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I’m on the road, with only my iPad and phone! For two weeks! It’s the longest I’ve been without a full laptop in a long time. The WordPress dashboard is being problematic in numerous ways. And traveling with iDevices definitely lends itself more to the quick, easy, and clean bursts through interfaces designed with mobility in mind.
So, keep up with me on tumblr, twitter, or facebook…whichever your flavor of choice. There will be short bits and pictures and links, as well as a tour diary.
Yes I just typed “http://” three–nay–four times. I’m old. (And that’s how bad the interface is treating me – I can’t even make real links. Sorry!)
Debut novelist Mike Martin in conversation with me (and you) about being the writer you are, gestating in the gap, and reasons to not read about yourself online. We talk about how my fifth novel, THE LUCY VARIATIONS, and his first, THE END GAMES, have a shared history as well as a shared release date (May 7!). Also, Mike explains why YouTube is his primary way of engaging online and what that community means to him.
T. Michael Martin TCL Ep 23
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing!
This is the only TCL episode for May, as I’m about to embark on a book tour. I’d love to meet you in person–come see me if you’re in or near one of these places! The podcast will be back on June 1.
Mike’s YouTube channel
Mike’s web site | Mike on Twitter
My December 2011 blog interview with Mike
THE END GAMES (about which I said: “It’s full of both jaw-dropping action and heart-twisting beauty.” Truth.) :
“This book is awesome.” – Me, just now
There are addresses and more details on my appearances page (the format of which I currently hate – I know it’s unwieldy, sorry, haven’t found a plug-in that does exactly what I want) and I’ll be updating that as I fill in some more details, but here’s what I can tell you so far!
May 7 – The King’s English hometown launch – SLC, UT – 7 p.m.
May 9 – Bethesda Library – Bethesda, MD – 5 p.m.
May 10-12 - In and around Philadelphia – details to come
May 13 – Brookline Public Library – Brookline, MA – 3 p.m.
May 13 – Cambridge Public Library – Cambridge, MA – 7 p.m.
May 14 – R.J. Julia Booksellers – Madison, CT – 6 p.m.
May 15 – Brooklyn Public Library – NYC – 5 p.m.
May 16 – Larchmont, NY – details to come
May 18 – Rochester Teen Book Fest! All day!
I hope to see you there. Tell your friends!
I’m extremely pleased to announce that I’m joining the faculty of Lesley University’s Low Residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Many of you know I’ve been hoping for some time that I’d get the chance to do this kind of teaching, and have just been waiting for the right opportunity and timing. When this one came up, I was ready to say yes.
Though I’m joining to teach for the Writing for Young People concentration, one thing I love about Lesley’s program is that all five of the concentrations (Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, Writing for Stage and Screen, Writing for Young People) hold their residencies at the same time and are generally under the same banner. There are cross-genre seminars, and the opportunity for informal cross-pollination, and I think that’s an important feature for students. I’m honored to join Tony Abbott, Pat Lowery Collins, Jacqueline Davies, David Elliott, Susan Goodman, and Chris Lynch and the rest of the M.F.A. faculty. Maybe you’ll come be a part of it, too!
(SLC friends, this does not mean I’m moving!)
About Lesley University
About the program
Oh my oh my. I think I say this every time, but it’s yet another all-time favorite episode. Aaron Hartzler and I talk about his new memoir, RAPTURE PRACTICE, which led us to topics such as: the power of personal stories, why the advice “write like your parents are dead” doesn’t work for everyone, the problem with believing in the magical moment in the future when real life begins, and why we don’t go to the hardware store for milk. For you creative nonfiction people out there, we also talked about the potential trickiness of memoir and family relationships.
Aaron Hartzler TCL Ep 22
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing! (Aaron’s voice gets a little muddy around minutes 9-10, but that improves.)
Coming up on May 1 – me in conversation with T. Michael Martin (aka Mike Martin) on the almost-eve of the publication of his debut novel, THE END GAMES, and the publication of my fifth novel, THE LUCY VARIATIONS. One of our books is sort of about zombies, and one of our books is sort of about classical music, but the two have a shared history that we’ll tell you all about. Or a little about, among many other things!
Show Notes, Notes of Show
Aaron on tour! Catch him at the L.A. Times Book Fest, Kansas City, and Little Rock
Aaron on twitter
All about RAPTURE PRACTICE
Aaron at the HuffPo on Amy Grant and the empty tomb cake
I actually happened to be in L.A. at the same time as Aaron’s book launch, and managed to pull off a surprise appearance!
“writing is a job like any other” and other angry ghosts - I really appreciate this post by Hilary Smith. Having spent the majority of my life since age 16 in jobs that depended on administration and organization and time management, adjusting to the life of full-time writing in a way that works for me has been a long learning process. I’m still always fine tuning, always analyzing and frequently judging in a way that isn’t helpful. Though it can certainly be unhealthy to buy into a myth of the “troubled artist” and self-fulfil the prophesy of that label, there is also something decidedly non-administrative about the creative life and I’m one of those people who would do well to accept that.
