Summer has blown past like a train that missed the station, but here are some updates about the goings on in my little pocket universe.
Summer is the season I work my ass off at the restaurant so that I can take time off in the winter to write. So usually, there’s not a lot of writing time in the summer weeks. However, I have been burning the midnight hours (and lots of wine) on getting Plague of Gargoyles ready for beta. Somehow with all the mad crush of season, I was able to compile a working V.1. I can’t even express what a relief this is. Sure, it’s the dreck draft, but going into the writing season with a block draft will make this winter so much more productive. Hopefully, Plague of Gargoyles will go out to beta readers in November or December, so I can put Tangle of Mermaids on the V.1 track to beta by summer next year.
With all that being said, I also went a little nutty after a few glasses of wine and began remodeling my character files, and organizing my world notes. There’s something to be said about late nights of drunken casting, sifting through celebrity photos and rebuilding character sheets. So. Much. Fun.
I’m dearly looking forward to sharing my hopeful casting notes with prospective producers. Let’s just hope they understand my wine-laced vision board notes….
The Elder Glade Cottage Stead
Most of June and July were so unseasonably wet and muggy that the growing time for many of the garden plants just never got enough light or heat. The tomatoes are still about the same size as they were eight weeks ago. Other plants molded from the rain and gray. However, the roses loved it.
Mister Lincoln, the rose variety that features heavily in The Pillars of Dawn books, specifically in Murder of Crows, finally bloomed. Three years ago I’d decided to plant several of the roses that grow in Auntie Celeste’s garden, so I could bask in the inspiration that is her special zen. Mister Lincoln was one of the first roses I planted, but each season I was sure I’d killed him. He never really took off…until this year. Suddenly, as everything else was dying under the muggy gray sky, Mister Lincoln shot up five feet and declared one perfect flower, as if to say, “I’m here! Don’t give up on me!”.
And he was so worth the wait. It was like a little hello from Auntie Celeste, a nod and a smile and her voice saying, “Mr. Lincoln sends his regards.”
Also on the list of successful plantings were several quarts of raspberries, a pound of fresh rhubarb, and a mountain of herbs from pineapple sage, to mint, rosemary, and thyme, dill, and fennel. Still to be harvested, dried or frozen. I even managed a small harvest of baby potatoes, before the ducks destroyed the remainder of the plants (will put the potatoes in raised beds next year).
The black Cherokee corn, and the lilies are doing well. And in a week or so I will have the first blooms from a dahlia bulb that was a gift from my neighbor.
So, this mixed bag of summer growing output has been a good learning experience of what I need to alter to create a more vibrant landscape that can weather many climate variables. All the more delicate plants, the peppers, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, and peas all shriveled in the gray damp summer.
The new chicken coop has been framed. All the wood is old or was donated by friends and neighbors. I hope to get it done before the rains, but if not, I’ll be looking to re-home the birds, as I refuse to keep them in the small coop for the winter. That’s just not fair to them. If it comes to that, I’ll start over on a new flock in the spring.
Along with the wood donated for the coop, a friend has donated the lumber for me to create a bridge over the creek. I’m so excited about this! Once the rains come I’m not able to forge the water to the land on the other side, so nothing gets done to the property on the south bank until spring. Hopefully with a bridge, I’ll be able to do some work across the water on nice days in the winter.
All in all, it’s still baby steps, but finally after three years, the land is beginning to feel like it’s establishing itself. There are signs of flourishing, sporadic, and irregular—but there none the less.
Thank you for tuning into the mid-month update. Next month I hope to have photos of the grow site, and news on some upcoming sculpting projects scheduled for winter.
I will also update on the planning for upcoming creativity workshops.
My Dearest Athena,
Happy forty-first birthday! Or as Traci would say, “Forty-(w)Onderful!”
Finally, the number bar rolled over the forty counter and leveled on the new path. There has been a lot of transformation in the last few years. This year alone has seen the launch of a new business, another book on the market, and changes around the homestead. You let go of some of your oldest friendships. You faced an inner demon, and won. Then you let go of some old, outdated ideas about yourself, and began a new evolution.
You could wax on about all the things you hope to achieve in the next year, or all the tidbits you’ve discovered the hard way along the path—but this year…this 41st Note to Self is all about wishing.
This year you have wishes to give away. This year the Note to Self is about spreading the joy.
For your birthday, you decided to give away forty-one wishes to strangers and friends.
If you, dearest reader, are reading my annual Note to Self—we are wishing these things for you. Take what you desire, and give the rest away. Keep the wishes that are meaningful to you, and let the rest drift off into the great unknown. Print them out. Read them as many times as you like. Share the wishes you hope to carry close to your heart so that those who love you can support your dream.
To whomever you are, fellow traveler on this wildwood path, we wish for you a blissful, abundant, fulfilling year. May you know love, safety, joy, health, wealth, and freedom.
Dearest Athena, on this 41st Note to Self, you have finally let go of the ruminating of annual failures.
Congratulations! How liberating. What took so long, eh?
This year your roots are finally deep enough and your branches stable enough to spread. Your face is turned up to the sky, and the sense of a great unfurling is building.
I think we both have the sensation that this time next year, the game will be completely different. What a delicious taste in the air.
Go forth this year, my friend. Party on. Build. Laugh. Smile. And write…always write.
