Sunday, October 14, 2007
With that in mind, I’ve hedged on something all week. Should I, shouldn’t I? Why? Why not?
It all started when I answered five questions from Ian Lidster. And simultaneously read a post on KJ's new blog. And another by Kiyotoe. Then one of my closest friends left Seattle to begin a new life in Florida. Sometimes it takes just a little nudge to get us to regroup, recommit, or re-assess.
Whatever you call it, all three posts sparked that flame that flickers deep inside and I realized I’d been coasting, living in a very cushy comfort zone—something I knew intrinsically, but not a state I like to be in for too long.
I need to step it up, and step on out!
Won’t bore you with the details of my life, but as a result of this, I’ve made significant changes and have the opportunity to really stretch myself. And … most importantly (!) … I want to (choose to!) get away from the keyboard more. So last month I hired a personal trainer to get me reconditioned over the next few grey months. I want to learn to ski ‘properly’ this winter. I also want to master that darn snowboard once and for all; and go snow-mobiling and snow shoeing—without getting stuck in a drift!
To gain a better balance on my work and personal life, I need to create more creative space and time. That means letting go of, or subtracting, certain other roles and activities, most of which I can't/won't mention here for obvious reasons.
So it’s with much ambivalence, my bloggy-buds, that I sing “So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye” … at least for now.
Blogging was something I thought I’d do for a couple of months—and even though I was by no means a prolific blogger compared to most of you, 18 months later it’s like leaving the comfort of a home you’ve lived in for a while to move to a new town. Sad to be leaving, but excited about the journey and new challenges and opportunities ahead.
I hadn't expected to ‘meet’ such wonderful, warm, funny, wise and incredibly smart and talented people. So, thanks for the timely kick in the pants! Thanks to those who've left comments on-blog and off-blog.
And thanks to all of you who’ve made me laugh, learn, and cry by sharing your skills, experiences, and life-journeys.
Bibi’s come to the end of her Beat for a while … but I hope you’ll stay in touch …
Love and hugs x
P.S. I have withdrawal symptoms already.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
I hear my dog pad up the hallway, signaled by the hum of my electric toothbrush. He yawns, stretches, waits patiently outside the bedroom door … is she or isn’t she? I duck into my closet and reappear in sneakers and running pants … she is!
Whispering good morning to him, I slip his collar over his head, and we step outside into the silence of early autumn fog.
Two-hundred steps and we’re on the beach. “Morning ladies!” I greet the Canadian Geese as I walk through the gaggle at the water’s edge. “Any good gossip today?” As usual, they stick their noses in the air and turn their backs on me.
Pebbles crunch underfoot as I stretch out up the beach throwing sticks into the water for Dylan. We climb up and over the rocks to our usual meditation spot, where we each take up our position.
He sits upright in the water, looking yonder for signs of anything unusual. I sit cross-legged on the 30-foot tree trunk that long-ago crashed from the hill above, and now spans across the beach and into the water. I close my eyes, circle my thumb and forefinger and take a deep, cleansing breath.
Sometimes I meditate on a specific topic. But this morning I think about nothing. Just the sound of my breath. Just the sound of lapping water. Just the sound of wind rustling through the trees and the brittle leaves they are preparing to shed.
In and out. Calming and cleansing.
I am grateful for this day.
I am grateful for my family and friends and appreciate having them in my life. I’m grateful for the interesting projects I work on and appreciate the opportunities I have. I’m grateful to feel excited by life and appreciate the choices I can make.
In ... out. I am grateful for this day.
… WHAT THE *!@#?
I shoot forward off my perch, reaching around to my lower back. Ack … it’s wet!
“Really, really, sorry about that! Bad boy!” shouts the sleepy-eyed man with bed-hair, who stands red-faced on top of the cliff behind me.
“No worries” I reply. But didn't mean it. Bad enough I have to scoop poop. Now I have to search my pockets for a tissue and dry off the spray his Labrador squirted up my back!
In ... I smile … Out. And mean it.
I am grateful for this day.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
1. Your provenance is the UK, and now you live and work in the US, what motivated you to make the shift across the Atlantic?
I’ve known since I was nine-years-old that I would live overseas … just one of those knowing things. I’m glad I was raised and grounded in the UK and that my family base is still there, but I always wanted to travel and experience different cultures.
When I started looking around at 16, I thought it would be Australia; New Zealand; and then, following a topless (and sometimes bottomless) summer in the South of France with my sister, where we dined on local wines, cheeses, and handpicked cherries every day, I thought I’d move to France. But shortly after returning to England, she and I both fell madly in love with Capricorn boys and that put paid to dunking croissants and baring all in St. Tropez!
A couple of years later, Mr. Capricorn and I filed emigration papers to South Africa. And then I went on vacation to California. Big deal, nothing special … they all lived in ‘wooden’ houses! But when I arrived home to brick-built London, in two feet of snow, San Diego started looking pretty darn good, wooden houses and all … says she 22 years later.
2. What aspect of your work gives you the greatest satisfaction?
I know this sounds hokey and I don’t care, but I’ve always been a change-maker; always needed to learn and grow. Everyone wants to feel that what they do matters and what’s really important to me today, is making a difference. And having fun along the way. It doesn’t matter how small or seemingly insignificant the difference, if someone tells you that something you’ve done, broadcast, written, or shared has helped them in any way, it makes everything worthwhile.
I’m in a position where I now do work that really excites me. In fact, my work is not work, it’s my passion … if I won the Lotto tomorrow, I would still do it but on a bigger, grander, more global scale. I also love that, thanks to global technology, I’m not restricted to one location and can, and do, work from anywhere in the world.
3. You've traveled considerably in your life. Rather than ask you what place you like best, I'm going to ask what place gives you the greatest peace in your soul?
Oh … great question. I love being in nature … the wilder,
the better. But my number one soul-spot has to be the ocean. Whether I’m on it, in it, or by it.
I’ll take it under any conditions: wind and rain, fog, or sun and heat. Give me craggy headlands, crashing surf, huge rocks, golden sand that stretches unspoiled for several miles and I totally lose myself … or more accurately, find myself!
