Putting the Face to the Name, or the Cover to the Book

When I first got out of college, I found a part-time job as a legislative aide for the City of Rochester, New York.  It wasn’t exactly the field of my choice, but it did involve some writing, and it served as worthwhile experience.  I was thankful to have the job.

 

I didn’t stay there long–only seven months.  But while my tenure as a legislative aide was brief, it was not without a healthy helping of intrigue, office politics, and political pugilism, as I served as the buffer (i.e., punching bag!) between the councilwoman (who was rarely in her office) and her constituents.  Indeed, one of my job responsibilities was to man the councilwoman’s phone, talking one-on-one with the residents of her district.  Some of the calls were low-key; but many were heated, with angry residents giving me an earful about perceived slights and local policies they disagreed with.  Each new day was an adventure.

 

There was one person who stood out from the pack, though.  His name was Terry, and he called several times per week, sometimes several times per day.  He had a laundry list of complaints, and he wasn’t shy about expressing them to me, usually with a raised voice.  One issue in particular that irked him was a pothole on his street.  “It’s huge!” he’d yell at me.  “You gotta fix it!  It’s gonna wreck my struts.  I ain’t rich, you know.  Tell ‘er that!”  (He always referred to the councilwoman as “she” or “her,” or some variant thereof–never by name.)

 

I listened to him as long as I could, letting Terry vent his frustrations.  Sometimes, though, he would start attacking me, personally.  “Do something about it!” he’d say.  “Don’t just sit there in that cushy office of yours.  Lift a finger for the people in your district for a change!”  I reminded him that I wasn’t on the city council.  I was only an office worker.  I couldn’t make or change policy, couldn’t direct the road crews to alter their service schedules.

 

One day, it was too much.  Terry berated me with four-letter words and insults directed at family members of mine he didn’t know and had never met.  “Sorry,” I told him.  “This isn’t going anywhere.”  I wanted to say so much more, but had no choice but to bite my tongue.  One thing I could do, however, was hang up the phone–which I did.

 

He called back immediately, yelled at me some more.  I hung up again.  He called back.  Yelled.  I hung up.  Finally, the phone stopped ringing. I tossed a crumpled piece of paper into the wastebasket, counted to ten.  Terry had a way of pushing my buttons.

 

I had long since created a mental picture of him.  I’d never seen Terry, but, based on his voice and his very direct and colorful vocabulary, I imagined him to be stocky, burly, with short, sandy hair, a thick, retro’80s-style mustache, and a perpetual scowl on his face.  If I wanted to, I would have been able to sketch a picture of him–he was that clearly defined in my mind’s eye.

 

Consider my surprise, then, when, later that same day, a tall, rail-thin bald guy showed up at the councilwoman’s office.  Of course, the councilwoman wasn’t there.  I was.

“Can I help you?” I said.

And the guy introduced himself as Terry.  I did a double-take.  He couldn’t have looked more unlike the Terry I had imagined.  Stocky?  The man standing before me now was easily six foot four if he was an inch.  Burly?  He had the girth and width of a rail spike.  Sandy hair?  Try no hair.  Mustache?  His face was clean-shaven, not a whisker in sight.  And a scowl?  He was actually smiling!

 

He extended a hand.  Discombobulated, I took it.

“I just wanted to apologize,” he said, looking at his shoes.  “Was in the area just now, and wanted to stop.  I know I got a little carried away on the phone today.  I know you can’t do nothin’ about nothin’.  It’s not your job.  So I just . . .”

I shrugged.  It was hard to find the words.  Finally, I told him not to worry about it.

“I ain’t sayin’ I won’t call again,” he said.  “You’ll hear from me until she does something.”

He smiled again, and this time I returned it.  “It’s good to put a face to the name of my highest-volume caller,” I said.  And it was.

 

Terry called the next day, complaining about the pothole.

***********************************

Books can share certain characteristics with constituents.  They don’t scream at you, the way Terry sometimes laid into me, but they might make you want to scream.  They have value, share opinions and knowledge, and express a point of view.  What’s more, they are incomplete without a face, or a cover.

The Singularity Wheel–the sequel to The Eye-Dancers–is nearing its release date.  It’s still on target for publication at the very end of the year or within the first few days of 2018.  And now, as the day of publication approaches, the cover is complete.

My longtime friend Matt Gaston, who also created the cover for The Eye-Dancers, has worked his magic again on the cover for The Singularity Wheel.  And here it is.

 

Thanks, Matt, for all your help–with both novels.

I think even Terry would approve.

And thanks so much to everyone for reading!

–Mike

The Inner/Outer Writing Paradox (Or, From an Old Oak Desk in New England)

Where is your special place, the place where you block out the clutter and noise and distractions, and let your creative energy flow?

Mine is an old oak desk that my father used to use when he was a student in school, decades ago.  It’s solid, heavy, and not designed for the accoutrements of 21st-century digital technology.  But it’s my little oasis to think and dream and create.

oasis

 

My father actually passed the desk on to me while I was still living with my parents, a high school student with my eyes peeled toward the future, the promise of ten thousand tomorrows, of horizons to be explored and aspirations realized.  We are old friends, my desk and I.  The oak is scarred in spots, dented in others, victim to the long passage of time and the elements.  But the imperfections merely serve to make it more approachable, more real, more mine.

imperfections

 

I’ve spent countless hours sitting at the old desk, pecking away at my keyboard, working through stories and ideas and inspirations–some of which took shape and became full-bodied manuscripts and novels; others that died a quiet, gray death, falling into the oblivion of the unfinished and uncompleted.

tossedoutmanuscripts

 

Through it all, one thing has remained constant–the desk, my sturdy oak friend, has always offered solitude and seclusion–it’s just me, tucked away in my den.  There are times, at night, the drapes drawn, the house dark and still, as if surrounded by a giant, soundproof glove, when I feel like the only person, the only creature, on earth.

aloneatnight

 

Writing is a lonely task–sometimes, it seems, the loneliest of all, especially when the words won’t come, the characters won’t cooperate, the sentences and paragraphs refuse to flow into anything resembling a coherent whole.

writersblockcharacterswontcooperate

 

And yet, and yet . . .

