Saturday, May 30, 2009

To Each Her/His Own?

I've been following BEA in cyberspace and stumbled across an amazing thread.

This discussion began after last year's BEA, but has taken on a life of its own. A year later there are still new comments being posted on the thread.

The topic: "The Book Loved by Everyone But You."

The number of comments intrigued me as I found both books that I adored (The God of Small Things, Cold Mountain, Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter) on the list as well as those I similarly despised (The Giving Tree, The Great Gatsby, She's Come Undone). It's a fascinating conversation to follow and reveals both a problem and a need:

Problem - Reader guilt/secrecy; need - absolution.

Why do we feel shame when a book that's been lauded doesn't suit us? If variety is the spice of life, surely there remains room for a veritable seasoning pantry of literature to match diverse tastes.

Yet readers and writers seem loathe to admit when a "classic" or "critically acclaimed" text fails to set their hearts afire. Similarly we're encouraged to hide our love of "bestsellers" or "commercial" books. I can't tell you how much I struggled with the idea that I was making a horrible confession when I posted about my love of the romance genre.

This phenomena has become particularly apparent in the abundance of threads devoted to love and hate of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight.

Everyone and their mother has come out of the woodwork to heap praise or lob grenades at this series.

My own position on Twilight is mixed, so here's a summary.

Do I like this series? Yes. Correction, loved it. Stayed up several nights devouring all four books.

Do I think the writing is good? Not particularly. The story is good. The writing could be better, but I don't think that Meyer's writing is so horrible that she needs to be crucified for it. And I thought Stephen King's knock of her work was particularly petty and unnecessary. The writing community needs to get better at supporting authors rather than spending time tearing down success stories. Critiques of Meyer by other writers smack of sour grapes.

Do I think the gender politics of the book are okay? No, absolutely not. Some of my favorite critiques of this text are about the problematic nature of Bella and Edward's relationship and the whole issue of Bella's lack of self-esteem. However, I think anything that makes people excited about reading and gets us talking about gender and society is a very, very good thing. And it's still a damn good story.

The vitriol that accompanies criticisms of popular books juxtaposed by the secrecy with which readers surround their dislike of "literary" monuments makes me wonder why we're all so afraid to just live and let live. The one truth that rises to the surface in discussions about finding an agent and a publisher is that this industry is subjective. What works for one agent or house may not be the "right fit" for another. Nathan Bransford's "Agent for a Day" contest really drives this point home.

I believe I can love Stephenie Meyer, Kurt Vonnegut, J.K. Rowling, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez without the forces of the universe punishing me with sudden death by lightning strike.

Life is hard enough without petty squabbles about the books we're allowed to love and those we're encouraged to scoff at.

Reading is a gift all around. I think there is plenty of room for love, and I could just do without the hate.

*Comics courtesy of "Angry Little Girls," by Lela Lee. I love her work, but I do not endorse the ads attached to the comics, my apologies, they're just tied to the embedded text. Visit Lela's website:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Acronym Dreams

Those of you connected to the book/writing world are probably, like me, all too aware that the BEA takes place this week.

Those readers not connected to said professions just collectively went "Huh?"

BEA stands for Book Expo America. This mammoth love fest for writers, publishers, and agents takes place in New York City and features exhibitions of shiny new books, with shiny debut authors, and their shiny autograph pens.

Does my tone sound a little snarky? It is (sigh), only because I am totally, totally jealous of everyone who gets to be at BEA this week and especially of the shiny writing debutantes. I soooooo want to be one of those chosen authors who gets their two-hour signing slot at their publisher's booth.

BEA also offers a chance to snatch up ARCs. ARCs are Advanced Review Copies - books that won't be out until later this year, but if you pay $700.00 (yes, that is the correct figure I've just typed) to attend BEA you are able to purchase ARCs before they become available to the masses.

The ARCs I really want to get my hands on are Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver and Guillermo del Toro's The Strain.

Moreover BEA presents a fascinating glimpse of the book industry. Now I know any mention of the "industry" side of writing and publishing makes most writers curl up into a fetal position and I can hardly blame them, but I do harbor a (morbid?) fascination with the juggernaut of agents, editors, publishers, and distributors congregation in a single frenzied space of days to make the printing world go round.

I'd like to see it. I hope someday I will and as a participant, not just a spectator.

