Hiatus in Review

Hi friends,

It has been a fast and frenetic summer and I have been thoroughly consumed by the events of the many dog days passed. My sincere apologies for being absent.

This morning I submitted a story for publication for the first time in a long time, and let me tell you, it felt good.

Taking this step, to submit my story, reminded me that it’s important to come back to the work even if you’ve been away a while. So if you’ve been away, too, come on back. There’s no time like the present and it feels great.

What Are Words For?

Storm sky

My mood is in synch with the ocean today. Overhead the sky is thick with storm clouds. Rain threatens to come ashore, moving up from the south. I sit on a point extending a quarter mile out into the water, surrounded on three sides by the sea. The water itself is calm. The surface is as flat as I’ve seen it in days. The color of the water mimics the sky, though darker, heavier. The sky is textured, brushed with cloud and a hint of light. The water is solid, motionless, pensive. The sky is dependent on the water which seems to hold it up, appears to keep it from sinking below the surface. In my mind I am the sky, in my heart I am the sea.

For all writers there is a turbulence below the surface that demands attention. Everything is story. We tell ourselves these stories and they define our lives. True or false we live by the mythology we create. What we believe is what we are, and story is the way we try to understand our lives in relation to many things. Primarily we strive to understand our relation to ourselves, our relation to others, and our relation to our environment. The tool we use for communicating these ideas is words. Spoken, written, painted, sung, posted, played, and shouted. Words to define, symbols to express, and for the writer every day is a psychosexual urge to say the things inside our hearts and minds.

On days like today the creative erotic is high. Dark skies and deep water move me to contemplation, and stories and characters well up from my mind in medias res, coming onto the internal screen mid-conversation, with all of their hope and angst and words . . .  yes, words fully formed. These words carry emotion and all of the energy that bears a life. They are the ocean holding the weight of the sky. Our words are the measure of a current, sharp and electric, painful sometimes, powerful when we apply them and don’t scornfully cast them out of our mouths as though they can be wasted. For the writer especially, there must be accountability and intent. I have been guilty of slinging words carelessly myself, but that is a sin. A writer must own all of the words he uses, as many before us have learned, because they will remain after we are gone and, fairly or unfairly, we will be judged by them.

What are words for? They are for living and for love. They are for motivating the human race to temperance. They are to communicate new ideas, which are the essence of our development as a species. There is a responsibility that comes with words, but we shall not shy away from using words. The writer is the cultural steward of words and is accountable for assuring that words live on, that they are used accordingly and not cast off as less than urgent.

On a day like today the ocean holds the sky. The words used to convey that fact bind the ocean and sky so that they do not evaporate too quickly. Without words the bond may well go unnoticed, the sanctity of the moment lost, the love affairs – with our lives and with each other – becoming shallow or perhaps altogether non-existent.

Rats in the Belfry

Mouse bites2A recent foray into the slush piles boxed in my garage revealed that I have numerous rodent-gnawed manuscripts, most of them now ruined, that I’ve been hauling around for years. The fact that I am surprised to rediscover these stories got me thinking, and has lead to a question I have for all of you – what are you packing around that you may have forgotten about?

In thinking about my nibbled manuscripts there is something to be said about the temporary nature of the things we create. The creative process is momentary, bit by bit, like a factory that produces a new gadget every few moments and then passes it down the conveyer belt before producing another, sometimes similar and sometimes completely different, until an entire warehouse of things has been created and, like my manuscripts, stored away and forgotten – except we don’t want to forget, though we will if we don’t manage our inventory well.

The other day I tweeted that it is imperative for writers to keep a notebook handy for jotting down ideas as they come along. This is old advice and something everyone who endeavors to write should know, but it is an idea worth reinforcing. Memory is as important to our process as the act of writing itself. Without memory we have no source of story, no mind for detail, and certainly no ability to track the inventory of our completed work. The virtual rats in the attic of our minds are as apt to shred our mental manuscripts as are the literal ones busy chewing up our paper stories. Safeguards must be taken.

