Bigger Things = Exciting Things!

I’m so excited to report: Bigger Things by Ev Bishop is coming July 2014. And I’m freakishly thrilled to give a sneak preview of the novel’s gorgeous cover, complete with back jacket blurb. Whaddya think?

BiggerThings_POD

I’ll post Bigger Thing’s actual release date when I have one. ‘Til then . . . Yay, I’m bouncing off walls! Please feel free to share my news and if you’re so kind as to read my book, I hope you enjoy it and spread a good word. :)

Find a place you trust

Trust That Place

Trust That Place

A week or so back, I wrote about the power and inspiration I found in Corita Kent’s words, “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.” I then promised (threatened!) to share my thoughts on some of the other Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules in the future. Well, the future, to quote some guy from somewhere, sometime, is now. And I’m starting with Rule 1.

Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while.

If you read my blog, you’ve no doubt heard me allude to some of my many insecurities and neuroses as a writer (and sometime, just to change things up, I’m going to write about the flipside—the bizarre ego and arrogance I also have . . . but that’s another day). I almost always go on to say that the solution is to write anyway. Write through the fear. Write through the conviction that whatever I’m writing is crap. Write through the confidence that this piece is the one that will finally pull the curtain from in front of everyone’s eyes and reveal me for the impostor I am. Etc., etc., etc! (And I believe that: writing through, despite—even because of—whatever terror or sadness or confusion I’m feeling is crucial.)

I’m sure I’ve also shared that when I’m writing, in the act itself, I’m freed from my obsessive inner whining, criticizing, and self-abuse. I love stories. I love words. I love the adventure and freedom and challenge in trying to express the worlds within me—and I’m endlessly fascinated by the worlds and wild places that exist in others. On the outside we often share such similar lives—and our inner lives have similarities too—but how those similarities manifest in our dreams, visions, and imaginations are so crazily divergent.

I trust that writing place, when I’m deep into a plot, running through an essay, or mucking about in the dark recesses of my past, one hand out so I don’t smash my face on a low hanging limb, searching for the word or phrase to get that image out on the page.

I don’t always know why I write (though I try to articulate it once in awhile)—or what I should write. (Is there a form of writing that’s higher than another? Are some literary or artistic pursuits more worthy than others? Is seeking to entertain enough? Can one ever aspire to more than that without being a pretentious idiot?) But I trust that I should be writing. And I trust that inner place.

It’s the latter part of the quote I’m working on: And then try trusting it for a while. As in, maybe letting myself get all crazy with self-doubt and angst and really mean self criticism when I’m not physically writing is something I can work to let go of . . . and, actually, as I write this, I realize something that makes me freakishly happy: to a large degree, I have let go of it.

Yes, I’m still familiar with the winding tunnels of insecurity—but I have map to get through them. I know the language of creativity curses—and have counter spells. I used to want to write, need to write—yet didn’t write. I didn’t trust the place—and wasn’t sure it existed, or that I could find it if it did exist.

It is still hard to get to the page . . . fighting inner dragons, toughening up your maiden self, nurturing your mother side, honing your inner crone . . . it’s hard work (exhilarating, joyful, fun—but also intimidating, trying, scary . . .) But something has changed. I used to worry . . . What if there’s nothing there when I try to write? Now I know there’s stuff there, will always be stuff there . . . It’s more like I have to use a scythe to cut all the distracting ideas away so I can get to the ones I really want to explore.

I trust the place. I’ve been trusting it for a while. And that’s . . . well, pretty cool.

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?

Flip a coin?

I used to always advocate going with your gut when it comes to starting a new story.

“I can’t decide what project to start next. I don’t know which story I should focus on completing. . . .” someone would say.

“Oh, that’s easy,” I’d reply. “Just go with whatever story’s louder in your head.”

Easy.

Just.

The problem is that sometimes your head is really darn loud—and there’s more than one thing yelling. Especially, maybe, in the spring when the sap is running and new growth is exploding brilliant and green in every crook and cranny of the natural world.

I feel like one of my newly acquired chicks. Frantic with delight and distraction—everything is new. Everything is exciting. I can’t decide where to peck next, so I flap back and forth, take running leaps, then stutter to a stop—flutter up to practice perching, then flop back to the ground (sometimes face plant) to snack some more. . . .

The problem is that sometimes you can become so accustomed to working on a deadline that you know you can sit down to work, completely uninspired, and within minutes the muse will honour your commitment to your work and suddenly the story that seemed non-existent will roar to life. “Whatever’s loudest in your head” only half applies, because you’re a pro now (or some reasonable facsimile thereof, heh heh) and you can make your head turn up the volume on whatever story you want or need it to.

