Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review: "The Power of Myth" by Joseph Campbell

I wouldn't go so far as to say that this book can change your life. But I would say that it can change the way you think. The Power of Myth is a conversation between renowned scholar Joseph Campbell (who is responsible for everything from creating the comparative mythology discipline to inspiring George Lucas to create Star Wars) and the journalist Bill Moyers. The entire book is a question and answer session between these two great minds and gives the reader the impression of being in the very room with them at Skywalker Ranch. The conversation dances back and forth between stories and myths from across the world and glimpses into a deeper insight towards the self and humanity.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book, to give you a taste for what you're in for when you start reading:

"But the goal of your quest for knowledge of yourself is to be found at that burning point in yourself, that becoming thing in yourself, which is innocent of the goods and evils of the world as already become, and therefor desireless and fearless."

"I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be."

"The demon that you can swallow gives you its power, and the greater life's pain, the greater life's reply."

Whether you are already a fan of Joseph Campbell's more academic work (Hero with a Thousand Faces, etc.) or have no idea who Campbell is in the first place- this is a book that begs to be read. And re-read. And thought about. And discussed with your friends. And yourself. And then maybe read once more.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Working and Writing

I find it fascinating that William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks while working at a power plant. I have this terribly romantic image of him working late at night, sitting hunched over on a box or a packing crate and scribbling out stream of consciousness in the dim, dusty light while waiting for the order to turn on or off a giant electricity switch.

Obviously, I have no idea what working at a power plant entails.

But this image in my head got me thinking about working and writing. Most authors have, or have had sometime in the past, a "real job." Probably one that involved either cleaning or acquiescing to the general public and asking if they would like their check separate or together. And yet this is where the writing happens. I cannot count the many times I scratched out poems on flimsy cocktail napkins and silverware wrappers while letting someone's prime rib grow cold in the window.  Now, I am fortunate enough to have a job that I truly love and doesn't require me to wear all black and smell like grease and wet floor mats (although I still liken teaching to bartending- you have 25 people all demanding your attention at once and yet you still have to smile, stay cool and remember every single thing they all want). But between classes, fighting the copy machines, faculty meetings and the impromptu therapy sessions with heartbroken teenagers, there is little time left to write down ideas or even drift toward them with daydreams.

So my writing life and my "real job life" are mostly separate these days, which is probably for the better. But I'd like to hear from my fellow writers: How do you balance working and writing? What jobs are the most conducive to sneaking scraps of verse or lapsing into the world of your latest creative undertaking? And most importantly- is there anybody out there, sitting on a packing crate at midnight, and writing the great American novel?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weather and Writing

Today is a gloomy day. But not gloomy in a cold, misty, Gothic Romantic type of way. Gloomy in the almost summer, you can already feel the humidity clinging to your skin, Florida type of way. The sky is oppressive. The air is stagnate. Today is not a day for writing.

Afternoons echoing with thunderstorms are for writing. Nights glittering with heat lightning are for writing. Mornings reflecting blinding sunshine  are for writing. There needs to be energy in the air, a spark of promise, a suggestion that the world will be different in the next few hours. The potential for transformation needs to buzz in the sky. And then, it will be time to write.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: "Feast Day of Fools"

I have always viewed James Lee Burke as a master of crime fiction, but one who was firmly rooted in his genre. "Feast Day of Fools" has completely changed my thoughts on Burke. Yes, there is crime, there is mystery, there is blood, there are grim, tough-talking characters, but honestly, it is everything beyond the genre constraints that kept me reading. Not always because I had to know what was going to happen next, but because I was in awe; reading "Feast Day of Fools" feels akin to standing in the presence of a master story teller and having him tell you to sit down and take a load off.

By that, I mean that as I turned the pages, I could see how Burke crafted the novel. It is not effortless- it owns up to its greatness with its imagery-intense landscapes and philosophical musings on the human condition- but it never reaches a level of pretension. I could easily compare this novel to works by Cormac McCarthy or Steinbeck, but I believe it is worthy to stand up on its own.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Not Writing and Writing

I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I think most writers do. When I'm not writing, it's all I think about. When I actually sit down at the keyboard and stare at the letters, suddenly anything- washing dishes, scrubbing floors, doing taxes, chasing down my angry Jack Russell Terrier to try and wrestle her into the bath tub- seems more appealing. I think writers- and artists, musicians, etc.- are both blessed and tormented by their overactive creative minds.

When I fractured my elbow a few weeks back (see "Broken Bones and Writing") I was faced with the prospect of physically not being able to write. I was furious and frustrated and it got me thinking about what really keeps us from writing. For me, in this instance, it was a broken bone. But what about the other times? Exhaustion? Fear of the story ending? Television?

So I pose the question to you, my fellow creative kindred spirits: what keeps you from writing/dancing/painting/playing the banjo? And if you're in the mood to delve deeper: how do you over come your obstacles? I invite you to share....

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review: "The Night Circus"

Erin Morgenstern's novel "The Night Circus" is beautiful and, for me at least, surprising. I wasn't exactly sure what to think when I started- I'm really not much of a Fantasy reader. The book was recommended to me because of the circus theme (my first novel, The Hunter, the Hunted and the Thief  is set in the midst of a depression-era travelling carnival) and so I thought I'd give it a try. It was worth it.
"The Night Circus" is a quick read, an easy read, but a totally immersive experience. The circus itself is probably the most fascinating character. It is gorgeous and mysterious and invites the reader to become a part of its world. This book is a wonderful escape from the everyday- its realm is imaginative and thrilling, glittering and deceptive. A wonderful place to find between the pages of a book.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Breaking Bones and Writing

Yes, I know there are worse things in the world than fracturing your elbow (which I managed to do last Sunday night). But let me tell you, it's still no fun. The pain is not exactly a party, but the level of frustration is beyond belief. I'm right handed, and it's my right hand/arm that's been out of commission for a week. Here are just a few of the things that we take for granted every day, but have had me howling/cursing/throwing things:

1) Brushing my teeth. Oh, you think that's funny? Try brushing your teeth tonight with the other hand tonight and you'll see...
2) Using a fork.
3) Zippers. Oh my God, zippers.
4) Putting my hair in a ponytail.
5) Opening Tupperware.
6) Putting an insane Jack Russell Terrier on a leash.

You get the idea.... but the number one most ridiculously frustrating thing of all about not being able to use my right hand? NOT BEING ABLE TO WRITE! Never mind that I could barely scratch out my initials on some student's field trip form or library pass- I couldn't write down an idea when I had one and was about to burst. I do all my novel pre-writing by hand and the first time I picked up a pen and couldn't even write the word "the" I almost cried. Seriously. Then I'm pretty sure I threw the pen across the room. And then cried some more because that hurt like crazy.

My point is- sometimes we just take things for granted. Like writing down a word. And then when you can't do that- you realize just how much you appreciate the smooth glide of ink on paper and the satisfying release of knowing that your idea is safe and you can forget about it now and come back to it later and go on with your life. It really puts it all in perspective....

(ps- the pain has diminished to the point where I can now type with two hands and slowly, gently, pick up a pen and get those ideas down. ahhhh.....)