Cracked Open

Try Grammarly’s plagiarism checker free of charge because imitation and/or copying someone’s work is not a sincere form of flattery!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – -

Ahhh, Ocean! Photo Copyright Ev Bishop.

Ahhh, Ocean! Photo Copyright Ev Bishop.

I’ve just returned from a very restful, inspiring, sun-drenched, sand-filled, saltwater-soaked vacation in Newport Beach, California.

I loved playing in the white sand that was hot under my feet. I adored wearing flip-flops as I tripped along the boardwalk, knowing friends and co-workers back home were in their winter gear, suffering fresh snow and below freezing temperatures. (Sorry guys!) And it was very special to spend do-nothing-but-have-fun family time with my husband, nieces, sister, stepmom, and daughter. The biggest impact of the trip, however, came from the ocean.

I was amazed by her. Awed.

Obviously, living where I do, I’m already familiar with the Pacific—but let me tell you: her waters are very different up in northern British Columbia than they are in southern California.

I spent a lot of time playing in the surf, being knocked down and getting up again, being dragged back into deeper water as the ocean readied to send another wave, and, most fun of all, swimming out over my head, beyond the crash line, where even the hugest waves were just starting as rolling swells. Above me, the sky was so blue and just . . . huge. And all around me, as far as my eye could see, was water. Since it’s California’s “winter” too, there weren’t a lot of locals in the water. Sometimes, for hours, I was the only one.

And maybe it was the salt pulling things out of me, the same way soaking in Epsom salts releases toxins. Or maybe it was because it was the first time in far, far too long where I didn’t have anywhere to go specifically or anyone I had to see, and my mind was deliciously free and uncluttered. Or perhaps it was the sounds of the ocean working to bring the tide in or out, the sea birds calling and swooping about, blotting out any noise in my head . . . But whatever the reason or combination of reasons, something deep inside me cracked open, and I had one of those strange epiphanies, where you can see so clearly where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you want to go next.

Sometimes it’s easy to lie to ourselves, to make excuses for why we’re standing still instead of moving forward, to justify our reasons for sticking with things that are no longer a good fit.

I found that out there, salt-crusted, saturated and awed by the unmitigated power, depth and magnitude of the ocean, it was impossible to be false with myself. I might as well have tried to keep the surf from crashing, or the sand from pulling away beneath my feet in the after effects of the waves. But it wasn’t a negative or self-condemning sort of feeling. I didn’t beat myself up for work not done or goals not accomplished. And it wasn’t merely a giddy, momentary flash of newfound enthusiasm (though I did feel those lovely bursts too). The feeling was a deep sense of readiness, of quiet resolution and surety. A sense that change is coming, and instead of fighting it or being afraid of it, I was going to welcome it and move with it.

I kept waking up my first couple of nights home because I missed the sound of the surf—and I’d only been away eight days. I’ve carried the decision I arrived at in the waves with me, however, and while my suntan’s receding, my resolve hasn’t waned.

I’ll be making some exciting announcements the next two months or so. In the meantime, if you can somehow sneak away to a beach—ocean, river or lakeside—to do some thinking and dreaming, I highly recommend it.

Balance, balance, balance!

Photo by twbuckner, Flickr

Photo by twbuckner, Flickr

I’m not one of those people who love the word “balance.” In fact, when people say it like a prayer, “It’s about balance, Ev . . . balance,” my gag reflex kicks in. But this is a flaw in me, I suspect, nothing to do with the lovely word or concept behind it at all. I think my response is triggered by a guilty conscience. I am, too frequently, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter, over or under weighted, definitely all-or-nothing in my approach to life. I over indulge my passions . . . and (sometimes, often times) starve the shoulds, musts, smart-tos in my life. Ah, well . . . I think there was a wise line about knowing thyself once upon a time.

Anyway, why this rant about balance? Because I realized recently that my writing life is like a teeter-totter stuck on the ground by a very solid, much bigger than me friend. A dear friend. A beloved friend (originally misspelled as “fiend”—does that mean anything, I wonder?). A FUN (all caps!) friend. A friend I would never want to leave the playground—my writing itself.

