Category Archives: fiction

How do your memories influence your fiction writing?

“Any sorrow can be borne if it can be made into a story,” said Danish author Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa). 

8_Wells-LiteratureEmpathyMany of my friends are writers. Most of them I know very well. Well enough that when I read some of their work I occasionally recognize autobiographical events, people or places, but these “true” events and such have been fictionalized and told as if they have happened in the lives of the story’s characters. Every author writes from his or her personal experiences, and I believe the more you know about an author the better you can understand that author’s perspective and ideas and what they may be trying to get across to the reader.

In my experience, I’ve never written a story or novel from a preconceived outline or plot diagram. Things change too rapidly, and life may give me another idea that will work better, and the story writes itself like a runaway train. Cities and towns have souls and memories and stories just waiting to be mined.

I am guilty of stealing other’s life experiences as well, and giving them to my characters, changing them up a little.  A red-headed male friend once told me about being chased by a rooster every time he stepped foot in his grandparents’ yard. Seems the rooster was after his red hair, and his grandma shouted to that rooster, “Don’t you spur my baby you peckerwood”. That ended up being in the history of my protagonist in a manuscript – the red-headed boy was too easily remembered.

Humor is everywhere. My daughter’s boyfriend was learning to tie a necktie, and the stress he put himself through developed into a short story. He asked me if I knew how to tie a Windsor knot and I said to look up ties in the Encyclopedia (this was  in the olden days before Google) and he returned, downtrodden, and told me, “it said ‘see railroad'”.

My husband and I walked around Jackson Square in New Orleans late one evening. Fortune tellers and tarot card readers sat around at tables draped with fabric, candles burning, as they lured customers to their tables for readings. Suddenly a young man rounded the corner and had a python wrapped around his body. We walked a little faster around the Square, the man and python following us for a long while. This experience gave me a short story series.

Sadness and sorrow, as well as shock, are always singed in our memories. In my childhood I remember a little friend drowned in her father’s minnow trough. She was about 5 or 6 years old, as was I. My parents went to the wake and took me with them. I had no idea what had occurred until we arrived at the ramshackle house on the outskirts of Hattiesburg MS and saw people peering into a long wooden box on the dining room table. Children climbed on chairs to have a look. I did not want to miss out on whatever they saw in there so I mounted a chair and looked in and was stunned to see my friend, her little body perfectly still in a pretty pink dress, her lips blue, sleeping in that box. That scene will never leave me. I’ve included the scene in one of my novels.

There are so many scenes from my childhood that I’ve used in numerous places in fiction, hiding them in different places than they occured, most times, or they hide themselves, or take a turn you did not expect. When you are going in one direction and think you know where the characters are headed, they just may surprise you and hop on a freight train!

What are some of the events tattooed in your soul? (I promise I won’t steal it, although I may change it up a bit so you won’t recognize it!)

Writers are inspirational … we support & encourage each other!

Thanks to my friend Ellen Prewitt for inviting me to join in Luann Castle’s Writer Site conversation on the creative process. Yes, we’re breaking more rules here .  .  . while I am a writer, I also create many other things as part of what gives my life meaning. These days, what I’m creating is my own shop: Uptown Needle & Craftworks (please “Like” my FB page), so I wanted to share with you a little about the process.

First, I want to share a little (well, a lot, actually) about how I got to this day.

I have not posted on my blog in a while. I stepped off one train and jumped on another in my life vocation. After many years as Episcopal clergy, squeezing in time for writer, sewist and artistic pursuits, I awoke one morning and felt a call to begin a new life dedicated to creativity. I turned 65 one month ago. Having breakfast one morning in a well-known New Orleans bakery while visiting family, I asked my companions to take a walk around the Magazine Street neighborhood. Right next door to the bakery was a yellow house with a very small sign: For lease; commercial. I pulled out my cell phone and snapped a photo of the phone number on the sign. My inner critic immediately chattered away. It’s probably too pricey for you. You have no business doing this at your age.

I argued back. If not now, when? If I wait five years I may not have the same energy and passions I do now. I’m energetic and committed to making a life change. I signed a two year lease and quit my job on the same day. Some say I’ve retired. I say I’ve re-fired.

