A Reader, the Nature of Stories, and No Man is an Island

I just got a message from a reader who used to enjoy my juvenile books:

I just wanted to say that though I have outgrown these books now (and I am sad about that) your books have blessed me a lot and helped me write a story about horses years ago.

I can’t even begin to say what they have done for my Dyslexic friend. I showed her and lent her a few of your books and now she has started to enjoy writing and she wrote a 40 page novel even though before she saw writing as a curse.

The story line each of your books holds is something hard to find in books for a younger audience and I have always enjoyed them and I keep them so when I have little girls of my own, they can read them.

I thank you for the inspiration. They take hold of me and I will always look back at buying one of your books and staying up all night reading it as a fond memory…

A number of things struck home with her email.

First, how fortunate I am that this girl emailed me years ago. She is a bright, vivacious person, and I feel blessed to have become her online friend.

Second, I love that she wanted to share her enjoyment with her own young friend. Isn’t that the way we are? We want to give the things that have meant so much to us to others, and their ensuing enjoyment in our gift gives us joy.

And third, the nature of stories. This one’s a bit harder to explain, so I’ll use the words of a master, Hermann Hesse:

… the river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and that there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future.

bookI think stories exist much in the same way. They may seem to come from nowhere, but actually, they come from everywhere and everything. We ourselves are stories; everything we do, experience, think, desire, everything we perceive through our senses, is connected to our story. Everything that exists has a story, a reason, a purpose for being, no matter how simple, no matter how complex.

And stories in books are one of the bridges between us. My young friend read my book, which came from the story of my life and the myriad stories that I allowed to inspire and change me, and she allowed it to inspire her. My book and all that contributed to it, became part of her. And then she passed that inspiration along, her own story added to mix, and her friend was inspired as well.

We are none of us alone.

A Fine Silvery Stream

Sheng Yen, a Chinese Buddhist monk, wrote this passage:

“Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it.”

I’ve been doing this, but not only with my meditation practice. I’m learning to do this with story as well. A few days ago, I wrote an opening line, then followed that line to the next, and the next, like I was floating along that fine, silvery stream. I didn’t know where the story was going, where it would end, even if it would end, or just fizzle out. As I softly followed, it filled in the grooves and cracks. The crevices were found. The story emerged and was written.

I am doing the same again now but this next one is already longer. It may be a novella or a book. I can’t tell yet because I don’t know where that silver stream is carrying me. I don’t even know genre yet. All I know is that every day that I come to this story, something happens that surprises me. It’s taking form as I write, one sentence after another.

Faith is a beautiful thing – not faith in myself or my abilities, but faith in the story that is being told.

Let the story be what it wants to be. Let it lead the way, and be content to follow.


Recently I read a new interpretation of the old “Is the glass half full or half empty” debate. The glass is completely full, half with water, half with air.

It made me think about my creations. About half of my literary works have been published in various magazines, about half haven’t yet found homes. I don’t write very much short stuff, maybe one or two works a year, so each that I find good enough to edit to a publishable state is precious to me.  And yet some still haven’t found their place.

According to my new “glass completely full” theory, it doesn’t mean the writing sucks. It doesn’t mean the story is shallow or flippant or just plain bad. It means publication is a matter of getting the right story to the right publisher at the right time. And that takes submissions. Lots of them.

Sometimes even to the same publisher.

Three times, twice with short works, once with a juvenile novel, I’ve received publishing contracts after my second submission of the same story to the same publisher. The first time, one work wasn’t “surprising enough”. The second time I guess it was.

This week, I sent out a few stories to magazines and contests. I’m trying to turn my “air” into “water” – which is much preferable to believing the glass is half empty or even half full. And it’s infinitely better than saying the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. Let’s not even go there!

Where UNDERTOW is Now

So I’ve been busy, as you might have guessed since I’ve been gone a while. I’ve been working on editing some of my past juvenile works, scaring up some more work – and rewriting Undertow.

Finally, after what seems countless rewrites and myriad critiques (another big THANK YOU to my readers), Undertow has made its debut into the world. Not to a production company or agent, but to a script consultant, No BullScript Consulting. Because I still have so much to learn, I know there are things I can do to make it a better script. I just don’t know what those things are. This seemed a good way to find out.

And then? Well, let’s just wait to hear what Danny Manus of No Bullscript has to say. Fingers crossed it’s not too bad!

Narrowing Focus

A while ago, I thought it might be time to try novels for “big people”. Juvenile novels didn’t seem as challenging to write anymore, and I like to feel I’m constantly learning something.

I started a novel, titled Angel’s Flight, and enjoyed getting to know some adult characters. It was a wonderful experience.

Then a week ago, something changed.

I realized that I needed to choose between novels and screenplays. My time and energy is limited, and if I want to succeed in one of these two genres – which I do! – it’s now time to choose between them. For a variety of reasons, one being ”gut feeling”, I believe screenplays are the best fit for me, despite the fact that it’s a much more competitive world.

That’s not to say that working on Angel’s Flight has been a waste in any way, shape, or form. I loved my time with Vashti and her friends. Angel’s Flight might even make a good movie (with a lot of changes, as screenplays and movies are very different). And even if it never makes it to the screen, I may get back to it someday in its novelistic form.