There is a paradox at work here.  From the solitude, a reaching out; from the stillness, a sharing of words and thoughts and ideas–sending them out, perhaps with confidence, perhaps with trepidation, to be read and contemplated and critiqued by others.  What was originally crafted in the quiet of a bedroom, the seclusion of a Thoreau-like woodland getaway, is now dispersed, as if by magic, away from the confines and isolation of self and out toward the vastness of an ocean of readers.

writersgetawayinwoods

 

And yet still, there is a paradox within the paradox. I, like many writers, am a lifelong introvert.  I recharge my batteries when I’m alone, lost in thought and wonder.  I suppose I’ve become a bit more skilled at social gatherings through the years (though perhaps my friends may disagree!), but mingling among partygoers or making small talk in a group setting has never, and will never, come naturally to me.  Much like Mitchell Brant or Marc Kuslanski, I tend to feel awkward and clumsy in such situations.  When I observe my extrovert friends or family members, the effortless way they break into, or begin, conversations, I cannot help but admire them for their skills and panache.  They make something I struggle with look easy.

partysocial

 

But the funny thing is–the majority of them would likely never dare to share the intense, personal accounts we writers do on a regular basis–often, to people we don’t even know.  A paradox, indeed, that an introverted writer feels the desire, the longing, the need, to become naked and vulnerable, sharing his feelings, fears, dreams, memories, foibles, passions, ideas, loves with anyone who chooses to read them.

passionsanddreams

 

It’s as if the solitary act of writing needs to shed its literary cocoon and fly out the window, looking for places to land.  There is value, of course, even in writing just for yourself.  Diaries and journals through the ages lend proof to this truth.  But within every writer’s heart, isn’t there a calling, as if a voice were whispering, to share the depth and breadth of her essence?  The ideas, expressed as words on a page, are disconnected from the whole, separate from the world, so long as they reside only in our computer hard drive or in a dusty corner of our dresser drawer.

writingflyingoutwindow

 

And the world, as it were, may contain only a handful of readers–perhaps family members and a few close friends–or it may include everyone, the reach as limitless as our imaginations.  The power of the Internet certainly offers such reach.  We write a blog post in New England, or Berlin, or San Francisco, or Prague, and we, through the simplest of clicks, instantly share it across the globe.  And we, more than likely, wish for our words to be read, and, hopefully, appreciated and digested and thought about, by as many people as possible.

earth

 

Perhaps writers, then, are, in actuality, closet extroverts?  Or, maybe more accurately, writers are people, and feel the same longing all people share–to be recognized, to be understood, to be heard.  We just go about it in our own way.

We try, “in utter loneliness,” as John Steinbeck once said, to “explain the inexplicable.”

steinbeck

 

So the next time you tuck yourself away in your room or your office or your secluded writer’s cabin in the wild, and you feel a pang of guilt that you’re not spending that time with your family or your friends (a feeling I’ve certainly experienced on numerous occasions), perhaps you can offer them (and yourself) a reminder.

cabininwoodsend

 

Tell them that you have something inside of you, insisting, unceasing, that must come out, something so personal, so inherently you, that no one else on earth can produce it.  And that it’s a wistful thing, ungraspable, really, like a phantom flower that materializes out of thin air, but when reached for, vanishes like mist.  All we can do, while sequestered in our little writing corner, the door shut, the phone off, is try to capture that feeling, that idea, that insistence within us and express it to the best of our abilities.

writersroom

 

And then, when we step back out into the light of day, share it with the world.

sunrisesharingveryend

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Exploring Different Points of View (Or, Riding Along with an April Witch)

When I was growing up, in the now-vintage years of the 1980s, I used to like to pretend.  I pretended I was an explorer, navigating the river basins and leafy pathways of tropical rain forests.  I pretended I was an astronaut, drifting through the black depths of space, my rocket ship on auto-cruise as I sat back, sipped hot chocolate from a Styrofoam cup, and read back issues of The Fantastic Four (remember, I was ten years old when I was visualizing all this!)  I pretended I was surveying the uncharted regions of the ocean floor in a deep-sea submarine, discovering new species of aquatic flora and fauna.

ff74

 

But most of all, I play-acted.  I would invent games, scenarios, sporting events where players–actual and imaginary–squared off in a battle for the ages.  Sometimes I’d be by myself in the basement or backyard, offering a complete play-by-play of the action.  I’d “play” nine innings of baseball, running through the lineups, making managerial decisions and switching pitchers when the situation dictated, impersonating every batter on both teams.  Sometimes I’d recruit my friends–the same ones who served as the inspiration for the protagonists in The Eye-Dancers–and together we’d shoot baskets or throw around the football, each of us in our world of make-believe and magic.

magic

 

As I grew older, went to high school and then college, little changed in this regard.  I’d still pretend as often as I could.  I would tell people that I never grew bored.  How could I when I was always a mere thought away from a home run in Yankee Stadium or a forehand winner up the line at Wimbledon, or a lively give-and-take in an embassy in Paris or Tokyo or Prague?  Sure, much of the time, my focus was on the here and now–homework, family matters, friends, career paths.  But when I had a moment, when I could break away from the grind, those were the times I let my mind roam and wander where it willed . . .

pathswanderingwherewill

 

*****************

In a short story from 1952 titled “The April Witch,” Ray Bradbury writes about a seventeen-year-old girl named Cecy who possesses the extraordinary ability of entering into other beings and experiencing the world through their eyes, their senses.

aprilwitch

 

The opening paragraph of “The April Witch” makes this crystal clear:

“Into the air, over the valleys, under the stars, above a river, a pond, a road, flew Cecy.  Invisible as new spring winds, fresh as the breath of clover rising from twilight fields, she flew.  She soared in doves as soft as white ermine, stopped in trees and lived in blossoms, showering away in petals when the breeze blew.  She perched in a lime-green frog, cool as mint by a shining pool.  She trotted in a brambly dog and barked to hear echoes from the sides of distant barns.  She lived in new April grasses, in sweet clear liquids rising from the musky earth.”

greenfrog

 

But more than anything, Cecy wants to experience love, feel love, something her parents have warned her about.  “Remember,” they say.  “You’re remarkable.  Our whole family is odd and remarkable.  We can’t mix or marry with ordinary folk.  We’d lose our magical powers if we did.”

losemagicpowers

 

So, unable to pursue a real relationship in her own form, Cecy inhabits the person of a young woman named Ann Leary, who she then coaxes, through her supernatural abilities, to attend a dance.  In this way, vicariously, Cecy experiences her first kiss, her first date, her first, soft taste of romance.

***************

Cecy’s story hits home for me on a number of levels.  First, of course, she is able to do, quite literally, what I could only pretend to do as a boy growing up with an overactive imagination.  In her case, she wouldn’t need to wonder what it would be like to serve an ace at Wimbledon.  She could inhabit the body of the player who produces the shot, feeling it for herself.  My initial reaction to this might be envy–what a gift that would be.  If we possessed such a power, we could experience anything we wanted, any notion that took root, any desire that compelled us to dream and imagine and aspire to something that, otherwise, would be perpetually and irrevocably out of reach.

couldhavedreamandimagineanything

 

But then I consider it again.