On another note, my neighborhood is currently subject to a strange natural phenomenon: a cotton explosion.

In front of our home grows a massive cottonwood tree and at the same time each year it sends millions of fluffy white spheres into the air.
The atmosphere is so thick with parachuting seeds a glance out the window would make you think it's snowing in May (unfortunately in Minnesota that would not be a completely unheard of occurence, but thankfully in this case that isn't what's happening).
(Many thanks to Gwyn and Rocco for posing in this photo, under normal circumstances they'd be standing only on green grass rather than a layer of what looks like a cross between snow and dense cobwebs. Go spring!)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Endings (?)

How does one create the perfect (or best) finish to a book?

At the moment I'm struggling with this problem in my writing. Writers often worry about the "hook" at the beginning of a novel, or live in dread of the "sagging" middle section. Neither of these issues have dogged me, but finding the right way to tie everything together and send the story on its merry way has become a nagging question.

Part of the problem derives from the fact that my novel is the first in a series. Therefore the crisis at hand becomes my ability to wrap up the tension and key problems of the first book in a satisfying way (for both the reader and myself), while simultaneously opening the door to the second book. I know what's going to happen in the next books, I'm already deeply invested in the plot and character developments that occur AFTER the conclusion of the first book.

So how can I then make sure the first book ends in such a way that editors are convinced it not only has a life of its own, but also begs for a follow up? Since so many best-sellers are series I know this achievement is possible. I also remind myself of the way that The Empire Strikes Back leaves so many questions unanswered, but is far and away my favorite of the Star Wars trilogy. And features this epic-win romantic dialogue:

How do you bring your writing to the finish line. What are the key components of a truly good ending?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Form Follows Function

Elana J. posed a wonderful quandary about the writing process that plunged me full-on into posting on the topic here.

The subject in question: outlining.

To me an outline sounds like a nice, safe idea. It's a part of writing that I rely on when I'm doing analytical pieces for my work as a historian.

But when it comes to fiction I cannot outline for the life of me. After a bit of hand-wringing over this obstacle, I decided it doesn't matter. Why?

Because writing works differently for each author, and I believe in being true to (and comfortable with) one's own unique process.

I'm a stream of consciousness writer. When I write it's very much like being in a trance, I move deep into a mental space from which I find it difficult to climb back out into the world. But that space is where I do my best writing, in it I'm surprised by turns the plots takes, startled by the dialogue that pours readily from my characters' mouths.

Outlining works directly against the mental frame I need to create. It insists on logical, dissociative relation to the story. I look at outlines and think maybe I "should" try them, but I know it wouldn't benefit the story.

However, I do believe that in creating a novel the writer does need to have a sense of direction, a plot and character compass. Outlines offer an obvious way to achieve such an end.

So what if they don't work for you?

Try something else.

In my case, I map the plot with systems that are best explained through two metaphors that derive from the same idea:

Newton's Third Law of Motion: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

My books are born out of a single problem or question belonging to the protagonist, so my "outline" functions more as a web, scenes or chapters are the thread that link this character and his/her problem to other characters, places, choices. The web expands outward, creating ever more complex links that create the story arc. It's much more about who is connected to who, how and why than a single line of the novel's chronology.

The climax and conclusion draw all those threads back to the center, focusing again on the protagonist and bringing her/him to the next level of self-awareness, resolving the problem, or setting up a new one (go series!)

The other form my "outlines" take is the patterns created by a stone dropped in a still pond. Again, the stone is the central problem faced by the protagonist, and the ripples that move outward are the scenes/chapters that move the novel's action. The conclusion manifests in the ways the ripples finally reach the shore, returning the surface to its original stillness , problems resolved or taken into a different place.

These thoughts lead me back to the central motivation for this blog post: whatever your writing process it should mirror who you are as a writer and how you write best.

Even though many pieces of advice, books, and mantras exist about "how to write," you're the only person who knows the way you need to write. Try to contort one's creative self into impossible writing exercises because we think we "should" do it a certain way will only make you pull mental muscles and leave you wondering what went wrong.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Book is Like a...

I often claim autumn as my season of choice, but I have to admit there's something special about spring.

One of my favorite films has always been Legend, and in an early scene the princess, Lily, romps through a spring forest where the air is alive with pollen and seeds.

