FROZEN

By Cynthia Ray

Cory Doctorow, author and journalist, said that “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way”.  But what if the headlights go out?

For me, writing is visceral, organic, profound, easy, difficult and sometimes impossible. I started a novella, as part of the Labyrinth of Souls novel series.  For those that are unfamiliar with the series, Dungeon Solitaire: Labyrinth of Souls is a fantasy game for tarot cards, written by Matthew Lowes and Illustrated by Josephe Vandel. In the game you defeat monsters, disarm traps, open doors, and explore mazes as you delve the depths of a dangerous dungeon. Along the way you collect treasure and magic items, gain skills, and gather companions. ShadowSpinners Press is publishing novels inspired by the game. Each Labyrinth of Souls novel features a journey into a unique vision of the underworld. You can find more here.

My story turned too dark, too sad, and too difficult, so I abandoned it and started a new one. Because I want my stories to have feeling, and meaning, I tap deep into my inner depths. But once again, I wrote myself into a dark corner with no way out.  After spending a great deal of time in the labyrinth I created, in the dark, I simply quit writing.  My protagonist is still trapped, always there in the back of my mind.  I don’t want to leave my poor heroine in an impossible situation, and yet I have no desire to return to free her.  I considered starting a new story, but in my bones, I knew that it too, would end up in the same place-that place.

shadow

You have heard the phrase, frozen in terror, but have you ever actually experienced terror so profound that your body was paralyzed, unable to move, teeth chattering, in a cold sweat?  Perhaps in a dream, or you woke from a nightmare and could not move?  I have, and it leaves a place in you that needs a light.

Last week, I spoke to a friend about the dilemma, and about the feeling of terror that seemed to emanate from wherever I was going in the story.  She said that there is no escape, only acceptance.  That night I dreamed.

Cynthia’s dream
My companion and I are being pursued by evil beings.  We run but my companion is captured.  Later, I am captured too, and taken to my friend. They have operated on her and altered her appearance with a beastly mask.  They have also pierced her chest with holes to drag her around with chains.

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Toko-Pa Turner, author of Belonging, Remembering Ourselves Home, says, “What I’ve learned again and again, is that we must love the dream we’re given.  We must cradle it and trust that it contains the first step. The step from here to where we want to be is always to welcome it, to be curious about it, even (and especially) when it contains painful or threatening imagery.

When you drop your judgement against the not-beauty of your dream, it is allowed under the roof of your belonging. And so often it becomes beautiful there, unexpectedly, in the nurturing glow of your attention.”

Of course, everyone in a dream is just a part of ourselves, and I asked the evil pursuers what message they had for me.  They just looked at me, and I became aware that the terror I had experienced was over, and the causes of it were gone, but I had taken on the role of terrorizer and continued to terrorize myself,

The chains of the past could drag me around, or I could choose to remove the mask that had been artificially placed on me, and the false view of myself, and make friends with the “evil” ones.  They were not bad at all, but trying to assist me in confronting the false nature of the outer-imposed mask.  I removed the chains, the ugly mask and exposed the gentle, lovely being that had been hidden under those suffocating layers of imposed concepts.  The dream was a gift.

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Art by Took-Pa Turner

Transformation works both ways as we creatively change ourselves based on our experiences, our thoughts and our dreams.    The transformation of the beautiful into the ugly and false is accomplished by terror and fear.  The transformation of the ugly to the beautiful is accomplished through love and acceptance.  My friend’s wisdom made sense.

Perhaps one cannot write what they have not yet processed internally, or perhaps writing is one way of processing.  Whether or not the story is ever finished, it is a part of a personal journey through the labyrinth.  I will let you know how it goes.

The Full Moon, Fractals and Aufheben

by Cynthia Ray

Did you see that gorgeous full moon last night?  Most of us live in cities, and spend a good deal of time in front of computers and televisions.  Our connection with the skies, with nature and with each other is mediated, one step removed, unless we take time to notice, to connect, to look deeper.

