Persistence Indeed

I have always had trouble staying the course with my writing. It is a bit of a love/hate relationship I have with my pen - on the one hand it is part of me, and I am compelled by something bigger than myself to tell stories. On the other hand, it is had for me to focus so intently, difficult for me to get past the daily distractions and stick to a vision. I'm not sure how to describe it, except to say that it is like exposing pieces of myself, pieces I normally keep hidden. They call to me, my characters and stories, and insist on their freedom, but it is hard to let them go.

I have spent years cultivating excuses for not sitting down and writing. I am very good at it. I'll never be free, though, to be the writer I've always wanted if I continue to live from one procrastination exercise to another, spending my days telling those little voices to hush already.

NaNoWriMo has been very good for me. I'm sitting down to write and finding that the words do come. There is more to me than short stories. I am 5000 words in now, and am finding that I have a voice, and something to say. The story is coming together magically in my head- as I write, the story plays out on a little ribbon-movie in my head. It is wonderful. It is enlightening. It is what makes me happy.

Part of the credit also goes to a book I am reading, by Julia Cameron, called The Right to Write. She systematically dismantles all those arguments you make to yourself about why you don't have the time or the skill to be a writer. I have been so focused this year on selling a story that I forgot about the sheer joy that the act should give to me. I let myself get so caught up in the editing, rewriting, fear of rejection, and procrastinating that I lost my focus. This book helped me find it again, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has that "Great American Novel" inside somewhere waiting to see the light of day.

09 November 2007


As many of you in the struggling-writer-in-progress online world know, November is National Novel Writing Month, with its annual challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I signed up last year, wrote two pages, and spent the rest of the month dodging encouraging emails and reminders. This year, I'm committed. I have been writing and submitting stories and articles all year (though have yet to sell any), and throughout the summer that voice which has dogged my steps for as long as I can remember has gotten steadily louder. (You know that voice. The one who says, HEY! WRITE THAT NOVEL YOU'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT FOREVER!!)

For the last few days I have been doing research on my topic (Lilith), as well as some historical time periods I plan to include. I have worked out a vague storyline in my head, and I hope that Neil Gaiman is right when he says at some point it will all come together like magic and I'll know what I'm doing.

My main strategy this time is just to WRITE. I have a terrible habit of writing two paragraphs, then spending 3 days editing them to death. This time, I am going to just write, get the words down on paper, and forbid myself to go back and look at anything until December 1. As they say at the NaNoWriMo hints page, the time for editing is later, when you have a manuscript. The important thing is to get to that point first.

I will add updates here, hopefully every couple of days, to let my faithful reader(s) know how it is going. I also have a post coming up on E.A. Poe, in celebration of All Hallow's Eve.

25 October 2007

News and Info

The Times Picayune's Book editor Susan Larson has written an article on Fall 2008 books by Louisiana authors. You can see it here.

Also, local author Chere' Coen has recently launched a new website for readers and writers called Louisiana Book News. Very cool to have a place where you can find local author appearances and signings, reviews, and general goings-on in the reading and writing community. Chere' also writes a book column here on Sundays in our local newspaper.

Finally, the State Library of Louisiana has an interesting site worth checking out, The Center for the Book. Here you'll find a searchable database of Louisiana authors, information on a couple of writing contests, as well as info pertaining to local book festivals. Good resource - check it out.

Off to the Friends of the Lafayette Parish Library Used Book Sale today. Hurricane Humberto is knocking on my front door, but who cares when there are yummy books to peruse and buy. :)

13 September 2007

The Graveyard Road, Pt. II

Photo - Paul Devereaux from the Fortean Times

Related to my previous post about The Graveyard Road in my hometown, I've been doing some research lately on the lore of the Coffin Road, sometimes referred to as a Corpse Road or Lych Way. They were medieval creations in Europe, primarily the UK from what I can gather, and although they started out as political tools, have all sorts of interesting myths surrounding their creation and use.

In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic church reigned supreme in Europe. Individual parish churches were numerous - sometimes too numerous for the populations in their immediate vicinity. In order to guarantee a bit of revenue from funeral and burial fees, they asked for and received permission to require residents of certain areas to use a specific church for the burial of their dead. Sometimes families had to transport their loved ones several miles in order to reach the cemetery where they had to be buried. In order to facilitate this transport, paths and small lanes were constructed, leading from various villages and settlements to the graveyards they had been assigned. Some even had large "coffin stones" carved on which to occasionally rest Grampa or Uncle Joe, as carrying a full coffin for several miles over sometimes rough terrain could be pretty tiring.

As you can imagine, lots of stories, traditions and folklore sprang up around these highways of the dead. People in those times had no scientific explanations for the odd lights that showed up occasionally in fields at night, or why little Susie came down with a mysterious illness no one could explain or cure. People really, really believed in curses and ghosts, and took them very seriously. Care was taken to keep the spirits of the dead in their place, as fear of revenants was common. Many times coffin roads passed over streams, for example, because it was commonly believed that spirits could not pass over running water. Another trick was to transport the dead to the cemetery with their feet pointing away from home, in the hopes that when and if they walked, they would do so in the opposite direction from which they came.

A traditional English Lychgate (entrance to cemetery)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Interestingly, the idea of spirit roads was not a new thing, even in the Middle Ages. In Celtic Europe, "fairy roads", which always traveled (in theory) in straight lines, criss-crossed the countryside and were the reserved travel ways of the fey. People took great care not to build structures across them, or block them in any way with fences or hedges. Violation would incur the wrath of the supernatural - hauntings, poltergeist activity, and mysterious illnesses.

Related to all of this is the folklore surrounding crossroads, which by tradition are places where not only roads, but worlds, intersect. The Devil is said to keep watch at crossroads, a myth manifested in America by the legend of Robert Johnson, who sold his soul in Mississippi at a crossroads at midnight in exchange for the ability to play and sing the Blues. Suicides and criminals were often buried at crossroads to keep them from roaming and seeking solace with the living. One famous example in Britain is Tyburn, the traditional spot for hangings in London for centuries. It was located at the crossroads of two ancient Roman roads.