My absolute favorite ‘soul’ places are in Cornwall, the south-western peninsula of the UK—especially the beaches at Perranporth and Watergate Bay. (Shown here.)
A piece of my heart also remains in the Isles of Scilly, 30-miles off the coast of Cornwall. They fly food and newspapers in every other day, there are no cars (everyone uses golf carts), and it’s a little slice of unspoiled, sub-tropical heaven.
Outside of England, Oregon’s Ecola State Park, Cannon Beach, the Florence Dunes, and California’s Big Sur are amongst my favorites.
4. What is your idea of an absolutely perfect evening?
I could give you a glib ‘watching the sunset with Tom Selleck’ (which sounds pretty good to me). But if I’m honest this is a hard one!
Close friends say I’m a true renaissance woman, which caused me great insult at first because I thought it meant old-fashioned. But it apparently means someone who’s into many different things and has many different interests. And that’s true.
Some might say I seem conflicted because I enjoy seemingly opposite activities. I love the energy and facilities and haute couture of the leading big cities—yet love the solitude and isolation of virgin wilderness.
I love everything from dressing up for the opera, gourmet dining, fine art, and theatre; to sky-diving, off-roading, horseriding, and camping in the wilderness … and just hanging out with my family or friends.
So I guess the perfect evening boils down to who I’m with, rather than what we’re doing. And I’d like to be doing more of it!
5. If you could choose another era of history in which to live, when would it be and where would it be and what would your role be?
Well I know Marie Antoinette got a terrible rap, but when I was 11, I was lucky enough to stay in a French boarding school in the heart of Paris. And I instantly loved all-things French. Still do.
We traveled a lot and some of the history around Marie Antoinette’s time totally engrossed me. I saw her dresses and personal things, and thought she was so fine and glamorous, and had such a fun time that I was enthralled with her and wanted to be just like her. (Hey, I was 11 … I thought Isadora Duncan was a great role model too!)
Now of course, I know that no one wore deodorant, and that my big mouth would have seen me beheaded tout-de suite!
So if the opportunity of time-travel ever arises in my lifetime, I think I’ll go back just a little, and visit Old Hollywood, when big screen movies were just starting to be made … maybe I’d be Kate Hepburn for a day and raise holy hell.
Okay, enough I’s and me’s … thank you Ian, I did enjoy your questions! If you would like to play and have your own 5 questions, let me know and I'll send them on.
I often talk to myself. Speak in funny voices. Chat to my sister in Irish
and Russian accents. Sing because I can. And dance because I can't.
I’ve accidentally driven north on a south-bound one-way street (in London, San Francisco, Madrid and Seattle). Thumbed my nose at the advice of people who know everything, yet have experienced nothing. And reciprocated in kind to those who treat me or mine with disrespect.
So does that make me insane? Would it make me a bad mom? An unfit parent?
I don’t know if Britney Spears is a good, bad, or indifferent mother. She doesn't appear to be making very wise choices of late. But I’m tired of every expert and their brother who once-took-a-psych-class analyzing her behavior from an elevation of 30,000-feet based on hearsay and supposition ‘reporting’.
Maybe inquiring minds should ask how many green dollars the brutish-bodyguard packed in his wallet for the story he sold of Britney allegedly using drugs in front of her kids.
And, more importantly, since Tony Barretto is so ‘deeply concerned’ about the welfare of Brit’s children, maybe we should ask why he’s only just stepped forward—weeks after these events supposedly happened … after he was fired … after he hooked up with TV-hog Gloria Allred. And the month before Kevin Federline’s $20,000 per month alimony expires.
Maybe, just maybe, there’s more that inquiring minds should know.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I’m guilty of saying similar things myself about a couple of my own pet projects yet to realize fruition. For me, it’s not always the number of paying projects I’m working on that stalls me, but the intensity and timeline of each project. For example, I’m currently working on 11 paid projects, which is down considerably from last month’s count, but the intensity is high and I’m working 7 days a week to maintain. Other months I have just one or two projects that require most of my time.
Last week, when I was interviewing bestselling true-crime author, Ann Rule, she inspired me to realize that—as much as I have to be organized—I often get in my own way.
For one, I like clean, clear and open space to work in, no clutter in sight. And most days I work in nothing less.
Yet, as I write this, at the end of a crazy week where I’ve juggled all day and everyday—as we all do—my desk is overflowing with books to review, publicity material to scan, a phone log with 13 calls to return, marketing collateral for my show, a network folder full of regional events I ‘should’ attend; guest material to research; and a folder full of resumes to sift through so that I have another pair of hands before I tear out what little hair I have left.
There’s a desktop LCD, two live-laptops ready to receive urgent client messages from different sources; a banker’s lamp on the far left corner and an artist’s magnifying light on the right. A bottle of coral nail polish, a vase of past-their-best roses, my old classic-sized DayTimer and my new full-size Covey planner. Then there’s a digital clock, salt rock to dispel negative electrons, three wireless mice, a wireless keyboard, and oops, another bottle of nail polish—this time pink. (Now you know what I do on global conference calls!)
There are two DVD roughs to sign-off on, as well as a list of production credits to proof and approve. Two staplers (don’t you hate when they run out and you’re in a hurry?) and a block of Post-it notes. A “No Whining” sign sits behind a framed plaque saying, “You can be pleased with nothing when you are not pleased with yourself”. (Must remind self of both sayings!) A cell phone, business phone, and an assortment of colored pens so I can color-code my new planner. (…anal?) And no less than two cups of cold coffee and a glass full of Perrier water.
“This is ‘My Life’” … oh no, wait, that’s the Cover Girl commercial.
Back to Ann Rule.
She was a cop turned writer. A single mom who had to find a way to make money when she could no longer be a cop because of eyesight limitations. And she found that way by setting up a typewriter in her kitchen and writing fantasy stories for True Confessions magazine, in and amongst the chaos of raising five children.
“We were so poor, for so long” she said, “but it teaches you, you can write through anything if you’re determined.”
She tells people who talk of seeking perfect conditions, like that cabin in the woods where everything is quiet (or the super clean desk), “It doesn’t work that way. If you want to write [act, paint, dance] you will find a way.”