Meeting the Austins Again – This is a piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Review of Books, about my experience last summer of re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin Family Chronicles. Generally, re-reading childhood/adolescent favorites is a risky proposition, and though I wasn’t in love with the books this time around, I still came away from the experience understanding why L’Engle was such a big influence on me as a reader and, in other ways, as a writer.
To the Best of Our Knowledge – The Short Story – Are you a fan of short stories? Or do you wonder if you should be? This episode of TTBOOK is all about the short story. I particularly like the interview with Tom Perrotta on his experience editing the Best American Short Stories of 2012.
The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt - By Phillip Lopate. This one is about a month old now, but I’ve recently re-read it, still great. Great for writers, but also great for anyone who teaches writing.
Argumentation is a good skill to have, but the real argument should be with oneself. Especially when it comes to the development of young writers, it is crucial to nudge them past that self-righteous inveighing, that shrill, defensive one-track that is deadly for personal essays or memoirs, and encourage a more polyphonic, playful approach. That may be why a classic essay technique is to stage an inner debate by thinking against oneself.
Lastly, I guess this is a bit of a self-aggrandizement, but I really liked this.
Author Bennett Madison (The Blonde of the Joke) and I discuss his forthcoming book September Girls, among many other things. Such as: trusting your readers, what to do with the feedback of your peers or editors in the revision process, and the futility of trying to capture the ineffable–and why it still matters. Also his mental hairspiration board.
Author Bennett Madison TCL Ep 21
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or find it on the Stitcher app. Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing!
Bennett’s web site/tumblr | Bennett on twitter
Bennett’s post on Nova Ren Suma’s blog
“Beneath the dreamy warmth and languor of beach days and summer romance, September Girls delivers an intricate story of identity and freedom, the ties and histories that thwart those things, and love. A truly original coming-of-age tale.”
It’s been my great good fortune to have recorded the audio versions of several of my books. I auditioned for Story of a Girl, then wound up landing the gig for the rest of the books except for How to Save a Life. (That one was read by two excellent pros, one as Mandy and one as Jill.)
Reading The Lucy Variations challenged my amateur chops. I realized at some point yesterday that there are more voices in Lucy than anything else I’ve written. By the time I got to a caterer who had to say, “Vegan artichoke tarts,” I was fresh out of anything unique but real-sounding. I mean I do have Foghorn Leghorn up my sleeve for the right occasion, but…
Anyway, it’s all done now and I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s available for download, if you’re a fan of audiobooks. And listen for that caterer – who ended up sounding pretty much exactly like me.
At one point we thought maybe the lava lamp was causing feedback, so we turned it off for days 2 and 3. Sadface. My notebook had a list of pronunciations for the foreign names and phrases that, as a writer, I thought were great to put in the book. As a reader, I was less excited!
The “booth” is a small, soundproof room with heavy double doors. If you’re claustrophobic or fear dying in an electrical fire while trapped in a flammable box, or keep accidentally leaning on foam cylinders you mistake for pillars (not that I did that, ever), this may not be for you.
The engineer, Mario, was in a room across the hall from the booth. He watched me on that screen on the wall, but I couldn’t see him. He communicated through my headphones, straight into my brain. Like God.
Here I am! The director/producer, Dennis, was in a whole different state. It was so 2013! I could hear him in the headset, letting me know whenever I needed to re-do something for a better take, or because the mic picked up my stomach gurgles (that happened a lot). Vegan artichoke tart?
As the reviews for The Lucy Variations start to come in and publication date nears, I’m thinking back over the journey of this particular book, as I am wont to do with each of my books. Two years ago in March, I was drafting it. How to Save a Life wasn’t even out yet! How is that possible? Anyway, I was drafting this book. I hadn’t yet decided if this would actually be Zarr Book 5. I had no contract, my editor had left, I wasn’t sure what I wanted or could do next. But I was working on this story, just kind of playing around with it and really, I had no other ideas so I decided to give myself to this one until I was notified otherwise by the universe.
I knew, while I was writing it, that it was going to be hard. Very hard. I knew I needed a change. I wanted to get away from first person and see what third could open up. I wanted to tell a new kind of story for me. I wanted my character’s crisis to be more existential and less tangible, more like the kind of crisis I was experiencing myself, creatively and at midlife. I’d always wanted to find the right context for exploring the relationship between a teen girl and an adult male mentor figure without it being OH NOES or sordid. I wanted to write about beauty, and longing, and feeling just on the other side of that and fearing you won’t ever be able to access joy or know yourself again.
But, I didn’t think I could do it. Oh sure, there’s that great moment when you’ve put it all together in proposal form and land a contract and you are convinced you are invincible and you spend some money and take everyone out to lunch. But then you get a deadline and sign the papers and shit gets real.
I spent a not small amount of time crying over this book. I was pretty sure it was terrible. I couldn’t write it. Third person was too hard. No one would be interested in this story. It was weird. I didn’t know what I was doing. I only was able to push forward by accepting the thought: “This will probably be my big, weird, overambitious, disappointing disaster. And that’s okay.” Yes, I succeeded in writing this book by completely making friends with the idea that I might have a massive failure on my hands. (I wrote about it here on Nova Ren Suma’s blog, and I think that post came at least in part as an attempt to convince myself.)
