TRANSFORMATION

Tarot Keys 1-29-06 006 Transition #13

Cynthia Ray

This the perfect card for the times we find ourselves in.  The message hidden here is one of transformation and ongoing change. Dickens describes what it feels like to be in the midst of deep and profound change, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Some decks title this card Death, but here it is called Transition.  Contrary to what some may think, it is a positive and joyful card. Transition is change, the act or state of passing from one place, condition or action to another, a transformation from one state to another.

All change has two faces, a face of life and a face of death.  The end of one thing is always the beginning of another.  Our own body replaces itself with a new set of cells every seven years to ten years, and some of our cells are revamped even more rapidly.

There is a seed in the upper corner, denoting the promise of life and rebirth.  Every seed is destroyed and broken open, for new life to emerge. My heart is like this seed, breaking for those who are ill, or dying, for those that have lost their jobs, for the homeless, the poor and for those who are afraid.

Life as we know it is crumbling around us, revealing fault lines in our systems and structures.  But even as those thing crumble, they are giving way to embryonic and hopeful signs of change.  The heads of a man and woman on this card represent the growth of Wisdom and Understanding, and the wheel shows possible progress in new activities.

I hope and look towards a new beginning to be born out of this shared global experience. The pandemic will change how we approach healthcare in this country, for example moving to more telehealth, and community health. It is moving us to novel ways of working, communication, and global cooperation to solve problems.  It will affect how we make a living and how wealth is distributed.

We are now living and experiencing a common story together, holding hands as we move into the unknown future together.   There are many trajectories we could choose, but in this card the sun is rising (not setting as some suppose), and the river of life is flowing into it.

Nothing in this blog is about writing fiction but all good fiction is about transformation, showing how characters, how worlds, how ideas change, and the best fiction changes us, too.  I am finding that writing during this time is different, and deeper, affected by the state of my mind and my heart.  What about you?

Getting Started Guide for a Lost Writer

By Lisa Alber

Two weeks ago I got laid off from my day job as a technical writer. After the initial shock and anger and slumpiness, I’m now in the process of adjusting …

So, now I’m in this scary position of creating a new life. Is there a perfect permanent position for me out there? Or, could I re-fashion myself as a contractor with enough time to write fiction? It’s a scary proposition, this thing called the “gig economy” — and paying for my own health benefits too?

As a technical writer, I sometimes write getting-started guides. In fact, I recently wrote one related to creating data strategies for analytics efforts. (I’m here to confirm that it’s all about data, folks. No joke. All the companies are doing it now.) What’s my getting-started guide for myself right now?

Please join me in a thought experiment.

1. Context and Vision

Why do I need a strategy — what will be my return? — and what’s my high-level aspirational vision?

I need a strategy because I’m a lost puppy right now. My return will be that I will have a higher quality life working from home with a flexible work schedule, and, most importantly, have time for my passion: fiction. I envision myself completing works of fiction and feeling immersed in a creative lifestyle while earning a flexible day-job living at the same time. (Notice that my vision doesn’t include things I can’t control, like landing that ultimate publishing contract.)

2. Core Information Model and Principles

A core information model in the world of data analytics is a definition of how a company will treat its data. Principles are like the guiding practices for doing so. For my purposes, this model is how I will treat my time and principles around that.

In my model, time is a raw material. Time is useful to the extent that you actually use it well, transforming those minutes and hours into productive output. What are my principles around this?

  1. When I’m working, I’m really working. When I’m not, I’m really not.
  2. Not all time has to be used productively; quality of life is a factor too.
  3. For fiction, the time allotted each day will be sacrosanct, and this schedule will be fairly rigid and for those hours, fiction trumps the day job.
  4. The day-job hours will be worked flexibly and for as long as needed to get tasks done.
  5. Use a consistent Monday through Friday routine. Allow weekends to feel like weekends; even if I’m still getting work in, do so in a looser manner.
  6. Social media is not time well-spent. I will need to establish clear limits.

3. Current State Assessment

This is a scored assessment of various dimensions that make sense for you. Score 1 (worst) through 5 (best–wish list level).