At conferences, in blogs, during author talks, etc., more established authors often talk about the importance of creating and maintaining a writing habit. They warn—rightly—of the danger of talking about how-to-get published, daydreaming about being published, overdosing on reading and studying about writing and publishing and not actually doing the work, not writing. Writing is the first and most important thing, they say. The only thing, really, 100% necessary for an eventual writing career. And, again, I completely agree, and have met too many “aspiring” writers who, actually, uh . . . it still confuses me . . . don’t write.

However, there’s a less talked about, but equally stymieing condition afflicting those who profess to want to write as a living (usually so they can write more, not because they care about the money other than as a necessity for stuff like, say, heat and toilet paper). They don’t submit enough. Or at all. They have the writing routine nailed. They craft several short stories, a novel or two, plus non-fiction essays and thoughts, a year . . . They might even work each piece through a couple drafts, so they’re pretty solid bits of work . . . and then, nothing. They happily move into their next story’s world because writing is about the writing, don’t you know?

Well, I do know. And I totally believe that. Celebrate it. Love it.

So imagine my horror when I realized that, yikes, I’ve become one of those people who talks about wanting to write as a career, but doesn’t do the work needed. Only, in fact, does half the work (the most important part though, I still brag). I write. Regularly. Amass quite a few words, even. (Er . . . actually the example two paragraphs ago was taken from my own life.)

But I fall down in the submissions department. Terribly. Yes, I have quite a few short stories out in the world now, along with some non-fiction, and a novella under a penname (hopefully to be joined by a sister story very soon!)—but I’ve been writing for years. I have multiple novels and a myriad of short stories that I’ve sent out a few times, then put away—and they’re stories I still believe in. I’m not talking about my file of those-that-shall-not-be nameds.

And why do I wimp out and epic-fail in the business end of the writing life? Well, there’s probably a lot of complex reasons, but let’s boil it down. I’m insecure. But aren’t we all? And isn’t life short? Yes, and yes!

Usually at this time of year, I’ve just returned home from SiWC, primed to work and wildly inspired anew. And now, despite not attending the conference this year, it’s like my body and brain remember. I weirdly, no doubt because of the company I kept in London, feel a similar November-surge of refreshed motivation and commitment.

I don’t regret the time I spend “merely” writing—it’s the most essential part of storytelling, and I’m still learning how to do it—but it’s time for me to find a balance. (Gag!)

I want the teeter-totter to work as it should, an exhilarating ride of constant motion . . . so, yes, I will keep exploring new thoughts, new ideas, new worlds through new words and stories . . . but I will put more weight behind the business part of my writing, the polishing and shining, the submitting, submitting, submitting.

What about you? Do you relate to my teeter-totter at all? If so, which end do you need to add more weight to?

P.S. Just saying “SiWC” here made me realize I have to attend in 2014! Unless I “must” go overseas again, ahahahahahahahaha! ;)

There is only make

Bid on me at the Terrace Art Gallery, 7:00 p.m. Sept. 27, 2013A while back, I took part in a painting workshop (Running With Brushes with Noreen Spence and Dianne Postman). I loved it, needed it, and benefited from it for a lot of reasons, some of which I went into here. ☺

At one point, Noreen shared one of her favourite quotes from artist Sister Corita Kent: “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”

The words were a much-needed reminder and encouragement, as I (like most artists and writers, I suspect) battle perfectionism, insecurity, and the conviction that I’m not good enough and never will be . . . Good enough for what? you ask . . . Great question, and one I never have a very satisfying answer for—just never good enough to silence my own inner critic, perhaps . . . but I digress. In the actual process of writing, I forget to be neurotic. In the moment, the story or poem or whatever I’m working on is all I can see, focus on, feel . . . and it’s amazing, joyful, crazy—and transcends all my worries. There is only make!

I did a bit of google-sleuthing, and found, to my delight, a list of rules Corita Kent created and kept posted in her classroom when she taught in the Immaculate Heart College Art Department. The gem above is one of them . . . but the others struck me as equally important, inspiring, and bravery-bolstering. I keep a printed copy of the list stuck on my filing cabinet, a mere arm’s length away, for easy reading and a soft-yet-effective kick in the pants.

