Ode to November (and a Call-Out to Fellow Authors)

Anyone familiar with the northeastern United States in general, and Vermont in particular, may find the idea of an ode to November puzzling.  After all, November “up here” is one of the darkest months of the year.  The mercury consistently dips below freezing, and the foliage that lit the hillsides with red, gold, burnt-orange, and copper has long since fallen, shedding the hardwoods of their leaves and turning the woodlands into a stark and barren landscape.  And yet.  And yet . . . it is that very starkness, that very lack, that gives November its austere and minimalist charm.

 

The lush undergrowth of July, the tangles and brambles and the seemingly limitless expanse of all the green, growing things that, not so long ago, overcrowded the natural landscape, have vanished, crumbling to dried organic matter that will merge with the soil, slumber awhile, and spring forth in the new year to come.  For now, in this cold, quiet month of November, there are only the grays and the browns, the absence of, the empty spaces among the trees, the wind whispering through the gaps, the penetrating screech of a hoot owl under a dark and cloudy night sky.

 

And I love it.  I am here for it.  The deep frosts and snowdrifts of January have yet to overtake the land.  The natural world seems almost in a state of limbo, of waiting, of transitioning away from one season and meandering, slowly, shyly, perhaps reticently, toward another.  In this stripped-down landscape, I am reminded of some things.  Things that deal with the craft of writing.

 

When I was a college student, back in the last, gasping years of the twentieth century, I was drawn to the ornate, flowery language of the Victorians.  Bronte, Dickens, Hardy, Montgomery, and Eliot–I read them all.  No one will dispute the brilliance of these literary titans.  They rank among the best, without question.  But it can also be stated that Victorian authors, to put it delicately, were rather liberal with the amount of words they used to convey a message.  A modern-day editor very well might snip thousands of words from a Victorian-styled manuscript if said manuscript were submitted in 2019 by an aspiring author.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I am still as big a fan as ever when it comes to the classics.  But over the years, I’ve learned the importance of snipping, cutting, pruning, and, as they say, killing your darlings.  While it would be fun to write four-hundred-word sentences and pepper dialogue attributions with adverbs, it would be over-the-top for a twenty-first-century audience.  Surely there is a middle ground for writers, like me, who enjoy compound-complex sentences, the occasional flowery turn of phrase, and who don’t always concern themselves with word count as they might!

 

This is why the month of November serves as a gentle reminder.  Looking into the woods, swept clean of leaves and berries and bushes, I think of William J. Strunk’s directive in his Elements of Style:  “Omit needless words.”  To be sure, what words are needless and what words are needed is a subject ripe for debate.  But the lesson is noted, nonetheless, and November serves as the natural world’s analogy.

 

All this to say . . . readers of this blog have probably observed that posts have been coming fewer and further between in recent months.  This is, in part, due to the amount of freelance work I have undertaken as an editor and proofreader.  What once was a “side gig” is rapidly becoming a full-time job!  Not that I’m complaining.  I enjoy the work, and relish the opportunity to provide a valuable service to fellow writers and content creators.

 

You will notice a new Page on this website: Freelance Editing and Proofreading Services.  Please consider this post (and the concomitant new Page) an invitation, a call.  If you would like a professional writer and editor, an old English major, and a proud grammar nerd to assist you with your work–be it a blog post, an article, a technical report, or a novel you are in the final stages of polishing for publication–I am here and eager to help.

 

Hopefully longtime readers of this site will know that I am uncomfortable soliciting work or sales of my novels.  Self-promotion does not come easily for me.  I thank you for your indulgence, and I do hope very much to work with many of you on your writing and publishing endeavors.  More than anything, thank you for your years of support of The Eye-Dancers blog.  I may not post as often as I once did, but I’m still here and intend to stick around for the long haul.

In this season of thanksgiving, I thank the month of November for its simple reminders.  And I thank each and every one of you for your support over the years.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

 

A Light in the Darkness (Or, Watching the Fireflies)

It’s night–a warm, muggy summer night in the hills of east-central Vermont.  It’s late.  I’ve always been a night person.  Even though I arise by five thirty most mornings, I still shake hands with midnight from time to time.  Tonight is one of those nights.