My apologies to allergy sufferers, but when I was strolling the neighborhood today the atmosphere danced with parachuting dandelion fluff and tree seedlings, and the world was magic.

I love walking my dogs this time of year. I pass through a veil of heady scent created by the amalgam of lilac, honeysuckle, and apple blossom. When spring holds its brief court, one can move through the world utterly drenched in sensation.

The experience got me to thinking about metaphors and similes. Eric had a great post on this topic recently, but I wanted to bring home the point from a different angle.

Writers often use metaphors and similes to describe their work. Have you heard the following?

"My book is my baby."

"My novel is a cross to bear."

"Writing is like therapy."

To name just a few...

I fall into the use of such metaphors and similes to describe my own writing, but in the midst of spring a new idea popped into my brain.

My book is like a garden.

I don't have a yard, just a small deck on which I use terracotta pots to grow herbs and flowers. This year I'm experimenting with tomatoes and peppers as well, we'll see how that goes.

My favorite flower is the morning glory. Perhaps this choice seems mundane, but morning glories (though persistent once established) are fussy flowers. They cannot be transplanted; thus, in order to grow the lovelies you have to start them from seeds.

Now I realize all plants at some point started from seeds. Yet at the same time I can't stop feeling that some sort of miracle has occurred when I put scored seeds into a small pot of soil and a few days later tiny green shoots have pushed their way up toward the sun. I now have several pots of tender morning glories growing. I sit and stare at the miniscule plants, their tender leaves stretching out into the luscious heart shapes that characterize morning glories, and marvel at the tenacity that seeds contain.

In contemplating the lives of annuals, I decided my book is a like a garden. It needs tending and the warmth of the sun. If neglected, weeds will take over and prevent its full blooming. It fares well with watering and fertilization and its beauty is best appreciated when shared with others.

Above all, its very existence remains something of a miracle.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Help (The Good Kind)

Shel Silverstein might be my favorite philosopher.*
(Reader: "Huh? Isn't he a children's poet?" The answer: Yes, but bear with me.)

Silverstein's darkly funny, unpredictable descriptions of life ring true to experience and keep me hopeful in the face of its daily pitfalls.

One of my favorite pieces, "Helping," appeared in Free to Be You and Me.

Writers need to become well-versed in the necessity of asking for and graciously accepting help.

I knew my agent would be great for my writing because he loved the story and he "got it," when we discussed the full arc of the series he made suggestions for the plot that I'd already written (but he hadn't yet read.) Even so, engaging another person (other than my critique partner) in the revision stretched the boundaries of my comfort zone.

As much as we long for public acknowledgment and that fabulous "yes!" from an agent, once your work is out there it's no longer yours alone. Editing becomes a shared exercise and investment of time and effort.

My agent's ideas are fabulous and reflect how much he understands my writing and the story I'm creating, so when I wrote the additions he'd suggested they took the novel to a new level and I was thrilled. Scenes that hadn't existed prior to our conversations have become some of my favorites. But that doesn't mean that making the changes to a book I'd submitted as "complete" was easy.

Without help from family and friends (who support, love, and believe in us), crit partners (who help us through the rough patches in writing), and agents & editors (who bring us to the finish line), writers would be lost at sea without a compass.

Don't be afraid of help. As my yoga teacher reminds us in each class during the balance sequence: "Don't be afraid to fall, everyone falls. When you fall just get right back in it. This isn't about perfection, it's about progress."

*My one exception to Silverstein's work is "The Giving Tree." I hate this story, it's about an abusive relationship - I realize that's a controversial statement, but it is true.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

"A hope unreasonable and highly jarring..."

As a faculty member I'm expected to attend the annual commencement ceremony at the liberal arts college where I work.

I'm a new employee, and last year I skipped it.

I have a strong aversion to highly structured, large group activities. I hated school field trips and summer camp. I'm a loner. "Organized fun" is arsenic to my soul.

So I attended this year's graduation festivities with gritted teeth laced with a healthy dose of guilt at my own selfishness about my time (I had some really wonderful seniors this year and I was happy to see their accomplishments), though I think most writers are time-hoarders like myself.

For the most part it was what I expected. Platitudes, sentiment, congratulations. The unexpected came in the words of the college chaplain, who gave the invocation to the ceremony.

