Carol Berg: The Right Words As Carol Berg puts it, the difference that a single word can make is “pretty amazing.” And Carol should know. She has written 15 epic fantasy novels that have won national and international awards, including three Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. Her stories have…
The recent Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs was a wakeup call for me. My conference notebook is filled with ideas and inspiration. Every presentation and panel I attended gave me at least a couple of A-ha! moments.
The most powerful of these moments was when Bob Mayer, during his presentation on the writing process, gave us this advice:
Profile yourself for twenty-four hours, and ask yourself, “Is this the kind of person who will succeed as a writer?”
The floor dropped from under me. I knew the answer to this question without having to profile myself. It was the wrong answer.
I’ve been lazy. Depressed. Discouraged. I’m hearing the same from writers on all fronts, and from non-writers, too. The state of our world frightens us. It’s difficult to focus or motivate ourselves.
Yet, I don’t want to quit. Some small part of me knows we need fiction now more than ever, to escape into sometimes, yes. But also to showcase what’s wrong with our world, and what’s right. To fuel imagination, because without imagination, we are lost. We can’t make a better future if we can’t imagine it.
Stories are our links to one another. A world without stories would be worse than a world without color. Without stories, we are flesh robots. Without stories, our existence is a bleak science fiction, a world that needs saving from itself.
So it’s important, what I do—telling stories. I want to succeed at it, again and again. All these emotions and habits that keep me from it are my enemies, as long as I allow them to separate me from my writing.
If I chose a random 24-hour period over the past few months, even years, to profile myself and ask Bob Mayer’s question, the answer would likely be no. This is not the kind of person who will succeed as a writer. My time focused on my stories has been far outweighed by my time turning my back on them.
Maybe blogs are a thing of the past. I haven’t seen many posts lately. They’re probably all going to my junk mail due to my lack of response to them. But blog posts are tools to keep writing, to lead into stories, to sharpen my senses and my prose. To hone my instincts.
Beginning on January 13th, 2014 (Was it really that long ago?) and ending on January 13th, 2015, I posted 13 blogs, one on the 13th of each month.
It’s the 13th again.
I am back.
Let’s talk about writer friends.
As the current Membership Chair of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, I’m occasionally asked to talk about the benefits of joining RMFW. The benefit I’m most passionate about is not an automatic perk like access to critique groups or discounted class and conference fees. It’s a bonus you must work for.
What’s the statistic—seventy-five percent of writers are introverts? Ninety percent? Like most of us, I was once that writer who talked to a few people at conference, exchanged info, and maybe sent an email or maybe not. I did this for years, making a couple of friends. I joined a critique group. I was skimming the surface, trying to convince myself that I was immersed. But then I looked around.
Other writers at conference and events had little tribes. (Many of us on the outside called them cliques.) These folks were clearly good friends, with lots to talk to each other about, with history and shared interests. Real friends.
One might assume these groups of friends had known each other before they joined RMFW, Pikes Peak Writers, or Northern Colorado Writers, but as I began to ask questions, I found that was almost never the case. These folks had built their relationships after they joined. At one time, most of them had felt alone and awkward at member events. The thing about these people who had found their sub-tribes is that they didn’t give up and go home, lock themselves into their writing spaces, and call themselves isolated. They spent time with each other, even when it was at first uncomfortable.
It eventually came clear: To find my people, I had to talk to everyone, and really talk, listen to people and learn about them, and share myself. That last part was difficult at first.
But I did it. Sometimes terrified and almost always wishing I was at home curled around a book, I talked to everyone. (Some turned out to be a little weird-in-a-bad-way. Always be careful.)
I found my people. I’m still finding my people. My people are everywhere.
If you haven’t tried to reach out to other writers, do it. The friends you’ll find are precious. These are the people who will encourage you and commiserate with you and understand you when no one else does.
To me, the most important benefit of membership in a writers group is access to potential writer friends. You can’t have too many of these, I’m telling you. They will shove your worries into perspective when you’re feeling sorry for yourself. They’ll read that manuscript one more time, even though they’ve read four previous drafts. They’ll give you reality checks, cheer you on, and give you advice that’s relevant in ways advice from non-writers will never be.
