Serious whimsy

A new year: a fresh season to create. To bear down, pull back, try, tweak, form & fashion, enjoy. What will flow from your pen, spill out of the kiln, spark from your brush, leap off the stage this year? What will we hear, see, notice, discover because you anted up, got it done, polished the rough, and roughed the smooth? Will your portfolio expand? Will you learn something new? Will your craft hurtle off in a new direction? And what attitude will accompany this ‘work’?

There is a foot bridge in Tacoma, WA, part of which is covered by a structure built to house Chihuly’s glass. From a distance, this bridge is quite ordinary. But when you move closer, walk through: aack! You are surrounded, engulfed, by color, movement, vision, skill, abundance, joy. There is here, without doubt, the fruit of much labor and evidence of great care–but what strikes you is the bursts of enthusiasm, insouciance, exuberance. Unexpected, yet welcome, and offered up in this most pedestrian of settings to delight, and inspire.

Chihuly and Pike 8.12 206

Chihuly and Pike 8.12 193

Chihuly and Pike 8.12 195

Chihuly and Pike 8.12 197

Staging a Book

Letters to Me is nearing completion: it should be available as a paperback and e-book in about three weeks. But what’s gone into getting the book this far? And what remains? Here’s a quick summary of the process:

1. Idea stage, where the notion for a book shows up–usually unbidden or unplanned. The germ of LTM arrived early in the new year from who knows where, and stayed with me; I ran it by others and got a consistently positive response–enough to encourage pursuing further development.

2. From the start, LTM seemed like a collaborative book, something I’d done before, so I began the search for contributors in the spring. My starting point was to contact some of the really good writers I know. From there I went on to bloggers I’ve been following, as well as several recommended by a trusted source. A few I contacted weren’t interested, some had too much on their plates to tackle a new project, and a number were intrigued. The group of about 20 coalesced in late spring.

3. Describing the concept, sharpening details, waiting for responses–all this was going on during the ‘contact’ phase. We established deadlines, but then life intervened and those got pushed back. We’re now a couple of weeks behind the projected publication date, but as far as I can tell, this has not mattered one whit.

4. Writing, editing, rewriting occurred over the next three months; there’s a lot that goes into a finished piece, even when it’s less than 5 pages long. Did I mention that most of LTM’s contributors have been published, or have been writing for a long time–and that they’re good at what they do? Even still, rewriting is essential. Not only that, but the conversations that sprang up during the process was an important part of the collaboration, too.

5. We hired a professional editor, to comb through the text. Almost no book is error-free, but these days, independently published work (like LTM) can rush to market too fast, and miss this important step.

6. Cover design happened in the cracks, building from a stock photo, and using fonts recommended by pros.

7. By mid-October, most of the pieces had come to gether. Now I’m formatting the text and adding some interior design.

8. Contributors are contacting others they know about reading an advance copy of the book. This will be part of our effort to spread the work about the book. It also draws some generous people into the cohort of those who are enthusiastic about what we’re doing. Cheerleaders are vital, as are those who will give clear-eyed assessments of what we’ve done.

9. The book comes out. In LTM’s case, that will happen on or about November 10.

10. Comments continue. Our hope is that many will hear about it, so that they can find the book and enjoy–and, we hope, benefit from–its contents. We’ll be talking about it on our various networks, and looking for unobnoxious ways to introduce LTM to readers.

11. The next project begins (or climbs back down off the shelf). As wonderful as the one you’re working on is, it’s rarely the only, or the last, thing you write…

University of Days–part 6

In today’s installment, it’s time for graduation, and all the pomp, circumstance, and possible disaster associated with that. If you’ve been reading along, this is the last piece of the new novel; if you’re just discovering it, you can find the other five pieces here.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride! It’s been a kick for me, too, and now I’m looking forward to some further tweaking as I prepare University of Days for publication. Target date for that is November. Between now and then, if you have comments about the book, I’d be glad to hear from you–my email is toucanic@aol.com . And if you’re about to start school, or it’s already underway, I trust the year ahead is a good one for you…!

Long quiet

For some weeks, the blog has been a bit still: weekly posts from Hebrews continue, but not much else has been going on. Here.

Elsewhere, though, it’s a different story. Travel, weddings for extended family, job stuff, family gatherings–these have been occupying time, drawing energy.