We do have such an ability.  We can experience whatever we want.  We can drive a race car at 200 miles per hour.  We can climb Everest.  We can journey through the eyes of a mysterious “ghost girl” and come out on the other side, in a parallel universe.

everest

eyedancers

 

We can dance across the canvas of the sky, using the stars themselves as our springboards.

stars

 

Anytime we write a story, anytime we read a story, we are seeing the world through the eyes of someone else, living as vicariously through them as Cecy herself does as she enters the bodies of frogs and crickets, flower blossoms, or young women out for a night on the town.  The possibilities are endless, limited only by the scope of our imagination and the roads we choose either to walk along or bypass.

flowerblossoms

 

With The Eye-Dancers, for example, I was able to inhabit the consciousness, the points of view, of four distinct and different characters.  In short stories I have written, I’ve seen the world through the eyes of a small-town shop owner dealing with a declining profit margin and an odd customer who won’t leave him alone; a man haunted by a recurring dream of falling to his death from a high-rise; a clown in a traveling circus who discovers something horrific in one of the towns his troupe stops in; a husband coming to terms with the accident that has crippled his wife; a thirteen-year-old experiencing the moment when he knows, unequivocally, that he is no longer a child; a patron at a Chinese restaurant who reads a haunting, ominous message in his fortune cookie and then must struggle to overcome a long-held fear.

fortunecookie

 

Sometimes, as a writer of stories, as a creator of characters, I feel like a patient with multiple personality disorder engaged in a form of therapy, as effective as it is magical.  It’s no different, really, from my flights of fancy in years gone by–it is no more, and no less, than the written manifestation of them.

We all write, read, watch, partake.  We all dream, imagine, and long for something better, something more.  We are all, each in our own way, riding high, aloft on the currents of the wind alongside Ray Bradbury’s April Witch.

ridingthewind

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Multiverse of Creative Writing

The Eye-Dancers explores the concept of parallel worlds, universes that exist, unseen, beside our own, like a billion billion invisible shadows.  On the surface, this seems like sheer fantasy, sky-high sci-fi that does not apply, in any realistic sense of the word, to the lives of anyone save speculative fiction lovers and quantum physicists.

parallelworlds

 

But perhaps parallel-worlds theory is far more practical, far more applicable than it seems at first blush.  Take writing a novel, for example . . .

For our imaginary novel, let’s picture a story of, say, 90,000 words.  As the author, of course you go through the logical progression.  First, an idea strikes, hot, boiling, the literary waters frothy with enthusiasm and energy.  Then you make some notes–not too many–just various anchor points you need to keep in mind as you travel down the winding road of your imagination.  And then, finally, you begin.  You feel a thrill when you key in “Chapter One” on the first page and begin to tell the tale.

chapterone

 

But let’s take a step back.  Are you writing just one single novel here, or are you, in actuality, writing countless novels?  Consider.  You have to begin your story somewhere.  And surely it could have begun in any number of places, with any number of potential scenes.  You have to choose one.  But what of the others, the scenes not chosen?  What happens to them?  In one sense, nothing.  They represent the “what-ifs,” the “might-have-beens,” the ideas, scenes, words, paragraphs that will never be written–at least not in this novel.

branchingroads

 

If we were to take a quantum mechanics–style view of this, however, the scenes that go unused are not necessarily discarded.  Rather, perhaps we can look at them as “parallel openings,” “alternate versions.”  Indeed.  Have you ever written an opening scene to a story and then, just out of curiosity, opened a new file and redone the scene, in a completely different way?  I have.  It’s the same story, the same idea, but, now with a new opening, the story takes a different shape, a divergent path, a back-roads route.  If you were to carry the experiment further, the first opening sequence (call it Novel #1) would naturally lead to another scene and then another and then another, multiplying all the way down the road of 90,000 words.  Whereas the second opening sequence (call it Novel #2) would lead to a different follow-up scene and then a different third scene, and so on, creating, in effect, a wholly different novel, even though both novels are, in essence, the same story, coming into being from the same idea, the same inspiration.

longandwindingroad

 

Everywhere you find yourself within the story arc, whether chapter one or chapter twenty-one, you have decisions to make.  Does Character Y really say that?  Does Character V really want to pull that stunt?  Of course, the characters themselves are the ones calling the shots, just as much, if not more, than the writer.  But they are calling the shots, at least in part and especially the further in you get, based on all of the events that led to that point in the story.  For every chapter, for every paragraph on the journey of 90,000 words, a decision is made, the sentence is written.  And for every decision made, there are a thousand, a million, a billion decisions not made, actions not pursued, word choices and plot twists never realized.

decisionsmadeandnotmade

 

When viewed this way, each story is merely one small tributary branching off from a bottomless river, one possibility amid countless possibilities.  From a single idea is birthed an infinity of options.

rivertributaries

 

Take, for instance, the following story premise.

A young man, call him Jim, is hired by a modestly sized computer software company.  He’s shown around, introduced to the employees, but along the way, he notices one cubicle in particular.  The name plate is still there–“Wayne”–the desk is strewn with loose papers, handwritten notes.  A coffee mug rests off to the side, Post-It notes are attached to the PC monitor, and old clippings of newspaper cartoons are tacked to the cubicle walls.  But as the days press on, first a week, then two, then three, Wayne never shows.  No one cleans off the desk.  Is he scheduled to come back?  Has he taken a leave of absence?  Has he been fired or did he quit in a rage, suddenly, with no notice?  Jim asks several coworkers.  They skirt around the question, evading, dodging, not wanting to say anything.

cubicle

 

What happened?  Who is this Wayne, and why is his desk still littered with his notes and mugs and assorted papers?  If he isn’t going to come back, why not clean up his work space, or hire somebody else?

Jim can’t stop thinking about it.  He tells his girlfriend, his parents, his buddies.  They all say to forget it, who cares?  But he can’t forget it.  He can’t shake the feeling that something awful has happened, something monstrous.

intuitionbadwayne

 

Then, on an otherwise nondescript Monday morning, he receives an anonymous email.  The Sender is just called “6754.”  The subject line reads:  “Stop asking questions.”  The body of the email reads:  “Or else . . .”  And that is all.

