Joe Fassler’s 150 Writing Mentors

What interviewing an author a week for several years has taught Joe Fassler about finishing his novel

By JOE FASSLER, The Atlantic, September 29, 2017

The summer of 2013, I found myself on the phone with Stephen King, listening as he described how he wrote the opening sentence of It: “That’s one that I worked over and over and over.”

Drawing on four decades of work, from Salem’s Lot to Needful Things to Doctor Sleep, the author recounted the arduous way his books usually begin—how he’ll spend weeks, months, sometimes years of nights lying in bed with a laptop, thinking, experimenting, fiddling with the words, until the language clicks. The right first paragraph, when he finally finds it, casts a kind of spell, what King called an “incantation,” that makes the finished story seem somehow inevitable.

As I listened, I thought of my novel, the one I was struggling to write. I was attempting to get beyond the first 50 pages—aiming to write 1,000 words every morning before heading off to work, and often just staring at the screen and feeling seasick instead. My cast of characters had shifted over time, and I’d tried telling the story from different points of view. But what King was saying rang incredibly true: Whenever I felt lost, my opening sentence, which I’d worked and reworked, always reminded me of what the book was meant to be.

I was talking to King because, in the fall of 2012, sensing that my post-MFA plan (finish my novel in a year, get it published, settle into the creative life) might need a little tweaking, I’d pitched a series called “By Heart” to The Atlantic. The formula was simple: Each week, I’d interview a well-known writer about a favorite passage from literature and edit their thoughts into a short essay. In part, I thought that the series would force me to publish regularly (and the extra income wouldn’t hurt). But mostly, I was looking to ask questions I wanted to answer badly for myself. What inspires you? I wanted to query my favorite writers. Where do your best ideas come from? And how do you possibly manage to turn those flashes of insight into something crystalline and whole?

Five years later, I’ve spoken with more than 150 authors for “By Heart” (and compiled Light the Dark, a collection based on the series). The conversations have frequently—by total chance, but with spooky accuracy—highlighted my own creative ups and downs. I’ve also learned that these solitary, patient creatures, whose books can take the better part of a decade to complete, tend to have something in common.

More than knockout sentences, more than their grasp of human character, more than anything that might broadly be termed “craft,” novelists are masters of one skill primarily. Their genius lies in an ability to suspend their skepticism over the long haul, to persist in the belief that—no matter how hard things get—the work is meaningful, and worthwhile, and will one day pan out.

* * *

As my interviews got underway, I discovered something surprising: The artistic process never seems to get easier, not even for the most successful, famous authors. They, too, wasted months of time chasing down material that ended up being no good. They, too, were sometimes wracked by self-doubt. They, too, also sometimes felt a sudden, sweeping urge, as bold as lust, to give the whole thing up. A few glowing reviews in the Times won’t change any of that.

“The job of writing is pretty uphill most of the time,” said Mark Haddon, whose best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time went on to become a critically acclaimed Broadway play, when we spoke:

It’s like climbing a mountain—you get some fantastic views when you pause or when you get to the top, but the actual process can be tough. … I wish I could enjoy the process more, but I think I’ve come to accept that for it to work, I have to be uncomfortable.

What makes the process so difficult? I think it’s the nagging feeling that the words aren’t enough, the painful recognition that your language still falls far short of the beauty and complexity you’d wanted to spill across the page.

The vast majority of writers I speak to seem to understand this: Writing usually means writing badly.

That’s true even for someone like Khaled Hosseini, the author of The Kite Runner, whose books have sold tens of millions of copies. For him, disappointment is baked into the experience of authorship, and even the finished product rarely measures up to the initial gleam of inspiration. “You write because you have an idea in your mind that feels so genuine, so important, so true,” he said:

And yet, by the time this idea passes through the different filters of your mind, and into your hand, and onto the page or computer screen—it becomes distorted, and it’s been diminished. The writing you end up with is an approximation, if you’re lucky, of whatever it was you really wanted to say.

That’s the killer: that gap between intention and output. You don’t have to be an artist to understand this. Most people wake up in the morning fully intending to be their ideal selves. To finally get themselves to the gym. To be a better student, a better parent, a better citizen, a better friend. That’s why it’s so painful to fail, as inevitably happens: It hurts to feel the distance growing between who you are and what you wish to be.

In the creative arts, there’s a name for the refusal to face that pain: writer’s block. Contrary to popular wisdom, being “blocked” is not about running out of things to say. Instead, it’s succumbing to the unrealistic expectation that your work must Be Great Now. It’s a decision to remain silent rather than speak and maybe stumble. It’s the determination to avoid failure, which is a great way to ensure that the humbling work of getting better will never begin.

But if you’re willing to lower your expectations, to temporarily mute your inner critic, then incremental progress is always possible. And that’s where novelists have struck on something. Above all else, writers are people who allow themselves the freedom to suck—unrepentantly, happily, even. They’ve learned through hard experience that out of failure comes something better. And that the only catastrophe, really, is the refusal to keep trying.

* * *

Some people pay therapists to listen to their troubles. But as I struggled with my own work, my calls with veteran authors were a constant reminder that my process isn’t crazy—it’s not even unique.

Richard Bausch described rewriting individual scenes dozens of times to get them right. John Rechy will go through so many drafts of a book he loses count. Amy Tan’s process is so painstaking that she likens it to painting a portrait a single pixel at a time, only to abandon 95 percent of all her research and draft work. “You know you’re going to write a bunch of garbage, most days,” Victor LaValle told me. “And that’s okay.” The vast majority of writers I speak to seem to understand this: Writing usually means writing badly.

Some novelists conquer their anxieties through ritual, using familiar fallbacks to comfort and distract. Andre Dubus III begins every writing session by reading poetry, listening to music, and typing out the previous day’s handwritten work. Ethan Canin works on a homemade standing desk, hooked up to an elliptical, so he can pedal while he works—the physical activity, he says, “takes the brakes off,” quieting his rational mind and allowing the subconscious to bubble up. David Mitchell sets the most boring website he can think of—the Apple homepage—to pop up on his browser, so he’s not tempted to scan the morning headlines instead of buckling down.

Literary art is produced through the dogged acceptance of short-term floundering.

However they accomplish it, the writers I talk to all find ways to block out the slow, wheedling voice of self-doubt—the shadow self that conspires against progress, for whom the work is always taking too long, is always asking too much.

Elizabeth Gilbert described her attempts to maintain a kind of “stubborn gladness,” a concept borrowed from Jack Gilbert’s poem “A Brief for the Defense.” “You could almost call it a spiritual practice I’ve cultivated over the years,” Gilbert said:

I don’t go up against my writing and come out bloody-knuckled. I don’t wrestle with the muse. I don’t argue. I try to get away from self-hatred, and competition, all those things that mark and mar so many writers’ careers and lives. I try to remain stubborn in my gladness.

(A few years after we spoke, she tattooed the phrase on the inside of her wrist.)

eliz gilbert

Kathryn Harrison described the unorthodox method she uses to quell her inner critic, the voice that says, “Oh, those aren’t the words you want,” or “you shouldn’t be working on this part now,” or “why not use the present tense?”:

Writing a first draft, you can become paralyzed by these thoughts. So I literally tell the voices to quiet down. I praise them for their perspicacity, and I tell them how much I need them—that I will want them later. But I cannot listen to them right now, because I am confused by them. And I don’t sit there waiting for that perfect, beautiful sentence, because I know I’m going to sit there forever.

The willingness to be content with what is less than perfect: That’s the quality that appears repeatedly in my conversations, the defining trait that every writer seems to share. You might call that “stubborn gladness,” as Gilbert does. Haddon, in a beautiful, British coinage, calls it “bloody-mindedness.” You might even say it requires a “certain grain of stupidity,” as Flannery O’Connor once did. Whatever it is, literary art is produced through the dogged acceptance of short-term floundering. It’s the resolve to continue laboring in the service of a task with no clear beginning, no clear end.

* * *

For years, pundits have enjoyed proclaiming that the novel is dead, that the bell tolls for literature, even as independent bookstores hold their own in an otherwise grim retail market, and the sales of print books have started to rebound. The novel is doing just fine, thank you. What does seem to be imperiled, though, is the slower, novelistic mode of thinking, the willingness to delay gratification for a larger payout later.

Deep, sustained attention is a scarcer resource than it once was. Practitioners in every industry, but especially the arts, are expected to be canny self-promoters, hustling constantly to build their brand, even to the detriment of the actual work. There seems to be a widespread fear: Go quiet for too long, and you will be forgotten.

But for the novelist, I’ve learned, bigger feats, bolder ideas unfold over the long haul—in the space where success feels uncertain, even unlikely. It’s work that will be complex and staggeringly difficult, and made up of many individually disappointing days. By focusing only on what satisfies in the moment, or by being too easily put off by drudgery and discouragement, the real work never has a chance to begin.

I’m still working on my novel. It’s five years later. Yes, the going’s slow. And I wish I’d finished sooner. But smaller goals have kept me honest, the way the regular deadline of “By Heart” has given rhythm to my years, providing something public I can look back on and point toAnd in the meantime, I’ve built my life around the daily ritual of my morning writing. I skip parties and have blown off my friends’ events and shows. I’m haphazard at best on social media; my email goes unanswered. I’ve cut back hours at work so I can write, and so I make less money. I do everything I’m not supposed to do. And on days the writing itself seems flawed, unworthy—most days—I sometimes start to wonder if the sacrifices have been worth it.

