Seeing Things

My birthday was this week. One of those major milestone birthdays. So, I decided to take the week off to relax from a busy period at the day job. A grand staycation to focus on Novel 3 (which has been neglected due to a draining work schedule that’s lingered too long). The staycation/celebration started last weekend when a friend arranged for our fearsome foursome to take in some culture at the Marciano Art Foundation.

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The Yayoi Kusama exhibition was delightful. The Glenn Ligon was so powerful, it left the four of us silent. All of the art was evocative and inspirational to the degree that, at one time or another, each of my three friends said, “Heh, I could do that.”

Clenching my BFA, I finally blurted, “Of course you could. But you didn’t. The difficult part is finding the time and courage to actually do it. Then you find out how hard easy is.”

My good friends simply blinked and politely bit their tongues. They know I know how to kill a mood. I also know that kind of comment is the verbal equivalent of someone coughing during an opera. A music teacher explained that phenomena as, “When something is too moving, some need to disturb it without realizing what they are doing or why.”

Art is intense, even when it seems simple. And simplicity can frustrate.

So can writing a damned book.

The irritating thing about this third novel of mine is that I’ve never had something go so slowly, especially when I know the whole story. I see everything that’s going to happen, that needs to happen, from the beginning, through the middle and to the end. All that needs to be done is the doing. Simple, right? But I sit with three chapters completed, another four in fragmented form and an estimated twenty-five to write in total. I’m a far from finished on a book I envisioned more than six years ago. And maybe the problem is that I’m seeing it too clearly.

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Fun fact: I went to film school. That’s what I hold my BFA in. I see my books in a cinematic sense and have to pull myself out of that scriptwriting story style. My process begins with pondering which tales need to be written in novel form, and which want to be screenplays. Or which screenplays are ready to be novels now.

Straddling those two mediums, I see the different ways storytellers are viewed. Authors aren’t considered visionaries — not unless they’re writing fantasy or about other, future worlds. Film directors, however, are often lauded as that, even though they are going off what a writer put down on a page. Rarely is the director the screenwriter as well.

Writers are visionaries, almost by definition, even if we are writing about the mundane. Even if the worlds we create mirror our own. Writers see things in the world (this world, that world or another), people and places and bring them to new life. Yet, if that story or its people are too close to real life, the creativity comes into question.

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I’ve had a friend refer to my first novel as a “memoir.” I’ve had another author make a dismissive dig about the kind of writers who “write themselves.” Both comments make me grin. I’ve admitted that my stories start from something that’s happened to me or a situation I’m introduced to that makes me ask, “How would I handle that?” Which is the reductive way of posing how an unmarried, no-kid woman in Los Angeles would confront those challenges. Would she allow herself to change, or fight it? I write this way because I think there’s a need for that kind of female voice — stories of women who don’t make marriage or children imperatives. That choice does not make my books autobiographical. Not by a longshot.

Taking aspects of oneself or the folks we know to form the amalgam of characters we create is what makes them relatable. Those who strive to write as far away from themselves as possible sometimes end up with characters that are difficult to connect with. A tad less authentic. To some degree, we want to recognize the people we read about, whether we see ourselves in the characters or recognize those we know. It makes me wonder what those writers don’t want to know about themselves. Or what they refrain from sharing.

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As my week off winds to a close and I prepare for the Los Angeles Times’ Festival of Books, I must admit that didn’t write one word in my third novel. Not a single word. It continues to run through my head as it waits to be hatched onto the page. It’s not a writer’s block stopping me, but a creative embarrassment of riches. The week before my vacation, a brilliant idea struck and that has been the priority. I’m in a fortunate place where ideas are bountiful. I’m able to see multiple possibilities. And that fragments my focus.

My life has been shifting since I started writing that third novel. I’m becoming a different writer and, perhaps, a different person. Art changes the artist. I went through a similar thing in film school where I cranked out so much work I didn’t have anything else to give and had to pivot. I went into CalArts with aspirations of being an experimental narrative director and came out a traditional narrative screenwriter. I know that I’m shifting out of the chick lit genre, and this book is a bridge to that, but I’m not sure where that will lead me. Aside from writing, I have other creative projects and goals to achieve. Happily, I see a great deal of potential.

That’s a common problem with visionaries.

Get Lucky

ShamrockThey say you have to create your own luck. Things just don’t happen by chance. It takes hard work and planning, honing skills and nurturing creativity. You must study your market, know your audience. Stay true to yourself, but don’t be afraid to pivot. Overnight success takes at least a decade. And not everyone is meant to make it. After all, talent will only take you so far.

The truth is dumb luck plays a big part in success. Sometimes, you simply are in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing, and the right people notice.

Who knew we wanted to read a Brit’s diary? Who could have imagined wizard children would be compelling? From sparkling vampires to a set number of Grey, it’s the unexpected (and oft-rejected) in Literature that sparks the next “big thing” that readers and publishers and marketers want.

And then that becomes the only thing they are looking for.

As an artist or businessperson, you have two choices: go with that flow or carve your own path.

People do find success chasing trends. A round of golf claps to them. I think that would end up being an exhausting and passionless pursuit. It’s more technical and less of an art. Paint by numbers, if you will. That’s not to say lovely work can’t happen that way, but how long can one sustain the chase?

