Tag Archives: The Writing Life


Oh, my! Was I ever surprised. A co-worker this past week made a comment to me about reviews for Perceval’s Secret at Amazon, but it didn’t register right away. When I finally checked Perceval’s Secret at Amazon, I was surprised to find three new reviews. Three! That may seem like nothing to most people, but these reviews came all on their own, without marketing on my part. And they’re good reviews.

I love hearing from readers. It would make me so happy to hear from more readers. I appreciate it takes time and thought to write a review as much as I appreciate hearing from readers.

So, if you’ve recently read Perceval’s Secret, please let me know by writing a review at Amazon and/or GoodReads.

Thank you, Readers!

Editor’s Thoughts from the Funds for Writers Newsletter

Introduction: I have often found Hope Clark’s “Editor’s Thoughts” in her newsletter Funds for Writers thought-provoking or inspiring or both. This one, from the August 5, 2022 newsletter, especially I want to share with my readers here:


Storyteller and mythologist Martin Shaw is as much a philosopher as anyone I’ve read. He’s Irish and steeped in that history of storytelling, which if you’ve read such stories, know they are quite rich in lesson. 

In a recent post of his in Emergence Magazine, he spoke of embracing mystery, which could be interpreted in embracing uncertainty as well. It also spoke of embracing who we are, in all its uncomfortable uncertainty.  So studying mystery turned into a study of ourselves.

“Accept the challenge of uncertainty. As a matter of personal style. It’s the right thing to do. We get older, we find life is riven with weirdness. We should be weird too.”

Like water seeks its level, most of the world seeks a level life. As you can read in abundance on social media, most folks fight change, seek blame, and strike out at life not being the “normal” they wish. The real goal should be embracing who we are and what we wish to become, not make others fit our mold. 

“Stay honest to the shape you came here to embody. Refuse to be a hologram or engage in acts of ventriloquism.”

Writers, especially, seek originality. But all too often we see success and start emulating what others fought hard to become from scratch. Therefore, our originality goes out the window. If you have a project in mind, own it. If you have the type of writer etched in your head, own it. 

“When you are trying to be honest in your loves, your dealings, your fundamental ground, you begin to become authentically yourself.”

Many have not come to grips with who they are. Authenticity and comfort in your skin is charismatic for others. That is a hefty part of finding success.

“Such honesty will also introduce both limit and consequence into your life. It creates a code, a kind of gallantry.”

When you can define who you are and what you want to be, when you create parameters in what you’re willing to do and sacrifice, when you accept what writing means to you in a big-picture way, you become so much stronger.”

Thank you, Hope Clark!

Mind vs. Body

In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic arrived in my state, my city, and my life. Not having had prior experience with pandemics, I really had no idea what would happen, like the rest of the world. I knew, however, that I was terrified of contracting the virus, getting extremely sick, and dying. Looking back now, I know that I was fortunate in the boss I had at my job, and in understanding enough about my health status and viruses to take the steps I needed to take to protect myself. As an employee, I was grateful to receive paid leave. As a writer, after the initial week of confusion about what just happened, I knew exactly what to do to pass the time until I’d be allowed back in the office. I wrote and wrote and wrote, completing the first draft of a novel and beginning the first draft of another novel. What I wrote had nothing to do with the pandemic or life in lockdown, although I realized that I would need to somehow mention it in my novels set in the near future.

During the last 26 months, I’ve fared well. The coronavirus left me alone (or was terrified to come near me because of my strict adherence to the precautions) although it touched people I know. My introversion helped me cope with being cut off from people in general, friends and family during lockdowns. I’ve gotten vaccinated and then boosted, as recommended for a member of the high risk category. It is tempting to think that someday the virus will be eradicated, but I personally don’t believe that will happen in my lifetime. There’s too much vaccination reluctance in America and other parts of the world. The virus will continue to mutate in order to survive. I could still contract the coronavirus, but I’m not nearly as terrified as I was two years ago for two reasons: 1) effective vaccines, and 2) effective treatments.