Organization: 3
Fiction output: 1
My health: 3
WIP status: 2 (solid start on first draft, but needs a re-think)
Contracting status: 2 (have some stuff lined up)
Infrastructure: 3 (I don’t own a proper desk!)
Technology: 4

4. End State Characterization

Same dimensions, but what they need to be to say that I’m achieving my vision. For example, my infrastructure will never be a five, because my house isn’t optimal. My office is small and kind of dark, rather than large and airy and bright.

Organization: 4
Fiction output: 4
My health: 4
WIP status: 5
Contracting status: 5
Infrastructure: 4
Technology: 5

You may ask, why not set the end state to all fives? Well, you’ve got to be realistic and think about what the original goal is: completing works of fiction, feeling immersed in a creative lifestyle while earning a flexible day-job living at the same time. I don’t need to be all fives to achieve this.

5. Architecture

For my purposes, the architecture is the architecture of my life such that I can close the score gap and move to my desired end state.

Organization: 3 to 4. I’m pretty organized, but I could improve. This means actually using my planner — create goals for the week and write things down. I don’t need to be 5 because I don’t need to be a project management guru about it.

Fiction output: 1 to 4. Heavy lift here. This is bum glue, and getting back into the habit. No five here because in my world a five output can only occur if I didn’t have to have a day job. Not that this couldn’t be a goal, but I’m where I am now. That goal can come with some future, updated strategy.

My health: 2 to 4. I’m still getting over the medical stuff, so I’m aiming for a solid four. That seems realistic right now. Lots to do with this one: lose weight, get good sleep, gain strength, do PT exercises, etc.

WIP status: 2 to 5. Five is the completed state. If I use my time wisely and consistently I can get to five.

Contracting status: 2 to 5. This is getting enough contracting clients so that my income is consistent and livable. At a five, I’m even earning enough to save a little back. So this is a long-term goal, for sure.

Infrastructure: 3 to 4. Get a new desk and optimize my office given its restrictions, and I’ll be good.

Technology: 4 to 5. This is the easy one. I’ve already got all the equipment: big screen monitor, good all-in-one printer, laptops (yes, a Mac AND a PC). I just need to think about ergonomics–ergo keypad, wireless mouse, etc. No big.

6. Roadmap

The sequence of tasks to perform over time. This is fairly high level. The timeline isn’t some set thing. Some aspects may take longer (like feeling like I’m a healthy four) than we’d expect. For me, this is a chunking exercise. I’m going to set the roadmap for 2020. Break down the above things into various tasks. Some things are short term and easy: buy a danged desk. That’s a next-week task.

Some things will require further breakdown. Like what do I mean by “livable”? So then there needs to be a budgeting exercise too, which will include trimming the fat.

The WIP status is another thing altogether. Since I’m not trying to kill myself, I’ve decided that I’ll aim for WIP being completed by the end of the year. But, what do I mean by “completed”? Let’s imagine completed is first draft, revisions until I’m ready for beta readers, beta readers, then more revision, and then my final detailed self-editing process. You can imagine — working backwards, come up with a schedule.

7. Execution Plan

The nitty gritty. This is the kind of thing were you break down the roadmap into even more granular chunks, maybe on a monthly or weekly schedule. So for WIP status, let’s say March’s tasks will be: print out manuscript, read what I have so far, brainstorm the plot line that I already know is a problem, re-write that plot line up to where I am in the first draft overall, get an early trusted reader to give me story development feedback.

This is where I’m at. Writing up this blog post as a thought experiment has proven quite inspirational! Wish me luck!

 

Be Writing

iStock_000051779652_Large

Don’t Be a Writer. Be Writing.

With thanks to WordCrafters in Eugene, where I teach Fiction Fluency.

by Eric Witchey

A little late. A lot busy. The life of a writer who has the privilege of working.

Freelance for thirty years in October has allowed me certain perspectives. I’ve seen creative clusters rise, spawn careers, and fall to petty differences and self-righteous ideological splits. I’ve seen creative clusters rise, spawn careers, and… Spawn careers. That was the important bit. The rest was just human beings being monkeys who think they have to hurt other monkeys to have enough bananas. It’s the bit before they start fighting over the tiny, useless, insignificant bananas that’s important—the part where they are banding together and writing.