Sadly, many of the old Coffin Roads have fallen into disuse and neglect. Most people don't know the origin of these strange, overgrown tracks and pathways that lead through the countryside. The dead have to find their own way these days, picking among the ghosts of their former highways and byways. I like to imagine, however, that in time they find their destination anyhow.

"Where The Ley Lines Led" from The Fortean Times
Wikipedia articles on Coffin Roads, Lych Gates, and Tyburn, London

12 September 2007

Insanity it seems...

Click to enlarge:

A New Forum

(Authors Note: I'm posting this here, and also as the initial article on the new blog, in order to direct traffic. I'll be posting my first article on the new blog soon.)

Even after I wrote about my political posting, I wasn't happy about the state of my blog. What is it about? Writing? Politics? I am well aware that art and political discourse don't play well together. Hell, they don't even look good sitting on the same bench. Therefore after some thought I decided to break things up into separate entities.

The Persistence of Vision will continue to be about the things that prompted its origin - art, writing, folklore, magic and other interesting tidbits. The Paradox of Vision will be my activist voice - reserved for the constant struggle I feel as a citizen of the United States in 2007. There are days when I read the news and it is filled with things I don't want to see, things which outrage me and cause me to question the future of our nation. Other times I look around and see people and ideas that make me proud to be an American. It is open to any topic under the political umbrella - from the latest despotic labors of Mr. Bush and his cronies to rampant Republican hypocrisy, Louisiana politics and candidates and citizens that I admire and support. I know there are tons of political blogs out there supporting both sides of the aisle, but I don't care. I am a citizen, and a voter. My voice is important, even if it is drowned out in the crowd. I won't hide my eyes to what is going on around me. Democracy cannot die as long as there are informed voices that demand truth and justice.

I'll also be welcoming the LOML as a co-author and occasional ranter-in-residence. His screen name is El Prez, and he'll be offering his own take on free speech issues, legislation affecting electronic freedoms, and occasionally, opinions which are totally at odds with my own. But hey, I welcome discourse. It's what America is all about.

The Graveyard Road

When I was a little girl in rural (very rural) Louisiana, we lived in a tiny neighborhood close to the crossing of what is called there "the backroads". Generally, people got around on the main highway of the area, US 165, which runs north to south through the western edge of the state. The backroads were a collection of paved and unpaved ways that led between all of the same towns as 165, but were small, narrow, and cut through the deepest parts of the woods. They didn't lead triumphantly into the little towns, with cute little flower gardens kept up by the ladies' auxiliary and "Welcome to..." signs posted, but instead crept surreptitiously into neighborhoods only the locals knew. One of these roads, within walking distance of my house, was called the Graveyard Road. I think it had an official name of some family or other, but the Graveyard Road is what everyone called it. It was short, more of a lane, really, less than a quarter mile long, and it dead-ended in our tiny community cemetery. When we were bored in the summertime we used to take walks down there, picking blackberries that grew on the fences alongside and swatting mosquitos. When we got to the graveyard we'd wander among the tombs and crypts, speculating about how the people there had died. Trees grew thick and heavy along its length, keeping the little street shrouded in quiet darkness even on the brightest of days. Everything down that road was laced with mystery. It didn't seem like a serene resting ground for loved ones. It just seemed spooky. My grandfather is buried there. So is my mother.

As I have been working along on a pile of stories lately, one thing has become clear to me - that a large number of them share a common theme - the supernatural. I have a couple of ghost stories, a Louisiana swamp werewolf, and the usual odd assortment of various creepies. I've decided then, to bind them up as a collection when I am done, and to try to sell them as a book instead of individually. The title? The Graveyard Road.

11 September 2007

Vote Cthulhu 2008!

10 September 2007

The Usual Suspects

You know I am absolutely fascinated by how the Bush Administration struts around and boasts about making the world safer since 9/11, when the actual perpetrator is still out there, making new videos and (I have to believe) laughing his ass off. Bush and his pals managed to turn what should have been an international criminal investigation into a pointless, expensive war that has so far managed to kill more Americans than the actual attack itself. It galls me to see these videos surface, and then to hear a Bush spokesperson claim that bin Laden is "virtually impotent". Excuse me? This man killed 2,973 people on American soil. Sorry, Mr. President, but that doesn't sound impotent to me.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani, who, along with Bush, has made a virtual career of profiting off the misery of the victims of 9/11, especially the brave first responders who lost their lives that day, is caught telling a big, fat, boldfaced lie on television. Check out the video at "The Real Rudy", a new project that strives to let the world know there is more to "America's Mayor" than a few slick and well-played television appearances.

Also, for those of you who watched the video I posted a couple of weeks ago concerning the genocide in Darfur, but don't quite understand why the hell all that misery is going on, here is a quick explanation.

Finally, I found this great cartoon from Harper's which sums up the Democrats in Congress very well:

Could it be...could it be...a backbone?

Goodbye, Ms. L'Engle, You'll Be Missed

Very sad last night to hear of the passing of Madeleine L'Engle. She has always held a very special place in this reader's heart, as her book, A Wrinkle in Time, was the first sci-fi/fantasy-type book I ever read, and she literally opened up a new world to me that I had no idea existed. I was a skinny little girl from the back woods of Louisiana, and as you can imagine there wasn't a lot of Asimov or Bradbury on our library shelves. One day, however, my teacher offered up as a prize in a math quiz a little paperback she'd gotten as a class bonus from Scholastic. It had a picture of a centaur on the front, and when my turn came to choose a prize from the box, I picked up that book, intrigued. When I started reading it I was astonished and delighted, but most of all, I felt like Meg and Charles Wallace lived in a world that I knew, a world where you were considered "weird" if you were smart and slightly isolated from everyone else. In Meg and Charles Wallace, I found my long lost sister and brother.