Just make sure to return these favors when you can.
Rejoice in your writer friends. Tell them they’re your superstars. Buy them a drink of their choice.
Got any great writer friend stories? I’d love to hear them. I might even share one or two of my own.
This excerpt from author Keith Banner’s blog 2 +2=5 gracefully expresses what the loss of David Bowie means: “Bowie was a weirdo that somehow found a way to make weirdness majestic, worth putting up with. Of course it’s January when David Bowie dies. Cold silvery light, frosted-hard glass, that sense of loss locking into place: roads, tree-branches, ditches, power-lines. He was silvery like that somehow, frosty; you didn’t know him, you just experienced his atmosphere. That’s exactly how I remember him. Just enough cold to make you shiver, just enough strangeness to make you feel scared, just enough glamor to make you understand, just enough video to freak you out. Once somebody like him goes, you get what he means, and it’s startling. You’ve depended on his strangeness to get you through. I have. Truly. Depended on David Bowie’s oddness and fearlessness and creepiness, his shapeshiftingness, his ability to…
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Another great post from my favorite blog.
Ahhh. The Old Dark House is one one my favorites. Well-documented here.
‘s The Old Dark House (1932) might be seen as a companion piece to his Bride Of Frankenstein (1935). Both represent Whale at his most personal within the grand-guignol genre. While Bride Of Frankenstein is post-Production Code, so that it’s thinly disguised gay spirituality had to be delivered indirectly via myth, the pre-Code Old Dark House is awash with eccentric characters mocking dogmatic, false religious morality. Tackling hypocrisy within religion was a frequent theme with this director. Like , Whale applied the critique through cutting humor. However, as a Surrealist, naturally didn’t give a damn about the intended audience; Whale deliberately sought accessibility. As his character states in the biopic Gods And Monsters: “The trick is, not to spoil it for those who aren’t in on the joke.”
Both films are replete with Whale’s idiosyncratic humor. However, Whale’s British sensibilities are more pronounced in The…
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“It’s like boot camp for the psyche. In real life, human beings are packaged in the flimsiest of packages, threatened by real and sometimes horrifying dangers … But the narrative form puts these fears into a manageable series of events. It gives us a way of thinking rationally about our fears.”
Fear, as editor Josh Viola points out in the anthology Nightmares Unhinged, is human. “Evolution made us this way. Our brains are primed for it. It’s in our bones. Nightmares tap into our most basic emotions and force us to face them.”
It is time, as Viola writes, to get scared again.
Well—sort of. “Horror” is not exactly my thing so it’s very possible I don’t know what I’m talking about.
These are some grisly bits here but to my way of thinking Nightmares Unhinged,
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Absolutely love this.
According to Bela Lugosi‘s official bio, before coming to America he had been a star on the Hungarian stage, appearing in major Shakespeare productions. Several biographers, however, have disputed Lugosi’s “star” ranking during that period. It seems most of his roles had actually been small ones. Regardless, Lugosi enlisted in the Hungarian army during the First World War, was wounded several times, and later had to flee Hungary during a tumultuous political climate which was unfriendly to his leftist leanings. After a stay in Germany, Lugosi arrived penniless in the States. Eventually, he made his way to the New York stage and began appearing in plays and silent films. In 1927, Lugosi was cast in the role of Dracula in Hamilton Dean’s famous stage play. With that, Lugosi became a major star of the stage, and stardom brought him numerous female fans, including Clara Bow, with whom he had a brief affair.
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On the occasion of my thirteenth blog post, it is time for a list. The following thirteen things are dear to me as a writer. If you took any one away, who knows where I’d be?
- Computers/word processors. It’s a simple thing, but being able to move chunks of writing around on a manuscript is priceless. If I had to type on a typewriter, I’d probably still write, but I do love computers.
