Sunday ROW80 check-in and this week’s inspirational quote

This week’s word count is a whopping 958 words. Sadly short of my target of 3,000, but it’s better than nothing. Slightly disappointing, but hopefully next week is better.

I had to take a writing hiatus late last year (I know, boo!), so I’m still getting back into the groove. Normally, I aim for about 7,000 per week, but I’m also blogging now—and still finding my new routine for 2012. Since one of my goals for this year is not to burn out, I don’t see myself shooting for 7K/week anytime soon.

I blogged Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, so I met my goal of posting three times per week.

Today, I’m off to clean my apartment, which desperately needs it. In addition to the normal vacuuming and dusting, I’m considering doing a brief space-cleansing ritual to officially ring in the New Year. Before I go, here’s some inspiration for your week. The pic is from a place I used to live: a lovely little farm near the river, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Enjoy!

What about you? Did you meet your goals? Surpass them? Or are you still working your way up?

mountain trail; property of the author (Janelle Madigan)“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way, and not starting.” —Buddha

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Yet another confession from a lifelong paranormal junkie: I used to be a vampire slayer.

This is how much of a dork I am: When my brother, cousin, and I were younger (I’d so, oh, about ages 10-11), we started our own vampire-slaying business.

Buffy

Okay, so I was no Buffy...

The trouble had started long before then. It started as an innocent interest in fireside ghost stories and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and progressed to an addiction to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. In the years to come, I’d discover his Fear Street series and the works of L.J. Smith, and my obsession would be solidified for life. But once my brother and I started buying up books about vampires, zombies, and other bump-in-the-night phantasms and creatures, we knew that there was only one solution. Vampires couldn’t just roam the streets of our town, preying on unsuspecting old ladies who mistook them for encyclopedia salesmen or on giggling teenagers completely unaware of the dangers that lurked in the dark recesses of the high school gymnasium. Did I mention we were Buffy fans? (The movie, that is. My addiction to Joss Whedon’s works for television came later.)

And so Vampires Inc. was born. Armed with freshly gathered stakes, cloves of garlic, and jars of “holy water,” we were at your service, ready to meet any and all of your vampire-slaying needs. We even wrote a manifesto including tips for how to protect oneself against the pale-skinned, smooth-talking undead. (In my defense, we didn’t have cable, and this was in the days before Internet. We had to do something to keep ourselves entertained.)

Eventually, our mother made us take down the “vampires not invited” sign from the front door, our dog chewed up all of our stakes, and we moved on to less lofty endeavors. But I can’t help but think that somehow, it’s all my brother and cousin’s fault that I became an incurable geek with an insatiable interest in the strange and unusual. Thanks, guys.

Are you a writer or fan of the paranormal or fantastic? When did this interest take hold for you? Please share your story below.

Side note: Free stuff! Something about autumn makes me feel generous. Must be all the candied apples. 🙂 I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card. Click here to enter. And my crit partner Kathleen Foucart is offering two chances to win a free first-chapter critique. Click here to find out how to enter.

Magic and the word: Why I write paranormal and fantasy

Every day that I sit down to write, I find myself swept up in the magic. The sheer act of writing is magic in itself; the same energy that flows through me when I read tarot cards or weave a spell also takes over when I conjure a story.

And every word that I write, every character I meet, every story I tell, I know that the magic belongs. I am meant to write paranormal and fantasy fiction. Whether it’s faeries or ghosts, urban or earthy, I know that the magic that weaves itself into my stories is a part of me. It belongs in my life and in the lives of my characters.

I’ve always believe in possibilities. As a child, I was fascinated by witches and wizards, ghosts and goblins, wee folk and nature spirits. Nature hummed with more songs than the birds could tell, more energy than a swollen spring creek could carry. That was the first magic I ever knew. Soon, that magic would find its way to my stories—whether they were the stories of warrior princesses, lost unicorns, or witches who’d newly discovered their powers. In my childhood, everything from a dusty book or painting found in the attic to the spiritual energy of the forest to an old abandoned building in the city seemed full of potential stories. And that hasn’t changed. Stories continue to pop out of the woodwork. And every time, magic plays a role.

As a kid, I was fascinated by witches. Not the Wicked Witch of the West cackling kind, but the wise woman, oracle in the woods sort of witches—wise women who heard the earth, who lived close to nature and listened to its sorrows and songs, who understood the ways of plants, animals, and stars.

