Artists are here to disturb the peace.
— James Baldwin
Artists are here to disturb the peace.
— James Baldwin
Join me and my partners in crime, Debbie Burke and Christine Carbo, at 3 pm Mtn time this Wednesday, Feb 24, for a lively Zoom discussion about our mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels, the writing process, and more. Our gathering is sponsored by the Buffalo Hill Terrace senior living community in Kalispell; open to the public. Zoom link
I hope you can join us for fun, secrets, and laughter with Debbie, Christine and me.
(The downside of Zoom? You’ll have to bring your own snacks. But check the back of my books for recipes!)
Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.
I’m just starting a new project and with it, the book journal. It’s an idea that was new to me when I first heard the late Sue Grafton talk about it, lo these many years, and it was, as many things about writing were to me then, A Revelation.
She described it simply: Create a journal document on your computer for each project. (Mine is called Notes, or Notes + some descriptive word from the title, e.g., Notes Spice #6.) Open each session with that document. Date the entry and jot a line or two about what’s going on in your life. Then, use this place to capture ideas, story questions, worries, research to be done later. I often add my goals for the writing session.
Here are a couple of typical entries, from The Solace of Bay Leaves:
“Tues 7/16 Not quite awake yet, but I can’t get on line, so – to the page! When last we saw our faithful but worried scribe at her desk pondering this ms., she was struggling. Looking for the joy in the writing process, but bogged down by worry and fear, and uncertain where this ms would go. Picture in the corner, a leeetle beety creature – or maybe an angel descending on a spider’s thread, to tell her: It’s all part of the process. Doubt and fear? Let them go. The unknowing? Know that it will resolve itself ON THE PAGE. Each book teaches you how to write THAT BOOK. GO LEARN!
Today’s goal: Cruise. Get to the end of what’s already written. Don’t try to Fix Everything.
What a struggle. But think how proud I’ll feel when I pull it off!
Can I really name a woman Kimberly Clark and get away with it??? (In a story sense, not a legal sense.) Yes, though I might want to reconsider if she turns out to be the killer.”
“Fri 7/26 Did a short stint Wed before we headed to Missoula, then in the car, I realized I DON’T NEED THE SOCCER MOM story line and the whole thing will be much better. Instead of trying to cram a problematic story line in, GET RID OF IT! And follow the Maddie-Pepper thread, wherever IT goes.
Maybe it was Maddie who Pat stayed home to meet – a secret meeting to work out a compromise? Wouldn’t he have made notes? Maybe she took them.
Deanna as killer? I wanted a man…
And what about ghost signs?
WHAT IF – an old bldg had been torn down in the 1970s and replaced with an icky one; now it was going to be replaced again and the neighborhood wanted it to fit in better…
A new theme is emerging: A not-so-perfect Maddie.”
Grafton often told a story on herself that illustrated the usefulness of her book journal. She got to a particular point in that year’s book when she was sure she couldn’t pull it off. She told her husband, who said “you said that last year at this point.” “Well, maybe, but this not time. This might be the time when I really can’t figure it out.” “You said that last year, too.” And when she opened the previous year’s book journal, by golly, he was right. She laughed at herself, got back to work, and with the help of her book journal, pulled it off.
So did I. You can, too.
The celebration of Black History Month continues.
“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
— Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give (2017)
In honor of Black History Month, the February quotes will all come from famous Black authors.
“One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.”
— James Baldwin, American novelist (1924-87), Notes of a Native Son
“Self-consciousness is the enemy of all art, be it acting, writing, painting or living itself, which is the greatest art of all. Creativity, at heart, is the essence of man’s being.”
– Ray Bradbury, The Writer, Nov 1965, quoted Nov 2014
“In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm…in the real world all rests on perseverance.”
– attributed to Goethe, quoted in Julia Cameron with Emma Lively, Prosperity Every Day: A Daily Companion on Your Journey to Greater Wealth and Happiness (2015)
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
— William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), “He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”
Now the great Irish poet was imploring his love, the woman he saw as his muse, but I think the final lines apply equally to any artist presenting his or her work — be it a painting, a song, a poem, or a novel — to the world. When we’re asked to read, or view, or listen, we owe the artist whatever level of critique they ask of us, though sometimes that’s none at all. But always, we owe them — we owe this world — an open heart and, I think, the awareness that their work is a piece of their dreams.
“Indonesian artists say you should begin and end your work with a prayer of gratitude—it’s a more reverent kind of collaboration [than the assumption that you need to beat your art into submission].”
— Elizabeth Gilbert, American novelist and non-fiction writer, in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process, ed by Joe Fassler (2017)