I may have been successful in protecting myself against the coronavirus and dealing with the social effects of the pandemic, but the psychological effects will linger. For example, before the pandemic, I would not have felt that comfortable wearing a face mask of any design. Now, I feel uncomfortable without a face mask, or being among people who aren’t wearing face masks. Before the pandemic, I spent little time thinking about the distance between me and other people in situations. Now, I continue to be careful to social distance whenever possible, and I notice when others are not being careful. The pandemic has made me paranoid. Is it a healthy paranoia? Or is it the beginning of a new psychological syndrome related to the pandemic?

Other health issues have continued to plague humans as well. People are still having heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, broken bones, cancer of all types, influenza, and more. During the last 26 months, my pulmonologist and I have been watching a nodule in my right lung first grow for a while and then stop. I’ve had two colonoscopy procedures to dilate a bowel stricture that was threatening to cause a serious blockage. Then the last dilation procedure failed a month or so afterward and I took the difficult decision to have major surgery to remove the stricture. I stopped writing, any kind of writing.

When the body is in physical distress, the mind focuses on survival. It’s difficult to wrench the mind away to concentrate on being creative or imaginative. I’ve learned that it’s far more productive and healing to use my imagination to visualize successful healing and recovery. Creative endeavors must wait. Which is not to say that I haven’t thought about the novel I’m working on — the fourth Perceval novel — and other writing projects. Those thoughts have flitted in and out of my mind like butterflies, never alighting on anything. Accompanying those thoughts is an image of Ludwig van Beethoven in bed during his final weeks, still composing or trying to, even though his body was starting to shut down. Bela Bartok composed his brilliant Concerto for Orchestra during his final year of fighting leukemia. I wish I could discipline my imagination to work for me even when I’m sick.

Ideas abound. A sure sign that my body is feeling much better. I’m not yet ready to open up the chapter I was working on before the surgery, so I’m writing here, and I’m working slowly on short essays to stretch my writing muscles. The coronavirus didn’t get me. Instead, I’ve endured a successful major surgery, hospitalization, and recovery. Just because there’s a pandemic doesn’t mean it’s not important to take care of the body’s other needs, other possible illnesses.

Take care of yourself in support of your creative imagination.

First Page, First Chapter

Facing the blank page. Every writer confronts that blank page. This moment can be a joy, or a daunting blank — not only the page but a blank mind as well. I really don’t think there exist any surefire fixes for this moment, ways to work into and out of it. The moment exists and I’m about to do it again.

Although not all the prep work is done — I still have character work and a little more work on America 2050 to do — my imagination has been pushing at me, nagging at me to just start writing, for pete’s sake. When it’s like this, I think of my imagination as a six-year-old me breathlessly telling stories to our dog, Patty, or to anyone who’d listen. My Grandma Yager occupied a royal place on my list of recipients for my stories. She told me her stories as well. At that age, I told stories about Bunny Rabbit, my imaginary friend, or about my adventures with the neighborhood kids. Now, I’m telling stories about a 36-year-old symphony orchestra conductor from America who struggles with PTSD and a guilty conscience, his choices and his secrets.

I already know what happens in chapter 1 of Perceval’s Game, the fourth novel in the Perceval series. Evan conducts concerts in Toronto, Canada and people from his past show up to surprise him. Is he happy or dismayed to see them? Does he trust them? How will they affect his plans? Because he does have plans that will take him on a highly dangerous journey through his past. Those of you who’ve read Perceval’s Secret know the pain and danger that lurk in his past.

So, what’s the first sentence, the very first sentence of the first chapter? I’ve been thinking about it all week. The first page needs to pull in the reader with an intense grip. Homer knew this when he told (or sang) The Iliad. The first verse of this epic poem not only sets the stage for the story, but summarizes the story in a way that pulls in the reader with the question: How did this all happen?

Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus/ and its devastation, which put pains thousandfold upon the Achaians,/ hurled in their multitudes to the House of Hades strong souls/ of heroes, but gave their bodies to be the delicate feasting/ of dogs, of all birds, and the will of Zeus was accomplished/ since that time when first there stood in division of conflict/ Atreus’ son the lord of men and brilliant Achilleus.

— Richard Lattimore’s translation in the 1951 University of Chicago Press edition.