Fair bit of writing, too. Revised Prime Target for a reissue (interested in a review copy? Let’s talk!). Finished (all but) the Glory book and sending it round for a look. Pounding out the next novel that will (most likely) start its life as a serialized story. And working on another collaboration with a bunch of really interesting people. More on this project to follow…

Paging Tom Edison

light bulb by Thomas Edison

If I’m not careful, my days break into too many small pieces: I have a variety of interests and responsibilities that clamor for attention, and want to give them all time and energy. But doing so can be wearing, and leave me huddled over the desk after sundown with a sense that not much was accomplished in any arena.

When several of those days pile together, I resolve to focus, to start the next morning by thinking in terms of chunks more than bits, hours more than minutes. Segments when things will happen.

On days like that, I section off a chunk for fiction, and set to it with determination. Usually, it works out rather well: time flies, and words show up on paper (the quality of those words is another story, as I’m also trying not to get too worked up about sentences or paragraphs during these early drafts, trying to listen to those who say ‘put words down before giving your inner editor license to critique’. Success in this is occasional).

The wrench? Reading over what’s appeared on the page. Sometimes, I like it fine. Other times, not so much. Recent case in point: a story that is unfolding more as a batch of episodes than as a sequence of events had me in its throes, and I bashed out another few hundred words only to find upon review that what I’d written would not do. Too many new ideas, too many unexplained pieces, too much drama for what needed to follow. Argh! One of my chunks wasted.

I went for a quick walk, grabbed a snack, checked email. A new idea occurred, and so I bent to that. Much better fit this time. So why couldn’t I have done it right the first time? This ‘technique’ seems rather inefficient.

Recollection of a story/urban legend about Thomas Edison floated in, how the esteemed inventor was trying to find what would hold a current and illuminate a gas to create a light. He tried this, that, and the other thing, failing each time. Are you discouraged? he was asked. Not at all, he replied. Now I know what doesn’t work.

Fun with words

putting words on paper

So, writing is what you do for fun?

The question was posed with a kindly smile, but even still, I hesitated. My brain cut in: No, writing is my job. Not my only job, but work, nonetheless. I take it seriously: I study the craft, log the hours, hone the grammar, attend to plot development, attribute sources; I build a platform, figure out marketing, push back at my introversion in order to network; I stay at it.

But then, another voice, the one that reminds me of how worlds emerge when I read, how worlds form when I put pen to paper. How a well-crafted line or two from a greeting card can amuse or intrigue. How prose–Dillard-lithe, or Dickens-rambly, and so much in between–delights.

Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett, Antoine de St. Exupery, Anne Patchett, Orson Card, Eugene Peterson–it hardly makes no never mind: reading writers who run along the high wire always draws a gasp. And to join such a troupe, if only by choosing to spend time like they do–not a bad way to fill the hours.

So: fun? Aye.

Down the road with singers and writers

open road ahead

More miles in the car this week, visiting some good folks in New Yawk. Took the trusty iPod along, with the Terry Gross interview of Paul McCartney topping my list. I didn’t find the Beatles til high school (we were living overseas where radio reception was spotty; we were Baptists) but the remedial learning was a delight–so I dialed up the Fresh Air talk enthusiastically.

But instead of a stroll down memory lane, Sir Paul went on about his creative process, how music he’d heard as a lad had stayed with him, how songs from his father’s era planted seeds that sprouted into rock n’ roll. McCartney was talking history, and then he veered over to art with a question: to what do you aspire? A great nudge for creatives, this. And another: How do your aspirations connect with inspirations?

Next up was Joanna Penn’s chat with Jeff Goins. Another easy conversation that lit more than a few fires. How do you see yourself? Goins asks. And then, particularly of those who write, he wonders, What will it take to call yourself a writer? Jeff encourages writers to embrace that moniker with greater verve and confidence. What happens if you do? he wants to know. What happens if you don’t?

Seth Godin is pretty much ubiquitous for those connected to business, marketing, writing, or the world-wide web. An interview with Brian Clark at Copyblogger was still on my player, so I keyed it in. Ideas burbled out. One factoid caught me: that Godin has been blogging for about 15 years. Could that be part of the explanation for his prodigious reach and influence?

After all, 15 years on the digital highway is like a century on an ordinary road: this guy has been around more blocks than most others. Seen through a different lens, of course, 15 years is hardly a blink. I was 15 when I heard the Beatles for the first time, and that just seems like, well, yesterday. But the point of longevity is an important one, and modeled by this one who champions showing up and shipping out.

And you –when you’re on the long & winding road, what podcasts are likely to be playing?