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1. Family Tree: Slate, Tin House, Begats

Grave map

At Slate, Ariel Bogle recaps a discussion I had last week with AJ Jacobs, Wilhelmina Rhodes-Kelly, and Chris Whitten on how technology is affecting the family tree. I talked a little bit about what drew me to research my ancestry in the first place.

Although technology is changing the way we discover our personal histories, the reasons why people may begin to investigate in the first place have stayed the same. Curiosity, of course, but also a sense of history. Maud Newton told the audience how her interest in her family tree was sparked by the improbable stories her mother told about their predecessors. But the importance of ancestry cut very close for Newton. “I myself was basically a eugenics project,” she said. “My parents married because they thought they would have smart children together, not because they loved each other.” Her father was particularly obsessed with the idea of purity of blood, she added. “Someone suggested to me that there might be something [my father] was hiding, and then I got really interested.”

We had lots of fun; I don’t think any of us were ready for the panel to end when it did, and how often can you say that? The audio is below Bogle’s summary, if you’d like to listen.

In related reading: at Tin House, my series of brief but wide-ranging interviews with authors about ancestry is ongoing. Guests so far are Laila Lalami, Celeste Ng, Saeed Jones, and Christopher Beha. And at The Begats, I’ve written in the last few months about Alexander Chee’s jokbo (gorgeous books recording his family history back to the Joseon Dynasty, which began in 1392), ancestor worship in the Old Testament, and some disappointing (but not too surprising) discoveries about my self-given namesake, Maude Newton Simmons, among other things.

The stark and stunning image above is a grave map — taken from Alex’s jokbo — for one of his ancestors.

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2. A Blizzardy Update

Autumn and Ducks in Tallahassee

A longtime reader wrote to ask if everything’s okay. He was concerned because I post here so rarely.

Everything is okay! My stepdaughter, Autumn, turned twenty-one! Often I still think of her as the little waving girl in the photo above. But she is an astounding young woman, a clear and compassionate thinker, a poet, a gift, my only child. Also, my goddaughter and her mom moved away. I miss them tons. And my cats died, a few months apart. Oof, as my friend Carrie says. That was sad. 

After Emily’s death in July, we got Florian to keep Percy company, and then after Percy’s death in November we didn’t want Florian to be alone, so we got Wanda. They’re great — we’re so comforted by their companionship and antics — but losing pets is as awful as Laurie Anderson says. I actually got Emily after I lost my dog, Ripley, back in 1997. After Emily’s death, I finally felt ready to have a dog again, but our coop doesn’t allow them. Neither, for that matter, did Percy.

Right now there’s a blizzard outside. I’m drinking water and tea and working on my book, which is usually what I’m doing, unless I haven’t refilled the water and tea recently.

The manuscript is due in 2016, and I asked for regular installment deadlines with my editor to keep myself on task, and I’m so busy writing that I actually got excited when an app I use to keep myself from wasting time online malfunctioned for a few weeks. It cut off my access to half the Internet, including this very site. I’m also working on a related profile-essay thing that’s taking me a long time to finish to my satisfaction, and I’m very excited about it. And I’ve been doing a lot of weird, wide-ranging reading, which I’m sure will all be reflected in my book, if you’ve missed my meandering fixations.

I hope to fixate here, too, from time to time. Until that happens, or in case it doesn’t, you can as usual more frequently find me on Twitter, Tumblr, The Begats (my other Tumblr), Instagram, and Facebook. It’s also possible to sign up for my verrrry sporadic “ideas and intimacies” dispatches at Tiny Letter. And I’ll be speaking at A.J. Jacobs’ Global Family Reunion on June 6, if you’d like to catch up in person.

For now, we’ve just gotta get through January. And I keep reminding myself, so I’ll remind you, too: the days are already getting longer.

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3. Bagger Island is now in final draft. Excerpt.

Skipper Bill Blake eased back the throttles and slowed Girl Anne to a workable speed.  The crew hustled to their stations as the giant winch slowly began to coil the grinding cables over the rusty stern, pulling the giant orange meshes on board. The dripping net slid over the aft deck, loaded with herring sparkling like treasure in the evening sun.

“Stand by for the end of the trawl,” said Eamon, as the voluminous orange meshes coiled around the well-worn spool. He directed the crew to manhandle the pregnant purse onto the rolling deck.

“Wait! Stop the winch!”  He shouted. “There’s something’s stuck in the net!”

“What the hell is that?” shouted Gerry, the chief deckhand, as he moved closer to the pile of quivering scales. First mate, Padraig, helped Gerry push some of the fish out of the way, “Jaysus, looks like a feckin’ body in there!”

The crew tore into the orange meshes, cutting, hacking, scattering net and herring everywhere, freeing the body which slid slowly from beneath the massed pile of shivering fins and glazed eyes.  The torso was badly bruised and its arms wound weirdly around the remaining semblance of the person to whom they had at one time belonged.