P.S. Refresh your travel luggage and passport, you’re going to need it.
When people hear my story and the reasons why I’ve chosen to live in the woods and write, the long litany of challenges that make up the daily average in my chosen field—they ask why.
Why do this to yourself?
Believe me, I ask myself that question all the time. I ask, but then, I already know the answer.
I do it because I love it. It’s tough to explain to someone who doesn’t love something or someone as much as I love telling these stories. I go to bed thinking about these books. I dream about them in the night reverie. I wake up thinking about them. I stare at the storyboard while I brush my teeth, drink my coffee, and dress. I puzzle over character issues as I drive to work, serve beer to customers, and then drive home. I ponder plot points while I feed the chickens, and water the garden. I rehearse dialog while I’m puttering around the kitchen, or folding laundry.
I live out in the boonies so I can have uninterrupted creative space. The phone rarely rings. I get visitors once in a blue moon. My freedom to disconnect from the real world, and plug into the world of The Pillars of Dawn is limitless. I chose this life because I love it so much. I live small so I can give more to my work.
Gone are my days of city living, night clubs, boomerang relationships, relationships of convenience, and electric neon metropolitan barely controlled chaos. Now my days are spent between work, and doing what I love. There is still tweaking to be done in that equation, but my connection to the writing grows stronger each season.
When people ask why, what they really mean is: why try so hard? Why give up all the modern conveniences? Why hurt yourself to achieve the dream? Why not just make the changes asked and be accepted into the literary world easily?
The short answer is…I’m stubborn. The long answer is…I love it enough to hurt myself to make it happen in the true shape and emotional intent by which it is being entrusted to me. Ergo, I know it’s just a matter of time—because my heart is in it, and my teeth and claws are dug in tight—if I have to drag it over the finish line with my last breath, so be it. I hope it doesn’t come to that, obviously, but I am prepared to fight long and hard if need be. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t created something what it feels like to be responsible to characters, a message, and stories that aren’t even real. That responsibility to give your characters the best chance at representation, a running start in the world, a chance to be seen as they are asking to be seen. It’s tough to explain to people why you are prepared to fight for a character, a story that hasn’t yet drawn full breath or manifested into a shared reality.
For now, that fight means living a little off-grid life in the woods and putting the bulk of my focus on the next book, the next arc, the next point of development and so on. It means earning a paycheck as a waitress, and getting by on a small income so my expenses are low. It means squaring my shoulders for conversations with managers and prospective agents about holding my ground on the gender balance of my series. It means being willing to say “thank you, but you’re not the right fit for my books” to those who insist on compromising the core message, even if they’re in a position to snap their fingers and make publishing miracles happen if I would only bend on that one topic.
I’d gladly bend on a two dozen other topics, reasons, expectations, requests and needs. Gladly. Happily. Brilliantly. I would be delighted to work with all other topics and suggestions. Until then, I can only keep working, writing, building, creating and getting ready for that phone call wherein the topic of gender representation is not a focus of the re-write requests.
That day is coming. The world has changed a lot in the last decade of rejections. The awareness of the female voice and story is maneuvering into the light. The best thing I can do to support my series right now is to keep writing.
Keep going. Keep pushing, even when I’m exhausted. Even when it means picking up another part time job to pay bills. Even when it means I’m behind on all the things—keep writing.
It looks like masochism from the outside. I can totally understand why people wonder why I do it to myself. I get it. Who pushes that hard for so long when giving up would be so much easier? A decade of “no”, a decade of rejections.
Ten years is a long time. One can get completely worn down in a decade of what feels like perpetual failure.
But then…I stand in front of my storyboard and stare at my character profiles and I remember why I’m doing this. I love it. I love these characters. I love the world of The Pillars of Dawn. I have a responsibility to them and to the readers. I get to live art-fully when they breathe.
I get to write about the Muses every day. It’s a privilege. It’s a joy. And I’ll keep doing it so long as the Muses continue empower my pen. How many of us get to say they do what they truly love to do?
Choose your story.
Trust your story.
Bring justice to your story.
The summer is half over and it doesn’t even feel like it’s begun. The rainy, overcast skies and slow start to the tourist season at the restaurant have been confusing. Much of my garden drowned in the constant rain, and when the sun comes out it’s muggy and damp so some of my shady low plants have developed a rot that slowly turned them gray.
On the bright side of all the rain and damp, the kiwis have gone nuts, and the grapes are loving the water for their second year of root establishment. When they’re at the age to begin fruiting, I don’t know if this much rain will be a good thing, but for now…it’s working.
We had a rare patch of light this week, so I got out with the camera to keep track of the changes. The humidity was insane, but it was lovely to have sunlight. The 13 year old apple tree that never fruited is bent over with an abundance of gala applets. This tree was a decade old when I moved in, and it never flowered in those three years. Last year I built the chicken run along side the fruit trees and piled chicken manure around the bases and root zones. I also tested the manure on one garden box, and one row of raspberries.
As I’d hoped, the apple tree came to life this year with hundreds of blooms, and what looks like it will be a great harvest. The raspberries are abundant, and the one raised bed I fertilized is rich with half a dozen herbs, yet more rhubarb, and new gladiola shoots.
