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The Care and Feeding of Your Artist

So I’ve been working really hard the last few months at getting my “morning pages” done as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.  I do really good Monday – Thursday, but then not so good over the weekend.  But I am staying more “open” and alert, watching for inspiration no matter where it comes from.

Earlier in the week while preparing for the funeral, we stopped by Payless Shoes to get new dress shoes for the monsters.  (Middle Monster is so hard on her shoes that her Easter ones are already scuffed up.)  They have the buy one, get one half price thing, and with three monsters…yeah.  I ended up looking.  I really needed black dress shoes, but I didn’t like any of them.

Then something caught my eye.  Black and red.  It was in the wrong area — in the casual shoes.  They were also a little big, but I pulled them out anyway and nearly squealed like a girl.  They were old-fashioned black “basketball shoes” with red ribbon laces.  I adore those ribbons!!  The shoes also had hearts and skulls on the sides.  *giggles*

Anyone who knows me is probably scratching their heads.  This is sooooo not my style.  But the artist in me was jumping up and down with a lollypop in her hand, demanding I get those shoes.  They’re perfect!  Black and red and hearts and skulls! 

Sometimes, we get in a rut.  We don’t want to look silly or immature.  But Julia says our inner artist is very much like a child.  It’s important to feed that child, to give her little presents just because.  I rarely ever do anything frivolous, especially for myself.  The shoes were cheap–hello, this was Payless!–but I still almost put them back.

I bought those silly shoes and I’ve worn them nonstop ever since.

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Follow me, for a moment.  I swear this will all make sense.  The following are all somehow related:


In the back of my mind, I’ve been mulling over May’s crit, in particular her comments about two secondary characters for which I hadn’t done the greatest job.  In fact, I’d gotten lazy.  Remember the week of Valentine’s Day when we ran the Character Clinic, and I said that if you could kill a character, without impacting the story, then the character wasn’t needed?

Dr. Geoffrey Malcolm was a useless character.  I don’t think it’s too huge a spoiler (since this happens in chapter 2) to say that he’s the guy who dies in the first 10 minutes of the movie.  He’s supposed to help the reader feel sympathetic toward Jaid, to show how she’s damaged, but otherwise, he really didn’t have a purpose.

Huge mistake.  Huge!

Dr. Reyes, a secondary character that Jaid meets in Guatemala, was perhaps even worse.  He was the “plot needs him” character.  I needed him to be there for certain big events, but he had no depth.  I’d gotten lazy again and forgot my own saying:  every character is the star of his own story.

Dr. Reyes had no story to tell other than helping–or causing difficulty–at the right plot point.

So what does this all have to do with the other points above?  I’ve been a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for at least a year or two now, and this year, I’ve been writing more regularly in my daily journal.  I’m trying really hard to remain OPEN all the time, and just watch and wait for the right inspiration to come.  Now, more than ever, I really needed some inspiration.  How was I going to put some sparkle into these two characters after so many revisions already?

Bright and early this morning, the twitterverse and blogosphere was thrilled with Susan Boyle’s performance of I Dreamed A Dream.  I watched it and bawled.  I watched it again, and bawled some more.  While working this morning, I kept thinking about why it had touched me — and so many other people.  Here’s a 47 year old lady who’s never even been kissed!  Going out on stage in front of millions of people, putting her dream on the line.  People laughed at her.  They braced for a William Hung quality performance, and instead, she rocked the house, just as she promised. 

A fantastic story, right?  But there’s more to it, if you look at the song she chose to sing. 

I dreamed a dream.  I dreamed that love would never die.  No song unsung.  But the tigers come at night.  As they tear your dreams apart.  And still I dream he’ll come to me.  But there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.

Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

*sobs*  That song, coming from her mouth, dreaming since she was 12 years old that she could be a singer, and now, finally, that dream has sparked to life once more.  That’s powerful stuff.

And I’m sitting here, listening, thinking, and I know that I can use this.  This emotion, the common human element of having a dream, watching it die, struggling to live anyway, trying not to hope because it’s so painful…

Dr. Reyes had a dream too, it turns out.  A dream he watched go up in smoke, literally.

As for the other television shows I listed, all of them have impacted the Maya fantasy in some fashion.  I love the FBI as portrayed on Numb3rs and tried to build a similar team under Special Agent Quinn Salazar.  I love the ambiguity in Prison Break:  one moment a bad guy is trying to kill them; the next he’s the only one who can help them.  Back and forth, up and down, there is no “white” or “black” character in that show, merely shades of gray.  Even Michael has been “tainted” by his actions.  People have died thanks to him, even though all he set out to do was save his brother.  Everybody has a line to cross, and that show makes them cross that line over and over and over.

But the biggest impact is probably Charlie’s big map of connections.  I love that idea and I swear I’m going to do this for the next major project.  Every person he comes into contact with goes up on his board and he starts figuring out how they know each other, why they did certain things, whether he can trust  them or not. 

Everything’s connected.  That’s how I found Geoffrey’s purpose.  He’s connected in a way I never expected, and that connection ends up helping Jaid from beyond the grave.  Or as I should say, even though Geoffrey has entered the White Road, he still manages to give her the clue she needs at the right time.

Now to fix–or rather complicate–Dr. Sam Gerard’s life with a little Oedipus complex, and liven up One Death a little more, har har, and then I’ll get back to the synopsis.

This has certainly been the project from Xibalba, but the story is tightening so much I think it’ll squeak when you read it.

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Deep in the Well

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about creating art as sinking into the Well to touch the flow of inspiration that lies just beneath the surface.  When you’re deliberately dipping into the Well and remaining open to Creation, then the exact inspiration you need will be provided.

Take a small step in the direction of a dream and watch the synchronous doors flying open.

This happens all the time, if I am open and listening.  Usually, it’s music recommendations.  I always have a very specific playlist for each book, sometimes for each character.  As the story arc develops, I sometimes need a new message, a new tone or inspiration.

Sitting at 80K and dying to reach “the end” of Return to Shanhasson, I’ve been searching for THE song to get me through the big big climax.  It’s just around the corner.  I feel its beady little eyes boring into me, hear its evil cackle on the wind, and sniff the faint stench of death.  It makes me sick with dread but I creep closer every day. 

Why this dread?  Because I don’t know how I’m going to save them.

Oh, if this were Romancelandia, they’d all go off and live happily ever after.  But this is Blood and Shadows, and my characters don’t always get to ride off on white chargers to live in the Cinderella Palace.  Don’t get me wrong, the ending overall is VERY uplifting and wonderful, but bad things happen along the way.  There’s a very dark moment ahead and I can’t see my way through it. 

I can’t see who reaches the brief patch of light on the other side before the next horrifying hairpin turn, and that makes me very, very nervous.

I needed a song, and I found it thanks to Mrs. Giggles.  It’s far from a new song, but seeing it again, and reading the lyrics, I felt the hypnotic pull of the Well trying to suck me under to the bottom of the ocean. 

Who wants to live forever 
Who dares to love forever 
When love must die

But touch my tears with your lips
Touch my world with your fingertips
And we can have forever
And we can love forever
Forever is ours today

The Breaking Benjamin tribute isn’t bad, but no one will beat the original Queen.