Still recognizable as a portal of the body, the person, with one eye horribly bruised, and the other gaping wide open, stared up at its saviors.  A dark smeared mass of hair lay across the chapped and battered face. Gerry and Padraig rolled the body over and noticed a Celtic knot tattoo emblazoned along the man’s upper back.

“Hold everything!” Skipper Blake demanded as he rushed down the aft companionway, past the berthing area.  He grabbed the digital camera and hustled back outside onto the rolling deck as his crew worked feverishly to stow the haul of fish and separate the body from the catch.

“Drag him over here,” he shouted amid the chaos, “I’ll take some pictures.” Gerry and Padraig moved the body away from the pile of fish still streaming around it and rolled the body onto its back in order to see the face again. Its head in weird rotation, ended up with the good eye staring vacantly at the two men.

“My God, what happened to him?” asked Blake, moving the man’s arms from behind his back. The flash of the camera interrupted the crew as Blake recorded the ghastly scene. “OK. That’s enough,” he said. “We’ll need these for the Garda.”

He pulled out his mobile and dialed the emergency Garda number; no service. Then ran back up the stairs and onto the bridge. I’ll try VHF. That should work. Blake lifted the mike and called in his location, the name of his craft and a brief description of the grisly discovery.  “Girl Anne, did I hear you say you’d pulled a body out of the water?” asked the radio operator.

“Roger,” responded Blake.

“What’s your closest port of call?”

“About two hours from Cara Quay.”

“Make way for CQ. I’ll get the Garda and the coroner to meet you there,” the operator replied.

“Roger,” Blake placed the mike back in its cradle.

“Stow the rest of the catch,” he hollered over the intercom, “We still have to make a living.” The speakers crackled once more. “Get ready to make port at Cara Quay in a couple of hours.  Ice the body and wrap it in one of the tarps until we get home.”

He pushed Girl Anne’s throttles forward; black smoke belched out of her two stacks. Her bronze propellers bit into the rising sea and drove her westward towards the approaching land.

The crew worked quickly, piling the catch into the nearly full hold. They washed down the decks and stowed the gear.  Padraig and Gerry carefully slid the body onto a green tarp and wrapped it in ice. When they finished, the crew surrounded the shrouded figure and lowered their heads in the mariners’ tradition of respectful silence.

 

Enjoy.

 

Denis.

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4. Happy New Year!!! Maybe I’ll come visit you…

Hey there!

So, it’s 2015,  and one of my resolutions for the year is to VISIT YOU!

That is to say, I want to visit more schools this year.  Talk with kids, connect with teachers, discuss how WE ARE ALL WRITERS.

Of course, I’m always willing to book a traditional school visit, but in addition to that, I’m doing what Deborah Wiles calls a “shoestring tour” this spring– hitting the road to share Seven Stories Up with kids, since it’s got a snappy new paperback cover, and I didn’t tour when it came out in hardcover.

This means that I’ll be doing some FREE one-session school visits, in the Southeast and Midatlantic.  Ideally in places with bookstores  that can help coordinate a few schools a day.  I’ve already got some things lined up in Georgia, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, and that’s plenty, but while I’m on the road I might as well  pop in and say hello to YOU.

So if you think you might be interested, drop me an email, and we’ll see if we can’t make it work!

 

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5. The Single Best Resource for Picture Book Authors

12 x 12 new bannerPicture Book writers of the world, listen up!

The single best resource that I know of for picture book writers is — for a very limited time — accepting new registrations.

12 x 12 is a year-long writing challenge, where members aim to write 12 complete picture book drafts, one per month, for each 12 months of the year, with advice, encouragement and submission opportunities along the way. Created by author Julie Hedlund, 12 x 12 is now in its fourth phenomenally successful year, and provides all the motivation, support, and accountability you need to help you write, submit and get published.

Imagine a 24/7 writing community where, if you have a question, you can receive answers almost instantly from a network of over 750 authors. Imagine having curated resources for planning, writing, revising, submitting, and promoting picture books at your fingertips, every day. Imagine a picture book playground where you can meet other writers & illustrators, talk shop with people who “get” you, give/receive feedback on your manuscripts & queries, form critique groups, and tap into an endless supply of inspiration. This is 12 x 12.

But it’s ONLY for picture book authors – and registration is ONLY open in January and February, so don’t wait.

Here’s my personal affiliate link to get more info:

http://emmasfavorites.com/12X12in2015

To your success!

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6. If You Hate Story Structure

I hate story structureI was browsing Amazon’s Kindle Store this morning.

In the Story Structure Department I noticed a drama unfolding:

“Writing by the rules” vs. “Organic writing.”

On  one side it’s all structure and story engineering while the other camp is chanting, Don’t get it right, get it written!

But hold on a minute. The traditionalists insist that structure doesn’t mean formulaic.

The debate rages on writing blogs where the “rule rebels” get to express their disenchantment with the confusion of so many story theories. And who can blame them?

Enough already!