For every creative I know, that inner critic is always on the job. No matter if we write, paint or sculpt – that tiny tyrant wants to be in charge. As I’ve grown older, that voice has become smaller and smaller. Today it is a mere leaf falling out of place. I completed my first novel when I was 15 years old. I’ve completed 4 more since then. Not one was accepted for publication. Not that I haven’t tried – one was very close to being a finalist in Amazon’s Great American Novel Contest. And it could be published already if I had the time, energy and funds to do about two year’s of edits. All are sitting in boxes until I have the time to edit each one – I will do this, later. And I still write. The stories are there, but my interests reflect my personality type. I’m an INFP on the Myers Briggs personality inventory chart. One description of this personality type reads, “you’re like a new puppy, always into something new.” That’s me. I write, edit, write some more. Sometimes I work on one of my novel manuscripts; sometimes I write a short story. Because there’s always a story. And sometimes I sew, paint or make something new.

I ride the train, “The City of New Orleans”, back and forth from my home to my new business site. In observing the people on the train I can see stories everywhere. But at this time in my life, my career change is my story. It takes courage, confidence and a little bit of moxie to outwit the critic and keep your heart, fingers and brain in sync with your passion – your true self’s deepest desire. When we overcome negative energy, the world wants to hear what we have to say. And real life makes for the greatest stories. Especially when our words come from that deep place called our true self.

When I think of all this as it applies to writing, I first have a picture in my head. Ex.: I found two chairs. Functional, but not perfect. Ordinary. Then I give them a little bit of attention, add some emotion, some color, some gorgeous fabric – voila! Entirely new chairs. Life is like that. Pay attention. Create something new. Gather your courage. You’ll amaze yourself. But back to the initial questions I’m supposed to answer:

  1. What am I working on at the moment? At the moment I’m grieving over having to leave my writing critique group after years of sharing with them in numerous phenomenal successes as well as a few dismal failures – they are all excellent writers and I will miss them. I am leaving Memphis to open my own creative arts studio in New Orleans – which will include creative writing classes. I will continue to work on short stories, as everyone knows New Orleans is full of them, from the woman walking down the street, body painted entirely in silver, to the little boy tapping his heart out for spare change of tourists in the French Quarter. Who are they, and what is inside them that drives them to live their dreams in this city?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?  My work does not fall into a genre, other than the broad category of Southern writing and creativity based on my own life experiences. Working in several forms, whether in clay or textiles, I find that I always include words in my work. Like every writer, I’m in love with words and the myriads of possible usage and meanings.
  3. Why do I create what I do? According to my mother (she died several years ago), my soul has compelled me to create since birth. When a small child I made up stories with my paper dolls (this really tells my age). I created family dramas and named my Betsy McCall paper dolls different names (these paper dolls were printed each month in McCall’s magazine). Southern families are chock full of characters, and Southern writers can easily overlap fictional characters with people they have known, or people in their families – although we certainly do not have the franchise on this process.
  4. How does my writing/creative process work? All depends on what I am creating – sometimes a story or character takes up residence in my head when I’m at a traffic light or in a coffee shop. However, in order to write, to focus on a character and a story, I must have a quiet place and a non-anxious state of being. To fall into that “dream state” as Robert Olen Butler calls it, so that I become my character and exist in the milieu that I write about.

What do you need in order to create?

The Story I Really Want to Tell

The Color of Justice
The murder occurred
Only a mile or two from
My bedroom window.
Hattiesburg, small town
And comfort-laden
Had become a seat
Of violence. 
I didn’t know
The fire was set
I didn’t know
White men did this
I didn’t know
who Vernon Dahmer was.
I didn’t know.
I am part of a family
Of people, so involved
In survival, so involved
In day-to-day living,
So involved with other
Concerns, like my mother’s
Alcoholism, my father’s
Pride, that the event may as well
have happened
on the other side of the world
As I played with torn out
paper dolls with white faces.
I didn’t know.
I wrote this poem in 1966. I was 16 years old.  Hattiesburg Mississippi is my birthplace, and my world revolved around school, my friends, and my after-school job at a dry cleaners.  Even so, I was quite isolated because of the culture of the time.  There was a television in our house, most of the time. My father repaired them and would bring one home “just to make sure it would stay tuned up,” he said.  These television sets always held a place of honor in the middle of the dining room table, plugged into the overhead socket. 
When he finally delivered the TV to its owner, we would be setless until he brought home another newly repaired set, usually within a day or two.  In the interim, we missed several big news stories.  One of the stories I did not miss was the shocking story of the burning of Vernon Dahmer.  
Photo from Vernon Dahmer, Jr.