 

I’m at the window, the breeze wafting in, carrying with it the sound of crickets as they play their fiddles, unseen, in the grass that needs mowing.  Out there, beyond the house, is the meadow–five acres’ worth, surrounded on all sides by woodlands.  It’s a private spot, down a dirt road.  There is no neighbor within a half-mile.  And while sometimes, the distant sound of a car engine or chainsaw can be heard, for the most part, it is quiet here–except for the crickets and the hoot owls and the creatures of the night who crawl and run and slither through the grass.

 

I’m not sure what I’m looking for.  There are stars above–the night is clear.  I can see the silhouette of the trees as they sway, this way and that.  But then, then . . . I see it.  A light, a flicker in the dark.  And there!  Another one.  And another.  And another.  It’s like a pre-4th-of-July fireworks show.  Fireflies.  There are so many of them out there.  When one goes dark, another takes its place.  They blink, in and out, light and dark, in a showy, rhythmic dance upon the air.

 

I am mesmerized.  It is almost hypnotic.  There’s another one, and another still.  Why do they do it?  What motivates these tiny insects to produce such a vibrant, magical show?  There are several reasons, actually.  But one is . . . a desire to be noticed.  To be seen.  A call across the dark to attract a potential mate.  “Here I am,” they’re saying.  “See my light.”

 

I step back from the window.  See my light.  Isn’t that, in essence, what we’re doing when we’re sharing our writing, our artwork, our creations?  After all, sharing is hard.  There may be praise and encouragement and acceptance “out there”–and surely there will be.  But there will also be rejection.  Criticism.  Scathing reviews.  Whenever you acquire a new reader, a new viewer, a new listener . . . you don’t know what the reaction will be.  It might go either way.  You may be on a good run, receiving positive feedback day after day.  But the next day, some new criticism may emerge.  A negative review may be posted.  It’s impossible to predict.

 

I return to the window, and witness a dozen or more fireflies glowing over the meadow.  Then more join in, and more, and still more.  The displays on the 4th won’t match this.  And I realize–these fireflies, these beings who are a fraction of the size of my fingernail, are not afraid.  They aren’t overthinking things.  They’re just glowing.

 

See my light.

Do you have an idea you want to write, but haven’t yet, perhaps reluctant on account that “it won’t be any good”?  Or . . . do you have a recently finished work collecting digital dust on your hard drive, hidden from the eyes of others?  “It’s not strong enough,” you might say.  “People won’t like it.  Who am I to share this with anyone?” And even here, in the WordPress community . . . do you have a blog post in mind but are hesitating, second-guessing, questioning whether to publish it?

 

Mitchell Brant would certainly be able to relate to this.  And so would Joe Marma, Marc Kuslanski, and Ryan SwintonThe Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel are, at their heart, about confronting insecurities and coming to terms with what and who we are, and learning to accept it.

 

Do you feel the fire within, the ember that burns, seeking release and recognition?  Are you attuned to the song only you can sing, the word-picture only you can paint?

See my light.

Directly in front of me, not five inches beyond the window, a firefly glows.  Farther out, a dozen others join him.  I don’t know how long the dance will persist.  Maybe a few more minutes.  Maybe all night.  Maybe they’ll fly and glow and glide till dawn, keeping at it until the first reddish tinge of the sun comes into view.

 

As for me, it’s time for bed.  I need to get some sleep.  There is writing to do on the morrow, scenes to craft.  Characters to live with.  Situations to explore.

Stories to share.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Mud Season (Or, “Signs of a Literary Spring”)

Vermont is a land of seasons–hard seasons.  There is nothing subtle about them, from the rich green landscape of summer, to the reds and golds and oranges of autumn, to the icy, interminable wasteland of winter, and the riot of color that signals the rebirth of spring.  People in New England often say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait around five minutes.  It’ll change.”  Except . . . that’s not necessarily true, especially this time of the year.

 

March is, arguably, Vermont’s least attractive month.  Winter hangs on, stubborn, digging its frostbitten fingers into the earth.  Snowstorms still arise.  Freezing rain and melting snow that re-freezes overnight create conditions more suitable to ice skates than shoes or tires.  Trees remain bare, their trunks gray and brown against the rust and heaviness of the low-hanging clouds.  And as the month pushes on, the days inching inexorably forward toward a longed-for if mercurial April, there is enough snowmelt that the grass finally emerges after being buried and hidden since November.  But it’s not a green, healthful-looking grass.  No.  It’s yellow and flattened, bereft of vibrancy.  It will be weeks before it begins to turn.

