Mountains

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I always draw inspiration for writing and solitude from the mountains. My work is rife with mountain imagery and water.

Today’s excursion to Twin Falls in the Central Cascades was no different. A glorious day and abundant water made the falls spectacular. Lucky I brought the big camera to take some photos.

Take Flight: Life After 50

IMG_2965I saw an old friend for lunch yesterday. She’s young, nearing 30, but I’ve known her most of the time I’ve lived in Seattle through work. She took care of my dog, Tucker, and helped me enormously when my mom was passing away. She is a wonderful person!

She reminded me of when I was turning 50 and what a rough time it was. 2010 was not a good year for me, but I look back on it now and realize the gains I’ve reaped from it. I wrote some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. I changed tacks on my career. I shed people who were bringing me down. It was like I was going through a year long cleanse without the nasty tasting drinks.

It opened me up to new things – like a relationship, new business ventures, new people, and certainly the idea that there is no need to wait to start putting your most personal work out there, which is the reason for this post.

Don’t wait until your 50 to share your best work. If you think it isn’t good enough, it isn’t, but that’s the thing that keeps you producing even better work, and keeps the creative spark lit. Let others follow your journey to your greatest achievements.

So, lunch friend, former students, personal friends and colleagues, don’t wait like I did. It will only fester, cause anger, debilitation and hurt.

Put your work, your creative self out for the world to see. Now. It will change you, I guarantee it. Take flight!

 

The Power of Strategy and Story – School of Thought – The Next Big Thing

My friend and fellow writer, Andrea Jarrell, recently sent me a questionnaire about my next big writing project as a process of getting started and moving forward with our writing. It’s fall now, and I’ve begun to write again when I can’t sleep. And I’ve been reading some great books lately (The Absolutist, In Sunlight and In Shadow and The Light Between Oceans), listening to wonderful music, (Paul Buchanan, Ben Howard, The Head and the Heart, The Lumineers) and watching some fascinating movies (The Master). So things are percolating…

Here’s the questionnaire:

What is the working title of your book?
Eucalyptus

Where did the idea come from for the book?
So far, it’s the sequel to Airstreaming, which left off at a point of departure for the main character. I need to see where she goes.

What genre does your book fall under?
Literary Fiction | Women’s Fiction

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Elizabeth Olsen with darker hair would play Linda. Matthew McConaughey would play Jack because I think he’ll reappear. But the McConaughey of late, because he’s doing far more interesting work than he was doing with Kate Hudson.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Linda sets off in her Airstream to discover who she is, and becomes enmeshed in the Los Angeles music scene during the 70’s.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I’ve just begun the first draft of Eucalyptus, but it took 10 years to write the 1st draft of Airstreaming. I’m hoping that it won’t be near as long.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
My Antonia, Just Kids

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I have to find out what happens to Linda once she’s taken her independence and how life treats her. And I have to find out what happens to the Airstream trailer that is given her.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I’ve always found the 70’s music scene in LA fascinating, but rarely written about, so from what I know having grown up in LA and aware of the music scene then, and what I’m researching, I’m hoping to make it just as fascinating for the reader. I love music, and I love writing women characters, so for me, it’s a win win.

Andrea Jarrell is a fine essayist, fiction writer and works as a communications strategist for many fine colleges and institutions across the nation. You can find Andrea’s fine blog here: http://www.andreajarrell.com/blog/

The Mountain of Writing

A week ago, I had occasion to travel over the mountains to Bend, OR and meet with RG Coleman, a wonderful person who has written about AIRSTREAMING for me, and who is a writer herself. She told me that people have been dissuading her from writing a novel, and that it wasn’t something that she was comfortable with. I told her to write, write the novel, and don’t let anyone tell you not to.

To me, the act of writing is an act of discovery on so many levels.

When I was young, I used to climb mountains like a mountain goat: fast, with a lack of trepidation, and a need to get there in a hurry. I was unburdened by pain, shortened breath, or a heavy pack. I just climbed mountains out of a need to get to the top, take a look around and then spy the next one that needed conquering. I was no mountaineer, mind you, but enjoyed what hiking brought me in the form of solitude, the chance to think, and the need for perseverance.

Writing a novel is much like climbing a mountain. It’s like putting one foot in front of the other to get to the top, taking a look around/or at yourself, and then going back down the mountain until you are finished, spent and worn out, but changed by the experience.

The first novel I wrote, my writing sessions wore on deep into the night and early mornings. I worked in utter darkness; my Macintosh SE screen the only thing lighting the room. I wanted that claustrophobic feeling that permeated the book, and the darkness worked. Trusting the body to bounce back in the morning for my regular job was not an issue. I was young. Four years seemed like nothing. And it took me 3.75 percent of those years to get to the mountaintop to figure out the ending of the book, and only another .25 percent to finish it.

First books are like your first trip up a mountain. Your need of conquering it, of proving to yourself that you CAN do it overwhelms the experience of actually hiking it.

The second book’s genesis was relatively shorter at two years. But I wrote furiously because I was writing about death, and about its transcendence, and thinking about all the friends, lovers and family that HIV/AIDS affected. It had to be a shorter period of time to live in that space because it was so entirely dark, and a hard place to be. I lived like a monk in those two years. No dates, no sex, no interaction with potential lovers and people. I only ventured out with a few friends, and I kept people at bay as best I could despite still having to work. The metaphor of the mountain works here too, if you want to spread it on thick: the vast openness of land, the space between civilization and nothingness, the claustrophobia of trees and granite’s destitution.