I also had an unfortunate raccoon attack on the chicken coop last month that killed several of my chickens and ducks. This has necessitated a temporary cloistering in the small coop for the remaining animals (which is unfair and gross) and an emergency coop remodel. Because I hate keeping the birds trussed up in such a small space, I do allow them out to free range when I know I’ll be home by dark. The result has meant that the slug population in my garden is like, zilch. Which is awesome. Go ducks! More on the coop remodel soon.
The final update for the cottagestead for July is this: I’ve made a controversial decision this year to let my bee colony go partially feral. This is due to the more aggressive nature of this last hive, and partly due to time management issues for getting in and working the bees regularly. The positive effect of letting them go natural for a season is that they are far stronger and more active than any colony I’ve had before. They’re so heavily populated, maybe even crowded---which means, they will either swarm OR they will be able to easily defend themselves from a yellow-jacket invasion like the ones that killed both my hives late last summer (and more than half of the county’s club hives).
Writing and Publishing
I blogged about my decision to look back into traditional publishing earlier this month. I’m also checking into brand management teams and agencies, as well as talent management. In short, it’s time to do something differently, and I’m putting feelers out in lots of directions for data and feedback.
To be honest, I don’t know what I need for sure. I could easily employ an assistant with the volume of projects queued up for publishing and business management, and if I could use a full time assistant---it’s to the point I need to look into what a team might cost and what benefits that would provide. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but I’m looking at a bunch of ideas and angles I’ve never considered before. Especially now that the cannabis farming and grow model are beginning to merge and overlap with my publishing works…
We are no longer the smallest licensed grow in the state of Oregon! YAY! That being said, we still have lots of work to do. This week we got our scales certified, which was a big step. It was so nice to have an official visitor signed into the log. I’m sure he thought I was being ridiculous…but I was just so excited to have an official sign-in. It’s the little stuff, you know?
We’ll have our logo soon, which will help us feel a bit more legit when talking to folks, especially as we near the first round of product going into flower for harvest. In just a few short months I hope to be announcing our new line of designer boutique recreational cannabis offerings by their unique names and descriptors.
These designer strains will be built into our marketing and branding campaign over three business platforms, including my writing and fantasy worlds. More on that to come. The unlimited potential for introducing cannabis as an entertainment enhancer in the literary world is, well, mind-blowing and exhilarating. I owe much of this enthusiasm and encouragement to my business partners who suggested the crossover potential long before I could see it myself. Now that my creativity is latching onto the concepts and drawing them into my fantasy worlds—there will be smokable adventures on the very near horizon.
Five weeks ago I decided to begin shopping The Pillars of Dawn series to agents and publishers. I’m mostly targeting foreign agencies and publishing houses, for reasons I’ll get into later. This means I intend to sell the series. I know. This will come as a big shock to those in my circle who’ve heard me swear off traditional publishing. (“Never again!” I exclaimed! Well….never say never, apparently.) I expect there will be a few conversations with my writing groups and such—but the process is underway, and I’m actively courting publishing houses around the world. So far, I’ve only gotten a couple of nibbles. (Poland, and UK) This has taken up a significant chunk of time as much of the research to find appropriate publishing houses can only be done when I’m in cell or internet range. (and with several of those houses I have to cut and paste chunks of website into google translate to find the right query method, then craft a foreign language query, check with translator friends, then query properly. Luckily, the Russian translation of Murder of Crows was completed several years ago and can be sent to Russian publishers (Thank you, Wianna).
I’m putting this out here now, so it’s not an even bigger shock when it happens. I’m happy to discuss the reasons and process to my indie colleagues and friends over a drink at any time. The support I’ve received as an indie has been staggering, and impressive, and I am deeply and profoundly grateful to my community for the constant encouragement and network to rely upon. I sincerely hope this decision does not signal any sense of abandonment to my community—on the contrary, I feel like I will be able to do more, and support my indie and publishing groups better when I’m not stretched so thin between projects.
This leads me to the WHY.
Why sell out after all these years?
I’m trying not to think of it as selling out, honestly. I’m framing it as selling up. Quite simply, the reason is that Plague of Gargoyles is nearly ready for a first draft printout, and Tangle of Mermaids is mapped, and partially written. This will conclude Act One of the series. Act TWO—is an undertaking that will require focus and concentration which I don’t believe I can sustain while working part time at a restaurant, launching a cannabis farm for the state of Oregon, and maintaining a cottage stead. SOMETHING has to give. I know it will be coming, and I don’t want the thing that has to give, to be my writing.
I can no longer sustain the publishing costs energetically of putting the series together to get it out there. I need help. I need to hand the reins off for the publishing/marketing part of the equation so that I can focus on the writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I have LOVED the creative freedom of being able to self-publish. I’m sometimes a little annoyed at myself for having sat on the fence for so long before pulling the self-publishing trigger. Still, it’s time to re-organize and re-focus.
I will continue to write until the series gets picked up. But I am writing as I can between the peaks and valleys of all the other goings on. Tourist season at the restaurant means full time work through the summer. Cottage stead projects for the summer fill in all the gaps. Cannabis farming is squeezed in there, it needs to be put up higher on the priority list as well. And at the very bottom, I am able to get pick-up and filler chapters written on rare occasions these days.