In college, I found my way to a nature-based spiritual path and realized that my fascination with those cottage-dwelling wise women wasn’t solely reserved for my fiction. Understanding the sacred symbolism of plants, trees, crystals, and animals can be a part of our everyday lives. Today, I surround myself with items that bring to mind the beauty of nature and of spirit and the potential of magic in our lives.

My stories don’t necessarily reflect my own magical practice. My characters can read thoughts, teleport, or have visions of the past or future. Their magic is part of the story, of the worlds I’ve created and discovered in my fiction. I have several friends who write magical realism and incorporate subtle elements of the fantastic into their characters’ stories without entering realms that echo the medieval-esque fantasy of Tolkien, Le Guin, or World of Warcraft, or the urban/paranormal bent of Kelley Armstrong or Yasmine Galenorn.

In each story I write, every word is wrapped up in magic. The fairy tales and folk tales I soaked up in my youth infuse my fiction. The magic of my real life inspires and is inspired by the magic of my worlds.

My soul is fed by the magic I believed in and discovered as a child and by the magic I discover each day—whether outside my window in the rain, birdsongs, or mystery of the trees; or in the windows to other worlds my stories open…

The curtains dance madly, thrashing in the wind. Outside the window, rain pours and storm howls. A wild witch with knowledge of stars and shadows awaits us, stirring her cauldron, ready to share secrets and inspiration if only we’re willing to drink her dark brew. Like the brew of Cerridwen’s cauldron, each drop is pure, undiluted poetry, the gift of the bard.

Writers venture into the stormy night on a quest for stories. Every story, paranormal or not, hums with Cerridwen’s magic. If you write about magic, what inspires you? Why do you write about the paranormal or the fantastic?

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Upcoming contest: I’m celebrating the magic of the fall season with my upcoming “Autumn Reads” contest. Join me on my WordPress blog starting on Friday, Sept. 23, to kick off the season and enter the contest for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Going confidently in the direction of your dreams (even if you must occasionally proceed in the dark)

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau ranks high on my list of inspirational people. His writings on anything from civil disobedience to simplicity to living close to nature always stir something in me.

I am and always have been a nature freak. I believe that trees have beautiful, old souls, and that when we work close to the earth, we can hear the magic that hums in its veins—that hums, too, in our veins. When I was a kid, I used to dream of having a small cabin in the woods, of waking to watch deer just footsteps from my door, of always living immersed in nature. While most kids were playing video games, I was identifying flora and fauna. (To be fair, I grew up on a farm with two brothers who hogged the Nintendo controllers and with no cable television.)

In my early 20s, I lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere for a year. I wrote most of my master’s thesis there, with the company of my cats, my beagle, and a nosy horse in need of a personality transplant. I now enjoy my life in town, which, fortunately, features plenty of green space and trees, lots of squirrels, and the occasional deer. (Oh, and lattes.) But Thoreau’s quotes continue to resonate in me, and they resonate in my work.

I was trying to explain paranormal romance to someone who’d never read the genre. On the fly, the best I could come up with was, “Think Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He smiled in amusement and said, “I can’t picture you writing anything like Buffy.” He didn’t mean it as a diss. Buffy and Angel aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a soft-spoken, skinny five-foot-tall woman.

I don’t think my explanation helped the other person understand what I write and why I write. Thoreau also said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And there’s plenty of desperation in the world. Maybe by writing I’m trying to stave off a type of quiet desperation, unleashing my inner artist, feeding my soul. And I want to give the world some faith, something to believe in. Artists seek out the beauty in the world. Maybe we draw it out; maybe we cling to it. Or maybe we just find ways to let it shine through. I do know that writing makes me a better person, a deeper person, a more spiritual person.

My husband and I just did one of our periodic “this life in review” sessions. One thing we both want immensely is to buy a house. I want a garden that’s not a couple of terracotta pots on our cramped balcony, and we both want a place we can make our own. Having our own washer and dryer that don’t require quarters and not having to listen to the neighbors playing indoor hockey (that’s what I assume they were doing) would be added perks. And as thoughts of houses and mortgage payments took root, a voice inside me questioned if I shouldn’t be dedicating more of my pursuits to a more solid career, something more secure.

But I don’t believe to do that would be to go confidently in the direction of my dreams. We will own that house we dream of, a place for our family to grow, for our animals to play and for us to tend a garden, to paint the walls any damn color we please (okay, I do that anyway, but I have to paint it all back to plain old white when I move). And we’ve found plenty of happiness, good memories, and magic here in this apartment. A house can certainly be a symbol, a milestone, but it’s one part of the journey.

