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I've pretty much moved over to www.theresacrater.com. Hope to see you there.

Mabon 2010


This year we have a full moon right on the autumnal equinox, the Old World holiday of Mabon. We look to see what we are harvesting.

 The best harvest for me is finding a publisher for my second novel, Beneath the Hallowed Hill. Eternal Press hopes to bring it out in April of next year. Anne and Michael travel to Glastonbury to investigate the house Aunt Cynthia lived in to discover trouble waiting. White Spring, offering the water of Bridget for centuries, now trickles on and off, threatening to dry up. And Cagliostro? He finally gets his hands on an Atlantean artifact and opens a portal in time that threatens the past and the present. Boy, will you be surprised to see what he discovers. He certainly is. So was I, for that matter.

Under the Stone Paw has a new home with Double Dragon and will be coming out again with a new scene. My Egyptian short story “Bringing the Water” in The Aether Age: Helios will be available in November. The skies above Egypt have changed and the priestess Nebit must discover the source. I’m getting a taste for short stories again, so maybe more.

 Our garden is a bit sparse this year when it comes to vegetables. Colorado is a challenging place to grow vegetables and some flowers. Heck, even the trees need to be watered sometimes. I did buy a composter this summer and it is busy cooking down veggie scraps, leaves and weeds. Not as fast as computer speed, but I’m looking forward to enriching the soil and not having just a pile of dry stuff no matter how I water it. I remember fondly that big pile of grass clippings and kitchen leavings in Washington State that shrank over the winter under all that rain to a pile of the richest, blackest soil you’ve ever seen. But we have some fine tomatoes, zukes and squash. The herb garden is happy as can be and the basil is still bravely leafing out, defying the coming snows. Last year I spied parsley under a rim of ice in the middle of winter. That’s an aggressive little sucker, let me tell you.

 Personally, I feel a big shift after Saturn has left me. All those alignments in the summer frisked us and stole our left-over blocks to big change. Which is coming now, I predict. Let’s watch and see.

 


E-Book Readers

September 15, 2030: Remember back in 2010 when we wondered whether to buy a Kindle or an I-Pad or a Nook or to just read on our cell phones? Ha! Remember cell phones? Who could have imagined what changes were to be wrought by going digital?

I don’t teach anymore, but now you can teach from anywhere—literally. Classes can contain people from 10 different countries of all ages, genders, etcs. Not that anybody thinks about these things much anymore. Yeah, we still have different cuisines, different holidays, and we still like to dress to fit the climate, but we’re one world now. Most people speak English, Chinese and Spanish in addition to whatever their regional language is.

Remember all those books? Packing them up in cardboard boxes and lugging them to your next house? Buying one more bookshelf? They collected so much dust. I loved them, though, and didn’t think anything could replace the feel of a book in my hands.

Freedom won, though, and mobility. Now anyone can read anything anywhere anytime. It’s all available at the touch of a button. Writers get lifetime income after getting their masters status. They can take on apprentices if they wish. To think we worried the ease of publishing would bring down quality.

Oh, we saved the books—at least one copy of everything on each continent. It’s easy to travel there, but fewer and fewer people go. I don’t think we’ll let the physical books go altogether, though. Best to have a hard copy backup somewhere. Just in case.

To think I used to pay such a large mortgage to have enough space for my family and my books. What a relief.

Right Brain, Left Brain

It’s the beginning of the semester when we talk about brain storming: freewriting, making a web, making lists, etc. When this got cool to teach, people talked about it in terms of left and right brain function. Now we know that’s a bit simplistic, but the basic idea still applies.

The left brain is linear and logical. It likes outlines. It needs to know what the next step is before it takes it. It’s great at finding mistakes in your narrative, in your grammar, in your publishing contract. But it is not filled with creative juice.

Not like your right brain. The right brain thinks in images. It’s spacial. It can tolerate chaos, in fact thrive off it. Its specialty is finding patterns in disarray. That mean we need to tolerate a certain among of confusion, turmoil, space-case-ness, in order to allow the creative juice to flow.

Freewriting—write for a certain amount of time without stopping, without going back, without worrying about mistakes. If you run out of things to write, just repeat the last word or write “I don’t know what to say” over and over until – POP – something comes up. Often something very interesting.

Webbing goes back to elementary school for some people, but as Donald Murray said (writing teacher and journalist), the only difference in teaching writing in elementary and graduate school is the size of the desks. And probably the complexity of the sentences. Put a topic or character in the middle of the page. Draw a circle around it. Write down everything that occurs to you in bubbles around it. If things seem instinctively to go together, connect those bubbles as you write. Don’t think too much. If something doesn’t seem to belong, write it down anyway. That was your left brain trying to stop the process. It can’t tolerate not knowing.

Lists are fun. Put the title of your next book or article at the top. Or a character. Now list everything that comes to mind. Pick your favorite thing in that list and start another list with that word at the top. Keep doing this until you feel that you have a good idea what the guts of the piece of writing is.

In all these techniques, wait for the “Ah-ha” experience. That’s when your right brain sees the pattern. That’s when you know what you’re doing in this piece. That’s when your left brain can start getting involved in organizing it all.