And despite the huge disappointment of losing her career as a police officer, and her recollections of peeling fighting children off the top of her typewriter, Ann has now made the New York Times bestsellers’ list 26 times.
So, while I take a few minutes to clean and de-clutter my desk, tell me, what perfect conditions are you waiting for?
Sunday, September 09, 2007
And, too many to mention here, claim mental illness lifts them from the dullest of personalities into the occasional creative genius.**
In fact Kurt Vonnegut once said he’d be willing to suffer like Van Gogh to paint like Van Gogh … but not to paint like Gaugin.
So who is this Muse everyone talks of? What is she and where does she come from? And sometimes, we ask pulling our hair, why is she so elusive?
The word Muse means the one who remembers. In Greek mythology, Zeus and Mnemosyne—the personification of remembrance—had nine daughters.
All virgins, they each had a specific science or art to protect.
- Calliope protected elegies
- Melpomene, the tragedies
- Euterpe, flute playing
- Erato, love poems
- Tepsicore, choir lyrics
- Thalia the comedies
- Polyhymnia, dance and music
- Cleo (image above) protects the stories of heroes and history
- Urania, astronomy
Today, we less often rally a specific muse. We typically refer to 'The' Muse as an omniscient embodiment of all artistic creation and inspiration. And over the years, many have called upon her, hoping she’d bathe them in a sharp white floodlight of brilliance and creativity.
But as I padded up and down my studio in the dark hours one night, bare feet on bare boards, deadline looming, I realized, ‘nope’ … nine or one, there’s no Muse hiding here tonight!
I paused by a bookshelf, closed my eyes and softly trailed my fingers across the spines of the neatly arranged books on the second shelf. My pinkie snagged on a small paperback.
I tugged the book off the shelf and opened my eyes: Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing fell open to page 35: “What is The Subconscious to every other man, in its creative aspect becomes, for writers, The Muse.”
That’s it! The Muse is our own subconscious.
Bradbury goes on to say that we must feed our Muse, to keep our Muse, and asks: “How have you fed yourself over the years? Was it a banquet or a starvation diet?”
He’s not talking about food, but of senses and experiences; of looks, and sounds, and smells, and tastes, and touches.
What and who are we drinking in? How are we exploring and growing? Where do we spend our hours? And with whom? Who are our friends? Do they believe in us? Or do they stunt our growth with ridicule and negativity?
“These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows …” Bradbury writes.
To feed your Muse, you must have been hungry and thirsty about life since childhood. And if you weren’t, haven’t been, and still aren’t—it’s never too late to develop your appetite and start feeding the Muse!
* The Muse, 1999 co-written and directed by Alfred Brooks.
** While many claim mental illness boosts their creativity above that of ‘normal’ people, many valid studies show this claim to be untrue and without merit.
Picture: Dr. Vollmer's Wörterbuch der Mythologie aller Völker.Stuttgart: Hoffmann'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1874. Book: Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You by Ray Bradbury.
Saturday, September 01, 2007
“Don’t let this stop you,” the letter ended “... we look forward to hearing more of your music in the future.”
Like many of us when faced with rejection, he’d skipped over the formulaic middle paragraph, and zoned in on the bits that gave him the slightest hint of hope that this wasn’t ‘just a standard rejection letter’. After all, that was a real ink signature … wasn’t it?
I’ve blogged on rejection before, but let’s face it, whether you’re a working creative, a singleton on the dating scene, or a new-job seeker, rejection is going to happen.
According to psychologists worldwide, it’s the number one fear of mankind. That and public speaking. And when you’re emotionally attached to a particular piece of work or specific outcome, a resounding ‘thanks but no thanks’ is that much harder to swallow.
So, after our initial whining session, how do we make rejection more palatable?
If I had the answer to that I’d no doubt make a quick million. But here are seven tools that work for myself and others who are, alas, well-experienced in handling rejection!
- Don’t automatically assume you did something wrong, or could have done something differently to influence the outcome. That may be true in some cases; but for the most part, rejection occurs due to a lack of confluence between you or what you’re presenting, and time-place-demand and/or desire. The stars were aligned—or they weren’t. Your work landed on the right desk on the right day—or it didn’t. You met the person who set your heart on fire when you were both willing and available—or you didn’t.
- When a loved or desired one rejects you with “It’s not you, it’s me” believe them. It-is-ALL-About-Them. Always has been. Always will be.
- When a potential employer rejects you, see it as positive. As a manager, I interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of potential employees, and it simply boils down to a person being a good fit for the job/team—or not. Doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you or the employer. And you want a mutually beneficial match, right?
- When an editor, producer, or gallery rejects your work, resubmit the piece to another pre-selected market the same day. If you have a good relationship with the rejecter, you can ask them why it didn’t fit their needs *if* and only if you did your homework and didn’t present them with something they’d already featured a couple of months ago.
- Take inflammatory emotion out of the situation. The rejection is not meant to hurt or injure you as a person, or to crush your creative genius. It’s not personal—if you think it is, read number one again!
- Make the Law of Averages work for you by checking-off the rejection as another step closer to getting a yes.
- Don’t ever let the fear of rejection stop you from reaching out in any aspect of your life. Our wise elders always say, it's not the things they did that they regret. It's the things they did not do!
What do you have to add on rejection? How do you handle it? What type of rejection is hardest for you to deal with—emotional or work-related? And why?
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Now he’s targeting the Financial Times. Analysts say he’s talking MySpace to attract new audiences, and the cross-revenue advertising dollars that come with them. And that he can afford to run several newspapers at a loss for many years to come, just to knock the competition off the block. In addition, Murdoch’s still running flat out to beat Google in the race for the world.
Well good for Mr. Murdoch … good for free enterprise.
But when that free-enterprise becomes a monopoly, what does that mean to the media at large, and to the information that we—the punters—are fed on a minute-by-minute basis? What does it mean to journalists (amongst whom I count myself) who still believe in freedom of the press: The code of ethics to seek and report the truth, to minimize harm, to act independently, and to be accountable—no matter what.