Where can you take this story?  What would the opening scene look like?  Would it be Jim’s first day, spotting Wayne’s desk for the first time?  Would it be his asking a coworker about Wayne and getting the brush-off?  Would it be the mysterious email?  It could be any of these, and more.  And whichever scene is selected will impact the next scene and then the next, and the next . . .

dominoes

 

In fact, perhaps we should start a new blog hop.  Blog hops have to start somewhere, right?  Why not call it the “Parallel Worlds of Creative Writing” Blog Hop!  Jim’s scenario can be used, or another can be created.  And, to begin, seven interested bloggers can write the first scene of the would-be story.  Then, each of these bloggers would tag another seven bloggers to write the second scene.  The thing is, if seven bloggers wrote the first scene, there would be seven unique opening scenes–one opening scene per each blogger.  When these bloggers tag the next group of seven bloggers, the latter would only be able to work with the opening scene they received.  So, in effect, the bloggers next up in the chain would each be working with different opening scenes–no two opening scenes would be alike.  The second wave of bloggers would write their scene, the next scene in the story, and then pass it along to a third group of seven bloggers each, and so on.  Every blogger tagged would be working with a unique chain and furthering that chain by writing their version of the next scene and passing it on.

multiplestoriesbloghop

 

The process could go on as long as interest remained, and by the end of the blog hop, there would be a plethora of versions of the same story, each thread, each individual blog-tag branching off in its own direction, visual manifestation, as it were, of the multiverse of creative writing.

pondripples

 

Every time we begin a story, every time we start a new scene, we toss a pebble into our own personal literary pond, the resulting ripples circling out, farther, deeper, into the water.  And when it’s time to begin the next scene, the next chapter, the next paragraph, we can only choose one of them, the others drifting, away, out of reach.

All any writer can do is hope they choose the right one.

inspirationend

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The (Cover’s) the Thing . . .

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

It’s an expression so common, so overused, many of us may turn a deaf ear to it.  Perhaps we even roll our eyes and think, Can they spew out more cliches while they’re at it?

cliches2

But for authors who have worked countless hours on a novel, experiencing the high, soaring peaks and muddy, shallow bottomlands of the creative journey, and who stuck through the process, even on those dark days when all seemed lost and the literary well seemed as dry and barren as the surface of a dead world floating endlessly in orbit, the notion that the story, their story, which they have finally completed, needs the window-dressing of a sensational cover may at first blush seem rather insulting.  After all, isn’t it the story that counts?  The prose?  The characters that populate the pages?  Shouldn’t the novel stand alone, on its own merit?

valley

Of course it should, and, to a large degree, it does.  But readers can only enjoy your story if they know it exists.  They can’t become entranced by the literary world you’ve created unless they first choose to purchase the book.  And, apart from family, friends, friends of friends, what can an author who is anything but a household name do to attract a broader readership?  Social media, paid advertising, marketing, and of course joining the wonderful WordPress community are all potential ways of discovering a wider audience.

community

But creating a can’t-miss, spectacular cover for your book is essential, and its something comic book publishers have known, and practiced, since the first issues hit the newsstands nearly a century ago.

As a lifelong comic book collector, I am not ashamed to admit–there are some vintage issues I have acquired over the years simply on the basis of the cover alone.  I can well imagine the comics buyer from decades ago, the ten-year-old with the freckles, the teenager in pigtails, spinning the squeaky rack, deciding which issues they should plunk their dimes and nickels and pennies on.  In an era before cable television, before VHS cassettes and DVDs, and long before the Internet and smartphones, comic books were wildly popular.  Hundreds of issues graced the stands every month.

comicrack

A great cover was not just an option.  It was a necessity.

Classic comic book covers came in all genres, all styles, all moods . . .

From the bombastic . . .

ff3

to the fun . . .

detective99

action57

to the spooky . . .

hos92

hos97

to the startling . . .

ASM121

shocksuspenstories7

journeyintoUW49

to the adventurous . . .

MIS44

marveltales152

to the ironic . . .

SA91

to the larger-than-life . . .

TTA10

SA2

*****

When it came to The Eye-Dancers, I knew from the outset who I wanted to design the cover.  One of the earliest posts on this website covered (pun intended!) this topic.  Matt Gaston, artist, graphic designer, and all-around talented and creative guy, is a lifelong friend of mine.  I was very fortunate that he agreed to do the cover for the novel when I asked him.

Like me, Matt is a longtime comic book collector, and we agreed that the look and feel of The Eye-Dancers cover should pay homage to our hobby.  So whenever anyone tells me, as some have, that the cover of The Eye-Dancers reminds them of a graphic novel or a vintage comic from yesteryear, I smile.  I’m sure Matt does, too.  We wouldn’t want it any other way.

eyedancers

When we were kids, Matt and I used to talk about the future.  Maybe we’d team up and do a comic book strip.  I’d be the writer, he the artist.  We never quite made it to collaborating on a comic strip.  But I like to think that The Eye-Dancers represents a little slice, a miniature helping of that long-ago dream.

*************

When that last sentence is written, when you shed a tear at “The End,” thinking of the long journey, the obstacles overcome, when you hope that your characters will move readers, that your words, your similes and metaphors, your twists and turns, your story will carry them away to another world, far, far away, beyond some distant, star-speckled horizon, consider those classic old comic books that wowed the young, and young at heart, of bygone eras . . .

No book should be judged by its cover.  But it just might be purchased because of it.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Conundrum of Creativity (Or, Sometimes They May See You Sweat)

One fall day in my junior year of college, I met with my academic advisor, a bearded, gray-haired man in his early sixties who also happened to teach two of my Writing courses that semester.  It was late in the afternoon, his office overlooking the campus’s back parking lot.  Mellow October sunshine filtered in through the open window, the breeze ruffling the ungraded papers on his desk.

ungradedessays

 

We were talking about career choices.  What did I want to do with my life when I graduated?  I loved writing, of course.  I knew I wanted to be a writer. I’d known that since the second grade.  Maybe I’d need to acquire a “day” job to pay the bills, but the nights, the weekends–they would belong to my flights of fancy.

flightsoffancy

 

My advisor smiled.  “If you love it,” he said.  “If you feel called to do it, then it’s right for you.  That’s the way I feel about teaching.”

I nodded, but perhaps sensing I thought he was just issuing a standard company line or that I wasn’t grasping the heart of his message, he went on: “You know, I’ve been teaching here for over thirty years.  I’ve probably forgotten more about writing and literature than most people will ever know.”  He laughed, shook his head, thumbed the thick glasses he wore up the bridge of his nose.  I sensed that, for a moment, his mind was peering back through the decades, wondering at the swiftness of it all, the transitory nature of life.

literature

 

“But I’ll tell you this,” he said.  “Before I walk into that classroom, I still feel butterflies.  I know there are students in there, my students, and maybe some of them even want to go on to become journalists or poets or novelists–just like you.  I have to be able to teach you something worthwhile.  Others? They’re probably taking my course because it’s required.  They don’t want to be there.  But maybe I can light a spark, you see.  Maybe I can inspire them to read something great long after they’ve forgotten all about me.”

butterflies

 

“You get nervous?” I asked.  Somehow the rest of his message had got lost.  After all, in class he never seemed nervous.  And why should he be?  He was one of my favorite professors–always engaging and interesting.  Teaching appeared to come so effortlessly, so naturally to him.

