“[Maggie’s] hand closed around the library card. She had placed it under her pillow, as if it were a love token, or a guarantor of pleasant dreams. What else did you use a library card for, if not to borrow stories? Some of which might have a happy ending.”
Herron was the International Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime 2022. I hadn’t known his work, though his series that begins with Slow Horses is the basis for the new Apple TV series starring Gary Oldman. I picked up this book, a standalone, and read it in two settings. In context, the quote isn’t purely a ponder on the glory of libraries, but doesn’t mean quite what you think, i
– Catriona McPherson, author of historical mysteries and contemporary suspense set in her native Scotland, and contemporary capers set in California, at Left Coast Crime 2022, where she was the American Guest of Honor — which makes her hoot with laughter, in her Scottish accent!
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing tidbits of wisdom that caught my ears and attention at Left Coast Crime 2022, the mystery and crime fiction convention held this year in early April in Albuquerque.
“A good story isn’t about what happens. It’s about who it happens to.”
— William Kent Krueger, talking specifically about This Tender Land (2019). Kent’s novel, Lightning Strike, won the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Novel.
“Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable. But when you want to say something life-changing or ineffable in a single sentence, you face both the limitations of the sentence itself and the extent of your own talent. … “Art is one of the few places where talent and madness can go to squirrel away inside each other.” – Pat Conroy, The Writer, June 2012, excerpted from My Reading Life (2010)
Painting: The Barn, by Leslie Budewitz (pastel on sandpaper)
“We are naturally creative beings, invested in our existence to live, grow, express, and expand. The challenge is not to be creative—it’s to eliminate the barriers to the natural flow of our creative energies. Practically speaking, it’s about getting your act together, letting spontaneous ideas emerge, capturing them, and utilizing their value.”
Writers — all artists, I suppose — love to talk about process. Sometimes, though, trying to articulate our process or hearing others’ descriptions only makes us feel like a mess. Novelist Heather Webb captured that in a blog post on Writer Unboxed titled “Your Writing Process Says You’re a Failure.” It’s worth a read. Here’s an excerpt I found particularly striking:
“The writing process is an amorphous, wiggly, glob with a million arms and as soon as I feel like I’ve caught hold of one, it slips out of my hands. … What we need to learn is one of the most important aspects of both being a creative person and also surviving a very difficult business: we must learn to be flexible about our vision. We must also learn to be flexible about the process of how we get from Point A to Point Be.”
Or, as the old bumper sticker says, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
No one likes to fail. And yet, we do it all the time. It’s a critical part of the creative process, and doesn’t deserve all the fear and anxiety we load on to it.
“[F]ailure is a stepping stone to clarity. I will forget this more often than I wish to admit, and panic a bit (is it possible to panic only a bit…) only to remember [that] caring, placing your focus upon something, is a form of love. And these messy imperfect moments that sometimes look like one thing can, from another angle, look like something else. Beautiful opportunities to see something in a new light. To not miss the many ways love can look…”
—artist and writer Fia Skye, in the Flying Edna newsletter, 10/14/21
Here’s to the ability to find clarity from failure and see opportunity in obstacles.
Today’s my birthday, so as a gift to you, I’m sharing a few quotes from my collection, quotes that remind me what creative work is at its essence, and why it matters.
– “Writing is more than a vehicle for communicating ideas. It’s a tool for crystallizing ideas. Writing exposes gaps in your knowledge and logic. It pushes you to articulate assumptions and consider counterarguments. One of the best paths to sharper thinking is frequent writing.” – Adam Grant
“If you’re feeling like things aren’t going anywhere, hang out with people from different disciplines.” – Questlove
“But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels for me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it also feel that way for you?” ~ Kazuo Ishiguro
You owe it to all of us all get on with what you’re good at. – W. H. Auden
“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.” —John Steinbeck
Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. – Mary Oliver, American poet (1935-2019), “Sometimes,” from Red Bird (2008)