Listening for the Muse’s Whisper

I recently finished the novel that has taken me two years to write (two years, two houses, two states, endless revisions). It’s done. Or as done as I can make it right now. I sent it out to a few interested agents and am waiting. Ugh. The waiting. Waiting for the feedback. Waiting for the rejections. Waiting to send it out to the next group. Waiting for the one yes.

The finishing was entirely anti-climatic. There was no celebration. There was no champagne. There was simply real life crowding out the fictional one and fast. And the real life mess I found (and continue to find) myself surrounded by has completely thrown me out of my creative routine.

In the weeks since real life’s descent, my fictional lives took a back seat. More accurately, they took a separate car and their GPS and mine apparently did not match up – I haven’t seen their car for days. I have spun out in several different directions about what to do next, how to accomplish my creative writing goals, how to get my freelance writing off the ground. All roads feel like dead ends, my brain unable to take any single route to its destination.

For a little while, I couldn’t write anything. The whiplash of switching from full-on, months-long revision mode in my fictional world to real life problems with no easy solutions for me to conjure up out of the ether left me dazed, confused, empty. I admit, I was scared. I have never had my mind feel so empty, so quiet. It was disconcerting and disorienting.

But I kept reading: books, articles, interviews with authors. I went to lunch with fellow WFWA writers. I added books and blogs to my growing to read piles. I wrote a new blog post. I kept putting in an effort, even when it felt wasted.

I walked. I listened to music and to podcasts. I watched a movie or two. I gave up some days and ran errands.

I kept showing up – butt in the chair, hands on the keyboard. Determined. Aware. Ready or not.

This week, while perusing a spreadsheet of upcoming deadlines for possible contests to enter, a line of dialogue popped into my head.

“Open the door.”

Boom.

I quickly opened a doc and typed it. A response followed like a gift. Lines poured out. Not many, but enough. A short scene appeared on the page. What was happening? Who were these people? Who were they to each other? Why was she so scared? Why was he so angry? Is that actually fear? Is that really anger? It’s not a novel. It’s not the next big story. But it’s a story. A short piece that may be strong enough to stand on its own two feet or, at the very least, get me back on my own.

It was a whisper. A drip. A start.

Real life, writer’s block, busyness, it’s all going to happen, to me, to you, to Stephen King and Ann Patchett and probably happened to Shakespeare, too. There is so much noise in our lives ready to drown out the muse. But if we keep showing up, keep putting in the effort, keep feeling, exploring, seeing, trying, we may be able to still ourselves long enough that a single whisper will make it’s way through the cacophony and the emptiness won’t be empty anymore. The whisper will grow into a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter… The words will start to fill the page again.

I am learning to live in the quiet, to seek out the peace, to listen to the whispers.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
 -Emily Dickinson
The muse doesn’t leave. It’s waiting. Are you listening?
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The End 2.0

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. – Michelangelo

Today. For the second time in my life, I reached “The End” on a book I’ve written.

This time, however, I didn’t actually type the words. It felt different this time. I know it’s not the end. Not really. It’s just the beginning. Right now I’m skimming the surface of a story that’s hidden in the dark and weedy depths.

For the last year, I have been chiseling and hammering at this giant rock of a story. But, after a year, I find that instead of seeing my angel in the marble like Michelangelo, I realize I’ve only managed to get the rock free of the mountain. Now, I need to haul this giant piece of rock home and dig in to start the real carving.

Like last time, I am being public about my process, my accomplishments, my struggles. Unlike last time, self-doubt is winning. I posted to Facebook in an effort to fake it till I make it. If I post I’m excited, maybe I will be? But instead of bringing the excitement and giddiness I felt last time, I cried.

I cried because I know enough to know it’s nothing right yet. It’s lacking flow, possibly plot and maybe even some fundamental main character development. It’s based in historical events and I need to make sure it’s RIGHT. Like really, really right. Like accurate, truthiness right. The more I cried the more it also became borderline boring, trite and simply bad.

Then I stopped. I stopped because my husband hugged me. I stopped because my sister-in-law happened to text around the same time and when I sad I was wallowing in self-pity she told me to stop. I stopped because the story doesn’t get better if I simply wish it to.

So I’m picking up the rock. It’s heavy. Heavy with responsibility. Heavy with doubt. I am secretly wondering if I haven’t picked up Sisyphus’ rock by mistake.

But it is heavy with something else. It is heavy with hope. Hope that this is the story, this is the one that works, that resonates, that says something. Hope that I am learning, slowly, but surely, how to do this better. Hope that I can use the tools at hand to set my angel free.

It’s time to find out.

 

High Heeled Mama Reads: The Same Sky, Amanda Eyre Ward

First off, this book reviewing business is harder than I thought. Reading is my go to. My solace. My boredom buster. My company in the quiet moments (what are those again?). So I read. A lot. And there is so much other life happening that it can be hard to find the time and think through all I want to say about a book for you. A reader. A reader who deserves a thoughtful account in order to determine whether they want to spend their precious few quiet moments in the heads and hearts of a particular character or plot. And it’s hard to know what to say that might convey that and then time goes by and I’ve lost any real intelligent thought about the books I’ve finished. So, I will not abandon the effort, but let me just say I will save it for those about which I truly have something to say.

Which brings me to The Same Sky.

The Same Sky follows two parallel, yet seemingly unrelated stories – a nice device, actually, to keep you sucked in. Just how will these two disparate story lines merge? You know they have to, somewhere, somehow, or else what was the point? And so you keep following Carla, a Honduran child, abandoned by the adults in her life and trying to keep her and her younger brother alive; and Alice, a woman struggling with her inability to have children juxtaposed against the giant need for them while navigating an adoption system and process that has only led her and her husband to soul crushing disappointment. Add in some Texas barbecue, local Austin color, a horrifying trek across Mexico in an attempt to enter the United States and we’re talking beauty. Beauty in the ashes of the lives of two women, both still girls in many ways, both aged beyond their years in others, both navigating the world motherless, both wanting nothing but to believe in hope and to find that they are enough.

I want to write books like this. I find Amanda Eyre Ward‘s dialogue brilliant. Never too much. And what her characters do say? Boy, does it pack a punch. She has the unique ability of using simplicity to tell complex, emotionally fraught, horrifying at times tales. It’s a neat little trick and one I wish I could master. She tells you just enough, letting her reader fill in any necessary blanks, never lingering too long anywhere, but jam packing every paragraph, sentence, word with a sincerity and meaning that allowed the story to sit with me, whole and burning, in my mind and soul long after I put the book down. Alice and Carla are real to me. I picture them in their respective post-book lives. I wonder about them and imagine what their future holds. I hope the best for them.

The Same Sky is all you want in a story – heart-wrenching and true and an odyssey and a love story and an epiphany and home and loss and family and ending in hope, which is such a central theme to this story. Hope in the face of hopelessness, fighting for hope, hope that there is, in fact, hope somewhere, redeeming hope and hope redeemed.

I give this book five glorious stars out of five.

(When you finish this one, go read Forgive Me).