The Act of Finding

I figure, since I’m writing the last Scribes post for 2013, it’s sort of my DUTY to write the obligatory New Year’s thoughts and resolutions post.

Image by Sally Mahoney

I may not be the best person to be writing about 2013, though. In spite of reassurance from my friends and family, I look at 2013 as a bust. This was a tough year for me, and that toughness doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. But there’s something to simple difference of writing a new number at the end of dates that gives one a feeling of freshness and new beginning, and I’m damned ready for some new beginnings.

I have big plans for 2014. Not unrealistic plans, I hope, but plans. And I’d like to do some learning and growing along the way. They may be cheesy and abused, but resolutions are a good tool to help one do some of that growing.

I looked up “resolution” in the dictionary, and discovered that it has, well, pardon my French, a shit-ton of meanings. Aside from the standard “something that is resolved, i.e. when one makes a definite and serious decision to do something,” resolution can mean, “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc. : the act of resolving something,” or, “an answer or solution to something.”

The act of finding.

I like that rather better than “a serious decision to do something.”

It fits with my own theory of resolutions, as well. Every year, the Spouse and I make a list of our resolutions and a set of joint resolutions and post it on our bedroom wall. Last year’s list included “Yoga!” for me and “Finish data-gathering project” for Spouse, while together we resolved to read nonfiction together each month.

We had mixed success, but I observed that, in general, we did better when we resolved to a process or a series of goals rather than one lofty end. If we had committed to reading together, for example, we might be checking that off the list, while if I had said, “Learn about different types of yoga,” I might have made some progress. Spouse could have focused on learning the skills that would have helped him finish his programming project. But by giving ourselves impressive goals (“I will be a yogi by the end of 2013!” “I will have a completed web-app by 2014!”), we essentially set ourselves up to fail.

To go all fortune-cookie, self-help on you, when you focus on the destination, you forget about the journey—and you may realize you have absolutely no idea how to get to that magical destination. When we say, “I will lose 10 pounds by the end of the year!” we neglect to give ourselves the guidance and support we need to reach that goal—and then, when we fail, we blame ourselves for being lazy or uncommitted or whatever adjective suits the situation.

But it’s next to impossible to simply BECOME or DO something that you are not and cannot, certainly without guidance or reasonable expectations of a drawn-out process of learning. How can we not fail, when we expect ourselves to change without even the aid of a magic wand to make the transformation happen?

We’re too hard on ourselves. All of us.

So this year, let’s focus on finding instead of on doing. I’d like to find the right school of yoga for myself. I also want to learn to play my long-neglected guitar. I want to learn a little about using my fancy DSLR camera, as well. Those are all good, specific, manageable goals, but, more importantly, they’re processes. I’m committing to a journey of learning, not a destination of being a yogi or a rock star or a photographer. I want to find new hobbies, new skills, and I want to incorporate those skills into my life. These are long term commitments, not idealistic wishes.

So I ask, with our new definition in mind, and a spirit of searching rather than doing: What do you want to find in 2014?

Re-learning to Imagine Like a Child

Reading by Talewhisper http://talewhisper.deviantart.com/art/Reading-166942527?offset=0#comments Used with permission.
Reading by Talewhisper http://talewhisper.deviantart.com/art/Reading-166942527. Used with permission.

Do you remember when the shapes you saw in the clouds or tree branches were mystical creatures? When the space under the dining room table was a gypsy tent or a pirate ship? When exploring the backyard was a trip to a foreign land or maybe even another planet? I do, but I don’t remember how I got there.

You see, I’ve come to the shocking (especially for a writer) conclusion that I’m not nearly as creative as I used to be. I know that’s not all that unusual for an adult, but it was a jarring realization for me. What precipitated this epiphany? A few weeks ago I read Laini Taylor’s novella Night of Cakes and Puppets. I love all of her books (seriously LOVE), but this one was special. While I was reading, it gave me that feeling I had all the time as a child, that anything is possible – anything at all – and magic is real. This was the world as I used to know it.