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Lately, I’ve been marveling at the intricacy of the universe we live in.  In fact, my fascination with the geometry of the universe could be called an obsession.  The Golden Mean, or Fibanacci Sequence is everywhere.  From the spinning galaxies, to the whorl of our fingerprints, to the tiny shell lying on a beach.

nature spirals

The cycles, the spirals, the movements of the planets and the patterns they create draw me into their centers and back out again.Not only does nothing stand still, but everything moves in complex geometric patterns of amazing beauty.  We all fit into these cosmic patterns, but the patterns are bigger than we are and we may not always perceive our place in them.

Events, processes, and stories move in spirals, and in fractal designs.  And yet, we tend to expect things to move linearly from a beginning point, along a line called progress to an end point.  We expect everything to go according to plan. Thanks heavens few things ever do!

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While we are in the middle of our life, it seems chaotic and messy, but if we could rise up 10 thousand feet and look at the patterns of our interactions with one another, of our experiences, perhaps we would see an exquisite, perfect design being woven.

What does all of this have to do with writing?  Everything.  Stories that progress linearly and predictably from point A to point B put us to sleep.  Stories that move in spirals and fractal unfoldment fascinate us.  Think of flashbacks, stories that begin at the end and then move to the beginning, stories where actions of one character change the course of another character, who changes the course of another and so on, the structure becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Another way to describe, or visualize the hero’s journey is Aufheben or Aufhebung.  It is a German word with several seemingly contradictory meanings, including “to lift up”, “to abolish”, “cancel” or “suspend”, or “to sublate”. The term has also been defined as “abolish”, “preserve”, and “transcend”.  Here we see the heros journey presented as a spiraling to resolution.   The multiple meanings of the word, offer many different approaches to how the story may progress. In fact, fractal storytelling describes a process where there are acts within acts, within acts and the structure of the story cascades into an unending pattern.

aufheben

Mike Bonifer, describes fractal storytelling in this way: “Fractals define and connect the story elements in a network. They do not, however, CHANGE the story, and change is where participation is most powerful. So to be effective as human beings and organizations, we need to understand the nature of fractals AND the phenomena of their changing, and of how new fractals, new patterns, emerge. Fractals are helpful for the growth and expansion of the networked narrative. They do not, however, account for the change in the narrative, i.e. when and why the pattern breaks and becomes a new pattern. i.e. No fractal can explain or account for the existence of another fractal, any more than Lolita can explain the existence of Phantom of the Opera. And yet, there is a scenario out there in the universe of possibilities, where Lolita and the Phantom fall in love and make music of their own. So we need more than narrative fractals, along with nodes and influencers, to define what’s happening and where, in the network, are the opportunities for anything but bigness and expansion. We need Exploration and Newness, too. This means new stories, or at least new fractals composed of old ones.”

This different way of thinking about storytelling has given me the courage to venture into some unexplored writing territory.  I hope it sparks some inspiration for you as well.  If you are as intrigued as I am, you can find out more about it here .

And I will leave you with a picture of Broccolli, because even Broccoli grows in fractal spirals-and it is delicious.

fractalbrocoli

 

Understanding Personality and Character Through the Enneagram

Many writers use tools like astrology and mythology to explore and develop character and personality. For those not familiar with it, I would like to introduce the Enneagram, a rich source of material to understand and develop character.  The enneagram is an ancient framework that delves into the structure of character in real life, and in fiction.  It has the unique ability to surface unresolved issues and conflicts within a personality, and the ways in which people express and manage them, for better or worse.

To delve into this resource, I would like to introduce Dale Rhodes, founder of Enneagram Portland.  Dale shared the Enneagram model with me several years ago, and it continues to be a source of revelation, and a lens through which I come to understand behaviour and motivation on a much deeper level.

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Dale, What is Enneagram Portland?

Enneagram Portland was founded in 2002 as the city’s primary resource for people to explore and experience the Enneagram. I work with people individually as a mentor and spiritual director; generally, with folks who are interested in finding out who they really are and what is really going on beneath the surface.

When I discovered the Enneagram in my spiritual director’s formation program, I knew I had found the tool and the framework that would help me journey with others who are interested in personal and spiritual growth as well as personality and character development— in life, on the page or on the screen, or all three.

Would you provide a brief overview of the Enneagram?
The system has its recorded roots with early Christian contemplatives in Alexandria who were trying to have a direct experience of Presence, and they noted that there seemed to be 9 Ways that people blocked themselves from Being and Presence.

