Confessions of the Clueless, Part IV: NaNoWriMo Got You Down? Try WriBoYoWaWri!

You’ve heard of NaNoWriMo? (That’s National Novel Writing Month–an annual, Internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November.)

Well, today this clueless author is celebrating something more personal: WriBoYoWaWri. That is… writing the book you (or I, in this case) wanted to write.

When I first published The Flying Burgowski, I told my writing group, “I wanted to write this book, and I did. I wanted people to read it, and they are.”

So later, when I ran into the brick wall fun challenges of marketing and book-selling, my writing buddy Iris Graville (whose memoir, Hiking Naked: a Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance was just published by Homebound Publications) reminded me of what I had said.

“You wanted to write this book, and you did. You wanted people to read it, and they are.”

Later still, when Book Two, Headwinds, came out and people would ask me that highly annoying perfectly innocent question, “So how’s your book selling?” I could always find my “happy place” by reminding myself about WriBoYoWaWri.

(Original photo: Abigail Porter)

You know: Write the Book You Want to Write.

These days, much to my surprise and DEEP gratification, both my sons are turning into novelists. And both are sharing their work, and their thoughts about their work, with me, their author-mama.

The other night, Son Two was stating his intention to end his book in a certain place. “That’ll make it very short,” I warned. “A novella. When I wrote mine, back in the nineties, all the agents I contacted told me they could never sell it.”

Son Two shrugged. “It’s what I…”

And I kicked myself and finished his sentence for him: “…wanted to write. Of COURSE. Do it. Don’t listen to me.” And I meant it.

Son One’s work will likely have the opposite challenge: length. Will I warn him about the difficulties of selling a long novel when your last name isn’t King or Stephenson?

No. No, I will not. I will joyfully chant, Write the Book You Want to Write. And I will MEAN it.

Writers, readers–your thoughts? Will you join me in WriBoYoWaWri? Don’t worry about November. WriBoYoWaWri lasts all year long.

Watching Your Writing Role Model Strip Bare: Iris Graville Publishes Hiking Naked

If you’ve published your words in any form, you know the feeling when someone looks you in the eye and tells you they read what you published. It’s not like singing at a concert or displaying visual art. These are YOUR WORDS, your literal, expressed thoughts, straight from your brain into someone else’s. Who is about to tell you what they think.

Now imagine those words you’ve published are your MEMOIR. And imagine the people who are looking you in the eye are your neighbors, folks you bump into at the market, at the post office. 

My friend Iris’s new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, could not be better titled. As Iris tells it in her latest blog post, “Baring My Soul”:

I reel a bit each time someone says something like, “I’m reading your book, and it really speaks to me.” Or, “I was right there with you.” And, “My back hurt just reading about your work in the bakery!” What stuns me is the realization that, as I go about my life each day, some number of people are reading about it. There’s an intimacy in that knowing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m discovering that the metaphor of “hiking naked” extends to how I feel about others now reading my words.

(Courtesy Homebound Publications)

My own forthcoming book, Altitude, Book Three of the Flying Burgowski series, could not be more different from Iris’s. My book’s a novel. It’s Young Adult (although I’m finding that Older Adults seem to like it just fine). It’s fantasy–not vampires nor zombies nor dystopian archer-warriors, certainly, but hey! my heroine can fly. So, yes. Fantasy enough.

The only thing my book has in common with Iris’s is that she helped “midwife” mine, via critique, while I did the same with hers (both of us with a LOT of help, and in her case, Masters-in-Fine-Arts-level help).

Well, maybe two more commonalities: they’re both set in the northwest, and they’re both about strong females.But that’s it.

So how can Iris be my writing role model? Because she is, to borrow her metaphor, hiking ahead of me on that rocky path called publication. She started years ago, creating her own press to co-publish Hands At Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work With Their Hands, with photographer Summer Moon Scriver.

Then last year she published Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food and Community–which is just what it sounds like, only more mouth-watering.

But all the while, Iris was working on that memoir. Crafting and drafting, re-crafting, re-drafting; pitching, pitching, pitching; writing and submitting short pieces to increase her visibility; keeping her chin up through inevitable rejections…until one day…

You go, girl.

I am still bummed to have missed Iris’s launch party because of some silly plane tickets to Ireland. But now that I’ve heard about it, I’m totally planning to follow in her footsteps at my own launch party in November.

(Not sure who took this photo…but Iris will tell me.)

Iris introduced by her own writing mentor, Ana Maria Spagna? How ’bout Gretchen Wing, introduced by Iris Graville? 

