The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘novel

Today is the beginning of my fifth full day in Portobelo, Panama and I have fallen into a great writing rhythm. I’m awake by 7 and I usually do a little bit of exercise and meditation. I then settle into writing for an hour or two and then go downstairs and have breakfast made by Soledad, a wonderful cook.

After breakfast and a bit of socializing with some of the other guests, I then get some more writing done until lunch which is usually served by 12:30.

 

With great food like this served daily, I am having to up my exercise game.

It’s the rainy season here so if it looks sunny then we’re pretty spontaneous about taking a walk or heading over by boat to a beach.

This was on a hill overlooking Portobelo on a clear day.

 

I couldn’t get a great picture of this heron but I was fascinated by it as I watched it go about catching fish. This was taken on a little beach that we took a boat to get to.

It is rumored that the famous pirate and sea captain Sir Francis Drake is buried on that little island. He was a scourge to the Spanish.

 

I’ve never actually seen an ant cutting leaves in the wild, but they were on this beach!

Wandering around town is also an option, if it isn’t too hot.

Writing prompt: There is great public art all over the town. Make up a story about this figure on the wall. Who is he? What’s he up to?

 

Writing prompt: There is a tradition of ‘the Black Christ’ in Panama, especially Portobelo. What does this image provoke in you?

 

Writing prompt: What is this wall made of? How would you describe the texture? Why does this wall exist?

 

Writing prompt: Who owns this monkey? What has been the monkey’s life up until this day? Tell a story about how the monkey escapes.

After that, I usually take a break from writing and do some reading and research.

If I’m lucky, I’ll catch a quick nap in one of the hammocks!

Another writer here has lent me James Scott Bell’s Conflict and Suspense which is packed with great ideas about building up conflict in one’s work. He suggests to make sure the stakes are high for your main character and that they face either physical death, professional death (“something on the line here that will make or break the Lead in the area of her life’s work”) or psychological death. It’s great if your character faces more than one type of death, especially in a novel.

After dinner, I usually get another few hours of writing under my belt. I love staying up late and either listening to a writing podcast or doing a bit more reading.

Over the weekend, I’ll be tackling some of the harder projects that I brought with me that need a lot of attention.

More soon!

 

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No post today. I’m on spring break until next week. But, you know I would not abandon you without providing something to stimulate your creativity. Below are interesting news items about creativity.

-Dan Deacon is a laptop composer and he spoke with National Public Radio host, Arun Rath about music, technology and innovation: ‘You Have To Be Bored’: Dan Deacon On Creativity

-The term ‘leaky attention’ is not the most attractive, but it is a term scientists are using to explain the possible physiological evidence of a connection between creative thinking and sensory distractions. I first read about this idea in Diane Ackerman’s sumptuous book, An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain (which has several chapters that discuss creativity).  Distractions often lead us to new formulations, insights and surprises: Can’t Focus? Maybe You’re a Creative Genius

I am always trying to debunk myths about creativity through this blog, my teaching and my coaching work. Still so many myths about creativity persist! This article does an excellent job in adding more nails to the coffin of creativity myths:  Demystifying the Muse: 5 Creativity Myths You Should Stop Believing

Jason Mott is a poet, speculative fiction writer, and is on his way to becoming a household name. He is the author of two poetry collections: We Call This Thing Between Us Love and “…hide behind me…”  His first novel, The Returned will be published internationally in over 13 languages and is currently a New York Times Bestseller.

Here’s a brief snippet about the book:

Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time…. Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.

All over the world people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.

Cool, huh? And no, the plot doesn’t involve zombies or aliens.

Recently, you might have seen Jason’s work on television. The Returned was optioned, last year, by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, in association with Brillstein Entertainment and ABC.  ABC has begun airing episodes adapted from the novel under the title “Resurrection.” And, from what I’ve heard the show has already garnered some serious fans. And, we are all waiting with baited breath for Jason’s next novel!

I’m delighted to welcome Jason Mott to ‘The Practice of Creativity’.

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Tell us about your recent novel, The Returned. What inspired it?

The Returned grew out of a dream I had about my mother. Both of my parents have passed away, and I had a dream in the summer of 2010 that I came home from work to find my mother sitting at the kitchen table waiting for me. I came in and sat with her and, for what felt like hours, the two of us simply talked about all of the things that had happened in the nine years since her death. I talked about all of the new friends I’d met, trying to be a writer, etc. It was a very warm and cathartic dream in which, for the first time in nearly a decade, I was back with my mother again.

I awoke the next morning fully expecting to find my mother sitting at the kitchen table. Of course, she wasn’t. That dream stayed with me for weeks and, while telling a friend about it over lunch, he said: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if that really happened? And what if it wasn’t just her?” And that’s where The Returned started.