I’ve seen poor writers rise out of poverty and return to it again. I’ve ridden that ride myself, though things are pretty good right now. I may be on the rise. I may be on the fall. Who can say?

A few people who have called me friend have decided I’m a lesser human because they achieved their vision of success. A few people who have called me enemy began to call me friend when I achieved their vision of success. I have looked down on other writers for not being whatever it was that I thought they should be that day, and I have railed against people who looked down on me for not being whatever they thought I should be that day.

Writers and readers have ridiculed my work because it is “only genre” and, equally, because it is “literary and not imaginative enough.” Just this morning, I received a rejection letter in which the editor said, “I loved reading the story and the sense of the innocent imagination of the child character, but I wanted more depth.” Another editor rejected the same story a couple months ago because, and I quote, “Children aren’t that deep.” In college, a professor attacked me for being a technocrat. In high-tech, engineers attacked me for being “just an English Major.” I’ve been shamed for working from home and raising children. I’ve been envied for working at home and raising children. If we are honest with ourselves, envy or condescension, it’s all the same. It’s fear. Fear that what I am is not enough and I should be like you; fear that I might become like you; fear that if I see you as legitimate I can’t get the bananas I want because my path is not like yours. Fear.

People have stolen my work. I have received email copies of my own articles, sans my name, from friends who said, “This guy thinks like you do.” Once, I managed to get paid for one of my stories that had been pirated. More often, pirates have taken my work and turned it into money for themselves without a thought to my life and my effort. In a seminar, many years ago, I heard a teacher say to a student who was carefully picking up copies of the story we had just analyzed, “Why are you picking them up?”

“I don’t want anyone to steal my story,” the student said.

The teacher laughed then said, “You should be so lucky that people want to steal your work.”

Thanks, M.K. Wren, wherever you are. I’ve never forgotten. I am that lucky.

I’ve known honest, helpful agents. I’ve know agents who were liars and thieves. My name has been on black lists and white lists. Companies have tried to ruin me. I’ve witnessed, and even uncovered, some very shady doings within government agencies and corporations. I even worked as a consultant for ENRON on the project that blew up in their faces. I discovered that a company I worked for was a coke ring. Another was a front for actual spies. Another . . . And another. . . And another. . . I learned that an editor who won’t sign their own contract is not worth the argument, and I learned that when someone says, “It’s nothing personal. It’s just business,” that they have never been hungry or lived under a bridge. They think there’s nothing personal about food, shelter, and feeding self and others.

Freelance for thirty years. A lot of stuff has happened. Awards. Money. Friends. Lovers. Fans. Detractors. As Vonnegut says, “So it goes.”

I get paid. I write. Sometimes, I’m asked to give advice to agencies, entities, executives, and even other writers. Generally, the advice is ignored until the issues hurt enough. That’s very human. I know I often can’t see or hear things I should until I’m desperate enough to seek change. If only I had listened. If only they had listened. If only I hadn’t listened. It’s not my fault you listened to me.

Through all the years, I write. Today, I finished reading a novel. I revised a document that will help bring clean water to a village. I also wrote a few pages of fiction that are, well, meh. A rejection came in. This essay happened. I wrote. I got paid. I did my job.

The rest is just noise in a wind that howls in the back of the mind.

My friends at the WordCrafters in Eugene, an organization I often support by teaching, have a motto, “Don’t be a writer. Be writing.” They have stickers that say that. I have one on the door to my office. It faces outward so I see it every day when I walk in.

Today, I was not a writer. I was writing. It was a good day.

It was good because the whole time I was writing, I felt no pain from my life. I even smiled and laughed. If someone stole my work, I didn’t know. If someone bought my work, I didn’t know. No rejections got read. No sick children or dying family broke into that magical space where vision and feeling merge to become words on the page. Food and shelter were worries to imaginary people who only live in my heart and mind and, with luck, in the hearts and minds of others someday. Political turmoil only existed as a theme. Liars and fools and all the various types of lesser people my righteous stupidity lets me believe exist in various moments all existed only as shadows and echoes far beyond the walls of my office and the light of my screen.