There are so many ways to experience fear of failure. Allow me to relate a little anecdote that involves my dad teaching me how to ride a two-wheel bike. I believe the phrase, “Just f*cking pedal!” was uttered. Or yelled. At me. That’s all you need to know about that to get the gist of that situation. I responded to that by f*cking pedaling and learned how to ride a bike, crying all the way, ashamed and just wanting my dad to not be mad at me or think I was a dummy. That’s not the kind of fear of failure I need in my life anymore. (And this is in some ways part of Lucy’s story, too…)
But – fear of failure is a natural, human, rational emotion. I don’t think it’s avoidable or even necessary to try to “fix.” Now, when I get scared, I try to say what I wish my dad had said. I know, sweetheart. It’s scary. It’s hard. But you gotta keep going because that’s what keeps the bike upright and then it’s going to be fun, I promise! You want to take a break and try again in an hour? Okay, the bike will still be here.
I don’t want to approach my writing only with puny hopes–hopes of not making people mad or not looking dumb. I’m totally willing to cry tears of frustration and exhaustion, but not tears of shame. If I’m going to fail, I don’t want to fail by inaction, distraction, paralysis, or trying to repeat comfortable old successes. I want to do it by giving myself over to the whole potentially-failing project, shaky-legged and wobbly, receiving pep talks from myself or others as necessary along the way.
It wasn’t until I read over the final page proofs for Lucy that I felt satisfied. It wasn’t perfect, but I felt: I did it. Though nothing ever matches the vision and the vision always changes, I wrote the book I wanted to write and didn’t think I could. And in that moment I knew that no matter what anyone else would think of the book down the line, I’d accomplished something deeply important to me.
When people ask what’s the best thing about being a writer, that’s what I can never articulate. It’s a feeling of personal triumph. It’s a battle you fought, against all of your worst fears and insecurities and predictions of doom and homelessness and blacklisting and having to flee the country. Only you know how close you came to not doing it, to running away, to intentionally getting your hands caught in industrial machinery so you’d have an excuse for missing a deadline, to bailing off the bike because it hurt too much to have those mean voices yelling at you over the gentle version of you that knows better.
Maybe this isn’t true for all writers. And maybe some people get this feeling by running a marathon, going all-out for a promotion or career change, saving a marriage, saving yourself by leaving a marriage, loving a child, forgiving that parent that yelled at you instead of encouraging. It is all damn scary. But fear–even to the point of feeling hopeless–isn’t a sign we should stop doing the hard thing. (Unless you’re facing down a saber-tooth tiger or rabid hound, okay, props to biology for the role fear plays.)
We move forward and through, and the rewards in that act alone are immeasurable. I’m at that stage I always come to in the writing process of savoring that, for these last few weeks while the book is mostly mine, then soon I will happily turn it over to you–because that is the completion of the satisfaction, wanting to move others with what moved me–and then see what’s next.
March 1 was the one-year anniversary of the This Creative Life podcast. In some ways, I don’t remember when I wasn’t doing it, and in other ways it seems like I just started. I’ve been lucky to have an amazingly talented and wonderful pool of friends and colleagues to draw on as guests, and they are still out there, living their creative lives and putting out work. If you’re new to the podcast, you can find all these episodes a couple of different ways: the archives here on my site, the iTunes subscription feed, or download the Stitcher app to your smartphone and search for This Creative Life with Sara Zarr there.
Here are some updates:
Tara Altebrando’s (ep 1!) super fun The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life comes out in paperback this July. You can also now get her backlist as ebooks, and our collaboration, Roomies, is set to release this December. Tara also has a middle grade novel coming; check out her site to keep up with all her news. Filmmaker Scott Derrickson (ep 13) and his Sinister co-writer, C. Robert Cargill, are working on a sequel to that scary-ass movie! Eek. Scott has several other projects in the works, including the Poltergeist reboot. Eek eek! (Also: Mr. Cargill’s debut novel, Dreams and Shadows, was just released to much acclaim!).
You may have heard a little bit about this movie called Silver Linings Playbook, which was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture. Matthew Quick (ep 12), the author of the novel (or as it is sometimes called, the “source material”), has since made a deal for a new novel (The Good Luck of Right Now) and its film rights, and also his latest YA, Boy21, was named a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and to the ALA’s annual Top Ten list of best YA. And he’s been out and about getting the opportunity to speak about mental health issues and hope. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (ep 10) is also an L.A. Times Book Prize finalist and has been getting all kinds of great recognition, most recently as a nominee for the Lambda Literary Award. Yay!
Stephanie Perkins (ep 2) has beautiful new branded covers for her books, and Isla and the Happily Ever After (the book that was giving her hell as per our podcast discussion) is coming out this fall. Triumph! Mark Pett’s (ep 4) The Boy and the Airplane will be released on April 2, and he’s got a lovely new web site and awesome Kirkus review to go with it. I also must credit him for encouraging me to get the podcast launched in the first place despite my perfectionist stalling. (If you’re in SLC, don’t miss his 4/2 book launch at the King’s English!)