The time it took to write THE NARROWS, MILES DEEP was like a sprint comparatively. But reaching the top was fraught with torn-up chapters, deleted scenes and characters, an entirely thrown out manuscript. Getting to the top was an emotional journey deepened with depression. All around me friends were dying, and their ghosts fueled the hours of writing the book. But once it was finished, I put it away. No one read it. I was too raw from writing furiously, and didn’t want people to see my darkness. I’ve always felt the book was of a time, but now it seems relevant again if only because I’m getting older, and people are dying again from all sorts of things and leaving me behind.

If the first two books seemed like weekend hiking adventures, or even a day hike, by comparison, AIRSTREAMING was like a 10-year trek across the Himalayas. It took that long. The act of writing this book needed the time, and the experiences I had during that time to resonate with me. I started the book as you would climbing up the mountain: fresh, invigorated by a new challenge, and a different path. But I was older now, and after the first quarter of the novel, I ran out of breath. I’m not sure why, but looking back, I believe that I wasn’t sure about what to say. My memories had dried up. And, more importantly, I wanted to tell a story that was outside of myself, which was my main focus.

Over the years, there were fits and starts up the mountain. I returned to the manuscript and finished a chapter, the switchbacks got steeper and seemed endless. Life got messy. The story was always churning around in the back of my mind, however, and so I’d go to the manuscript every so often and write a sentence or two. Then my life got to a point where I was either going to finish or abandon the work altogether. Luckily, I’m not the type to abandon projects. I’m older now and shorter of breath, but I can still do some heavy lifting. And the strange thing that happened was that AIRSTREAMING ended up being about me on some important levels.

To Rhonda I say this with all the hope in the world:

Writing a novel is putting one sentence in front of the other. It’s as simple as that, and as difficult. Reaching the summit of your dreams, and giving yourself over to the downslope of getting them on paper is hard. Letting go of a novel into the ether is harder still. But there is another mountain ahead, and it’s getting near time to lace up my boots.

The Palisades – The Landscape of Big Sur

I’ve spent many days in Big Sur. I’ve been drawn to it for years given its many moods and changing landscapes due to the weather. No other place exists in my mind where the landscape is as disarming and mysterious when the fog rolls in. Landscape plays a big role in the characters of my novel, The Palisades. The fog permeates the book just as rain permeates the series, The Killing. Setting a mood and tone for a book or television series is much the same – people reflect the places they live in – some in mercurial ways, some in placid, more passive ways.

In using fog as much as I do in The Palisades, I wanted the reader to begin to feel claustrophobic in the lives of the characters. In essence, to wrap them in their stories and not let them out until each of them make their final decisions. I wanted the reader to feel the fog lift and dissipate when the characters worked out what they needed to do and it was fun to work in that mode. I remember vividly the act of writing much of The Palisades late into the night – working after hours in darkness to get at that feeling of closeness and only being aware of the small space surrounding me.

When I went to revise the book after many years after working with my terrific editor, Amberly Finarelli, I paid particular attention to character’s motivations as it related to what was happening in and around them weather-wise. But I also didn’t want to overdo it and found myself removing sentences and descriptions that went too far. It’s important to ground the reader in the character’s existence but not to drown them in detail. It’s a fine line, and I fight the urge to overdo description constantly.

If I’ve done it right, however, then landscape becomes a sort of character unto itself, and it informs the novel and its characters, and it enhances meaning, which is the most important thing writing description, in my mind, can do.

The pleasure of remembering those days in Big Sur, where my skin sparkled with dense fog, and the landscape changed in an instant when the fog rolled away or swept over the hills remains vivid. I think this book is finding an audience as it’s continuing to sell well despite a definite lack of marketing effort on my part. But I do love this book – it meant a great deal to me as I wrote it, and it gains more meaning as time passes.

A note: The cover photograph of the novel was taken nearly 30 years ago on a camping trip with my friend, Sean Galland, a fellow photographer. I had it drum-scanned to digital for safe keeping over the years and finally put it to good use since it fit the mood of the book so nicely!

The 100th Post

Wow. 100 postings. When I first started this blog, I didn’t think I’d keep it up given work and all the other things going on in my life, and my very nature of letting things fester, but here we are at 100 postings! I guess it’s a barometer of all that has happened, and the things that have inspired me since October 1, 2010.

At the time of the creation of Word Incident, my life was a mess. I won’t go into details, but trust me, it wasn’t fun. Now, a little over a year and a half later, EVERYTHING has changed for the better (see picture above).

What I’ve learned through social media is that connecting with people, though you may never meet, is exciting stuff. Just in the past three months, I’ve been connecting with wonderful people in the Airstream community as I’ve reached out, and they’ve reached out to connect around my novel. It’s been absolutely wonderful.

I’ve also had the chance to connect with people all over the world who’ve seen my blog and responded to a poem, an article, or my thoughts on Bruce Springsteen (thought I wouldn’t put him in here, did you : ) ).  It’s an amazing tool, this blogging stuff. I’ve managed to stay apolitical or share my thoughts on religion, which Facebook has its abundant share of, not from me, but from a host of other people, but rather, I’ve tried to maintain this as a place of art, music, film, and of course, literary, both in the writing I’ve liked and the writing I’ve done. In October 2010, very few people knew I wrote and now everyone knows. It’s a daily part of my existence, whether writing down sentences or reading great fiction, and it was time to let the cat out of the bag.

As I did on the very first post, I encourage fellow writers to contact me so I can put something up about your work as well. Coming up on June 1, 2012, I expect you’ll hear more about my writing life, more about films, and certainly more about Bruce Springsteen. But as I travel more with my partner, John, I’m sure I’ll be incorporating that into this blog as well.

So stay tuned! Great times are just up the road. And to all you ‘streamers out there. We hope to be joining you soon!

Tom