Even if I consult my tarot deck from time to time, I can’t see into the future, determine what choices I’ll make, where my path will lead. Faith in ourselves, in our dreams, in our goals, in whatever higher powers we believe in, those things must carry us forward. We can’t ask for certainty.

We can build, step by step, choice by choice, and word by word, a life that we’ve imagined.

Namaste.

Celebrating bookworms everywhere! (a.k.a., why the book-lovers community is awesome)

There was a period in my life, right after grad school (where I’d earned my M.F.A. in children’s lit, fully intending to write novels), when I tried to convince myself that I could lead a fulfilling life without writing fiction.

I’d managed to find a day job that provided an outlet for my creative nature and my writing skills. Working at a magazine, I have plenty of time to write and edit, to brainstorm, to talk with photographers and designers and other editors and share creative ideas. I count myself as extremely fortunate in this respect. So I hadn’t actually stopped writing, per se.

But, in the overwhelming time period when I was trying to find my place in a new career, in a time when my life was changing and occasionally turning upside-down, I rationalized that writing fiction wasn’t actually necessary for my happiness.

Fellow writers, could you live without your craft? I found I couldn’t stay away for long. Books have too much of a draw for me.

For me, the drive to write is twofold.  It’s the thrill of creating stories, from the initial inspiration to the toil of writing to the meticulous revisions that follow.

It’s also the community. True readers are passionate about books, about characters and worlds and plots. Authors are the same, with so many of us dedicated to advancing the craft, sharing our journeys, our work, our stumbling points, our tricks of the trade, with the larger writer community. Newbies eagerly seek guidance. Pros graciously give it. This wonderful relationship with fellow writers and with fellow fans of literature is a huge draw for me.

Book-fever is contagious, and once caught, it’s a chronic condition. We feed off each other’s enthusiasm, and I couldn’t let go of that part of my life. It wasn’t enough to write magazine articles, or just to read novels at night. Every time I read, I knew I had to write. I loved storytelling too much to let go.

Ultimately, I couldn’t stop writing fiction. I made sacrifices in other areas of my life—working part-time instead of full-time, deciding not to pursue a Ph.D., putting my work as a poet aside to carve out time for my stories and characters.

The result? Totally. Freaking. Worth. It.

One day, my work will be out in the world in some fashion. (Call that faith in my own persistence.) 😉 I’m psyched for that day, not for any potential accolades or attention, but because the act of sharing stories is amazing to me. Weaving a tale from nothing and sharing it with others is the ultimate dream. It’s toiling over the soil all spring and summer, only to share the harvest with others (Eating alone is no fun.). The enthusiasm of the writer and reader community—the blogs, sites like Goodreads, the book clubs, the gatherings in libraries or bookstores, the energetic conversations about books—is contagious.

I love books; I love talking about them and creating them. Through my fellow bookworms, I’ve discovered so many authors whose work I admire and can’t put down. I eagerly await their next book releases. Today, I’m taking a moment to thank readers and writers everywhere for their shared passion about books—to creating and reading them, and to the conversations fueled by those stories. Thanks for the inspiration, everyone.

What do you love most about our book-lovers community? Have you met anyone recently who’s turned you on to a particular author or book? What have you learned that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise?

Confessions of a self-actualization junkie:

Some people want to climb the corporate ladder. Me? I just want to get to the top of Maslow’s pyramid-shaped hierarchy of needs.

Maybe it all started in psych 101, the first time I saw that pyramid. The truth is that I’ve always wanted to become the best possible version of myself, ever since I was a little girl writing in her journal and sitting in the forest, pondering the meaning of life. I knew from a young age that I wanted something different out of my life, something that didn’t even seem like a possibility at the time. I couldn’t see what I wanted, but I knew it was out there.

I am introspective by default, critical by nature, and so analytical I’m surprised smoke doesn’t occasionally pour out of my ears. I assess, I reassess, and I take careful steps. Sure, I leave space in my life for play and spontaneity, but I am so goal-driven that it can be, quite frankly, detrimental. I’ve worked myself so hard, burnt the candle at both ends, that I’ve run myself into the ground before. And even that I analyzed until I’d seen each slide of my decisions under the microscope.

I meditate, do yoga, read Martha Beck articles on Oprah.com, do numerology, read up about my astrological sign, Feng Shui my home so often I’ve earned the right to use Feng Shui as a verb, and frequently peruse books by Deepak Chopra. I know my Myers-Briggs personality type (INFJ, the idealist or protector, and the rarest type). We’re dreamers, but we’re also hard-nosed. We love goals. Repeat: Love. Goals. Personalitypage.com writes of the INFJ:

INFJs place great importance on having things orderly and systematic in their outer world. They put a lot of energy into identifying the best system for getting things done and constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives. On the other hand, INFJs operate within themselves on an intuitive basis [that] is entirely spontaneous. They know things intuitively, without being able to pinpoint why, and without detailed knowledge of the subject at hand.