He smiled again.  “Just before class starts, my heart beats a little faster.  I do a quick mental checklist on the lesson.  Yeah.  I get nervous.  But that’s a good thing.”  He paused for effect. “It means I still care.  I still love what I do.  When the day comes that I don’t feel those butterflies before class, I’ll know it’s time to retire.”

retirement

 

********************

On July 3, 1950, New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio got word that he was slated to start the next game at first base.  Upon hearing the news, he wondered if it might be some sort of practical joke.  Him play first base?  He was the center fielder, he’d been the Yankees center fielder since his rookie season, fourteen years earlier.  He hadn’t played first base since his days in the minor leagues.

dimaggio

 

But manager Casey Stengel was serious.

stengel

 

The team was in a funk, and Stengel wanted to inject some youth into the outfield.  Inwardly, DiMaggio seethed.  Stengel had just joined the team as manager the previous season, whereas Joltin’ Joe, the Yankee Clipper, had been the star of the franchise for a decade and a half.  But he did not openly dispute his manager.  He readied himself to play first base.

Prior to the start of the game, DiMaggio fielded practice ball after practice ball, trying to acclimate himself to this new, foreign defensive position.  Before the first pitch was even thrown, his uniform was soaked with sweat.  Feeling like the proverbial fish out of water, DiMaggio had never been so nervous.

fishoutofwater

 

During the game, he made no errors, but clearly looked out of sorts.  It was the longest game of his life.

The next day, DiMaggio was back in center field.  He never played first base again.

Later, he was asked why he felt so much pressure.  He was Joe DiMaggio, after all.  What did he have left to prove?  He had already cemented himself as one of the all-time greats, a sure first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.  Hadn’t he earned the right to relax?  Wasn’t his legacy assured?

dimaggioautographs

 

“There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time,” the Yankee Clipper responded.  “I owe him my best.”

****************

It is one of the tenets of writing, of any form of creative expression–we must first and foremost do what we love, express what matters to us, write about the relationships, ideas, concepts, themes, passions that resonate within, in some deep, secret chamber of the heart.  Whether we are singing opera or crafting poetry or writing blogs–it is imperative that we do what we want to do, what we are called to do.  As soon as we begin creating solely based on what others are doing or expecting, as soon as we force ourselves into a certain genre or form we don’t love, the results will suffer.

writewhatyoulove

 

And yet, and yet . . .

When the time arrives, and we decide to take the plunge and share our work with someone else, be it one person, a hundred, or thousands upon thousands, we no longer are creating in a vacuum.

Our work is now “out there.”  It has become a part of a larger whole, a single grain of sand on an artistic shore that expands, shifts, and evolves every day, every moment.

beach

 

****************

Every time I publish a blog post, every time I share a story with someone, anyone, every time I see a new review of The Eye-Dancers posted on the Web, I feel those same butterflies my old English professor felt before the start of each class.

butterfly

 

Sometimes I berate myself.  Why should I care so much what others think of my work?  Don’t I write for myself, first and foremost?  Isn’t that enough?

And you know, the honest answer is–no.  It’s not enough.  If it were enough, I never would have released The Eye-Dancers, never would submit a short story to a literary magazine, never would publish a single blog post.  My words would simply sit there on the page, locked inside the hard drive of my computer or the folders inside my drawer.

harddrive

 

But that’s not why we create art.  We sing and dance and draw and write to share a piece of ourselves with others.  We write about a personal experience and then, when someone else, someone we don’t even know, reads it and says, “Yes!  I know what he’s saying, I’ve felt that way, too,” a special kind of magic takes place.

magic

 

It is that magic, that sharing, that bridging of the gap between us that makes writing and creating so worthwhile.

So yes.  As I hit that Publish button right now, I do feel a little bit nervous.

I wouldn’t want it any other way.

publish

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Quiet Moments, Green Meadows

“Everything in life is writable about,” Sylvia Plath once said, “if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.”

plath

 

Everything?

Sure, large events are worth writing about, both joyous as well as painful–perhaps a wedding, a graduation, a medal of honor; a death, an accident, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity lost.

graduation

 

Who among us hasn’t experienced life-changing moments, moments we want to record on paper or in song, on canvas or in film?  This is at the heart of what it means to create art . . . to take an experience, highly personal and unique to you, and then share it with the world, making it, as if by magic, accessible to everyone, a universal tribute to the human condition.

art

 

But what about the small moments, the quiet times, the everyday jobs?  What about that time you shared a lighthearted conversation with a friend, or had lunch with a coworker?  What about the special meal you prepared last Thursday or the audiobook you’re listening to as you commute to your job each morning?

smallmoments

 

Are these things writable too?

*****************

Every year, on a weekend in May, I take the seven-hour drive from the hills of east-central Vermont, where I live, to Rochester, New York, where I grew up.  This year, that weekend has arrived.  I’ll be heading out first thing tomorrow morning.

rochesterbetter

 

I always enjoy the drive.  May in the northeastern U.S. is a special time, a time made for driving across the countryside.  Lilacs bloom, showering the land with a riot of color–deep pink, lily white, warm purple.  Tall grasses, lush-green, sway in the breeze.  And the trees, bare and gray for so many months, are now bedecked with the leafy accoutrements of spring.

lilacs

 

The towns, too, are alive, as if awakening from a winter-long slumber.  Before merging onto the New York State Thruway, I travel through places with names like Hudson Falls, Schuylerville, Fort Ann, and Fonda.  Small towns, old towns, with local diners and rambling farmhouses and village squares that, very easily, I can imagine as cinematic set pieces for a Frank Capra classic.  It’s all very nostalgic, and it creates in me a stirring, a yearning, an appreciation.

hudsonfalls

 

Driving through the towns, I see children playing catch, a lemonade stand on the corner, a couple walking their dog.  And I realize–it’s good to be alive on this spring day, in the 21st century.  It’s good to be going home.

lemonadestand

 

*******************

I lived countless “little” moments in the house where I grew up, the house where my parents still live.  There were so many, in fact, they tend to merge in my mind, one upon another upon another, like an old home movie playing at triple speed.  But I remember.

homemovies

 

I will always remember  . . .

. . . all the times I played with my brother.  We’d re-create baseball and football seasons with our favorite game, Strat-O-Matic.  Or we’d go into the backyard, and he would play quarterback and I would run routes, pretending I was playing in front of a hundred thousand fans on a Sunday afternoon.  I was just a kid, of course, nine years old, eleven, twelve, and at the time I may not have appreciated the attention my brother gave me as much as I should have.  But I’d like to think that, deep down, I did.  He is nine years older than me.  He was a junior in high school, a senior, then a college student, and still he found the time, and the desire, to be there for me.

strato

 

Is that worth writing about?