Maybe you’ll find Corita’s rules as heartening and revitalizing as I did, or maybe you won’t . . . Either way, happy writing, reading, creating this week!

p.s. I have every intention of writing rambling thoughts about some of the other rules soon. You have been warned. ;)

p.p.s. The picture at the top of this post is a digital image of one of the paintings created by participants in Running With Brushes–and the original painting is being auctioned off tomorrow night (Friday, Sept. 27, 2013) at 7:00 p.m. at the Terrace Art Gallery. It’s 5′ by 4′ and absolutely gorgeous. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

A Note From Mark Twain

In my head . . . er, office!

In my head . . . er, office!

The other day, in a bit of a funk, I turned to my journal, figuring some random ranting might soothe my itchy impatience, unrest, and sluggishness. This annoying, conflicting state hits me every so often: I want something to happen, to be accomplished, to be different—but I feel too lazy to work or do much of anything.    

Do you relate? Have goals and dreams that you don’t always work toward, that you beat yourself up for not accomplishing, even while you fritter time away time on stupid stuff? (Facebook games, perhaps? Argh, the time suckage!)

Anyway, I opened my spiral bound notebook, a tattered, sadly neglected thing this summer, and what had I scrawled as the last entry?

Not a flowing stream-of-consciousness ramble. Not a to-do list (one of my favourite past-times—creating, not necessarily fulfilling, to-do lists!). Not an idea for a story or an informal essay about something I was thinking on . . .

A quote. And what a quote! So weirdly timely, as if back on June 20th, I knew the glorious sun would leave in mid-August, fall would descend early and heavy with rain . . . and I would be in need of something inspiring, encouraging, motivating.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain  

I rewrote the words to myself (Ev, twenty years from now . . . ), signed the letter (From, Mark Twain), then stuck it on my wall above my monitor. I smelled salt water, felt the breeze—and thought, Ah, he nailed the cause of my malaise—exactly.

I’m a bit of a psycho about things I’m passionate about, as you may or may not have deduced over the years, but passions go awry if you don’t put your time and heart into them. They don’t leave you altogether; they just nag at your subconscious, causing angst, making you restless until you get back to them.

Busy the past year (with things that, to be fair to myself, legitimately demanded time, burned physical and mental energy, and took an emotional toll), I let myself fall into the trap of putting off things that I know I need to do, desperately want to do, and derive a huge sense of satisfaction and well-being from.   

And for a while that’s fine. Is understandable. Is life. But after a time . . . Well, the conviction I should be working on something but instead I’m playing Bubble Pop Battle ‘til my hand cramp up kind of drives me around the bend.  

So what am I doing about Twain’s friendly warning? I’m remembering that twenty years will fly by—and that at sixty (and at seventy and at eighty—and today!) I want to be able to say that I gave my goals my best shot, that maybe my progress occurred in fits and spurts, but I was steady. I took risks. I tried.   

Years ago, when my children were small, Thomas Moore’s famous line, “The best of all ways to lengthen our days is to steal a few hours from the night,” was my mantra. Later, when I was teaching, I wrote early mornings. And after that, for a few luxurious years, I wrote during regular workday hours.   

And now? In light of my letter from Mark?  I’m back to early mornings. It’s not natural for me. At all. But I’m finding the quiet hours very lovely. And very productive. As with late nights, the world is different when everyone else is asleep. Dreams are closer to consciousness. More seems possible.   

Perhaps pretending Mark Twain penned you a personal note isn’t something you’d find especially motivating, but his message is pertinent for us all.

Time moves quickly. What is it you should be doing now? What trips are you planning? What tasks need tackling, or classes should you register for? Or do you need to steer into something entirely new? So go on, do it. Sail away from safe harbour  . . . Explore. Dream. Discover. 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“A Note From Mark Twain” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, August 28, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Return to sender . . .