What does it mean to freeagents? To writers, artists, graphic designers, photographers who all end up working for the same half-dozen conglomerates, regardless of the name pasted on the front of the magazine, newspaper, DVD case, or book jacket.
As we see fewer independent media outlets, and we're cattle-fed monopoly-driven content, society becomes more homogenized, and cultures less diversified.
We have less choice about where we get our information, ergo, less choice about where we offer our services. And less freedom of input, equals less freedom of output. Less freedom of exchange of thoughts and ideas. Less learning. Less creativity.
(Remember the proletarians of George Orwell’s 1984? A severe example of machinations at work, I agree, but the story delivers a powerful image.)
So, all politics aside—because I refuse to be labeled by a blue ass or a red elephant—I say, enough’s enough Mr. Murdoch. Keep your greedy mitts off the Financial Times!
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Sunday, July 22, 2007
I've always loved quotes and one of my favorites used to be: "How vain it is to sit down and write, when one has not stood up to live!"
My 12-year-old brother turned blue in the face, then chased me all over the house screaming bloody murder, after he found that quote scrawled in red ink across a blank page of his hidden journal. Thank goodness we ran into dad on the staircase …
Many years later, I still feel guilty for reading every private thought my little brother laid bare on those pages. But I've lost my need to pry and would never do anything like that now. (Honest, I wouldn’t!)
However, I've never lost my love of quotes, and thought I’d share a couple of current favorites that I keep around my desk.
- American writer Williamn Saravon encourages writers to experience life in all its glory! "Try to learn to breathe deeply; really to taste food when you eat; and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”
- Robert Fritz tells us to think outside the box: “If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is compromise.”
- And for those moments when everyone else is an idiot, and nothing works out the way you want it to, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wisely reminds: “You can be pleased with nothing, when you are not pleased with yourself.”
What are your favorite quotes? Have you ever read anyone else’s journal? And if so, did you get caught?
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Come to the edge, He said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, He said.
They came. He pushed them,
And they flew …
Avant-garde French poet.
I don’t usually talk much about my work, too busy doing it; and I like to pour my energy into the process rather than explaining what I’m working on. But last month, after telling my friend in no uncertain terms (for the umpteenth time and for seven million reasons), “Not happening! Not going to do it!” … I went and did it!
When I took a break from the radio show at the beginning of this year, I intended to be hosting again toward the end of the year, and planned to take my time looking for a new executive producer (EP) to team up with. I wanted to wait until I found someone with a good match of goals, values, and vision; and was willing to be patient.
So even I was surprised, when early in May, I found myself calling several stations to talk about airtime and studio and production costs.
Information gathered, meetings held, discussions clarified, contracts reviewed … now all I had to do was decide. Did I want to do ‘it’?
Well I did want to do it. And without analyzing it to death, I trusted my instinct and took a huge leap of faith—with the stroke a pen, I became my new EP. Done. Dusted. Sorted.
I spent the next week on a roller coaster: It’s thrilling, scary. Exciting, daunting. Energizing, terrifying. Yeay! Aghh!
But life truly is what we make it.
No matter how you define success, there are many times in life when we have to be willing to leap without knowing what’s in front of us. We have to push through our fears, our doubts, and self-prescribed limitations. We have to close our ears to those who say it can’t be done and who try to drag us into their misery pit. We have to fill our minds with the belief that we can accomplish whatever we set out to do; and our hearts with the courage to do it.
So without further ado, I’m jumping right off that cliff, damn it, and building my wings on the way down. See you safely on the ground!
Others who jumped off a cliff (and kept on jumping!)
- Composer Oscar Hammerstein had 5 bombed shows lasting less than 6 weeks in total before Oklahoma! It grossed $7million and ran for 269 weeks.
- Author Tawni O’Dell had 6 unpublished novels and 300 rejection slips over a 13-year period before her first novel was published. When it became an Oprah book club selection, it made the New York Times bestseller list for 8 weeks.
- Admiral Robert Peary reached the North Pole on his 8th attempt.
- Stephen King got so fed up of receiving rejections on his novel Carrie that he threw it in the trash. His wife, Tabitha, retrieved it and sent it back out … we all know what happened next.
- Model/actress Angie Everhart was told by Eileen Ford that redheads don’t sell. Everhart later became the first redhead in history to appear on Glamour magazine and appeared in more than 27 films and now has her own show.
What cliffs have you jumped off? How did you build your wings? Maybe more importantly, what cliffs do you regret not jumping off?
Sunday, July 08, 2007
to the seat of the chair. -Mary Heaton Vorse
When no one else depends on your delivery, without editorial deadlines or production milestones or scheduled review meetings, it’s far too easy to push aside the Important for the urgent or pressing “in-your-face” issues of the day.
The irony is, that I most often procrastinate when I really care about a project—the perfectionist in me holding back until I know it can be perfect beyond a doubt—which, of course, is never!
I also procrastinate when I find a project dull or lacking challenge. Or if the project-at-hand doesn’t push my buttons. For example, I once scrubbed the entire house with a nail-brush and cooked a six-course cordon bleu meal, when I should have been studying for my upcoming six-hour registered stock broker’s licensing exam. The man of the house was thrilled, while my stress level soared through the roof knowing that I’d merely delayed the inevitable dreaded study of ‘puts, options, bonds, and living-wills’.
But that was many moons ago. And as much as I’ve procrastinated over the years—and still do—there are many more times when I’ve been so utterly absorbed by my work, that I forget to eat, drink, and sometimes, sleep.
At the end of the day, I always deliver. Always meet deadline. And I've learned that procrastination works for me as part of the creative process. I've learned that it’s good to sometimes allow a certain amount of time just to think ... letting fragments of ideas infuse, and thought patterns simmer, until that intangible 'something' kicks in and I’m at the boil raring to go!
I discovered what I already knew—that at least in this area—I’m perfectly normal!
- Amy Holden Jones believes that all writers are good procrastinators. She says that the process is of writing is grueling, until her characters begin to come alive to her, and that’s when she develops a sense of connection with the project.