Selling up the series to foreign publishing houses will allow me re-organize my plate. AND the long-term goal is to option the series for television, so, that is in the matrix of things to one day come and I want time and energy to focus on that adaptation process. (Don’t get excited yet, still only a couple of nibbles on that fishing line as well. The only production company that shows real interest wants two more books on the market before they get into serious discussions.)
Anywhoo, all this is to say I’m priming for the shift, and I intend to make some changes coming up and this is just a heads up. A buckle your seatbelt, as it were.
Why foreign agencies and publishers:
Oye. This is a difficult thing to write. I hope the blowback isn’t too rough. There is anger here, but I hope you can filter as needed. This is raw and unedited, it’s the only way to get it out right now. It’s messy. Please forgive.
I have had tremendous and very encouraging feedback from American AND foreign readers. But I have had very negative feedback from American agencies, and publishing houses. Predominantly, that feedback has included requests to alter, change or omit the female led casting of my series.
I would very dearly love to say this is not a gender-based battle. I would love to say the 146 rejections I’ve received were about writing style, pacing, etc. etc. I’m sure many of those rejections WERE about writing style, lack of craft and such—but got lumped into a generic rejection. The truth is, all but one of those personalized rejections that I received included a gender related complaint or request.
Anyway, the only publishing and representation offers I got were hinged on my compliance with re-writing the series about the Greek muses from a male point of view, OR taking a gender neutral pen name, OR giving more substantial speaking roles to the male characters. (for the record, my cast is evenly split 50/50 by gender)
Because I refused these changes, I lost the options for publishing or representation with several American institutions. This is what led me down the self-publishing road seven years ago.
Since then, I’ve published three books in the series and not one. NOT ONE comment from readers anywhere has taken issue with the gender disbursement of the cast. It is a series about the muses, who are traditionally female, after all.
This has led me to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that with the American state of affairs and often decades backward way of thinking about female power, women’s rights, equality and rape culture—this market is not a literary fit for my work.
A whole series about Nine powerful women changing the world? Are we ready for it in the Unites States? We’re ready. Yes. We need it. Yes.
Are there any other series, television, books, movies that have a female led ensemble cast? There are a couple. A few. Several books and series and shows with ONE strong female lead—but no ensembles of super-heroine casts.
It’s as if there’s an unspoken fear that if super-strong, goddess powered, super-human women banding together to rock a story line will somehow threaten the hierarchy of the Universe. That if we recognize we hold majority in population numbers, and we stop fighting amongst ourselves for imagined patriarchal privileges, we’ll realize we are unstoppable and we will revolt. It will be a bloodbath. Anarchy!
Wait. All that might actually be true….
The last super-heroine-power shows I remember that are almost entirely female led ensemble were Charmed, Xena, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Niches to be sure. But valuable and full of voice. (and Xena wasn’t really a super hero, but full of awesome.) (Jessica Jones comes pretty damn close to fitting my hopes and dreams but is still not quite there yet.)
The point is, I have faith in the public and in the readers…I no longer have faith in the market conditioned American gatekeeper system. The more I reach out and get feedback related to gender, the more it seems to point to an expectation of continuing to support the status quo OR to encourage the “get back in your box, woman” ideal of commercial fiction.
While I know this is somewhat of an exaggeration, AND an amalgamation of my experiences. I feel like I’m being encouraged to write fluff for women, OR to write something less powerful for the genre to make it palatable for what gatekeepers think the American audiences want.
I am also American audience. I want a cast of female superheroes, not sidekicks to men. Not bit roles in the conclusion of the Avengers 15-year-long series with a five-minute tribute to all the females who supported for over a decade and didn’t have a full LEAD role. I am unapologetic about it. I am insistent upon it. (Yes, I know Captain Marvel had a lead, with a release less than a year from the conclusion of a whole decade long series. Here’s your vanity prize, ladies! BAM. Series and arc are over. Squeezed it in just at the end. I’m sure American women, who hold more than 51% of the census majority population, were sufficiently mollified by the brief acknowledgement and phoned-in representational reference.)
It’s about fucking TIME for women to own the story, for them to wield power both in fiction and on screen. Wield power as a collective of women, showing what it means to have sisterhood, community, and compassion. It’s about time for a collective of strong women to front the conversation of what feminine leadership looks like, and that means in all its sometimes messy glory.
I’ve been a student of Joseph Campbell for decades. When I first heard of his work, I was fifteen or so. For twenty years I obsessed over the standard three act structure, and the hero’s journey of storytelling. His body of work is genius, and I admire and deeply respect it.
However, in recent years I’ve become aware that even Joseph Campbell’s collection of works never really addresses the heroine’s journey. HER journey.
While this seems at first to be a statement of “what about me”, a squawking into the cacophony of unfair representation, it has basis in this one GIANT fact of gender that is missing almost entirely from the hero’s journey amalgamation of works throughout history: Childbirth.
Let that sink into the void of what you know about the Joseph Campbell doctrine. MUCH of what the hero’s journey is non-gender binary. It is the HUMAN experience. He uses many male/female legends and myths in gender fluid ways.
BUT he only hints at the differences that make up a huge variable in the human experiences that cross that boundary in gender specific ways. Yes, it’s part of the human experience.
