Flexibility and Growth as an Artist

Hiromi Masuda: Let's play the Glass 2I am a fan of Gretchen Rubin, whose books on happiness and habits offer a lot of insight into how we can live the best life for ourselves. (She doesn’t get the Rebel personality, but I forgive her for that.) This morning, her Facebook post let me to this blog:

The Dangers of Typecasting

As most of you know, I made a choice a couple of years ago to explore the world of New Adult romance. I had written straight romances, contemporary and historical, in the past, but hadn’t done if for nearly ten years when I was mobbed by a new idea. By a character, Jess Donovan, age 19, poor and struggling and trying to make her way.  She awakened me one morning in mud season in Breckenridge and by the end of the day, I had mapped out the entire book.  In my world, we call that a “gift book” and foolish indeed is the writer who ignores such an offering from the gods.

However, It was a risky choice, and I knew it–women’s fiction readers don’t like to be lumped with romance readers (although many are both) and my romance readers might not want to go with me into this much younger world. To keep things branded cleanly, I knew I would have to take a pen name, and that meant starting from ground zero–not always the easiest thing for a writer with an audience gained over ten years.

That’s the visible stuff.

The Quiet Middle Week

Here it is, that week between Christmas and New Year. This is when many businesses are shut down or only operating on half-staff. There’s nothing much to take care of, all the shopping is done. As a girl, out of school and often stuck inside because of snow and cold, I would read and read and read.  As I got older, I often started planning the upcoming year–things I wanted to do, see, accomplish.

This year, I’m in San Antonio with my son and daughter-in-law and the mighty Amara. We are waiting for the New Baby, due in six days. I’m here to help the family with practical things like cooking, picking up, smoothing the transition when baby sister actually arrives. I’m here to spend time with my darling girl, too, of course. I’m so relieved to realize that last year, I was afraid our relationship would become frayed with distance, and it turns out it has not.  I’m lucky enough to be able to have the resources to fly down here regularly, a job that is flexible enough that I can take the time off, and an agreeable son & DIL.

I’m thinking about the new year and what I’d like to accomplish. I have an ambitious schedule of writing for both Barbara and Lark (I know my Barbara readers have been sad about the long delay between titles) and some other things brewing.  I’ve made some changes in my work life to give myself more time to exercise and see IRL friends now and then, but mainly, this year is focused on the writing.  SO many exciting things are happening, including the really fun project I’m doing with Serial Box publishing. (More as I know actual release dates.)

A marketing person said to me, “Sounds like your spirit social media is blogging,” and she was right, so that’s on agenda, too. I’m handing off some of the stuff I don’t like and spending more time here. I hope you’ll join me for talk about writing, books, life. Painting. Probably cats. Here is a cat for today:

Looking for a cuddle
Looking for a cuddle

Saying No to Say Yes

Ah, I’ve been in my writing cave again and haven’t been blogging here at A Writer Afoot.  I do keep trying! Meanwhile, I have my regular monthly gig at Writer Unboxed, the 4th Wednesday of the month. This is November’s column:

Colorful India India is on my mind this morning. Forgive me for dreaming a little of the faraway, but I am at the end of nearly two solid months of extreme writing. I’ve barely been to the grocery store, much less anywhere interesting.

For a couple of days, I considered writing about how I organized the writing marathon, but India has presented itself, alluring and exotic and beautiful, the place I’ve had on my travel bucket list for longer than any other, and it does have relevance to the marathon, to writing, to our writing lives.

I’ve been saying I wanted to visit India for a long, long time. Decades. The reasons I have not committed to a trip are myriad—it’s a long way, and no one in my circle is at all interested in going, and it will be expensive and it will not be like going to England or Spain. It will be way beyond my comfort zone sometimes. It frightens and calls to me in equal measure. Beauty, sacred sites, ancientness, elephants, color, history. Crowds, heat, poverty. What if I go and hate it? What if I don’t and keep this dream of India forever, pristine and lovely, like the woman in Staten Island who collected all things Tibetan and never went. I loved the museum, but felt such sadness for the woman herself. Why didn’t she go?

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Listening to the Prompts

All creative people devise ways to communicate with the mysterious place where ideas come from. A scientific person might call it the right side of the brain. A more mystical one (that would be me) probably calls it the universe or Spirit. Whatever the name, we all learn over time to trust the whispering prompts that nudge us into a particular direction.