- Steven DeSouza, knows when he’s about to write because he becomes a neat freak, organizing his desk and tools until ‘it’ floods in.
- Leonardo da Vinci was known as ‘highly distractable’. He finished The Last Supper only after his patron threatened to cut off all funds. And he took 20 years to finish painting the Mona Lisa.
- Leslie Dixon says we all have what she calls ‘stalling mechanisms’. The phone, email, reading the newspaper. But she also believes that procrastination can be a tool for success; assuming you can control it and ultimately deliver the goods on time and in good shape, you’ll have the edge over those who can’t control it.
- Douglas Adams’ friend, Steve Meretzky says, "Douglas has raised procrastination to an art form. Hitchhikers Guide would never have gotten done if I hadn't gone over to England and virtually camped out on his doorstep."
Sunday, July 01, 2007
Happy 4th ... and for those who don't celebrate, go play anyway!! It's good for the Creative Soul.
Creating the Epic Story
Best-selling Author Terry Brooks
By Vicki St. Clair
Master storyteller Terry Brooks made publishing history in 1977 with his first book, The Sword of Shannara. Today, 16 million copies of his books are in print. Known for his sweeping epic adventures, Brooks has earned a legion of loyal fans with his fantasy tales. He recently took time out from working on his latest epic to share some of his insights...
You once said that fantasy is the only canvas big enough for you to paint on. What is it that draws you?I was drawn to speculative fiction - and fantasy in particular - when I first was experimenting with different forms of writing. So much of what constitutes the body of work in fiction is limited to what we know about this world. But if you write fantasy, you can use an imaginary world and imaginary setting. And given that you are consistent with your writing...and believable...there's practically nothing that you can't develop or write about.
How did you get into epic storytelling?
[I] knew I wanted to write an adventure, but I didn't want the story set in the parameters of this world...and after I read Tolkien's work, I thought, this is the way to do it. Put it in a totally imaginary world where you can set up all the rules and the people, and you can draw parallels...where the readers will [see the connections] between what's going on in your imaginary world and what they know about the real world.
Who influenced you the most?
It's hard to pin it down because really it's your whole background of reading. I was inspired by the European adventure storywriters, Alexandra Dumas. Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott. I was an English major, so I was reading Faulkner [and] Thomas Hardy. They were all having an impact on me in some way because they told sweeping sagas of various sorts...Hardy certainly did. And although he wrote about a confined area, [Faulkner's stories] were generational sagas about families and the interaction between those people.
So there were lots of different authors that influenced me. And you sort of build those blocks that get you to a certain point...so it's easy to say I wanted to retell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers and Ivanhoe. But I wanted to tell them without the historical context.
How do you begin a new epic?
There's a three-step process I use every time:
- the dream process
- the organizational process
- the writing process.
The dreaming part is spending however much time it takes just thinking about everything that's going into the story - from the setting, to the characters, to the point of view, to the plot - and just playing with it. It's basically auditioning. I take my characters out, I dress them up, they read a part - and I see if l like them. If they're good, then I keep them in; if not, they go and wait for a chance to audition in the next book.
I see it like a movie in my head. [Characters] go through a part of the storyline...and by trying them out in different roles, I find out where they belong, and what it is they're about, and what the story's about. It's fragments at that point, with an overall story arc. I kind of know what I want this book to be about. I know where it starts, where it ends. I'm not sure how it's going to get there, I'm not sure who's going to influence things...that's what I'm playing around at.
When I have sufficient material to start putting the building blocks together, I go back to the outlining mode. I go back and forth, do character work-ups on paper, scene settings, names. And I do this chapter by chapter, until I have an outline in longhand on yellow paper that I feel comfortable with. It's probably not going to be the final story, but it's a starting place. Then I'll type that up and rework it yet again so I have a working blueprint. And then I'll write the story, and as I write...it will all change again.
As you write, you get a better sense of who your characters are and what the story's supposed to be, and the blueprint just helps keep you honest about decisions you might make to change things.
I think most writers will tell you they live in their books all the time. You never get out of your storyline. I may be out for an evening, but I'm thinking about that last chapter. I'm thinking about a character that isn't quite right. I'm playing around with them in my head all the time.
Which characters pass the audition?
In serial stories and generational sagas, you have the same families from one book to the next. So you know that you're going to draw your core people from those families. And you know that you're going to have some kind of conflict and resolution, so you have to decide who's on each side of the conflict. That determines who your characters are going to be when you start out.
Frankly, there has to be a connection with the characters so that what they're accomplishing with their lives, in the story, makes you care ... makes you relate to how they feel and what they're going through. Then you draw from the world - I see a particular thing happen or read something in the paper and think, how can I use this? So I'll make a note and somewhere along the line I'll bring that person in.
The biggest trick to [keeping yourself] honest about what you're doing is not to use a character just because it's a cool idea. Particularly in fantasy, there's a tendency to give characters standard characteristics...like the idea of the blind seer. How many times has that been done? There are certain archetypes that you can't get away from. You know there's going to be some kind of transcendent character, someone who comes of age...who makes the jump between what they know and what's true. But characters should be in a story for a reason... Everything you do should dovetail into the story...everything, including your characters, should advance the story in some positive way.
How do you avoid your work becoming fragmented as you write the epic?
Outlining has always been the key for me. If I outline the story in advance, it's cohesive before I start. It's in my head. I have it on paper, I've thought about all the plotlines and I've worked out the thematic structure. I've drawn everything in tight enough and close enough that it's not so easy to wander off the way you do when you sit there and think, hmm, I wonder what ought to happen next?
I think that's where a lot of writers fall down...because when you start writing, the problem is that the story mutates along the way. It always becomes about something more than what you first thought.
Also, practice helps! If you do it long enough, you have a sense of whether it's going the way it should. If I didn't have to write to such tight deadlines, if I had [long periods] of time between books, I would lose it all...I'd have to learn it all over again.
What happens when you get into a book and you see it needs to go a different way?
That just happened to me with this book I'm writing now. It's a middle book, so it's sort of a transitional book.
