Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Could I Get an Epic Quest with That?

As might have been mentioned a couple times (or ad nauseam perhaps), I love books, stories, lyrics, anything that takes me on a journey. I’ve been reading quite a bit lately and loving every minute of it. My To Be Read pile fills up a shelf and I keep on buying more (in case those books get lonely, of course). Kelley Armstrong (The Summoning and The Awakening) is responsible for some recent reading glee, and I’ve got my eye on (and a coupon at the ready for) Bad Girls Don’t Die by Katie Alender (who also has a fun blog).

All the books I love include an epic quest, ranging from snagging that One Ring and destroying it and Big Bad Sauron in the process (while consuming Elvish waybread naturally) to overcoming all the angst and hardship of the teen years in order to risk falling in love. Epic quests don’t require dragons or fantasy dark dimensions; they live within a story any time a character pushes for something necessary to their authentic self.

So, this got me thinking (as the events in Haiti have) about what epic quests would fulfill my authentic self. Certainly, seizing time to write and edit stories counts, as does working as hard as I can in my professional life to always do my best. My life has included some epic quests: rock climbing, foreign travel, teaching middle school, and most recently open-water swimming. But since the Haiti earthquake, my inner planning machine has been stewing, leaving a slightly muddled me to pick up the pieces. The question now is how to discover a new epic quest, one that links to the needs of my authentic self (not exactly an exact science). There are plenty of opportunities out there to make the first steps on this journey, and I’m considering them carefully, knowing that once the right one pipes up, I’ll know. In the mean time, I feel a bit like a portion of my brain is attending to other matters (not exactly a new thing, since my fictional writing worlds are at play in my mind most of the time). I’ll keep you posted on what journeys I find.

In a little epic-story-related news, I have to mention something I think is spectacular. NASA, responsible for some pretty epic quests in the past, has carried out an exceptional mission to Mars. And though the Mars rover Spirit is now stuck in the sand, the amazing craftsmanship of the rover has allowed data to continue to be captured and transmitted back to Earth. Spirit was built to survive for just 90 days after landing on Mars... in January 2004... yep, still going (well, not going anywhere now, but still functioning). What a marvelous show for NASA! They do know how to excite the imagination.

And that brings up a powerful point about epic quests, not just in fiction, but in real life. Volunteering with the homeless is an epic quest. Sitting through baseball games all day on a Saturday so that your kid knows how much you care is an epic quest. Taking the time to make a meaningful moment with a spouse is an epic quest. It really doesn’t take a trip to Mars, just the intention to deliberately live each moment and continue the forward motion of your life.

Quote for the Day from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

"Remember what Bilbo used to say: It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Who’s Feeling Small?

I am not alone, certainly, in watching news clips of the happenings in Haiti and experiencing shock, anguish, and tearful hope and wonder as people are still being rescued seven days after their world was trampled. I am probably also not alone in marveling at the fortitude of the people in general and especially those rescued. The courageousness of the rescue workers, the families who are standing by broken-down buildings day after day hoping for signs of life, and the media for helping to share these sights with us cannot but inspire devotion to seeing Haiti rebound, better than ever.

In contrast to the ugliness in the words of some, who seek to blame the victims, I watched as a husband stood vigil (six days after the quake) outside a demolished bank building that was being bulldozed, racing forward each time the machines stopped to call for his wife. And he found her... alive, thirsty, and in pain. And she wanted him to know that no matter what happened, she loved him. It was a moving story, seen here, but what struck me the most was what she said, moments after her rescue, to the newsman who asked if she thought she was going to live.

Her answer: Live. Why not?

For those who blame these amazing victims of a geological disaster, I say think carefully about what blame they’ve earned. At my count, their humble heroism is responsible for making me feel small and petty for all the things I have the luxury to complain about in my own life. These people make me want to do more, pay more attention to the world out there, take an interest in seeing the situation in Haiti improve. These people will survive and triumph; that is what I believe and I completely blame the Haitian people for that belief.

Some will point to the looting as evidence against the heroes, but for every time we in our daily lives show some ugliness toward each other (when not under true duress), like say in traffic, to our food server, to our office mates, or to our families, we are displaying all that is required to one day be desperate and unruly enough to be part of the problem instead of the solution.

All I know is that what I want to be in my life is a person who says, “Why not?” in the face of everything. Will we triumph in our journeys? Why not? Will we be better? Why not? Can we all do a little bit more for others in this world? Why not?