To hell with story theories

To hell with graphs and grids  and plot points and page counts and blogs and eBooks and audiobooks and podcasts and webinars and all those online courses with all their marketing savvy—that’s the growing mood out there.

One writing guru has published a title clearly meant to fan the flames of discontent. The subtitle of his book reads: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules.

Who doesn’t like to break the rules!

Well, it turns out to be a pretty standard writing text. Can’t say that I’m surprised. The book’s author is an accomplished novelist, he knows very well what a story is. I’ll bet he knows the rules so well that he knows how to break them. He’s probably a master story engineer.

“Prose is architecture,” said Ernest Hemingway.

And if that’s too didactic, try this:

“Structure is only the box that holds the gift.” ~ K.M. Weiland.

That’s straight from K.M. Weiland’s bestseller, Structuring Your Novel.

The gift that lies at the heart of fiction

I love it.

If the rebels reckon they’re beyond story structure, then they should explore “the gift” that lies at the heart of fiction. Yes, there exists a scene in every good story that lies beyond story structure.

I call it the hole in the story.

A story is two stories separated by a gap

The most ruthlessly simple overview of story suggests that a good story is actually two stories separated by a gap.

A chasm so deep that the plot comes to a halt at the brink.

The plot seems to serve this purpose—to hound the protagonist into this existential nothingness. This scene—often called the “Act II crisis”—is structure’s gift.

Story structure exists fore and aft of this hell hole, which becomes for the hero a chrysalis of moral adjustment. This is the gift.

Here, in the heart of the story, the hero disavows himself of himself. All strategies, structures and belief systems fall away and the human organism finds itself in a position to transcend its own self-serving delusions. This is the gift.

I introduce this concept in my short eBook, Story Structure to Die For.

The heart of the story

Fiction moves beyond structure when the protagonist lands in the heart of the story.

The story heart knows nothing of story mechanics. The heart doesn’t do reason or rules. It has nothing but disdain for a character’s logic, strategies, and petty desires.

Here in the heart we encounter a story’s “sacred mechanics.”

Here the hero finds freedom from the rules that have been preventing his true happiness.

Free of rules! This sounds like the very place an “organic” writer wants to be.

But consider this:

If the rule-rebel-writer wants to love her protagonists sufficiently to deliver them to the gift at the heart of the story, she’ll need a structure to get them there.

A writer needs a story structure to love her fictional characters the way a writer ought to.

If thinking of “story” like this makes sense to you, let me know.

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7. “A Letter for Leo” in Japanese!

Here’s the jacket of the forthcoming Japanese edition of A Letter for Leo, published by Mitsumura (which already published my Amandina a few years ago). The blue band is the obi, the traditional paper strip that wraps the book jacket. Yumiko Fukumoto translated the text, as she did for Amandina and The Room of Wonders. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

LEO_cover+obi

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8. How the Best Stories End (Part II)

Perfect SenseHow to fulfill an audience?

I mean, really fulfill.

I think I know what nourishes me.

The romantic genre, for example. Boy meets girl – boy loses girl – boy gets girl back. We’re meant to swoon at the “getting back.” And we do, sure, kind of.

But honestly, do we consume fiction to see characters simply get what they want? How banal. How everyday. How superficial. (I’m getting depressed just writing this.)

Case in point—the movie Perfect Sense.

Here’s a story that almost comes true. The film is on a trajectory for greatness, but with the final shot the writer turns his back on the story. He gives us the standard romantic convention—boy gets girl back—roll credits.

The writer opts to merely sate the protagonist’s desire. And for this we have given up two hours of our precious time?

Perfect Sense makes perfect Hollywood sense

Perfect Sense is your standard romance—boy meets girl, etc.—except that the story unfolds during a global epidemic in which the afflicted become deprived of their five senses. Smell is the first to go, then touch, then hearing, etc.

I saw it coming and was excited—billions of people rendered deaf, dumb and blind. Wow! Humanity will discover that the habitual doors of perception have actually been obscuring life’s true beauty. With the senses gone, pure consciousness will prevail…

And love will have its way with the world.

The perfect sense is love

(Didn’t I just write about this just last week?)

All over the world—in India, Mexico, Thailand—whole populations are moving beyond themselves, helping each other, falling into each other’s arms.

This isn’t boy-meets-girl love, this is impersonal love.

This is Big Love.

The best stories end with Big Love

We saw it in Casablanca, where the hero sacrifices the love of a woman for a higher cause. Love for the wider world—this is Big Love. And it doesn’t just satisfy an audience, it nourishes.

But look again—it’s not even the love that melts our hearts, rather it’s the pain of the sacrifice. It’s Bogart emerging out of smallness. It’s the escape from the small self.

It’s the birth of an evolved consciousness.

Okay, just call it “growing up.”

Oh, yeah… almost forgot… we were talking about Perfect Sense.

The boy, who has met girl and then lost girl, is just about to find girl again. They’re on a trajectory to fall into each other’s arms at the moment the disease renders them blind. Excellent. The screen will go black just before they find each other.