I better ask her, huh?

A Frayed Knot: Picking Our Way Through The Need

So this piece of string walks into a bar. (Stop me if you’ve heard this.) Bartender growls, “Hey, you. We don’t serve your kind in here. Beat it.” Hurt and angry, the string heads home to her apartment. There she ties herself into complicated loops, and frizzes her ends till she’s nearly unrecognizable. Then she goes back into the bar and orders a beer.

“Hmmm,” says the bartender suspiciously. “Aren’t you that same piece of string I just threw outa here?”

“Oh, no,” the string says innocently, “I’m a frayed knot.”

Ba-dum-bum.

Not the best bar joke ever…but close!

This joke popped into my head recently after reading these lines from Kim Stafford’s book of post-election poems, The Flavor of Unity,

“By writing, thinking, and talking, clarify your vocation, so you can enter the fray without being frayed.”

Copyright 2017 Kim Stafford. Thanks, Kim!

During the Civil Rights Movement, and more recent movements who use nonviolent resistance, participants had to learn to conquer their fear–of prison, of violence, even of death. The most famous freedom song, We Shall Overcome, contains the lyric, “We are not afraid.” Not being currently on the front lines of any struggle, but instead struggling to choose among the many, many causes calling for support since Trump’s inauguration, being AFRAID is not my issue–but being FRAYED? Yes. ‘Fraid so.

My email box and Facebook feed fills daily with calls to contact my congressional reps about the environment, or health care, or immigration, or…you know. If you’re an American, you’re probably getting the same emails. Sign this. Send money to that. Attend this meeting. Join that march. There is too much need out there to do it all.

Which is why I’m very much looking forward to the online course I’ve signed up for with Quaker writer and teacher Eileen Flanagan, entitled, “We Were Made For This Moment.” The intro to her course reads, 

In this time of tumult, fear, and hatred, the world needs the gifts that you were born to share. You may not be sure where to use them. You may not know how to use them to greatest effect, or even if you can make a difference at all, but you know you need to do something to work for a more just and loving world. You are not alone! The purpose of this online course is to help you to meet this moment.

Finding one’s purpose, to me, means finding my path. This means, of course, choosing some paths NOT to take. It’s never easy; we all want to contribute, be supportive, “be there” for each other, or vulnerable people, or the planet. But when we try to be everywhere, we fray…and–mixed metaphor alert–we burn out.

I want to walk a path and stick to it. I look forward to some guided discernment. I also look forward to hearing how you might have dealt with this same issue. How do you keep yourself in the fray without fraying?

 

 

My Sister the School

This week I’m back in my home state of North Carolina to celebrate something special: the 50th anniversary of my alma mater, Carolina Friends School. But I’ve been telling people it’s a family reunion, and that is not a contradiction.

North Carolina in the early 1960s was as segregated as the rest of the South. When my parents moved here from Caand started a family, they could not stomach sending their kids to all-white schools. Along with a handful of other Quakers from the Durham and Chapel Hill Meetings, they decided to start their own Friends school–Friends being the name Quakers call themselves.

CFS's beginnings. (All photos courtesy Carolina Friends School)

CFS’s beginnings. (All photos courtesy Carolina Friends School)

After a year or so of helping to run a pre-K at the Durham Meeting House, my folks donated the land across from our pond for an independent campus. So CFS was born, amidst pines and beeches and poison ivy, with a creek running through her.

Lower School students doing some creek work.

Lower School students doing some creek work.

I’m the youngest of three girls, but I consider CFS to be my younger sister. She’s the only one I got to watch grow up behind me, from Lower School (a traditional-looking red brick building) to Middle School (classic 1970s open-classroom structure) then to Upper (imagine a cozy ski lodge with science labs).

On rainy days, we used to play "seat soccer" in this big room, before there was a covered sports facility.

On rainy days, we used to play “seat soccer” in this big room, before there was a covered sports facility.

Today CFS comprises three Early Schools–the original one in Durham, one in Chapel Hill, one on the main campus–plus Lower, Middle, Upper, and an array of sports fields so extensive I’m still adjusting to them. My, how she’s grown.

Upper School students removing Ivy from a tree at Duke Gardens

Upper School students removing Ivy from a tree at Duke Gardens

But at 50, CFS is exactly the same bright-spirited child she was back in 1965. She’s still focused on community, on service learning, on justice, on creativity, on a harmonious relationship with the land. Academics are perhaps more pronounced now than they were back in the hang-loose 1970s when I graduated, but hey–I got into Harvard, OK? So even then they were no slouch. But no one will ever mistake my sis for a prep school, is what I’m saying.