My father knew Mr. Dahmer.  He had repaired his television (or could have been a radio) about a year before.  I rode with my father out to deliver that TV to the Dahmer home, and sat in the truck while he went in the colorful Dahmer store (which was next door to their home, I think) to collect from Vernon Dahmer.  Several light-skinned boys sat on the porch of the store.  I almost got out of the truck to purchase a soft drink, solely on the influence of the Barq’s Root Beer sign on the front of the store, when I saw my father coming out the door. 

Several months after that, I remember standing with my father in front of another loaner TV perched on our dining room table watching the photo of Vernon Dahmer and hearing the news that he had been murdered, his store and home fire-bombed.  Mr. Dahmer was assisting in voter registration drives and had a voter signup in his store. Up until that moment, I did not know Vernon Dahmer was black.

More about this story here: Justice is done.

This story is only one of the stories of my growing up years.  We were not middle class America, but we did not know that we weren’t. We were too busy existing day to day. These and many other stories are still bumping around in my head. I am trying as fast as I can to write them down so I won’t forget them.

One such story I have turned into fiction.  And that story is now a 300 page novel manuscript based in part on the fascinating history of the Dahmer family. I’ve incorporated countless true events in my fiction stories. And you do not always have to base a story on a traumatic event.  The best fiction I’ve read lately are every-day event-type stories, like meeting someone for coffee, and the dialogue that takes place where a secret is revealed or a person has a sudden awareness. I’m certain these stories are based on the writers’ true life events, or things he/she has heard or read about.

I recently heard a story about a writer talking to an agent about a fiction manuscript that was not finished, and that he was struggling with completing the novel, but he just couldn’t get an ending. The Agent told the writer to put the entire project aside, and “to write the story he really wanted to tell.”  I don’t know who the writer was, but according to the teller of the tale the writer began to write creative non-fiction stories about his life and his world was changed forever. But I thought this to be very powerful advice. What draws us to write fiction, when the truths of our own lives are far more interesting?

Devils, Gatekeepers, Warriors & Heroes: Archetypes of the Night

The Twelve Archetypes

By Emma F. Connolly

Over at She Writes, Anjuelle Floyd started a discussion titled Why Do I Write & What Is My Process? This set me to thinking about what really does inspire me. Then I read the blog post at Novel Matters on Archetypes in Fiction and I was reminded of the characters, both familiar and unfamiliar, that come to me in my dreams. I do not work though all my dreams, but those I do write down and meditate on many times result in works of fiction, bits of dialogue, and settings for stories. Journeys to the inner world of dreams and the unconscious have changed my life. I believe the Great Creator sends us messages in the nighttime; stories filled with Heroes, Enemies, Shadow figures, Adventures and Ordeals are delivered to us as gifts. It is when we listen, explore, and converse with these characters and elements that the stories unfold.

Heroes and other archetypes are symbols of the soul in transformation, and of the journey each of us takes through life. And we all have a story.

I believe that dreams come to heal and to make us whole. What I have found is that I no longer see the people, places and events of my life existing only in black and white. I am aware of a vast gray area that harbors a depth of color that I never imagined. People appear with dimensions that I heretofore did not know existed within them. This work has given me a deeper awareness of the presence of an “inner knowing” within my own soul and how we are all linked to the universe. I am compelled to pass this on.

Two years ago I completed the Dream Leader Training at The Haden Institute in North Carolina. We explored our dreams through the use of numerous methods of looking at the symbols and images in our dreams. A few of these methods I continue to use include Group Projective Dreamwork, Active Imagination, Image Amplification, and 6 Magic Questions (using Gestalt methods). We shared our waking life experiences of synchronicity as well, learning to recognize our shadow, and manifestations of our masculine and feminine energies.

How do I work with my own dreams as a basis for creative writing? I use my knowledge of Jungian concepts to “carry the dream forward”.  One of these concepts, Active Imagination, is a method of consciously dialoguing with our unconscious – in dreamwork, this is working with a dream that involves simply having a conversation with the symbols or characters in a dream where the dreamer speaks for both sides of the conversation. I know, this sounds a little spooky, but believe me when I say I have had major insights with this type exercise. Interesting dialogue has emerged and I have included some of it in my fiction, developing it into short stories, poetry, artwork, and novels.
I believe that creative writing begins the journey of the terrain of one’s soul when we carry our dreams forward into the wonderful world of descriptive language and colorful character development, whether recorded onto the page or painted on a canvas.

Writing is one of the closest ways to get a detailed look at our dreams. Anyone can write creatively, and as Flannery O’Conner said, anyone who had a childhood can write fiction. Stories, poetry and songs come from the subconscious at a most divine level; they show the author’s inner thoughts and let the reader into the divine arena of a person’s dreams, a true expression of the soul. Writing is a continual dialogue between the irrational, creative, dream-logic part of the mind and the rational, critical, linear part – the opposites, the masculine and feminine energies. How do we balance the two? The solutions and answers lie deep within each one of us, often to be revealed through the symbols and archetypes in our dreams.

