In my last On the Road blog here, I mentioned at the end that I had interviewed a few hobo punks who I had met while traveling in Alaska with the potential to freelance an article to the Anchorage Press.
It is one of my most painful regrets of that road trip that I didn’t follow through on that. Because I did interview these people. Their stories were incredible, and they deserved to be known for that.
I probably had a gnarly case of road fatigue.
For all the excitement and adventure of the unknown and this odyssey, it was exhausting to pack up the Beast and move from town to town, where I didn’t have any roots or emotional investment.
I had it in me to interview them. Then that was it.
The main people I interviewed, Derrick and Kylie Greene (names changed for privacy) had settled down in Anchorage. At the time that I had met them, they had a young son, and Kiley was pregnant with their second child.
This was in the autumn of 2005. In the 90’s, there was an exodus of teenagers out of the homes into the streets. The core of the homeless teens were – and still are - those who left dangerous family environments and those who had gotten kicked out of their homes, usually for coming out as gay.
But then there were those who came from safe homes and were simply restless and probably didn’t fit in with the mainsteam conventional culture from which they came.
If I remember correctly, Kylie had been a hobo punk longer than Derrick. I think he had hit the road around 16 or 17, whereas she had been on the road from the time she was 13 or 14.
Originally from Louisiana, she said her mother and sister worried sick about her, and often begged her to come home, which she would never do no matter how dangerous life on the streets was.
“I remember one time me and a couple friends found a squat (an abandoned, empty building) as a place to crash. One night, these older homeless bums came in and saw us. We overheard them talking about how they were going to kill us to claim the space.”
Kylie shuddered as she remembered, and shook her head.
“We were so scared.”
Kylie and Derrick met through the network of hobo punks that hit the road. Both had a lot to say about the network of homeless youth on the road, how they managed with no money and very few resources beyond each other.
Safety happens in numbers. Hobo punks know this.
They talked about connecting with the Rainbow family, the nomadic tribe that travels from National Park to National Forest year round, when they needed more resources or the security that comes with a group.
They talked about hitchhiking and hopping trains, as the hobos of the Great Depression did to get around. They talked about living in squats, sleeping in encampments, panhandling, and receiving money and food from kind-hearted strangers.
“It gets harder as you get older,” Derrick said.
They also talked about the excessive alcohol and drug use that goes hand-in-glove with that lifestyle.
They talked about Punksgiving, celebrated at the same time as conventional Thanksgiving, and that people traveled from all over to come to it. In fact, I’m pretty sure, it was at a Punksgiving that Kylie and Derrick met.
They showed me a group photo of an early Punksgiving before they married. Everybody in the picture hammed it up. Kylie had her ginger hair in a Mohawk and wore brown overalls, Derrick had his hair slicked back, and I recognized the guy I found in Seward who told me where to find them.
Once they settled down in Anchorage, they’ve been the hosts for Punksgiving. And it was no easy feat for those hobo punks to get to Anchorage from the lower 48 (the rest of the United States, except Hawaii).
That was becoming problematic for them.
Although it was part of their tribal values to open their homes to their hobo punk family, then they’d have far too many people in their house expecting to be able to stay. They’d drink all day, not help with the bills, housework, look for a job, or anything.
And they were in Anchorage in late November, where winter was always well under way.
This honest, humble working class family were especially conscious of the difficulty of this. They were torn between the past and the present and the needs for their future, especially because they had a four-year-old son and Kylie was pregnant again.
“It’s gotten harder as we’ve gotten older,” Derrick said. “It just doesn’t work to keep partying like that and not doing anything.”
“Derrick became a journeyman at his job this year,” Kylie continued. “And things have just changed for us. We don’t know how much longer we can continue to host Punksgiving because it causes a lot of problems.”
I asked them if they missed their former way of life. They both nodded.
“Yeah,” Kylie said. “But it was just getting too hard. People don’t want to help you out so much when you’re not so young and cute anymore. It’s harder to get rides and money and food and stuff that you just need.”
Both of them were only 24-25 years of age at the time of my interview.
In the long run, Derrick and Kylie were the fortunate ones.
Life on the road is hard, especially the way they lived it. It’s a way of life that the young and restless still engage in. Several years ago, I met a young woman who had lost her leg in an injury where she was hopping a train.
Derrick and Kylie stopped before life on the road ate them alive.
It’s a real shame that I didn’t buckle down and write that article right after I interviewed them. I recorded the conversation but lost that tape – yes, tape as in cassette tape – years ago.
If I could recall this much 14 years later, how vivid would that article have been if I had written fresh and inspired?
I wonder if Derrick and Kylie still miss the freedom of those rough and ready days as hobo punks.
I imagine that they take road trips whenever they can, and I bet they are usually willing to give a hitchhiker a ride.
If you’d like to read the On the Road blog which preceded this one, click here.
Show me the love, Stacy!
You know I <3 U 4ever!
“Well Isn’t that sweet of Evan?”
Stacy shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"Sure it is,” Stacy scoffed. “That is, if you find desperation endearing. Come on, Andrew. Let’s get a drink.”
The Writing Prompts, they keep on coming. Some smaller images and pithy excerpts, I hope they get your creative juices flowing.
I do love doing these, and it’s easy when I can’t think of any big theme to put out there, and I hope to get to offer some inspiration for my sister and brother creatives and writers who may find themselves stuck or stumped or simply like to collect ideas for new stories. So happy to oblige.
Dino pressed his ear against the moss covered brick and tapped with one hand.
“What are you doing?” Belka asked.
“Listening and feeling for the hollow spaces.”
“Because I can.”
“That’s bull. You’re after something.”
“Of course, I am. But I don’t have to tell you, Belka.”
Francisco loved Adina as much as a hot taco on a cold, damp Seattle day.
Adina was not impressed.
Her mind was filled with Roberto, who made the most delicious tacos.
“Show me the magic!”
“Because you’re too greedy. You’ll only use it for ill.”
“But when you do, it’s ok?”
“Space Traveler? That’s what you’re dropping out of school for!”
“Why would you do a stupid thing like that? Everybody knows Space Travelers get devoured by the Cosmos!”
“That’s why I want to go.”
“It’s been a long time coming. But we’re finally in the pink.”
“I’m so relieved.”
“Don’t be. By next week, we have to be in the red or we’re out.”
“We’ll get there.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Because Marco is going to help us.”
The Victorians had some rigid and bizarre rituals for mourning.
Widows had to embody mourning for at least 2 years, wearing nothing but black before being able to mute to gray, then mauve, and white.
But never mind the fashions, their absence at anything remotely social was ruthlessly expected. Anything less than total isolation was not acceptable.
That must have been torture, no matter how much the women loved their husbands.
By the way, I’m not a recent widow and nobody close to me has died. My engagement ended this past summer when I left my fiancée. So perhaps this beginning hints of melodrama.
That said, modern times do not have adequate rituals for grieving, much less the elaborate ones nobody can afford through time or money.