I was writing. I was, for a few blissful hours, what I was meant to be and what I have trained to be, and in the being of that writer, there was no striving or regret or fear or hope. Only the dream made word existed.

Writing cures everything if you are writing instead of being a writer.

Luck and skill to all who write and send.

Crawling Hearts

 

By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

It’s February, a month where we are inundated with the all too consuming concept of romantic love.  I’ve shared previously in this blog that when I’ve attempted to write straight Hallmark movie stories I fail miserably.  Inevitably, someone dies!  Please don’t misunderstand. I do believe in love and all it entails, but I also understand how much pain an unrealistic Hollywood colored love creates. So I thought I’d share my idea of a love poem.  I chose this poem in particular, because it was the first poem to create a vision in my mind for its very own painting.  Happy Valentine’s Day Y’all!

Crawling hearts skitter across my floor.

Their breath beats like thunder, as they shout—”Forevermore”

Their tendrils reach out, seeking to find,

a love that does not bind,

yet, is intricately intertwined.

A love, that knows its own soul,

without taking a heavy, breaking toll.

A love, that will last beyond this world,

taking into each day, a hope, easily unfurled.

Crawling hearts skitter across my floor.

Through their long search, they came knocking at — My door.

“Tell us, does it exist?”

Their pleading whisper, brushes my face, with a warm mist.

“Tell us, will we find that one to connect to?

That one who will forevermore, be true?”

“That one, who will bring us happiness,

as we revel in loves undying, sweet bliss?”

“That one, who will make us complete,

as we dance to the rhythm of our own heart’s beat?”

“That one, who when the long day is done,

will wrap us in their arms, as we watch the setting sun?”

Crawling hearts skitter across my floor,

disconnected bodies, searching forevermore.

They search for answers to questions as old as the Universe.

Questions, that for centuries they have rehearsed.

“Where do our answers hide?”

“Has true love really died?”

I reach deep within—my own heart,

for words of wisdom to impart.

My reply is simple but true.

“To find the love you seek, you must first love, YOU.”

“For how can we offer this great gift to another?

When our very own heart, has yet to be our lover?”

Crawling hearts skitter across my floor,

seeking to escape my simple metaphor.

 

What are your favorite love poems?

Crawling Hearts

“Crawling Hearts” an original painting by Cheryl Owen-Wilson

Resuscitation by Fiction

The current covers for the Jack the Ripper Victims Series
The current covers for the Jack the Ripper Victims Series

I set out to revive the victims of the Whitechapel Murderer in fiction, to write dramatic novels about their lives and create a Jack the Ripper Victims Series. 

There is something of Doctor Frankenstein in what I did. These photos give a sense of where I started—with the police reports and evidence. They are mortuary images of four of the five victims taken shortly after they were murdered. The fifth victim was left unrecognizable, and the crime scene photo is so extreme, it’s not fit for viewing on this blog. Part of my goal was to give voices back to the five women who were lost 131 years ago, so they might tell us what life was like in their time. In the midst of the work on the writing, I used Adobe Photoshop to manipulate the mortuary photos and bring life to the faces. Being rather visually oriented, repairing the damaged features, opening their eyes, and giving them a hint of color gave me the most vivid sense that I was reviving them. I strove to change the faces as little as possible. Even so, I have no idea if anyone who had known the women would have recognized them from the images I came up with.

Motuary photographs of four of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. From left to right, Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.
Motuary photographs of four of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper. From left to right, Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.
From left to right, Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, and Catherine Eddowes.

Of course, the same would be true for the novels. When writing a fictional drama about the life of a person who is long-deceased, one has to make up much of the story. I had to invent, to flesh out around what was merely a skeleton of information. There are points in the historical record in which we have some confidence that certain things happened. But we do not know what motivated the women from moment to moment. We don’t know what they said or did in most cases.Just as Victor Frankenstein did, I had to borrow parts to make my creations’ lives seem whole. Not body parts as the fictional doctor did, but parts from other lives. I borrowed from my knowledge of the people I’ve known, from history, from the dramas I’ve read and watched. I asked my female friends and family members a lot of questions. Some were surprised by what I asked about the female experience of love, sex, pregnancy, and child birth. Filling in the gaps, I had to bring my own emotional experience in life to the telling of the tales. As an example, my experience as an alcoholic was invaluable to the telling of tales about alcoholics, which several of the women seemed to have been. Yes, the stories are inevitably inaccurate. Yet establishing fact is not my purpose. A different sort of truth emerges from the tales. The object was to give readers some experience of the world the victims knew, to provide a sense of walking in their shoes, of knowing a different time and place through senses that, although fictionally portrayed, gave a persuasive representation of a bygone environment and social situation. That took a lot of research, something that, though plenty frustrating at times, I thoroughly enjoyed.