If you’re not used to doing this, the left brain will try to stop the process through anxiety. It might say, “Don’t show this to anybody.” “What comes next?” “That doesn’t belong here.” “This is really stupid.” Just reassure that part of your thinking process that you will consult with it before you make it public. It will usually go sit in a corner for a while. Once you find the gold nuggets that get unearthed by the right brain, your left brain will grown more tolerant.

What? This sounds like you’re crazy? But you’re a writer!

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Academia and Publishing

After the AWP Conference in Denver last spring, I got to thinking about random comments made in different workshops on different days that added up to one thing later: academia is an important balance to the publishing industry.

Why, you ask? Maybe you didn’t ask, but here’s why I think this.

In academia, the common wisdom is that writing is something that arises in a somewhat mysterious way. Novels often require a lot of research that takes time. The cooking of a piece takes time and “wool-gathering” as Virginia Woolf called it. The subconscious is given a large place in the process. People “find their voice.” All this takes time. But most writers have full time jobs, especially at this early stage.

Commercial fiction folks see the process as a job. One writer compared writing a novel to plumbing. “OK, so you’ve put in one toilet, but can you put in another one?” he asked the audience. Two former colleagues at a college became professional, full time writers. They said they had to stop thinking of themselves as writers in the academic sense of the word—elite, eccentric artists—and begin thinking of themselves as entertainers. “That’s what we are.”

In order to be a full time writer, we’re advised to have six books in print, a contract for the next and a year and a half’s income in savings. At least this is the advice to genre writers. We need to learn to pump them out. Yet, publishers can take up to six years to decide on a manuscript. Agents can take their time, too. “Have patience,” is the advice once we get a manuscript circulating. Write the next one.

At the AWP conference, one writer said that he was turned down by an agent because he’d admitted that it took him longer than a year to write a book. All of the writers featured on this well-attended panel admitted their books had taken longer than a year to write. What to do? The moderator advised lying to the agent.

In another panel, writers were told (correctly) that they must have a platform before they’ll be seriously considered in New York. Writers were told they have to be prepared to promote themselves. And in yet another panel when someone asked what to do about a publisher who’d broken a contract, this drew more than a couple nods of recognition. A writer/professor finally stood up and said, “If writers have to do all this, what are publishers doing for us?”

The answer is a lot. E-books, shrinking bookstores, the plethora of TV, film and other types of storytelling all compete with books. They’re fighting for their lives and doing what it takes to survive and be successful. As a writer said at a recent conference, “Writers and editors and agents are all in the same business.” But the business expects more and more of new writers.

Colleges and universities can throw a little weight around, though. They can teach the writing business to their students as well as the writing process. They can help connect their students to agents and publishers. And they can speak up when the power gets overbalanced. So, those of us who teach need to come out of the ivory tower, stop thinking that the best writers will automatically be recognized and published, that genius always asserts itself. That wasn’t even true in the 19th century when this was the fashion. We need to help keep the industry healthy. IMHO.

Happy Lughnasadh

Happy Lughnasadh (LOO-nus-uh) or Lammas, everyone. August 1st is the cross-quarter day between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox (in the northern hemisphere, that is). The days are growing shorter, but the sun still rules in August. This day we celebrate the first harvest, grain. The Green Man lays down his life for the people to eat, but his essence is stored in the seed for his rebirth. We honor bread on this holiday. And remember that the King lays down his life for the land.

Lughnasadh is named for the Celtic god Lugh, which means “light” or “shining.” In ancient Irish stories, this is the day the funeral games of Taillte, his foster mother, who died clearing the land for planting.

It is also a day to face fear. Why in the abundance of the summer harvest should we think of this? Because our harvest is in the hands of Mother Nature. We have done all we can. We have tilled the field, planted the crops, weeded and watered, and personally, I’ve sprayed the vegetables with mint and garlic oil to drive away the bugs. Now we wait to see what the results will be. We let go and receive back. “What if,” we think. “What if there’s a big hail storm; what if the publisher turns me down; what if somebody else gets that job.” So it is a day to remember trust.

Visualization, magic and certain forms of prayer focus the will. We send out our thoughts or wishes on this stream of energy. And then? We let go. We forget about it for now. We turn it over to universal consciousness or Mother Nature. And we are often surprised by how our request comes back to us—in ways we did not always imagine. But it is essential to let go.

Imagine asking a friend to go get something for you from the store. You hand him a list. You say, “Have you read the list?” You repeat the list. “Yes, don’t worry,” he says, trying to go out the door, but you keep hold of the paper and say, “Don’t forget. This is really important.” If you don’t let go, your friend will never get out the door. Trust the process. And eat some bread.

Happy Lughnasadh!

The Aesthetics of Pen and Paper

I got to a point where my eyes glazed over when people wanted to talk about whether they wrote on the computer or still used pen and paper. It seemed like something beginners talked about, or people who were in the early stages of fishing a piece out of their unconscious before they really structured it. But now, working on my fourth novel (still a beginner to many people), I’ve found that going back to pen and paper has helped me find the details of the scene.