She asked that students move through the world with "a hope unreasonable and highly jarring." This phrase shook me out of my own thoughts and struck me as not only raw in its truth but profound in its timeliness.

The graduating class enters a failing job market and an unstable world. The keynote speaker at the commencement, a United Nations officer whose job takes him face to face with child soldiers in Africa, described the atrocities of war and a lost generation of children. Needless to say, his address was more sobering than inspiring.

In light of these truths, hope becomes unreasonable and the act of dreaming remains highly jarring. These dual processes, essential to a thriving soul, are all to elusive in a world that is often lonely, merciless, and alienating.

Writers are hope junkies. We have to be. We strive to create against the odds of getting an agent, being published, having success, one day making enough by writing in order to quit our day jobs.

We have hope that is always unreasonable and beliefs in our ability to continue this work that are always highly jarring. Our maladies are self-doubt, depression, despondency. We tread water amid high seas with stones chained to our ankles.

I mentioned in my last post that I was about to attend a reading by Rick Riordan. His visit was in a huge space that was brimming with children and parents, standing room only. I can't describe the elation I felt at seeing so many young boys and girls, hands stretched to heaven, waiting for their questions to be answered and shrieking with delight at discussion of their favorite characters from his books.

Riordan was a middle-school teacher for 15 years and at this reading he announced two new book series he's writing and that the movie of The Lightning Thief will be out this February.

In light of such impossible twists of fate an aspiring author might despair, could decide "that will never be me." But did I?


My hope unreasonable and highly jarring remains to one day stand before an audience, like Riordan, and share the love of my books.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Children's Book Week

Happy Children's Book Week!

My favorite children's book store, The Red Balloon, is celebrating by hosting Rick Riordan tonight (I can't wait!).

As I'd imagine is the case with most writers, books utterly sculpted my childhood. In honor of Children's Book Week I've concocted a brew of the top ten (yee gads, the choice is painful!) texts that left an indelible mark on my soul. In light of the honorary week of kid lit, this list is exclusively children's books, though I read a lot of "adult" books as a child. I've also only listed books that I read as a child, so anything published after 1996 (I'm calling 18 years old adulthood) won't appear.

Chris Van Allsburg's oeuvre. From Jumanji to The Stranger, this genius author/illustrator's dreamscrapes made me believe in infinite worlds (im)possible.

Maurice Sendak. Be daring. Be bold. Be wild.

Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. Cooper's weaving of contemporary England and Wales with Arthurian legend still inspires my writing.

Lloyd Alexander. Yes, children's fantasy can be dark. And scary. And wonderful.

Louis Sachar. Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Zany, sharp humor never fails.

Walter Farley and Marguerite Henry. Because I will always, always be the girl who loves horses.

Natalie Babbit, Tuck Everlasting. Revealed the fragility of life and the pain of immortality.

C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia. Deftly woven, intricate worlds and fantastic, profoundly moving tales. Narnia is the kind of place you long for.

L.M. Montgomery. Anne of Green Gables. Every smart, independent young woman's role model. Bonus if you've got red hair. And wouldn't we all love Gilbert Blythe (sigh)?

J.R.R. Tolkein. The Hobbit. Now I realize I'm walking a fine line here. I wouldn't list Lord of the Rings, as I think of that series as "adult," but The Hobbit always struck me as a children's book. My family owned the hardcover text illustrated by Michael Hague. Orcs, elves, dwarves, dragons. Can't get much better than that.

That's ten? Oh horror! So many books left unnamed, but I'll stick to my limit. What children's books shaped you, or are still on your shelf, yellowed and dog-eared like mine, after so many readings?

Quote of the day from my Bikram Yoga instructor: "This is Simon Says in hell."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Give and Take

I want to start this post by saying thank you to each of you for reading this blog. It's wonderful to have comments and emails about my quirky posts, rants, and scribblings (yeah, I know they're typed but I prefer to think of them as scribblings. Besides they often start as scribblings on sticky notes, napkins, or torn envelopes before ending up on the screen).

The more I write the more I discover what a collaborative process it is. Without your presence and encouragement staying the course (living a life with what feels like two full-time jobs) would be difficult.

Life is better when we listen to others (those who are sincere and wise, that is. Ignore inane, snarky babbling and general pettiness at all times.) Snippets of thought, compliments, questions, and invitations from friends and strangers bring us closer to our selves.