It’s a clever twist on the usual ending, which worked for Crocodile Dundee and When Harry Met Sally and scores of Hollywood romances before and since. But wait a minute! Something’s radically wrong here in Perfect Sense.

While the Big Love disease is sweeping the planet, our protagonists only crave each other. Their love is small, puny. No way I’m buying this ending.

I WANT MY MONEY BACK!

Can’t the director see what’s wrong with this picture?

Let this pair of protagonists find each other, sure, good. But by now they’re infected with Big Love, aren’t they? Petty personal preferences take a back seat to a world that so badly needs love to have its way.

These two characters have proven themselves to be great lovers in the standard, carnal, self-interested sense. Now it’s time for great love to serve the wider world.

That’s how the best stories end.

The degree to which Big Love prevails in the climax, that’s what determines our satisfaction with the story.

That’s what fulfills me, at least.

What more can I say with any certainty?

What satisfies you?

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9. What’s your biggest question about writing children’s books?

Question Mark ConceptHappy New Year!

As a children’s author, editor and writing coach, I spend a lot of  time talking about writing and/or publishing books for children and young adults. I feel so blessed to do the work I do, and to belong to such a warm, supportive and buoyant community of fellow readers, writers and children’s book lovers.

So I thought I’d start this New Year off a little differently. I want to begin 2015 by listeningreally listening, in order to help me best serve those who share the dream of writing or publishing a children’s book or young adult novel in the year ahead. Will you help me? Please tell me…

What’s your #1 question about writing and/or publishing books for children or young adults?

What holds you back? What do you feel like you don’t know, or need to do or have in order to fulfill that dream?

To answer, simply click on the link below and write your response in the box provided:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BIGGESTKIDLITQUESTION

Thank you for sharing your dreams and questions with me, and here’s wishing you all possible success in your creative endeavors in the year ahead!

 

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10. Resolving…

Each year I do a resolution-post.  This was last years.

But for the first time this year, I don’t have any clear resolutions.

I DID do the things I meant to do this year. I DID start working out again. I DID write my novel.

And now I find myself sitting here, feeling a strange sense of contentment.

Of course there are resolutions to make. There always are. I want to be more patient, keep a cleaner house, etc.

But I also think there’s value in recognizing when you’re in a calm moment.  And appreciating that.  I don’t want to be moving faster/forward all the time.

So maybe 2015 is the year I settle in, continue, enjoy my life as it is.

Is that a resolution?

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11. And Love Has its Way with the World

The_Two_Faces_of_January_film_posterI’m not saying that The Two Faces of January is a great movie.

But the Viggo Mortensen character serves to show how many good stories end.

It goes like this…

And love has its way with the world.

You don’t hear it, no one says it, it’s the subtext. It’s even more “sub” than that. It’s what the audience feels in themselves:

And love has its way with the world.

The protagonist has his way for most of the movie. He may be charming but he’s self-centred, misguided, and self-destructive. (I’m talking about most fictional protagonists.) His way with the world has created mayhem and misery. It’s called the plot.

Now at the end, having failed utterly, what else can the protagonist do? He disowns his game plan…

And love has its way with the world.

Contrary to popular belief…

You know that happy-ever-after feeling—well, this is it. Think about it. The feel-good feeling rarely has anything to do with heroes winning or successfully manipulating people or events. Nobody achieves love. It’s transpersonal, isn’t it? Love is a grace.

Love does us.

Audiences feel good because their virtual heroes are done to.

Check it out for yourself—your favourite protagonists are probably those who finally get out of their own way so they can be done to by a force beyond their power to manipulate.

We’re talking about escaping from our “second nature.” It’s the one that prevents us from knowing the first.

Marcel Proust identifies this second nature as the heavy curtain of habit which conceals from us almost the whole universe.

CUT BACK TO:

The Two Faces of January and Viggo Mortensen lying dying on a street in Crete…

[SPOILER ALERT! Not really. Students of story aren’t concerned about spoilers. We consume fiction to better understand it! We want to know how fiction works. But I digress…]

Viggo Mortenson has been an incorrigible swindler, con man, and liar, and here in the final scene, with a bullet in his back, he has one chance to come true. And he better be quick about it.

Viggo has one chance to prove the film’s title—The Two Faces of January.

Janus, god of beginningsJanus is the Roman god of transitions, the god of gates and doorways, of endings and beginnings. Janus is depicted with two faces, one looking backward, one toward the future.

Viggo is Janus at the threshold.

Viggo’s second (bogus) nature is evaporating in the blinding light of his first nature. He’s glimpsing almost the entire universe. At the very least he probably wishes he could take back a whole lot of unfortunate history.

But of course it’s too late do anything more than die in truth.

Protagonist dies and yet audiences feel good—what just happened there?

Answer: Freedom trumps death. How does that work?

Answer: Because love is finally having its way with the world.