In the moments of creative insight we tend to feel most alive as writers. When inspiration strikes it is so vivid we cannot imagine how easily the idea will be forgotten. If ever there is evidence that this will happen, however, it’s in the stashed and stored boxes in the garage, under the house, and in the attic where so many forgotten stories lay in waiting. So I ask again – what have you forgotten about? I urge you to go see. Pull up the old files, open the boxes, and bring out your stuff. Chances are you’ll find renewed inspiration and perhaps a story or two that can be re-written, sent out to find new life and a potential home in a journal somewhere. Far better than leaving them to dwell in a dark vault, frequented only by rats, to be turned into a rank temple for some Templeton who hasn’t even the courtesy to send the best parts on to the more clever spiders in the barn.

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Discovered Alter – A poem

Discovered Altar

I watched as several sparrows gathered on the window ledge, today
Each rapping lightly at the pane, pick-plucking at the screen.
A gathering of birds, brown, their beaks agape, gasping for air.
They appeared to be looking for a way through the glass,
Their heads tilted up, gazing at something on the other side.
On the inside ledge there was an arrangement of dried flowers.
A dozen dark red roses stood bound by a gray and fraying cord, the old leaves
Gold but not shimmering, distinguished in their brittle, textured death.
A small bowl, handmade and glazed, lazed at the foot of the bound corner roses
Cradling crumbled buds of maroon with accents of yellow-gold, like incense,
Like potpourri with no scent.
And in a jar, filled nearly to the curve of the neck and capped in black,
Bits and pieces of how many more roses I could not guess.
These, it appeared, were what the birds were after, fluttering up the glass,
Hopping along the outer ledge, knocking to be let in.
I counted five birds at once, alive and kicking at my window,
And then suddenly they were gone, though your arrangement stayed stock still,
Like the image of your smile, impressed in my memory.
Like the echo of something I hadn’t quite heard.

© T. James Moore, 2013
May not be reproduced without permission

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Outline Your Book Or Suffer In Revision Hell

25777_366224582299_4542941_nI’m about to do it again.

I don’t know why anyone would bother writing a book-length manuscript when they could write and potentially publish a dozen short stories with the same or less effort. Short stories are quick, and act as evidence that one has the capacity for writing fiction in the first place. If a short story is the single-focused brainchild of a few weeks dedicated work, a book is a commitment to raising the child to adulthood. Yet here I am, about to write my fourth book.

What am I thinking?

I’ll tell you what I’m thinking – I don’t know – except that this story, this book-long tale of my imagination, will not let me focus on anything else. The first book in the series (which may never see the light the of day), has turned out to be backstory. I’m not exactly thrilled that things turned out this way, but these things happen, and at least with the back-story out of the way the real story can now be told.

T.E. Lawrence reminds us that “(a)ll the revision in the world will not save a bad first draft: for the architecture of the thing comes, or fails to come, in the first conception, and revision only affects the detail and ornament, alas!” So with all due respect to Anne Lamott we must consider the risks of a poor drafting in the first place. Following that, one must realize that all the work done on a piece of writing may end up being little more than practice, or perhaps the fleshing out of backstory so that the real story can be told. This realization may occur after more than a year working on a project, and the conclusion can be upsetting. As with any catastrophe it may take some time to come to terms with the aftermath. When I wrote about a million words a few years back I concluded that, upon reaching the million word benchmark, one should write a million more. There are a number of ways to do this. One of them is through revision of a very poor first draft, just be sure to understand the perils of this approach.

One way to avoid writing a poor first draft, and thus having to revise permanently, is to write an outline. An outline does a number of things: it introduces the sequence of events for ease of drafting chapters; it introduces characters and helps identify the proper protagonist; it may inform appropriate point-of-view. By outlining the entire story one knows the end toward which one is writing, how the story impacts the protagonist, approximately how long the story will be, weaknesses in the plot; and is a useful tool for writing the all important synopsis which, whether self-publishing or soliciting agents and editors, is a useful exercise.

An outline takes pressure off of the revision process because it reduces or eliminates errors that can otherwise be made in blind drafting. By knowing where the story is going from the outset the writer is better informed of the story and less likely to create tangents which may end up being cut wholesale in the latter revision process. So while making an outline may seem an unnecessary drag to getting on with the writing, consider it akin to reading the rules before playing a new game. The enjoyment of the activity is greatly enhanced by understanding what you are doing from the outset.