Do you know your Myers-Briggs type? How does your Myers-Briggs type influence your approach to your goals?

Read more about how I’m fumbling my way toward self-actualization…

A dose of inspiration: Why writers need to remain in tune with their inner selves

  “You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every
moment of your life.”

–Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Once upon a time, I was a messy-haired girl who rejoiced in the feeling of mud squishing between my toes. I sang impromptu, horridly off-key songs in my backyard. And hours of my time were spent in fern-filled forests of home, making up my stories or pondering the meaning of life.

I’m twenty-seven. What happened to that little girl?

Yeah, she grew up. Somehow, that happens, and while we remember some of the moments with painful clarity—the guy who broke your heart, or standing beside the grave of someone you loved and realizing that person is no longer there to guide you, or chastising yourself when the credit card bill comes and you realize there’s no one but you to pay it—a lot of growing up is gradual and unrecognized.

I love adulthood. I love the freedom of making my own decisions. I could move to Texas or to France if I wanted. If I want to draw on the walls in marker, I can. Of course, I’d be the one to go to the store, buy paint, and paint over it myself, and I recognize that I’m no Picasso, so I refrain from the creation of murals. Being an adult, for all of its hectic, non-stop insanity, is good.

But not that long ago, I had a realization. I occasionally feel homesick, not for the house where I grew up, but for the woods where I first realized I wanted to be a storyteller and a writer, where I first found a connection to nature and spirituality that would drive the person I would become. When I meditate, I often imagine walking in those very woods because they are a part of my deep self. I’m more real there than anywhere else. And that’s when it hit me. Something was missing.

That something was me. Me, being the person I wanted to be, not to impress or please anyone else. I’m not talking about irresponsibility, about immaturity, about selfishness. But our lives are our own. As children, we recognize that. We know we don’t want steamed peas and no, daddy, we’re not going to eat them. We hate that ugly hat Aunt Edna bought us. But sometimes as grown-ups we’re so busy pleasing everyone else that we forget to tune in to the voice that knows what we really want. When we silence that voice, we open a door to unhappiness. And we put up barriers between our “talking selves” and the writer we’re meant to be, the stories we’re meant to write.

How we remain in touch with the deep self and our sources of inspiration

Wondrously formed:

“I have found when I tried or looked deeper inside/ What appears unadorned might be wondrously formed.” ~ Carrie Newcomer, “Geodes

I reached a point today in revising where the story just opened up; it let me in. I always talk about finding the heart of the story, the place where it sings. I caught a hint of that melody today. I’ve always known it was there in this story. My main characters, Zoe and Blake, are the kind of people who’ve had to keep a lot of their emotions and struggles on the inside. Zoe in particular isn’t good at being vulnerable and letting anyone in. Yes, sometimes me included. So when the story opened up tonight, even if I don’t have the plot hammered out, I found the haunting music of their story.

And isn’t looking inside, looking deeper, what being a writer is all about? Journalists dig for facts; poets search for images in the everyday. Storytellers, we’re all searching for heart, for meaning. Our characters change during the course of the story. But so does the writer. I don’t think I’m the same person at the end of the story as I am at the beginning. I’ve always known the characters change, the story changes, the words on the page are changed again and again. But the personal transformation of the artist. I’ve known it was there. Tonight I’m very aware of how my characters and their tale are affecting me–not just as a writer, but as a person.

I’m almost afraid to say it. It’s like a dream that might slip back into the fog; a butterfly landing on an outstretched hand. I don’t want to scare the story away. But it’s those moments that remind me why I’m a writer. They remind me of the kind of person I am. Someone who’s always looking for meaning in the world around me. Not larger-than-life meaning. But the things that give life meaning. A grandmother’s kitchen. An old love letter. An inside joke. A place that brings back a hint of a memory we can’t quite recall.

I’ve been told I like “sad” things. My husband just mentioned it today, as we were listening to the song above. Sad songs, sad books, sad movies: He’s not the first one to say it. Which I find odd, because I don’t think I like sad things. I love beauty. I love things with spirit, and meaning, and depth. I like to look down into the deep places of my soul. That’s where art comes from. That’s where love comes from.