The problem is that sometimes two stories are completely different from each other in every way, yet are both engaging, tempting . . .

And before you suggest working on the stories in tandem . . . I can edit any number of works at the same time, it seems. And I can work on the odd short story while I’m in the midst of a novel. I can’t (yet!) seem to get into the worlds of two of my own novels simultaneously.

The problem is—I’m indecisive in the extreme the past few months, and now I’m being a big whiner and just making excuses.

Today (my last project, a.k.a. excuse, e-mailed away) was decision day. I came up with a solution. I’d flip a coin. Seriously. I even considered tweeting “Heads or Tails?” on Twitter and going with the choice that came back first.

And then, just short of hitting “enter,” a better idea finally it came to me. One of the stories, already started, is significantly shorter than the other will be and it has a brief chapter-by-chapter outline (something I never do) that will help me refresh myself with the plot almost at a glance. It will write itself quickly and be the perfect “break” piece once I’ve finished the rough draft of the longer novel and am giving it a 4-6 week rest before putting it through edits.

Tomorrow when I perch to write I’ll silence the loudest voice in my head—the stalling, but-what-should-I-focus-on one—and say, “Relax. You’ve decided, remember?” I guess in the end, I still believe in going with my gut. It’s just my guts are messy sometimes. ;)

How about you all? Is it always simple for you to figure out your next project, or do you spend a bit of time lollygagging over the decision?

To Capture the Moon

The yellowed-ivory moon rose over the snow topped mountains in the near distance. Huge bellied and magnificent, she sat heavy in the periwinkle sky of the early spring evening, queen of all she surveyed. And I, a peasant beneath her, awed by her visage and her serene scrutiny, deserted my leaf-raking and flowerbed cleaning and ran for a camera—completely taken in: this was the night I’d capture the moon.

I fetched my camera, and . . .

Completely failed in my quest. I have seen gorgeous photographs of the moon. The people who take them are magicians. Or perhaps they too think, You call this image beautiful, breathtaking, magical? No, you should have seen the moon that night. I didn’t even come close.

I know in seeking that illusive picture of the moon, concepts (magic spells!) like aperture, ISO, and EV 1 or 2 units come into play, along with tools like telephoto lenses, tripods, and the like. I have heard that I can master them. And perhaps I will. Strive. Try.

My first pronouncement—“completely failed”—softened under her encouraging glow as the night darkened around her. I emerged instead with a lesson, applicable to my writing and so many other parts of my life. The attempt is the joy, is the success, is the purpose. The moon will never be captured fully, but she can be suggested, alluded to, conjured, imagined, dreamt. . . .

And as if to affirm that truth, I discovered that two of the twenty or so shots I took turned out . . . not bad. Though nowhere close to how beautiful the moon actually was on April 6, or how she overtook the horizon and my imagination, I hope they hint. . . .

So the aftermath of my night’s chase? Most often with words, but sometimes using picture, paint or other, I’ll keep seeking to express the beauty and mysteries that sometimes surprise us in the day or wait and appear only fleetingly at night. And most often I’ll miss the mark, not accomplish what I’m shooting for, but that’s okay. I accept the quest. I revel in it. I delight in it. And who knows? Sometimes I might come . . . close.

Not the writer I wish to be

I was reading Louise Penny’s latest novel, A Trick of Light, the other night and as is the case with all of her Three Pines mysteries, I was completely moved and challenged by it, even while I was wildly entertained.

One of the continuing characters, 50-year-old artist Clara Morrow, after thirty-plus years of endeavour and dedication to growing in her art, has just become an “overnight success” and been given a solo show in the prestigious Musée d’Art Contemporain in Montréal.

Her description of the morning after the vernissage (or, in English, the “opening” of her show) captured me.

“Clara rose early. Putting on rubber boots and a sweater over her pajamas, she poured herself a coffee and sat in one of the Adirondack chairs in their back garden …

“She closed her eyes and could feel the young June sun on her upturned face and could hear birdcalls and the Rivière Bella Bella gurgling past at the end of the garden. Below that was the thrum of bumblebees climbing in and over and around the peonies. Getting lost.

“Bumbling around.

“It looked comical, ridiculous. But then so much did, unless you knew…

“Clara held the warm mug in her hands and smelt coffee, and the fresh-mown grass. The lilacs and peonies and young, fragrant roses.” (Louise Penny, A Trick of Light, Saint Martins Press, New York, N.Y. 2011)

Clara is thrilled and torn by her success (and will experience a myriad of other emotions as she faces jealousy from her renowned artist husband and the fall out from a murder that occurred in her garden during her celebratory party), but even before she sat in the early sun and pondered where she’d come from as an artist and where she was going, another of her inner observations kept coming back to me: “Art was their [her and her husband’s] work. But it was more than that. It had to be. Otherwise, why put up with all those years of solitude? Of failure? Of silence from a baffled and even bemused art world?”