But childbirth is strictly a female experience (for now). That’s just the biggest, most obvious difference. And if you can recognize that one, there are dozens of other variants that begin to come to mind. Conversations for another day, though. I’m sure this will blow up on the forums. The discussion will be live here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294108170754107/
And so what we’ve known of the standardized hero’s pathways are subtly and invariably influenced and imprinted in masculinized ways. Thusly, many of our recognizable strong female characters are macho-ized. Some in small ways, and other’s in more significant expressions. But few of those strong female heroines are powerful in their owned femininity, powerful in matriarchy, and female tribal unity.
I feel like 80% of the hero's journey according to Campbell is the shared human experience, and the remaining 20% is rich with multitudes that need to be explored.
And so…because I am tired of the sloppy attempts of the American mainstream to appease the masses, hold the status quo to comfort male ego and entitlement, and find excuses as to why a female led enterprise will be unprofitable—I am looking at foreign markets for a home for my work.
The irony is not lost on me.
Embarrassingly, I just don’t think American publishers and agents have got it anymore. They are chasing trend, trying too hard to stay in a comfort zone, or direct the emotional needs of a population that has the majority, by the way, to just accept that the female lot is to be the support system to the male driven superhero fantasy based on a paradigm that doesn’t actually see/hear/recognize the female journey.
Frankly, I’m bored of it. BORED.
Will foreign publishers and agent think differently? I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’m querying to find out. I will have the answers to that question soon.
At the very least, maybe I’ll finally get some useful data back about pacing, or story structure issues. That would be a welcome and refreshing change of rejection pace. I would very much like a publisher or agent who plainly states, “You’re not being rejected for reasons of X, you’re just a shitty writer.”
I might send them flowers and a thank you note. Could I be better at my craft? Absolutely, without question or hesitation. Could I be a better writer/storyteller? Yup. And I’m looking forward to working with the team that will help me hone my craft into a much stronger, more accurate spear.
I will conclude with this acknowledgement:
I am very grateful to my readers; my American readers, and readers in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Russia, France, Canada, Ecuador, Britain, Kenya (though I have no idea how you found my books!), Israel, Germany, and Poland. How you stumbled across The Pillars of Dawn, and then made an effort to reach out was nothing less than miraculous to me. I am grateful to the men and women of every age demographic I didn’t even know I could reach, who have dropped me notes, comments, reviews, questions, requests, and ideas. Thank you for the messages containing corrections needed, and offering ideas on publishing opportunities to try. Thank you to patrons who picked up my publishing tabs, and offered financial support while I was struggling to meet deadlines.
I am targeting publishers in the countries of readers who have reached out to me. I feel like it’s only fair that if publishing contracts get made, those readers will get first dibs on translations and releases in their own country and in those languages.
Am I worried that this post and my opinions and points of view will damage my publishing prospects? Not in the least. It will only keep those opportunities that are not a match for my platform from reaching out. And that saves me tons of work in the long run. They say not to rock the boat when you’re sitting in it…but this is a boat that needs to be rocked. I’ve got my life vest on, so, I’m ready.
The right connections will get it, and then we’ll be off and running together.
I AM SO GRATEFUL TO YOU ALL. It’s been an amazing seven years of beautiful interactions.
Shopping The Pillars of Dawn does not in any way discount or dismiss my level of gratitude to you all. If anything, giving the series the opportunity to reach a wider audience, and allow me to get busy on Act Two, is a testament to my commitment to the series, and to my readers as a whole—and you made that possible. Thank you.
I will certainly keep you all posted on the forums, and through the usual channels. If you’re on the threads—I will post play by plays for you, and be open to conversations and feedback. Please feel free to ask questions, and or open a dialog about this projected publishing change. I am not going anywhere. I am listening. This is not abandonment—this is simply the next act in my publishing arc.
Thank you again, everyone. I truly hope you continue to enjoy this marvelous ride with me.
It certainly is never dull.
Viva La Story, Folks.
P.S. Because I exhausted myself so much on this post, I haven’t gone back for the edit and pc version of it yet. I’ll update when I have the fuel. In the meantime, I’m sure this will still some thoughts and feelings with people, so I am opening a Facebook forum for questions, answers and discussions here at The Pillars of Dawn: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294108170754107/
If you want to talk about what I’ve said, in a closed, respectful group, please send a request and I’ll moderate as I’m able. I'm looking forward to input and perspectives on this post. Thank you in advance.
Whilst working on the creativity session planning schedule and building up the workbook, I came across a curious response from people when I asked, “What inspires you?”
The section of the workbook is about revving the creative engine, and sometimes we need to “borrow” inspiration from other areas of our lives in order to jump-start a creative spark. Testing the hunch, I’ve been randomly asking people what inspires them.
I was shocked to realize how many people don’t know how to answer that question. It’s a fairly simple question, but it stumps a lot of people. Picking at this curious thread it began to unravel, as I asked people what they think inspiration IS.
Nearly everyone agrees that inspiration is a force that compels, motivates, uplifts, and elevates our responses and actions in some way. It kicks thoughts, beliefs and ideas up a notch, as it were.
But when I ask why they can’t think of anything that inspires them, there’s a gap between the daily inspirations, the long-term aspirations, the profound epiphanies, and the what they would classify as “inspiring”.