What’s been the most surprising aspect of being a published novelist?

I think it’s the wonderful experiences I’ve had with readers. From the time the book launched, I began getting emails from readers who told me stories about the people they’d lost and how reading The Returned helped them deal with that loss or, simply, helped them stop and remember someone they loved. That’s more than I ever hoped for and I’m deeply grateful to and appreciative of everyone who takes time to read my work.

Poetry is one of your loves. What keeps you coming back to the form of poetry for self-expression?

At the end of the day, I’m a fan of writing in all forms, mediums and genres. The stories I first fell in love with as a reader were epic poems, so perhaps that’s what keeps bringing me back to poetry. But I also feel that each type of writing informs the others. I learn about poetry by writing fiction, I learn about fiction by writing poetry, and on and on. I feel that too many writers limit their creative development by only writing in one medium.

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What do you say to yourself on days when the writing feels especially difficult?

“If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.” That may sound like an oversimplification, but it’s also very true. Writing is incredibly tough. I think most people underestimate how tough. And there will be many, many bad days. But when those days come, some people quit, but writers keep writing. I always wanted to be a writer, so I learned to make myself keep going on those days. And I like to think that’s helped me a lot.

What three living writers would you want at a dinner party you were hosting? And why?

Tough question. I’d probably go with Neil Gaiman, J. Michael Straczynski, and John Irving. They’re three writers living writers that I’ve deeply admired not only for the quality of their writing, but for the doggedness of their work ethics. They’re writers who are always working, and that’s what I hope to become.

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Less talk about writing, more writing. Which is really just my way of saying “keep writing.” Haha.

 

Jason Mott lives in Bolton, North Carolina. He has a BFA in Fiction and an MFA in Poetry, both from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. His poetry and fiction has appeared in various journals such as Prick of the Spindle, The Thomas Wolfe Review, The Kakalak Anthology of Carolina Poets, Measure and Chautauqua.  He was nominated for a 2009 Pushcart Prize award.

His inspirations often come from mythology, folklore, exploration of the sonnet form and, most often, comic books. His first book of poems We Call This Thing Between Us Love was a finalist in the 2009 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Contest and was published in December 2009.

Find out more about Jason at http://jasonmottauthor.com/

I could tell a long story about getting to know Renee Swindle. It would begin with the fact that I knew of Renee years before I had the pleasure of reading her latest book, Shake Down the Stars. Kelly, a close writing friend of mine has been her student for many years and during that time I’ve heard about what a wonderful and caring teacher Renee is. Until I met my own writing teacher and found a nurturing writing community in North Carolina, I have to confess that I was a bit envious of Kelly’s connection to Renee in Oakland. But that’s another story. When Kelly shared with me that Renee’s new book was about to launch, I immediately offered to interview her. I typically don’t also do reviews for the writers I’m interviewing. But as it turned out, in the middle of setting this interview up, I won Renee’s novel through a Goodreads contest. I felt the delicious play of synchronicity at work. This book was meant to be in my hands! What follows is a brief review of Shake Down the Stars and author interview. I’m honored to feature Renee Swindle on The Practice of Creativity.

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Review

It’s been a long time since I have stayed up two nights in a row completely absorbed in a novel. I started Shake Down The Stars and couldn’t put it down. Piper Nelson, the main character has a host of problems. She drinks too much, has a narcissistic sister who is married to a pro- football player (and rap star), a self-righteous religious mother and a depressed husband. Piper gets angry, goes on drinking binges, blacks out, and makes many bad choices. Death haunts her and she also stalks it by walking around her neighborhood, at night, and paying homage to the makeshift altars dedicated to the recently departed, mostly young victims, and often victims of violence. And, at the beginning of the novel she’s isolated and doesn’t have any quality friendships.

But, we stay with Piper and ultimately root for her because we come to understand the wound that is eating away at her. It’s a wound so big it makes us wonder how she is still able to live. During the novel, we realize given Piper’s challenges, most of us wouldn’t cope any better. Take away something we love and we’d go to the shadow side.

As Piper stuffs down the pain things quickly go from bad to worse. You want Piper to edge closer to the pain, so that she can transform it. We also stay with her because she is kind, has a sharp wit, is a gifted high school teacher in a underfunded school and she loves the stars. Piper is an amateur astronomer and the stars are her refuge.

There is no typical stock character in this novel set in Oakland. Swindle calls our attention to the vibrant racial and ethnic diversity, in the city, and the range of class backgrounds (and breakdowns). The questions this novel explores are: How does one deal with grief? How can we forgive ourselves in the face of tragedy? What are we willing to do to become authentic? How do we heal? Through deft writing and fantastic characterization Swindle has created a memorable novel that  inspires and delivers through the very last page.

shake down the stars

Tell us about your second novel, Shake Down the Stars. Why did you want to write this book?