A hundred pages into it, I knew that this book was about different forms of redemption. I had no clue that was what it was about when I first started. But it became very clear, seeing where the characters were going, what they were about, and what they were doing, that it was going to talk to the reader about...the possibility of redemption.
If I see the book needs to go a different way, I look at how that [will] impact everything I've already done, and how it [will] impact the rest of the story.
That's the advantage of the outline - you can look and see exactly how that's going to impact the rest of what you were going to do. And you can make the adjustments that you need to make with a few notes. Sometimes you have to rework the outline more comprehensively. But it's less guesswork... There's less writing yourself into a corner, where all of a sudden you haven't a clue where you're supposed to go.
I wrote myself into a 450-page corner with my second book and my editor said, "I'll help you out. Throw it away." It was a terrific lesson...a hard lesson...but a very important lesson, and I never made those mistakes again.
Any final words to epic storytellers?
Patience is a virtue. Perseverance is a necessary asset to your career as a writer. If you worry about publishing more than you worry about the process, you're probably doomed.
*This interview has been reprinted multiple times for a variety of usages. Please contact Vicki St. Clair for reprint rights.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
I wondered how many other bloggers have heard statements like that. As though the daily ups and downs—all details of our lives—are routinely posted in cyber land!
I don’t know how it works for you, but I rarely know what I’m going to write about when I sit at my PC to post my blog.
A couple of weeks ago I sat down to write about the creative practice. But then my dog nibbled my toe, and I ended up blogging about him.
I once sat down to write about the unparalleled thrill of skydiving. But instead, I blogged about writing in the nude. Another time I planned to write about the rush of zip-wiring in the Sierra Madres ... or maybe unleashing one’s voice; but instead I wrote a letter to the VILE Rush Limbaugh.
Today was no exception. As I sat here running my fingers across the keyboard, eyes closed trance-like, much like a pianist running scales, I thought about those who say that, regardless of art-form, creatives must practice every day, no matter what … and I was about to very strongly disagree with them, when I realized (rather randomly) that another year had slipped silently by.
The one-year anniversary of Bibi’s Beat (no longer a virgin). Another Father’s Day without dad (pop, where are you?). And it’s almost a year since I moved house and was terrified by midnight prowlers.
That is the beauty of blogging!
One gets to play with their blog instead of constantly being on deadline, restricted by column count, by topic, by editorial approval, or client-facing audiences.
I can set myself little tests: Write 372 words exactly. Write only for 12 minutes. Pick a word and create a post around the word. Type a random question and take it from there.
I might think about someone who's missed, and a great day we once shared. Recall an unpleasant time of life and the lessons learned. Let rip on something I feel strongly about, or pick a stance on a topic and write the opposite viewpoint.
I might write about something that happened three years ago today. At 4 pm last Wednesday. Or maybe, never at all. And since I post only once a week, blogging provides a playful break in the routine of writing for money!
A pleasant, and unexpected, outcome of blogging, is the interaction between so many wonderful and talented creatives. I’ve learned, laughed, and cried along the way with all of you!
But I’m curious about you. Why do you blog? Does it sometimes become a chore? How much time do you spend blogging? Do you ever think of quitting (I know some of you do because I’ve read you say so!) And if so, what keeps you blogging on?
PS. Sorry ... there's an issue with the links to archive posts ... if you click on a link, that particular post will appear underneath today's post.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
We’ve been together only a month, and already, I’m crazy in love! I kept it quiet (until now) because … well … I wasn’t sure it would work out. He’s been around the block a few times—you know how baggage goes—but I thought he was worth the risk.
He’s tall, dark, handsome, and incredibly smart. He's strong, well-traveled, well-mannered, kind, and responsible. Yet he’s wild, adventurous, free-spirited. Very creative. Tons of fun. And he makes me laugh from morning till night.
We’ve kayaked together; sailed, hiked, and climbed rocks. On Wednesday, we watched a grey whale puff his way up the narrows during our early morning constitutional. On Thursday we picnicked on the beach, snuggling close as the sun set. On Friday he brought me crab. Saturday, a seal’s flipper. And this morning … a half eaten fish.
His brows knit together and his soft amber eyes fill with confused disappointment as I squirm at the delicacy of the day, so proudly dropped at my feet. I kiss his nose and ruffle his head, “Good boy Dylan. Come on … let’s go chase seagulls!”
Sunday, June 10, 2007
The shears were being returned. Unopened. I reached for the bag of groceries I’d brought in and started unpacking and ... unpeeling.
Every piece of fruit and veg I’d bought, from bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, apples, lemons, to cucumber, tomatoes, and squash, had an annoying little sticker very firmly attached to the skin. Oh, please!
I began washing and scraping the stickers off two dozen lemons. What words of wisdom are sellers trying to impart to consumers, I wonder? What could possibly be of such great importance that it has to be announced on every single piece of fresh produce?
Was it a health warning about pesticide use? Or had lemons suddenly been linked to cancer? Or brain tumors?
I grabbed the Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass (again) and hovered the lens above the label. Hmm … it ... says … ock!! “LEMON.”
Now, I know firsthand that decisions in corporations are rarely made quickly. So I imagine a typical scenario in making such an earth shattering revelation, and wonder: Who wrote the copy on that? And what was their fee? Was the writer with an ad agency, or was he/she plucked from the marketing team? Who developed the concept? Approved the proof? Did it get redlined and redrafted? Did they use an editor to make sure it was spelled correctly? And most importantly: How many branding hours were billed?
If they are going to take the time to label every piece of food for us ijeet consumers, shouldn’t they also offer the explanation in Spanish? “Limon.” Or is this a subtle way of teaching the English language? You know, like we had labeled picture books in kindergarten … table, chair, bed … lemon.
Seems I have more questions than answers. But, I guess if you can get it, writing for lemons would be a pretty safe gig.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Well let me back up a bit.
It all began when I got frustrated with the Fort Knox of packaging that encased a pair of pruning shears I’d bought on sale at Target. I could not, for the life of me, get the gosh-golly-darn shears out of the plastic tomb they lay in.