And if I am fortunate enough in my life to evolve into the person I most want to be, you know exactly what I am going to do: blame the Haitians.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Bookstore Epiphany

Bookstores: They’ve got my number. They know things about me, my shopping habits, that I have a Pavlovian response to a thirty-percent-off coupon. And one bookstore should get the idea that a ten-percent-off coupon can’t compare with the thirty. It doesn’t matter if I need a book in the classical sense (and who doesn’t need a book... ever); I will go if I’ve got that coupon. It reminds me of the “If you build it, they will come,” from Field of Dreams. If you send me a book coupon, I will buy. And I also must say that the Pavlov thing I’ve got going on is feisty enough to ignore winter storms, rain, wind... I’m as trusty as the postal service.

During a recent book store outing, I had a moment. I’ll even go as far as to call it an epiphany. But since I’m a writer, let me set a few more facets about the scene first... and a bit about my place on the writing road.

I’ve been in the querying stage for more than a year (one project with better results than the other). I’ve been fortunate to have partials and fulls of my story reach agents; some are still out. As others in this stage know, it is slow moving for most, with lots of need for patience and a sound mind (or in my case, a busily working on the next story... and the next... protocol in place to get me through the querying stage). The highs and lows of querying are challenging to say the least, but I do notice growth from the first full request (which turned me into a dithering mess) to now when a full of my story is out with one of my dream agents (still breathing, don’t check the email too obsessively, and feel centered about my place in this journey). Clear and present growth.

And for people who know me, the past year has been a time of change for me, change born from the previous year’s decisions that set me on a path to find my own journey in life, unburdened by limitations (my own or others). For all the ups and downs, forward movement has been ever present.

That brings us to the new lesson delivered by a friend. Conversations, both written and spoken, carry such amazing power to transform us, if only we are listening. Recently, I made a new friend, a gift by any measure, and from that new friendship has come conversations that delight as much as they amaze me. Moments when clarity presents a truth, a stepping stone for my journey, subtly spoken, but with the power of a flashing neon sign. Go this way.

It was out of a conversation that a quote was given to me, involving the subject of expectations. And from the quote, the unraveling of an inner thought process suddenly shown to be a detriment to me. Expectations. Something I always thought of as a positive revealed to be hollow glimmers tainting each day. If we expect one thing and are given another, let down is the logical conclusion. Expectations lead us to yearnings that only serve our imaginations while contaminating our realities. I realized in this light sharing of ideas that expectations have diminished my journey, always leading to disappointment and a kind of cage, self built.

In the weeks since the conversation, I’ve experienced more joy than ever before because I’m really living in today, not my fictional image of what the day should be. And I’m free in a way that I’ve never let myself be before, and that is a wonderful way to begin a new year. And it led directly to my bookstore epiphany.

I was perusing my beloved YA fantasy section, seeking out the new and communing with all the wonderful fiction written by my heroes, when a moment hit me. A beautiful moment when I realized that just being a writer is prize enough. I will continue to query, to give my stories a chance to dance in readers’ imaginations (what more could a writer dream of), but I know now that just to be a writer, to tell these stories, to have a mind full of imaginary worlds and characters that thrill me, is so tremendously amazing that I am both humbled and grateful.

To all the writers out there who share this spark, carry on and I can’t wait to see your books in my bookstore and play in the worlds that found a home in you.

Quote for the Day from William Shakespeare (not the quote mentioned above, but works very well)

“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Classic Resolution

I really didn’t mean to. I didn’t know what would happen. I am so sorry beloved, little blog for abandoning you for so long and allowing myself to get trapped in the holi-daze. But I’m back now. The holidays are over. And while they were lovely, it is also nice to have a bit of structure back to my days.

This new year is all sorts of exciting to me, as every new year is. Sure, according to some calendars, the world is ending and all, but let’s not worry about that just now and look on what we have in front of us.

For me, there are so many books coming out this year that have been compiled on a list, and every day that brings those release dates closer is a cause for celebration. At the top of that list are Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr (in April), Linger by Maggie Stiefvater (in July), Gone by Lisa McMann (February), and, last but certainly not least, the third book in the Hunger Games series (The Victors). But my adventures in reading are taking me in another direction and I could really use some help.

So, the classics. Yeah, we’ve all read some, some of us at the barrel of a mom-related rage storm during the high school years. And others that we came upon and loved without educational dictates to get us there.

But now I want to push further into the world of classics for one of my resolutions for the year and would love to know which classics you loved, so that I start with the best of them. So, let me know your favorite classics and I will add them to my list.

And in exciting holiday news, for Christmas, I got a new book shelf (that is dreamy) and I currently linger in front of the shelves to see my beautiful books that I read this year more prodigiously displayed.

All my best in this wonderful new year and I really look forward to adding more books to my list.

Quote for the Day from The Mountain is Young by Han Suyin

“Your duty is to do, and thus to revere life.”