My friend and poet-extraordinaire, Kristin (her book comes out this fall!), invited me to try something new this morning: Bikram Yoga.

For those of you not familiar with the yoga world, Bikram Yoga is hot yoga. Really hot. The studio is heated to 105 degrees. I normally practice Vinyasa (flow) or Ashantaga (power) yoga, and I think I'm a decent practitioner.

Let me tell you, Bikram is hard.

I'm a red-haired, fair-skinned lass who takes heat about as well as a snowman. According to Eric Cartman I'm what's known as a "Daywalker."

But trying new things generally creates good outcomes, so I pushed aside my anti-heat prejudice and joined Kristin at the studio at 9:30 this morning for a 1 1/2 hour session.

About fifteen minutes in I was certain I was going to pass out. Or at least vomit. Beyond hot, my skin was slick with sweat. I became convinced my body was actually evaporating. I had started wilting and was definitely no longer "following my breath."

The air sparkled before my eyes. My muscles quaked and shook. All my yoga hubris crumbled. I didn't think I would make it.

But the hour and a half passed and I didn't lose consciousness. I completed the class. And I felt wonderful.

I signed up for more sessions.

What does this have to with writing?

It's about risks.

The writer's endeavor is all about risk-taking. No success without the potential for failure (or at least the eternal delay of seeing one's work published and lauded - if that's your goal, there are many versions of success). Writing represents an intimate part of the self made bare for everyone to see. It's scary and thrilling, horrifying and gratifying. There is nothing in the world that means more to me and nothing I have more fear of than this craft.

But it's worth the risk.

So what are the risks I'm taking this summer?

Finishing the sequel to my novel, continuing the creation of two other WIPs, and mastering toe stand pose.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Sounds of the Seasons

Are there songs or albums you can only listen to at certain times of the year?

I'm not talking "Silver Bells" at Christmas or "Monster Mash" at Halloween here. The weather's gone all summer-like in Minneapolis and I'm suddenly itching for tunes that match the heat of the day. Why are certain sounds tied to seasons?

I always want to listen to Beck's Guero in the summer. And it feels wrong to listen to Bjork's Vespertine if there isn't at least frost on the ground.

I've written in the past about the diverse places from which my stories derive, but I've yet to mention the preeminence of music in my writing.

My books all have soundtracks - not just playlists, but actual soundtracks for the scenes that occurs. My characters also have what I'd dub "theme songs" that reflect their major traits and/or life situation.

One of the things I love most about music is the way a song can catapult me into a scene I've been writing or conjure up an entirely new scene or character.

Or sometimes, an entire book.

Like today, when I was driving home, windows down enjoying the gorgeous, sun-drenched afternoon when "Fresh Blood" from the Eels forthcoming album Hombre Lobo (June 2) came on the radio.

And I was immediately in the sequel to my novel. I've never heard this song before this afternoon and yet it encapsulates the spirit of the book and I was thrilled.

On a related note, sometimes I imagine how lovely it would be to have a book with a cover. Here are a couple dreamings of that ilk.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sky Watcher

Driving across the city this afternoon, I was mired in bumper-to-bumper traffic. I didn't mind because of the clouds.

Spring's first thunderstorm rolled through today. Sporadic booms and lightning flashes peppered the afternoon. Globular missiles of rain pelted the ground. I find it intriguing that raindrops have diverse sizes.

I anticipate thunderstorms, even long for them. Unlike many people I know, I've never been frightened by them.

While I sat with an idling engine, I watched a jet liner climb into the sky heading straight for a massive, steel-grey nimbus cloudbank. It was like seeing a sparrow fly into a dragon's gaping maw.

I actually enjoy flying through storms, despite the discomfort of turbulence. I've wished for a long time for some means by which I could make the clouds my home. I love the shape of clouds, their constant fluidity and movement, the endless varieties in which they manifest. I feel a new story coming on.

My brother and I have shared many conversations about the different forms of flying dreams we have. Mine always require that I have a running start for take off. Sometimes in the dreams I'm me, human yet capable of flight, at others I'm a bird. Once I was a swan, in another dream a seagull.

Flying dreams have been among my most profound and I leave them waking into a state of bemused contentment, as if through the dream I've touched something profound.