After fingers and teeth failed to unravel the seal, I took a large pair of kitchen scissors to the thinnest edge of the package. Then I took my electric carving knife to it. And finally, I ran into the garage and revved up my newly acquired electric hedge clippers. But all to no avail. The shears lay ensconced in plastic, allowing quick-and-easy, front-and-back view, but zero access.
Thinking there must be some new-fangled way into the case, I flipped it over and started reading the instructions printed on the back. Now what’s the point of putting all those words on a package when NO ONE can read them because the font is Times New Roman point-minus-three !
I grabbed the Sherlock Holmes type magnifying glass that I keep with my kitchen utensils …
“Do not chew or swallow casing. Do no cut hair with shears. Do not allow children to play with blades. Do not run with shears. Do not …”
Everything but HOW TO GET THE IJEET SHEARS OUT OF THE PLASTIC CASE.
Grrr. I sat down at the breakfast table and sipped the coffee that had gone cold during the 30 minutes I'd spent fiddling with the shears. And then it occurred to me. Even though they had omitted the crucial step—the key to unlocking the plastic tomb—a writer had actually sat down and written all that junk on the back of the shears.
I rolled my eyes and wondered if it was the copy editor who'd cut the line: “Here’s how to open …”
Part two of writing for lemons next week
Sunday, May 27, 2007
And then, I thought about the men and women and children in Iraq ... and wondered what their day was like ...
According to CNN, as of May 24, 2007, 3,711 coalition troops have died in the war in Iraq: 3,435 Americans, two Australians, 149 Britons, 13 Bulgarians, seven Danes, two Dutch, two Estonians, one Fijian, one Hungarian, 32 Italians, one Kazakh, three Latvian, 19 Poles, two Romanians, five Salvadoran, four Slovaks, 11 Spaniards, two Thai and 18 Ukrainians. Total wounded amounts to more than 25,500.
In honor of those from all nations who died on the bloody front lines, I share a moment of silence for one of my favorite poems.
Do Not Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Mary E. Frye, 1932.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Reading what I wrote 'back then', in the pre-common place days, I remember how excited I was by my perceived new found freedom—the ‘freedom’ I sometimes curse now as a ball and chain.
- "So ... this is the first time I have used my new laptop and already it has changed my life. You may think that’s a rather extreme statement—that I’m prone to hyperbole.
- Well, okay, I admit that on occasions I have used the term millions when several would have been closer to the truth. Or that I’ve claimed to have gained a ton when I really meant 7lbs. And that I’ve even said the party was a blast when I actually found it a superficial bore and couldn’t wait to get home.
- But I am not spinning a top when I tell you that this machine, notebook, laptop—whatever you want to call it—has changed my life in an instant!
- You don’t believe me? Well let me tell you that I finished a 50-page report last night, sat in bed puffed up by pillows, with my sleek black notebook perched on top of a silk peach cushion. First thing this morning I walked to the coffee shop—laptop in hand—for a pot of hot ginger peach tea and a cranberry nut muffin where I finished editing a proposal. Then me and Conan (yes I’ve named him/it/her) drove here, to the park, to feed the ducks.
- And as I write this, I’m sitting at the picnic table closest to the edge of the lake, where I’ve just finished proofing the article I have to deliver tomorrow. I am no longer chained to the one table where my desktop sits … I am free … in the park, breathing fresh air, feeding the ducks, and writing away ... "
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Mother's Day hits my mom twice a year. My brother and sister celebrate the UK Mother’s Day with her in March. And I celebrate (usually from afar) the US Mother’s Day in May. She likes it that way; makes her feel doubly special.
Despite her now chronic disabled physical state, she is a rock. She never complains. Tries always to keep a positive attitude (“ ... who wants to hear about my problems when they have their own ... ” she says). And takes each week one day at a time.
There are many things I could write about her, the list would be long. But many of them are very private, personal memories. So today I want to share just 5 things that I really do appreciate about J, my mom.
- I appreciate that she taught me to write, read, sew, knit, swim, and cook all by the age of 6; and that she engrossed me and my siblings in music, books, films, dance, art, athletics, foreign food and culture … and that she continues to surprise and teach me even today.
- I appreciate that J was always the cool mom; that when my siblings and I threw parties, we could rely on her to mix the best cocktail punch in town … and then discreetly disappear. (Except the time she dressed as a Playboy Bunny, then none of the boys would let her disappear!)
- I appreciate that she cheered me on to run free and see the world after school; that while my friends' mothers all nagged them to “ … find a husband and settle down” close to home, my mother told me over and over “There’s a huge universe out there for you to experience”. Even now, when I know she would love to have me closer to home, she remains adamant that I must lead my own life, wherever that may take me.
- I appreciate that she encouraged me to still be my daddy’s girl, even after they divorced, even though she was really mad with him ( … and even though I was 25 years old at the time!)
- I appreciate that she’s always believed in me, often much more than I believed in myself. And that no matter what time of day or night I’ve called ( … and still call), she’s patiently listened to my most difficult struggles and blackest heartbreaks, and smiled at my over-the-top joyful hysteria or garbled excitement about nothing-much-at-all. And most importantly, she’s listened to all that garbage without judging me ... or mine.
I appreciate her self-effacing humor and no BS British Bulldog character, which has picked us up during tough times, taught us to celebrate the good times, and allows no place for moping, pity, or grandiosity—from self or others. (She’s probably asking for a gag bucket right now as she reads my list.)
With that said, and to quote a wise-wise woman, “Let's get moving! All this lallygagging won’t buy the baby a new dress!!” ... and I have to get back to work.
Love you ma! x
Photos of J and grandkids at her 70th birthday, May 2006.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Sure, there are times when everyone has sudden bursts of effortless creativity. But there are just as many times when a seemingly insignificant creation was preceded by hours, even months or years, of grinding hard work and hair-tearing angst.
Ever curious, I’m always interested in the work habits of other creatives and one of my favorite books on the subject is The Creative Habit by international choreographer Twyla Tharp. “Creativity is not a gift from the gods,” she says, “ … it is the product of preparation and effort.”
When we first toy with a new idea or project, sensory intake increases dramatically as we consider feasibility and play with various viewpoints, forms, media, visuals, and other possibilities.