Piper, the protagonist of Shake Down The Stars, is trying to overcome a tragic loss, but doing so by spending an unhealthy amount of time with her ex-husband.  She also drinks too much and sleeps around.  Basically, she’s trying to anesthetize herself in any way she can against the blow she suffered years before when a car accident took the life of her daughter. Her family is of no help at all. Her mother is married to a celebrity evangelist and only advises her to pray; and her sister has no time for her, or anyone, because she’s planning a wedding to a famous football player. While certain events in Piper’s life are heartbreaking, the novel is also uplifting (at least I think so!), and sometimes even comedic­­, thanks to the friendships Piper makes along the way.

As for your second question, I start with voice when I write so I guess you can say I let the narrator dictate the story.  When I started Shake Down The Stars I saw a woman standing alone in a room while her family celebrated an event in another part of the house. Over time it came to me that Piper had lost her child five years before and was extremely lonely and somewhat ostracized from her family. I didn’t necessarily want to write anything depressing or heavy, but I stayed with Piper because I wanted to see if she’d find happiness again.  I honestly didn’t know how the novel would end. I also loved her crazy family and friends and her smart voice, and the men in her life. Luckily, people who’ve read it have really connected with the story.  Several readers and reviewers have said they both laughed and cried, which is the absolute best thing to hear.

How did the process of writing Shake Down the Stars differ from writing your first novel?

My first novel, Please Please Please, was based on a short story I wrote while in graduate school.  The narrator was catty and unreliable, but I also thought she could be pretty funny—and sexy. I’m still interested in characters I don’t see much and characters that surprise me. I actually wrote two novels after Please Please Please (which explains the delay between books), but they never sold.  I think the problem was that I needed to find my own voice. After Please Please Please I thought I should write like someone else; but after those two books didn’t sell, I realized I needed to be ME.  Once I started writing Shake Down The Stars I stopped trying to impress. Writing the two books that went nowhere helped me to see that my ability lies in humor and telling a fast-paced narrative–at least I hope so–even if the story is sometimes dark or sad.

What have you learned about being a writer in public (i.e. dealing with reviews, managing the promotional aspect of publishing, finding time to write, etc.)?

I had to stop looking at my Amazon ranking. I also stopped looking at reviews on Good Reads and wherever else. Looking at other people’s comments—good or bad–just isn’t helpful!

As for promotion, I try to set aside time every week.  It’s not the most fun part of the job, at least not for me, but I’ve found a little a week is doable.

I learned years ago that if I’m going to write, I have to do so first thing in the morning.  I stay on schedule because I put myself first.  I write before I grade papers or start answering emails.  I wake up super early and try to write, even if it’s for twenty minutes.

You have a reputation as a fabulous writing teacher, working especially well with novice writers. What’s the most common mistake that beginning writers make?

Wow!  Thank you! Well…I think writers, beginning or not, can be too hard on themselves.  Somehow, some way, writing has to become something you do more days than not; as with any skill it has to be developed, and that takes practice. Find a way to make the process of sitting and facing your fears every day enjoyable.  I’ve said this before, and I know it sounds nuts, but it’s such a long haul, the sooner you learn to become your own cheerleader and best friend, the better.  If you only have twenty minutes—Yay!  If you wrote the worst paragraph ever known to mankind?  Good for you!  The point is, you showed up and you figured out a way to smile at yourself. The only way I could write Shake Down The Stars after two failed novels was that at a certain point the process of writing became as exciting and interesting as the end product.

Who is one writer that you’d love to know was reading your work?

That’s a great question.  You know, I have some pretty fabulous writers in my writer’s group so I won’t be greedy and ask for more.  I will say I’d love for Viola Davis to read one of my novels.  I’d love for one of my books to be turned into a movie and for Viola to play a lead character.

 What’s the best writing tip you’d like to share?

Be yourself. Write the story you want to tell and not the story you think you should tell.  Do your best to discover what you’re good at and run with it.  In the meantime, continue to hone the weaker aspects of your writing.  Read a ton. As you read, watch how writers set up scenes and use dialogue and all the rest.   Remind yourself that your craft will get better over time, so be patient, show up, and remember that you’re a rock star.

 

Renee Swindle is the author of  Shake Down The Stars (NAL/Penguin) available now. Her first novel, Please Please Please, was published by the Dial Press/Dell. Please Please Please was also published in Germany as Mehr Mehr Mehr and published in Japan.  Please Please Please was an Essence Magazine bestseller. Renee earned her BA from UC Irvine and MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. She lives in Oakland, California

Connect with Renee!

www.reneeswindlebooks.com


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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