As Pythagoreans, they believed there was meaning in systems of numbers; and they were also influenced by the Jewish Kabbalah and pre-historical wisdom from the Egyptians, along with their own self-observations as contemplatives.

This material was later declared heretical by Roman Church leadership (still is) but was kept alive by spiritual directors in various traditions, matching with Dante’s Seven Vices/Virtues.  It is a rich topic that requires more explanation elsewhere.

I just know this: The Enneagram is a useful key to understanding how we really are made and how the world is really working. It is the best tool I have found yet; and it gives directional paths for growth and development that are often expressed in the content of good literature and film.

The Enneagram describes Nine Personality Styles, each bringing their attention habitually and preferentially to one of nine arenas. We use all these placements of attention, but we often over rely on one of them, which brings both gifts and challenges:

The Idealist: error, perfection, standards and order

The Connector: needs, connecting and relationships

The Performer:  tasks and success

The Romantic:  what is missing and what is beauty

The Observer:  conserving energy, experiencing omniscience

The Loyal Skeptic: worst cases, safety and finding allies

The Epicure: options, freedom, joy and potential

The Protector: force, injustice, strength and power

The Mediator: comfort, harmony, union and consensus

enneagram

If you’re curious about the 9 Types, meet them here:

What made you decide to explore the Enneagram in literature and film?
I have always been an avid reader and my partner is wild about cinema. We have always had fun discussions about which personality styles do book or film characters seem to be emanating. It became clear that this is a viable way to expand the community of people who talk type when author Judith Searle presented to Enneagram Portland her workshop on “9 Personalities in Literature and Film.”

Portland is filled with writers and readers, and I assembled curricula for folks to read a book or watch a film each month, along with personality type descriptions, and the groups filled overnight.  Currently, I have three groups of ten running and will offer four more next year.  Writers tell me that they really benefit from exploring the arcs of character development (and disintegration) that these universal types and storylines present.

Tell us more about how the Enneagram helps us understand and develop character, personality and conflicts.
Everyone has had the experience of examining a character in a film or book and said, “I know this person.”  The Enneagram shows you that there is a map to character content tha you already know. It is not the territory, but it is a very helpful map to guiding you, (as a human, a writer or both!), through the land of understanding character motivations:  What is the person’s primary value? What is the person capable of?  What would be the arc of character tensions under stress and in ease and fullness?  As a writer and as a human who must interact well with others, this is invaluable.

In my course called “Understanding the 9 Types in Literature, Film and Community”  and in it, we have the delightful experience of reading great novels and dissecting and digesting them through the lens of personality.  We all find ourselves in all of these types and characters! We might prefer one personality style’s orientation, but we have them all.  Writers find this universal information enables their ability to develop multi-dimensional characters.

For example, think of the personality type I call The Idealist/Perfectionist. There is something universal in the portrayal of Dr. Jekyll as an upstanding and good man probably run by his super-ego/inner-critic, so of course we must meet his avoided opposite motivations: his shadow, the id/pleasure-drive of Mr. Hyde.

A quiet, insightful, male screenwriter, (a Protector) took my class because his girlfriend paid for it. He weathered some literature that he might not have picked up on his own, but his understanding of the system came alive because of reading an old classic.  My choice for the personality style called The Performer was Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry, a novel that exemplifies what psychologist Erich Fromm would call “The Marketing Personality,” the quintessential American salesman.

This type is interested in tasks, success, marketing success, inspiring others (whether through truth or just using what works) and avoiding failure. For example Oprah, Bill Clinton, Sean Spicer, Tony Robbins, Sarah Palin and Jerry McGuire are folks who are oriented towards success, away from failure, and in the mix just might just believe their own press releases.

You already know these characters, and if you are a writer you can know them from the inside out through easily understandable models about motivation that the Enneagram explains in everyday language. That is why the system is so attractive to me— it’s universal, easily understood by all kinds of folks, it’s not vague psychobabble from a therapist or a guru, and it’s verifiably true.