Even if I had invested in a dream that would never come true – and would have been a nightmare if I had stayed, this breakup is the death of an imagined future. Even if I wasn’t happy, I was counting on this future, as you can see from this blog here, posted not even 5 months ago.
Oh! Bitter, bitter irony!
There is a grieving process in breakups that suspends sociability and productivity.
I was in a really bizarre space emotionally right after I left. I could only handle spending time with people I knew well.
Any time I was in a social situation that entailed mingling with others for the first time, I couldn’t connect with anybody. It was as if I existed just outside my body.
But besides sociability, my writing momentum came to a screeching halt.
Before I left, I had been working with a very talented illustrator for a children’s fairy tale, “Why Roses Have Thorns.” See previous blogs about Natalya here and here.
She had just finished all the illustrations, and had set me up with an editor friend who was working on the manuscript.
I still need to go back and look over those edits to go for a final polish, because I haven’t done shit since the break up.
Needless to say, that second draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan” that I was so proud of? I’ve only touched it once since last July.
Thank Goddess that I had enough blogs scheduled for about a month because that kept me consistent.
Since then, many blogs in the last two months are excerpts from my novel and my work-in-progress, as well as journal entries from my DIY booktour/roadtrip in 2005-2006.
I even dug up a couple of blogs from a year ago and re-posted when I was truly desperate and couldn’t think of anything to write about.
I post 3x/week. So out of 3 months; that makes at least 36 blogs. Out of those 36, only 6 (including this one) are fresh pieces.
This does not include the writing prompts. I’ve made 6 sets of 6 writing prompts since early September. I guess I went a little nuts on those because they don’t require my concentration, and that is the beauty of them.
I don’t need to stick to an overarching theme as I do a reflective article. I only have to put a pithy description or chunk of dialogue. Then whoever is grabbed by one prompt or the other runs with it, and comes up with their own themes.
Today is the 3-month mark of the day I left my fiancée. We were together almost 4 years. In the grand scheme of relationships, that’s not very long.
In the scheme of toxic relationships, which had we been the last 2 years we were together, I consider myself lucky that this only lasted 4 years. So many people stay much longer when they should have left much sooner.
That said, I’m still smarting over the lost time, even if I learned a lot and grew a lot.
A friend told me her measuring stick for processing the end of a relationship was 1 month for every year together and then it’s time to get back on track. She said it took her about a year to recover from the end of a 12-year relationship.
In about 22 days, I will hit that benchmark.
I can feel myself thawing out of the numbness that had consumed me until I went to a Tantra Festival (I’ll write about that later. I promise) at the end of August. Ideas are flowing and I’m getting restless.
Natalya even got in touch a couple of days ago with an offer of her marketing services.
Things are warming up.
It’s time to get back to work.
“I take it Rosco talked you into this?”
“That’s one way to look at it, Adele.”
“I’m very pleased you’re staying, Martinez. I didn’t think you would.”
“Did Rosco blackmail you?”
“I wouldn’t go quite that far.”
“But you are not here willingly.”
“No. I’m not.”
Writing prompts are back. Sweet chunks of dialogue to get your imagination revving! What’s the story behind these intriguing pieces of conversation? One way to find out is to take the deep dive and see what you come up with. Enjoy!
“What a foolish vanity you have. Lady Fortune is fickle. Luck always changes.”
“Not for me, it doesn’t. You saw what happened here tonight.”
“Tell me, Gambler. Are you looking for the game you can’t win?”
“No. I’m looking to see that I always will.”
“Perhaps you only play the games that are easy to win.”
“You’ve really gotten yourself into a mess now, darling. Wasn’t I enough trouble for you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about your fancy courtesan.”
“She wants you dead, woman.”
“Of course, she does. Beautiful courtesan has lusted for my blood for a long, long time.”
“Why feign your good wishes? You weren’t cheering for me.”
“Why do you love it? What do you love about gambling? Is it the money you don’t need?”
“No. It’s the games.”
“So you like to play games? Why the games of chance?”
“Because I love to win them.”
“Why not games of skill? The victory would be sweeter.”
“Luck has no play in games of skill.”
“What about Anthony?”
“What about him?”
“Doesn’t he deserve vengeance?”
“Hell no! That vicious little brute got what he deserved!”
“So what if he was horrid? Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
“Well now, he’s a drooling mess of an imbecile, and your lady love is to blame.”
“You aren’t the kind to take the coward’s way out.”
I turned around to see the Sorcerer behind me. I was never afraid of the Sorcerer. Not then and not later, not even once I knew what he was capable of.
“I’ve been watching you,” he continued.
“Oh yeah? And what do you see?”
“I see a girl who wants what she can’t have.”
She stared into the long white palm of the Sorcerer, bony fingers reaching for her. The clutch inside her chest was excruciating.
An impulse came over her urging her to run up the spiral before the Sorcerer could lock her in the Caverns, and she nearly gave in to the call of fear.
Then the scent of lilies wafted in her nostrils, the melodious voice of her mother singing in her mind.
“I will be with you always.”
And the girl knew her heart was safe as she placed her hand in his.
The Sorcerer reached inside the neck of his robes and pulled out his own stargaze.
But the only colors were blue and white once the candles’ flame touched the crystal facets. The essence swirled around her, making the girl shiver.
She tried to pull her hand back, but the Sorcerer kept his hold on her.
“Push out your breath,” he said.
She had no choice.
The air was drawn out of her when the Sorcerer inhaled long and deep. He didn’t stop until she was drained.
Otherwise the girl felt nothing when she gave up her heart, just the emptiness inside her once it was gone, and a gnawing similar to the one that consumed her when she’d feasted with him two days before.
She blinked and her hand dropped to her side.
When she looked again, her heart rested in the hand of the Sorcerer, motionless and silent.
For once, she found the lifelessness of her heart reassuring when he tied it up in a black velvet bag and placed it on the highest shelf carved in the Cavern walls.
Then the Sorcerer turned to her with a smile and nodded to a corridor leading away from the main hall to what must be his bedroom chambers.
The black walls glowed from fire torches which lit the way.
He beckoned her to follow with a wave of his fingers, but the girl stared at his back sauntering to the hallway and didn’t move.
The Sorcerer noticed and turned around.
“You already made your choice, Girl. It’s too late to change your mind now.”
“Didn’t you promise to teach me the arts of seduction?”
“Yes, and I will. So?”
“So, you know I find you repugnant. Don’t you?”
The Sorcerer raised his brows and shrugged.
“Make me desire you,” the girl taunted. “Isn’t that what seduction is?”
She didn’t expect to evade the Sorcerer and the decision she had made, but her stomach lurched when he smiled.
His long yellowed teeth gleamed.
“As you wish.”
He pulled a large vial from his robes.
The girl thought the liquid must be melted rubies for when the Sorcerer held the vial to a torch it lit up the jewel tones.
He snapped his fingers, calling forth the shadowy servants from the black stone.
They carried a large iron cauldron between them, which they set down before their master, smoke billowing from the center.
The Sorcerer circled the pot, muttering in a language the girl had never heard.