Upper School students marching with the NAACP to protest NC's restrictive new voting rights legislation

Upper School students marching with the NAACP to protest NC’s restrictive new voting rights legislation

Upper School Students For A Working Democracy presenting to the Friends General Council on Legislation in DC

Upper School Students For A Working Democracy presenting to the Friends General Council on Legislation in DC

Since my older sisters and I do not intend to return to NC, my parents (still quite vibrant, thanks) have willed their farm to our sister the school when they pass on. So who knows? Someday this scruffy farmhouse I grew up in might be classrooms, or even housing for retired faculty. Or a day care. Or an even bigger school farm, helping to feed the surrounding community as well as itself. I love imagining the possibilities. And I know that, however much she grows, my lil’ sis will always welcome me home again.

What you see? Pretty much what you get. She's not flashy.

What you see? Pretty much what you get. She’s not flashy.

Happy Birthday, Carolina Friends School. I’m so proud of you.

Early School teachers and students starting their day in Quaker silence.

Early School teachers and students starting their day in Quaker silence.

If you’re interested, I hope you will click on the link to learn more about CFS. If you’d like to hear more about Quakerism and Quaker education in general, please click here to visit Iris Graville’s excellent blog on those topics.

Yep--that's my sis.

Yep–that’s my sis.

“Dyslam”? When Good Faith is Hijacked by Bad People

We need a word. I’ve been struggling to describe the awfulness of when a belief which is pure of spirit and ennobling to the world is claimed as motivation by evildoers.

If it pains me to hear “Islamic terrorist,” how much worse must it feel to a good-hearted Muslim? Well, I can quote the long version, from Omid Safi, weekly columnist of Onbeing.org, as he discusses 9 responses to the attacks in France:

8) Muhammad’s honor.
The shooters are reported to have shouted that they were doing this to revenge the honor of the Prophet. Let me put objectivity and pretense towards scholarly distance aside. The Prophet is my life. In my heart, Muhammad’s very being is the embodied light of God in this world, and my hope for intercession in the next. And for those who think they are here to avenge the honor of the Prophet, all I can say is that he is beyond the need for revenge. Your actions do not reach him, neither did the profoundly offensive cartoons of Charlie Hebdo. That pornographic, violent, humiliated and humiliated figure depicted in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons is not and was not ever my prophet. As for the real Muhammad, neither the cartoonists nor the shooters ever knew him. You can’t touch him. You never knew Muhammad like we know Muhammad.

And as for the shooters, they have done more to demean people’s impression of the religion of the Prophet than the cartoonists in Charlie Hebdo ever did. If the shooters wanted to do something to bring honor to the Prophet, they could begin by actually embodying the manners and ethics of the Prophet. They could start by studying his life and teachings, where they would see that Muhammad actually responded to those who had persecuted him through forgiveness and mercy.

 Those shooters were, in my eyes, “dyslamic.” Just like those “Christians” who harrass gays at military funerals, or who fought in the Crusades, are “Dystians.” It’s a stretch, I know. But I don’t want to cede the name of a real, peaceful faith to people who use it to justify evil.

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

(Courtesy Wikimedia)

Now I’m wondering what you think of my word.

(Thanks to Iris Graville for sending me the link to “9 Points to Ponder”)

“Read Me a Story!” How to Spice Up Author Readings

Face it–we all love Drama. Even when we say we don’t. Period.

We also love being read aloud to. IF the reader is animated. IF the story catches our attention. IF we’re not too distracted by when’s dinner-what-time-do-I-have-to-get-up-tomorrow-wonder-how-bad-traffic-is-did-I-even-remember-to-thaw-that hamburger-oh-shoot-I-forgot-to-call-so-and-so to attend.

Notice the difference between Drama and Being Read Aloud To? There are no “ifs” in Drama. Provide it to your listeners, and…they’re yours.

(all photos courtesy Susan Breslow)

(all photos courtesy Susan Breslow)

That’s what I’ve discovered in my first year of Author Readings. Choosing a good bit of the book to read is key, of course. Providing a nice, gracious, humorous intro–also a must.

[Important tip: get someone who KNOWS you, someone who can make that intro part of the entertainment itself, like my friend and fellow writer Iris Graville:Iris

Even when I’ve checked all those boxes, though, I’ve seen some squirming in my audiences, some furtive watch-checking. But when I’ve done dramatic readings of those same bits, with fellow “actors”? RAPT attention.