Except. There are the mornings when I can feel something emerging, something I can’t be whole until I say. Those moments come and go, and the confusion and difficulty always return. But at least I’ve learned I’m not alone in this. That’s just how writing a novel, like any worthwhile task, is always going to feel: like a receding horizon, with brief glimpses of the shore.

I’ll keep at it stubbornly, and gladly, until the job is finished.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORlight

JOE FASSLER is the editor of Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process. He regularly interviews writers for The Atlantic‘s “By Heart” series. He also covers the politics and economics of the American food system as a senior editor for The New Food Economy.

 

For the original article, click here.

This is what it’s like to be struck by lightning

Lightening_Hero_William-LeGoulon-no-border
Hat and shirt worn by Jaime Santana and boots worn by Justin Gauger when they were struck by lightning   © William LeGoullon

If you’re hit by lightning, there’s a nine in ten chance you’ll survive. But what are the lasting effects of being exposed to hundreds of millions of volts?

Charlotte Huff investigates

Sometimes they’ll keep the clothing, the strips of shirt or trousers that weren’t cut away and discarded by the doctors and nurses. They’ll tell and retell their story at family gatherings and online, sharing pictures and news reports of survivals like their own or far bigger tragedies. The video of a tourist hit on a Brazilian beach or the Texan struck dead while out running. The 65 people killed during four stormy days in Bangladesh.

Only by piecing together the bystander reports, the singed clothing and the burnt skin can survivors start to construct their own picture of the possible trajectory of the electrical current, one that can approach 200 million volts and travel at one-third of the speed of light.

In this way, Jaime Santana’s family have stitched together some of what happened that Saturday afternoon in April 2016, through his injuries, burnt clothing and, most of all, his shredded broad-brimmed straw hat. “It looks like somebody threw a cannonball through it,” says Sydney Vail, a trauma surgeon in Phoenix, Arizona, who helped care for Jaime after he arrived by ambulance, his heart having been shocked several times along the way as paramedics struggled to stabilise its rhythm.

Jaime had been horse-riding with his brother-in-law and two others in the mountains behind his brother-in-law’s home outside Phoenix, a frequent weekend pastime. Dark clouds had formed, heading in their direction, so the group had started back.

They had nearly reached the house when it happened, says Alejandro Torres, Jaime’s brother-in-law. He paces out the area involved, the landscape dotted with small creosote bushes just behind his acre of property. In the distance, the desert mountains rise, rippled chocolate-brown peaks against the horizon.

The riders had witnessed quite a bit of lightning as they neared Alejandro’s house, enough that they had commented on the dramatic zigzags across the sky. But scarcely a drop of rain had fallen as they approached the horse corrals, just several hundred feet from the back of the property.

Alejandro doesn’t think he was knocked out for long. When he regained consciousness, he was lying face down on the ground, sore all over. His horse was gone.

The two other riders appeared shaken but unharmed. Alejandro went looking for Jaime, who he found on the other side of his fallen horse. Alejandro brushed against the horse’s legs as he walked passed. They felt hard, like metal, he says, punctuating his English with some Spanish.

He reached Jaime: “I see smoke coming up – that’s when I got scared.” Flames were coming off of Jaime’s chest. Three times Alejandro beat out the flames with his hands. Three times they reignited.

It wasn’t until later, after a neighbour had come running from a distant property to help and the paramedics had arrived, that they began to realise what had happened – Jaime had been struck by lightning.

Justin Gauger wishes his memory of when he was struck – while fishing for trout at a lake near Flagstaff, Arizona – wasn’t so vivid. If it weren’t, he wonders, perhaps the anxiety and lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder wouldn’t have trailed him for so long. Even now, some three years later, when a storm moves in, the flickering flashes of light approaching, he’s most comfortable sitting in his bathroom closet, monitoring its progress with an app on his phone.

An avid fisherman, Justin had initially been elated when the rain started that August afternoon. The storm had kicked up suddenly, as they often do during the summer monsoon season. Fish are more likely to bite when it’s raining, he told his wife, Rachel.

But as the rain picked up, becoming stronger and then turning into hail, his wife and daughter headed for the truck, followed later by his son. The pellets grew larger, approaching golf ball size, and really started to hurt as they pounded Justin’s head and body.

Giving up, he grabbed a nearby folding canvas chair – the charring on one corner is still visible today – and turned to head for the truck. Rachel was filming the storm from the front seat, planning to catch her husband streaking back as the hail intensified. She pulls up the video on her phone.

Initially all that’s visible on the screen is white, a blur of hail hitting the windshield. Then a flash flickers across the screen, the only one that Rachel saw that day, the one that she believes felled her husband.

A crashing boom. A jolting, excruciating pain. “My whole body was just stopped – I couldn’t move any more,” Justin recalls. “The pain was… I can’t explain the pain except to say if you’ve ever put your finger in a light socket as a kid, multiply that feeling by a gazillion throughout your entire body.

“And I saw a white light surrounding my body – it was like I was in a bubble. Everything was slow motion. I felt like I was in a bubble for ever.”

A couple huddling under a nearby tree ran to Justin’s assistance. They later told him that he was still clutching the chair. His body was smoking.

When Justin came to, he was looking up at people staring down, his ears ringing. Then he realised that he was paralysed from the waist down. “Once I figured out that I couldn’t move my legs, I started freaking out.”

 

Undershirt worn by Jaime Santana the day he was struck by lightning    © William LeGoullon

Describing that day, sitting on his sofa at home, Justin draws one hand across his back, tracing the path of his burns, which at one point covered roughly a third of his body. They began near his right shoulder and extended diagonally across his torso, he says, and then continued along the outside of each leg.

He leaves and returns holding his hiking boots, tipping them to show several burn marks on the interior. Those dark roundish spots line up with the singed areas on the socks he was wearing and with the coin-sized burns he had on both feet, which were deep enough that he could put the tip of his finger inside.

The singed markings also align with several needle-sized holes located just above the thick rubber soles of his size 13 boots. Justin’s best guess – based on reports from the nearby couple, along with the wound on his right shoulder – is that the lightning hit his upper body and then exited through his feet.

Although survivors frequently talk about entry and exit wounds, it’s difficult to figure out in retrospect precisely what path the lightning took, says Mary Ann Cooper, a retired Chicago emergency physician and long-time lightning researcher. The visible evidence of lightning’s wrath is more reflective, Cooper says, of the type of clothing a survivor had on, the coins they were carrying in their pockets and the jewellery they were wearing as the lightning flashed over them.

Lightning is responsible for more than 4,000 deaths worldwide annually – according to those documented in reports from 26 countries. (The true scope of lightning’s casualties in the more impoverished and lightning-prone areas of the world, such as central Africa, is still being calculated.) Cooper is one of a small global cadre of doctors, meteorologists, electrical engineers and others who are driven to better understand how lightning injures people, and ideally how to avoid it in the first place.

Of every ten people hit by lightning, nine will survive to tell the tale. But they could suffer a variety of short- and long-term effects. The list is lengthy and daunting: cardiac arrest, confusion, seizures, dizziness, muscle aches, deafness, headaches, memory deficits, distractibility, personality changes and chronic pain, among others.

Many survivors have a story that they want to share. In postings online and during annual gatherings of Lightning Strike & Electric Shock Survivors International, they swap tales of their brush with nature’s brutal force. The group has convened in the mountains of the south-eastern US every spring since its first meeting was held by 13 survivors in the early 1990s. In those pre-internet days, it was far more difficult to meet other survivors coping with the headaches, memory troubles, insomnia and other effects of a lightning strike, says Steve Marshburn, the group’s founder, who has been living with symptoms since he was struck near a bank teller’s window in 1969.

For nearly 30 years, he and his wife have run the organisation – which now has nearly 2,000 members – from their North Carolina home. They nearly cancelled this year’s conference, as Marshburn, who is 72 years old, has been having some health issues. But the members wouldn’t allow it, he says, a bit proudly.

The changes in personality and mood that survivors experience, sometimes with severe bouts of depression as well, can strain families and marriages, sometimes to breaking point. Cooper likes to use the analogy that lightning rewires the brain in much the same way that an electrical shock can scramble a computer – the exterior appears unharmed, but the software within that controls its functioning is damaged.

Both Marshburn and Cooper credit the organisation’s very existence with saving lives, with it preventing at least 22 suicides according to Marshburn. It’s not unusual for him to field a call in the middle of the night and talk for hours with someone in dire straits. He is drained afterwards, unable to do much for the next few days.

Cooper, who has attended some of these gatherings, has learned to hang back as survivors and their loved ones describe their symptoms. “I still don’t understand all of them,” she says. “A lot of times I can’t understand what’s going on with these people. And I listen and I listen and I listen.”

Despite a deep vein of sympathy for survivors, some symptoms still strain Cooper’s credulity. Some people maintain that they can detect a storm brewing long before it appears on the horizon. That’s possible, Cooper says, given their heightened sensitivity to stormy signs in the wake of their trauma. She’s less open to other reports – those who say that their computer freezes when they enter a room, or that the batteries in their garage door opener or other devices drain more quickly.