Then he spilled one drop from the vial and the brew inside the cauldron roiled, engulfing the Sorcerer in fog.
As thick as the cloud was, the girl could see the silhouette inside.
The form of the Sorcerer changed shape.
The mist dissipated in puffs, revealing a man who bore no resemblance to the ancient Sorcerer.
He was young and strong with powerful shoulders and muscular limbs, wearing the ragged clothes of a vagabond.
The only thing missing was his rucksack.
“No,” she whispered. “This isn’t possible.”
She blinked, trying to dispel what had to be a mirage.
But the guise the Sorcerer had taken on remained and the girl thought she might faint.
His wheat colored hair was damp as it always was after a long ride, the smile of even, white teeth as brilliant as she remembered.
“Well look at you, little Miss,” he said. “You’re all grown up.”
Even his voice had not changed.
Its rumbling timbre, the playful drawling accent touched by dialects of the places of the world he’d seen.
The Horse Trainer who had come as a Vagabond.
The girl shook her head, unable to speak.
She tried to back away from the handsome young man, but he walked a wide berth around her.
She turned, frantic to keep her back to this phantom of flesh and blood.
The sight of him filled her with both alarm and sadness.
How could this be possible?
Her throat closed up and the girl wanted to cry.
But that urge was distant, calling to her from a place outside herself while the empty space inside her breast throbbed.
She hugged her arms close while the Phantom of the Horse Trainer moved in a pace at a time.
Once he came near, there was no relief when she looked into his eyes and saw they were the same.
The colorless gaze of the Sorcerer had warmed into golden brown eyes which sparkled just as she remembered.
“Get away from me!” she cried, hurling her fists against his chest. “You’re not him! I know you’re not him!”
The Phantom grabbed her wrists with one hand and pulled her close.
“First rule of seduction,” he whispered in her ear. “Find the secret yearning of the one you desire and give her what she wants.”
This excerpt is out of my novel, “Ella Bandita and the Wanderer.” If you’d like to purchase an ebook, you can through my website HERE, or you can through Amazon HERE.
Adrianna was everything charming and gracious when she heard I chose to stay.
She even offered her carriage to deliver the Wanderer to the patron who had been keeping my flock at the price of two sheep a day.
Pulled by a team of four horses, the trip would take two days, and by the time the Wanderer collected my flock, I would be down fourteen sheep.
Adrianna and I stood next to each other in the courtyard, where the lavish carriage stood.
The Wanderer held Celia in a long embrace.
Apparently, Adrianna’s protégée had stayed with the Wanderer in his rooms the two days I was trapped in the DreamTime purgatory. I must have been in a dead sleep if their noisy lovemaking didn’t wake me.
Finally, the Wanderer kissed Celia on the forehead, stroked the side of her face, and let her go gently.
When Celia turned, I was pleasantly surprised to see the hint of tears in her eyes.
She stopped and curtseyed to us before passing back into the Casa.
I wondered if Celia used rose water as a perfume.
I caught a hint of roses as she passed, but the scent lingered long after she had gone into the house. I frowned and looked around.
Adrianna noticed too. She leaned her head back and smiled, her nostrils flickering as she inhaled.
Before I could ask her about it, the Wanderer approached.
“I’m not particularly fond of good-byes,” he said. “So I guess I’ll see you in a month or so.”
“Oh, you’ll see me much sooner than that,” I said.
“Not if I have anything to do with it,” Adrianna quipped.
The Wanderer chortled.
“Either way, Adrianna, I’m flexible. Maybe send word out every week or so, and I’ll roam circles around the Capital City with his flock.”
He kissed her on both cheeks.
“Adieu. And thank you so much for the splendid hospitality, and the comfortable ride. I feel like a new man.”
“You are a new man, darling Wanderer. The pleasure was mine. Not as much pleasure as Celia got to enjoy, but I loved having you as a guest.”
The Wanderer chuckled again.
I clasped his hand and the Wanderer pulled me in an embrace. I was surprised at how comforting it felt to be held by my friend. Really, this man was more than a brother to me.
“Don’t worry about the Shepherd,” Adrianna said flippantly. “By the time I’m through with him, he may be too coddled to return to the natural life.”
“I highly doubt that, Adrianna.”
With a salute, the Wanderer stepped into the carriage.
Adrianna and I stood there and waved, the scent of roses growing stronger as the carriage disappeared from view. My heart was heavy once he had gone.
“You are truly blessed in friendship, Shepherd.”
“I’m very pleased you’re staying. I didn’t think you would.”
“I take it the Wanderer talked you into this.”
“That is one way to look at it.”
The elder Courtesan threw her head back and laughed.
And yet again, I was disconcerted by the mannerism that seemed especially peculiar on her.
“Did the Wanderer blackmail you?”
“I wouldn’t go quite that far.”
“But you are not here willingly?”
I hesitated, and then shrugged.
“No, I’m not.”
Instead of taking offense, Adrianna sniggered. Her beautiful golden eyes sparkled.
“Nothing quite like a little benevolent coercion, is there?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“As I said, Shepherd, you are truly blessed in friendship.”
As annoyed as I was with the Wanderer, I laughed with her. I couldn’t remember any other time I had been so adroitly backed into a corner.
“While you are here, my Casa is your Casa.”
“Don’t thank me just yet. I have appointments in town that will keep me away most of the day. I hope you can forgive me, for I never desert my guests. But I honestly didn’t expect you to stay.”
“There’s nothing to forgive, Adrianna. I know how to entertain myself.”
The Courtesan paused, her head angled to one side as she peered at me with a strange half smile on her mouth.
“That makes a refreshing change.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Most men I know lack self-containment. They need excessive amounts of attention.”
Adrianna took my hand and squeezed it.
“The Butler loves to give tours of the house and grounds if you get bored, and there’s much you haven’t seen. But now, I must get ready. I’ll see you tonight for dinner on the back patio.”
“Of course. It’s my favorite place to dine.”
What a strange woman she was, this legendary Courtesan.
“Do you ever miss the bracing challenges of hardship?”
“Never,” Adrianna replied. “Dinner is at eight.”
This excerpt is out of my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.”
If you’d like to see an earlier excerpt from this work, click HERE.
Maiden-Mother-Crone-Virgin-Vixen-Virago. Maiden-Mother-Crone-Virgin-Vixen-Virago. The litany of the feminine archetypes almost sounds like a nursery rhyme, doesn’t it?
We’re obsessed with the Maiden in American culture.
Virgins are the belles of the balls, and the Vixens are the she-devils who devour the balls. The Mother plays a secondary role, there to support or to suppress. The Crone plays a minor role, and the Virago gets scarcely a mention.
This last is the greatest shame.
Of course, I’m speaking in generalities, and there are plenty of exceptions to this rule.
For instance, “Ocean’s 8: definitely had some pretty strong Virago power, which Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett rocked beautifully. There was even a Crone in the failing dress designer, who had some classic moments. But there were plenty of vampy Vixens going around. I’m sure there had to be or perhaps the film wouldn’t have been made.