Could you give some more examples of characters in books and their enneagram type?
My own personality style, the Romantic, is concerned with what is missing and how one is a creator of beauty. This theme can be found in a disintegrated form through Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, who has found herself increasingly limited in her own personal ability to create a beautiful life, so she begins meddling in others’ lives with disastrous consequences. Like Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, these women are two of my favorite train wrecks; probably because I know that this could be me if I ever go off my morning coffee.

The positively developed Romantic with an orientation to beauty is found in Thea Kronberg from Willa Cather’s Song of the Lark, the story of a girl who has the natural resources as to accept her own identity as an artist, and to literally find her own voice as an opera singer.

In My Ántonia, Willa Cather addresses another style of character, The Protector. So much in that book and the main character attends to what Protectors care about–the vulnerabilities of immigrants, women and the land, abuses of power, responses to injustice, strength itself. I read it every year and I’m usually crying with its vivid descriptions of landscapes— harsh and beautiful Nebraska and harsh and beautiful inner character.

In Norma Rae you’ll see a Loyal Skeptic character, one who is concerned with divided loyalties: to what or two whom should I be loyal? to myself? to my parents/spouse? to the powers that be?  to the oppositions? and at what cost?  You’ll find the same issues alive and well in the teen novel about choosing a personality style and tribe: Divergent by Veronica Roth. Do these latter themes also sound like themes in Hamlet?  You’d be correct in saying so, as he lived in a mad world where he didn’t know who to trust.

The Connector’s shadow themes of manipulation, flattery, tyranny and misaligned service for the greater good can be found in King Lear and Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. Watch the mother in The Manchurian Candidate (very timely) and you’ll see the same. Yet main character Flora Post in Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm uses her Connector’s abilities to make loving helpful connections and to support a delightful kind world that no one would ever want to end.

Thank you, Dale for sharing this knowledge with us, and with the Portland community.  Here are some opportunities for people to learn more:

Upcoming classes on literary and movie character analysis
Understanding the 9 Points of View in Literature, Film and Community: Monthly Session September 2018-June 2019

Find out more about the Enneagram:
A brief and entertaining introduction to each of the Enneagram’s Nine Types can be found in these student youtube videos. Find out who you and your characters are:

An Introduction to The Enneagram, May 5th, 2018

Recommended Books:
The Enneagram in Love and Work by Helen Palmer
The Literary Enneagram-Characters from the Inside Out by Judith Seattle
The Essential Enneagram by Virginia Price and David Daniels, M.D.

 

Find Dale Rhodes and all programs at EnneagramPortland.com

How a Writer Might Live Forever

By Cynthia Ray

The world is fascinated with creativity and how it works, perhaps because it has an almost magical quality to it, where ideas and inspiration seem to arise out of nowhere.  Science continues to study, research and even map the brains of creative people, uncovering new and amazing things about creative expression.

Research has validated what many cultures throughout time have known, that creative expression can make a powerful contribution to health, well-being and healing.

That making art and participating in creative endeavors, whether it is photography, collage, music, dancing, painting or writing has mental and physical health benefits is now accepted as a scientific realty.  Creating art and music enhances health and wellness, and specifically, expressive writing is linked with improved immune system response.

health

One does not have to be especially creative or artistic to reap the benefits.  Anyone can journal.  Writing is an excellent choice because it doesn’t require any special equipment to begin, all you have to do is open the computer, or pick up a pen and piece of paper and let it flow.

In addition to positive changes in our mental and emotional states, creative expression and expressive writing effect actual physical changes in the body, enhancing immune response and speeding healing from trauma and injury.

This excert from an article titled Make More Art-the Health Benefits of Creativity illustrates the effect.

“The act of writing actually impacted the cells inside the patient’s body and improved their immune system. In other words, the process of creating art doesn’t just make you feel better, it also creates real, physical changes inside your body.”

Another scholarly article documents how one experiment with expressive writing worked, and the amazing positive results.

“The researcher had students write about their deepest thoughts and feelings on an important emotional issue, with the only rule being that “once you begin writing, continue to do so until your [15- to 30-minute] time is up.”  Dozens of replications of these types of studies have demonstrated that emotional writing can influence frequency of physician visits, immune function, stress hormones, blood pressure, and a number of social, academic, and cognitive variables. These effects have been shown to hold across cultures, age groups, and diverse samples.