Detail-from-JMW-Turners-B-007I’ve had some weird communications going on with the universe over painter JMW Turner, an Englishman I’d honestly never heard of until three months ago. I don’t know how I missed him now, since he is one of the most highly regarded of all English painters, and his style was a forerunner of the Impressionists, whom I adore with heart and soul, but there’s the truth. I had never heard of him or seen his work until I needed a painter for Brilliant. Jess gives Tyler a biography of a painter for Christmas, so I googled watercolorists and Turner came up. He was an eccentric who did things his own way and he fit the bill, so I ran with it. (Deadlines make a writer practical. Yep, works, toss it in there, move on.)

Afterward, Turner kept coming up—everywhere. At first, I put it down to simply awareness. You never notice how many cars of a certain model there are until you start driving one, then they are everywhere. Or you learn a new word and then see it in twenty places the next few weeks. I’m studying watercolors a bit, so reading in that world, and he’s a master. Of course I would see his name.

But it kept going and going. An article in a magazine I rarely read. A comment about the new movie. (Me: “There’s a movie?”)  

On the road

imageI promised blogs every week, but must say the Internet access was not great in many of our stops the past ten days. Here are a couple of photos to keep you company for a few days. We are on our way home and I’ll post later this week about foggy weather, venison stew, windows as studies, and my weird conversation with the universe about the English painter Turner.

Meanwhile, enjoy one of the windows, from a rambling country house in Devon on a cold winter morning.

 

What If You Are The Star?

Christmas Eve is one of the most magical nights in Western culture, a night that celebrates peace and light and new hope being born into the world. A star lights the way for magis to come and worship new life, to offer gifts and honors. Angels sing to celebrate the moment.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/zamb0ni/4103226307/in/photolist-9mm6Cw-nvybUQ-3oomWN-4kjshQ-gSp2MB-7fA7ea-8Ef12Q-64TsRU-5LGs11-nT88tP-8Zrr3A-dC3GGK-jCELhL-5TEPBK-78SnnM-8vHsw2-78WdFw-d3R6HG-ohkkKs-7qKF9f-nCpKto-an6R39-nojGNX-oUxBDt-516SXW-decZ5V-2TPUJP-dJkhFE-4bnKnc-7gDKD3-8hyqAV-fPMmTE-49PeFP-7951zX-7qKFdQ-obeCGH-2k93sw-9hHu62-vNLxE-7dy7Ms-e8VTaY-5HMaKr-JVnvq-7h7eNF-545t7x-bL9o76-cZkfgY-9vwF8A-54yNfz-54GckgIt is holy and luminous, this night, meant to remind us of the possibilities of our lives. It’s also a metaphorical jewel box, brimming with images we can use to inspire ourselves, to remember who we are, each of us, at the core of our being.

We tend to think we are small, the donkey looking on, or the sheep chewing hay in the manger. What if, in fact, we are each born to be a star that lights the night, lights the way for others? What if each of us has a corner of the world to illuminate–
perhaps the neighborhood in which you were born, or a battlefield that haunts you, or the magical worlds of some faraway, unknown land? What if your essay, that singular particular manifestation of your observations, your need to speak, is the kernel of truth that changes a person forever, even in the tiniest ways? This is how the world is saved, by each of us taking on the mantle of our vocation and giving it the very best we can give it.

You are a writer, or perhaps a creator of another sort. You have been born with this pressing desire to make things, express yourself, offer observations on the world, make things up—however it shows up in your life is the way it is meant to show up. We do it imperfectly at times, and often we fail at the vision we hoped to transfer to the page, to the hearts of readers, but the pursuit is the thing. In pursuit, sometimes also called practice, as in the practice of prayer or the practice of yoga or the practice of piano, we serve the work, and in doing so, serve that unnamable something that is holy, opposed to evil, that thing that brings light, stars, singing angels into the world.

This Christmas Eve, give yourself the gift of loving the desire to write, the desire to be better. Celebrate your own holy star-ness, and shine, shine, shine.

 

 

At last! More blogs.

I had a letter this morning from a reader of this blog, wondering if it had been discontinued. In fact, the exact opposite is true–I’ve given up blogging elsewhere (except for Writer Unboxed once a month) to bring my focus back here. My web mistress is busy behind the scenes doing a facelift and I’ve made a promise to myself to write at minimum 52 blogs here this year. For me, it’s a pleasure and a discipline. I love sharing my everyday observations on writing, books, food, and life with you. I hope we’ll be able to start the conversations up again.

Today I am forced to decorate my Christmas tree, so I have only this to share, a photo of some satsumas I shot this morning. In fact, I saw them in their little bag at Whole Foods yesterday and knew how pretty they would be in this very bowl, and that was the whole reason for buying them.