I’m falling in love…

I’m falling in love with this turn of phrase. It slipped out while I was writing the final chapter of The Writer in Love. My protagonist is likewise caught in a dead-end where he surrenders his game plan. He is Janus at the threshold of a new beginning.

As are most good protagonists.

As are we all in a moment of crisis.

Deep down I know that if only I would quit deluding myself, love would have its way with my world, too.

Isn’t writing fun!

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12. Dublin

DUBLIN

Stone statues view strangely the sights below

Copper dye melts around the hallowed heads

And drips down to form pools of green.

They sit upon the ancient stones

And watch the urgency far below.

Tram tracks now covered deep.

The old ways  buried with layers of seasons past.

Dublin watches with her dons of old

Her Georgian facades hide songs of older times

She moves within her cast of sculptures; frozen.

Rusty steel arches stands proud and red above the fray

Placed over swirling Liffey, green. A path for trade and friends alike

They join her North and South.

Welcome lines hide ages in their grace.

Many crossed its spans for love or on the run.

Pillared columns stand haughty against the ages

They define the day. They fix the view.

The cut stone gates of Trinity.

The cobbled stones of streets of old.

Where iron shod feet once plied their trades.

Fanlights now illuminate the carpets thick.

In rooms where tailored suits and money meet.

The tea maids are gone. The scones are cold.

The silver set, now frozen behind the water glass.

Portraits watch with moldy eyes, from plastered walls.

Ireland April 2012 412.jpg large webNew blood moves quickly beneath her veins.

Her structure hardened by shells of old.

Her nature, pure, for all to see.

Her ancient stones laid stately, by the Norse.

Her history still defines her course.

Denis Hearn 2002

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13. The discipline of writing.

Is there a write (pun) way  to procrastinate or does it come naturally?

Yes. I do it while I’m thinking about the next rush of words that fills a sentence or paragraph.

Procrastination helps me look at a sentence from many points of view. Does it stop me writing?

No. I think it makes me more focused. So why am I writing this post instead of finishing my novel?

I am doing both. If words are coming out of me: its a good day.

My job is to put them in the correct order and keep pumping life into my characters.

Denis.

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14. For the Fear of Failing

I wrote this piece for this year’s illustration issue of The Horn Book. They graciously let me post it here as well.

 

I don’t like to experiment.

I know it sounds pusillanimous, but I’m just being honest: I don’t like to experiment because I am afraid of failure.

But at least two times in my life – at the very beginning of my artistic life – I found enough courage and determination to take risks. I was a fearless teenager then.

Being already passionate about picture books and comic strips – in particular those of Maurice Sendak, George Herriman, Elzie C. Segar, and Charles Schulz – it was clear to me how important would be to master pen and ink, if I wanted to be in that business.

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak

George Herriman

George Herriman

Elzie C. Segar

Elzie C. Segar

Charles Schulz

Charles Schulz

Each of those artists had a very sophisticated and personal way of using the pen, and I wanted to find my own.

I remember going to the stationary store to buy my first two nibs, one very flexible and the other stiffer; then returning home and try them on the paper, keeping my hand from trembling; realizing I had to go from upper left to lower right to avoid; understanding how different pressures produce different lines; learning what kind of paper had the best surface for the kind of line I wanted to make.

In time, I did find my own way with pen and ink, which became my favorite and, for a few years, my only way of drawing. Most comic strips, at least the dailies, were in black and white, and I knew that even Sendak’s illustrations for Little Bear – a crucial source of inspiration for me – were colored mechanically. Because of all this, I didn’t think the lack of color in my drawings would be an obstacle in my future career as an illustrator.

Of course there was a hidden reason why I didn’t use color: the fear of failure. I had a fascination for Hieronymus Bosch, medieval frescoes and illuminations, so how could I not realize how important color can be for an artist? In fact, I had timidly attempted one or two small acrylic and a few oil pastel paintings, with very disappointing results, at least according to my overpowering superego. Those painful experiences kept me from seriously trying for years.

Once I became more conscious of the necessities of a professional illustrator, I couldn’t hide anymore, and had to face the challenging task of finding myself a method to add color to my pen drawings.

The most natural way to do that is watercolor, and so one day I went to an art store, bought a few half-pans of Schmincke watercolors, a brush or two, some Arches paper, and began testing the technique and my own resilience. For what concerned the techniques, I was set.

Maybe one day I will venture into buying a new kind of nib, or a new brand of watercolors, or even be audacious enough to try a paper with a slightly smoother surface. Who knows. For now, more than twenty-five years later, I’m still recovering from that initial double stress.

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15. Seriously, I’m Working on my Novel

SeriouslyYou won’t believe me but…

As this shot was taken I was mining deep thoughts:

The price of freedom is death. ~ Malcolm X

I read it in a book called Death, the Last God.

All this death business relates to my work-in-progress, The Writer in Love. In this personal essay I suggest that “paying the price” is precisely what proves the fictional hero’s heroics.