There are only a few examples, and here a couple of additional articles to puruse if you are interested in learning more about Writing to Heal and the health benefits of expressive writing.

Since I work in healthcare, I receive notifications of interesting health topics almost daily, and last week, I was sent a link to a study where researchers identified the top 10 things that contribute to an individuals likelihood to live longer.  They were surprised to discover that the top two contributors to reduced mortality were having a close friend or person upon whom you could rely, and talk to, and connection with others in a real way. the NY times article says:

“In a study of 7,000 men and women in Alameda County, Calif., begun in 1965, Lisa F. Berkman and S. Leonard Syme found that “people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than people with strong social ties,” John Robbins recounted in his marvelous book on health and longevity, “Healthy at 100.”

This major difference in survival occurred regardless of people’s age, gender, health practices or physical health status. In fact, the researchers found that “those with close social ties and unhealthful lifestyles (such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living habits,” Mr. Robbins wrote. However, he quickly added, “Needless to say, people with both healthful lifestyles and close social ties lived the longest of all.”

 Writing is magic, and so is loving connection-the combination is potent.  My take away is this:  Writers could live almost forever if they spend part of the day writing, and the other part connecting with real live humans.

writing quote

 

A Turning of the Wheel

By Cynthia Ray
We have come once again to the end of the year, the turning of the Great Wheel, a new

cycle of life1cycle. There is the sowing, the reaping and the resting. During this time of rest, we can choose to look back at our experiences, the fruits of our labors, our life and determine what we would like to continue, to discard what did not serve us, or what new things we would like to plant in the new year.

Questions I ask myself:  Did I create to the full extent that I wanted to, or that I could? Did I procrastinate or put aside my true calling in service to some idea of “should”?  Did I sacrifice joy on the altar of worry, perseveration or illusion?  Did I spend time with those that I wished to spend time with–the people I love and care about?  When I spent time with them did I show them how much they meant to me?   Did I do things that took me in a direction I did not want to go?  How did I respond to the trials and tribulations of life?  Did I see the gifts in every moment?

Do you remember Marley’s ghost in the Christmas Carol? He wore miles of heavy chains that he had forged in his lifetime. These chains were forged with his thoughts, his actions and deeds of both commission and omission.

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Perhaps we are also dragging around chains of bondage that we ourselves have created – but the whole point of Dickens story is that our past does not have to dictate our future. It is the choices we make right now in the present that change our future. Scrooge, when confronted with possible futures being created based on his current actions, chose to change.

In the Tarots Deceiver (Devil) card two figure stand draped with chains. The chains, however have no lock and key, are not bound tightly. All they need to do is choose to lift them off, and their self-imposed bondage is over. It is always our choice, in this very moment to abandon old patterns, old ways of being and step into something different. It all comes down to free will, choice and our own will and desire for aligning ourselves with our highest possible strivings.

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 008 The Deceiver #15

Scrooge was helped by intervention outside himself and so are we. There are friends, books, inspiration of others, mentors, teachers that have gone before us, or surround us now that we can turn to for guidance.   There is our own inner voice that constantly whispers to us, if only we choose to listen.

So, I wish you in this new year, the joy and strength of breaking old patterns, of putting aside chains of bondage that no longer serve you, and doing that which gives you joy.

breaking the chains

The Magic of Motivation

I teach a Tarot Class on Thursday nights, and in the last class we focused on the Magician.  This is a card that shows us how to be creative, and get things done-it is all about beginning, concentration and will.  In fact, there is a saying that his main magic consists of what he can do just by wanting to do it.   Do you know what you want?

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As a writer, I know what I want–to write good, compelling works that will touch the heart and mind of my readers.  But like many writers, I run into snags that get in the way of sitting down and writing on a daily basis.  The magician reminded me that wanting something is only the beginning of the process. While desire is the energy that fuels creation, and is the root of motivation, ongoing motivation is the key to success.

Motivation is defined as:

  1. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something
  2. The condition of being eager to act or work
  3. A force or influence that causes someone to do something.

I love the idea of being eager to act or work.  I want to capture that sense of eagerness and urgency that will drive me to the keyboard, even after I have spent all day working at a computer, even if I am tired, even if I am afraid.