Elemental by gentleman and scholar Antony John (ep 3) came out in November, and he’s working on the 2nd and 3rd installments of this fantasy series. Siobhan “ep 7″ Vivian has some exciting news–the collaborative series she writes with Jenny Han has been optioned for TV development. Congratulations, ladies!! Gene Yang‘s (ep 11) forthcoming graphic novel duo Boxers and Saints frankly sounds spectacular. Look for it in September.
Well, I’m impressed, envious, and inspired! I want to thank these and all my other guests for giving their time and openness and honesty to our conversations. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Double bonus enjoyment if you support their work by buying it and talking about it! Here’s to another year of episodes…
And here is part 2 of the epic Listener Q&A, 2013 edition. Author Matthew J. (Matt) Kirby and I field your excellent questions about the writing life and process.
See here for part one and the episode’s home post, complete with show notes and links.
As always, the easiest way to get new episodes and be sure not to miss any is to subscribe in iTunes or find it on the Stitcher app!
Part 2-Listener Q&A with co-host Matt Kirby TCL Ep 20
(Click to listen or right-click to download.)
Thank you and happy writing this weekend!
It’s an extremely epic episode of This Creative Life, so epic that I had to split the audio file into two parts. Because of the way my feed works, I believe I need to make this into two separate blog posts. This one contains part one. It’s a Listener Q&A episode! I haven’t done one in almost a year and it seemed like a good time to do another. Just to make things a little more fun, I enlisted friend and author Matthew J. (Matt) Kirby to co-host and we answered the questions together. Your questions, by the way, were excellent, so thank you for that.
We talked about process! We talked about our psyches! We talked about the mystery of writing, the notion of talent, and Carl Jung. And balance, and revision, and even a little bit about the business. Which is why this is so deliciously long.
Here is part one. See separate post for part two if you are downloading this from the blog. As always, the easiest way to get new episodes and be sure not to miss any is to subscribe in iTunes or find it on the Stitcher app.
Part 1-Listener Q&A with co-host Matt Kirby TCL Ep 20
(Click to listen or right-click to download.)
Find part 2 here…
Thank you for listening, sharing, tweeting, giving feedback, and generally being awesome.
One question we got was about our favorite books about writing. Here are the ones we mentioned:
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Naming the World edited by Brett Anthony Johnston, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King.
Matt mentioned a conference here in Utah – Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers
Also mentioned: episode two of this podcast, with Stephanie Perkins, in which I have no balance.
Matt’s web site | Matt on Twitter
It’s been awhile since I posted a good old fashioned practical update about my goings on as an author. So here is some news!
Registration is open for the Niagara Writers/Illustrators Retreat and Conference. I’ll be on faculty, along with Ellen Hopkins, editor Susan Rich, Roman White (um, hello, director of the video for only the best Taylor Swift song ever – “You Belong with Me”), Jim Averbeck, Debbie Ohi, and well just go ahead and see for yourself. It looks to be an amazing time against a gorgeous backdrop. May 3-5.
I’m getting excited about THE LUCY VARIATIONS, though Lucy stuff has been sneaking up on me as this year goes by faster than expected. The publication date is May 7 (you can pre-order now from your favorite bookseller, or put in a request at your public library), and the first trade review is already in–a star from Booklist in the March 1 issue:
…Zarr does what she does best. Writing in the third person, she really, truly gets inside her characters’ minds and shows us what makes them complex human beings—their faults, fears, and hopes.
(Especially their faults, in this book, I think.) Also, various people who’ve had ARCs have been reacting positively. My favorite of the words that keeps coming up is “uncomfortable”. Awwyeah.
Would you like to experience discomfort live and in person with me? If you live in or around Boston, D.C., or New York, it looks like I’ll be headed your way around the second week of May. I’ll post full details as soon as they are confirmed and we can all be uncomfortable together!
The Tour of Lucy will wind up at the 8th Annual Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival, on May 18. I was last there in 2008 and basically had the most fun ever and am thrilled to be going back.
UK friends – THE LUCY VARIATIONS will also be published in May, by Usborne. I’ve had such an incredible experience with them and I hope hope hope that someday soon I get to come to you…
Lastly: It won’t be long before Tara Altebrando and I can reveal the cover for our collaboration, ROOMIES. Stay tuned!
In this episode of This Creative Life, I had the pleasure of sitting directly across from – live! in person! – friend and writer Sara Ryan, in my very own house. We talked about writing space and writing pace, the process of writing a graphic novel, how she feels about being known as an “LGBT author”, and keeping a writing career going with another full-time job.
Author Sara Ryan TCL Ep 19
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically, or – new! – find it on the Stitcher app!
(And I apologize for the very faint background noise that seems to have made it into this episode. I’m not super happy with my Samson Go Mic right now.)
Thank you for listening, for tweeting, liking, and sharing!