Yet, even after decades of research, Cooper and other lightning experts readily admit that there are many unresolved questions, in a field where there’s little to no research funding to decipher the answers. It’s not clear, for example, why some people appear to suffer seizure-related symptoms after their lightning injury. Also, are lightning survivors more vulnerable to other health problems, such as heart conditions, later in life?

Some survivors report feeling like medical nomads, as they struggle to find a doctor with even a passing familiarity with lightning-related injuries. Justin, who could move his legs within five hours of being struck, finally sought out help and related testing last year at the Mayo Clinic for his cognitive frustrations.

Along with coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, Justin chafes at living with a brain that doesn’t function as fluidly as it once did. He doesn’t see how he could possibly return to the type of work he used to shoulder, leading a small team that presented legal cases and helped defend the county against property value disputes. Talking on the phone one day, sounding quite articulate, he tries to convey the struggles lurking just beneath. “My words in my head are jumbled. When I think about what I’m trying to say, it’s all jumbled up. So when it comes out, it may not sound all right.”

Underwear worn by Jaime Santana and socks worn by Justin Gauger when they were struck by lightning  © William LeGoullon

When someone is hit by lightning, it happens so fast that only a very tiny amount of electricity ricochets through the body. The vast majority travels around the outside in a ‘flashover’ effect, Cooper explains.

By way of comparison, coming into contact with high-voltage electricity, such as a downed wire, has the potential to cause more internal injuries, since the exposure can be more prolonged. A ‘long’ exposure might still be relatively brief ­– just a few seconds. But that’s sufficient time for the electricity to penetrate the skin’s surface, risking internal injuries, even to the point of cooking muscle and tissue to the extent that a hand or limb might need to be amputated.

So what causes external burns? Cooper explains that, as lightning flashes over the body, it might come into contact with sweat or raindrops on the skin’s surface. Liquid water increases in volume when it’s turned into steam, so even a small amount can create a ‘vapour explosion’. “It literally explodes the clothes off,” says Cooper. Sometimes the shoes too.

However, shoes are more likely to be torn or damaged on the inside, because that’s where the heat build-up and vapour explosion occurs. “That’s it,” Cooper responds when she’s told about the singed markings on Justin’s hiking boots.

As for clothing, steam will interact with it differently depending upon what it’s made of. A leather jacket can trap the steam inside, burning the survivor’s skin. Polyester can melt with just a few pieces left behind, primarily the stitching that once held together the seams of a shirt or a jacket that’s no longer there, says Cooper, who has seen a decent quantity of post-lightning relics through the years.

Along with the burn marks visible on Jaime Santana’s clothes, the cellphone he was carrying in his pocket melted, bonding to his pants. (His sister, Sara, now wishes that they had kept the phone but they tossed it, fearful that it carried some residual lightning current – a bit paranoid, she now realises.) While Jaime’s family believes that lightning shredded his hat, causing it to expand upward and outward, Cooper is more dubious when she sees a photograph. There’s no visible singeing, she notes. And the chunk of straw could have been lost during Jaime’s tumble from the horse.

Boot worn by Justin Gauger the day he was struck by lightning  © William LeGoullon

Cooper authored one of the first studies looking at lightning injuries, published nearly four decades ago, in which she reviewed 66 physician reports about seriously injured patients, including eight that she’d treated herself. Loss of consciousness was common. About one-third experienced at least some temporary paralysis in their arms or legs.

Those rates might be on the high side – Cooper points out that not all lightning patients are sufficiently injured that doctors write about their cases. But survivors do often describe temporary paralysis, like Justin suffered, or a loss of consciousness, although why it occurs is not clear.

More is understood about lightning’s ability to scramble the electrical impulses of the heart, thanks to experiments with Australian sheep. Lightning’s massive electrical current can temporarily stun the heart, says Chris Andrews, a physician and lightning researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia. Thankfully, though, the heart possesses a natural pacemaker. Frequently, it can reset itself.

The problem is that lightning can also knock out the region of the brain that controls breathing. This doesn’t have a built-in reset, meaning a person’s oxygen supply can become dangerously depleted. The risk then is that the heart will succumb to a second and potentially deadly arrest, Andrews says. “If someone has lived to say, ‘Yes, I was stunned [by lightning],’ it’s probable that their respiration wasn’t completely wiped out, and re-established in time to keep the heart going.”

Andrews is well suited to conducting lightning studies, having trained both as an electrical engineer and as a physician. His research, looking at the impact of electrical current on sheep, is frequently credited with demonstrating how lightning’s flashover current can still inflict damage within the body. One reason sheep were chosen, Andrews says, is that they’re relatively close to humans in size. Another advantage is that the specific breed chosen, the barefaced Leicester, doesn’t grow much wool around its head, making it similar to a human’s.

During his studies, Andrews shocked anesthetised sheep with voltage levels roughly similar to a small lightning strike and photographed the electricity’s path. He showed that as lightning flashes over, the electrical current enters critical portals into the body: the eyes, the ears, the mouth. This helps explain why damage to the eyes and ears is frequently reported by survivors. They might develop cataracts. Or their hearing can be permanently damaged, even after the initial post-boom ringing stops.

Jeans worn by Jaime Santana the day he was struck by lightning  © William LeGoullon

Particularly worrisome is that, by penetrating the ears, lightning can rapidly reach the brain region that controls breathing, Andrews says. Upon entering the body, the electricity can hitch a ride elsewhere, through the blood or the fluid surrounding the brain and the spinal cord. Once it reaches the bloodstream, Andrews says, the passage to the heart is very quick.

In Arizona, Jaime Santana survived the immediate lightning strike. The family’s beloved horse Pelucha – from the Spanish for ‘stuffed animal’ – did not. One possibility, the trauma surgeon Sydney Vail and others speculate, is that the 1,500-pound steed absorbed a good portion of the lightning that nearly killed his 31-year-old rider.

Another reason Jaime survived is that, when he was struck, the neighbour who came running – someone who the family had never met before – immediately started CPR, and continued until the paramedics arrived. At one point, Alejandro says, one of the paramedics asked the other if they should stop, as Jaime wasn’t responding. The neighbour insisted that they continue.

That CPR occurred immediately is “the only reason he’s alive,” says Vail. The neighbour later told the family that he had performed CPR “hundreds and hundreds of times” in nearly two decades as a volunteer paramedic, says Jaime’s sister, Sara, her voice cracking as she talks. Before Jaime, no one had survived.

Lightning begins high up in the clouds, sometimes 15,000 to 25,000 feet above the earth’s surface. As it descends toward the ground, the electricity is searching, searching, searching for something to connect with. It steps, almost stair-like, in a rapid-fire series of roughly 50-metre increments. Once lightning is 50 metres or so from the ground, it searches again pendulum-style in a nearby radius for “the most convenient thing to hit the fastest,” says Ron Holle, a US meteorologist and long-time lightning researcher.

Prime candidates include isolated and pointed objects: trees, utility poles, buildings and occasionally people. The entire cloud-to-ground sequence happens blindingly fast.

The popular perception is that the chance of being struck by lightning is one in a million. There’s some truth here, based on US data, if one only looks at deaths and injuries in a single year. But Holle, who believes that statistic is misleading, set out to crunch some other numbers. If someone lives until 80, their lifetime vulnerability increases to 1 in 13,000. Then consider that every victim knows at least ten people well, such as the friends and family of Jaime and Justin. Thus, any individual’s lifetime probability of being personally affected by a lightning strike is even higher, a 1 in 1,300 chance.

Holle doesn’t even like the word ‘struck’, saying it implies that lightning strikes hit the body directly. In fact, direct strikes are surprisingly rare. Holle, Cooper and several other prominent lightning researchers recently pooled their expertise and calculated that they’re responsible for no more than 3 to 5 per cent of injuries. (Still, Vail, the trauma surgeon, surmises that Jaime was directly hit, given that he was riding in the desert with no trees or other tall objects nearby.)

Justin believes that he experienced what’s called a side flash or side splash, in which the lightning ‘splashes’ from something that has been struck – such as a tree or telephone pole – hopscotching to a nearby object or person. Considered the second most common lightning hazard, side splashes inflict 20 to 30 per cent of injuries and fatalities.

By far the most common cause of injury is ground current, in which the electricity courses along the earth’s surface, ensnaring within its circuitry a herd of cows or a group of people sleeping beneath a tent or a grass-thatched hut.

As a general rule, in high-income regions of the world men are more likely than women to be injured or killed by lightning; at least two-thirds of the time they’re the victims, and possibly higher depending upon the study. One possibility is the propensity for “men taking chances,” Holle quips, as well as work-related exposure. They are more likely to be on the younger side, in their 20s or 30s, and doing something outside, frequently on the water or nearby.

But what should you do if you find yourself stranded a long way from a building or car when a storm kicks up? Some guidance is available: avoid mountain peaks, tall trees or any body of water. Look for a ravine or a depression. Spread out your group, with at least 20 feet between each person, to reduce the risk of multiple injuries. Don’t lie down, which boosts your exposure to ground current. There’s even a recommended lightning position: crouched down, keeping the feet close together.

Still, don’t dare to ask Holle about any of these suggestions. There’s no such thing as a lightning-proof guarantee, he repeats more than once. “There are cases where every one of these [strategies] has led to death.” In his cubicle at the control centre of the US National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) in Tucson – operated by Vaisala, a Finland-based environmental observation company – Holle has accumulated stacks and stacks of folders filled with articles and other write-ups detailing a seemingly endless litany of lightning-related scenarios involving people or animals. Deaths and injuries that have occurred in tents, or during sports competitions, or to individuals huddled beneath a golf shelter or a picnic shelter or some other type of shelter.