In the obituaries I've read about Ms. L'Engle, she is always described as a Christian author, which I suppose she was, but I never felt her work to be preachy. She conveyed her vision of Christianity as a fundamental battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, rather than dogma. Even now, when my own faith has faded and drifted away, I can read her books and agree with much she had to say. She was the best kind of teacher. Shine on, Meg.

08 September 2007

To Stand or Kneel

I opened this blog up to different topics earlier in the summer mainly so that I could go off on tangents concerning subjects I found interesting, subjects which in one way or another have influenced my stories. By that I meant some of the few things left in the world which still have an air of mystery about them - things that could conceivably, if we squint our eyes and promise not to overanalyze, exist because of a bit of magic.

Instead it seems I have been posting a lot lately about politics. In fact, almost exclusively so since I re-launched. This has come about as a direct result of where my attention has been focused in the last few weeks, as I have been finding it very hard to search for bits of magic in the midst of what seems like the darkest days of American politics. I am genuinely concerned about what kind of world my children will inherit - not in the 'high school valedictorian/Miss America speech' sort of way. No. I mean, I really am concerned that there will be no more America, that my kids or their kids could actually live in a United States which no longer exists as a democracy.

Every day I read things which alarm the hell out of me. Every day part of me wants to stop paying so much attention, stop writing letters to the newspaper, stop blogging about it or endlessly aggravating anyone who will listen about the state of my country. Bear in mind, now, that I live in the heart of an almost purely Red state. It's hard to find anyone here who takes Progressive politics seriously. Most people I know despise the ACLU, think global warming is an elaborate liberal hoax, and believe that we should legislate against gay marriage. If it weren't for the sympathetic ear of the LOML to listen to my almost daily rampages, I don't know what I'd do.

In any case, I do have other interests. I do still believe that magic exists in small pockets here and there, and it does influence what I write about and how I see the world. I promise that my posts will be more varied in the future, but I can't promise that I'll leave politics completely out of it. One day, when all of this shit is over and done with, I want to be able to look my children in the eye and tell them that when I was challenged and times were dark, I stood up instead of knelt down. I owe it to them.

06 September 2007

You Will Not Deny Our Future

Powerful message from Greenpeace on global warming:

05 September 2007

August 29, 2007

Two years ago today I was sitting in my boyfriend's apartment in Lafayette, Louisiana. I huddled down with my children in front of the television and watched Katrina, in a matter of hours, change my life and the lives of millions of others forever. I watched the screen and cried all day, wondering if my friends were alive, wondering if my home was gone, wondering who or what would be left when the winds and water went away.

A day later I watched again, slack jawed, tears running down my face, as thousands of human beings were treated like cattle, hungry, thirsty, dying in the heat, waiting for someone to help them. I watched the local politicians get on television, crying, begging and screaming for help from the federal government. I watched the federal politicians play golf and issue a couple of declarations, while turning down international aid. I watched as Canadian Mounties arrived to help before our own military was deployed.

And here we are, two years later. Our city and region have become a fashionable stop off on campaign trails, but little more. Neighborhoods and cities still lie in ruins. Once again, I am watching the screen, watching videos of the recovery progress so far, and not much has changed.

In the time since, volunteers have come by the thousands, offering their time and money to help rebuild. It is a pathetic and infuriating truth that our government has not followed their example. Local and state politicians wring their hands and gnash their teeth at Washington in hopes that the voters will think they're "doing something". Federal politicians just don't give a damn. We're a small, poor state, with only 9 electoral votes. We don't count, basically. Do you think that if Los Angeles had been devestated by a tsunami they'd still be living in FEMA trailers two years later? What about New York?

Douglas Brinkley (who, I might add, has since left New Orleans himself) has a great opinion piece here called "Reckless Abandonment".

What have we gotten in the two years since Katrina? Empty words filling jars of empty promises. Just ask our esteemed President:

This is America, for god's sake. What are we doing? What if this were your home? Everyone, every single one of us, should do somehing. Sign the petition for the Gulf Coast Recovery Act. Contact your Congressman and ask them where all that foreign aid went. Don't let our beautiful city die, and the people who make it so unique fade into oblivion and be forgotten. I am these people. You are these people. Our response to Katrina as a nation is a direct reflection of our values, our compassion, and our unity.

"The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where the stand in times of challenge and controversy." -Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

29 August 2007

The (IM)Moral Majority

My oh my: once again it seems a Republican Congressman has been caught rockin' out with his...well you get the drift. I find it amusing (ok, sad, really) that Bill Clinton was politically crucified for his extramarital affairs, and yet the holier-than-thou set keep getting caught in extraordinarily compromising situations. Let's the last year we've seen an unhealthy interest in boys, frequent trips to the local escort services, and now some attempted touchy-feely in an airport men's room. At what point do the Republican political strategists say "hey, maybe we should tone down the morality issue, 'cause we can't really defend it all that well." If it weren't so infuriatingly hypocritical, it might be funny.

Of course they'll never back down, because the Republicans are the annointed party of God. Everybody knows that. They have been charged from on high with saving this country of sinners from abortion rights, gay marriage, and the teaching of evolution. Or...could it be possible that the Republican party only panders to the Christian right in order to snag that voting bloc? Nah, couldn't be.

28 August 2007

America to the Rescue!!

You gotta love Jon Stewart...

24 August 2007

Something Everyone Should See

This video shocked and saddened me. Why are we not hearing more about this in the American media? What a shame that the lives of pampered and spoiled celebrities are worth more than thousands who suffer and die daily.

Storms and More Storms

I know I was supposed to be writing an essay about something else, but all day I have been glued to radar images and computer models and forecast tracks. August and the height of hurricane season has arrived, and like everyone else south of I-10, I am obsessed and petrified with the storms starting to swarm. As of last check, Erin doesn't look to be much of a threat, but Dean seems to be on a track taking it straight into the Gulf. Where the surface water temperature is 90°. Lovely.