Or what about my mother?  Some of my earliest memories are of her reading picture books to me.  I was three years old, and she play-acted the scenes and made the stories come alive, no doubt planting a seed, creating in me a love of reading and writing that would stay with me always.

beanstalk

 

Is that worth writing about?

Or what about my friends, who lived in the old neighborhood?  The same friends who inspired Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski in The Eye-Dancers, not to mention various supporting characters who pop up throughout the course of the novel.  I remember the games we invented, the trouble we got into, the things we would talk about on those clear summer nights when the stars, twinkling like precious diamonds, spread across the great dome of the sky.  We’d wonder–is there life up there, somewhere?  Are we really alone in the universe?  We didn’t think so.  Not then, and not now.

nightsky

 

Is that worth writing about?

********************

These quiet moments, these small moments, these green May meadows of the soul–soft with morning dew, carpeted with dandelions and velvety to the touch–are the sorts of places that encourage us to stop and linger for a while, to ponder where we’ve come from, and where we’re going.

dandelionmeadow

 

To reflect on the ever-expanding, layered embroidery of our lives, the day-to-day happenings that comprise the bulk of who we are and what we do.  And what and who we love.

And that’s something worth writing about.

memoriesmoments

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

An Awards Extravaganza, and . . . Breaking the Rules!

It’s always a great feeling when The Eye-Dancers receives a nomination for a blogging award.  Blogging awards offer us a wonderful way of spreading the goodwill that makes the WordPress community the special place it is.  And it is again with much appreciation and gratitude that I accept the nominations from several blogging friends.

wordpresscommunity

 

Thanks to Anne at Tales Along the Way; Jennifer K. Marsh; and Janice at jemsbooks for nominating The Eye-Dancers for The Shauny Award for Blogging Excellence, The Sunshine Award, and The Inner Peace Award, respectively.  I was fortunate enough to have been nominated for these awards previously, but I wanted to thank all three of these wonderful bloggers!  If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting their sites, I strongly urge you to do so!

*****************

Within the past few weeks, The Eye-Dancers has been nominated for three new awards. . . .

Thanks to Janice at jemsbooks for The Butterfly Light Award.  Janice has been a steadfast and ongoing supporter of The Eye-Dancers, and I can’t thank her enough.  I hope you’ll check out her great blog, and download her wonderful books!

butterfly-light-award

 

Conditions For Accepting The Award

Here are the conditions for accepting the award :

1. You must write an acceptance post, making sure you link back to the blogger who awarded you and thank them. You MAY NOT lump this award in with a batch of other awards.  [Oops!  This is the first rule I am breaking in this post!]

2. You must individually name and re-award to a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 9999999 bloggers. You must let them know either personally with a comment on their blog OR a pingback (I’d suggest their about page) [Hmm, this is the second rule I am breaking . . .]

3. You must link back to Belinda’s blog either to http://idiotwriting.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/i-love-charismatic-geeks/ OR http://idiotwriting.wordpress.com/about/

4. You must write a short paragraph (yes only one paragraph – damn this is easy) – Entitled either “How I’m Spreading Light” OR “How I’m A Positive Influence”

5. Display Belinda’s lovely “Butterfly Light Award” badge on your blog.

 

“How I’m A Positive Influence”

Honestly, this one was tough!  It feels a little egotistical to use such a heading.  But one thing I hope The Eye-Dancers site has done, and continues to do, is to encourage everyone to unleash the creative powers within, to let them out with a flourish.  Tell your story.  Sing your song.  Paint your picture.  Do what you love, and then share it with the world.  Only you can tell your story.

creativity

 

As for the blogs I nominate, please keep reading!

*****************

Thank you to Jennifer K. Marsh for The Imagine Award.  Jennifer has supported The Eye-Dancers for the long haul, and I very much appreciate it!  She has a wonderful blog (more on this in a minute), and is a very talented author.

the-imagine-award

 

The purpose of The Imagine Award is to highlight blogs which make special use of creativity and passion.

According to the rules, I must nominate 3-5 blogs for the award  [more on this later–more rule-breaking, I’m afraid!] as well as state 3-5 reasons why I like Jennifer’s blog . . .

 

Jennifer’s site is great.  There are many reasons for this.  Here are five . . .

1.  She has a deep appreciation for nature and the environment.  Her posts reflect this, her words portray this.  As a fellow nature lover myself, this is something I genuinely appreciate and admire about Jennifer and her blog.

2. Jennifer is a highly creative and imaginative person, and her posts have the ability to lift me up on wings, enabling me to fly high overhead, and enjoy the view.  She is a talented wordsmith and a dreamer of dreams.

3.  Jennifer has a wonderful sense of humor.  Regardless of what type of post she is writing, her humor shines through.

4.  She is very honest, open, and holds nothing back.  Jennifer will post on subjects that mean a great deal to her, and is not afraid of sharing her heart with her readers.  This, combined with her fantastic sense of humor, truly makes her blog a very personal and heartfelt reading experience.

5.  Jennifer exhibits a tremendous variety in her posts.  From one post to the next, she keeps things fresh and unpredictable.  And when it comes to creative writing, unpredictable is good!

unpredictable

 

So for these reasons and many more, I hope you will visit Jennifer’s blog!

******************

And thanks so much  to Alisha Williams at Poemotherapi Shoppe for The Paragon of Fine Art Blogger Award nomination!  Alisha’s blog is a creative cornucopia of beautiful words and images.  She is a very talented and accomplished poet.  I am sure you will enjoy visiting her site as much as I do!

20140318-145446

 

The Paragon of Fine Art Blogger Award celebrates bloggers who love art.

Rules for the acceptance of this award:

  • Along with the acceptance of the PFAB Award please post anything that would express your love for art, it may be in a form of a painting, a photograph, an illustration, a poem or essay, anything done for the love of art.
  • Choose 6 bloggers who should merit the said award.  [I think you know where I’m going with this by now!]
  • Notify the deserving bloggers of the award, let them know the rules.
  • Acknowledge the presenter of this award by linking back.
  • Pin the Ajay-inspired badge on your blog.

 

For this award, I wanted to write a few words on why art is important to me and, indeed, to the world.

It’s an age-old debate.  Does art reflect life?  Or does life reflect art?  To me, both aspects are true.

Art certainly reflects life.  Any artist–writer, painter, singer, etc.–brings their own experiences, their triumphs, failures, loves, and losses into their art, into the things they create.  This much is irrefutable.