That word whitewashes the reality, Holle says, as so-called “shelters” can become “death traps” during a lightning storm. They provide protection from getting wet – that’s it.

On a series of large screens lining two walls of a room at NLDN’s offices in Tucson, Holle can see where cloud-to-ground lightning is flashing in real time, picked up by strategically positioned sensors in the US and elsewhere. Satellite data has shown that certain regions of the world, generally those near the equator, are lightning-dense. Venezuela, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan all rank among the top ten lightning hotspots.

Initially, lightning safety campaigns promoted the 30/30 rule, which relied upon individuals counting off the seconds after lightning flashed. If thunder rumbled before they reached 30, lightning was close enough to pose a threat. But there’s been a move away from that advice for various reasons, Holle says. One is practical: it’s not always easy to figure out which rumble of thunder corresponds to which lightning flash.

Instead, for simplicity’s sake, everyone from schoolchildren to their grandparents these days is advised: “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

Better education isn’t the only reason why lightning deaths have steadily declined in the US, Australia and other high-income regions. Housing construction has improved. Jobs have moved indoors. In the US alone, annual fatalities have fallen from more than 450 in the early 1990s to fewer than 50 in recent years.

There’s always room for improvement, though. Arizona, for example, ranks high in the US when looking at lightning deaths per state population. Holle’s theory is that people stay outside longer in the desert as the rain isn’t necessarily heavy during storms. That’s why casualties can occur, even before the storm arrives, with people dallying their way to shelter while lightning stretches out in front of the dark clouds.

Still, people in high-income countries have it easy, compared to those in regions where people have no choice but to work outside in all conditions and lightning-safe buildings are scarce. In one analysis of agricultural-related lightning deaths outside of the US, Holle learned that more than half of them occurred in India, followed by Bangladesh and the Philippines. The victims were young (early 20s for the men, early 30s for the women) and were working in farms and paddy fields.

Cooper was hit full-force with the emotional impact of what lightning can do in Africa when she attended a 2011 lightning conference in Nepal. The presenters were arranged in alphabetical order by country, so Cooper, by then retired as an emergency physician but still doing lightning-related work, was sat between the presenters from Uganda and Zambia. Richard Tushemereirwe, the Ugandan representative, kept fussing with his slides while waiting to present.

“When he got up to give his presentation, he was almost in tears,” she recalls. “He said, ‘I found out from my research that we had 75 people die in Uganda during the last lightning season.’” And just that summer, he related, 18 students had died in a single lightning strike to a school in central Uganda.

In an email, Tushemereirwe described how the lightning protection that some schools do install can create a false sense of security. A rod may be installed on the roofline of one school building. But it’s not grounded. Even worse, local residents might believe that the single rod also protects nearby buildings, wrote Tushemereirwe, who serves as senior science adviser to Uganda’s president.

Nor does home provide a sanctuary when lightning laces the sky, as housing in rural regions of Africa is frequently constructed from mud and grass. Thus, the mantra ‘When thunder roars, go indoors’ is essentially useless, Cooper notes with considerable frustration. Families are at risk 24/7.

Lightning deaths go unreported or are missed entirely. It might appear, for instance, that a fire killed an entire family. But that assumption misses a key piece of the tragedy. Sometimes it’s lightning that sets the grass roof ablaze, temporarily paralysing the family members within, so they’re unable to escape the flames.

On a bus trip to a banquet after Tushemereirwe’s presentation, he and Cooper fell into talking. It was a discussion that led to a collaboration and, in 2014, the creation of a non-profit organisation now called the African Centres for Lightning and Electromagnetics Network, with Cooper its founding director. Zambia was the second country to join after Uganda. Leaders of several others have expressed interest, Cooper says.

The organisation is trying to develop a cellphone alert system so that fishermen and others in the Lake Victoria region can report severe weather heading their way. They are starting to educate school teachers about lightning safety and are setting up graduate study programmes.

Another priority is Ugandan schools, frequently the most substantial structures in a given community. The first lightning protection system was installed in a school in late 2016, as were two more earlier this year. Keeping the focus on protecting children, it’s been learned through other lightning safety efforts, gets adults’ attention, Cooper says. Adults the world over believe they are immune, she states flatly. “But if you tell them that their kids are going to get injured, they pay attention.”

Still, making headway has been an uphill climb, slowed by fundraising and installation logistics. Cooper sounded a bit weary and discouraged after her most recent trip to Uganda this spring. The country has thousands of vulnerable schools. She’s now searching for deeper pockets through foundation or governmental funding. “We’ve protected three of them. Oh my God, how will we ever be able to,” she says, her voice trailing off. “It’s so overwhelming, I just want to quit. I don’t see how we are ever going to be able to impact this.”

Shirt worn by Jaime Santana the day he was struck by lightning  © William LeGoullon

The rain that had threatened all afternoon didn’t start to fall until Sara and Alejandro were driving to Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix. Alejandro sat tense, holding on to his terrible knowledge. “All of this way, I was thinking, ‘He’s dead. How do I tell her?’”

When they arrived, Alejandro was stunned to learn that Jaime was in surgery. Surgery? There was still hope.

Jaime had arrived at the Phoenix trauma centre with an abnormal heart rhythm, bleeding in the brain, bruising to the lungs and damage to other organs, including his liver, according to Vail. Second- and third-degree burns covered nearly one-fifth of his body. Doctors put him into a chemically induced coma for nearly two weeks to allow his body to recover, a ventilator helping him breathe.

Jaime finally returned home after five months of treatment and rehabilitation, which is continuing. “The hardest part for me is that I can’t walk,” he says from the living room of his parents’ house. The doctors have described some of Jaime’s nerves as still “dormant”, says his sister, Sara, something that they hope time and rehabilitation will mend.

“We’re living through something that we never thought in a million years would happen,” says Lucia, Jaime’s mother, reflecting on the strike and Jaime’s miraculous survival, Sara translating. They’ve stopped asking why lightning caught him in its crosshairs that April afternoon. “We’re never going to be able to answer why,” Sara says. So now it’s time for Jaime to start thinking about “what’s next” with the new life he’s been given. The family is planning a party, with a mariachi band, to celebrate Jaime’s first year of life moving forward.

When Sara and Alejandro returned home from the hospital the day after the strike, Alejandro called to his wife from the backyard. On the railing of the round pen where they work the horses, adjacent to their corrals, a peacock was perched, his colourful feathers flowing behind.

Outside of a zoo they had never seen a peacock in Arizona before. They kept the peacock and later found it a mate. Now a family of peacocks fills one of the corral stalls. When Sara looked up what the striking bird symbolises, the answers scrolled back, catching her breath: renewal, resurrection, immortality.

This story, What its like to be struck by lightning, first appeared on Mosaic, The Science of Life, and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

 

Good Advice or A Summary of Where My Head Has Been for the Last Three Years

So you want to be a writer? Essential tips   for aspiring novelists

How to write a killer opening line. Why Google is not research. When to rip it up and start again. Whatever you do, just write!

Lessons from acclaimed novelist and creative writing professor Colum McCann

find the original article in The Guardian

Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody, said Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet more than a century ago. There is only one way. Go into yourself.

Rilke, of course, was right – nobody but yourself can help. In the end it all comes down to the strike of the word on the page, not to mention the strike thereafter, and the strike after that. But Rilke was taken by the request from a young writer, and he corresponded with Franz Xaver Kappus in ten letters over the course of six years. Rilke’s was advice on matters of religion, love, feminism, sex, art, solitude and patience, but it was also keyed into the life of the poet and how these things might shape the words upon the page.

This most of all, he says. Ask yourself in the most silent hour of night: must I write?

Everybody who has ever felt the need to write knows the silent hour. I have come across many such people – and indeed many such hours – during my writing and teaching life. I’ve been teaching now for the best part of 20 years. That’s a lot of chalk and a lot of red pencil. I haven’t loved every minute of it, but I’ve loved most. There’s been a National Book award for one student. A Booker prize for another. Guggenheims. Pushcarts. Mentorships. Friendships. But let’s be honest, there has been burnout too. There’s been weeping and gnashing of teeth. There have been walkouts. Collapses. Regret.

All of these students, bar none, are looking, in Rilke’s words, “to say ecstasies that are unsayable.” The unsayable indeed. The job is theirs. The ability to trust in the difficult. The tenacity to understand that it takes time and patience to succeed.

There are no rules

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.                                                                                                         W Somerset Maugham

[The above, inserts the Blog Author, is my favorite quote of all time]. There are no rules. Or if there are any rules, they are only there to be broken. Embrace these contradictions. You must be prepared to hold two or more opposing ideas in the palms of your hands at the same time. To hell with grammar, but only if you know the grammar first. To hell with formality, but only if you have learned what it means to be formal. To hell with plot, but you had better at some stage make something happen. To hell with structure, but only if you have thought it through so thoroughly that you can safely walk through your work with your eyes closed.

The great ones break the rules on purpose. They do it in order to remake the language. They say it like nobody has ever said it before. And then they unsay it, and they keep unsaying it, breaking their own rules over and over again. So be adventurous in breaking – or maybe even making – the rules.