We dodged the bullet last year, and we all breathed a sigh of relief at a quiet hurricane season following The Storm. It seems that in 2007 we won't be so lucky. Can you imagine the horror and fear of the people here? Can you imagine staring down another Katrina? (and let me tell you, they all look that way at this point)

Federal money should be pouring into New Orleans (AN AMERICAN CITY) right now to help more people and rebuild our defenses. Instead, Washington seems to have forgotten us as surely as have the National Media. There aren't anymore grisly pictures of people dying in the streets, so move on to the next casualty. We're in this business to get viewers, after all. Construction and renewal are boring.

The NOLA Times-Picayune has posted an sad and eerie Google Mash-up of murders so far this year in New Orleans. Ray Nagin calls it a double-edged sword. Man, that's great. Just great, Ray. You are truly a genius. Those people had MOTHERS. They have families who grieve for them. You need to stop running your mouth. Seriously.

My beloved state, and my beloved city. We hold our breath, and, as always, we wait...

15 August 2007

Remember, Remember...

Coming up on two years now. Don't forget, don't ever forget.

Lots O' Changes

The children have gone back to school, and the hottest of the hot Louisiana summer days have arrived, which means I have much more time to concentrate on writing and this blog. For starters, I have decided to retool and redesign. I realized a while ago that I want to write about more than just writing, because even though it is my vocation, my interests are varied and I would like to post essays here about lots of different things. Currently I am into Louisiana History (not the stuff you generally read in textbooks), the origins of fairy tales, and themes/ideas from the Science Fiction genre. So, from here on out, expect much more variety of content.

In addition, expanding my subject matter will give me the opportunity to post samples of my writing for critical review, though admittedly they will be mostly of the non-fiction essay genre.

My first piece, on the history of the Mermentau and the story of Skull Island will be up shortly. Until then, look around and leave some comments on the new look.

14 August 2007

Advice From the Man

I've never taken a writing class before. I've read several authors with MFA degrees who swear it was this or that professor who polished them and made them into the writers they are today. I signed up for a writing class once, in college, (I was a Lit Major) but dropped it because, frankly, I was afraid of what I might hear.

At this point in my life I don't have time for writing classes. I once read an article by Ernest Gaines in which he spoke of teaching intro writing classes at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. He mentioned lawyers who spent their nights writing the G.A.N., and who came to class because they wanted his opinions, wisdom, and advice. It seemed sad to me...these souls with hearts that cried out to be artists, but who had let fear turn them to a career that could guarantee they operated in the black.

What can you do, though, but make the best choice you can at the time? How much better was I, opting out of the filthy lucre racket but wallowing in my own fear of failure all those years? Ah, the clarity of hindsight...the lesson being, I suppose, that's it's never too late if you have something to say.

In any case, I have spent a good bit of my time recently reading authors I admire, both their fiction and their advice. How are they motivated? How did they learn to write? The consensus among them all seems to be the same: study the greats. Read, and read, and read, and read some more. When you are not writing, you should be reading - not only for pleasure, but to get a feel for how to construct dialog, how to move along a plot, and how to write language that works.

Here's a good place to get started - Ernest Gaines, Mozart and Leadbelly; Stephen King, On Writing; Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country, and essays & tidbits from Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick.

Philip Dick, for example, offers the following advice for studying great works as a way to improve one's own craft:
For the development of realistic characters & dialogue -
Short stories of Algren, Styron, Herb Gold, and the New-School writers
The left-wing writers of the 1930's, i.e. Dos Passos & Richard Wright
Theodore Dreiser
Nathaniel Hawthorne

For plot & characterization: Flaubert

Also, anything by James Joyce

Finally, A.E. van Vogt, and Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut

The next bit of guidance seems simple enough. Write. Write. Write. Every day, sit down and write, even if you are 100% positive that it is total crap and will never be bought or read by a living soul. Without a doubt this is the toughest part for the emerging writer, even though the longing to write is burning in their soul. It must go past the dreaming stage, into concrete ideas and words on paper.

And so, I am taking their advice. This week I am reading, and studying, and planning. At present I have four stories in various stages of birth, and I am taking a couple of days to flesh them out. I am collecting notes and ideas from no less than three separate journals, as well as the odd scrap of paper here and there, and tackling them from a more organized point of view. I hope to have all of this done by next Thursday, as the children are going to their father's house for a long weekend, and the LOML is away on business. I'll have four days of solitude and the blank page.

I'll keep you posted.

21 June 2007

And...She's Back

I must apologize for the long and striking absence of any posting for the last couple of months. I took some time off for my family - in May to spend time with my children, and in June to get married and go on vacation. I am as a result fat and contented, so to speak, which doesn't translate into good art from what I understand. Art needs suffering. I guess at this point I have only my memories and gift for empathy to rely on. We shall see.

In the interim, however, I have been busy. I have been reading and studying voraciously, both in technique and in content. As I want to write about Louisiana and its people, I have read a collection of short stories by Louisianians, subscribed to and read the LSU Journal The Southern Review, and consumed an interesting book concerning our place in the modern world. I have also continued studying the great writers, with Hemingway's autobiographical work of living and working in Paris, and the book I am currently reading, a collection of essays, journal entries, and story ideas from Philip K. Dick. And, I also began studying photography, though that project is in its infancy.

On the writing front, I have fleshed out the ideas and notes for two new stories, and...(drum roll here) received my first two rejection notices. When I got them I didn't know if I should frame them as badges of honor or burn them. I chose instead to tuck them away quietly in between stacks of old notes, knowing that one day I'll be perusing and come upon them. Hopefully, it will be when I can look back as a successful writer with a bit of nostalgia. I'm sure the stack will grow, but I'm ok with that. Feels like I am earning my chops.

So, in any case, hello again to any readers out there. Tomorrow I will begin blogging anew in earnest, with updates on the stories, and links to interesting tidbits I come across. Till then....just write, damnit.