The Writer in Love concerns itself exclusively with this “death” that takes place at the heart of a story. This is the scene where die-hard protagonists undergo a radical change of heart. They find themselves in such a deep dead-end that they have no choice but to surrender. Everything. Especially who they think they are.

We writers should be clear about our responsibilities to the protagonists we create—the hero must die. While most writing manuals mention this “Act II crisis,” I seem to be alone in suggesting that here is the reason readers read and writers write.

It’s worth a book!

But how do you write about something as amorphous as death? I’m trying to write about death as a station on the hero’s journey, but how to sound convincing? Death is without dimension or language. It has no shape.

A book needs shape. It needs limits and dimension. Otherwise, what are we spending $4.99 on?

Anyway, I badly needed to step away from the keyboard and spend the day processing new insights about how death makes life worthwhile.

My left footI must have been in a trance when I took this pic—why else would anyone snap a shot of their foot? I was probably musing over another quote from Death, the Last God:

“Ideas of finding happiness and serenity away from the inevitable suffering of death are the superficial desires of spiritual materialism. We have to find happiness and serenity in the inevitable suffering of death. And that is a very different journey from seeking happiness by getting what we want.” ~ Anne Geraghty

I love it. Happiness in death. Talk about a tough sell. It’s killing me!

DSCN5273Here I am having a heart attack. Just kidding. The shutter caught me bending down to examine what appeared to be my doppelgänger lying in the surf—a dead jellyfish.

I know what you’re thinking, that PJ is all spoof and superficial happiness on this Mexican beach, but the truth is I’m in agony. I’m stuck. And it’s not writer’s block, it’s worse. I’ve written myself into an existential crisis.

I didn’t plan it, but my essay morphed into fiction and I became the protagonist trying to write a book. (Yes, very meta, I know.) It’s a book that takes the shape of a journey to the story heart. I only wanted to be the narrator, but I have become a fully-fledged protagonist.

Es horrible!

You see, if I’m a protagonist, I can’t permit myself to escape the facts of fiction. Starting with, the price of freedom is death. As in, I’m going to fail so miserably at this book project that I lose all faith in myself. As in, this book is going to be the death of me.

Well, folks, it’s happening!

I’m proving the existence of the story heart by my despair at failing to finish this book. Fantastic! Of course, now there might not be a book. Which might have explained why I’m on the beach, had I not been refreshed by these latest musings on death.

Un amigoHere’s a friend I met farther along the beach. He was plucking out that Nat King Cole classic… Smile though your heart is aching / Smile even though it’s breaking…

What’s Nat saying here?—even though you’re dying, be happy, don’t worry, smile.

Talk about serendipity. I came to the beach mainly to digest a passage from When Things Fall Apart, written by that irrepressible little Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön

Ms. Chödrön has calculated how long a person is required to “die” in order to disable the matrix of habits we mistakenly identify as “me.” Astonishingly, Chödrön has calculated it to the tenth of a second…

1.6 seconds.

One point six seconds!

Is she being facetious? Who cares? This is something I can run with. One point six seconds, that’s how long the hero is required to keep his eyes open in the blinding light of utter annihilation. (Sounds like no time at all, but consider that the mystic Nikos Kazantzakis called this the “supreme human achievement.”)

One point six seconds—suddenly I have the framework for my book.

My whole book concerns 1.6 seconds of time.

Now, that’s shape!

The price of freedom is death, and in 1.6 seconds you’re paid in full. And the price of my book will be only $4.99. That might be the best five bucks a writer will ever spend.

Dos cervezas por favor!

If not, you get your money back.

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16. Tracking webpage hits.

I noticed that traffic to my webpage from Brazil has dramatically increased.

Why is that?

Why the interest?

I need some feedback.

 

Thanks.

 

Denis

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17. The Christmas Owl Hardback Giveaway

OwlCover_Kindle_optimized

You can enter to win a signed hardback copy of The Christmas Owl December 4 – December 12. Two lucky winners will receive a copy of these beautiful keepsake books and the hardbacks are only available here. Visit a Rafflecopter giveaway to get your entries in.

Also, during 12/4 -12/6 our Christmas Owl kindle book will be discounted to $.99 on Amazon (reg $3.50).  Happy Holidays from 4EYESBOOKS!

 

Christmas_Pine_Cones_PNG_Clipart


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18. Crazy wonderful news…

 

I can’t BELIEVE I sold this book.  It feels impossible, a book like this. And yet there it is, on Publisher’s Marketplace…

Author of BAXTER, THE PIG WHO WANTED TO BE KOSHER Laurel Snyder’s HUNGRY JIM, about a kid who wakes up feeling ravenously hungry and gobbles up his mom, instead of the pancakes she’s lovingly made for him, to Melissa Manlove at Chronicle Children’s, by Tina Wexler at ICM (World).

It feels funny, that my next 6 books will be picture books.  I’m still at slow work on The Orphan Island.  But I’m not rushing it.   I’ve gotten used to doing novels now, but picture books feel like poems to me, when I’m working on them. And poetry is where this all began, for me…

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19. New cover!!!