Sara Ryan’s web site | on twitter
Sara’s blog posts on what artists wish writers wouldn’t do (in the process of collaborating on graphic novel or comic, for example, not like, things artists generally wish writers wouldn’t do in life)
the writing commute
Sara’s husband, Steve Lieber, gives advice
My second book, Sweethearts, is an Amazon Kindle Daily Deal today, Valentine’s Day, which means the Kindle edition is a mere $1.99. I wrote this book to explore a certain kind of love between two young human people, love that isn’t romantic and isn’t not romantic, that is more than friendship and sometimes challenging to friendship. A love cemented earlier in life than some say you can really feel love, a difficult love, a loyal love. For the $1.99 Kindle edition, click here. [edited to add that it looks like special pricing applies to all ebook formats, so kindle, kobo, nook, etc!]
If you’ve read my books you know:
Love is my recurring theme.
And here on a day when a lot of people might be feeling lonely in a culture that says romantic love–coupling, pairing off, culminating in or including some sort of sexual relationship–is the only kind of love that’s really real, I wanted to say: that is a lie.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve taken note of at least five I Love Yous that were said to me or by me, and only one of them fits the Valentine’s Day version of love.
I drove a woman who does not speak very much English to an appointment and then on an errand that got complicated, and helped her navigate that. When I took her home at the end of it all, she said “Thank you.” Then she said, “I love you. I love you.” It was one of the only English phrases she knew for expressing something that she obviously felt was more than “thank you” could cover.
Also, there was an I love you to someone I care about who was apologizing for something, the kind of assuring statement of: I still think you’re okay, you can not be at your best and I don’t think less of you. It’s all good. I love you.
There was a deep I love you from me to my husband, that felt inadequate and came out of extreme gratitude for his acceptance of me exactly as I am, the knowledge that whatever of myself I bring to him, he’s going to show me care and devotion.
There was an exchange of I love yous with a friend after a series of difficult and emotional conversations of the sort that make you feel vulnerable and scared and doubtful that anyone could really love you or want to be your actual friend friend.
There was the I love you I always exchange with my friend Ann after we have our semi-weekly breakfast date. Steady, easy, reliable love.
These all meant something to me. These were all good. These each came in different contexts and phases of relationship, ranging from people I’ve known 25 years to those I’ve known barely one.
It’s all these kinds of loves I try to write about in my books. Romantic love, family love, failing love, friendship love, disappointed love, self-love, confused love, love in its many splendor shapes and sizes and textures. They all matter. They’re all valuable. They all make us human. They are all part of the Big Love, as singer-songwriter David Wilcox puts it.
So happy Valentine’s Day, whatever kind of love you have to give or receive.
So I’ve been in this strange period of life, that is sort of a break from writing and my writing career, but also not. I’ve been calling it a sabbatical though that’s not totally what it is. It’s basically been a rest from demands of schedule and deadlines, to give myself a chance to think intentionally about what I might want to really focus on next.
Previously, in my updates, I wrote about some practical things I’ve learned, the experience and process of getting biochemically and mentally de-stressed, and the wonders of gratitude.
My email inbox and calendar are reminding me that this time is coming to an end. Demands have been gearing up, and in April it gets real, then THE LUCY VARIATIONS comes out in May, and the rest of the year will sort of go on its own momentum, the way it does.
Lent starts this Wednesday, and when I realized that Easter Sunday is on March 31 I got pretty excited. Nothing makes me happier than when a month starts on a Monday, as April does. That my return to full, renewed and hopefully self-connected engagement with my identity as Author Sara Zarr starts the day after Easter, the day after Resurrection Day, feels perfect.
Especially since I must confess that things have felt a bit tomb-y since my last update. It’s been a little dark in here. A not-small part of that is the season. It’s been cold and bleak and smoggy here for most of January.
But also, other life stuff, and now that I’ve experienced a nice stretch of “doing nothing”/being free of expectations, I see that having nothing expected of me is not the permanent answer to burnout or cynicism. We, humans, thrive under a certain amount and kind of stress. If you leave a baby in its crib and demand nothing of it and don’t stress it out, it completely fails to develop. If you don’t stress your muscles, they don’t get stronger. I do think I needed this time of freedom to rest up mentally and physically, but it works best as a temporary state.
I’ve felt sort of lost, lately. Not fired up and inspired and full of new ideas, just wandering around without a path. I miss the discipline of working to meet a deadline. I miss the regular obligation of the Good Letters posts. I even miss chatting about publishing news and the future of the industry. So if not having deadlines or expectations, if detachment from the world, aren’t the answer, what is?
I’m starting to think more engagement, not less, is part of the answer. Or, different engagement. Real attention, real presence, whether that’s in a creative moment of writing or in a conversation with a librarian or giving advice to a newer writer. More attention, not less. Better engagement, not detachment. Being attentive to my writing life isn’t just about me and the page. It’s the whole of it: my career, the industry, the community, the o’sphere, the conversations. Not every bit of it all at once all the time, of course, and maybe that has been the problem.