"Returned Manuscript" Photo by Ev Bishop

“Returned Manuscript” Photo by Ev Bishop

My recent weeks have been full of emptying—first one house, then another. As I sorted through closets and cupboards, some of which, honestly, that hadn’t been gone through in 20 odd years, quite a few items gave me pause. Why on earth had he (my dad) kept that? Or, conversely, at my old house, why on earth did I hold onto that?

One such item, tucked away in the back of a cupboard above my bedroom closet, was a sealed box. A manuscript box. Marked “Requested Material.” Besmirched with a black X through the intended recipient’s address and a sticker instructing you to turn the box over.

Doing as bidden, another sticker greets you, one with five options: Insufficient address, Attempted not known (whatever that means!), No such number/street, Not deliverable as addressed – unable to forward, and Other. “Other” is selected with another X and a red, slightly smeary stamped imprint shouts “Unclaimed.”

More injuriously, another stamped mark says 1st Notice, 2nd Notice, Return—and there are handwritten month and day notes beside category.

I remembered, only upon seeing the box again, the initial request for the full manuscript—how excited I’d been.

I also remembered how disappointed, and irritated, I’d been when it came back. I carefully follow all submission guidelines. In this instance, I’d spoken with the agent in person, received the request to submit in person, been given the address to send to in her handwriting.

I didn’t send the parcel priority post, or in some other manner that requires a signature or a special trip into a postal outlet for pick up. It should’ve been delivered right to their office . . . so maybe they don’t have a big enough mailbox for manuscript boxes? (If that’s the case, how bizarre!) Or maybe she’d never really wanted to consider my novel in the first place? (Ouch, but please, I’d rather she’d just said so!)

I suspect the reality is nothing like any of my above suppositions. It’s just something that occasionally happens with mail. And when you’re busy, and the object you’re receiving notices about is off your radar, you don’t get around to picking it up. Nothing personal. No big deal.

But what is a big deal: Why didn’t I follow up, or resend it, or . . . do something? Why did I tuck it away, out of sight, out of mind . . . Imagine if I didn’t move for another 20 years or more, what a find it would be then!

I haven’t decided what to do with the unopened box. But I am taking it to heart, as it strikes me as a powerful (if painful!) message about my writing in general.

This novel, packaged up with such care, only to be stuck away, hidden from all, is symbolic of what I do with a lot of my writing.

I love to write (as I think any of you who read my blog know!); I don’t love the submission process. I would like to share my stories, perhaps connect with someone out there, make them laugh, or cry or just . . . relate—but that desire is always a bit peripheral to the actual act of writing.

The result of this . . . laziness, fear, slight disinterest, whatever . . . is that I have many stories and quite a few novels that have yet to see the light of day.

I don’t want to become one of those writers for whom publishing is the primary goal and content is secondary—but I also know that if I don’t start to put out a body of work fairly soon, my years to be able to do so will diminish, my chance to share my stories will shrink, and my hope to someday support myself with my words will become a more and more unlikely daydream.

And so, for now at least, the box sits on the floor by my desk, in a terribly inconvenient spot, where I keep tripping over it—a constant reminder that I need to be bolder, to more actively seek to share my words (and worlds!) with others. Wish me luck!

And tell me, what would you do with the unopened manuscript box?

Writing Is Like Cooking

It’s been too long since I celebrated Déjà vu Thursday; consider this post me bringing the tradition back. I love to cook (and to eat) and today, while it’s cold and blowy out, the urge to fill the house with comforting smells and heat is stronger than ever. Enjoy!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

. . . writing is like cooking is like painting is like sculpture is like music is like gardening is like tying flies is like carving is like making bread is like making wine is like singing is like dancing is like cooking is like writing . . .

I’ve been thinking a lot about creative endeavours as a whole lately—thoughts sparked, I’m sure, by two gallery openings I got to attend (Noreen Spence’s took my breath away), but kindled into full flame by Laura Best’s great post on the same topic, my summer gallivants to the local farmer’s market and all the cooking I’ve been doing lately.