Your first line

The first sentence of every novel should be: ‘Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.’                              Michael Ondaatje

A first line should open up your rib cage. It should reach in and twist your heart backward. It should suggest that the world will never be the same again. The opening salvo should be active. It should plunge your reader into something urgent, interesting, informative. It should move your story, your poem, your play, forward. It should whisper in your reader’s ear that everything is about to change.

But take it easy too. Don’t stuff the world into your first page. Achieve a balance. Let the story unfold. Think of it as a doorway. Once you get your readers over the threshold, you can show them around the rest of the house. At the same time, don’t panic if you don’t get it right first time around. Often the opening line won’t be found until you’re halfway through your first draft. You hit page 157 and you suddenly realise, Ah, that’s where I should have begun.

So you go back and begin again.

Open elegantly. Open fiercely. Open delicately. Open with surprise. Open with everything at stake. This, of course, is a bit like being told to walk a tightrope. Go ahead, then, walk the tightrope! Relax yourself into the tension of the wire. The first line, like the first step, is only the first of many, yet it sets the shape of what is to come. Try walking a foot off the ground, then two feet, then three. Eventually you might go a quarter mile in the sky.

Then again, you might stumble and fall. No matter. It is, after all, a work of the imagination. You won’t die trying.

At least not yet.

Don’t write what you know

The inexecutable is all I’m interested in.                                                   Nathan Englander

Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know.
A writer is an explorer. She knows she wants to get somewhere, but she doesn’t know if the somewhere even exists yet. It is still to be created. Don’t sit around looking inward. That’s boring. In the end your navel contains only lint. You have to propel yourself outward, young writer.

The only true way to expand your world is to inhabit an otherness beyond ourselves. There is one simple word for this: empathy. Don’t let them fool you. Empathy is violent. Empathy is tough. Empathy can rip you open. Once you go there, you can be changed. Get ready: they will label you sentimental. But the truth is that the cynics are the sentimental ones. They live in a cloud of their own limited nostalgia. They have no muscularity at all. Remember, the world is so much more than one story. We find in others the ongoing of ourselves.

In the end your first-grade teacher was correct: we can, indeed, only write what we know. It is logically and philosophically impossible to do otherwise. But if we write towards what we don’t supposedly know, we will find out what we knew but weren’t yet entirely aware of. We will have made a shotgun leap in our consciousness. We will not be stuck in the permanent backspin of me, me, me.

As Vonnegut says, we should be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.

The terror of the white page

The pleasure of abiding. The pleasure of insistence, of persistence. The pleasure of obligation, the pleasure of dependency. The pleasures of ordinary devotion.                                                                                         Maggie Nelson

Don’t let the terror of the white page shrink-wrap your mind. The excuse that you have writer’s block is far too easy. You have to show up for work. You have to sit in the chair and fight the blankness. Don’t leave your desk. Don’t abandon the room. Don’t check the sports pages. Don’t open the mail. Don’t distract yourself in any way until you feel you have fought and tried. You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.

A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or dissects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.

Good writing will knock the living daylights out of you. Very few people talk about it, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in the one place. The errors. The retrieval. The mental taxation. The dropping of the bucket down into the near-empty well over and over again. Moving a word around a page. Moving it back again. Questioning it. Doubting it. Increasing the font size. Shifting it around again and again. Sounding it out. Figuring the best way to leave it alone. Hanging in there as the clock ticks on. Not conceding victory to the negative. Getting up off the ground when you’ve punched yourself to the floor. Dusting yourself off. Readjusting your mouth guard. Sustaining what you have inherited from previous days of work.

Don’t worry so much about your word count. Your word cut is more important. You have to sit there sharpening that red pencil or hitting the delete button or flinging the pages into the fire. Often, the more words you cut, the better. A good day might actually be a hundred words fewer than you had yesterday. Even no words on the page is better than no time at the page at all.

Just keep your arse in the chair. Arse in the chair. Arse in the chair.

Stare the blank page down.

Creating characters

Then the writing became so fluid that I sometimes felt as if I were writing for the sheer pleasure of telling a story, which may be the human condition that most resembles levitation.                             Gabriel García Márquez

Writing a character into being is like meeting someone you want to fall in love with. You don’t care (yet) about the facts of his/her life. Don’t overload us with too much information. Allow that to seep out later. We are attracted by a moment in time – a singular moment of flux or change or collapse – not by grand curricula vitae. So don’t generalise. Be specific. Go granular. The reader must fall in love with your characters quickly (or indeed, learn to hate them quickly).

We have to have something happen to them: something that jolts our tired hearts awake. Make it traumatic, make it mournful, make it jubilant, it doesn’t matter – just allow your reader to care for the physical body that your words evoke, the person behind the language. Later on in the story we can settle down with them and get to know them in a wider sense.

Sometimes we take a character from our own immediate lives and we build a new person upon that scarecrow. Or sometimes we take well-known characters in history and shape them in new ways. Either way we have a responsibility to write them into life.

In the end you should probably know your characters as well as you know yourself. You should be able to close your eyes and dwell inside that character’s body. The sound of her voice. The texture of her footsteps. Walk around with her for a while. Let her dwell in the rattlebag of your head. Make a mental list of who/what she is, where she comes from. Appearance. Body language. Unique mannerisms. Childhood. Conflicts. Desires. Voice. Allow your characters to surprise you. When it seems they should go right, send them left. When they appear too joyful, break them. When they want to leave the page, force them to stay a sentence longer. Complicate them. Conflict them. Give them forked tongues. This is what real life is all about. Don’t be too logical. Logic can paralyse us.

Nabokov says that his characters are just his galley slaves – but he’s Nabokov, and he’s allowed to say things like that. Let me respectfully disagree. Your characters deserve your respect. Some reverence. Some life of their own. You must thank them for surprising you, and for ringing the doorbell of your imagination.

Writing dialogue

The declared meaning of a spoken sentence is only its overcoat, and the real meaning lies underneath its scarves and buttons.                         Peter Carey

There are so many rules, or suggestions, when it comes to dialogue. Forget the ummm and forget the errrs: they don’t translate on the page. Try not to use dialogue to convey information, or at least a slab of obvious information. Interruptions are great. Try writing a conversation between three, four, five people. Let the dialogue work for itself. Use he said and she said, but avoid clumsy descriptions. Forget about the overblown gasping, exclaiming, insisting, bellowing.

Make your dialogue distinct from the surrounding description, not just in rhythm but in length too. It will break up the prose. Have it be a respite on the page, or have it tee up the words that are about to come. Make each character distinct. Give them verbal tics. And never forget that people talk away from what they really mean. Lies are very interesting when they emerge in speech. Make action occur within the conversation. Seldom begin in the beginning: catch the dialogue halfway through. No need for hellos or howareyous. No need for goodbyes either. Jump out from the conversation long before it truly finishes.

Even if using dialect, or patois, or Dublinese, you must realise that there is a reader at the end of the sentence. Don’t confuse them. Don’t knock them out of the story. A wee bit is enough to get a Northern Irish accent. Don’t go Oirish on yourself. Don’t fall into stereotype. No arragh bejaysus and begob. No overdone southern twang. It’ll make y’all wanna holler. No Jamaican overdose, mahn. No Bhrrooklyn nasal noise.

Study the masters. Roddy Doyle. Louise Erdrich. Elmore Leonard. Marlon James. And always remember that what we don’t say is as important as, if not more so than, what we do. So study the silences too, and have them working on the page. You soon find out how loud the silence really is.

Everything unsaid leads eventually to what is said.

Seeking structure

A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships.                                                                               Jorge Luis Borges

Every work of fiction is organised somehow – and the best of them are more profoundly organised than they ever let on. Our stories rely on the human instinct for architecture. Structure is, essentially, a container for content. The shape into which your story gets is a house slowly built from the foundation up. Or maybe it’s a tunnel, or a skyscraper, or a palace, or even a moving caravan, driven forward by your characters. In fact, structure can be any number of things: you just have to make sure that it doesn’t become an elaborate hole in the ground into which we bury ourselves, unable to claw out.

Some writers try to envision the structure beforehand, and they shape the story to fit it, but this is so often a trap. You should not try to stuff your story into a preconceived structure. A proper structure mirrors the content of the story it wants to tell. It will contain its characters and propel them forward at the same time. And it will generally achieve this most fully when it does not draw too much attention to itself. Structure should grow out of character and plot, which essentially means that it grows out of language. In other words, the structure is forever in the process of being shaped. You find it as you go along. Chapter by chapter. Voice by voice. Ask yourself if it feels right to tell the story in one fell swoop, or if it should be divided into sections, or if it should have multiple voices, or even multiple styles. You stumble on through the dark, trying new things all the time. Sometimes, in fact, you don’t find the structure until halfway through, or even when you’re close to being finished. That’s OK. You have to trust that it will eventually appear and that it will make sense.

Language and plot

Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.                                                                                                          Stephen King

We teachers, we editors, we agents, we readers, often make a mistake by concentrating too much on plot: it is not the be-all and end-all in a piece of literature. Plot matters, of course it matters, but it is always subservient to language. Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens. And how it happens occurs in the way language captures it and the way our imaginations transfer that language into action.