Yes, it takes a little more work. You have to round up folks. Bribe them with cookies. Meet to practice. And be prepared for last-minute let-downs. In the case of this last reading, the launch party for Headwinds, my 13 year-old “actor” failed to appear, so I had to read her part as well as that of the narrator.attitude

Turns out I love reading the part of a 14 year-old. Can you tell?

Even little glitches become part of the entertainment. So you flub a line–it’s not a play! You’re not a REAL actor! You’re just an author who happens to be a person with a spirit of adventure, someone who’s reaching out to your audience in ways they can appreciate.

Moral of the story: read, by all means! But when you can, bring others along. Bring your story to life.

And then, when they line up to buy your book–they’re not just doing it out of obligation. They LIKE you–they really LIKE you.

pic1

Has anyone else had experience with dramatized author readings, or readings that were made somehow extraordinary? Please share!

Poems as Gifts: The Idea Itself Is a Gift

This past weekend I had a birthday and a concert. My best present: my mom, who flew 3,500 miles, rode a shuttle bus for two hours and a ferry for 45 minutes to attend. But I received another gift, from my writer friend Iris Graville. Actually, Iris gave me two.

Gift #1, this poem. It was written by our local poet John Sangster, who died with tragic suddenness last winter. John was a musician and a writer, like me, and when I first heard “Once More,” I connected instantly. So having it sent to me on the eve of my show AND my book launch felt especially meaningful.

Once More

 

Say you write.

You awake, eager

to return to pen and paper.

Those words that came to you 

last night. A poem?

You read aloud, your ear keen

for each line’s pulse,

for the sound words make

as they bump against each other.

 

Say you play.

You reach for your instrument,

old lover, familiar in your arms.

You tune, fret that first note,

round and golden,

then set to work, metronome slow.

You study your hand,

how the wrist rolls as the pick

pushes through the string.

Later:  melody, pulse –

how do you hear it, 

feel it?

 

What do you want?

Once more, that path to a part of you

you do not know. When what appears

on the pen’s trail surprises you,

when music arrives beyond thought,

when the instrument plays you.

 

Yeah.

"Say you play..."

“Say you play…”

Gift #2 is the idea, which I hope I can internalize, of giving poems as gifts. I have other friends who do that. When my dog died, my friend Lorna sent me a poem, and I was grateful. Now, I’m becoming determined: I’m going to start saving up poems to give as presents when the moment is right. Why wouldn’t I? Look how good it’s made me feel.

Anyone else out there already doing that? Anyone wish to share an especially moving poem you like to give to people, or one you have received? 

 

Link

It’s OK. No one’s been hurt. She made it quick and clean. But for the next few weeks, there’s gonna be a new sheriff in town…

GRETCHEN WING, TRAVEL BLOGGER

You have three people to blame for this disaster: my husband, my writer friend Iris Graville, and Social Media Maven Kristen Lamb.

I’ll start with my husband. Former professor at the University of North Carolina, therefore HUGE Tarheel basketball fan. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest 23 years ago, he continued to fly back every March to watch the ACC tournament with his fellow crazed fans friends.

During our sabbatical in New Zealand…yup. You got it. He still flew back. And when the underdog Tarheels WON that year, my husband became a legend among fans.

But he always hated the hassle of flying. So when he retired in 2010, he declared, “That’s it. From now on, I’m driving to Chapel Hill.” Then he uttered the fateful words: “You’ll come too, won’t you?”

And thus was born the Great Annual Cross-Country Road Trip. We are now about to begin our fourth. Along the way to NC and back, we’ll catch up with family members and long-lost friends, visit some national parks, and discover byways we never knew existed in places like, I don’t know, Oklahoma.

So, where does my friend Iris Graville come in? She talked me into attending the January Residency of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. I got so much out of it, I attended a second year. And that’s when I took Kristen Lamb’s class on blogging for writers. Not only did she teach me to enjoy blogging, she convinced me that good bloggers blog REGULARLY. I.e., no excuses.

Road trip? Get out that iPad, girl, and tap away.

So I figure…if I’m blogging from the road…and I really do mean from the ROAD…I might as well make the road part of the blog. OK? Fair warning, though. I’m still getting the hang of this Device iPad. So I can’t blog in pretty colors, and you’ll probably notice a few more typooooos than usual.

But hey, I’ve learned to do this:

20140210-092626.jpg

So, kids, buckle your seatbelts. I’ll check in every few days and let you know where we are and what we’ve seen. And meanwhile, you can tell me…

How do you feel about road trips? Love ‘me? Get carsick just thinking about ’em? Want to meet me in St. Louie?