Yes, I, too, have found that what appears unadorned might be wondrously formed. The simplest words can make magic when they come together in just the right way. A few brush strokes can make us feel something we can’t even identify. The perfect image can break us and make us whole at the same time.

The story I’m writing has a long way to go. Some days I’ll feel in tune with it. Other days I might feel as though I’m trying to pick the lock or use a battering ram to break in. Somewhere inside is the place where my characters are changing. And finding that place, I think, will change me as well.

Here are some of the lyrics to "Geodes," if anyone is interested:

In pockets of silence: Yoga, stillness, and making art

“Every day the sun rises/ out of low word-clouds/ into burning silence.”–Rumi, “Secret Places”

Writers, like the lovers in Rumi’s poem Secret Places, also often dwell in secret, silent places. As writers, we have an intimate relationship with language. Yet it’s what is beyond the words that matters; it’s the evocation of emotion in the reader that gives art meaning. As Ursula K. Le Guin puts it, “The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words.”

I’m thinking about this because last night, after a long hiatus, I came back to my yoga practice. My hamstrings were tight, and there were a couple surprise moments where I realized how much tension I’d been carrying around with me. It’s the letting go, the paying attention to the silent tension in our bodies and releasing it into relaxation, that makes yoga so wonderful for mind, body, and spirit. We’re all carrying things we didn’t realize we were carrying. In yoga, we feel the weight of each thing, each tight muscle, each pocket of unacknowledged stress, and we work toward letting it go. At the end of my practice, I felt calmer, lighter, and grateful. Yoga practices, composed of studied poses, bring us to awareness and to stillness. Through movement, we make our way to stillness and repose.

I see yoga practice as a form of composition; if not its own art form, yoga is at least linked to my artist craft. Writing is about finding stillness and silence, and listening. It seems strange that a 95,000-word novel, with all of the energy and the flurry of activity that goes into its creation, is made up of so much listening, of so many moments of quietude.

The words are there. We’re just listening for them. We are scribes in the truest sense of the word. Someone else is talking; we’re just jotting down what they say. I don’t “create” my characters. I’m not even sure I find them. I believe they find me.

There’s so much talking in the world. A student of rhetoric, I’m fascinated by the way we make meaning, by the way we reason and debate, and by the way we communicate our ideas and beliefs to each other. It’s everywhere, in newspapers and shopping malls, in conversations in our homes and Starbucks and around the water cooler. We are creatures of meaning, and I could spend the rest of my life trying to understand how we make meaning—or how we find it.

But I don’t believe writers get to make meaning. I think we share stories. It’s up to communities of readers and individual readers to find the meaning in a story or a poem. The writer’s idea of what something means carries as much weight as each reader’s; it’s the writer’s interpretation of his or her own work as read through the writer’s eyes (the writer-reader). I’m so eager to send stories out into the world because it’s there they find their voice. Art is meant to be shared.

But it’s always the silence that I come back to, searching for the words that, if I cup an ear and stay still, will find their way to me. The notes are already there, humming in the air around me. I find a place of stillness and repose, and I listen. And then I write the songs of my characters. It’s their words, their melodies I’m writing. They are the singers. I’m just the scribe.

Here’s to a little Svasana to help us find our way back to our center and ourselves. Namaste.

Ren Faires and Imagination:

I spent yesterday in a world full of lords, ladies, and even the occasional faerie. It was great to be transported to another world, a fantasy world that blends our fascination with the Renaissance era of royalty and peasantry, with the modern conveniences of our society. We’re willing to readily overlook that they didn’t wear Nike shoes, drink Pepsi and strawberry daiquiris, or eat tacos in the Europe of ages long past. We get the privilege of showing skin, including our tattoos of pentacles, dragons, crosses, roses, etc. proudly showcasing our nostril, eyebrow, and lip piercings, without the dark shadow of religious persecution hanging over our heads. In other words, we get to fulfill our fantasies of living in Shakespeare’s world while still embracing all of the liberties and conveniences of the 21st century.

Like Disney World without the rides, Renaissance Faires provide us with some of that “good, cheesy fun”, a place where even grown-ups get to let their imaginations run wild for a day. From glass-blowing and iron-forging demonstrations, from a man who swallows a two-foot sword to a game with human chess pieces who duke it out on a life-sized chessboard, we let go of our big screen TVs and air-conditioned homes for a while. I hardly saw anyone texting–which is rare because, really, when are we not texting? It’s immediate and convenient, a prime example of just how fast modern life moves. At the Faire, jousting, swordplay, pirates and knights are all there, consuming our attention, and we get to be something we’re not–or, perhaps, something we are. Continue reading