This Lent season, I’m abstaining from and making rules around some things that tend to increase the chaos in my mind. I also will be instituting real sabbath-taking into my week as a way to experience more moderate amounts of the kind of do-nothing rest and freedom I’ve been up to these last six months. I want to find a calm, attentive center to carry me into April and the rest of the year. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, the metaphor of death-burial-resurrection is a powerful one. Every season of life brings with it something to let die, and something that needs renewal. I’m ready for a resurrected kind of engagement with my identity and world, and for the next 40-something days I’ll be trying to do some final letting go to make room for it.
I’ve just returned from a professional writers’ retreat. “Professional” meaning everyone who was in attendance is a published writer or illustrator, or a working editor. Gary Schmidt gave three sessions on writing for older (young) readers and had lots of wonderful and helpful things to say on a lot of topics. But my number one takeaway after listening to him talk all weekend was about something he never directly addressed, though it undergirded everything he said and everything we said back to him and our whole purpose for being there in the first place.
That is: the centrality of reading in the writer’s life.
No brainer, right? When we’re asked for advice on how to be a writer, or how to be a better writer, what do we say? Read read read. Yet I and virtually every writer I know seem to struggle to make and protect reading time, especially once we’re published. Oh, we read. manuscripts to blurb, ARCs from our publishers, books by friends, manuscripts for workshops, books for awards we’re judging, and of course inspiring articles on how to make time to read. But anecdotal evidence suggests we aren’t reading the way we used to read: constantly, hungrily, for pleasure and for wisdom and for escape and for meaning.
Fueling and feeding everything Gary S. talked about was his obvious passion for reading, a love of language, a drive to seek beauty. I found myself wondering if maybe I didn’t love writing anymore, or felt burned out, because I let myself stop loving reading. I let it become something other than it once was. It had somehow become a burden and a chore, something on my to-do list. And sometimes, other people’s books become evidence of my shortcomings in terms of sales or craft or whatever else.
In terms of becoming a better writer, I’m thinking about what Robert Clark said in the last podcast episode–that hopefully for every 10,000 words we write, we’ve read 100,000. And that we need to read broadly as well as deeply.
Being a reader is what made me want to write in the first place. It stands to reason that putting reading back at the center of my creative life and, really, my life as a whole, will make me want to keep writing. I feel like if I can return to reading that way, everything else will fall into place. So, I’m coming home from retreat with that as my #1 priority.
Related: On Reading and Writing from K.D. Byers
In which Robert Clark – Edgar Award Winner, Guggenheim Fellow, novelist, essayist, and “nonfictionista” – and I have a good meaty talk about writing, including a healthy dose of the craft and process stuff I love. Robert talks about how he hatches a book, his transition from nonfiction to fiction at the beginning of his book career, and why it’s important for writers to read broadly as well as deeply. He talks a bit about what he admires about YA fiction, and I also asked him about a couple of workshops he’s teaching this summer (more info below), which, as a former student, I highly recommend.
Author Robert Clark TCL Ep 18
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically.
Robert’s web site
Robert on tumblr
The Glen Workshop (Mt. Holyoke, Mass)
The Prague Summer Program (in Prague!)
I last wrote specifically about this period of time back in September. September! And I am pleased to report: progress. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of the things I’d hoped for in this break from deadlines come to fruition.
For one, I realized the other day I’ve reached a crucial tipping point: my writing and other creative work have become more interesting to me than my go-to distractions. Writing is still hard, but I would now actually rather do it than avoid it. Which means I don’t really have to employ very many of the “rules” that I pondered in my last post about this, because the attention is coming more naturally.
Another thing: I have almost no symptoms of anxiety and depression. A few little dips here and there, as is natural for those of us who struggle with such things, but at this time last year I was on the floor with a box of tissue way too often. I can only assume that eliminating the things that were causing me to feel overwhelmed has made this huge difference.
Thirdly, I spend a lot more time with my in-town friends than I had been. Almost every day I go out somewhere and see someone for work or play or food or coffee or all of the above. Over the past few years, I’ve felt like I “don’t have time” to do this regularly because of the ack-my-deadline cloud of dread that I dragged with me at all times, yet I somehow found time to spend with my friends online, often to avoid work. Now I’m simply having a lot more tangible fun, which helps everything else.
When the day comes again that I do have a deadline–and I’m sure it will (I hope it will!), I believe that the rest and recovery and new mental habits I’m accumulating now will stick with me. For years I think I’ve had this identity of “I am an anxious, busy, overwhelmed person,” and now I’m creating a new identity rooted in feeling more calm, capable, ready, social, and hardworking in a good way.
(Please point me back to this post six months from now!)
In January 2011, I gave a talk called “Crafting a Creative Life” at the SCBWI-NY conference. I talked about the long journey of an artist’s life and all of the things that might trap us or freeze us along the way–the practical things like time and money and bad backs, as well as the psychological things like fear and resistance and questioning our own worth. The intensity of response I got to it–that day and in the weeks afterwards–really surprised and moved me. People were hungry for this stuff.