I’ve never had a paperback cover that was different from the hardcover before, but for Seven Stories Up, we decided to freshen things up.

What do you think???

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20. My Shop at Big Cartel

Many of my long time fans know that I do not usually sell my original artwork. Since I am mainly a digital artist, a watercolor or ink drawing by me is a rarity. I recently opened a small shop on Big Cartel to sell an original painting here and there. You can view what is available here. These paintings can be purchased through Paypal and will be shipped to the buyer via USPS. I will sign and date them upon mailing. Please check back as I will try to put up a few more pieces before the holidays.

 

 

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21. A political post.

We need new leaders in Congress and the White House, I don’t see any in either arm of the government. We need leaders who lead according to conscience, not religion. Defending our country, Cutting spending, Not writing legislation for the people who paid to get them elected. Considering ALL the people not just the rich or the poor but all of us. There are leaders in other countries that see us a weak nation. We are NOT a weak nation and we need to stand up and prove it.

Denis.

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22. NaNoWriMo - Do You Love It Or Hate It?

Those of you who follow my blog will know that this year has been a little patchy for me so I thought a good way of giving myself a kick up my creative backside was by taking part in NaNoWriMo - yes, I really thought that writing 50,000 words in one month would be a good idea... Emma from NaNoEssex asked me to write a post for her blog and I thought it would be nice to share with you.  So here we go - this is my NaNo blog, I hope you enjoy it!


NANOWRIMO – DO YOU LOVE IT OR HATE IT?

A couple of days ago an author friend of mine wrote this simple statement on Facebook: “I don’t understand NaNo”.  He just threw it out there and I read the comments first with interest and then with an open mouth because I couldn’t believe the ferocity of feeling it generated – it appears that you either love NaNo or you hate it, there’s no middle ground.  None at all.  Nada.  Nothing.  And there was me thinking authors were a balanced bunch who could see other people’s point of view.  Tsk.  Silly me.

The comment which surprised me the most was this from an indie author:  “I always think if you can write that much, just do it all the time.  Plus a lot of people turn out garbage to keep up the word count. Just my opinion, but I think it’s ridiculous.”  Ridiculous?!  At least with Marmite if people say they don’t like it then the chances are they’ve tried it.  How can anyone say it’s ridiculous without ever having tried it?  My hackles were raised I have to say, so I feel I have to stand up and explain to the doubters why NaNo is not ridiculous and, in the process, also explain why it’s not always possible to ‘just do it all the time’.  In a balanced way of course.

I happen to love Marmite and I love NaNo (although there are times when I’m struggling I could cheerfully smack the creator of NaNoWriMo with a large wooden spoon for having devised such a torturous event…).   My good friend Stuart Wakefield introduced me to NaNo in 2010.  From that one small initial NaNo meeting in Nero we met Brigit and Jane and the four of us started Writebulb, a writing group, in Chelmsford.  Our very first speaker was Penelope Fletcher, a young indie author, who spoke to us about self-publishing.  Heavens above, what a revelation that was!  As Penelope talked I just knew it was something I wanted to do and as soon as I left the meeting I started self-publishing – me, who barely knew what a Kindle was!  Here I am four years later – over 190,000 of my books have been downloaded and I’ve loved every step of the journey.  Yes, that meeting in Nero’s four years ago was a catalyst like no other!  Way to go Nano.

There is another reason why I like NaNo so much, but it’s more personal. This year has been very been busy and sometimes difficult.  I’ve moved house, leaving the home I’d lived in for 24 years, into a house that needs a lot of work done to it.  In addition, my father’s Alzheimers has deteriorated rapidly; he still lives in his own home but I am responsible for him and most evenings after work (I commute to London) I go and check on him and see how he is.  I’ve tried to write, to keep up on social media but have failed miserably throughout the year – by the time I get home, unpack yet another box or paint (or even knock down) another wall, go to help my dad find whatever he’s lost, and then have some supper I’m usually too tired to do anything other than go to bed!  When Emma contacted me to see if I would contribute to the blog it was like a ray of light shining through the dark (thank you Emma!) but then I thought hold on, I’d better sign up to NaNo if I’m going to write about it and immediately I did that panic set in.  How would I cope?  When would I find the time?  Would stress finally overwhelm me?  Nuhuh.  Not one bit.  The only feeling that’s overwhelming me is that I’m finally back doing something I love.  I’m not stressed by trying to write 50,000 words because if I don’t make it the target, I don’t make it.  That feeling of creating something has made me feel happy.  Simple.  

So – do you love NaNo or do you hate it?

If you still think you hate it then I’d ask you read this blog again because what I’m saying in a nutshell is that NaNo will give you the opportunity to go on a journey, to meet interesting people, to find support and encouragement, to learn new things, to spark that creative fire inside you and to give you a sense of achievement.  It’s pretty damn good stuff.