So give me music then, young maestro, please. Make it occur the way nobody ever made it occur before. Stop time. Celebrate it. Demolish it. Slow the clock down so that the tick of each and every second lasts an hour or more. Take leaps into the past. Put backspin on your memory. Be in two or three places at one time. Destroy speed and position. Make just about anything happen. Maybe in this day and age we are diseased by plot. Let’s face it, plots are good for movies, but when over-considered they tend to make books creak. So, unbloat your plot. Listen for the quiet line. Anyone can tell a big story, yes, but not everyone can whisper something beautiful in your ear. In the world of film we need motivation leading to action, but in literature we need contradiction leading to action, yes, but also leading to inaction. Nothing better than a spectacular piece of inaction. Nothing more effective than your character momentarily paralysed by life.

The greatest novel ever written has very little apparent plot. A cuckold walks around Dublin for 24 hours. No shootouts, no cheap shots, no car crashes (though there is a biscuit tin launched through the air). Instead it is a vast compendium of human experience. Still, this doesn’t take away from the fact that every story ever told has some sort of plot (especially Ulysses, which perhaps has more plot than any).

Punctuation

It’s not just a throwaway thing (Comma) When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split.                                                          Raymond Chandler (in a letter to his editor)

It’s not a throwaway thing to tell you the truth. It’s not a throwaway thing, to tell you the truth.

Punctuation matters. In fact, sometimes it’s the life or death of a sentence. Hyphens. Full stops. Colons. Semicolons. Ellipses. Parentheses. They’re the containers of a sentence. They scaffold your words. Should a writer know her grammar? Yes, she should. Don’t overuse the semicolon; it is a muscular comma when used correctly. Parentheses in fiction draw far too much attention to themselves. Learn how to use the possessive correctly as in most good writer’s work. (Oops.) Never finish a sentence with an at. (Sorry.) Avoid too many ellipses, especially at the end of a passage, they’re just a little too dramatic … (See?)

Grammar changes down through the years: just ask Shakespeare or Beckett or the good folks at the New Yorker. The language of the street eventually becomes the language of the schoolhouse. It’s the difference between the prescriptive and the descriptive. So much depends, as William Carlos Williams might have said, upon the red wheelbarrow – especially if the barrow itself stands solitary at the end of the line.

But then again, a sentence can be over-examined. Good grammar can slow a sentence – or indeed a wheelbarrow – down. The perfect run-along of words can sound so stiff. Every now and then we have to disregard the serial comma, or leave our participles dangling, even in the rudest way.

Sometimes we make a mistake on purpose. Perhaps knowing the difference between a main clause and a dependent clause doesn’t matter so much so long as you can intuit the difference. On occasion we write a sentence that isn’t, in fact, correct, but it sings. And the question is: would you rather be the ornithologist or the bird?

Writers feel the grammar rather than knowing it. This comes from good reading. If you read enough, the grammar will come. Word.

Research

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.                                                     Aldous Huxley

Research is the bedrock of nearly all good writing, even poetry. We have to know the world beyond our own known world. We have to be able to make a leap into a life or a time or a geography that is not immediately ours. Often we will want to write out of gender, race, time. This requires deep research.

Yes, Google helps, but the world is so much deeper than Google. A search engine can’t hold a candle to all the libraries in the world where the books actually exist, live, breathe, and argue with one another. So go down to the library. Check out the catalogues. Go to the map division. Unlock the boxes of photographs. If you want to know a life different from your own, you better try to meet it at least halfway. Get out in the street.

Talk to people. Show interest. Learn how to listen. You must find the divine detail: and the more specific the detail, the better. William Gass – the American author who says quite beautifully that a writer finds himself alone with all that might happen – once suggested, while invoking Maupassant, that we should never mention an ashtray unless we are swiftly able to make it the only one in the world.

Please remember that mishandling your research is also your potential downfall. At times we can pollute our texts with too much of the obvious. It is often a good thing to have space instead so that we can fill it out with imaginative muscle. Always ask yourself: how much research is enough? Don’t corrupt your texts with facts facts facts. Texture is much more important than fact.

Fail, Fail, Fail

No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.                                                    Samuel Beckett

Failure is good. Failure admits ambition. It requires courage to fail and even more courage to know that you’re going to fail. Reach beyond yourself. The true daring is the ability to go to the postbox knowing that it will contain yet another rejection letter. Don’t rip it up. Don’t burn it. Use it as wallpaper instead. Preserve it and reread it every now and then. Know that in the years to come this rejection letter will be a piece of nostalgia. It will yellow and curl and you will remember what it once felt like to throw your words against what everyone presumed would be your silence. Failure is vivifying. You know you’re better than it. Failure gets you up in the morning. Failure gets your blood circling. Failure dilates your nostrils. Failure tells you to write a bigger story and a better one.

And in the end there’s only one real failure – and that’s the failure to be able to fail. Having tried is the true bravery.

Throw it all away

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.                                                                  André Gide

Sometimes, young writer, you just have to have the cojones to wipe the whole slate clean. Occasionally you know – deep in your gut – that it’s not good enough. Or you’ve been chasing the wrong story. Or you’ve been waiting for another moment of inspiration.

Often the true voice is not heard until long into the story. It might be a year of work, hundreds of pages, or even more. (One of the most liberating days of my writing life was when I threw 18 months of work away.) But something in you knows – it just knows – that everything you have written so far has just been preparation for what you are now about to write. You have finally found your north, your east, your west. No south, no going back.

So you have to throw it away. (OK, let’s be honest here: you don’t actually throw the pages away. Box them up or back them up, just in case you might be making a mistake.)

It is terrifying of course. You close the file, you bury the pages. Now you’re pageless and your back is truly up against the wall. So you open up another file, sharpen the pencil, and settle down once again.

Your last line

If we are not sometimes baffled and amazed and undone by the world around us, rendered speechless and stunned, perhaps we are not paying close enough attention.                                                                        Ben Marcus

Gogol said that the last line of every story was: “And nothing would ever be the same again.” Nothing in life ever really begins in one single place, and nothing ever truly ends. But stories have at least to pretend to finish. Don’t tie it up too neatly. Don’t try too much. Often the story can end several paragraphs before, so find the place to use your red pencil. Print out several versions of the last sentence and sit with them. Read each version over and over. Go with the one that you feel to be true and a little bit mysterious. Don’t tack on the story’s meaning. Don’t moralise at the end. Don’t preach that final hallelujah. Have faith that your reader has already gone with you on a long journey. They know where they have been. They know what they have learned. They know already that life is dark. You don’t have to flood it with last-minute light.

You want the reader to remember. You want her to be changed. Or better still, to want to change.

Try, if possible, to finish in the concrete, with an action, a movement, to carry the reader forward. Never forget that a story begins long before you start it and ends long after you end it. Allow your reader to walk out from your last line and into her own imagination. Find some last-line grace. This is the true gift of writing. It is not yours any more. It belongs in the elsewhere. It is the place you have created. Your last line is the first line for everybody else.

 

Colum McCann is the author of six novels and three collections of stories. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, he has been the recipient of many international honours, including the National Book Award, the International Dublin Impac Prize, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government, election to the Irish arts academy, several European awards, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, and an Oscar nomination. His work has been published in over 35 languages. He is the co-founder of the non-profit global story exchange organisation, Narrative 4, and he teaches at the MFA program in Hunter College. He lives in New York with his wife, Allison, and their three children.

Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice by Colum McCann is published by Random House. Order it from your favorite independent bookshop.

Thinking and Feeling

Years ago I took a creativity class with other writers, photogs, artists, etc. The instructor said something I’ve never forgotten:

Creativity is in the doing. If we could produce art by just thinking it through, no one would have to do it; we could just sit back, imagine it, and be done! But in the doing of it–it changes. It becomes something else, something we couldn’t have known until we did it.

Richard Gilbert nails this truth in his blog Draft No. 4. I’ve reposted it below for your reading pleasure. Click here to go to Richard’s blog and his live links.

Messy Essays & Eternal Truths: The Work Under Writing’s Surface

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Richard Gilbert’s class whiteboard outlines Joyce Carol Oates’ essay A Widow’s Story.

Reposted from Richard Gilbert’s wonderful Blog, Draft No. 4

March 23, 2016 |
Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do.    Benjamin Spock

1. Writing is Thinking

“Writing is thinking! Writing is feeling!” enthused one of my students near the end of Spring term. This was at Virginia Tech, where I have been teaching in the Lifelong Learning Institute this academic year.

I’ll call her Helen. At the start of class, Helen had seemed confident of her thinking ability—she’d spent a distinguished career reasoning and writing. But she’d seemed not so sure she could emote for readers. Or ask them for an emotional response, let alone provoke it. Helen’s comment took me back to 2005, when I started writing my memoir. I enjoyed building that narrative, but it was work. Writing is concentrated thought, I marveled. That’s why it’s hard. Most of us seldom think about one thing for hours on end. But there’s a huge compensation, I came to see.

“I think what makes writing addictive is that it doesn’t just capture thought, it creates thought,” I told my class one afternoon. “You write a sentence, make a claim. And then you write another. And then you look at those two sentences and write down what you didn’t know you knew. Because you didn’t. Writing doesn’t only capture thought, it creates it.”

Now I didn’t pause to credit the sources who helped me describe this quality. So here I will. Surely writing theorist Peter Elbow influenced my thinking (See my post “Writing’s ‘dangerous method.’ ”) But Donald M. Murray, who nails writing’s rewards in The Craft of Revision (Fifth Edition), lent me the words:

Writing is not reported thought. Writing is more important than that. It is thinking itself. . . . And it is fun because I keep finding I know more than I expected, feel more than I expected, remember more, and have a stronger opinion than I expected. [See “Revise, then polish.”]