Something in these passages that I can’t quite identify upon rereading and quoting in isolated chunks, in combination with comments a dear friend (and very astute, wise reader) made about one of my current works-in-progress triggered the recognition of a hard truth deep within me: I am not the writer I wish to be.

Now, this is not to say that I’ve ever felt that I was all that I wanted or hoped to be as a writer—not even close. But maybe what happened is that as the realization formed in my head and I saw all the colours and shadows and shapes and sounds of what I yearn to express collide with what I actually manage to get out—and that mess of thoughts bumped into Clara who I couldn’t separate from her author, Louise Penny, I realized that it will always be thus. It never changes. The great secret about aspiring to any Art is that you ever grow—and you ever fall short. There’s no arrival.

And maybe that sounds negative, but it didn’t feel like that to me. Instead it felt like some huge vice that had been holding my heart and mind—one that I was unaware of until I felt the pressure ease—unclenched. I think I’ve been operating under an unexpressed tyranny: “One day, I’ll get there—wherever there is—and all my writing dreams and aspirations will be met. Fireworks will go off. I’ll cease to be filled with self-doubt and lethargy. I will know I am good enough.”

Bunk! I have a lot of so-called successes (albeit they may seem small in some peoples’ eyes) and while I’m delighted and derive huge comfort and satisfaction whenever a reader identifies with, enjoys or connects to something I’ve written, I’ve never yet felt, “Aha, this is it.” Instead, I worry—when will the imposter police break out of wall yelling, “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you’re not a writer at all. You’ve been read and found lacking”?

But it’s not about that. It’s about, as Clara expressed, something more. It has to be.

It’s about striving, yes, but also being content to just be.

To diligently, joyfully—and sometimes sorrowfully or with anger—try to render every moment truthfully. To face (in real life and through my fiction) what I care about. What I question. What makes me rage, cower, cry and scream. What causes me to weep, laugh, smile, or take a deep contented breath and think, ahhhh . . .

It sounds so simple: Just be honest about what’s inside you, Ev!

But I find it so terrifying to face my naked emotional self—to not look away, to not avert my stare—out of discomfort, denial, fear of being revealed (and possibly rejected) for what I am, who I am. . . .

Yet as I pondered what I’d read, what my friend said, a warm coffee cup clutched in both hands, gently steaming as I sipped, and contemplated not just the pages immediately before but all those I written previously, I finally got it—get it. I am not the writer I wish to be. I am only the writer that I am. And it’s okay. More than okay. Perfect, in fact! (And after all, it’s the only possible option on any given day or page or part of a tale.)

I’ll continue to fight to remedy my failings, work hard to grow and change and be better as a writer (and a person), but there’s no magic day to wait for. The reason I write, the value of writing, the reward of writing is here right now. Found in the unyielding sheen of frozen-diamond snow, in the heavy contented sigh of my dog sleeping on my feet, in the questions I have as I stare at the sky, in breakfast with my adult daughter and the sweet complex flavours of conversation and freshly made pumpkin pancakes with syrup, pecans and whipping cream. . . .

The seemingly simple and obvious realization has me feeling a little awed—and strangely free and unencumbered: I am the writer that I am.

To heck with silent night; it’s more more like silent morn!

Photo copyright Ev BishopWow, when I wrote my column for The Terrace Standard this year, I knew my Christmas would be different this year, but I had NO IDEA that I’d be the first one awake for a very long time (Well, except for the cat who is being exceedingly weird. It’s like she knows there’s a large can of Turkey giblet mess for her own festive feast purposes later!).

Anyway, the tree is brightly lit, the coffee is brewed (ahhhh) and while visions of sugar plums dance in my son and hubby’s head, I am amusing myself online (Yay, the luxury of Christmas Day Internet browsing!) and trying to restrain myself (All I wanna do is break into my ho-ho sack, a.k.a stocking!).

If you’ve managed to sneak some merry Christmas computer time, I’d love for you to peruse some of my recent Christmas thoughts: “What We Give” published by The Terrace Standard, December 23, 2011 and/or “Deck The Halls With Memories” which was just reprinted in The Cloverdale Reporter‘s Old-Fashioned Christmas Magazine.

Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope your day is special in every way and that you enjoy the blessing of family and fun and food and peace in whatever order they come!