What happened, you ask? I have no idea. And that’s why I’m here today. I’m on a quest to recapture my childhood imagination, to free my brain from the shackles of propriety life has bound it in and let myself see the magic and possibilities in life again. Reading Laini’s book really threw into sharp relief just how constrained my imagination really is, especially in comparison to hers. I’m a writer, so that may sound strange, but even within the realm of fiction, I find myself bound by certain rules of what can and cannot be done, rules that likely exist only in my head. (What’s worse, now I find myself thinking of what an audience would like or what will fly with a publisher.) I want to be free, to someday write that fantasy novel that captures the whimsy of youth for adult readers who, like me, have lost touch with their inner child.

Being a writer, the first thing I did was try to remember when I last had the feeling truly free imagination. In late grade school/early high school, I was still training (read: exercising) under the conviction I was meant to be a vampire slayer (thank you, original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie), so I know I had it then.  It was probably late high school or early college when I lost it. That sounds about right because that’s when you start to enter “the real world.”

Then I turned to my trusty friends, books, to try to figure out how to get it back. Turns out, most of the books on imagination/creativity in Amazon’s catalog fall into four categories:  a) geared toward business, b) related to religion/manifestation, c) related to healing yourself from addiction/abuse or d) how to encourage creativity in your child. Nothing for adults on how to get it back. Maybe someday if/when I figure it out, I’ll write one.

I think the more you use it, the more it comes back, so I’ll certainly keep on writing. Until then, I’m going to surround myself with creative people (online and IRL), try my best and hope some of the pixie sparkle rubs off! 

So where does that leave me? Asking you lovely people for advice! If you have any tips for getting in touch with your childhood imagination, please let me know!

Have you ever had a similar experience? Better yet, have you figured out how to get in touch with your inner creative child? If so, please tell me about it. I want to hear your experiences.

The Celtic Roots of Christmas

A ruined battlement of Roslin Castle
A ruined battlement of Roslin Castle

Last year I spent the Christmas season in Roslin Castle, a partially ruined castle near the village of Roslin, in the Midlothian area of Scotland. Owned by the noble Sinclair family since the 1330s, Roslin Castle has been destroyed and rebuilt time and again, a stalwart structure standing tall against the tides of history and politics. And half a mile from the castle stands Rosslyn Chapel.

If you’ve ever read The DaVinci Code, you’ve heard of Rosslyn Chapel–the chapel features prominently in Brown’s version of the Holy Grail myth. Founded in 1446 and admired throughout Britain for the complexity of its architecture, the chapel has purported ties to both the Knights Templar and the Freemasons.

The intricate carvings throughout the chapel present a number of mysteries. For instance, amidst the traditional Christian iconography are several carvings of maize and aloe vera, although Columbus had not yet discovered the Americas at the time of the chapel’s construction. One particularly detailed column is said to have been carved by an apprentice mason after a vivid dream, but when his master saw the column he flew into a jealous rage and killed his apprentice on the spot. But perhaps most puzzling is the series of carvings of the pagan icon known as the Green Man, a bearded figure peering from foliage with vegetation coming out of his mouth.

Lady Chapel, inside Rosslyn
Lady Chapel, inside Rosslyn

Though I am not religious, I do love Christmas, so I was excited to attend the midnight Christmas service at Rosslyn Chapel. And while I listened to the familiar story of the birth of Christ, and sang the lovely traditional carols of the holiday season, I found my eyes returning again and again to the haunting faces of the Green Man, staring down at me from the ceiling. Why was this Celtic god of fertility featured so prominently in a Christian building? I wondered.

The truth is, many of the things I love about Christmas and the holiday season are rooted deeply in the Celtic tradition. When Christianity began to spread into Wales, Scotland and Ireland in the 5th century, many pagan traditions native to to the peoples of the land found their way into the discourse and traditions of the new religion. Scholars have even theorized that the date of Christ’s birth, December 25th, was moved to align with the winter solstice, a day of celebration for most pre-Christians.