 

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Tuning Fork Tuesdays – Get your groove on.

tuningfork tues

If there is one thing that inspires me more than a good piece of writing it’s a great song. Music has been as much a part of my life as eating and breathing, and it is there that I’ve found a great deal of creative impulse over the years. The combination of melody and lyric opens emotions that are harder to achieve in static print, and it has long been my hope to discover some way to transition the feelings generated in music to similar sentiments in my writing.

I have written a few short stories inspired by, or interwoven with, songs, and as a I continue to explore this union I’ve also decided to incorporate music into my social media platform via a feature I’m calling “Tuning Fork Tuesdays.”  Each Tuesday I will post a new music video or link on Facebook and Twitter, either of a big famous band or musician, or of lesser known quality musicians still working to make a name.

It has never been a better time to be indie.

Please enjoy Tuning Fork Tuesdays by following me on Facebook and Twitter, and see where the phenomenon of music and writing intersect in your life.

Feel free to share your comments!

This week, MGMT – Indie Rokkers:

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Plum Picking – A tale of unexpected rewards

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I used to live on the edge of the desert in southern Idaho. In the summertime the fields behind my house were covered with great green carpets of alfalfa under an ocean of blue sky. The gravel-voices of pheasants called from the tall grass that grew along deep canal banks, and the hot days simmered with the steady ring of insects in the still and stifling air.

By fall the fields were trimmed into brown rows, and the shy pheasants scampered over the ground between the long lines as if auditioning for the upcoming hunt. The air turned cool, the insects died away, and the light changed from golden to white.

For five seasons I hunted the fields of my back yard. I could walk for miles across farm land carrying a double-barreled twenty gauge shotgun, often my dog being my only companion. I didn’t realize it at the time, but those treks out into the farm lands and to the desert beyond taught me a lot about thinking, about discovery, and a little about danger, too. Things I didn’t realize I would need to know about until years later when I reflected on them in quieter times.

Of the many discoveries I made in that time, one in particular stands out as the greatest. Despite the hours spent climbing over haystacks, walking the trenches of dry canal beds, spooking weasels and partridge, mice and pheasants, the greatest discovery I ever made was that of a lone tree standing in a dirt patch on the edge of civilization between the last farm field and an expanse of high desert scrub. What made the discovery of this tree so special was that at the time I discovered it, it was bearing fruit, and being the unprepared youth that I was, I never brought food with me on my expeditions and was always famished by the time I returned home. Here, then, was this tree.

The encroaching fall had begun stripping the foliage from its branches, and each limb was laden with the ripe and untouched ornaments of its yield. I hardly dared touch it for fear that the fruit might be poisonous. I had never actually seen such a tree, and considering the virgin status of the fruit I knew I needed to proceed with caution. I thought a long time about whether I should risk it. The hike back home was easily an hour. If I were to end up sick there was nothing between me and rescue at the end of that long walk. But the temptation was so great that in the moment I embraced the failures in the Great Garden of legend and indulged the sins of my forebears.

Reaching into the branches of that tree my fingers slid around the smooth skin of one of the red fruits and pulled gently to dislodge it from its anchor. I brought it to my face and studied the dull, waxen coloration. It looked like a plum. My stomach rumbled, apparently encouraged to take the risk for its potential reward. Still, I wasn’t a fool. I pierced the skin of the fruit with my thumb and tasted the juice that broke through. It was devilishly sweet. Emboldened to continue I bit through the skin and took some of the flesh of the fruit into my mouth. Still sweet – it was a plum. It had to be a plum! I took the chance further, eating more of the plum until it was gone. I plucked another. To be rewarded for having taken a journey, and for having found at the end of the road a harvest of sweet plums, a treasure perfect at the apex of my travels, was the greatest prize of any of those years prior.

I am reminded when I think of this story that the creative life is also travel. At times we are thirsty and starved, with many more miles to go. But we began the trip for the purpose of discovery, and the rewards often surprise us. When I am in the midst of this travel, be it via essay, story, poem, or painting, I am aware that the rewards are all around, like the fruit of that plum tree, waiting to be discovered by a traveler who had the will to find it.

This is what I seek as a creative; the unexpected treasure at the apex of a long and committed journey.

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