When I ask “What inspires you?” Most people think I’m asking for some iconic emblem of human achievement or sacrifice; Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., veteran war heroes, powerful examples of leadership, a moving book/movie/story, and so on. Those people and things are inspiring, yes, I agree. (interestingly, most people answer the question with the name of a human being: an actual person or that person’s life is inspiring = people can be enormously powerful inspirational catalysts)
But on a day to day level of your own life, does the story of human compassion and sacrifice of mother Teresa get you out of bed and moving through your day?
Separating the inspiration of the lives, actions, and achievements of others, from the microcosm of your “day in and day out” experience in order to find smaller, consistent, accessible inspirational fuels is the goal of the creativity workbooks and sessions. I realized I’m going to have to re-word some sections, and add definitions to some categories in order to make some distinctions in how people are referring to their daily inspirational fuels.
It turned out to be an important discovery for many reasons. Not just for my work in creativity coaching and boosting, but in my writing as well. I am writing the story of the Muses. The inspirations, or pillars of our cultural systems.
In the fantasy genre you can speak both literally and figuratively about reality through a filter of fantastical possibility. I channel conversations about inspiration, creativity, social structure and culture through the modernized mythological Muses. My fictional Muses support the inspirations from which our cultures are founded: arts, science, law, language, story, movement, performance, history, mathematics, and so on.
Realizing the common way inspiration is perceived and spoken about has made me realize I have tuning to do in my fictional series, and in my workbooks.
Instead of asking, “What inspires you?” I’ll ask:
What stimulates your curiosity?
What do you find yourself daydreaming about repeatedly?
Who or what offers a touchstone to keep your personal creative energy charged?
What do you see/hear or interact with that consistently makes you feel awe?
These questions may not be easier to answer at first, but they will separate the classifications of inspiration out into smaller pieces for easier dialog.
What stimulates your curiosity?
History. New culinary experiences. Music. Genetics. Quantum theory. Setting difficult challenges for myself. Foreign cultures. Contrasting ideas. Geology. Archaeology. Theology. Foreign languages. Architecture. Wine and whisky. Human innovation. Agriculture.
What do you find yourself daydreaming about repeatedly?
Travel. Castles. Venice. Flying. Building fun projects. A finished studio. Restaurants I want to try. Meeting like minds. Travel. New chapters to write. New horizons to explore. Partnership. Dancing. Travel.
Who or what offers a touchstone to keep your personal creative energy charged?
Hanging out with other creatives. Going to a good movie, well produced. Discovering a new culinary dish. Trying out a new art or craft technique. Actors/Actresses whose works move me. Musical performances that elevate my mood or speak to my needs. Fresh flowers. Reading well told stories. Sitting by the river. Authors/storytellers I trust and respond to, again and again. Pinterest. Cookbooks. Youtube videos for projects. Walking through the craft store or hardware store for ideas. Waterhouse. Illustrators. Painters. Lyrics. The library.
What do you see/hear or interact with that consistently makes you feel awe?
The forest. The St. John’s Bridge in North Portland. My animals. Good books. Phenomenal cooking. Amazing acting performances. Great sex. Live music. The ocean. Violins. Cellos. Pianos. Excellent whisky. Libraries and bookstores. Lightning storms. Calving glaciers. Thunder. Alaska. Mountains. Bold color schemes. Architecture. People overcoming challenges. Random acts of kindness. Flowers.
From the crossover in my answers I can say that nature, culture, music, art, foods, and people inspire me.
There are more common threads to pick out. I’ll do the work on overlap and start patterning in order to find a way to make the workbook and the creativity sessions have a higher payout productively. Still, is seemed like a minor breakthrough and worth mentioning on the blog. In the meantime, how do YOU answer these questions:
What stimulates your curiosity?
What do you find yourself daydreaming about repeatedly?
Who or what offers a touchstone to keep your personal creative energy charged?
What do you see/hear or interact with that consistently makes you feel awe?
Well, there are some new additions to the family.
I haven’t really thought of myself as a cat person, but now I have bee hive, two cats, a dog, six baby ducklings, five grown chickens, and two tiny baby chicks. One more animal in the mix seems to tip the scale from a “perfectly reasonable cottagestead working farm” to a “ridiculous menagerie”.
It all started two weeks ag when my friend, Liz from Mother Spruce Farms, gave me a herd of baby ducklings. She knew I’d tried to hard to get ducks and keep them alive last year, and her ducks had hatched a passel of more than a dozen little quackers. I can’t even tell you how delighted I was to pick up baby ducks. SO EXCITED!
Turns out, they don’t like to be picked up as much as I like picking them up. Though they’re little fluffy balls with feet, they are not huge fans of public displays of affection. So sad. Nor do they like to stand still for portraits. As soon as I pull the phone or camera out, they’re running for cover.
Since I knew I was going to have to go through brood stage again, the stinky, messy brooding of tiny fowl—I went and picked up two more baby chickens at the feed store. Andalusian baby blues. I’m pretty sure one will turn out to be a rooster, and that’s okay with me. Anywhoo, since I knew I’d be brooding ducks, it seemed a good time to add two more chickens and just get the brooding all over with at the same time.
Meet the Mod Squad
A week ago, I looked at six ducks and two chickens brooding in my guest bathroom and thought, “Oh, my god, Athena. No more animals. Stop.” I sighed, “I already give away eggs, and the chicken coop needs to be re-built. Stop. Just stop.”