That said, there is so much power and mystery in our feminine archetypes, with so many layers. Yet we only scratch the surface without going deeper, and thus cheat ourselves in literature and film.
Maiden, Mother, and Crone are the archetypes that represent the various phases women go through, given a full life span. These phases are pretty self-explanatory.
A woman doesn’t need to actually have kids to be in the Mother phase. We go through it one way or another – as aunties, mentors, and teachers.
But how many women do we know personally and in the media who desperately try to hold on to the phase of the Maiden and avoid the Crone phase like the plague?
How tragic is that? And why?
When the woman wears the Crone with pride, she’s often respected for it – like Frances McDormand, who gave a beautiful interview where she explained why she never got plastic surgery because it would erase her life from her face.
Also, Olympia Dukakis, whose career hit her peak in her Crone years, and is STILL getting work because of it (Tales of the City).
“Grace and Frankie” is one of the funniest comedy series on Netflix. What’s it about? Two Crones whose husbands leave them to marry each other.
“The Golden Girls” ran for 8 full seasons. One of my college roommates, a frat boy, really loved that show. But he had to justify it to his frat boy friends by complaining that he hated liking that show because “it was about women.”
That statement alone is fodder for another blog post. Most people get more interesting with the passage of time due to EXPERIENCE, and the ones who don’t lack the qualities to develop wisdom. So it’s absurd that anybody would have to apologize or feel defensive about liking quality writing and great characters.
So why do we obsess over the Maiden, whose feminine power has yet to be fully grown?
This post may come across as rather peculiar of me, given that as a writer, my central character in the Ella Bandita stories is an eternal Maiden, a Vixen destroyer who stopped aging at the age of 20. This, of course, also makes her a Virago in the most unflattering light.
As much as that may seem enviable, Ella Bandita is tragic. She is frozen in time while everybody around her grows older and eventually dies. She is trapped in her destroyer phase because she is also very ALONE, and she knows it.
This brings me to the next triad of archetypes, those that imply character, personality, identity.
Virgin, Vixen, Virago. We’re all familiar with Virgins and Vixens because they get plenty of airtime in books, shows, theater, and movies. But what I dislike about this is that the dichotomy sets it up to pit women against each other.
For instance, “Something Borrowed” is a romcom that I didn’t particularly care for, yet illustrates this dichotomy between the Virgin and Vixen beautifully. Kate Hudson is the Vixen best friend who snags Ginnifer Goodwin’s crush from right under her nose - and with her permission - because the Virgin didn’t have the backbone to speak up for what she wanted until the Vixen and her love interest were engaged. Of course, the Virgin ultimately gets the guy and their friendship is destroyed.
There was even a competitive Virgin-Vixen subplot in the teenage boy’s coming out tale, “Love, Simon.”
Last, but not least, is the Virago. She has been the most underrepresented of the 3 V’s. When she is, the image is usually unflattering.
“Virago: A domineering, violent, or bad-tempered woman.” See what I mean. Violent Ella Bandita is very bad-tempered in the first novel.
“A woman of masculine strength or spirit; a female warrior.” An improvement. If Katniss from the Hunger Games starts a trend, perhaps the Virago is getting some of her due.
“A woman of stature, great strength, and courage who is not feminine in the conventional ways.” Now that’s more like it. Xena, Warrior Princess comes to mind.
The Virago often presents as a female warrior, but what I like about this last definition is that the interpretation of it can be broad and flexible, can go far beyond the female warrior archetype to include women who simply want to live on their own terms.
One of my favorite fictional characters, Sissy Hankshaw, the hitchhiking maestra from “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” is definitely a Virago. At the beginning of the story, she’s even a Virgin Virago until she’s pathetically seduced by Julian, a fussy psychiatrist. Her main interest in him is only because he’s born a Mohawk native, but everything about his character is from the White Society he conformed to. He threatens her freedom with these stifling conventions as he pressures her to be ‘normal’ and she loses one of her oversize thumbs as a result.
“As do many strong people, she had fallen victim to the tyranny of the weak.” Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
Another Virago is the one who saves Sissy’s butt, Jellybean Bonanza. As cute as she is, she’s fighting her own battles of trying to create a space where girls can find freedom and become Cowgirls.
The references come from the novel, NOT the movie, which I’ve never seen. I did not hear good things about it, and the novel is magnificent.
Feminine characters are intriguing, mysterious, powerful, and fascinating; yet only if they are given room to expand into the full breadth of their potential. As writers, we owe it to ourselves and to the world to explore that.
Rant over. That’s all for now.
Well, those writing prompts…they just keep on coming! I’m fairly pleased with these, kind of nice to use photographs as inspiration. I hope you get much inspiration from these. Something for everybody, really.
There’s an erotic novel in here somewhere. What do you think? Should Narcissus and Vanity have a go at it?
“Tell me I’m pretty.”
Tired of Vanity’s never-ending demands, the mirror remained silent.
“Tell me I’m pretty!”
Vanity slapped her reflective surface.
The mirror cracked.
Vanity stopped and leaned in to embrace her reflection.
She was beautiful.
The Bridge of Serenity is always there for us.
Cross the Bridge into the realm, find a comfortable seat, take a few deep breaths, and ask yourself these questions:
“What does peace look like to me?”
“What brings me peace?”
When you’re ready, write down what you found inside yourself.
“I was not one of those personable peasant girls…No possibility of a fairy tale twist of fate for me.”
Claire surrenders to the water. She is filled up with air, but already the pressure squeezes her lungs. From the depths, she hears people screaming from the pier.
They think she jumped in for tragic reasons.
Nothing could further from the truth.
Claire waits for her lover to claim her.
What’s the best way to make friends with your shadow?
Go hang where your shadow is invisible.
In the darkness.
Follow the path into the deepest recesses of the tunnel of your mind.
Invite your shadow to join you and just listen.
Your shadow has a lot to say.
Every time I think my little road-tripping book tour has hit a lull, something happens.
Way back on my first stop in Homer, a free-spirit that found his way to my Arabian Nights booth-style set up, whose roommate had listened to a story and bought a book, mentioned that he was selling "the key to art."
And pray tell, what is your key to art?
Oh, a concoction of chocolate and mushrooms.
It had been years since I jumped down the rabbit hole.
Since he supported my endeavors, I felt obliged (and happily so) to support his. And then I didn't use the key to art to open the door to new dimensions until last night.
But that's okay...
My date from last week had never done mushrooms before. Since he expressed curiosity and willingness, I offered to share “the key to art” (and other dimensions) with him, excited to have somebody to share them with.
Anyway, he and I ate the magic chocolate, and walked to the park near the neighborhood of Turnagain, in Anchorage.
It wasn't long before we crossed paths with the professional, purposeful couple wearing matching jeans, matching down jackets, and matching boots purposefully striding their way back home, hunched over in joyless discomfort.
They had had their healthful walk in the outdoors and were ready to return to where they could be at ease.