If you already love it then hold fast – you’re now just over half way through and we will all celebrate together when it’s over.  I’ll bring the toast and Marmite!  Good luck everyone J

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23. ZOO DIARY: THANKSGIVING TURKEY's DILEMMA


ZOO DIARY –THANKSGIVING – TURKEY’s DILEMMA

 
SCENE: CITY ZOO

Thanksgiving eve. The zoo denizens are upset with the zoo directorate having not been included in the Thanksgiving celebrations

RAT

Once again, we’re not included in Thanksgiving festivities

ZEBRA

Did you really expect to? I mean, why should they? Who are we? Merely the tools in which they make money. That’s all - and how do they thank us? Closing the zoo for the day so we can’t even expect extra treats from visitors. This is so typically…human
 
SOUND: GOBBLE-GOBBLE… GOBBLE-GOBBLE….

RAT

What’s that noise?

ZEBRA

Noise? What noise? Are my stripes straight?

RAT

You don’t hear that?

ZEBRA

‘You are magnificent… Those teeth…those sparkling eyes…’

RAT

Maybe if you’d get your face away from that mirror and stop admiring yourself…

ZEBRA

A person has to make sure that he looks good from every angle. Being the sole representative of the zebra specie in this zoo comes with a responsibility. A daily body examination is necessary to ensure that all my black stripes are evenly spaced on my perfectly white skin. ‘Yesssss! Perfection personified!’

RAT

Far be it to burst your bubble, Zeeb…

ZEBRA

…I am not zeeb - or zebby - or zeeby-baby. I’m a zebra. Z-E-B-R-A!

RAT

Gotcha Zebby-boy – like I was sayin’ – the way that I see it, the stripe on your upper right leg doesn’t well…match the left

 ZEBRA

What?! You must be mistaken. It’s not possible… How could this be? I just checked it not two minutes ago and it was perfectly aligned

(MANNY, the boa constrictor slithers in)

Hey – how ‘ya doin’?

RAT

Manny – you’re out. Free. Did you eat lunch, yet?

ZEBRA

Yes Manny – I do hope they’ve fed you some nourishment. I mean, it’s important to keep up your strength. We don’t want you slithering around hungry looking for anybody, heh-heh…

RAT

That’s the last thing we want…being that we’re your friends and all…that is to say, we don’t want you to experience hunger pangs…

MANNY

As I remember, I had a nibble a month ago. Sure is quiet around here. No humans to knock on the glass of my enclosure

NOISE: GOBBLE-GOBBLE  GOBBLE-GOBBLE…

RAT

There it is again. Sounds familiar-like…

(a turkey suddenly drops down from a tree)

TURKEY

Save me!

ZEBRA

A tree chicken. Never knew chickens live in trees.

TURKEY

I am a turkey who requires sanctuary

RAT

Listen chicken…

TURKEY

…turkey…I am – um – an endangered specie. Yes – that’s it and am declaring myself on the extinct list thus requiring sanctuary

ZEBRA

You must be someone important judging by your extensive vocabulary. All cultured and important species have an extensive vocabulary – and a beautiful body, of course

 TURKEY

I am. In fact, I can state with absolute knowledge that I am number one on everyone’s hit list, today

MANNY
(slithering closer)

Well I for one, believe you. You do look very appealing – in an endangered species way of course

RAT

Wish we could help, turkey, but we live out in the open

ZEBRA

I could send a protest letter to the Zoos of America if that could assist you in any way

TURKEY

I am doomed!

MANNY
(slithering almost directly in front of TURKEY)

Well turkey – really feel for you, in the true sense of the word. I just happen to live inside in a huge glass enclosure that has lots of hiding places.  Why don’t you come back to my pit and check things out? I live alone and there’s nobody to bother or see us

TURKEY
That’s a very generous offer on your part –

MANNY

-          Manny –

TURKEY

Manny

MANNY

Anything for a friend in need.

(the two start to make their way to MANNY’s place)

(cont’d.) Did anyone ever tell you that you have a beautiful, full body. I bet under all those feathers, you have nice firm flesh

TURKEY

The farmer takes good care of me. You can see for yourself when we get back to your pit.

 MANNY

Oh I intend to

TURKEY

Can I give you a hug?

MANNY

Later…when we’re alone…they’ll be plenty of hugging to go around…

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24. Zazzle Black Friday 2014 Sale!

Zazzle is having a sale today only for Black Friday. Use the code ZAZBLACKDEAL to receive significant discounts on Zazzle products. I have added a new Christmas card to my shop:

 

Thank you for checking it out and happy shopping!

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25. Zazzle Shop Update

I have updated my Zazzle shop with more product. Keep checking back as I will be adding more in the next few days. If there is something that you would like to purchase that isn’t in my shop please let me know and I can customize one for you of previous created art. Last year I had a mouse pad request, and within a couple of hours the customer was able to purchase the item. SALE: Until NOON Pacific time you can get an additional % off. Use code SUPERFUNDEAL to save at checkout!

 

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