Gretchen Rubin has written an interesting book on the topic of motivation and expectation.  In her book, The Four Tendencies, she describes four motivation profiles.  She suggests that once a person understands how they meet expectations (or not), they are better able to develop strategies that will work for them around motivation and getting things done.  The four tendencies are illustrated here:

four tendencies

If you would like to find out more about the model, and find out what tendency you are, you can take the quiz here.

If you discover that you have the tendency of an Obliger, and are more likely to meet expectations of others than of yourself, then a creativity coach, or a writers group with expectations may work well to motivate you to meet writing goals.

Upholders meet expectations, schedules, and deadlines imposed by themselves or others, and may need to learn to relax a bit to enjoy the process more.

Questioners need to find ways to motivate themselves that make sense to them.  might tell themselves, “Just try it, it’s an experiment.” in order to test a writing schedule, or motivation to write at certain times. One person I know bought a Playmobile Advent calendar, and for every 2000 words written, she allowed herself to open a door.  What a great idea!   That would motivate me, but I might invest in this whiskey advent calendar instead.

Rebels do anything they want to do, but resist any kind of expectations, both from themselves and others, and might have to “trick” themselves into doing what they want to do.  They need flexibility to set their own schedules and habits.  Rebels want to express values through actions, so tying a habit to an important identity (such as successful author) can help.

Perhaps you are a person who already has good writing habits, always meets deadlines, and knows how to motivate yourself and keep yourself motivated.  I would love to hear what works for you when you hit a slump or a tough place that threatened to keep you from meeting your writing goals.

 

Interview – Author Bonnie Stufflebeam

 

 

Bonnie

In this month’s interview, I’m delighted to introduce you to Bonnie Stufflebeam.  I met Bonnie in a writing group, and have followed her writing and projects since then.  Her work is often moving, poignant, and thought-provoking.

Bonnie’s fiction and poetry have appeared in over 40 magazines such as Clarkesworld, Hobart, and Lightspeed. She has been a finalist for the Nebula Award and Selected Shorts’ Stella Kupferberg Memorial Prize. Her audio fiction-jazz collaborative album Strange Monsters was released from Easy Brew Studio in April 2016, and she is also the founder of Art and Words, a collaboration of art and fiction.  Her most recent online publication is “Secret Keeper” in Nightmare, which is a tribute to Phantom of the Opera set in a high school theater

Bonnie, would you tell us about your writing?

I write fiction of a fabulist/fantastical variety, anything from what Scott Andrews of Beneath Ceaseless Skies calls literary adventure fantasy to dark fantasy to science fiction to stories with a more literary sensibility that still have some sort of fantastical element. I love re-working myths and fairy tales especially. I also love playing with all the elements of fiction.

Like a lot of writers, I’ve been telling stories since I was a kid. I used to write and illustrate books about my cat April’s adventures (she got lost, coughed up a hairball, rescued an alien stuck in a tree, usual cat stuff). Angsty poetry is the only way I survived middle school. I got serious about fiction in college—that’s when I developed a routine and started reading like a writer—and started publishing in 2012, while I was getting my MFA.

I’m very self-driven. I want to be a writer and have always wanted to be a writer, so I work hard to be a writer (and some days are more difficult than others, of course). I also have lofty dreams that are really outside of my control when it comes to reaching them, and those dreams can be motivational but also distracting. I try to keep a good balance of hopefulness and practicality when it comes to motivation.

What kind of stories have special meaning for you?

I’ve always loved stories for that sense of connection with another person I get when reading them. My favorite stories are those that make me realize something about the world or about myself or the ones that remind me that I’m not the only one who feels a certain way or has had a particular experience. I write because stories have been so important to me, and I want people to connect to my stories the way I’ve connected to stories.

I write a lot about family. My family is a huge force in my life, so I tend to gravitate toward stories about the complicated nature of familial relationships. I write a lot of metaphors for alcoholism and addiction and depression. I write a lot about queerness and sexuality in general. I grew up bisexual in a smaller Texas town. Those formative experiences feature in a lot of my writing.

 What is the hardest thing you have ever written? 