20 June 2007

One Day Blog Silence

30 April 2007

Another Light Extinguished...
In honor of Kurt Vonnegut, who died today, I will post what I believe to be a fitting epitaph. From his last published book, A Man Without a Country, a poem, entitled, fittingly, "Requiem." So it goes.

The crucified planet Earth,
should it find a voice
and a sense of irony,
might now well say
of our abuse of it,
"Forgive them, Father,
They know not what they do."

The irony would be
that we know what
we are doing.

When the last living thing
has died on account of us,
how poetical it would be
if Earth could say,
in a voice floating up
from the floor
of the Grand Canyon,
"It is done."
People did not like it here.

12 April 2007

Brevity, Clarity and Nadine
Recently, I have been working diligently to observe George Orwell's rules for writing covered in his essay, "Politics and the English Language". This one short work guides everything I write these days, and I keep it in mind each time I sit down at my computer. Although the original piece goes into details (complete with examples) concerning the mistakes it describes, the following is a list of the basic rules -

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I love #6 in particular. It sounds so English to think that bad writing could be considered "barbarous".

In any case, he makes wonderful points about excessive wordiness and vague language muddling up the true meaning and power of the writing. I know I have a tendency to make that very mistake and so I am working hard to learn the art of style and make mine more simple.

As an exercise I am working on a short story titled "The River". It is told from the perspective of a six-year old girl I have named Nadine. Children by definition have simple vocabularies and generally express exactly what they mean in the most direct way possible. They tell it like it is, and don't mince words. Now I write a draft, and then each time go back and simplify. Little Nadine has been a great help, as she is teaching me to learn my voice pared and polished.

10 April 2007

The Creation of Character
I love reading Ernest Gaines. In my mind he is probably the greatest crafter of character in modern literature. I remember once I read an interview with him, in which he said that he wrote the stories he did because the ghosts of his ancestors, the people he knew as a child and those that came before him, told their stories through him. He always writes in the first person, almost like a medium channeling a spirit. I remember when I read it I was floored, because it instantly reminded me of Elie Wiesel, another favorite writer of mine, who said he first felt compelled to write Night because the ghosts of his family spoke to him, entreating him not to let their tale die with them. "Remember...tell our stories." I love the thought of that.

I am thinking about inspiration tonight. The LOML asks me sometimes, "Where do the ideas come from? How do you decide who gets to live and who gets to die?" I give him the same answer you'll read in any interview with any writer, successful or not - I just get them. The characters kind of take over the story, and off they go. Only they know who lives and who dies till the end. Sometimes I feel possessed, and I am so far into the moment that I lose track of time and all concrete sense of what it is that I'm doing.

It is a kind of barter, I suppose. They get immortality. We get the (hopefully) material compensation that comes from the craft the trade.

The characters, whether real or imagined, determine the course. We only tell their stories.

26 March 2007

Louisiana Love Affair
I know this place is a mess. I've grown up here. There's nothing, really, that anyone can tell me about my home state that would come as a surprise at this point. I've lived in just about every corner - from Natchitoches to Slidell, between Lake Charles and Alexandria, and now currently in Lafayette. I've been to a thousand tiny towns in between. I've walked the French Quarter in the wee hours, watched the Christmas Festival lights, fed alligators and danced the zydeco. I've seen the Courir and caught beads at Endymion. Not much you can tell me about the history, or the people, or the politics.

I know about the racism, the poverty, the anguish of the poor who spend their whole lives watching what seems to be a truer life pass them by. I know about the politicians who seem to think it is a competition sport to rob and rape as much of this beautiful land and its people as possible in the shortest period of time. I know about the lack of education and health care that keeps us at the bottom of every good ranking, and at the top of every bad one. I am a veteran of tiny schools with no funding, welfare lines and the Katrina disaster. And yet. And yet.

There is magic in this place. There are spirits in the air all around us - of the dead, and sometimes the living, who call in the wind, help us to remember, and give a crackle to the atmosphere at dusk. There is something, something, that draws people here from every nation on the globe - not just as individuals, mind you, but entire communities. You can feel it in your heart when you breathe the air, or watch the sunset, or listen to the buzz of the crickets in the evening. It is magic from another time, magic that the modern world has forgotten, magic that hangs over this land like a mist. It gives us strength, and power, and a will to continue. It gives us art overflowing like a bounty, painting and literature and music and food. It gives us our character, and our lifeblood.

Maybe it is the fact that even in our poverty and problems, we always find a way to be happy, to celebrate and to live life with every ounce of energy we have. Maybe it is the fact that this place has a history bathed in equal parts blood and joy. Maybe it is the Mississippi River, or the hurricanes, or the mysteries of the swamps. Whatever its origins, our magic is as real as a heartbeat. It's why people love to travel here from everywhere to see and hear and taste for themselves.

Why am I writing this out of the blue? Today I was driving along, moving from the city out into the surrounding countryside, and like a soft blanket it enveloped me and held me in its embrace. I looked around, even from the confines of my car, with my cellphone buzzing and the ipod blasting, and that magic penetrated my body straight through to my heart. Even though I have lived here my entire life, even though there is surely nothing new under the sun for me in the state of Louisiana, there, like a cool wave, it was. And so I came home, and wrote a love song.

20 March 2007

Warming Up
Happy these days as Spring has managed to, well, spring around here. Lots of people in south Louisiana are happy for winter, as it affords us our only chance at cool, mosquito-free weather for the year but I simply can't stand it. Every year I trudge through January and February, wondering if I'll make it until the color green finds its way back into the world. Nothing cheers my soul like seeing those first buds breaking out on tree branches everywhere. I can't even imagine how people in the northern climes manage it. At any rate, the cold in my bones is finally receding, and I can get on with things.