But the reverse is also true, and it provides the more important aspect of this life/art, art/life duality.  Ray Bradbury was once interrogated by the police for walking around the streets of his neighborhood at night.  His crime?  Simply walking, thinking, being.  Out of this experience, he created “The Pedestrian,” a futuristic little tale that depicts a world where everyone remains indoors, hidden away from the world, existing within the confines of their walls, glued to their televisions and trapped in a virtual, artificial reality.  This is art.  Taking a personal experience and broadening it, crafting an imaginary tale that on one hand transports us to a faraway world, while on the other forces us to look at our own society, our own laws and mores, our own selves.

pedestrian

 

And by doing this, art shapes our lives.  It causes us to think about things we may not otherwise have considered, it causes us to see the old with a new pair of eyes, with a new point of view.

**************

It’s always very difficult nominating just a few bloggers for each award.  There are so many wonderful blogs out there, selecting only five or ten or fifteen is virtually impossible.  And the truth is, it is all of you, everyone in the WordPress community, that makes The Eye-Dancers blog so much fun for me.

And so, I would like to share each award mentioned here–The Shauny Award, The Sunshine Award, The Inner Peace Award, The Butterfly Light Award, The Imagine Award, and The Paragon of Fine Arts Blogging Award–with each and every follower of The Eye-Dancers site.  I hope you’ll choose to accept at least one of these awards, and, perhaps, all of them!

thanks

 

Thanks so much for all of your ongoing support!  It means the world to me.  And thanks so much, as always, for reading!

–Mike

The Silent Scream

It was just another in a long, monotonous line of bleak, nondescript November days in western New York, the clouds gray and low, like bruises in the sky.  The last sunny day had been well over a week ago. I was driving to my Creative Writing class, the twenty-mile commute to the college taking me through small towns and country farms and fields.  The bare trees, with their twisted, skeletal  limbs, appeared as if they were trying to reach up and puncture holes in the clouds, perhaps, like the rest of us, desperate to reveal the blue that lay beyond.

baretrees

 

I had been in a bit of a funk.  November in the Northeast can be a depressing time.  The days continue to grow shorter, as evening falls by 5:00 p.m.  The air has a bite to it, reminding you, every time you step out the door, that a long, snowy wintry season is just around the bend.  Spring seems a long ways off, a distant thing that floats around on the wind like some vague rumor, some hushed secret nobody quite dares to believe.

But it wasn’t just the season that was getting me down.  It was my creative life–or lack thereof.  Take the Creative Writing class I was driving to.  Just a fortnight ago, I had turned in a short story called “A Day at the Beach,” full of optimism, confidence, sure that the professor and the rest of the class, who would read it and critique it for the following week’s session, would appreciate the symbolism, thematic nuances, and structure of the story.

They hadn’t.  None of them really “got” what I was trying to say, and very few of them liked the story.  In the days that followed, I wondered about that.  I had tried so hard to create something literary, rich with similes and metaphors, and subthemes that tackled the key issues of life and our existence on this planet.  What had gone wrong?

I passed a dairy farm, the cows grazing languorously in the fading light of day.  They seemed so relaxed, content simply to be.  Everything I wasn’t, with my strivings and studying and worrying over GPA.  Beyond the dairy farm, a dead November corn field stretched for acres, the stalks yellowed, dessicated, like a battalion of corpses. And on the western edge of the field stood a weathered old barn.  I had passed it many times before, on the drive out to the college.  But today it looked different.

corn

 

Its door was open, revealing dark shadows that retreated further into the interior.  Coupled with the two upper window slots near the roof and the one slightly lower, the front of the barn resembled a giant face, the eyes gazing out at the corn field, at the flock of crows gathering, searching for a morsel.  But the door–the open door . . .

It looked like a mouth, open wide, screaming . . .  I shuddered, literally, as I drove past.  My imagination–always overactive–instantly imagined reasons why the barn would feel compelled to scream.  I visualized the terrible things that may have happened within its four wooden walls, its loft, its dusty, hidden corners full of cobwebs and rusted-out equipment, long since useless but lurking, lurking, like monsters in the dark.  What secrets did that barn have to tell?  What horrors did it have to scream about?

barnface

 

I drove on, still thinking, still haunted by the image of the screaming barn.  It screamed, but without a sound.  It had a story to tell, but it remained mute, like a creature without a tongue.  And suddenly, I realized that was exactly the way I had been operating in my Creative Writing class.  I had been writing with the art of writing foremost in my mind.  I had been pressing, the literary equivalent to the baseball batter who overswings, trying to hit every pitch over the fence.  I hadn’t been letting my stories tell themselves.  I hadn’t even been writing the stories I needed to write.  If some idea didn’t strike me as “literary,” I chose to toss it aside, ashamed of sharing it with the class.  Instead I stressed over the merit of ideas, the complexity, the themes and symbols.  This was a Graduate-level class, after all.  I couldn’t just write the things I wanted to write about.  I had to write literary stories.

drained

 

No wonder my stories were lacking, uninspired, flat and lifeless on the page.  Just like that barn I had passed, I had my own screams, the ideas that kicked and punched away inside of me, ideas that yelled to be let out, shared with others, not because they were necessarily complex or literary, but because they were mine.  They were the things I was passionate about, the things I cared about and thought about and feared and hated and loved, the things that kept me up at night, tugging away at the soul, not letting go, never relenting.  These were the stories I was meant to tell.  These were my screams, which, too often during that Writing class, I had stifled and ignored.

blankpage

 

********************

I have had a few people ask me why I wrote The Eye-Dancers.  Why sci-fi/fantasy?  Why young adult?  Why are four boys the protagonists?  Why not two boys and two girls?  Or three girls and a boy?  Or . . .?  And I’m sure I could try to come up with some layered answer, discussing the themes and story arcs and character traits represented in the novel.  I could probably break out some aspects of literary theory and point of view and symbolism.  But none of that would express anything real.  None of that would come close to sharing the real reason why I wrote the book . . .

. . . I had a story to tell.  It found me, I didn’t find it.  It came knocking, pounding, banging . . . and I had to answer.  Once I did, it set in motion an inexorable tide of ideas and characters that would not rest until their story had been told.

It is like that with anything, I think.  We each have things inside of us that need to be unleashed, that need to be heard.

letourcreativity

 

So go ahead.  Write.  Create.  Draw.  Paint.  Play.  Talk.  Dance.  Decorate.  Sing.    Share the things you care about, not because they are “literary” or “artistic” or “multi-layered” (even if they are).  Share them because they are yours.

Our screams should not be silent.

beach

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The First Time, Every Time

Do you remember the first time?  I bet you do.