- Eyes that work. This might sound trite, but I mean it. I know sight-impaired people who do write, but I’m soooo grateful for my eyesight.
- A day job that pays the bills and still allows for writing time. I’ve been lucky.
- Parents and relatives who brought so many books into my life from pretty much day one. Special shout out to my Aunt Glenna, wherever she may be, who gave me a Dr. Seuss book for Christmas and my birthday for years. Also to Dan, who gave me my first Vonnegut book.
- Teachers and others who taught me. Not just about writing but about life and what it means to be a good human being. Some taught by example and others by patient instruction. Thank you for not giving up on me.
- My early friends. The ones who wanted me to tell them stories and were my first audience. Thank you for laughing, getting scared, and asking for more.
- Writer friends at all levels. I learn from and commiserate with you all. Only other writers truly get it.
- Non-writer friends who encourage me and keep asking me how the writing is going. Even when I seem bored talking about it, I do appreciate your asking.
- A life partner who cooks and does chores while I’m writing, who reminds me to eat and doesn’t grumble (much) when I jaunt off to retreats and conferences…constantly. Thanks, B.
- Critique partners who genuinely want me to succeed. I love you guys. A lot.
- Retreat friends. Ahhhh. The retreats. Possibly my favorite part of being a writer—writing from shortly after dawn until long after dark, eating and talking with other writers, total immersion. A big thank you to the retreat friends who took me in and the B&B folk who make it possible.
- Cats who know the #1 writer’s cat rule: No feets on keyboard. Good kitties.
- Writers organizations. Groups like Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Pikes Peak Writers, and Northern Colorado Writers have played the largest part in my becoming a writer, finding writing friends and critique partners, learning about the craft and the business of writing, introducing me to agents and editors, and boosting my confidence and motivation. Everyone involved in these groups rocks.
2014 was a wonderful writing year. Thank you to everyone who was a part of mine. Love and hugs!
For many of us, the time to set goals for the coming year is approaching. I tend to set my goals near the solstice. Something about the earth shifting the northern hemisphere back toward the sun jazzes me, whether I actually feel the shift or not. I have some of the usual goals for 2015: writing goals, which altered dramatically this year, allowing me to focus on a manuscript I’d thought was finished; workout goals, which died a horrible death in 2014. (Hello elliptical machine! Did you miss me?) But a new group of my goals for the next twelve months will orbit around letting go.
My mother-in-law called my husband several times over the past couple of weeks to wrangle gift wish-lists from us. I have mixed feelings about end-of-year gift giving. It is fun, but most people seem to end up with things they don’t wholly want or need. It makes me think of a book a friend recently suggested, structured around clearing out possessions, keeping only things that bring joy.
This idea intrigues me. While I periodically deep-clean my house, de-cluttering, packing up boxes to donate to ARC, I’ve never approached this ritual with such a specific criterion. The idea set down in the book is a familiar one: by clearing away objects that do not bring you joy, you’re not only happy-fying your home, you are making room for more joy and inviting more positivity and success in your life. A recent fortune cookie reminded me of a fine definition for luck: being prepared for success when it comes.
And not only objects are calling out for a clearing away in my life. Attitudes and habits bear examination. I recently allowed myself to be drawn into a couple of disputes on Facebook that wasted my time and energy and even hurt people. I have not been meditating or journaling enough, and I think it shows.
It will soon be a new year. I have a new datebook. I’m completing a huge writing project and have a new notebook, preparing to work on the next manuscript. Along with these, I will strive for a new viewpoint, a new approach, a new stance. A recent episode of Masterpiece Mystery had Sergeant Hathaway recognizing a marble bust of Euripides, who said, “Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.” They’re wise words, and words to ponder. Another wise person once wrote, “Babies, you’ve got to be kind.” I sometimes forget how true these words are.
So these are some of my new goals: to be kinder and listen more than I speak. I will stray from them, certainly. When I do, I hope to find my way back to them without damaging anyone.
Happy holidays, if you celebrate them. Happy solstice. I wish you all a new year filled with love and joy.