I love writing more than almost anything, playing with words, fighting with words, praying with words, crying and bleeding in words, loving through words, and yet—

When I cook, particularly when I’ve using fresh good ingredients, a feeling kindred to what I experience when I write wells up in me.

In concocting the perfect meal, there’s the same search for just the right bits and just the right balance of those bits—too much spice overpowers, diminishing/desensitizing the tastes buds, and flavour is actually lost, not enhanced. Too little seasoning and there’s no interest, no pizzazz.

And to cook well, you have to be brave, willing to experiment, not afraid to fail . . .

But you also have to build on prior knowledge—yours and others. Cooking is a pleasure and an art. It is also darn hard (and hot!) work sometimes. And there will always be those who don’t appreciate what you have to offer.

What you put into your work always counts. You can wreck quality ingredients, but it is hard to totally ruin them. On the other hand, however, if you start with crap—processed, chemically enhanced, super sugary, high fat junk—well, people might ingest it, might even think they like it, but for how long? That kind of meal does nothing for a person over the long term, has no lasting satisfaction and makes you feel empty sooner than later.

Good meals take time to prepare and they can be labour intensive, but the subtle flavours, complex layers and textures, the sensuous details—they give something to you that lasts far after you’ve finished the last bite. They become a part of your overall health and well-being. They create a feeling of abundance and community, and even if the taste was bittersweet, you’re better off for having experienced it.

Cooking and writing. I’ve yet to find better forms of nourishment. How about you? Is there something else that you do in life that echoes the joy and satisfaction that writing gives you?

p.s. My extended metaphor may have been a little over top for some of you (especially if cooking is your nemesis), but if you enjoyed it—or want a different analogy altogether—check out Jen Brubacher’s rather brilliant comparison between writing and building a house. It’s fun and very apt!

p.p.s. I’ve talked about cooking here before, if you’re interested in souping it up . . . :)

Inspiring Blips

Read it! :)

Read it! :)

I was having a so-so week. You might know the kind. I got in some new words, but none were wildly inspired. I kept up with the business side of my writing life. I did the odd bit of reading for “professional development.” I felt good about being disciplined, if not overly rah-rah about what I was accomplishing. I had faith though—having learned by now that inspiration usually comes on the heels of perspiration, not before.

Sure enough toward the end of the week, a little flame flared. I’d worked in my WIP enough to break through the plodding slump. New ideas zipped through my brain, sparking fires. I’m pretty confident I’m going to finish the rough draft of a new Toni Sheridan novella this month!

I took Thursday night off and went out for coffee with an editing/writing colleague and gained fresh energy, listening to her excitement over upcoming plans to step back from her editing and focus more on her own novels.

A friend, who’d needed some encouragement in her own artistic pursuits and found the pep talk she needed in a speech by Neil Gaiman, referred said speech to me. He had so many good, thought-provoking things to say that I plan to listen to it again soon with a pen and notebook in hand to jot down quotes. Perhaps what spoke to me the most was his advice to enjoy what we’re doing and where we’re at right now . . . and his observations about friends who are so unhappy in the work they do, and how lucky we are to have something we love.

And then, the icing on my week! Author Liz Schulte (who I’ve raved about before because of her talent and her amazing work ethic) gave me the most fantastic news. One of her latest books, Easy Bake Coven, was selected by iBooks for their Break Out Books in the UK and Ireland list. So exciting and so deserved!

The news followed contact made by Amazon last month, asking Liz if they could set up pre-orders for her next book (Easy Bake Coven’s sequel, Hungry, Hungry Hoodoo) because her sales are that good. I’m beyond excited to see her breaking out and her books becoming mainstream. She offers fast-paced, edge of your seat mysteries and page-turning urban fantasy adventures, and her characters are great. If you haven’t tried her yet, you should. :)

Goals and dreams—however fun, sometimes silly, and “too big” they may sometimes seem—do come true. Can be achieved.

Do go and check out Liz Schulte’s books, and if there’s anything you take away from my meh-to-motivated week, let it be the lovely reminders I received: Do the work. Make time to refuel. Celebrate what you’ve already accomplished. Dream and make plans!