Provenance

My Muse is abundant. She has an orchard full of crisp apples, plump blackberries, and chestnut trees laden with dreams of braziers on damp Parisian streets. At the very edge of the grounds, beyond the field of lavender and the beds of profligate zinnias, there is a bee hive. Five-pound glass jars full of golden honey slumber in the root cellar, summer’s sweetness saved. These are the elements of inspiration, the ingredients of artistic creation.

I have written before about wondering where stories come from, and have told you that when I write, it feels like a conduit opens up and the story is transmitted to me. It is a little like waking up each morning and finding a basket of fresh produce and a bouquet of wildflowers tied with twine on my doorstep. It is beautiful and humbling. Who am I to receive this largess?

More importantly, is any of it mine? Yes, I spend the time stringing words together. I give them expression, but the underlying form of the story is something that I believe – and quite literally feel – is beyond me. The story is independent of me. It exists whether I write it or not. It is a Platonic idea that my words only aspire to approach. In that sense, I am a conveyance, not a creator.

This leads to all sorts of awkward questions clustered around the concept of ownership. Can a story belong to any one person, even the author? What is the provenance of a story? Do I own the fruits of my Muse’s inspiration?

Maybe the most I can claim is that I own the final product because I harvested it, cleaned it up, and shipped it to market. I try to tell myself I am charging for the convenience of the packaging; i.e., you could have extracted this Platonic form from the ether yourself, but I have extracted it, translated it to English, and made it readable on a Kindle. I tell myself that because otherwise, I can’t justify what right I have to charge for something that belongs to the universe. I could solve the problem by not charging, but it costs me money to transfer the story from ether to Kindle, and I’m an obligate financial being like any other working Joette. I could solve the problem by not sharing the stories, but that seems even more of a blatant travesty. How selfish would that be, to take the bushels of apples, the jars of honey, the fresh roasted and still fingertip- scalding chestnuts and then keep them all to myself? If I did that, the apples would grow mealy, the honey would crystallize, and the chestnuts would grow cold and then molder. It would be wasteful and wrong to withhold the bounty. My Muse deserves better than that, and the stories she gives me deserve the highest-quality production I can afford. The question of ownership aside, it is my duty and my honor to share what I have gathered in the orchard of my inspiration.

 

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Doggerel

Thought-Gems

I find I have nothing to say. No, that’s not right. I have too much to say. There are too many different thoughts for me to hand you any one thought-gem, golden as honey and as satisfying as sex. Snippets I can manage, but not coherence.

Example:

Last night, I took the scenic route home. The road wends through blasted-out limestone cliffs capped with stunted cedars. The horizon is Hill Country. As I drove through the valley of beauty and wealth, the windows of distant houses reflected the blood-orange sunset. It looked like they were on fire.

Another Example:

The topic this week at Urban Zen was teachers and teaching. Consensus was that some of our most memorable teachings are gained by being around someone being herself. To which someone responded,

It’s awesomely terrifying to know that as long as I’m alive, someone might accidentally learn something from me.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and wondering what I am teaching the people who know me. I hope it is worthy of you.

And Again:

There is an old woman who walks her dog every morning. She wears color coordinating outfits (peach, blue, light green), and her dog has a thin whip of a tail that curls over his back. I hope that when I am that old, I will still be walking my dog and writing. I hope Mr. Aniko is with me. I hope that with another sixty years of practice, I’ll get really good at writing and better at being myself.

Finally:

My mind has these thoughts, and then there is the constant drizzle of partial thoughts: arugula and truffle-infused pizza, sadness at lost friends, excitement about going to Kauai, plots for novels years away from birth.

Coda:

Remember: I never promised coherence. This post is a Rorschach Test. Tell me what you see, and we’ll both know who we are.

 

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In the Midst of Life

My days are a whirling blur coalescing into weeks, months, seasons. Summer drags Orion across the sky, and I am wearing my favorite sundresses one last time before it is too cold. The nights are coming earlier, clouds are scudding in on winds that bring cooler air, and I am the sum total of everything happening at once.

I am still crafting “Fluffy,” the first book in my series. There is a coherence to the draft that was not there before, and that feels good. I believe that I am getting close to the true shape of the story, and I am trying not to fret over timelines, deadlines, or that fact that I don’t have a working title. Hopefully, when I come up with a title, it won’t sound like the name of a torrid romance novel like Stolen Climates does!

In addition to the novel, I am also working on a short story to be included in a speculative fiction anthology. I haven’t written a short in years, and those were all “literary.” My plan is to take an older story, amp up the spec and tone down the lit. Ironically, the story does have a working title, and it contains the word “goat.” Hence my inclusion of what would be an otherwise random photo of a goat:

Goat Song for a Joshua Tree

I’m reading Fate’s Mirror by M.H. Meade, and loving it. This is the best piece of sci-fi I have read in a very long time, and I encourage any of you who enjoy the genre or are interested in what the world might look like when network-born sentience arises to get this book! The philosophical issues raised by Fate’s Mirror turn out to be a fitting companion read for my efforts in writing “Fluffy,” which has also features a non-traditional consciousness.

