Thursday, April 30, 2009


Today's Mood: Relieved. Today's Music: Random mix--Sarah McLachlan at the moment. Today's Writing: this blog, a flyer for the summer retreat, and hopefully a bit of IFFY. Today's Quote: "Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around." -Stephen King, On Writing.

I am reading Stephen King's book, On Writing. I know, you're shocked I haven't read it sooner; it's only one of the most lauded books out there on writing. But you have to understand that while I think King is a gifted writer, I don't like his books. Because he is a good writer, his stuff stays in my head--forever--and I don't like that kind of stuff in my head. It makes me scared of the dark. It makes me afraid of vampire, aliens, and psychotic nurses as well. So I picked this up more as a "should read" than an "I want to read."

I LOVE this book. I hope it stays in my head as well as King's horror stories have because his advice on writing is wise. Funny how I find Steve King the writer so much more approachable than Stephen King the horror story teller. In this book, he comes across so approachable, so "I've been there." And he has; he's been all the same places (and then some) that I've been as a writer. Those best sellers didn't just appear. There was a lot of rejections first. And maybe best of all, he doesn't make it sound like it is any easier for him than it is for me. Granted, I only dream of going where he is now, but he makes it sound possible.

You'll be seeing more posts come out of this book, but in this post I want to ponder his first piece of advice about writing.
"Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room. Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around." -Stephen King, On Writing

As I might have mentioned, my desk is tucked between the dryer and the cat litter box. So when I read this wisdom, I laughed, because all of a sudden it made sense. He's right. I do have to fit writing in between loads of laundry and taking care of the cat. I used to rail at that, wishing I had more time to write. Wishing I had a life that was more conducive to writing. Even wishing I had a more exciting, dangerous life just so I had more to write about. (Truth be told, I even thought about having another kid to provide more writing material--I mean, just look at how many people tune into Jon and Kate plus eight! But that very, very wrong, I know.)

My desk isn't in the center of the room, but King reminded me that it shouldn't be. Writing isn't my life; but it does support my life. It got me through depression, it got me through babies that didn't sleep, kids who threw up (occassionally on me), and my mom dying of cancer. I don't know what is going to come in the future, but I do know that writing will help me process it and deal with it. Writing helps me appreciate those moments of gold, the humor in situations that--at the time--seem world-shattering.

How about you? Where is your desk located?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ultimate Retreating

So as much as I will miss it, I'm going to take a pass on the Glen Lake Writing Camp Heaven Summer Retreat this year. Instead, I'm going to spend the week in splendid isolation (or incoherent mindless mental meltdown) at a "camp" in da U.P. I will miss the socialization of Glen Lake, and yet I will be free of it and the group meetings that take up much of the days there. The third week of June (more like the fourth week this year) is pretty much my only really productive writing time of the year. I need it all, every minute of it.

I did this a few years ago. The week is mine, and now esp. with a wife, an 86-year-old mother, and a increasingly senile geriatric cat, it's the only week I get for this kind of activity. So the last time I went up on Glen Lake Saturday, settled in at the camp, and within four days I'd pretty much lost all my (admittedly limited) social skills. It took a trip to Houghton and Calumet and a visit with a friend (and some heavy drinking) to get some of them back. If I don't visit with Duane this year, I may be a drooling, unkempt, incoherent schizophrenic by the time I (hopefully) drop in on the regular retreaters at Glen Lake for a Friday night reintroduction to civilization.

While there, writing in the old shack on the edge of Lake Arfelin, I will probably be hunkered down with drinks, snacks and tunes. How does that jibe with anyone else's personal writing styles? Total concentration, or are occasional distractions tolerable? Do you need open-minded friends close at hand as sounding boards ? Total silence, or heavy metal hammering the ear buds? TV on or off? Sugar, caffeine, or alcohol? None of the abo

Friday, April 10, 2009

What's in a Name?

Today's Reading: not much. Listening to: Sarah Bareilles' Little Voice. Today's writing: you're reading it. Today's Quote: "You're never completely ready, it just becomes your turn." --Ty Murray

I always struggle with names. I need the right name to get inspired. (Mumble) years ago I wrote a vampire story set in a fictional Upper Peninsula town. Grabbing a name essentially out of a hat, I called the town Seymour, at least until something better came along. Over the years, and after writing a second story in the same town, I've considered and discarded a dozen other names, from Purgatory (accurate and appropriate, but obviously an overused cliche) to Kiirastuli (Finnish for Purgatory) to Devil's Elbow. None felt right.

Then I read George Hamilton's fun autobiography "Don't Mind if I Do," and he mentioned someone named Earl Deathe. Deathe! Now there is a name that provides opportunities for confusion, obfuscation, and mispronunciation-- always great assets in a supernatural mystery. So considering the benefits, I googled Deathe on the Internet and came up with.... not a lot. The big geneology sites came up blank, although there were a few listings of people scattered around England and Canada, mostly on Facebook (I don't have an account) or posting job resumes.

Some 13 pages into Google links, I discovered Andrew Deathe, a museum curator in Wales, who offered an email link. I wrote him a tentative note, and he responded promptly and with great enthusiasm, telling me that his name ryhmes with "teeth," and offering delightful stories of his experiences over the years with his name, plus, and this is the best part, the history of the name Deathe. No, it has no association with death, or funeral directors, or grave diggers. It seems that it actually comes from Wallonia, the French-speaking area of Belgium. There is a town there called Ath and the name simply means 'from Ath', in French 'd'Ath'. "Deathe" is the rarest variation of the (still very rare) name D'Eath or De'Ath, forms which are more often pronounced 'Day-aath'.

So I have a new name for Seymour, Michigan, and new inspiration.

Can something as simple as a name or a word send you off on flights of fancy, spur you on to new insights and inspire your writing? For me it can. Now I just have to apply fingers to keyboards and attempt to make magic.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thinking too much

You're right. Sometimes we all think too much. That chatterbox in my head keeps me so busy thinking about everything else but writing. When I finally can get quiet enough, usually in the woods, I somehow manage to feel the deeper undercurrent, and can sometimes even pull out some words.
Keep listening - but try to tune out that Chatterbox.
Try rocking!
Good luck.