However, until then, the name of my game is now screenplays – and I cannot deny that it’s a wonderful feeling to realize this! I love the immediacy, the power, the visceral, almost raw, nature of a story in script form.

I hope to start my next script in June, at the latest. I have four ideas on the go, so it’s going to be hard to choose between them!

And I’m still able to get my novel fix, or at least I hope so. I have a proposal out for another twelve book juvenile series. Fingers crossed that it gets picked up!

Following Inspiration

I’ve been writing professionally now for eleven years, with no day job backup.  Some years are boom, some are bust, and I must admit the financial roller coaster gets a little stressful at times. You can build a reputation, a readership, and that helps, but when so many families are struggling, they don’t buy as many books for their children. It’s a sad fact. And then when you’re jumping into new genres, as I’m doing, there is no existing readership. Thus, even less security.

This is how I’ve learned to deal with it, and incidentally, how I’ve learned to deal with writing 3 – 4 books or screenplays a year without burning out.

I follow the inspiration. I work on projects when it feels right, not when I “should”. For example, this week, I was happily working away on a juvenile series proposal, the rewrite of Undertow, and Angel’s Flight, my current novel, when along comes a movie idea! Yesterday was spent in taking notes, discovering characters, realizing the science of the new story. I was excited, exhilarated, over the moon (or actually, over Azul, the name of my new planet)!

And then it was time to stop. Just stop. So I did. Now that idea is sitting there, happily started on paper, waiting for me to have time to return to it. It may even be my next movie.

That’s not to say that following inspiration is always a heady experience. You notice there was a time to stop, to go back to my novel? It was hard going when I got back, really hard, but I was where the inspiration called me. From highest creative heights to slogging through a difficult scene…

Both were necessary. Both were following inspiration. Both were creating something incredible (or incredible to me, at least). One was just a little more fun than the other.

Okay, a lot more fun! 🙂 And that’s okay.

Expectation of Characters – and Self

I am wandering in my novel; the right things are not being written. I’m not touching the core, and some even seems obvious artifice, at least to me. I like my characters, and I believe they are worthy of carrying a story, but I keep losing their true personalities in my expectations of who they should be.

Expectation: as damaging in the world of the novel as it is in real life.

From the Tao te Ching:

“The Master’s power is like this. He lets all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. He never expects results; thus he is never disappointed. He is never disappointed; thus his spirit never grows old.”

I am disappointed tonight, for not only am I not writing the right things, but I have expectations of myself in writing their story. My main expectation as creator: to get the story at least close to right. And I’m not, because I am not allowing the story to naturally unfold from who my characters are.

Time to get real. No more shoulds. No more expectations. No more fear that I’m going to write the wrong thing, because that fear itself will cause the wrong thing to be written.

First Draft Rush, and then…

Last week, I completed the first draft of UNDERTOW, my first solo screenplay! I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes when a major project is finished, and I hope, finished well. Of course, there are still the rewrites, but that’s another major project.

However, I’ve found something strange when the draft was completed – an emptiness that is not entirely pleasant. UNDERTOW has been living inside me for 7 or 8 years, and now it’s become more than the ephemeral flow of creativity. It is solid. It is striving and horror and sadness and faith – on paper. And though the protagonist, Megan, still lives in my thoughts, it’s not the same as when she whisped around my head, tugging at me to tell her story.

Thank goodness, the emptiness is abating. I am getting into my next project: ANGEL’S FLIGHT, a novel I set aside last September to complete a juvenile novel. I’m catching the spirit of that new old story again. I’m seeing from behind Vashti’s eyes instead of Megan’s.

But I miss Megan. I know it’s pathetic, but I miss her.

Elizabeth Gilbert on Genius

So I’m back after too long away. On the up side, I have lots of stuff to share.

To start, a friend sent me this link: Elizabeth Gilbert giving a TED talk on genius. Much food for thought. Here’s the info:

Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.



An Awesome Ten Minute Exercise

Set your timer for ten minutes. Write down FIVE novel or movie concepts  in logline form (one sentence describing each idea). You must get down five ideas within the time allotted. Polishing the loglines afterward is optional.

I did this recently and came up with the following:

  1. Comedy/Coming of Age: A teenager drops out of high school and heads out to find the Dalai Lama and ask him the meaning of life.
  2. Action/Adventure: An amnesiac woman in a bathrobe and fuzzy bunny slippers shows up on Dave’s doorstep – but she isn’t what she appears to be, as the gunmen who soon follow confirm.
  3. Action/Comedy/Fantasy: The Sonoran Desert trickster, Coyote, takes on a man’s form to halt the urban sprawl invading his environment, but only endangers his home further as spiritual seekers gather to ask him existential questions.
  4. Comedy/Action: Ellie’s father died years ago, or that’s what she thought until he shows up at the reading of her mother’s will – as a zombie.
  5. Action/Adventure: Deep in the forest, a lost hiker comes across a strange civilization, a group of alien “grays” running from persecution.

I’m not sure if I’ll use these, though I’m very intrigued by a couple of them, especially #3 (it may even be my next movie project), but this exercise shows how when pressed, the mind can come up with all sorts of crazy ideas, ideas that might turn out to be unique and promising.

Also, each idea could go a number of different ways. For example, I put Action/Adventure on #5, but what if I changed that to Comedy? It would be a completely different movie.

If you have time to give this exercise a try, I’d love to hear how it worked for you!