Tharp says that during this phase, she wants to place herself in a bubble of "monomaniacal absorption" where she’s fully invested in nothing but the task at hand.
She’s turned this process into a ritual she calls subtraction. “I list the biggest distractions in my life and make a pact, to myself, to do without them for a week.”
Her subtraction list includes:
Movies, multitasking (no reading on the StairMaster or eating while working), anything related to numbers such as contracts, bank statements, bathroom scales etc., and background music.
The first time I read this I thought, brilliant! Obvious, but brilliant. So at the start of my next project, I cut out several of my biggest distractions and, of course, thought more clearly and accomplished much more in a shorter period of time.
And then, being human, I forgot all about the ritual of subtraction until I recently re-read her book.
Timing was perfect. About to begin pre-production on an important project I decided that a little subtraction would work well this week. For me, this isn’t a hardship or applied discipline or forced structure. I genuinely find that subtracting for a week, or sometimes even just a day or two, really helps to put me in a different zone.
My subtraction list includes:
Television & radio.
Personal email, snailmail, phone calls.
Shopping of any kind ( … so I need to get milk and cookies in!)
As well as subtracting, I also add a few simple things that feed my soul such as nightly bubble baths, evening candlelight versus electric light, extended walks on the beach, and music.
What creative rituals or processes work well for you? Do you add or subtract things from your life? What are your distractions?
Sunday, April 29, 2007
So it totally confounds and DISGUSTS me, (yes I meant to shout disgusts!) that when I make promises to myself—to me, the only being on earth that I have any control over—I often break them!
Sure, I could teach you the principles behind human motivation and performance improvement. I’ve read all the psychology books on why people sabotage themselves: fear of success, fear of rejection, fear that we don’t deserve whatever it is we promise ourselves ... the list goes on ... and on.
I’ve studied profiles on extraordinary leaders; and theories on short-term versus long-term achievement, instant versus delayed gratification. And listened to CD recordings that tell listeners in cooing tones: “ … you deserve the love/job/house/life (you fill the blank) that you desire. But first you must love yourself. Repeat after me: … I love myself … I. LOVE. ME. …”
Hmm … skipping right along … for me it’s all about habits. And over the past couple of years, my once exceptionally healthful habits have gradually been overturned by Skipping.
Skipping is a good habit, you say! Yeah, but I mean the other kind of skipping. Skipping meals, skipping sleep, skipping workouts.
So last weekend I sat down—and in writing—fully committed myself. Not to an asylum (which is arguably where I belong), but to regaining good health habits. No excuses. No negotiation. No skipping.
Preparing for the new me, I even dusted down my bike and threw it in the back of the SUV.
Tomorrow’s a new and exciting day full of wonderful opportunities!
- Monday’s Ideal: One commits 100% to good health habits
To bed (sleep!) by 11 pm. Up by 6 am.
Eat 6 small meals throughout the day, starting with early breakfast.
Last snack by 7 pm.
Cycle or walk x 30 mins per day.
Weights x 20 mins, alt repping.
Etc, etc, etc.
Flopped on top of the bed at 1:30 am. Not sleepy, flicked through TV.
Got up and danced an Irish jig at 2.01 to the theme music of 'Crossing Jordan' (can never resist a chance to throw my arms in the air and kick up my heels).
Fell asleep with timer on TV at 2:30-something. Up at 7.30 am.
Breakfast … um…
Lunch … errr … Healthful snacks? Dinner???
Yeah but I did eat at 4 pm. And again at 9 pm.
Walk? Well … yeah but I did rush around all day. Ran from the car to studio. From car to Federal Express. From car to Trader Joe’s. From car to Café Diallo. From car to library.
Weights? … does humping my bike into the back of the SUV count?
Yeah, but, tomorrow’s a new and exciting day full of wonderful opportunities.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Every two steps, she leaned forward a little, shunting a battered suitcase in front of her with the side of her leg. She was blond and pale and baby-faced, but I guessed she was in her mid-twenties.
Earlier, we’d filmed outside the building but weren’t allowed to shoot or conduct interviews inside the shelter, so Scott tucked our camera and sound gear under one of the large standard army equipment desks that doubled as a buffet table. For all intents and purposes, I was just another faceless volunteer serving the needy.
I spooned pale gravy over the plate of mashed potato and dry chicken that the girl held out to me, and made some stupid remark about enjoying her meal. She didn’t meet my gaze, or return my smile, but turned away with a barely whispered “Thank you.”
As other ‘guests’ came back for seconds, or to share their stories of the day now behind them, I looked around the room for the girl who didn’t belong here. She was in the far corner, rolling out one of the yoga-like mats that the homeless were given to sleep on. Between each mat and the stranger next to it, lay only 18-inches of bare floor.
There were drunks here. Others who were clearly meth and heroin addicts. There were the paranoid, the ranting, the scathing. There were the grateful, the helpful, the humble. There were the mentally ill, the physically challenged, and the folks who pushed life beyond the edge.
And then there was the girl in grey.
Who was she? Was this her first night at the shelter? Was she a regular? Did she have family? Or friends? A job? Why was she here tonight?
The shelter manager asked us to leave so the guests could prepare for lights out. Scott lugged our heavy equipment and I followed behind, looking one last time over my shoulder at the girl in grey. She was kneeling on her mat, head tucked in silent prayer.
We threw the gear in the back of the van and remained mute until Scott dropped me at my front door. “Heavy, huh?” he looked over the top of his glasses.
Next evening—and the next—I went back to the shelter. No Scott. No video equipment. Just me and a glimmer of hope.
I wasn’t looking for ‘a story’; I wanted to talk to her, to hear her story. I hung around the square outside the front door watching the expressions on the faces of the homeless flip from anxiety to relief as they were head-counted indoors, assured of a mat for the night. But I never saw her again.
Occasionally, the glance or gesture of a stranger, sparks a memory of that night and the girl who didn't belong there. So I pause for a moment, wondering what truth the girl in grey could tell these years later … and, although I’ll never know who she was or what story she had to tell, I truly want to believe that she found the happiest of endings.