Then this week, a car threw a bag of kittens out the window down the road. What the fuck? I didn’t know that was an actual thing. There’s a special place in hell for people who are that cruel.
Some of the kittens didn’t survive. It happened in front of my co-worker’s house. She rescued Pandora, and put the call out on social media for a re-homing emergency. Suddenly, I found myself with a new kitten.
She’s underweight, but healthy. She’s a snuggly little purring machine, but she still has trauma responses. When she wakes up and has forgotten where she is, she screeches and runs under the couch, shivering. Then slowly, she recalls she safe and creeps back out for food and cuddles. She runs and hides when the refrigerator kicks on, or the dishwasher runs. Anything that sounds like a motor is terrifying—understandably. She is just barely able to eat solid food, so she’s eating a mix of kitten kibble and soft mush. She figured out the litter box in just a couple of days. She’s gaining weight and is becoming a curious, happy little minx.
Buttercup is not amused. My chihuahua is thirteen years old, and has played surrogate mom to many animals. She’s not a fan of the cats. Though she tolerates Pandora rubbing against her, and crawling in her bed to sleep on Buttercup’s legs, she’s not enjoying it. Every time I look over to see if they’re surviving the transition, Buttercup has a kitten stretched out over her favorite blanket. Buttercups sighs and yawns speak volumes. If she could roll her eyes at me, she would.
Yes, what have I done. One more animal seemed to throw the whole system off tilt for a bit. We will adjust. Pandora is a little ball of love. We will make it work.
I hope to have a builder come help me re-do the coop in July. We’ll be expanding the fencing to allow for a significantly larger space, and a second nesting shed as well as a tub for the ducks that will drain into the garden.
So begins another season of garden and farming. My little cottagestead is patchworked, but full of love. Between a new book project, the budding fruits on the apple trees, and the small zoo in the works—The Elder Glade is turning into a little summer paradise.
From the Letters to Lovers I've never Met Archive
A Thousand Years Ago (Published Spring 2009 on Theblissquest)
I could hear the smile in your voice - that half crooked grin that catches in a dimple on the right and puts mischievous sparks in your eyes. I could hear you smiling at me and I knew what you were thinking…I shivered a little and grinned back.
It seems like we’ve known each other for a thousand years. Perhaps we were lovers or best friends two lifetimes back. Probably again in a few lifetimes hence. But the important thing is that we are here - together again – with so much catching up to do!
Do you still ride horses? Do you still like to build furniture with your hands? Do you still plan on spending a year wandering around the world and exploring another culture? Do you still get flustered and chuckle when a pretty woman looks you right in the eye?
Remember when we were camping on the beach and the tide was out? We could see the meteor shower in the wet sand like a mirror of heaven and we got up and danced together with stars falling up and stars shooting down all around us! Remember that? Or has in not happened yet… I forget. But I do remember you kissing me and saying that I made you feel like stars falling heavenward and heaven crashing down to earth. It made my toes curl and my belly tingle. Do you think I could still do that to you? Make you feel that way?
Are you still the free-spirit that I remember? Do you still like to have time alone and in the spaces of your imagination? Do you still like words? They used to mean a lot to you.
Do you still wear a hat whenever you go out? I feel like we’ve lost so much time in this life and that when we catch up it will take us forever!
I want to know how your childhood was. Did you get into trouble – you usually did. Did you fall in love? Did you fall out? Did you have children? Are you a good father?
So many questions I wish I could ask you in person. But really, mostly, I just want to know… are you happy? Are you living the life you have dreamed for yourself? I’m so proud of you and I can’t wait to see it for myself! You were always so good at manifesting.
I am still me – missing you, from a thousand years ago. Let’s catch up. If you are ready. I just miss my best friend.
Many years ago I felt like my efforts to create were going directly into the void. I struggled to find my voice and my niche in the creative sphere. I realized then that while my work is an amalgamate of all the things I’ve encountered, experienced, researched, discovered or been exposed to—so too, is nearly every artist’s body of work.
Hence the phrase on my business card, “Inhale life, exhale story”.
I decided then, that whenever I became conscious of an influence in my writing, storytelling, sculpting, or cooking…I would make a good faith effort to reach out and say thank you to the creative inspiration that lent me that particular bit of tool/nudge/craft/energy/wisdom.
I wasn’t sure at first how it would work. I sent emails, notes, cards, and thank you treats to chefs, songwriters, performers, directors, and most importantly—my teachers and mentors. I knew most of the letters would be skipped, or dumped in a fan pile bin. Some would be read and likely tossed. Others would be wrongly addressed as it’s difficult to find a way to deliver what is essentially fan mail to the proper recipient.
Even knowing that, it seemed really important to let other artists and creatives know that they are not producing into a void. The void can be a lonely uninspiring place. At the very least, I hoped a thank you note would get through to any one of them if they were in a space to really need it at the time, because I know what that feels like.
When I realize I’ve been influenced or inspired by a creative who has passed away; J.R.R. Tolkien, Marilyn Monroe, or Audrey Hepburn—I try to add a piece of gratitude to the Universe for their contribution, and quietly acknowledge they had a part to play in my humble creative hodgepodge.