Fiction is full of archetypes. Added to that are threads of quirky behavior, wit, romance and trouble. And being from the south, I know about trouble. And interesting characters. There’s one on every bus, train, checkout line and street corner. Archetypes are leading families, having children, defending criminals, breaking into houses at night, toiling under the hood of a car, and preaching in pulpits. Writers need tragedy, comedy, crisis and peculiar characters and the South has an abundance of all of these, but we don’t have the franchise on them.

While I’m certain every area of the world has a plethora of archetypes, I am not steeped in other cultures as I am in my own.

But each of us has our share of Heroes, Tricksters, Gatekeepers and Mentors. And of course there are some Evil Ones. We cannot abandon our history, our stories, like we abandon old clothing, shedding it and thinking we can move forward and not be bound by the emotions, tensions, memories, passions and instincts that never leave us. In the dreamwork that I do, I teach that as a rule every person and every thing in your dream is a part of you. Deep within our unconscious, the above characters reside. I believe this is a major reason why southerners love to write. We have all these characters in our families. We know them.

About the writing process, E. M. Forster writes:
“In the creative state a man is taken out of himself. He lets down as it were a bucket into his subconscious, and draws up something which is normally beyond his reach. He mixes this thing with his normal experiences and out of the mixture he makes a work of art.”   

    The Novels of E.M. Forster, by Avtar Singh

This is what we do when we dream – or when we write from what Robert Olen Butler calls the dreamspace.   We dip down into our unconscious and pull up memories we had long forgotten, and symbols and images from the collective unconscious of the world. As a fiction writer, I use some of these elements in creating scenes, character development and plot.

One of my novel manuscripts is based on a dream I had about a Black man who tended elephants. There was a little girl of about 8 years old standing nearby.  Using Active Imagination, I carried that dream forward into a dialogue, then a story, when I realized they had much more to say.  This story developed into a 100,000-word novel with those two characters as the Hero and the Mentor. Another dream included a rickety old bridge, and two brothers, and evolved into a short story about a murder. As I begin writing my dreams, the stories unfold and I am compelled to speak for those who appear (or disappear), to tell their stories, to shout for them, “Tell them I was here”.

Of the 45 or so short stories I have written, I would guess at least half began as a dream. Stories of comedy, tragedy, and stories of the hero’s journey, which are the stories of our own lives. We each have our own hero’s journey, and we each have a story to tell, with all the trials and trouble that life brings to our doors.


The best book on archetypes and story structure for me has been The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters, by Christopher Vogler. I have used it for years. The basic outline is below.

“The Hero’s Journey” Outline:

1.   THE ORDINARY WORLD.  The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma.  The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history.  Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress.
2.   THE CALL TO ADVENTURE.  Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change. 
3.   REFUSAL OF THE CALL.  The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly.  Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
4.   MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.  The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.  Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.
5.   CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.  At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values. 
6.   TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES.  The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.
7.   APPROACH.  The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.
8.   THE ORDEAL.  Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear.  Out of the moment of death comes a new life
9.  THE REWARD.  The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.
10. THE ROAD BACK.  About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission.
11. THE RESURRECTION.  At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.
12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR.  The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

The hero’s journey, once more:  The hero is introduced in his ORDINARY WORLD where he receives the CALL TO ADVENTURE.  He is RELUCTANT at first to CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD where he eventually encounters TESTS, ALLIES and ENEMIES.  He reaches the INNERMOST CAVE where he endures the SUPREME ORDEAL.  He SEIZES THE SWORD or the treasure and is pursued on the ROAD BACK to his world.  He is RESURRECTED and transformed by his experience.  He RETURNS to his ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or ELIXIR to benefit his world.


What is your own “Hero’s Journey”? What was it like on the road back? And which of your own dreams have inspired you to write?

Writing & Race: Black Men, Cubans and Gypsies are Living in My Head!