This is what I found, and I think what Helen experienced.

2. Writing is Feeling

Oates-Raymond-Smith-in-72
Oates & Raymond Smith in ’72 [1972@BernardGotfryd]
Maybe Helen was thinking of my statement: “Art is made from emotion, is about emotion, and asks for an emotional response.”

What does that mean? Was I going to ask her to emote all over the page? That wasn’t her style!

Well, on that score, everyone’s mileage varies. As a writing teacher once told me, “No one tells everything.” Indeed they don’t. As in life, we must prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet. And our mask is influenced by temperament and mood and the nature of the piece.

Helen wrote about her early years, a young Yankee professional woman who found herself starting out in the Appalachian south. She encountered a gracious but sexist, patronizing, and clannish culture. What she discovered in writing a memoir essay in my class was what she hadn’t before consciously articulated: after decades of becoming localized, as a success, she sensed yet another layer of exclusion. A deeper boundary. She hadn’t glimpsed this wall before, and now was just starting to try to articulate its nature.

What “writing is feeling” meant to Helen, I think—and what maybe it does mean, after all—embodies such discovery. Not writing emotionally, as such. But seeing clearly how you felt and conveying it. How did you feel then? How do you feel now?

Don Murray again:

The writer who writes for revision does not wait for a final draft but works through a series of discovery, development, and clarification drafts until a significant meaning is found and made clear to the reader.

3. Writing is Craft

The shortest essay I ever wrote, maybe the shortest essay anyone has ever written, was Little Essay on Form. It went like this: ‘We build the corral as we reinvent the horse.’ Later, I added: ‘Craft is what nails the gate, helps formalize the space, and keeps the horse shit out of the picture.’ It leaves us with the necessary.
—Stephen Dunn in his Georgia Review essay, “Forms and Structures.”

After I showed my memoir class how James Baldwin punctuated his great essay “Notes of a Native Son,” Helen raised her hand.

“Do you think he did that on purpose?” she asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “I’m certain of it. For one thing, he was a genius. For another, varying sentence rhythm is what professionals do.” I followed up by showing them how Ernest Hemingway did the same thing. (See my recent post “Sentence, substance & comma joy.”)

“Art announces itself in form,” I added. “That includes sentence and paragraph length; punctuation; the rhythm of sentences, paragraphs, passages, and the entire piece. All aspects of form must be considered and intentional.”

For all the attention we give it, of course, craft isn’t the most important part of writing—far from it. That would be who you are and your intent. (See “Between self and story.”) But craft is what we can talk about and work with. Craft not only signifies art, it’s what releases art.

Early in the term, I told my memoir class one afternoon how writers emphasize at the end: the last word in a sentence, the last sentence in a paragraph, the last paragraph in a passage, the last passage in an essay or chapter. I tried to show how creative writers use space breaks, not just as transitions from one time frame or location to another but also to spike emphasis—like hitting a gong. And to provide a resting places for readers. As I wrote in “That sweet white space,” “White space is a dramatic transition and a resonant pause filled with meaning and its own kind of content, a space pregnant with time’s passage and unstated events. This is what visual artists call negative space, the resonant blankness around the main image.”

Helen wasn’t so sure about space breaks. “They seem like cheating,” she said.

“I can remember feeling that way,” I said. “When I was a journalist, I was proud of my worded transitions. And editors wouldn’t let us use space breaks anyway—they took up too much room.”

But look at the breaks that demarcate Baldwin’s classical three-act structure in “Notes of a Native Son.” Consider how heavily Scott Sanders segmented his flowing, celebrated essay about his father’s alcoholism, “Under the Influence.”

And you know what? I got Helen to try space breaks! A teacher’s joy. Along with hearing her excited statement. Writing is thinking! Writing is feeling! What a great class. Helen’s doubt made me work harder. Helen’s doubt launched not a thousand ships but influenced several lesson plans. My students’ work in this class taught me, again, how words shaped by craft reveal someone’s soul. We may all walk around stuck in our own heads, but we go to literature to share another’s subjective experience and meaning.

Yet in art, every start is a beginning for the maker. As Jo Ann Beard told Michael Gardner in an interview for Mary:

Frankly, I thought I knew how to write, but it turned out I didn’t, and I don’t. I don’t. I get to learn it over and over and over. It isn’t supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be hard and the process of making art and the product is worth all the energy that you put into it. It is what matters. It is a noble goal. Even if you never attain it, which is true for most of us, it’s life-enhancing to try.


Ellen Meloy once told me our word essay came from the Old French essai “to try,” which is, of course, totally appropriate. Perhaps all art is actually a verb: to essay.

And I just LOVE driving by, on my way upta and overta Bryce, Asay Creek. It’s onea them thar Utar words, ya know?

 

Annual Solstice Letter 2016: A Particular Phrenology

 

phrenology1
Diagram 1. My Particular Phrenology

If you have an exceptional memory, you may recall TWO years ago I wrote a post about my teenage heartthrob, John Fogarty. If not, click on the album cover below (with gratuitous photo of said heartthrob).

fogerty

In that post I mentioned I’d heard an NPR interview about Fogerty, who after fifty years playing guitar, still spends hours every morning practicing. I wrote, if anyone already knows how to play guitar, it’s John Fogerty! It set me wondering if there was anything I liked doing so much I’d spend hours doing it every day when I didn’t have to.

At first, I was disheartened, thinking I put off what I wanted to do until I’d caught up, had enough time, finished my to-do list, etc. But then I enumerated what I did every day and realized I actually did the thing(s) I wanted to be doing. I also realized there were two things I truly needed to do daily–like John Fogerty clearly needs to play guitar–and three others I wanted to do, and I could stop beating myself up about not doing whatever it was I thought I should have been doing.

I then asked “What are the thing(s) you want to/would do every day if you didn’t have to do the things you do?” And said: “Tell me yours and, in the next post, I’ll tell you mine.”

WELL. A bit o’ time has passed. I did, however, work on the answer, even though the responses from you were few. I realized that’s because many of you are: 1. OLD (i.e., you’ve already figured this out whereas although I too am old, I am still learning), 2. RETIRED (i.e., you have plenty of time to complete have-tos and want-tos whereas I was not whence I wrote the initial post), 3. TOO BUSY (i.e., either doing your have-tos like working or want-tos whatever they may be), 4. A FELLOW INTROVERT!

But I promised answers and thus here they are:

The TWO THINGS

I need to do everyday are (Ta Da): 1. THINKING and 2. BEING OUTDOORS

  1.  I spend a damn lot of time thinking (Diagrams 1 and 2). This is probably more than you want to know, but I spent a long time THINKING about it, so here it is. I Process. Contemplate. Order. Figure. Munch. Chew. Digest. Wait. Build connections, neurons. It’s part of being an introvert, or maybe introvertedness comes from having a brain that processes like this. I experience; then my brain sorts, filters, categorizes, replays, builds networks, cross references…well, you get the idea. It takes a long, goddamn time. It’s why I live alone. Input equals processing time. More input equals more processing time. Yes, I can be quick and sharp and witty, and I can also stare at you dumbly as my brain creaks and clacks and spins reels looking for the right file. “I know I’ve got that here somewhere…” In fact, I have a story about that…okay, right, I’ll keep that one for a future post. Remind me.

phrenology

Diagram 2. Mind Map  Click on Image to Enlarge
(Use at Your Own Risk; some things were omitted for your safety)

2. Being Outdoors. I dunno why this is soooo important. When I was little my mom used to say, like every other minute, “Go outside and play.” I think now it was her brain’s way of getting some processing time. I went. And when her brain reached overload and blew, I went (quickly) to escape. And after a while, outdoors became waaay more comforting a place than indoors. That’s my theory anyway. Also I think and science has confirmed, I seem to recall, that deep in our brain’s structure lurks what researchers think is a hard-wired memory of our African savanna origins. Anyway, that’s my excuse. I, like Mr. Fogerty, have NEEDS. And one is to be outside, everyday, for hours.

The THREE OTHER THINGS

I think, ahem, two of the three are really subsets of the TWO THINGS, because they are A. Writing (and reading) and B. Riding which could really be part of Thinking and Being Outdoors, but I may be OVERTHINKING this. Animals. Big Thing. I’ve never really gotten over the fact I’m not an animal–well, I know I am–but I mean a REAL animal. You know, cute little round ears, cute nose, TAIL. I suppose that’s why I spend so much time with them; they are certainly much easier than people–much easier to process. 

Speaking of which last, but by far not least, dear ones, is C. Friends. Gentle friends. I truly need my friends, in ways those who have family do not. My animals give me so much, but my friends…what can I say? Thank you.

And so my small gifts to you this solstice are my humble words, the links below for your enjoyment and play, and my many thanks for allowing me to be a small part of your world.

To make your own mind map, click here for a link to the SimpleMind+ app.

 

 

In the Shadows of Wolves and Man

Christian Houge

 

By David Gonzalez, New York Times, LENS, Jan. 16, 2013

“They say you don’t start living until you step out of your comfort zone,” the photographer Christian Houge said. “Art arises when you let go. It can be in the process, in the darkroom. But it can also be in the concept. The end product is about not having control.”