Numerous Christmas rituals trace their origins back to the Celtic tradition. European Holly, used in many holiday wreaths and featured in several Christmas carols, was sacred to druids for its associations with the winter solstice. Mistletoe represented the divine male essence to pre-Christians–romance, fertility, and vitality. Hence, kissing underneath the mistletoe! Celtic pre-Christians were also known for decorating evergreen boughs with ornaments symbolizing the sun, moon, stars, and the souls of the recently departed.

The Green Man
The Green Man

But perhaps most interesting is the pagan myth of the Oak King and the Holly King. Born at Midwinter, the Oak King (frequently depicted as the Green Man!) grows in power, ushering in the seasons of light and growth until Midsummer. But the Oak King’s strength wanes as the light dims, and the Holly King matures, remaining green and bright even in the darkest days of winter. The Oak King, born at the Winter Solstice and bringer of the light, closely parallels the story of Jesus’s birth. And the Holly King, in his full power at Midwinter, is said by some to be an early precursor of Santa Claus, who was originally depicted in England and Ireland as wearing a dark green cloak.

In winter, pre-Christians celebrated the return of the light and the eternal cycle of nature. Christmas, symbolically, celebrates much the same thing. I think those talented masons at Rosslyn Chapel sought to celebrate the old traditions embedded in Christianity in the carvings of the Green Man. So hang your mistletoe, pin a star on your evergreen, and honor the birth of both the Christ child and the Oak King!

Holiday Shopping for Free!

What’s that you say…free? Yep! I’m all about the holidays and shopping (online) and the fun celebrations. But what makes me even happier this time of year? FREE! Free books, free shipping, you name it.

Why am I going on about free you ask? That’s easy. I have something for you that’s free. The Beginning, Kaarina’s Secret #1 is now available for your reading pleasure. And it won’t cost you a dime. Check it out at All Romance E- books for your Kindle, Nook, or PDF. I’ll even provide you the link to make it easy to get 🙂 Did I mention I like to give during the holidays, too?

The Beginning at All Romance E-Books.

Image

When offered a position within the esteemed law firm of Virtanen and Associates, Kaarina Davidson couldn’t say no. Known for their exclusivity and revered for their ruthlessness, they are the best firm in Dallas. This was the job offer of a lifetime. Or so Kaarina thought.

Too soon she learns that the lawyers of Virtanen and Associates are more than meets the eye. They are Vampyyri, a supernatural sect who feed off the emotions of humans. Warned not to touch anyone, Kaarina is just trying to make a name for herself until she learns that the principle partner of the firm has a mission that doedoesn’t include finding justice for the clients of the firm. He intends to take control of the Vampyyri and disregard all rules that prevent humans from becoming walking zombies.

Kaarina may be the only one who can stop the takeover. Will she take the easy way out and run? Or will Kaarina accept the challenge and become more than the lawyer she set out to be?

This is book 1 in a 4 part series.

Let ‘Em Go

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

And they say, don’t forget where you come from. Don’t die holding
onto your words, cause you know you got a whole world to change,
but understand who you got to change first.
Victory Lap
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

You’ve heard of Macklemore, right? The Thrift Shop dude? What? What?What?What?What? Yeah, that one. I bet you didn’t expect to find him in a Spellbound Scribes post. I mean, our posts generally lean towards vampires and the writers who love them, right? But I have tickets to see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis this week, so I’ve been listening to a lot of their music.

And you know what?

Much what they have to say can be directly applied to just about anyone who reaches out creatively, whether through writing or music or visual art. Hell, their music can be applied to anyone who tries to live.

Check out the quotes I included with this post. Victory Lap is a song about coming up the hard way and finding success. Ten Thousand Hours talks about practice and dedication and getting sober. And Inhale Deep is another song about recovery, about finding yourself without the crutch of drugs or alcohol. These are songs that demand thought. They challenge you to raise the bar of your own life.

The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint.
The greats were great because they paint a lot.
Ten Thousand Hours.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Since most of us are writers here, let’s take a look from that perspective. The main reason to dive into the NaNoWriMo craziness is so we don’t die holding onto our words. And not just a few words. A lot of writing. 50,000 words. Writing as a daily practice. Writing to tell your truth. Writing that comes from your heart and from your soul.