Two of my novels include a Black man as the protagonist. In a meeting a few weeks ago, I overheard the statement that Anglos cannot write about Black people because they don’t have the experience and knowledge base.
I suppose the statement above would apply to my writing about Asians, Swedes or Native Americans or any other culture of which I am not a part.  I understand the point and agree that there are many compelling arguments for and against writing from the viewpoint of a cultural identity that is not one’s own.  On the other hand, when writing fiction, isn’t that what writers do as they get into the minds and lives of their characters? The statement became more and more absurd to me as I thought about the classics. But it called me to look at my own writing and why I write about the characters that are in my own stories. 
My desire here is not to haggle about whether or not I know enough about the cultures that I write about to include them in my novels and stories, but to look at the larger picture of the basic human condition with our imperfections, inadequacies, hopes, dreams and fears.  A writer must explore the questions of what is common to every family, every woman every man, every child.  What are our common bonds, and how do we strive to rise above adversity? What forms us at human beings, and what is our deepest yearning? I believe every human being comes into this world with unlimited potential, and then the world gets hold of us and leads us on our own hero’s journey. I believe each of us has an innate desire to do good and to try our best. I do not believe these traits are restricted to only one culture.  I believe hope and determination are what we all hold onto, no matter what class or culture society wants to drop us into. And some in our culture are not so nice.
I think that blanket statements like the one I first mentioned only tend to marginalize us and polarize us from one another.  Because to jump right to the conjecture that the inability of one person or another to write about another race is the norm is to not only miss the larger picture of our cultural need to love one another by understanding one another, but also to dismiss the great novelists of the world.
I have lived in the South my entire life and can write from the perspective of a southerner. No, it’s not always about race. But to leave race out of in my fiction is to deny my own history. My experiences with others of differing cultural backgrounds is part of what compels me to write. My interactions with African-Americans has been life-long.  No, I can never in reality get inside the head of a Black man and know his thoughts. Oh, but I can in my writing. I have a couple of Black men living in my head who wanted their stories told. I also have gypsies, mechanics, and a couple of Cubans living in there that have been transferred to the page.  I believe I present their stories with honor and honesty. If they were real live people they may or may not think so, especially if they are characters who behave badly. Ah, then comes the time for redemption. Or not.
If writers only wrote from their own perspective, only a tri-racial person could have written Huckleberry Finn.  And what about gender? Some of the best novels I’ve read are written by men using female protagonists. Wally Lamb immediately comes to mind as a contemporary writer who uses female protagonists. And then there’re religious denominations, professions, and endless other plot twists and turns that writers use for their characters.  Of course, there is a ton of bad writing in the universe to back up the argument that a writer shouldn’t write about something they know nothing about. To fully develop our characters writers simply must do our research. Writers cannot write without doing our homework. In a sense, we must become the characters we write about, immerse ourselves in their worlds.
I don’t think the argument is a matter of writing from another perspective; it’s a matter of bad writing or good writing. Writers are chameleons who can be any thing and any body. That is one of the pleasures and joys of writing, to get into that dream state of becoming our characters, seeing the world through their eyes, and revealing that world to our readers, while the newspapers pile up at our doors, while the outside world lives in chaos, and while characters keep developing themselves in our writing, telling us their troubles, their yearnings, and where they want to go.
What is your experience in writing from other cultural perspectives?

Unknowing Agents of Inspiration

Susan Cushman’s post,  Getting Saved, Sex and Writing over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, inspired me this morning. Susan writes of a teacher who put masking tape over her mouth to stop her from talking. Her words sparked memories of my own childhood. I am an extreme introvert, although not shy. My elementary school was Walthall School in Hattiesburg, MS. When I asked a question or made a statement as a child it was usually a well-thought out sentence so as not to embarrass myself. In 4th grade I have this vivid memory of having not heard the page number leaning over to ask a classmate what page we should be reading. When I leaned back into my own desk, here comes the teacher stomping towards me, yelling at me. I am terrified. She grabs my little desk with her big hands and shoves it back against the wall.  The impact jolts my tiny 9-year old body so much I can still feel my skin shudder.

I don’t think I uttered another word until I graduated. There have been other agents of energy (this is being kind) who tried to stop me from writing and talking in addition to that fourth grade teacher. In ninth grade, we had an assignment in English Class to write a persuasive letter to someone. I have no memory of whom I wrote my letter to or what I was trying to persuade them to do, but I have a strong memory of what my teacher said about my letter as she read it to the entire class. Shame invaded my life and still lives rent-free in my brain.

Growing up in the south, we have certain words that are part of our language, our vernacular. We use these words in our homes, in our businesses and in personal conversations.  I won’t bore you with the specifics, but I had used several of these words in my assigned letter. The teacher read my letter and snickers echoed off the walls as my classmates listened. She waved the letter in the air and shouted that one does not use such language. I was humiliated. I did not write another thing until I graduated. Except in my personal journals that I kept since elementary school.

