chip away at its foundation until the wall is weakened, then take a wrecking ball to it.

I love the old fantasies of George MacDonald, CS Lewis, and of course Tolkien. Anything that is rich with symbol and metaphor, and makes me read a line and then stare off into space as I contemplate its deeper meanings. Makes for slow reading, but it’s wonderful. I’d love to write like that someday.

My current projects include a YA mythical fantasy based on an old Asian myth, and a paranormal mystery featuring werewolves on Vancouver Island. Both have strong romantic elements. The reasons I chose to include love as part of the story—aside from many of my friends being romance writers—was a wish to explore its spiritual side and the eastern idea that love can be used as a vehicle for spiritual development.

My favorite heroes are Dean Winchester from Supernatural and Sherlock Holmes from the present-day BBC production. Favorite heroine? Mary from Downton Abbey. (I’ve got a sneaking feeling I’m spending too much time watching TV!) Who are yours?