Maybe it was the first time you sketched a picture, and the pencil seemed to have a will, a life, of its own as the lines multiplied, took shape, forming a likeness of something you never realized you could duplicate.

sketch

 

Maybe it was the first time you blended ingredients, without a recipe, experimenting, modifying, taste-testing, never having done anything quite like this before, but knowing, somehow, that the result would turn out delicious in the end.

cooking

 

Maybe it was the first time you aimed a camera, wanting desperately to capture the sunset or the butterfly resting, briefly, on the rough bark of your fencepost, or the city skyline on a clear, crisp autumn afternoon.  You snapped the photo, enjoying the moment, a hunger to reconstruct a sliver of reality at just the right angle, in just the right lighting.

camera

 

I happen to be a writer, and I remember my first time, too . . .

I was in the second grade.  It was fall in upstate New York, the trees showing off with their reds and golds and burnt pumpkin oranges.  “Like a bowl of fruit loops,” my grandfather liked to say.

fallcolor

 

And the teacher, a young woman named Mrs. Mueller, tasked us with an assignment.

“I want you to write about something,” she said, and I can still recall the enthusiasm in her voice.  “About anything you want.  It can be about your bicycle or your cat or your mom or your sister.  Anything!  The only requirement is that it needs to be at least a full page in length.”  At this news. a collective gasp rose from the throng of second-graders.  A whole page?  To the seven-year-olds in the room that October day, Mrs. Mueller might as well have asked us to write an epic poem on par with Paradise Lost.

paradiselost

 

But for some reason, the assignment didn’t intimidate me.  Perhaps I was spurred on by the dreamy fall landscape, the woods and fields caramelized after the long, hot summer.  But that night, in my room, I sat on my bed, using one of my father’s old hard-back books as a support for the sheets of loose paper I had ripped out of my notebook, and wrote my first short story.  The thing was?  It did not end up a single page in length.  When I finished, I had written a four-page story.

I called it “The Magic Key,” about a boy and his friend who discover, well, a magic key in an abandoned house on the edge of town.  The house, reputed to be haunted, is full of cobwebs and creaky, ancient doors that groan when opened.  The boys venture into the house on a dare, and when they find and take the key, they soon realize it can unlock portals to places they never knew existed–places where caterpillars talked and beagles soared on dark brown wings, and where, if you wanted something badly enough, if you wished with all your might, you would receive whatever you asked for.

magickey

 

Today, looking back at “The Magic Key,” I realize the story is laughable.  Events just happen, one after the other, as the plot careens wildly out of control.  Events and developments that would normally require entire chapters occur in a single paragraph.  But none of that mattered then, nor does it now.  “The Magic Key” will always hold a special place for me.  When I read it, I remember myself at seven years old having a ball, creating something out of nothing, letting the story tell itself.  I remember the high I felt as the ideas poured in so fast and so loud, my pencil could scarcely keep up.  I remember feeling like I could burst, the thoughts and feelings and words needing to come out, onto the page.  They were no good if they remained locked inside, faces without names, skeletons without muscle and tissue and skin.  And when I was finished, when I triumphantly scribbled, “The End,” in bold strokes on the bottom of page 4, I felt on top of the world.  On top of the universe.  There was a sense of accomplishment, of expressing myself in a form that just felt right.  From that day on, I was hooked.  I wanted to be a writer.

writer

 

I’m pretty sure Mrs. Mueller was surprised when I placed “The Magic Key” on her desk.  “Four pages!” she exclaimed, and I admit, I beamed with pride when she smiled.  The next week, when she returned our stories, she had given me an A, and a smiley face on the top of the first page.  She wrote a little note, saying the story showed imagination and that she enjoyed it.  At the time, seven years old and still in the afterglow of my first creative writing project, I just smiled again, digesting her words easily, lightly, like cotton candy at the fair.  But as I grew older, as I reached my teen years and beyond, I would sometimes wonder what Mrs. Mueller really had thought.  After all, she’d expected to read a short essay on my dog or my grandfather or what I had done the previous summer.  She had most assuredly not expected “The Magic Key.”

I remember one night, when I was in college, I dug out that old story and read it.  I winced.  It was awful.  Mrs. Mueller’s complimentary remarks now seemed a taunt, a mock, a cruel joke.  But then I read the story again, and this time I smiled, laughed even.  And I traveled back in my mind, to that day, years earlier, when the words came, unasked for, and the story wrote itself in a barrage of sentences and ideas that gushed out of me like a geyser.  I remembered how, as I wrote that old story, I wasn’t concerned with how good it was, or how it would be received, or how it might be critiqued.  I just created it.  Better yet, I let the story create itself, and I got out of the way.

creativity

 

It was a reminder of sorts, knee-deep as I was in critical essays on Dickens and Shakespeare and Hemingway, analyzing literature from the inside out, studying symbolism and point of view and theme and character.  Somehow, it seemed, the fun had been taken out of writing.

shakespeare

 

It’s still something I struggle with from time to time.  There are days when I try to write, and nothing comes because I’m being too analytical, too worried about the merits of what I’m creating instead of simply creating.

“Don’t think,” Ray Bradbury once said.  “Thinking is the enemy of creativity.  It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy.  You can’t try to do things.  You simply must do things.”

In The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant certainly knows all about being self-conscious. Insecure, too often worrying that he doesn’t measure up, he invents stories about himself, trying to appear as “more” than he really is.  When he meets Heather, a girl who becomes his friend in the variant town of Colbyville, she tells him he should just be himself, that he doesn’t need to pretend.  He’s good enough the way he is.  He wants to believe this.  He tries to grasp on to it.  He longs to believe in the dream, in the possibility–that he can, ultimately, be anything he wants to be.

At the end of chapter 20, the text reads:

“He looked up, at the infinite black canvas of the sky, at the stars, which shimmered like precious jewels.  She had said that maybe our dreams lived up there, among those stars.  All we needed to do was believe.  And remember.

And reach.”

That’s the kind of feeling I had, all those years ago, when I wrote my first story in the second grade.  That’s the kind of feeling I believe we all share when we allow ourselves the freedom to do what we love without worrying about the end results.  Yes.  There is a time and a place to look at your results.  There is a time when the red editing pen must come out and the cold, analytical process of revision must trump the hot, volcanic flurry of creation.

editing

 

But when I approach the blank page, when I am about to begin a new story or a new scene or a new chapter, I try to remember that assignment from the second grade.

We all have, I think, our own personal “magic key,” if you will–something we can look back on and remind us where we started, what we love, and why we do what we do.

Or, put another way and again quoting Ray Bradbury, “The stars are yours, if you have the head, the hands, and the heart for them.”

stars

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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