Then we came across the group that halloed into the dark and walked past us with their faces to the breeze and their shoulders back. It was clear that they were enjoying the cold and themselves in the cold.
After the woods, we wandered in the very pristine neighborhood of Turnagain with their artistic houses.
Thus our voyeuristic trip began as the mushrooms hit a peak.
Being from the South where most of the really nice neighborhoods were in areas that had been built a long time ago, it was something to see the expression of affluence in a city that is still growing into its personality.
Many of the homes were showy and I couldn't get over all the huge picture windows, with tasteful lighting whether people were up and about, at home, or away.
Looking into somebody else's world, we saw fine art displayed in tastefully decorated homes. It was as if their privileged way of life was on display to anybody who cared to look.
"Looky here! See my fabulous home! My beautiful art, luxurious furniture, and unique knick knacks. Wouldn't ya just love to live here? Aren't ya jealous?"
It was Life as a Peepshow, now you see me, now you don't.
Occasionally, we'd see signs of human activity, a mother dancing the boogie woogie to show off her moves to her son, her head obscured by the glass, with a bird's eye view of her gyrating torso.
We also passed houses with normal windows, as well as bushes to hide from the stares of the nosy, mushroom-tripping voyeurs like me and my date. But for the most part the houses in the neighborhood screamed:
"Here I am! I have arrived!”
There was a car that kept creeping past us. The neighborhood watch wondered what we were up to.
We were clearly not one of the Joneses. So were we casing the neighborhood? Looking to defile one of the virginal showpieces with our criminal intent?
Then there was the house with the huge yard, and the only thing on display was the blue room in the basement.
I overstepped the boundaries, and entered the yard to get a better look. And that’s when we got caught.
But the guy who did was even more of an oddball in that neighborhood as we were. But he was perfect for us in the state we were in.
His name was Bradley.
He was clad in tight faded black jeans, a black Carrhart jacket, a grubby black tee shirt, camouflaged by a red and black checked scarf, a gold chain with a medallion, shiny black cowboy boots, a faded American flag bandanna wrapped around his head, and metallic pink sunglasses (it was night) perched from his ears to his crown.
He was very compact, no taller than five foot four and he had the scratchy vocals of a skid-row drunk.
Bradley was the lost soul younger brother living in the basement of his brother's and his brother's girlfriend's house. He smelled like an Altoid factory.
He came out of the blue basement to find out who we were and what we were about. While he was there, he indulged in a forbidden cigarette and told us about himself and how he came to be there.
I couldn't stop staring at him as he talked incessantly of clearing out the yard we’d just invaded.
It had been crowded with the abandoned vans, trucks, and other vehicular junk the brother’s girlfriend's deceased father left behind.
Apparently, the dead dad had been a hoarder when he was alive, and his daughter was having a hard time letting go of her daddy's excess baggage.
"She will not get rid of the abandoned airplane parts in the back yard. This was her father's house. She has four or five houses all over. She calls me brother-in-law, but I don't see my brother getting married. He says she's the one though."
The car that had been following us for our walk redoubled its vigilance after this interaction.
I figured the neighbors must have been grateful to have the yard cleared out of the junkyard effects, even if they gritted their teeth at the presence of Bradley.
Whoever that woman was, his brother’s girlfriend must have been really in love. Chances were, Bradley was probably very helpful.
On a professional note, an unexpected thing has happened.
I may have an opportunity to freelance an article to the Anchorage Press, so I'm interviewing people who used to be the homeless teenagers in major cities with a liberal bent across the country - who have done their fair share of squatting, hitchhiking, and train hopping.
I found out there is a large community of hobo punks from Anchorage on out because they've found a niche here.
They have one hell of a story, kind of nice to focus on telling the tale that belongs to other people.
It’s been a couple of years since I've been in reporting mode, but it's a good change.
The Press has at least nibbled on the bait, keep your fingers crossed for me. Will they bite?
I'll be back in Juneau from October 25th to November 1st when I go to the lower forty-eight. Look forward to seeing everybody...
PS If you’d like to read the blog post where I met my date that I later tripped on mushrooms with, click here.
The portrait was the size of life.
It hung between floors on the wall of the landing facing the upper stairs. The woman on the canvas was exactly as she had been when she was alive.
Lamps always burned around her, so she could be seen day or night.
She stood facing the artist, butter yellow gown falling in graceful folds from her chest to her feet. Her pale blonde hair hung loose, free around her shoulders and arms. Her lips were curved in the impish smile that had enchanted the Patron.
Her body was straight, head leaning over one shoulder, chin tucked in, almost shy.
Her eyes sparkled, looking beyond the man painting her likeness. Her forearms encircled her middle, white hands resting on the stomach still lying flat, her dreamy eyes seeing deep within, thinking only of the baby growing inside.
It had been years since she sat before her mother.
The girl held the stargaze in hand while she stared into the eyes of a woman immortalized in a moment of precious time.
The subject of the painting embraced her belly, yet still held traces of the wild maiden she was leaving behind for the motherhood to come.
There was no shadow of death coming for her when the portrait was made, only joy for the life she carried inside.
The edges of the crystal chafed the girl’s fingers, reminding her of the Sorcerer.
Day passed into night, but she never left the stairs facing her mother.
Images of the morning intruded on her vigil, the memory of the Patron’s expression before he looked away ripped through her.
“Take this stargaze and go home to your father,” the Sorcerer had said.
She could almost hear that deep voice whispering in her ear.
“If you decide to keep living the life you’ve always known…or not…”
The girl remembered how her reflection had distorted the moving water when she looked at herself from the river’s edge.
For a moment, she felt it; the resolution to jump and surrender to nothing, and again she had the relief that it could all be over soon.
But the grip inside her breast made her double over when she thought about dying.
Nothing had changed for her and she knew nothing ever would.
But the numbness was gone, along with the anguish that drove her to the river.
Something had changed.
She wanted to live.
The girl gazed into her mother’s eyes.
Even so many years after her death, there was still so much life in that gaze, the passion she had for living, and the desire to pass that gift on to her unborn child.
The girl gripped the crystal, her fingers slick from rivulets of blood. Then she thought about the Sorcerer and his offer, searching for a hint of judgment from the woman in the portrait.
But there was none.
Instead her mother was radiant.
Her likeness seemed to stretch beyond the paint to come back to life.
The girl closed her eyes and shook her head.
When she opened them again, the woman in the portrait glowed even more, the glaze of dreams gone from her expression.
Then the girl heard a soft soprano teasing at the edge of her hearing, a mother beseeching her daughter to come closer, closer.
There was that squeeze inside her breast again. The girl wondered if she was losing her mind.
“Mama?” she whispered, shaking her head in an attempt to regain her senses.
“Come to me, my child.”
The voice was louder, ringing with the clarity of a silver bell, and the painted gaze grew intense.
A wave of heat wrapped around the girl, a blanket she couldn’t touch.
Then she caught the scent of lilies, her mother’s favorite flowers and she sobbed.
She knew she could be going mad, but she didn’t care.