Sent off the manuscript of "Requiem for a Werewolf" yesterday to a magazine. Time to stop thinking about it for a bit, and perhaps work on another story. Maybe back to the novel for a few days. Had an idea the other day for a more conventional piece with the LOML as main character. My first love will always be the mildly fantastical, though, so I can imagine it will turn into something along those lines.

16 March 2007

Critical of the Critic
Last week I read the review of 300 by Dana Stevens in Slate Magazine online and then on Saturday I saw the movie for myself. Can I just say what the hell? Perhaps in some situations it helps to have a piece of art reviewed by someone who has no previous knowledge of the form. I can understand the concept of a fresh pair of eyes. Unfortunately, however, I don't think that was the case here. It was pretty clear to me that Ms. Stevens doesn't know or care to know anything about the art form this film was taken from.

Her main beef with 300 seems to be that it isn't a vehicle for promoting some sort of message against our current war situation in the Middle East. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions, I am not a supporter of said situation. I am a card-carrying, dyed-in-the wool Liberal, and not afraid to admit it (even though I live in Louisiana and it's practically a hanging offense here). It irritates me, however, that she takes this movie to task for not being a socially-conscious enough war film. At one point she bemoans the fact that it "doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment." Her attitude is dripping with undisguised contempt when she reveals that director Zack Snyder created the film for (Shock!!) entertainment value.

Now I'm fairly sure here that Dana Stevens has no idea who Frank Miller is. I can understand that she doesn't have much interest in graphic novels or comics. But I think anyone who does can agree that to truly appreciate this film you should know something about its origins. This film was, from a comic fan's perspective, beautiful. The filmmakers captured the feel of the graphic novel perfectly, from the gorgeous colorization down to the detail of the 2-D blood. It felt like a comic, because that's what it was - a comic come alive. It was a love story dedicated to what this art form has done since its conception, provide a stylized, compact, artistic rendering of a story.

And while I'm at it, I'm sorry to have to be the one to break this to you, but this story is in fact based on an actual event, in which a very small contingent of soldiers fought to the death even though they were vastly outnumbered. They were Spartans, professional soldiers who were trained to follow their king no matter what the cost. If you went to see a movie with the tagline, "Spartans, tonight we dine in Hell!" with the notion that you'd see peace accords and a solution to eternal conflict in the Middle East, well, as the LOML says to me frequently, I don't know what to tell you.

Sorry, Dana. I loved it.

13 March 2007

Milestones & Stepping Stones
Finished the first draft of the current story. It now has a name (drum roll), "Requiem for a Werewolf". The goal this week is to get it revised and perhaps sent off to a magazine. Also did some reading - I finished Stephen King's On Writing a couple of nights ago. Very good, actually. In general, I find his writing to be somewhat pedestrian (with the exception of The Stand and the first Gunslinger book), but this was very well written, with some excellent practical advice for new writers. What I came away with was a sense that he truly loves what he does. Perhaps that is just a screen, but it seemed genuine to me.

05 March 2007

A Poem I wrote in 1992


When the dark night broke out against the land

They called us wicked.

When the fire came, and tore on through the day

They called it justice.

When we died, and our skin popped and roasted on the spit

We cursed them all.

And still we remain

We crawl

We doom

And yes we are



23 February 2007

Scrotums Being Cut Out
I have been thinking about writing in terms of the process of the thing, the way the idea crawls out of the authors head and manages to take on a life of its own independently. This image has been stuck in my head for days - that of Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind sculpting his mashed potatoes - changing them from a big white blob into a mountain. I feel like that when I write - I am a massive reviser and polisher. Sometimes it bogs me down.

And on and on and on...

Speaking of scrotums, everyone should immediately go out and buy a copy of Susan Patron's Newbury Award Winning book, The Higher Power of Lucky, whether you have kids or not. It's catching flak from certain school librarian-types and uptight/confused community members for using the word scrotum in the text. Maybe the publisher should release a version with scrotum replaced by Hoo-Ha. What is wrong with these people?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet."

You said it Will...

20 February 2007

Hair, Love Songs, and the Number 42
Not even through the first chapter of the Lilith novel and it is already turning into a love song to my beloved New Orleans post-Katrina. I am in love with that city, no doubt about it. I am, in fact, in love with the entire state of Louisiana. I was born and raised here - I have lived in every part and explored most of it extensively. What is it about this place? I love the literature, the art, the music. I am fascinated by how we natives look at Her - we are fiercely loyal bunch, in spite of the fact that everyone is aware of how many problems there are to fix.

Was having a discussion about that very topic the other day on the way home from a trip to Baton Rouge - what it is about this place that spawns so many artists. We speculated that it is the poverty, or perhaps the unique mixture of cultures found here, or just the history in general, hardships and prejudices, various booms and busts. Suffering inspires art, no doubt about that. And we have had more than our share of suffering over the years.

Recently the powers that be have been pushing very hard to update us, to try and attract more technology-driven industries here. Good idea, we need that for sure, but I wonder what the face of Louisiana would look like with a Silicon Valley shine to it. Of course, if nothing's done about the coast, we'll all be underwater in 50 years anyway and it'll all be a memory. Recorded in the art...

Very cool interview/photo essay with Neil Gaiman by Susan Henderson over at LitPark this morning. It's all about Neil's HAIR. I laughed, but strangely enough, I couldn't look away. Interspersed with cool quotes from Fragile Things.

Speaking of Louisiana Art, etc. I caught up on my Anne Rice news last night. I had sort of lost touch/interest in her since she moved from New Orleans to California. I vaguely recalled she had published a new book on the life of Christ, but I hadn't even bothered to look at it. At one time I was a huge fan of hers - she was at the height of her popularity when I was in college going through my obligatory vampire interest stage. Seems in the interim she has regained her faith in God and has returned to the Mother Church. Interesting. I am curious about how that happened. I lost my faith long ago but I like to read accounts of both sides of the great debate. Am currently reading The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. A few years ago I followed C.S. Lewis' journey back to faith. I may go and buy the book simply to read her notes on the subject. It is THE great question which in one form or another shapes every life on this planet. Where do we come from, where are we going. We all want to know. At the moment I am leaning towards Dawkins' view that we are evolutionarily hardwired for it. We want an explanation for things, and in the absence of something obvious, we make it up. It is part of our DNA.