My early writing education was dominated by the process movement, even though it was just being imagined at the time. I studied with some serious poets and novelists, but I took my degrees in literature (yeah, and counseling, but that’s another story). My admittedly eclectic writing education was weak on structure, and I pursued learning structure with passion. The result? Publication. OK, so the first novel isn’t Great Literature, but it’s fun and published and it even picked up a few fans. The second one is coming down the pike.

The novel I’m working on now, though, comes out best the old fashioned way. Perhaps it’s because it starts in the late 1800’s and runs to about 1969—maybe later. But everything I wrote on the computer seemed locked in generalities until one day I started doodling, then scribbling, then – wham – I was inside the scene. I could smell the moldy straw, hear the rustling of chickens, see the light falling through the slats of the clapboard hen house. I needed the grounding of paper in my hands, the touch of the pen. I remembered when I’d first started writing and bought a nice fountain pen. I wondered if it was still somewhere in an unpacked box in the garage. I thought of the sound of a nib on paper as I wrote, imagined the plum of a feather waving. There is a sensual pleasure to writing this way. I don’t know how long I’ll need to write it out, but however long it takes, that’s what I’ll do.

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My Blog is Dood


"My blog is dood, my blog is dood, I lisped in accent mild." I'm borrowing from Stevie Smith today. This blog has been dood lately, but it's time for it to bestir itself.  

Those of us who've survived the last couple of months deserve to be congratulated. We just went through some very gnarly astrological configurations—grand squares, eclipses and all—for those who resonate to astrology. Tons of solar flares.

 And then there was the Gulf of Mexico disaster—ongoing, but the cap is on! Finally! What a relief. Now to figure out how to clean up millions and millions of gallons of oil. This moved me to get involved with Climate Smart in Boulder County, do an energy audit and start the process of getting solar panels. Then I looked for an electric car. And found one! The Nissan Leaf. One hundred miles per charge. And it’s a plug-in! I think I’ll order one. (Ahem, Mother Nature—money for this please.)

Writing energy after my trip was diverted into writing my sabbatical report and annual evaluation. Boring but necessary. (Wish I could do house cleaning like I write those administrative reports!) Oh, and did I mention teaching two classes in summer school?

The trip revealed so much more to research. I tend to over-research my novels, but it’s so much fun! Charles IV, Prague as the New Jerusalem city, and Comenius. I must read Comenius. I’ll let you know what I discover.

So, hello again.


And They're Off

I'm heading off to do some research and recreating, first in Amsterdam and then in Prague. Besides museums and the Anne Frank House, we hope to see Comenius's grave site, an innovator in education, religion and metaphysics. In Prague, we'll see the John Hus sites and the Jewish Quarter, plus the castle. Stephen's giving a talk there on Egypt. We're also going to Herrnhut, Germany, the village some of my ancestors built on Count Zinzendorf's estate in Saxony. Before that, they'd lived in exile in Poland after being kicked out of Bohemia and Moravia during the Thirty Years War. I'll try to keep you posted with pictures.

AWP

The AWP is in town. Association of Writers and Writing Programs is having their annual convention in downtown Denver. I headed for the first panel--Reading, Writing, and Teaching the Literary Fantastic—but I couldn’t get in the door and the acoustics weren’t great standing in the hallway. I was glad to see the panel existed at an academic conference, even if they did have to add the word “literary,” and that it was well attended.

Next came “Writing History, Writing Race.” I’m writing both now. A mystery dealing with my Moravian (Unitas Fratrum) ancestry, and another based on the lives of three Southern women from different generations.Eric Goodman’s forthcoming novel sounds excellent. Lucy Ferriss talked about her research for her latest, the complexities of gender and race overlays in the 18th century Hudson Valley. Poet Michelle Boisseau, Brian Roley andDolen Perkins-Valdez filled out the panel. I’m anxious to read them all, especially Wench. One of my characters in a novel I’m working on is enslaved mistress and I wanted to see what Perkins-Valdez has done with hers. Oh the perils of writing characters from different cultures, but what's a writer to do? (I missed “Shameless Book Promotion”—oh how could I?)

Next was “What’s Your Platform?” with great writers from Writer’s Digest Christina Katz and Jane Friedman. Also included were agent Robin Mizell and editor David W. Sanders. The room was packed. Apparently last year people had resisted their message, saying that writers only have to be talented to be discovered. We were quickly disabused of this notion—I got over that a long time ago. Good tips on blogging. Why do you blog? Who’s your audience? Be “other” oriented. Socializing is not promoting (although I like my Facebook friends!). Have a theme for your blog. You don’t have to spend eight hours a day on social networking. (That was a relief—now for that 12-step program.)

I caught up with my old friend Amy, and found one of my teachers from Women’s Voices Writing Workshops in Santa Cruz, Valerie Miner. In the afternoon, I got to hear Sapphire speak and read a short piece. I first hear her read at that same Women’s Voices. I had to leave after that. Missed the big hoopla with Michael Chabon. Also missed John Domini’s reading. Disappointing! I have to tell myself you can’t do everything. You do have to write from time to time.


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