What do dreams do for you?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Derby

I was a girl who dreamt of horses.
Every Christmas and birthday that came around would find me leaving a carefully-folded sheaf of paper (or two) atop my parents' pillows. (Yes, I was destined to be a writer, without doubt.)

I held my breath and waited for them to find the letter that oh-so-pleadingly detailed the reasons I needed a horse of my own.

My parents never caved.

The gods smiled on me though and I ended up working summers on a ranch from age ten through high school. For someone who never had her own horse, I've spent more time riding than most.

I don't ride much anymore, and I always feel a bit of a loss because of it. I usually can tell when I've gone too long without spending time around horses because the dreams come back. They are always the same. I'm back at the ranch, helping saddle and bridle horses, prepping for a trek out into the forest, but obstacle after obstacle arises - each delaying our departure - and inevitably I don't ever get to ride.

On this day, each year without fail, horses fill my mind.

It's Derby Day.

That young girl who loved horses, loved everything about them. I followed the two-year-old racing circuit closely, awaiting its culmination on the first Saturday in May. And I was convinced that some divine symbol rested in the fact that the last Triple Crown Winner appeared in the year I was born. On the list I kept of things I wanted to do in life, a trip to the Kentucky Derby numbered among them.

I made it to the Derby - twice. It was not what I expected.

I'd always thought of the Kentucky Derby as something of a horse lover's Holy Grail. It's not.

The first trip I made was with a friend from Louisville. We were in our early twenties, and she took me to the infield.

For anyone not indoctrinated into the revelries associated with the Derby, the infield is something of a gathering point for the common folk. A heavily-inebriated crowd partakes in what resembles a mixture of Mardi Gras and spring break. My maiden voyage to Churchill Downs presented me with more flashed breasts than thoroughbreds.

Having recently gone through college life, I took it in stride. But the tiny horse-obsessed girl inside of me felt as though the inner sanctum of horse heaven had been violated.

The second trip I made to the Derby happened the following year. The corporate honchos I worked for had two extra tickets to the Grand Stand, and offered them to me. And I thought my redemptive Derby trip had arrived.

But lo, disappointment once again.

Instead of a drunken, hot press of half-naked bodies in the infield, I was surrounded by a drunken, hot press of starched-linen bodies topped with silly hats. And still no horses.

(I present "Kentucky Derby Barbie," and yeah, it really was kinda like that...sigh)

You wouldn't believe how hard it is to actually watch the race if you attend the Kentucky Derby.

But I did it. I made my long-envisioned pilgrimage to the Kentucky Derby, twice. Neither experience lived up to the sacred horse-worshipping experience that I had wanted to partake in.

It made me wonder about the way we create ideals as children, pin our hopes on far-reaching expeditions that will somehow make us the human beings we long to be. How often does the reality bear pale resemblance to the beauty of our dreams?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Turning Days

May 1.

It's interesting that a single day can hold significance for so many different groups, in diverse ways. It's Beltane, May Day, Lei Day (Hawa'ii), and National Love Day (Czech Republic).

I love the month of May, for some reason I tend to become very hopeful in May. The weather is perfect, not too hot, but no longer cold. Leaves begin to unravel and flowers bloom.

When I'm full of goodwill I find it easier to speak more honestly about life's challenges. A number of my favorite blogs have recently discussed the struggles that writers face in life. I'm particularly indebted to their posts.

As someone who struggles with severe, chronic depression it helps to speak with others who face similar challenges, and that this particular malady plagues those of the writing kind all too often.
It's vital to know that others understand your own pain, and that you needn't "suffer for art."

One of my favorite books on writing is Betsy's Lerner's The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers. This text addresses not the nitty-gritty of technical aspects of writing, but instead the life and spirit of those who write. The chapter "Touching Fire" struck a nerve as Lerner speaks to the ways in which so many writers are lost to depression and substance abuse. Nathan Bransford recently raised the subject of sacrifice and self-abuse for writers, and I think the topic deserves reflection.

While it can be wonderful to lose oneself in writing, it's too easy to also lose one's self entirely. I'm fortunate to have a wonderful husband, family, and friends who help keep me anchored, but at times I still find myself staring into the abyss.

The blogging community of writers offers yet another space in which to ground ideas and experiences and make me feel less like I'm stranded on a desert island. Thank you to all beacons of hope out there. You know who you are.