The spirit’s there to knock you down, but if you make that the end, then you’ll never know the beauty of being able to stand up again.
Inhale Deep
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Dude can even make me feel better about getting yet another rejection: success won’t happen if I’m not putting it out there.

Some of their songs aren’t quite so…serious, and I fully intend to dance pretty much from start to finish. Yes, I’m 51 years old, so not necessarily part of their usual demographic, but I’m more excited about this show than my teenagers are. I’m only going to get one chance at this life, and on Wednesday night, at least, I’m going to have a really, really, really good time.
Peace,
Liv

Please take a moment to enjoy my current fave…And We Danced… and if you have a favorite Macklemore song, leave the title in the comments. 😉

So you won NaNoWriMo! What’s next?

Hi there everyone! It’s December 5th, which means I’m putting up my Hanukkah menorah and pulling out the Christmas decorations. It also means November is over…by five days! And since I know for many of you November included many, many, MANY hours of writing as you participated in National Novel Writing Month, I thought I’d do a quick primer called: So you won NaNoWriMo! What’s next??

To do this, let me share my experience, from many moons ago.

In 2010 a friend challenged me to participate in NaNoWriMo. I’d never even considered writing a book before, much less writing one over the course of a single month…and I had a two-year-old child and a full-time job…so of course I said, “Sign me up!!”

Over the next six weeks (alas, I did not “win,” so to speak, but wrote into the middle of December to accomplish about 60,000 words), I put my heart and soul onto my little pink netbook computer (not kidding). I wrote a zombie story, and I thought it was a doozie. A genre-bending delight. The best story ever.

Right? Right.

As soon as I was done with the first draft and done a cursory round of “edits” (in quotes because I barely even scratched the surface with that first round), I sent the book off to my two brothers. “Hey, look you guys!” I wrote in my cover email. “I wrote a book, and it’s great and I love it and you should read it.”

And they did. And they suggested changes. And then my husband read it and suggested more changes. And I edited. And edited. And edited.

I sent my first query letters off in July of the following year. Yes, that is a full seven months after I finished the novel for the first time. I received a slew of rejections, and then I did a complete re-write again, adding two more narrators and blending and merging timelines for the next three months.

In January of 2012, over a year after finishing the book for the first time, I queried again, and in April of 2012 I received two offers from small press publishers. In short, my book found its home…a year and a half after that initial frenzied writing.

In short: this writing shit takes time, y’all.  But it’s worth it. Because:

zombiedays333x500 noangels333x500 (2)

Worth every minute. I promise.

So, now that you’ve finished your (first? second? ninety-seventh??) novel, here’s my advice:

1. Throw a party. You wrote a book. Be proud of yourself!

2. Do your best to avoid the “Hey you guys I wrote this thing now you have to read it” syndrome. Trust me. You will want to edit and edit before you let anyone read (even your most trusted, loyal friends). Trust me. Early drafts are best put away for a couple months, then pulled out from the mothballs and edited with a clear head.

3. Edit. Edit. Edit some more. Edit until you think every word is crap, and then edit until you think each word is gold. Then edit it one more time.

4. Give it to trusted readers. People who won’t just say, “Wow, this is great,” but who will give you helpful feedback.

5. Edit one more time, based on their helpful feedback.

6. Now you’re read to move on. Do you want an agent, to publish your book the traditional route? Great, go learn how to write  a query, write it, and good luck! Same goes for small press publishers. If you need to learn how to do this, start with the Query Shark web site. Trust me on this – that place is golden. And if you want to self-publish (there’s money to be made there, and readers to be found!!), hire a great cover artist and a great freelance editor to polish your manuscript and make it shine. Trust me. You don’t think you need them but you do. I promise.

7. In the words of my five-year-old: Never give up. Never surrender. You will get rejected. Some will hurt. Some will not. But it will happen. Bad reviews will happen. But just keep on going. The only writers who don’t succeed are the ones who stop trying.

So there you have it. My brief overview of what to do with your shiny new novel. Congratulations on writing it, and I wish all you NaNoWriMo-ers of 2013 all the very best of luck!!