Whatever collective amniotic fluid I drift in as an artist, I consciously know nothing is original. Still, there are days I sit at my computer and bang away believing I’m a regurgitative hack. I worry everything I’m writing is crap, and I have the rejection pile to prove it. Some days are better than others with the internal battle of originality versus circular creation.
Then a funny thing happens. Usually at my lowest point, a reader walks into the restaurant where I work, and they want to talk about the books while I serve them beer. It’s weird. I don’t look anything like my author photo. I still work a part time job to pay bills, yet somehow they recognize me right away.
At first they’re confused about why they’re seeing me out of context. Then, they change and become super talkative, and encouraging.
Perspective is not letting positive or negative feedback become an ego challenge or boost. It is only feedback, and must be calculated as any data would be tallied.
But I’m not ashamed to say that after these encounters I feel much less like I’m writing into a void. The story went somewhere, it found a home. Once it’s out of my hands it doesn’t belong to me anymore—but knowing it landed in the reading pile of someone who took it in makes me feel somehow like the world is a conceivable size…an understandable circumference. I am a small, nobody artist---who touched someone somewhere I’ve never actually been, and they touched me in return.
Connection is the antithesis of the void.
Usually, this encourages me to double my efforts to say thank you, to express my gratitude for my experiences and influences. So, I rush home and write a pile of thank you notes, because gratitude is as contagious as creativity.
And this world could certainly use more of both.
Spring brought a few weeks of heat, and a rush of blooms. I was able to get most of the garden planted, and about half of the exterior windows cleaned. More shifts at the restaurant means the beach season is about to get rolling full steam, so I’ll take the hours now so I can write later.
Scold of Jays has been on the market for a month. It was a sneaky release so I didn’t expect much notice. A couple of reviews have come in, but I’m not stressing too much about the low visibility. I’m already planning my winter of writing Plague of Gargoyles.
On an amazing note, my childhood friend, Rob, was inspired by Xabien’s melee and skinning blade, which he then made in real life. Rob’s a brilliant weapon maker and sculptor, and does an assortment of ulus. When he sent me Xabien’s ulu, I opened the box and just stared. This is such a spectacular work of art and craftsmanship that I couldn’t even find words. He just nailed the dragon Ryder King in all his weaponry glory.
I’ll be putting together a photo shoot as soon as I have the chance. More to come with pictures and props. In the meantime, you can see more of Rob’s work here, or visit his site. Yes, he does commissions!
I put my creative boosting sessions on hold this summer while the busy season at the restaurant is going. I hope this will also give me the chance to set up my website registration option for the autumn classes.
The autumn creative session will hopefully have a creativity workbook for students as well. The concepts I’ve been working on in writing my Innovation and Creativity manuscript will be tested on my workshops. So, I need the extra time to hopefully get that workbook laid out and ready for print. If I can’t make it in time for the autumn class, then definitely by winter class.
Stay tuned, new creative workshops are in the September 2019 queue.
The bees are installed and doing well. I’m still feeding them, and have put off cutting my grass and weeds just to have extra flowers available until the apples and blackberries come into full bloom. I’m going for the Wabi-Sabi look in the yard at the moment, which is to say it appears my cottage might be abandoned. Not the case, I assure. Just saving the dandelions and ground cover as long as possible for the bees to have a good head start this year.
Speaking of apple blooms, the trees are definitely beginning their bloom. I’ve been in this house for three springs, and the owner told me he’d planted the apple trees near the road ten years prior. The gala apple had two apples last year, and I never saw it blossom, though it had to have at least two blossoms last year—the tree has not “bloomed” since I’ve been here.
I’d tried fertilizer granules, then spikes, then pruning, and nothing would make the tree go into full bloom. So last summer I placed the chicken run beside the tree in hopes that they would fertilize all through the winter.
The gala apple in in full, massive bloom this year. I had no idea it could bloom so much! It’s beautiful. Even the small apple, the one that tilts, is putting out blooms and opening up. Finally, some food for the bees, and a chance at some apples this year.
I planted some flowers, an herb garden and some veggies. The rhubarb is bigger than my head and ready for early harvest. I just need some strawberries and I’ll have the makings of strawberry rhubarb crisp.
The chickens are thriving. They’re laying three to five eggs a day, and their addition to the garden beds over wintering has allowed for the rich beautiful color of the new shoots and the lush raspberry canes. The roses love it as well. In short, we’re off to a promising start.
All these little bits of mundane life are part of the long-term goal of being sustainable and creative. So, they may seem tedious and boring to many—it’s a huge part of drawing the web tighter to a center that will allow me greater creative freedom and output.
Also, who doesn’t love fresh honey and eggs? And a basket of fresh picked apples and a vase of garden roses?
There are many days when I think, “This was not the plan…” By now I was supposed to be traveling the world, writing at Parisian cafés and having whirlwind romances with beautiful, literate men, and walking through exotic cities, and taking pictures of all the fabulous architecture… not shoveling chicken manure into lopsided garden beds I built myself, and setting mouse traps by the feed bins, then going to work as a waitress.
Then I sit at my writing desk staring out over the creek and into the woods, I smile because I realize, “This is much better than my original plan….” I shrug. “I’ll get to all that other stuff eventually, for now I just want to write, and write, and write. Everything else doesn’t even matter anymore.”
Bliss is a funny thing. It rarely shows up in the packages you expect, and often in the packages you have intentionally avoided.