Covers for an earlier release of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series.
Covers for an earlier release of the Jack the Ripper Victims Series.

As I developed the book covers for the series, I chose at first to take advantage of the high profile Jack the Ripper has in pop culture. On each of the original covers there was at least an intimation of the killer. Although that may have attracted attention to the books, it wasn’t the best idea perhaps, since the novels are not about JTR. Instead, they are about the struggles of women in a society with a class system that kept the poor down, one in which women had few rights and were treated as having little value if they had lost their male partner and were past their prime years. These are novels about women for women. Men who love women will also find much to like in these tales. Female readers appealed to me to depict the women on the covers in a manner that spoke of life. I took the advice to heart. Working from the images I had derived from the mortuary photos, I created a whole new set of covers for the books. I regressed in age the faces I had done to depict the women in happier, healthier times.

For the interior illustrations for the novels, I often opted for the expressiveness of hands to convey emotions for the characters. As my good friend, Jill Bauman once said to me, “Hands are the voices of figures in artwork.”

"Reaching into the Past," interior illustration for OF THIMBLE AND THREAT, the novel about the life of Catherine Eddowes.
“Reaching into the Past,” interior illustration for OF THIMBLE AND THREAT, the novel about the life of Catherine Eddowes.
"The Old Woman's Crooked Hand," interior illustration for SAY ANYTHING BUT YOUR PRAYERS, the novel about the life of Elizabeth Stride.
“The Old Woman’s Crooked Hand,” interior illustration for SAY ANYTHING BUT YOUR PRAYERS, the novel about the life of Elizabeth Stride.

Not all the illustrations are of hands. Here’s one of a phantom of alcoholism that haunts Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols. All the illustrations appear in black and white in the paperbacks. The ebooks have some full color while others illustration are sepia, blue or green monochromes.

"The Bonehill Ghost," interior illustration for A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST, the novel about the life of Mary Ann "Polly" Nichols.
“The Bonehill Ghost,” interior illustration for A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST, the novel about the life of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols.

While writing the first novel in the series, I feared my effort would be greeted with the same horror people had toward the lumbering monstrosity that first awoke to Doctor Frankenstein. An American male, what qualified me to write about British women of the 19th century? I worried that women, my British friends, and those who consider themselves Ripperologist would ridicule my depictions. Yet that did not happen—far from it. The reviews for the books in Ripperology magazine have been glowing ones, women have praised the stories as sensitive and pro-woman, and the UK market is where the books sell the best. I gained knowledge of my subject and confidence with each novel. The Whitechapel Murderer is not a dashing figure who got away with something daring. The killer did not deserve my time and creative energies. The tales in the Jack the Ripper Victims Series are of common women who would have been forgotten but for the outrageous manner of their deaths. As with all of our stories, simple or complex, rich or poor, it’s the emotional content and context that counts. I found I had a lot to work with.

—Alan M. Clark

Eugene, Oregon

The novels are available in paperback, ebooks in ePub and Kindle format, and audio books from Audible.com

Click here to purchase the novels from THE RIVER’S EDGE

Below are links to purchase the novels on Amazon.com (The listing on Amazon may sell you one of the earlier releases that had a different cover and possibly fewer interior illustrations):

A Brutal Chill in August 

Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man

Say Anything but Your Prayers

Of Thimble and Threat

The Prostitute’s Price

Puzzling It All Out

By Lisa Alber

My sister recently sent me a puzzle. It’s a beautiful, laser-cut wooden puzzle with intricate shapes and over 500 pieces. She had discovered the joy of puzzles to while away the winter and thought I might find the pastime therapeutic.