The next book on my To Read List is an ARC of Hunter Shea’s upcoming novella, Swamp Monster Massacre. I’ve been a fan of Hunter’s writing since I read Forest of Shadows, and I am thrilled to announce he has invited me to participate in his blog tour to launch Swamp Monster Massacre. Look for my review in the first week of October… which also happens to be the first week of my favorite month of the year!

When I’m not reading or writing, I’m giving zazen a try. I have a longstanding moral affinity to Buddhism, and a lapsed meditation practice I am attempting to revive. I joined the Urban Zen meetup for my first time last Monday, and I cannot tell you how alert, connected, and peaceful I felt after the session. I have a long way to go in terms of posture and mental control during meditation, but it feels great to be finally (finally!) making an effort to discover more about meditation. With only a week of practice, I already feel more centered within the maelstrom of fast-moving daily life – a Very Good Thing!

And, when I’m not writing, reading, or meditating, I am trying to learn the stars. Mr. Aniko and I walk the dogs before the sun comes up – a necessity for most of the long, hot Texas days. I have developed a habit of noticing what I see, and then, if I can’t identify it and I notice it multiple days in a row, to look it up in Stellarium. The night sky, which I always treated as a static entity, is remarkably dynamic. It changes with adroit stealth, bringing me a new stars almost daily. Sirius was a pleasant surprise, winking blue and red with such intensity Mr. Aniko and I were fooled into thinking it must be man-made. Ah, the hubris!

Finally, I’d like to thank a few of the people who made this week special for me:

  • Edward Lorn: Surprised and honored me by writing a post explaining how I inspire him.
  • Lindsey Beth Goddard: Hosts the Author Interview Corner, which has amazing interviews and which also scored me a signed copy of her new book, Quick Fix: A Taste of Terror!!
  • Mr. Aniko: Insulated the roof of my Mazda3, giving me a quieter ride and better protection against the hot, hot sun. He also cooked dinner and breakfast every day to help me find time to fit in everything else I’m trying to do. Mr. Aniko, I love you!
  • Mo & Poppy: Who sent me postcards from their vacation, which was both thoughtful and made checking my mail fun!
  • Eric and Ivey (Urban Zen organizers): Welcomed me to their sangha with kindness and openness.
  • Greg and Rickey: Who encouraged me to have confidence in myself.
  • Brad: For being the person at work who makes me smile.

Xoxo,

-aniko

Grace for the Asking

There is courage in opening up and bravery in asking for help.

I am neither courageous nor brave. My default response to any difficulty is to wall myself off from the world and figure out a solution on my own. I am independent to a fault.

Work, writing, and life have all been in varying stages of overwhelming at some point this year. Recently, I wrote a message to my writing group, The Emissaries of Strange (TESSpecFic). I told them I could no longer be a part of the group, that I was taking down my blog, and quitting fiction. I couldn’t take the immense, crushing sense that I am not measuring up, that I’m falling behind, that I’m never going to get it right. And by it, I mean writing, life, everything. I sat poised to send the message.

And then I deleted it.

I asked for help instead. I told The Emissaries I was overwhelmed and unsure of my path. The responses were immediate and heartfelt. Not only did hearing from my friends make me feel better in the moment, it showed me a vital truth: it is easier to carry a heavy load when you have help. No one can write my novel for me, but other writers can help me understand I’m not uniquely cursed with this horrid pressure. I’m not the only one who feels like I can’t write well enough, fast enough. I’m not the only one missing self-imposed deadlines because of a story that turned out to be far more complex and challenging than expected. I’m not… alone! Asking for help allowed me to engage with my community, and to feel accepted despite my doubts. Independence is a useful and necessary quality, but there is warmth and fellowship in accepting help. This is the grace in asking.

In my discovery of this grace, I have learned something else: I am ready to accept help in my writing process. Given that I am independent to a fault, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I rarely let anyone read my stories before they are finished. Sure, Stolen Climates had an editor and beta readers, but I only engaged them once I was 99.9% certain of the story’s overall shape.

Now I am struggling with my second novel. It is a looming fright of a task. I am afraid that the book is confusing because of the complexity and the fact that most of the characters are duplicitous. I am afraid that I am both being too technical, and not technical in enough of the right ways for sci-fi. I am afraid that my world building is too weak, but fearful excessive detail will bog down the story. I am afraid that it is not going to ever be good enough. I am afraid I am not strong enough to write this story’s soul.

The solution?

Ask for help. Or, more accurately, accept the help that was extended to me before I even realized I should ask. Mr. Aniko has offered to be my reader and brainstorming partner, and I have accepted. It will take courage and bravery to share an early draft, but I will. I am open to grace.

 

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