In any case, human nature fascinates me, and a great part of Lilith's character stems from her relationship to her father Yahweh, so I have a dual interest in exploring the subject.

07 February 2007

Just Do It
I, like most writers I imagine, am extremely critical of my own work. Most of the time I read through what I've written and I just hate it, for one reason or another. I bog myself down in endless drafts, re-writes, and agonizing thoughts of it just not being good enough. This is a big problem for me- to the point that it literally paralyzes my pen. The other night I was sitting, staring at the pages I have written so far on my novel, and suddenly this thought popped into my head - who gives a damn? I mean, really, who cares if this sucks huge purple oranges? I write because I love to, because I am compelled to. I write because it is what I am meant to do. If that means I never make a dime from it, and no one ever reads what I have created beyond myself and my few friends, then so what?

From that astonishing revelation I have determined to go at this project with a new tact- I just sit down and write. A thousand words a day, perhaps, whatever falls into my brain. I write, and I write, and I write. I write until this book is finished. THEN, and only then, will I go back and start the drafting process, the rewrites, and the tweaking. At least at that point I will have an opus to be magnum.

06 February 2007

A Woman's Right to Choose - Rebuttal to Letter in Lafayette Daily Advertiser

So-called “Right to Life” activists condemn Roe v. Wade and decry what they call the massive killing of babies in the years since its ruling, but can we not remember the thousands of women every year who died as a result of botched abortions in this country before 1973? There are graves littering every state containing the bodies of women who were butchered in motel rooms or died horrifying deaths at their own hands because they were terrified of the consequences of bringing a baby into the world. Were their lives not of worth?

In Leslie Alexander’s guest column of February 4, 2007, she speaks of girls giving birth at the prom or in a hotel room, leaving the babies to die in garbage dumps. How is this an argument against abortion? These girls are the very ones who should be given a chance to end their pregnancies in a clean, safe environment.

It is easy to sit back and pass judgment on someone else from our comfortable middle-class living rooms. It is easy to point a finger at the girl who was impregnated by her own father, and say, “You need parental consent for an abortion,” or, even worse, “You should carry that child and give birth to it.” It is easy to look at a poor working mother, making a minimum wage (which in this country isn’t even enough to feed one person, much less a family), and tell her she has to carry and find a way to feed yet another child she can’t afford. Pro-Lifers advocate adoption as an option – but how many of you are willing to adopt one of these kids, who otherwise will languish their entire childhoods in orphanages or foster homes? Our social services system is overtaxed now with cases of abuse and neglect of unwanted children.

Ms. Alexander also speaks of embryonic stem cell research as a way we are wiping out “entire generations” of children, and claims there have been no successful experiments using these cells. Of course, it should be obvious that scientists who advocate their use are only doing so for evil, sadistic purposes! How absurd! A quick Google search brings up hundreds of stories of success with embryonic stem cells helping to find cures for everything from cancer and diabetes to Parkinson’s and paralysis. It should also be noted that these cells are not obtained through abortion, but through the use of in vitro fertilized eggs which have been given approval by the donors for use in scientific research. They are not a baby – they are groups of a couple hundred cells that were created in a Petri dish.

If Pro-Life groups really want to reduce the number of abortions every year, they should focus on pregnancy prevention instead of taking away a woman’s right to choose. Instead of taking upon ourselves the right to judge another for a deeply personal decision, we should provide all women with comprehensive sex education and easily accessible birth control. Ending reproductive freedom rights is not the answer.

05 February 2007

Here's a shout-out to Neil Gaiman who has a current campaign going to google-bomb radio show host Penn Jillette . I love Neil's blog - I read it nearly every day. Very cool as he not only writes about the process of writing as-seen-through-the-eyes-of-someone-who-is-successful-at-it, but he frequently posts interesting and varied links to tidbits on subjects ranging from art to music, travel, gp silliness and just being a parent. He also answers lots of his fans' questions, from the reasonable to the slightly kooky. Seems like a real decent guy (not to mention a fabulously imaginitive author).

I am fired up politically right now. My local excuse for a newspaper published a "guest column" today on the subject of abortion. Now, granted, it was on the OPINION page, and as a true believer in free speech I have to adhere to the view that this woman has a right to scream from whichever rooftop she desires every idiotic belief she wants to espouse. However, this particular newspaper is largely biased in the Republican/Right-Wing/South Louisiana vein, and so it is very, very rare for them to print opinions which differ from those held by the main body of their subscription and advertising customers. I know how the economics of a successful business work, but man, whatever happened to the media's job of being the voice of all the people?

I suppose the idea of unbiased media coverage is more or less a fantasy in this day and age, when journalism for the most part has been reduced to sound bites and publicity stunts, but I know there are some journalists and news outlets who have, and who do, try to present both sides of every issue. In the spirit of that little dream which refuses to die, I plan to fire off a letter to this newspaper in the (vain, I know) hope that it will be published as a rebuttal to the insane (not to mention outright wrong) information this woman tried to pass off as fact in her "column". It's time that those of us in Louisiana who are educated and informed about the issues make ourselves heard.

I'll post my rebuttal column here when it's ready.

03 February 2007

Pet Peeve - People who misspell "lose" and/or "loose" or use them interchangeably.

Read a very good book yesterday - Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. Besides being an achingly beautiful love story, it is also contains great observations about growing up Gen X. In particular it captures the feeling our entire generation had that the 90's were going to be the decade that changed everything - we were tearing down the Reagan years and remaking the world in our own image. Through the mirror of the music we made and listened to, he has captured what it meant to be 20-something in the age of Nirvana and Biggie Smalls. Good read. Funny as well.