There is luck to be found in what I like to call “ravenous genres” such as Romance, Mystery/Suspense, Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Book series do well with readers who can not get enough good stuff and are very open to reading unknown/new authors. If you have those bones in you, write that way. If you want to dabble in more than one genre, pick your pen names so you can market yourself/your work accordingly. Audiences don’t “travel” the way we would hope they would.

Young Adult is another space where authors can create stories and series that just might jump the fence and become popular amongst ol’ adults. If your passion takes you in that direction, follow it.

For those of us in the vast wilderness of Women’s Literature, it can be a long walk in the dark. Chick Lit seems to be a topic again lately, as the pioneers of it have grown up, their writing evolved and new works released, but it seems to remain a muddy puddle. The term is still seen as disparaging. By that, readers are kept away from its newer authors who are also helping the genre evolve. I have been begging the industry to either embrace the term or come up with something better so we can help readers who want that middle ground between “serious” Fiction and bodice-ripping Romance find those books. Because that is the land wherein Chick Lit resides. It’s the Rhode Island of Fiction. A tiny, lovely place that you have to squint to find on a map. 

 

Today, there is a huge amount of content available. Whether it’s television series, movies, music or books, anyone can be a “creator” now, and that is both wonderful and overwhelming. Luck becomes the needed element in one’s success. How does one conjure up something as random as that?

Tenacity is required. The desire to become better at your craft is non-negotiable. Listen to your critics, and develop your inner one. You have to put yourself out there, which is not easy if you are an introvert like most artists. Make yourself known in your community and then grow that community. That whole “power in numbers” thing is valid. It does take a village.

Let’s be honest: Luck is something you step in. But you have to be active in order to stumble upon it. So, get out there and stomp your ground. If you feel you are out there alone, fumbling in the dark, perhaps you are paving the way to the next big thing. Shine that light, darling.

Here

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Alley art on my block.

As the rush to the year’s end commences, I tend to get reflective. I look back on all that I’ve accomplished and, more so, on what I have not. There’s a third novel with only four chapters done. A passport that remains expired. Yoga mat now collecting dust and running shoes that wouldn’t mind going for a walk.

But there was a second novel released at the start of the year. A new venture that’s beginning to blossom. Opportunities that have connected me with readers and other authors. Friendships have grown and I have evolved. Somehow, it’s easier to focus on what wasn’t achieved, no matter the number of one’s successes.

The greatest challenge for me is to be in the absolute moment. It’s nearly impossible. There’s always somewhere else I need to be. Whether it’s rushing off to a day job, getting chores done, honoring appointments, meeting up with friends, connecting with connections, or scenes/characters/dialogue impatiently clamoring to be written, there’s not a free minute to be in the moment.

While I’m currently failing at another NaNoWriMo (it’s hard to write when your allergies have you busy blowing for the first 13 days), I’m learning to take a solid pause. When you can’t do what you want/should/need to be doing, the only choice is to sit still. There’s no other place for me to be but here. And, when I finally surrendered to it, I realized that’s not such a bad place to be.

However, when you want to be someplace else — successful in your desired career, living in your dream home, luxuriating on a tropical island, collecting that lottery money — it’s difficult to enjoy where you’re at, that here, this moment. That’s what usually gets in the way and takes away from enjoying what we’ve already got.

We’re told we need to be hyper-focused on the goal in order to achieve it. Any faltering in that allows failure an opportunity to creep in. Keeping a keen eye on the prize is necessary to a degree; but, if that were indeed the magical method (“The Secret, if you will), don’t you think we’d see a lot more people living their dream life? Hard work, focus and determination are necessary ingredients for success, but they can also wear you down and burn you out.

The truth is that luck, timing and perseverance are also factors in success, and only one of those do we really have control over. One achievement worth striving for is actually loving what you do. Right here, right now. Yes, I know that’s trite and, God forbid, we settle for anything less than the goal of massive success/world domination. But, if this were it, if this was all you were ever going to achieve, could you be happy here? That’s not an easy question to answer. There are likely lots of compromises made, figuring they would be temporary yet they have somehow stuck around. But, as a writer or artist, if you don’t love what you are doing, right here and now, insanity is around the corner. Falling in love with the process itself is the first brick in the foundation of success because there is much more “failure” and rejection involved in being a creative soul than there are accolades (or money).

As these allergies persist (despite superhuman attempts to quell them), I’m letting the novel stall 17,000 words in. I’m not giving up or setting it aside; I’m simply giving it room to breathe. I’m giving myself the same. For the rest of the year, I’m going to slow down, not push, not rush, and put the hustle on hold. I’ll be here, in the now, embracing the moment. Things will still get done; there’s a lot on my calendar and much prep to be done for next year (both for the L.A.L.A. Society and the launch of Emotional Intelligence at the Ventura County Line…when it’s done). But I’m (finally) learning I can’t put my cart too far ahead of that nag. I’ll be taking my time with what’s in front of me, not in a hurry to get to the next. That won’t be easy; I’m an Aries, A-type personality. But, sometimes, when you quit pushing, you fall into the flow. Sometimes, when you come to a stop, you’ll know exactly where to go.