As if he needs a reminder: he photographs wolves.

His images – deep-toned close-ups sometimes printed on cowhide – have a visceral impact, showing piercing eyes, bristly fur, hunched shoulders and bared teeth. But the series Shadow Within is as much about humans as it is about wolves. Mr. Houge, who is based in Oslo, wants us to reconsider the impulses, fears and instincts we keep in check as man allows his own nature to be boxed in by nurture. It is a theme that runs through his other projects, from a nude portrait series to another on a distant, frozen island that houses the Global Seed Vault.

“I like exploring what culture does to us,” he said. “I see nature and culture being juxtaposed both within and without us. We are born as something much larger than ourselves. Then you have culture coming in with boxes, with identities, teachers, religion. Before all that, we are nature and we still have all this nature inside us. Well, some more than others.”

That’s where the wolf comes in. Growing up in Norway, Mr. Houge was well aware of the Norse legends and Viking lore in which wolves played a central role, as they did in other cultures. Then there are the fables and fairy tales – ostensibly for children — in which the Big Bad Wolf was always the dark, malevolent force. And as much as the wolf may be wise, it was also feared.

Perhaps too much.

In modern Scandinavia, he said, there has been a debate on how to deal with recent incidents in which wolves had been spotted on the outskirts of Oslo or how packs have killed sheep that ranged free on farmland.

All that played into his decision to turn his lens on the lupine. During the course of his research, Mr. Houge met a woman who studied wolves, and she invited him to a nature preserve. But before he could embark on his project, he had to take a safety course.

“Things can happen if you don’t understand their language,” he said. “Things can go very wrong.”

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Christian Houge

He had to learn to let go.

“You have to face your fear,” he said. “They are in your face, and they have their tongue in your mouth, if they choose to come and greet you. This is how they get food from their parents when they are young. It is a sense of security, but it is their way of showing they’re in charge.”

In his various shoots, Mr. Houge has found the animals to have distinct personalities: from bullying and aggressive to loving and curious. They have tested him, too, pushed him down to the ground or huddled up close.

“The preconception of being a human in nature really shifts after an experience like that,” he said.

And that’s his goal: to get viewers to recognize in themselves what the wolves show openly, whether how they set boundaries or use nature.

“Humans can learn a lot from wolves,” Mr. Houge said. “The debate in Norway about if we should get rid of this animal is astounding. It says something larger about how brutal we are with nature. It’s mostly about how to make money.”

The idea of the lone wolf — the iconoclast who follows his own rules — may be admired in some cultures, but it’s a hard job in nature. Mr. Houge has seen how wolves that did not learn their place in the pack’s hierarchy trail behind the pack for months seeking to be let back in.

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Christian Houge

“I feel one of man’s deepest wishes is to be part of something larger,” he said. “Hierarchies are strong in humans, even if we don’t talk about it. In humans we have social, cultural, fashion hierarchies. I hope some of this series inspires people to feel some of this, how they are part of whatever pack.”

Even one of the more often-cited traits admired in some circles loses its luster after a conversation with Mr. Houge. Corporate titans — or photographers — want to see themselves as the alpha male, a concept Mr. Houge dismisses.

“The wolf pack that has longevity is a family,” he said. “It is a pair, not one male, but a male and a female. If they are secure enough in themselves, they let the weak individual lead the pack. If one has a fantastic nose, even if it is weaker, they’ll let it run first to lead the pack to the kill. These weaker individuals feel part of something larger — it’s ‘We need you for the pack to be stronger.’ That’s a perfect example of how business should be led. Including people, not excluding. Without me, this would not be as strong.”

More images at:

New York Times article: http://nyti.ms/1sD9AUr

Christian Houge website: http://www.christianhouge.no/Shadow-Within

I Love Lucy in the Springtime

 

Mr. Baby contemplates what the heck all that white stuff is
Mr. Baby contemplates what the heck all that white stuff is and where it came from. December 2013.

Still snowed in? We missed this one. It hit Cedar and St George but we just got rain—go figure! We deserved to be missed after the December 2013 snow. I drove home in that blizzard–in the dark pulling a trailer full of horse feed (both ways)–and then had to shovel my way into the barn! Gawd! I got stuck (at the barn) with the god-damned trailer full of feed still hooked up, AND the god-damned dog locked the keys in the truck when she (who would not get out in the never-before seen 18″-deep snow) stepped on the all-door lock with the lights on and engine running. Oh fergodsake. I was about to leave her and the whole shebang there and walk the mile home through the knee-deep snow (both ways) when I envisioned her hitting the accelerator, tearing down a fence or two, and leading the horses on a chase through town and down the highway in the dark following her wake of spilled bran and hay pellets. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. My friend Lynne Cobb says that hearing about my day is like watching an I Love Lucy episode. And I don’t even make this stuff up!

I'm sure I don't know what Lynne is talking about.
I don’t know what Lynne is talking about.

Of course, five days later that snow storm turned truly deadly when it brought down the rock across the street that killed our friends Maureen and Jeff. Now, in the wake of every hard rain or heavy snow, I thank the gods for the moisture to grow grass, and spend alotta time away from the house.

 

A woman addresses her body

by Moyra Donaldson

92a8473a0ca7a11035a046160ab395af
Grace by Eoghan Bridge

For all my talk of soul, it was you
always, sweet little beast, amoral
animal, who showed me the ways
of Love, its passions and crucifixions.

The artist, the anatomist, the poet
and the surgeon, they have seen
the glory in you; you beatified them
in the moments where they believed.

You are my way, my truth, my life;
I am what you have made of me
and still I do not know the limits of you,
or where you will take me next.

from Selected Poems. © Liberties Press, 2012.

Becoming Writer and Written About

images2QTBWIIZFrom The Writer’s Almanac (Garrison Kellior) August 21, 2014: “It’s the birthday of novelist Robert Stone born in Brooklyn (1937). He was raised by his mother, who was schizophrenic, and when she was institutionalized, he spent several years in a Catholic orphanage. Sometimes he and his mother would drive across the country and end up in a Salvation Army somewhere, or a random hotel. He said: ‘My early life was very strange. I was a solitary; radio fashioned my imagination. Radio narrative always has to embody a full account of both action and scene. I began to do that myself. When I was seven or eight, I’d walk through Central Park like Sam Spade, describing aloud what I was doing, becoming both the actor and the writer setting him into the scene. That was where I developed an inner ear.”

Stone dropped out of high school to join the Navy, then moved back to New York City. He worked as a copy boy at the Daily News, and during his brief stint at NYU, he met Janice Burr, the woman he eventually married. They moved to New Orleans, and Stone found work as a census-taker. He walked every neighborhood of New Orleans, asking questions. He wrote: “The closer to street level you live, the more you have lessons thrust upon you.”

His time in New Orleans inspired his first novel, A Hall of Mirrors (1967). It begins: “The day before, Rheinhardt had bought a pint of whiskey in Opelika and saved it all afternoon while the bus coursed down through red clay and pine hills to the Gulf. Then, after sundown, he had opened the bottle and shared it with the boy who sold bibles, the blond gangling country boy in the next seat. Most of the night, as the black cypress shot by outside, Rheinhardt had listened to the boy talk about money — commissions and good territories and profits — the boy had gone on for hours with an awed and innocent greed. Rheinhardt had sat silently, passing the bottle and listening.”

Stone served as a correspondent in Vietnam for a British magazine, which quickly folded, but he got enough material to return home and write the novel Dog Soldiers (1974). Dog Soldiers is the story of a burnt-out playwright named John Converse who leaves the fading counterculture of California to work as a correspondent in Vietnam and ends up smuggling heroin out of the country. Dog Soldiers won the National Book Award.

Stone’s other books include Children of Light (1986); Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties (2007), a memoir; and Fun With Problems (2010), a book of short stories.

He said: ‘Writing is lonely. […] But most of the time you are in a room by yourself, you know. Writers spend more time in rooms, staying awake in quiet rooms, than they do hunting lions in Africa. So, it’s a bad life for a person because it’s so lonely and because it consists of such highs and lows, and there’s not always anywhere to take these emotional states. […] It’s a life that’s tough to sustain without falling prey to some kind of beguiling diversion that’s not good for you.’”

Don’t I know that? Don’t we all know that?

Though I don’t know Robert Stone’s work, I do know his life, and his mother: I am also a solitary; but instead of schizophrenia it was manic depression, and instead of radio it was books. When I was five my parents took me to visit my paternal grandfather and his wife in Florida. I recall so clearly, in my boredom, walking around the yard, the house, standing in the exotic palm-lined winter driveway. Squatting beside the 1950s car and seeing my reflection in the shiny hubcap, I remember telling myself a story, complete with, “and then he said…and then she said…” “describing aloud what I was doing, becoming both the…writer” and the written about “…setting myself in the scene.” I also remember doing this until I was 10 or so, walking around talking aloud, telling myself my story, until a neighborhood boy passed me on his bike and, turning circles around me, derided me, chiding, “WHO are you talking to?!” I was silenced.

Been writing, but not much here. Mostly because I hate struggling with blog technology and adhering to appointed rounds. And wherefore the time? But I intend to change that, again.

Want to finish my Rockfall Series, but getting to that is stopping me from posting anything else, so things will get posted, but in a random, sort of, rockfall pattern! Much to tell.