In that moment, the girl no longer felt alone. Coming down the stairs to stand before the portrait, she now stood two fingers taller than her mother, but became like a child when she reached out to her.
“Please,” she whispered, staring into the pale blue eyes. “Mama, please show me a way to protect my heart.”
The skin was so soft when she touched the painting, stroking the backs of the hands embracing the unborn inside her.
The girl sobbed again.
So this is what it was like to touch her mother.
Beyond the veil of death, the soprano sang a lullaby to ease the torment of her mind, coaxing the girl to lie down and sleep.
Fatigue settled over her and she did as she was bid, stretching out across the landing and resting her head at the painted feet.
The sweet cling of lilies guided the girl to where her mother waited.
“My darling,” the soft voice whispered. “I will be with you always.”
That promise was all she needed to let go. The loving words were the last she heard before the girl drifted away into dreams.
It was only a dream.
I kept reassuring myself as I fell into the kaleidoscope of images created from memories of the distant past and recent days coupled with the fears from a wounded psyche.
Terror intruded on déja vu, and scenes replayed with tinges of frightening possibility.
Random pieces from the past broke apart as shards of a shattered mirror, rearranged in freakish patterns of the darkest recesses of my heart and soul, and made an insidious nightmare in this journey through the DreamTime.
“Is she dead?”
Adrianna’s low, creamy voice rang out in my dream as her image came into focus.
She stood in a ring of fire that blazed pink flames. She was ferociously lovely with her sparkling amber eyes larger than life as she stared hungrily at me.
“I have hated her for years. So how did Ella Bandita die?”
Adrianna disappeared in the blink of an eye and I was back in that horrific tower of stolen hearts.
The racket of their dissonant pulses echoed insanity to the peak as hundreds of hearts spiraled up the walls. They beat to different rhythms in unpleasant pitches, and created the most ghastly sounds I’ve ever heard.
In the center of the tower stood my Woman, now known as Ella Bandita. She looked serene and relaxed, while the whirlwind of stolen hearts pumped their ear-splitting melody all around her.
Woman shook her head slowly, then threw her head back and laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“You’ve really gotten yourself in a mess now, Shepherd. Wasn’t I enough trouble for you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about your fancy Courtesan.”
“Adrianna? Do you know her?”
“I know the type. She won’t stop until she gets what she wants.”
“Woman, she wants you dead.”
She threw her head back and laughed again, her large teeth gleaming.
“I know she does. Adrianna the Beautiful has lusted for my blood for a long, long time.”
“It doesn’t matter why.”
Then I was in darkness and away from the tower.
But I still heard the hideous noise of the heartbeats until I came to the next scene.
The Wanderer and I stood before the Mayor, inside the parlor where he received the general public.
The chamber was stifling with massive, dark furniture throughout and somber tapestries lining the walls.
His astonishment at the sight of us made me ashamed.
I suddenly remembered that the Mayor’s son, Anthony, had been one of Ella Bandita’s victims.
Suddenly, a vision of Adrianna the Beautiful in the rosy glow of her back patio came to mind.
Her large feral eyes glittered and her mouth grimaced.
“Is Ella Bandita dead?” she snarled. “We all want her dead.”
Then I catapulted back to the past of more than twenty years ago.
I traveled with my flock of forty sheep to the Capital City, where I went every year to pay my tariffs for new lambs born, and profits from sheep sold.
As happened on an annual basis, I was cursed to come across young Anthony, the Mayor’s son, who took great delight in torturing young boys considerably younger, smaller, and weaker than himself.
As I always did, I pulled Anthony off the helpless child he was beating on. And as occurred yearly, the loutish youth threatened to send his father after me and have me thrown in prison.
Of course, that never happened.
Just like Anthony was never punished for bullying younger children.
Adrianna appeared again, lounging on one of the divans on her back patio, a blazing fire behind her. Her wildcat eyes glittered.
“What about young Anthony?” she taunted. “Doesn’t Anthony deserve vengeance?”
“Hell no!” I retorted. “That vicious little brute got exactly what he deserved!”
Then I returned to the day I had heard Anthony, the Mayor’s son, had fallen victim to the predatory Thief of Hearts as a young man.
I had come to the Capital City on my yearly stop to pay my tariffs, and everybody was talking about it.
Two merchants in line ahead of me gloated in low voices that would not be heard beyond the few people around them.
“I’m sorry for our kind Mayor,” one muttered. “But if anybody had such a miserable fate coming to him, it’s Anthony.”
“I know what you mean,” said the other. “He was awfully horrid to my son ten years ago.”
“Mine too,” said the first. “He won’t be pounding little boys or slapping young ladies around any time soon. Have you seen him?”
“Yes,” said the other, who couldn’t stop sniggering. “He’s an imbecile! A drooling mess of a fool!”
“That’s what I call just desserts!”
“Sometimes Ella Bandita truly is a conquering hero!”
Silently, I agreed.
Although I was shocked at the news, I hadn’t even a shred of pity for Anthony.
I savored the same grim satisfaction of the merchants ahead of me in City Hall that Anthony would never be able to harm another vulnerable being again.
Then I reappeared inside the heavy formality of the receiving parlor in the Mayor’s mansion.
Blissfully unaware of the Mayor’s loss, the Wanderer succinctly explained who he was and what he had been, the talking Wolf bewitched by Ella Bandita who had traveled with me for years.
That the Mayor was both surprised and disappointed was clear in his facial expression and his words.
“It’s a miracle that you’ve been liberated from her evil!” the Mayor exclaimed. “But is this the only news of Ella Bandita you came to share?”
“No,” I said, stepping forward.
I brought the crystal stargaze out from my pocket and allowed it to drop from my palm, where the odious charm swung wildly from its broken chain.
The whirlwind of color swirled around the parlor before I whipped the pendant back into my palm.
“The Thief of Hearts is no more,” I declared.
So yesterday I went to a les-bi writers meetup that I’ve belonged to for at least two years, and had never attended an event.
I had joined because I liked the focus on queer women writers.
Even if most of what I write isn’t queer – at least not directly – I still appreciate narrowing the field to create community between an intersection between identities. Being lesbian/bisexual is a specific way to be in this world, and being a writer is no less specific.
Besides realizing that I just enjoyed meeting new people for the first time since I left my now-ex-fiancee, that was an excellent cure for writer’s block.
I’ve hardly written anything original, except for writing prompts in over 2 months, and lately, I’ve been borrowing from dialogue excerpts in various novels to get a jumpstart on those.
Gotta love those breakup blues that result in creative blocks!
Anyway, the event started with a writing prompt. I picked it and what came up was something that had been lacking in my world – discipline.
Discipline makes a dry subject to write about, so instead I turned discipline into a character study. The end result is that I finally wrote SOMETHING NEW, DAMMIT!
Besides being totally excited that I just wrote something fresh, I was pleased enough with the piece to share it here. Because all writers need discipline to do what we do.
It’s such a dirty word because it’s so necessary.