One of the first novels I wrote and then revised, which didn’t end up selling. It was difficult, as a short story writer, to not only sustain a narrative over such a large length but then to revise that narrative. Revision has always been one of my weaknesses. I’m still learning from novel-writing, as I’m still trying and am still in the dark about so much of it. But I’m starting to understand certain things about plotting and follow-through in such a large work.

In addition to your fiction, you have done some fascinating projects and collaborations with art and writing.  Can you tell us about your annual Art and Words Show-Art on the Boulevard? 

The Art & Words Show started as a project during my MFA program at Stonecoast. For one of my assignments, I decided to put on a show that would combine literature and art. I researched various collaborations between writers and artists throughout history. For the show itself, I put out an open call for submissions. I accepted 11 visual artists and 11 writers based on the work they sent me and took one work from each of them. Then I had each writer choose a piece of the visual art I’d accepted to use as inspiration for a poem or story. The visual artists then chose a poem or story from the work I’d accepted and used it as inspiration for a work of visual art. This resulted in 22 pairings of art and words, hence the name of the show.

This year, with a reception on October 7 at Art on the Boulevard in Fort Worth, will be Art & Words’ 6th year. I’ve slowly improved upon the show in small, practical ways. For example, at first I had no word limit for the stories. But some of them were so long that no one had time to read them at the show. Now I try to keep them to one page-length. And then there’s a few things I wish we could still do that we did in those first years; I ran a Kickstarter for the first year, so we had some money for set-up and could also pay musicians to play. We don’t have the budget to do that anymore. Otherwise, I’d say that every year I get more and more submissions, which means that I’m able to feature more people who haven’t done the show before, which is great.  You can find more about it HERE

ArtShow

Can you tell us about Strange Monsters, your project involving music and fiction?

Strange Monsters was a collaboration I did with my partner, Peter Brewer. Peter’s a jazz musician, composer, and recording engineer, and we wanted to do something creative together. We hired local actors to read some of my flash fiction, then he wrote jazz compositions for each story. We hired local musicians to record the music, which Peter then mixed with the words. We released the whole thing as an album. All the stories dealt with women making their own way, eschewing other people’s expectations of what they should do or how they should act.

Yes, I particularly enjoyed “Stink of Horses” in this collection. Listening to it was a surprisingly visceral experience. 

Thanks.  The most fun part of this project was getting to work with so many awesome creative people. It’s always surprising to hear someone else’s interpretation of my writing, and I got to hear it translated into music. I’ve always been a huge music lover, so that was really rewarding.

So, music and art are strong influences in your work.

Yes, I’m inspired by other art forms. I’m totally absorbed by music and art, and a lot of my story ideas come from my experiences with both. I would say that my writing has gained depth from my interactions with other art forms. As one person with a limited set of experiences, I can pull from those experiences to write.

 Has your writing changed as a result of the work you have done with other artists?

For the first few years of writing seriously, I wrote autobiographical stories. By opening myself up to the work of other artists, letting their experiences in, I’ve gained a lot of empathy for other people’s experiences, and that empathy has allowed me to better put myself in the shoes of characters who may share some of my qualities but who have lived different lives.

How do you see collaboration between artists contributing to the ongoing conversations about pressing social issues?

When people create together, they’re communicating with another person on a pretty personal level, which can lead to an increase in empathy toward that other person and an increased ability to empathize in general. A lot of artists—not all, of course, but a lot—are open-minded people. I love it when open-minded people get together and share ideas in order to make new things. I think more of that can only be helpful when confronting communication barriers and organizing against the bullshit of our current world.

But of course it takes more than communicating to get things done, so I’m definitely not advocating artistic collaboration as a one-stop strategy to bolster consciousness and conversation about social issues. It’s important to do whatever else each person can do: march against intolerance and injustice, vote with your dollar and on Election Day, write letters, make calls, and offer support. But art can be therapeutic, as well, as can social interaction, and I say if you want to make some collaborative art as a part of your resistance, why the hell wouldn’t you?

So true!  Bonnie, what are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel. Once that’s finished, I’d love to write some more short stories, as I haven’t been able to work on those lately. They’re my first love, and I miss them.

Thank you for your time, Bonnie.  Best of luck to you in your ventures.  

Find Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: Website or on Twitter

Strange Monsters: a Music & Words Collaboration, out now | Preview the tracks here