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Come back soon!

Love,
Barbara

Boot Camp For Writers

NWC-300x250Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference, August 15 – 17, 2014, Los Angeles, CA Plot Your Novel’s Course

Move closer to your goal of completing a tightly crafted novel that will capture and keep the attention of publishers and readers. Learn from industry-savvy speakers and deepen your knowledge in focused sessions.

All this is brought to you by the editors of the industry’s most trusted source for writing advice and insight for more than 90 years—Writer’s Digest.

FOCUS ON THE NOVEL

Experience start-to-finish instruction in the art of crafting a well-written, saleable novel. Many of publishing’s most respected and knowledgeable writers, agents and editors will be on hand to guide you. Hone your craft fundamentals, explore the future of publishing and get the tools you need to advance your career as a writer.

GROW YOUR NETWORK

From the numerous opportunities each session offers to connect with its speakers, to the workshopping with other novelists, the Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference is your chance to establish real connections with both your fellow writers and industry insiders.

BOOT CAMP:  Romantic Fiction with Barbara O’Neal 
Join me for a three hour intensive on all aspects of writing the romantic novel for a leg up on finding the exact right place for your novels. Strengthen your weak areas and shine in your strong ones with this in-depth, hands-on workshop.

 

There is a $50 discount to the conference when you register with the promotional code WDSPEAKER.

Who Attends Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference?

Writer’s Digest’s reputation attracts a uniquely dedicated group of writers to the Conference. Most have been writing for years and many have already published. They want and expect relevant information to further their writing careers— whether in the educational sessions or through exposure to valuable products and services.

 Questions? Email me at awriterafoot  @  gmail.com, or ask away in the comments section.  Hope to see you there!

Letters to my new writer self

Dear New, Young, Passionate, Painfully Aspiring Writer Self:https://www.flickr.com/photos/rightee/1257384934/in/photolist-2V7qJA-f53bGW-aqLtfV-f53bNo-f53bKA-kfCw7-iGsrd3-bkW1jX-aj699g-5dNDc7-ifDfk3-5C5g1X-kzfbqM-8D4zwo-4SQXUM-bN1oSe-9PG53Y-j8p8pU-dmFX6J-gasMno-fxddKr-nr5Wr2-6xnrVk-eUhbNb-gsXvkx-6vaNSi-eUYdqL-bUQdeY-ezj98j-ezfUB6-ezfVik-5FQYQN-7WRZ8B-hnmLtF-dJzN2o-4VvLvq-bQu3Hz-4As9wf-9rnux-hcN3iz-3Prxu-4wZ2FW-5rnNZp-4ZZL89-7eVnCE-4wYZeh-4wZ8Ho-ek4Luu-f2BHW3-7kNGQf/

I am looking at you with great tenderness. Your passion for your craft, your hunger for publication, your commitment to continue to try makes my heart swell with pride. It is not easy, what you’re doing, writing, or rather, writing with the full intent to publish.  It’s easy to write if you are doing it only for yourself.  It’s only a joy, then, a secret pleasure, a tattoo on your inner thigh that you share only with your most intimate associates.

Writing for publication is a much more dangerous and challenging undertaking.  It means risking your ego and your standing in the community. People don’t understand your desire, even those you expect to understand, like reader friends and your librarian. Oh, I know how you’ve learned to dread that question at gatherings. You say you are a writer and someone says with excitement, “Are you published?”  You have to say no, and watch their eyes dim and their attention stray.

But you will not always have to say no. If you stay the course, you will be published.  For now, you go ahead and claim the title of writer, because you are a writer. You write. You put in the hours of study and practice, over and over, whenever you can fit it in. You do it even though no one does particularly understand or even believe that you can ever break into the hallowed company of Authors.  I am so proud of you.  Keep it up.

A few other things that will help you stay the course: pay more attention to what you are doing right than what you are doing wrong. Time, reading, and practice will heal most of your flaws, but no one can do what you do as well as you do it, so stick with that. Polish it, explore it, love it.  That’s where your voice is, in the things you love and do well.

Keep reading a ton.  People tell you that writing will corrupt your process, but that’s how you came to writing in the first place, isn’t it? You read, more than anyone you know, always.  Keep doing that, and don’t just read in the areas where you write. Read everything—articles and essays and poems and books of fiction and non-fiction. Read crap and read classics. Read genre and read literary fiction. Just read. It teaches and guides new writers better than any other single thing.