She sent me this “Twelve Days of Christmas” puzzle. A hundred bucks for a puzzle? Outrageous! But you know what? So worth it to experience the solid click of two pieces fitting together. It’s ridiculously satisfying.

The puzzle pieces are gorgeous, and, being real wood, they’re also sensual. Many of the pieces are shaped like birds or bows or figures. I love picking them up, holding them, fooling around with them as I binge-watch some Netflix show on a dull evening. (I’m in concussion recovery, but that’s a story for another time.)

The puzzle sits on the coffee table. At first, slow going as it was, I spent dedicated time putting it together. Now, I’m savoring its pleasing disarray. Perusing it, I may pick up a piece here and a piece there, or collect together pieces that belong in certain areas. I’m not actively trying to complete it, and in the act of not trying so hard, I’ll all of a sudden grab two pieces and snap them together. Or, I’ll suddenly see how a little portion of the puzzle fits into the whole. Some area of my addled brain is working on the puzzle even when I’m not really working on it.

Sounds a little bit like the writing process, doesn’t it? I’m once again reminded that the brain is an amazing apparatus. I’d been having trouble with my standalone, and my enforced break from anything creative (talk about pain and suffering) hasn’t helped. However, the little puzzle moments — A-HA! — give me hope and the tiniest bit of inspiration that maybe I will get back to writing fiction in a serious way in 2020.

As 2019 approaches its end, I send you good will and peace and love. xoxo, Lisa

P.S. Here’s Fawn, hoping for a holiday treat. The ornaments in the background are vintage from my childhood.

 

 

 

My Holiday Gift to Writers, by Eric Witchey

Sitting female teacher surrounded by school-aged childrenPhoto Source: iStock, diego_cervo.
Please pardon my abuse of form, line, and rhyme.

A Holiday Story

Eric Witchey

Twas three weeks until New Years, and Wrimo was done.

The revisions had started. They weren’t very fun.

Plot  stickies were strewn o’r the coffee-stained floor

And my phone was turned off. Ha! Ring nevermore!

I hated the tinsel, the red and green lights

That draped from my bookshelves and flashed in my nights

My pumpkins and witches, bones, and fake gore,

With my raven were stuffed in a box by the door.

My letters to Santa went out in e-mail.

“Buy my book. Leave reviews. It’s right here on sale.”

Santa ignored me. He did every year.

My stories lived only in ether, I fear.

A notice of email pinged on my box.

Damn, I forgot to shut off my intox.

Better than fixing a flaw in the plot,

I clicked on the notice with nary a thought.

“Mr. Writer, it started”—innocent enough.

“I read your last story and think it’s real buff.

It made me think of my mom and my dad,

And I couldn’t help wonder if you knew how sad

My parents are that I’m leaving real soon.

They’ll miss me. They love me. Please grant them a boon.

Stories are healing, though I can’t be healed.

A story for them, I hope that you’ll feel

Is worthy of time, of love and attention.

Please, when I’m gone, if you could just mention

Our names in a story about love and joy.

Remind them that they still love this small boy.

Remind them that love makes a life and a family.

If you could do this, that would be dandy.”

After I wiped away my sad tears,

I read the kid’s closing and let go selfish fears.

“Please do this for me,” the brave child said.

“Give them a vision of love when I’m dead.”

Now, Wrimo meant nothing. Revisions felt lame.

Only one thing mattered. Not fortune or fame.

Only the love that a story can weave

Into the hearts of the people we leave.

Stories are doorways, or windows, or paths

Into hearts and minds to do work as salves.

Distraction, or message, or battles with dirks,

Stories give healing for foibles and quirks.

By telling in paper, e-reader, or chant…

By ink or by stylus, by pen or by rant…

The word shamans’ duty since stories began–

To bring healing and peace to just one fan.

That letter to me, no Santa would read

Santas don’t write. They can’t plant a seed

Deep in the hearts of those who must heal.

Word shamans do that—we whom muses wield.

For a child who loves beyond life and reproach

To the pen, to the page, to the tale we approach.

The years that will come are made of our vision

One family from all should be our heart’s mission.

-End-