As a young bride living in New Jersey in the early 70s I got a part-time job as a typist at a company called Myron Sugarman International.  They manufactured gaming machines for casinos.  I typed letters from the Dictaphone. The men who dictated those letters were all fast talkers. Too fast for me. Well, that was New Jersey, and those accents, you can imagine, were strange for a young girl from Mississippi. I tried to slow down the machine so I could understand what the men said, and I strained to listen. I did my best. The words I couldn’t understand I just made something up that fit what I discerned the letter was about.  Every letter came back with red marks. I tried to explain that I could not understand their accents. They laughed. They did not have an accent – it was me! People in the office asked me questions just to hear me talk.  I was so embarrassed I shut up and quit the job.

But I continued writing in my journals. I made up characters, settings, descriptions. Years later, in a fit of anger, my now ex-husband threw all my journals, around 30 or them, in the Ross Barnett Reservoir. I guess he thought I was writing about him. All those stories now sleep with the fishes.

Writing was mandatory in college classes of course, so I tip-toed around those words that one does not use and was awarded some scholarship dollars to Millsaps College in Jackson, MS based on my writing. I was finally set free.

Now I come to today, and I am like an addict who goes on a binge, wakes up 5 hours later and wonders where the time went. The newspaper is still in the yard, the dust has gathered on the coffee table, phone calls go unanswered, and my FaceBook status is non-existent.  That is how it is when I am writing. Time stands still.

My husband Robert comes home and knows I am writing and leaves me alone. He encourages me. He understands.

Who were/are, in spite of themselves, your unknowing agents of energy and inspiration to keep writing

The Edgy God.

So many of our great fiction writers have described God in ways that are quite moving. Frederick Buechner has done a fantastic job, as have many southern writers of fiction. I love Wendell Berry. Whenever I need a boost out of a rut, I read Berry’s poetry, or scan one of his novels for passages that I have marked. The other day I was looking for a narrative section on what God is like. These words jar me from my complacency and begin my thought processes anew. I found it . . . by Wendell Berry: The speaker is Jayber Crow in Berry’s wonderful novel of the same name:

“For a while again I couldn’t pray. I didn’t dare to. In the most secret place of my soul I wanted to beg the Lord to reveal himself in power. I wanted to tell him that it was time for his coming. If there was anything at all to what he had promised, why didn’t he come in glory with angels and lay his hands on the hurt children and awaken the dead soldiers and restore the burned villages and the blasted and poisoned land? Why didn’t he cow our arrogance?… But thinking such things was as dangerous as praying them. I knew who had thought such things before: “Let Christ the king of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Where in my own arrogance was I going to hide? Where did I get my knack for being a fool? If I could advise God, why didn’t I just advise him (like our great preachers and politicians) to be on our side and give us victory? I had to turn around and wade out of the mire myself. Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave. And why not otherwise? Wouldn’t it have put fine comical expressions on the faces of the scribes and the chief priests and the soldiers if at that moment he had come down in power and glory? Why didn’t he do it? Why hasn’t he done it at any one of a thousand good times between then and now? I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it. He didn’t, he hasn’t, because from the moment he did, he would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be his slaves. Even those who hated him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to him and he to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended. And so, I thought, he must forebear to reveal his power and glory by presenting himself as himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of his creatures. Those who wish to see him must see him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world.”

That God is present in the “ordinary miracle of the existence of his creatures” gives me comfort. Where is God present for you?

What a Character!

In her post, Memoir: Turning Yourself into a Character, author Nanci Panuccio says, “Memoir is character-based non-fiction. As obvious as this might sound, what’s often missing in an early draft of memoir is the narrator’s engagement with his or her own story. Observers by nature, writers sometimes tell their story as witness rather than participant.”

In my fiction writing, my characters are composites of real people as well as people that I imagine in my head. I can lay on anyone certain hand gestures, the way they may smoke a cigarette, or sip their coffee. The way someone speaks to another, how they inflect their voice, can tell the reader a lot about that character. The clothes they wear, internal thoughts. But how do we create ourselves as characters? Is it much the same process?

In thinking about this, I realize that my own self-perception is different than others’ perception of me, and I am in a sense a ‘witness’ to my own life. How observant, how involved am I really in being conscious of the minute details of my own mannerisms, my own voice tone, my own way of walking? Perhaps I should ask others about their memories and interpretations of my hand gestures, my speaking voice, or what my movements might infer. How do you create yourself as a character, and how real can “you” be?