Keep your eye on the prize. You’re going to keep trying on hats until you find the one that fits, and once you do, your life is going to change in such big ways that you will never believe it could be your life. You will eat a meal in New York City with an editor. You will see your book on the shelves of your local bookstore. You will get letters from readers who love your work more than any other writer out there. Honor her, that reader, with your will to stick with it.

One more thing: don’t be afraid of editors and agents. They are busy, but they are always looking for the writer they connect with, the one they can publish, the one they adore. Some of them, over time, will become your friends for life.  Some of them will only make you crazy, but this is the great secret: editors and agents are your equal. You are all a corner in the great triangle of publishing. Don’t be intimidated.

Finally, you are more powerful than you know. Have faith in yourself, and the work, and trust it to take you where you want to do.

Love,
Your older, wiser, more experienced self

Want to read more letters from other writers to their younger selves?  Check out http://soyoureawriter.blogspot.com/

1-random-front  stoked_800  IMG_0222  echo_800  (click on covers to read more)

And don’t forget to like Lark O’Neal on Facebook, so you can stay current with new releases (and there are quite a few coming, my friends!)  https://www.facebook.com/LarkONealAuthor

Anglophilia

Someone teasingly called me an Anglophile the other day, and I was completely startled.  “Really?” I said, “Do you think so?”

She laughed and laughed and laughed.  I came home and asked (my British beloved) Christopher Robin if he thought I was an anglophile. Field at HawkhurstWithout a blink, he said, “Uh….duh.”

I suppose I don’t like the word because it sounds like I love England more than I love America, which is not true.

So I had to look around my life, and yes, it’s true that I have an English husband, and he’s the reason for a lot of our quirkily English habits, like the (imported) PG Tips for breakfast, not coffee, and the HP sauce and Branston pickle in our cupboard, the salad cream (not mayo) that he must have to put on his salads in the summer time. Those are for him. Mostly. It’s true I love tea, British tea made with sugar and milk, and drink great gobs of it, but I grew up on tea.

Well, and there is the matter of English history, which I know much better than American history, if I’m honest. American history bored me to cross-eyedness, whereas English history was full of queens and princes and monarchs and swords and moats. I loved historical novels as a girl—of course I would love English history! And then I started writing them, so I had to study those eras even more, the Georgians and the medievals, and then I discovered plague, which is so desperately interesting and not exactly English, but a great force in English history.

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It is also true that I love the fact that the English garden, as if it is a national sport.  Sometimes, in England, you can visit a garden that is also on the grounds of an old manor house or even a castle. With a moat or a bowling green or some closet that once held a body. I love gardens and flowersand castles. Why wouldn’t I like them all together like that?


And okay, there is the matter of the beauty of those landscapes. I am constantly amazed at the number of people who can be hidden away among the rolling hills, how it can all appear to be completely deserted, only a horse and a couple of sheep occupying the landscape far into the hazy, hilly distance, and then you spy, hiding, a subdivision that must house thousands.  
st waiting for me?

It’s also a walking land, full of paths steeped in history. I am a walker, thus I love places where I can walk.

Oh, the history, did I mention history? History in every village, across every road. History reaching far, far, far back in the most

The local castle, where CR's father volunteered for a long time. I used to have a picture of this castle in a book and couldn't imagine that I'd ever get to see it.
The local castle, where CR’s father volunteered for a long time. I used to have a picture of this castle in a book and couldn’t imagine that I’d ever get to see it.

interesting ways. To the kings fighting for dominance, to the French invading, the Celts, the whoever else, the barbarians far back.  History in layers like the rings on a tree, here and here and here.  Standing in a village square, I could, if I had a time machine travel to 100 BC or 1066 or 1348 or 1942.  Where else can I touch history like that? The scars of the Blitz, still lingering on buildings? Walk on the battlefield that changed history entirely? Drink in a pub where Shakespeare might have sat?

Pubs. Yes. There are pubs with solid beer in pints, and we all know that I do love ale, and pints of it are absolutely agreeable, even if bartenders always try to talk me into a half-pint, seeing as I am so ladylike and all. I love pubs and pies and fires and dogs. Yes, those things, too.

I ask you, what’s not to like? I’m hardly an Anglophile for loving perfectly fascinating things, am I?

CR says I am an Anglophile because I can’t see the forest for the trees. That forest, according to him, is that England Is A Cold Wet Miserable Country.  He’s a Coloradophile.

Are you an Anglophile, like me? Or another sort of -phile?