If Discipline were a woman, she’d be a rail thin, long-limbed, tight-lipped clichéd librarian type with angular features and humorless eyes.
But she gets the job done.
She gets up at 4:30 AM to meditate, eat a light breakfast, workout, shower, and dry her hair, only to put in a tight knot at the base of her neck.
Her hair is chestnut brown and her eyes are a flat hazel.
She would then dress primly and properly for her day job, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a librarian, but would have to involve DISCIPLINE because that’s her jam.
All her appointments are timed impeccably.
Any client who is not on time will lose time with her for her to welcome her next appointment, no matter how much money or power is involved. She does not tolerate lateness because she is never late herself.
Her clients are rarely late for their appointments with her.
For an hour lunch, she only spends fifteen minutes eating.
The rest of the time, she power walks around the park or gets some work done on a personal project that she does for love and giggles – like maybe writing a novel.
She will later work on this project for exactly two hours that night after work, before cooking and after dinner.
Even if she has a partner/lover/husband/kids or all of the above, nothing can sway her from her 2 hours of personal time on her project.
It is quite likely though, that Discipline is a child-free woman.
Kids are too messy and too demanding for her strictly-adhered to schedule. They have too many needs, and are prone to getting sick at the most inconvenient times.
Discipline has few girlfriends, because most women are frightened of her.
She has one best friend, who is as organized, driven, and focused as she is. They bonded over their mutual impatience and disdain for fluffy, flaky types.
If they aren’t roommates, Discipline and her bestie meet for dinner or a show at least once a week, and they talk on the phone at least twice a week. Like most besties, they text back and forth just about every day.
When Discipline has a lover, you can bet she is kinky as all get out, a merciless domme with severe red lipstick painted on her narrow lips.
She is efficient in how she doles out punishment, and of course, discipline. Orgasm is always guaranteed. For herself as well as her lover.
She prefers to dominate the dominant types. Power gives her a grim satisfaction, and the thrill makes her flesh tease and tickle.
Discipline always goes to bed between 9 and 10 PM, after a cool shower where she flosses and brushes her teeth.
The last half hour of waking is reserved for the reading that she does solely for pleasure.
Her choice of novels are those that will transport her to another world of adventure, mystery, and the erotic for those last 20-30 minutes before she relaxes enough that her eyelids grow heavier and heavier.
Then she turns out the light and collapses under the covers and falls asleep within minutes. Her slumber will last somewhere between 6 ½ and 7 hours.
During that time, she will reach the vivid dreaming REM at least three times.
Then the alarm will sound at 4:30 AM and her new day begins.
I aspire to be more like this woman, but I know that will never happen. But that is how I see Discipline. Even a few crumbs of this would make me so much more productive.
For the record, I did get back to work on the Shepherd and the Courtesan. If you’d like to see a segment of that work-in-progress, click here.
The woman lamented at not having her camera at the ready to capture such an amazing moment.
I knew I should have looked more for it.
The colors set the mountain on fire, the migrating cranes purring above her head, and the up close and personal appearances of the Dall sheep convinced her of it.
Of course I'd have no camera on this day, and I'll forget everything...she thought for a moment and then a vision of her grandfather appeared in her mind.
Only if you choose to, he replied quietly.
If I choose to? What do you mean, grandfather?
Open your heart to let it in and etch it into your soul.
The woman laughed.
Don't laugh, my child with what is best. Etch it into your soul and you can take it with you when you die. Can't take your pictures with you, now can you?
Grandfather! I'd just like some good photos to show my friends.
So you can show off.
The woman shrugged.
That's one reason I'm sure, but also so it can stir up memories later. I especially like to stir up good memories when I feel sad...it gives me hope
Etch it in your soul and you will never forget while you're alive. That's much better than any picture.
No, do you have a record of the first time you felt a crush? Bet you can still remember the feeling of electricity searing you from the inside out.
The woman nodded.
Do you remember your first kiss? Your first love? The first time a work of art made you stop and absorb it? The first time you felt your body surrender to music and the dance that ensued as a result? Good times with friends? The first time you traveled to a country not your own? Happy Birthdays that are extra special? Every feeling of success you've ever had to work for?
Yes, of course I remember.
Do you have photos, movies, and recordings of every special moment of your life?
And you're telling me that you can't transport yourself back to those moments?
Yes, Grandfather, of course I can.
That's the stuff, child, that you take with you when you die.
What of the bad and the sad, Grandfather?
What of them, dear? They are part of life.
I remember those at will too.
What in hell are you doin' that for? Dump 'em. Go brew a pot of coffee and savor the smell while it's percolating. Make sweet potato bread and lick the bowl of leftovers while the spices permeate your kitchen.
Easier said than done.
It's as easy to do as to say. Your choice. Why fill yourself up with bitter memories of those who take, betray, take some more, and betray some more? The mistakes we make and the villains we meet are the waste of a life fully lived. Do you resist taking a shit when the urge strikes you?
The woman laughed. Of course not.
Then don't be such a sucker. Let your bowels do their job and dump your memories of them. Make something pretty. Go on a hike, listen to the water flow, feel the mist of a waterfall on your face, go molest some silk, dropping it a notch in luxury with your grubby human hands. Fill yourself up with the stuff that you'd want with you later.
The woman smiled as she hiked along the mountains aglow with the colors of fall, the rain stopped, the clouds lifted and blue of the sky competed with the setting sun as she walked down the path she came up.
It would be a good night for the aurora.
Etch it in your soul...
PS I think this was one of my favorite entries of the booktour/roadtrip. I was hiking in Denali and forgot my camera. Fitting really, because I did not take any pictures of that trip, which I both regret and kind of respect. But on that hike, all these amazing things happened, and I felt like an idiot for not bringing my camera. But a memory of a woman I met on one of my tours when I worked as a hiking guide made me see it differently. She was so moved by the experience and the beauty of SE Alaska that she said on the hike back: “These are the things we take with us when we die.” Remembering that on that hike, I really took the time to absorb the day and wrote this lyrical piece to my friends and family on my email list. If you’d like to see the previous post about that book tour/roadtrip, click HERE.
Much has changed in the world of publishing and self-publishing. This past weekend, I attended the Willamette Writers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon. This was my first Conference in several years.
About 10-12 years ago, I went to quite a few.
At that time, I was hungry for an agent or an editor or both because, like most of us who had been writing for many years, it was my dream to get published.
By my 3rd Conference, I was a pro at finding where the agents and editors would be, at angling for an opportune conversation where I could pitch my story that was not yet a novel.
I had an agenda.
So did every other writer who was at the same conference.
We were sharks circling a handful of meaty minnows. It was exhausting for us, and it was highly unpleasant for the agents and editors who attended these conferences. There wasn’t an agent or editor at any conference I went to who didn’t have some over-the-top stories of being stalked by 100’s of writers – some more overzealous than others.
One of the classes I went to this weekend taught me that my mindset back then had been a mistake.
Since I am committed to the self-published path, I hadn’t signed up for any pitches. I couldn’t care less about who the agents and editors were – unless they were freelance and good, because I need one. I went to this WW Conference because they had a lot of classes on self-publishing and marketing tips.