A few months later I pondered the idea of producing a podcast that would continue that conversation in some way, because I certainly wasn’t done thinking about it and I sensed it might be helpful for others, too. It took about a year for me to make it actually happen (see: fear, resistance, time, + lack of knowledge) but here we are, about nine months and fifteen episodes into this project, and I think there’s still lots to talk about.
My goals for This Creative Life in 2013 include growing the audience, getting better with the sound and editing piece of it (if I’d let perfectionism about this stop me, there would still be no podcast because I’m never totally happy with my producing skills), and continuing to expand my guest roster–not just beyond YA, but beyond the book-making world and further into other fields. I hope to book my first musicians soon, and add more creatives from the film world, visual artists, and perhaps venture into the editorial and production side of art-making, too. I’d love to do more panel discussions as well as at least a couple of episodes during the year where I answer your questions, like we did in episode 5.
Thank you all so very much for becoming listeners, asking questions, telling friends, leaving ratings and reviews, tweeting, Tumbling, commenting, Facebooking, and generally encouraging me to keep going. And of course, huge thanks to all my guests this past year for being so awesome and open about the challenges and joys of their creatives lives.
And now! To our final guest for 2012:
Ally Condie is the internationally and NYT bestselling author of the incredibly popular Matched trilogy. She also happens to be one of the kindest, most down-to-earth people I know in the business. We are both here in Utah so our paths have crossed now and then over the years, but I didn’t have the pleasure of getting to know Ally better personally until fall 2011 when we were both on the Smart Chicks Kick It tour.
Fresh off her tour for Reached, the third and final book in the trilogy, Ally took the time to talk to me (and you) about her writing life. There’s something about this episode that, for me, feels like the perfect way to end the first year of This Creative Life. I hope you think so, too.
TCL Ep 15 – Author Ally Condie
Click the link to listen right now; right click to download. Or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically.
Ally’s web site | Ally on Twitter
Here’s the lovely Ally at one of our Smart Chicks stops last year:
Last month, I wrote about the makeover for the book originally published as Once Was Lost, and its new life as What We Lost. Now, I officially have the go-ahead to show you the cover. I must admit that I love it. It’s designed by the same person who did the original cover (and who has done all of my covers except for Story of a Girl) which I’m also quite fond of. I do think this one captures the human element of the story more successfully, and the sense of the summer heat and dryness, and Sam feeling alone in her crisis.
And the back of the cover! Oh the back of the cover, which I can’t show you here. It has images of all of my books on it and it makes me go, hey, I have a body of work! That’s all I ever wanted!
For now, here’s the front. I believe this will be in stores in spring, a bit ahead of The Lucy Variations or right around the same time. I’m going to have to wait on my site designer before I get all instances of the old cover and title replaced here, but I didn’t want to put off sharing this gorgeousness!
I always look forward to this first working day of January with great hope and excitement. The year feels yet unblemished, and not even the knowledge that it will be blemished (and probably soon, given that I’m a human living in reality) can touch that. And I come into this year with considerably more energy than I did when I entered 2012, so that feels good. Like most people, I have goals and resolutions and longings for what 2013 will bring and become, and what I can make out of it. Some that are specific and task-oriented, but mostly about internal shifts that I hope will change how I experience life.
One of those shifts has to do with how I think about and conduct my writing life, which is something I’ve been working on during this break from signing contracts.
While I was on vacation this past week, I re-listened to the episode of This Creative Life I did with writer/director Scott Derrickson*. Around minute 34, I’d started talking about how I’d lost the romantic relationship I used to have with writing and I asked Scott if it felt fresh for him, how he kept that alive.
Scott talked about how Hollywood is an industry built to cycle you out. He said: ”For me, what’s kept [the relationship with the creative work] fresh is reckoning with what it would mean to be cycled out and having to go get a real job. … You have to get up every single day and give it a reason to keep you in… anything I gotta do I’m gonna do, I just want to keep doing this for a living.”
At first glance, that sounds like a kind of fearful approach to work, and Scott did say that fear can be the negative side to that. But there’s a fire of passion in that, too, and on the positive side of it is gratitude. He talked about being grateful that he gets to write and direct movies for a living and have a place in the business.
Going back to what I said about romance, he said: “It’s ingratitude that destroys that romance.”
Think about that for a minute.
As I listened again to that part of the conversation (and once more this morning), I thought about passion and romance and how that relates to marriage. To friendship. To God. I thought about any relationship that you maintain over time, including the relationship with writing (or whatever your vocation may be).
My early years of writing were driven by passion and desire, and yes, also fear–the fear of not getting something I wanted. The fear of that feeling I’d get when I’d read published books that I didn’t think were very good, but knowing I was slacking in my own efforts to get my work out there.