Another old love of mine was the Pre-Raphaelite poetry and art movement of the 19th century. I fell in love with the imagination of little, crazed A.C. Swinburne as a young girl muddling through puberty and confusion. I only had an ancient, beat up anthology that my mom had probably bought for 25 cents at some garage sale to read, but man, did it fire up my imagination. I did my senior honors undergrad thesis on their views of women (it's a rather funny read now). As with most everything else that had given my life richness and meaning however, I packed it away when I finished college, sure that it was pointless because it wasn't worth any money. Now, as with lots of other things I once loved, I am dusting off those memories and interests and finding their true worth all over again. Just today I had a vision of myself in grad school, perhaps, set on a course in Academia to pore over Rossetti and Swinburne and their father, John Keats, for all eternity. If that sounds like Hell to you, it sounds like Heaven to me.

31 January 2007

Nice rendering I found of amulet that could be used to protect children from Lilith. The names of the angels are Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semengelof. They were charged by God with finding Lilith in the desert and returning her to her Father. She refused, and was cursed to hunt and kill human babies before their 8th day of life, only sparing those who were protected by the names of these three angels. Her own children were cursed to be born as demons, and 100 would die nightly.

26 January 2007

Dialogue is by far the hardest thing to write for me. I have a tendency towards a more formal version of language when I write, and my dialogue feels stilted and unnatural to me. I have to consciously work each line out in my mind, break it down from what I would write people saying, to what they actually might say.
My Lilith novel has evolved in such a fragmented way. Over the years I have written lots of bits and pieces- impressions of her, I guess. Some of her memories. Some of her emotions. Now the task is to create a frame in which to hold all my pictures and to add the context that will give them a coherent order. It will be tough, and I am trying not to stress over the fact that I only have until the end of the summer. After that I'll have to find some gainful employment. Starving artist and all. Mouths to feed. It'll be back to grad school for me, a teaching career. Don't get me wrong, I love kids. I enjoy teaching. But it's not my passion. I want to write, more than anything I have ever wanted. I have been given this one chance. I have to make it work.
Interesting link I came across last night. One of my (many many many) projects lately is to learn about photography. Here is an online course. I haven't gone through it yet, so we'll see. I love the internet. One gigantic library, connecting the whole world together. What an age to live in.

25 January 2007

Very productive day. Finally accomplished something after being sick basically for two weeks straight. Worked on the ever-insistent Lilith novel. I am truly starting to feel the pieces come together, into a coherent story and not just a collections of portraits and short stories. Over the years my vision of the form the plot would take has changed dramatically, as have the themes I wanted to put forward. Strange, how this novel has evolved alongside me, as much a living thing in my mind as it could possibly be. It is true that the art we create, however good or bad, however it may be judged by those who see it, is in a real sense our child, born of us in every sense that matters. How painful it must be for artists to watch their first effort stillborn without a publisher, or torn to shreds by critics after its birth. A pain we are all willing to experience for the chance it will have life outside us at all, however.

22 January 2007

Saw two great movies this weekend - Pan's Labrynth & Children of Men. Wow. Wow. At the risk of getting repetitive, Wow again. Labrynth is an unbelievably beautiful, violent, moving tale of the power of a little girl's imagination to carry her through the horror of her reality. My heart ached and I cried for her innocence and her suffering. Five stars, without a doubt. The dream-like quality of the film left me wanting to go out and buy some chalk. :)
Children of Men was powerful in a similar way in that it was another story of the triumph of the human spirit when faced with the worst possible circumstances. Interesting to me how both films drew as their most basic theme the dichotomy between what mankind is capable of at both ends of the spectrum of good and evil. We write symphonies and drop nuclear bombs. We produce Picasso and Hitler, Mozart and Stalin, Muhammed and Jesus and Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush. What creatures of cross-purposes we are.
Something that interests me about the movie business. They churn out mounds of mindless drivel, remakes of remakes and awful, horrible wastes of money that end up on every screen in America while truly good movies, independent films and art films that have something to say end up struggling for bookings. Luckily I live near enough to large cities which usually get at least one print of the more popular of these, but I wonder how many more just languish and never get the audience they deserve.

20 January 2007

Bleh. Feel awful today. My daughter is sick as well, and I spent most of the night trying to bring down her fever. I managed to get about 10 minutes of work done on "Living Forever" last night before she wandered into my office, crying & shivering uncontrollably with chills. Today she seems a little better, so even though my own body is screaming at me to just go to bed, I am going to try to write a bit more.
In any case, weather here is cold, rainy and nasty outside, which tends to be very conducive to writing, so I have that on my side. However, there is also paying work to be done (self-employed in advertising/marketing), so I'm not expecting a good bit of progress. Hope springs eternal, though. We'll see.

18 January 2007

Have totally revamped this site. It started out as a place for me to vent my left-leaning political rantings that otherwise had no outlet, but I've decided to change it to a journal of sorts that chronicles my year of "taking the big chance". Everyone has that dream of writing the Great American Novel, and this is the year when I either make that happen or relegate fiction-writing to the box of dusty hobbies that I take out from time to time. It's now or never, as they say.

Today my children are home with me, due to school closure for the Ice Storm That Never Happened, so I've not gotten much done basically except for creating this blog. Probably won't until everyone is sleeping tonight.

In any case, here is where I am so far: My latest story, tentatively titled "Living Forever" is currently under construction with a myriad of broken promises pertaining to its completion. Hopefully this week. It is a sci-fi piece, and I am hoping to shop it out to a couple of genre magazines. In addition, I have been making notes for the big project, the as-yet-untitled Lilith book, which has occupied my mind off and on for the last 15 years and which I am determined to finish before I die, published or not. It will be my magnum opus, so I have to get it done, right? What kind of life boasts an unfinished magnum opus?

17 January 2007

The Persistence of Vision - Wordpress Themes is proudly powered by WordPress and themed by Mukkamu Templates Novo Blogger