I was there for what I needed to learn.
Russell Nohelty taught most of the classes on self-publishing, building an audience, and making a profit. His core theme surprised me though. In his class on building an audience from scratch and on pitching, what he had to say came down to one thing. Connection.
“Publishing is a long game. And it is a game that is built on relationships.”
In his talk on building an audience, Russell said he spends about 10 hours a week communicating with some of his fan base. He asks questions about themselves, their lives, their favorite books, movies, shows, hobbies, and interests.
“Instead of treating them like a $20 bill, I find out who they are as 3-dimensional humans. Be a human treating somebody else like a human. Then go out and find other humans who have similar interests to the human who likes your stuff. Chances are you will find more.”
When I went to his pitch class, he said pretty much the same thing.
“Go into the pitch session and take a minute to find out what the agents like, and what they are looking for. Treat them like a human, not an opportunity. Even if they don’t want what you are looking for, you might have something like that later. And in the meantime, you’ve made a friend because you’ve treated them like a human. And if they can’t help you, they might direct you to somebody who could.”
And in that class is when Russell said.
“This is a long game. And it’s built on relationships. Chances are none of you will sell your book or your script from this conference. But you can make connections. From those connections, you could make some friends. That is what will serve you in the long game.”
As I listened, I cringed a little when I thought back to those early conferences, my sharp eyes, and restlessness that probably made the agent or editor very uneasy. I was not being a human trying to connect with another human. I was a predator looking for something to feast on. When I think back on those conferences, I’m pretty embarrassed.
My agenda mindset may have accounted for some less than fabulous perceptions I had ultimately of the publishing industry. Yet in defense of hungry writers stalking agents and editors for a chance, the Monolith of Traditional Publishing set it up that way when it became a business rather than a forum for the art of the written word.
Ours is an aggressive culture that is very focused on the outward trappings of success measured in tangible units like money, and less tangible ideals of elitism and exclusion. Something happens to creativity when the focus is on money, not the finished piece of art, whether this is writing or painting or music or theater or film or dance. When the focus is on getting in, getting up, and getting more, how can the creative juices flow? How can new ideas and fresh perspectives flourish when the pressure is on to make money, Money, MONEY?
To backtrack to the Conferences I had gone to more than a decade ago…
My journey through the Conferences started during my DIY booktour/roadtrip, an odyssey of self-publishing.
With the Beast filled with 100’s of my self-published copies of “Ella Bandita and other stories,” I went to the San Diego Writers’ Conference in the spring of 2006. Yet the advice given to me was: Do NOT bring attention to the fact that I had self-published.
There was a strong stigma to being a self-published author, and I was told that would be the kiss of death for anybody who was somebody in New York publishing.
Marla Miller, an editor and writer who had her non-fiction published, but still couldn’t get her fiction published, was very blunt in talking about how publishing was a tough business and we all had to play the game.
A lot of classes talked about all the rules and regulations, the have-to-do-this and the don’t-you-dare-do-that RULES TO LIVE BY, for any of us to have even a snowball’s chance in Hell of ever getting published.
Oh, and the market for fiction was shrinking faster than a receding glacier.
The pressure was on. Those who were in the Industry were all-powerful. Those who had been published in that Industry had oversized egos.
They were the cool kids and the writers (unpublished) were the outsiders. Of course, many of the cool kids were very nice people.
Most of them were quite reserved – obviously necessary for the sake of self-preservation with all the hungry writers stalking them. But it wasn’t long before I began to feel like the pathetic geek trying to get the cool kids to accept me.
That really sucked.
And frankly, I think the dynamic of in-group vs. outcast is grossly inappropriate.
Writers are, as a general rule, odd and eccentric people.
Most of us were not in popular crowds in high school, college, or even adulthood. We were the introverts, the watchers, the geeks, and the freaks.
Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club) said in a fantastic speech: “I believe writers became writers because we were the ones who were never invited to the party.”
This was at the last Willamette Writers Conference I went to several years ago. Of course, this pithy line was part of a hilarious story he shared about an exclusive yacht party he’d been invited to because he was now “THE Chuck Palahniuk, Famous Author.”
But he was so right it hurt. A publishing industry constructed on popularity dynamics becomes an environment where the creative minds of voyeuristic screwballs cannot and will not thrive.
I remember many of the agents and editors wanted something that was “a lot like Jodi Picoult.” A lot were looking for Urban Fantasy, which was really hot at that time. One agent suggested I rewrite my pre-Industrial Revolution fairy tale of Ella Bandita into an Urban Fantasy, and maybe she’d be interested.
What did I write that was a lot like what somebody else had written? We were encouraged to define ourselves as effective copycats of somebody else who had already succeeded.
They were looking for the next hot book to be the next runaway bestseller. It was all about money.
The world was addicted to self-help. A non-fiction book on how to lose 100 pounds in 6 months or less, or how to get rich in 3 years, would have a shot. But the fiction market was shriveling up.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with ambition, wanting to do a good job, wanting to be successful, or even wanting to make a profit. But there has to be a limit and there has to be balance.
And if the publishing houses want profitable stories, they need to nourish and support the weirdoes who will be the ones to bring them something different – that might actually become that next runaway bestseller. But you have to support them, not choke them. Creative minds don’t flourish under pressure like that.
Also, the upstart Amazon was stirring things up at this time.
With the burgeoning ebook market, Amazon was coming out with guns blazing and suddenly, there was an endless vista of possibility for self-published authors.
Many agents and editors expressed nervousness about what was happening, because of course, Amazon was totally undercutting the Monolith of New York Publishing and their overpriced books.
One agent compared Amazon and the state of publishing as the Wild West where anything goes because it was lawless.
In other words, New York Publishing was no longer all-powerful and invincible. What was going on at that time would change the world forever, when it came to publishing and even better, doing away with the stigma of self-publishing.
Now, it’s a badge of courage to claim yourself as an Indie Author. It also sounds more rock star.
Of course, publishing and those who played in that arena have adapted to the changing market and what needs to be done. The Big 6 publishers are still going strong.
But there are now hybrid authors who do both traditional and self-publishing. Even those with Big Publishing Houses behind them still have to do all the promotion that Indie Author has to.
Back to this past weekend…
Since I didn’t go to any of the panels with agents and editors lined up like ducks in a row, I have no idea the current attitude of the players from the Big Publishing World. So there’s no way to compare then and now.
It was refreshing to go to a Conference, and not give a hoot who the agents and editors were - unless they were freelance editors, but stalking was not necessary. I can simply hire one.
I’m sure there were writers stalking agents, but none of those sharks was me.
Instead I focused on the classes geared towards Indie Authors, what I could learn, and the only thing I kept an eye out for were other writers who needed a writers’ group.
I found them too. In the classes geared towards Indie Authors. Our first meeting is at the end of the month.
So, in this long game built on relationships, perhaps now, I’m on the right path.
Thanks for reading!