When I’m thinking about first sentences and first pages, I return often to Homer for inspiration and humility. He knew his audience and he played to them. My audience today is my six-year-old self who wants a fun, suspenseful, and thrilling story. She can be a tough audience. What first sentence will pique her interest? What first sentence will spark questions in the reader’s mind that will encourage him or her to read the next sentence and the next?

MC Escher: Paradox of being a writer

It’s time for me to slip out to play with my imagination. And you know the thing about first sentences and first pages? The first draft is the perfect place to play around with them. I will most likely revise them many times before I’m satisfied.

Whoever says writing is easy doesn’t really write.


Review: FITZPATRICK by Richard Carr

Self-isolation has turned me into a burrower into my personal library for books to read. I bought Fitzpatrick by Richard Carr in 2018, along with his chapbook Our Blue Earth. I read the chapbook right away and put the poetry collection away for another day. Well, another day arrived last week! I’m glad I let some time pass so that I could read Richard’s poetry again with an uncluttered mind. And this collection proved to be an interesting diversion away from the pandemic.

Fitzpatrick is an artist. He paints. Carr approaches him from 4 different angles: the bartender in his favorite bar, his best drinking buddy, his wife, and his work. It was like going from standing far away to standing nose-to-nose with the man. And while the blurbs on the back cover describe this collection’s aim as “the search being the mystery and nature of art,” I read these poems as being biographical, a search for the artist, and how is an artist defined. In that regard, the bartender is the impersonal public who recognizes the human being but doesn’t really know the artist; the drinking buddy is closer, a guy who shares Fitzpatrick’s sense of the world up to a point; his wife is closer still, but even she does not really know that part of him that imagines and sees his paintings in his mind before he puts them on canvas; and then there’s the work itself, a series of poems describing paintings by an “I.” I wondered about that “I,” as if it were really Fitzpatrick speaking about the work he never talks about with anyone else.

I actually thought the best description of Fitzpatrick came in the 7th poem of the “His Wife” section: He was a pyramid, and in some tiny, deep chamber/a pharaoh folded himself for sleep. The wife recognizes his protective and defensive exterior, its silence, its stone hardness, but also that deep down inside himself he is the king of his life, with all the problems, frustrations, and excesses that means. What is not said explicitly is that pyramids contain lots of corridors and rooms, and could be an analogy for the mind, and the pharaohs inside are entombed.

Carr’s choice of words to paint images is one of his strengths, and its in fine form in this collection. For example, he describes the drinking buddy as “a smudge trying to catch a cab.” That drinking buddy in the next poem describes Fitzpatrick as “a dark snowbank splashed by trucks.” In the previous stanza, Carr writes “He tensed when someone opened the door/and let in a snake of wind.” In poem No. 12 of the drinking buddy section, Carr writes the drinking buddy saying, “His wife staged the opera of his public life.” And with every poem in the drinking buddy section, I felt I was learning just as much about the drinking buddy as Fitzpatrick. This was true for the other two sections about people as well.

Richard Carr

These are unsentimental poems in this collection, Carr “groping in the darkness of his own creation” for not a revelation about the mystery of art, but for what it means to be an artist as seen by people in the artist’s life. The work becomes a reflection of how the artist — or Carr — sees his art, and perhaps sees himself through his art. In the poem “Self-portrait,” he says “I am a harlequin.” A clown, an entertainer, a fool? I know that feeling. In the final poem, “Evening Lights of a Great City,” he states, “I can’t paint what I mean.” This is the frustration of all artists — taking the meaning in the mind/imagination and putting it out in the world so that it is seen and understood, but once it enters the world, it’s not the same. Composers are astonished the first time they hear their music performed because it’s never really like what they’ve heard in their imaginations, and the system of notating music cannot capture completely the sound and meaning.

I thought this was a lovely collection and I enjoyed reading it quite a lot. I especially liked the change of direction that this collection has taken compared with previous collections of Carr’s poetry that I’ve read. Being a writer, I could relate to these poems, the striving to reveal, the frustration, and sometimes the success. I think this collection was an unqualified success, and I’d recommend it to readers who love poetry.