In the first year of dating my husband I worked every day to make sure the he knew that I was interested in him–all my romantic energy was pointed in his direction. He did the same for me. Part of that was a fear of losing something we knew was good, that we wanted. But also grateful wonder. And I feel that with new friends, that grateful wonder, and I feel compelled to invest, give, stay connected. That’s a kind of romance, too. When people have a religious conversion experience there’s an intense gratitude. Wow, the creative force of the universe actually looks upon me with favor, grace, and kindness. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
The thank-you comes because the memory of how it felt to believe you were just in a spiraling void of despair is fresh. When I was able to quit my day job six years ago and write full-time I was awash in gratitude. Because the memory of not having a writing career was fresh. When you first fall in love, the memory of feeling alone and unlovable is fresh and you boggle that someone could see you as you are and claim you anyway. If you’ve gone awhile without connecting in friendship and you suddenly do, the memory of not having that friendship, of being bored or sad or unknown is fresh. You’re grateful.
Then time does its work and what was new is familiar, and perhaps contempt is bred in the unswept corners, the unmaintained habits of appreciating the lover, the friendship, the career, the salvation.
“It’s ingratitude that destroys that romance.”
The romance of a long-term relationship is different than that of a new one, obviously. The nerve endings may not crackle. The pulse may not speed up. It may take more work to see beauty in what has become the everyday. The more I think about what Scott said, the more I think the heart of a long-term romance is in fact gratitude. I get to do this job. I get to love this good person who loves me back. I get these awesome friends. I don’t have to despair that life is meaningless. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
That’s the internal shift I want to keep close to me in 2013, especially as I transition out of sabbatical mode and back into work over these next few months. I want to guard against ingratitude, and maybe be a little more friendly to a productive kind of fear. I just want to keep doing this for a living.
*Speaking of the podcast – the next episode will go up this Friday or Saturday after a slight delay for the holidays. Happy New Year!
In this episode of This Creative Life, I’m thrilled to bring you a conversation with Jeffrey Overstreet and Anne Doe Overstreet, who are a talented and inspiring pair. I’ve known them for years and have always deeply admired the life they’ve built for themselves, in which creativity is integrated into all aspects and is perhaps, along with their shared faith (and maybe the cats), the driving force of their marriage. I loved hearing more specifically how they take care of each other and how their very different temperaments add up to a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. They are truly a couple who sees the world from the perspective of “we”, in a way that still honors their individual selves and goals.
We talked about day jobs, burnout, how they survived several years of Threat Level Orange, and their plans for 2013. Thanks for listening, enjoy, and tell a friend!
TCL Ep 16 – Jeffrey Overstreet & Anne Doe Overstreet
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically.
Anne M. Doe Overstreet’s online poetry class
Anne’s official Facebook page
Delicate Machinery Suspended at Amazon and at Eighth Day Books and:
Shop Indie Bookstores
Jeffrey Overstreet seminar on imagination and creativity at the Glen Workshop this summer
Jeffrey’s blog and film reviews
Jeffrey’s official Facebook page
Jeffrey Overstreet’s books on Amazon
and at Indiebound
Last but not least, Jeffrey on Twitter
(Ever notice that when you type “Jeffrey” over and over, it just looks wrong? But it’s not!)
Andrew Auseon and I first made contact back in 2005 or 2006, when his debut novel, Funny Little Monkey, was out and I’d just sold Story of a Girl. Though we’ve known each other online for nearly eight years, the day we had our This Creative Life conversation was the first time we’d actually talked. He’s as great as I always suspected–a warm and genuine human, and one of the most interesting writers I know.
Here, we discuss his work as a narrative designer in the video game industry, his collaboration with David O. Russell, the challenges of having two creative careers (and a family, and a lot of other making-stuff interests), the desire we share to slow down and think, and how we are like Sims. Enjoy, and thank you for listening!
Andrew Auseon TCL Ep 17
Click to listen, right click to download, or subscribe in iTunes to easily get it onto all your devices automatically.
Andy’s web site
My 2006 blog interview with Andy
Indie Game – a documentary we discuss in the podcast, now streaming on Netflix
Andrew Auseon’s books at IndieBound
Andrew Auseon is a writer of novels for young people, and a designer of video games. He holds a B.A. from Ohio University and a M.F.A. in Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults from the prestigious Vermont College.
He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his wife, Sarah Zogby, and their two daughters.
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When I posted for This Creative Life last week, I noticed that I’d posted nothing here on my blog since the previous This Creative Life episode. I also had the occasion, while looking for something I wrote a long time ago, to go through my blog circa 2006-2008, etc. It got me thinking about how this space has changed and how I think of it now vs. how I thought of it then.
As my writing life and career have changed, I feel like my web site has become more and more an Official Thing, a representation of me in the professional world of writing and publishing. Consequently, I think I feel like my posts here have to be either 1) essay-ish, like this one, with some kind of well-developed point or 2) news-ish – about appearances or book news or new podcast episodes or whatever else in the realm of Information that people might come to this site looking for.
I don’t really mean “have to”, because it’s all my choice, but when I want to be more raw or frivolous or cranky I don’t tend to post here like I used to. I keep my thoughts twitter-sized, or go to tumblr for medium-form stuff. Though I know that all tweets are archived by the Library of Congress (which seems like a huge waste of space) and tumblr is no less permanent than anything else online, words feel more fixed here for some reason.
Anyway, I will never abandon the sarazarr.com blog. But you can also find me in those other spaces if it’s getting too quiet around here for you.