 

Perhaps more than anything, though, March in Vermont is famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) for its mud.  Rural Vermont is replete with dirt roads that wind along and through the hills and valleys of the state’s rugged terrain.  I myself live on a dirt road, and when Mud Season–as they refer to it here–arrives, well, let’s just say you need a good pair of boots and a tolerance for swerving while driving along the rutted, grooved surface of the road.  Some tire grooves are a foot deep or more–and many drivers have become stuck over the years during Vermont’s season of mud.

 

This all grates on the residents.  Cabin fever sets in.  After all, come March, Vermonters have endured nonstop Arctic conditions for months.  We long to see the tangible manifestations of spring.  The calendar, late in the month, tells us it’s spring–but it doesn’t look like it, and it sure doesn’t feel like it.  I always think about Groundhog Day, February 2nd.  If old Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we’ll still be cursed with six more weeks of winter, they say.  That’s supposed to be the bad news.  But, in Vermont, if, on February 2nd, you were told there would be just six weeks left of winter, you’d celebrate.  Six weeks?  Is that all?

 

And yet . . . and yet . . . for all of its bleakness and unwillingness to yield, a Vermont March offers hope.  There are shy, subtle hints that Old Man Winter is retreating, or, at least, about to retreat.  On the surface, these hints can be easily missed if one focuses exclusively on the sub-freezing temperatures, the snow, the ice underfoot.  But they are there.  Like the daylight–which increases.  The four-o’clock evenings of November and December have melted away to longer afternoons and later sunsets.  (Not taking into account Daylight Savings Time, which, of course, creates its own species of havoc!)  There are also the blackbirds and the grackles, who arrive by the middle of the month, returning from their winter migration.  And . . . what’s that?  A sneeze?  Runny eyes?  A scratchy throat?  It’s not a cold.  It’s the first manifestation of seasonal allergies, the pollen that is my lifelong scourge stirring somewhere, unseen, in the shadows.  No life, no renewal is evident.  All looks as stripped and cold as ever.  But something is happening.  A latent life-force is awakening.

 

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It can be like that with creativity, too.  Much like the seasons of our natural world, there are seasons in our creative life, as well.  Sometimes we’re swept away in the lava flow of words, ideas, images, inspirations, epiphanies.  Other times, however (and far too frequently), we lie fallow and windswept, our stories, our paintings, our songs snowed under, cut off from the light.  It’s as if we’re lost in a maze, with no idea how to find our way out.  In the distance, around the corner, through the mountain pass, there is an other side abundant with flowing waterfalls and fields of flowers, basking in the midday sunshine.  We long to get back to that place, where the art seemingly creates itself.  And when we’re not there, we wonder if we’ll ever return.

 

The winter wilderness, when ideas seem perpetually blocked, can cause a sense of panic.  Will I ever get a good, workable idea again?  Has the well run dry?  Is that it?  Am I done as an artist?  Have I written my last story? Believe me, I have been there.  (I was there in the months after finishing The Singularity Wheel.)  And I’ve learned that, sometimes, when we’re particularly fortunate, we emerge from our unwanted creative sabbaticals with a flourish.  A new story comes, like a gift from the muse, and you feel as if you must write it immediately.  A picture forms in your mind, as if by magic–and you know you have a tour de force in the making.  Such unasked-for inspirations are the ultimate highs.

 

But other times, and probably far more often, the rebirth of your creative self is gentler, quieter, less flamboyant.  It doesn’t soar from 23 degrees to 84 degrees Fahrenheit in a single bound.  It takes time.  Maybe a new idea comes, but it needs work still.  The foundation is there.  Now you need to build up, create rooms for the characters in which to live and breathe, and dream. But you’re moving.  You are escaping the dark heart of literary winter.  You have discovered the way out of the maze.  Now, you just have to get there.

 

One step at a time.

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It’s cold today–temperatures not even reaching 20 degrees.  But the sun is shining high in the sky, and the rays are soothing.  And above me, ahead of me . . . what’s that?

The distinct, watery sound of a red-winged blackbird.  The first time I’ve heard a blackbird this calendar year.

 

I look at him, perched on the bare limb of a sugar maple.  He returns my gaze, a knowing sparkle in his eye.

He understands.  Despite the frigid conditions today, he realizes.  And he’s returned.  He’s flown hundreds and hundreds of miles for this.

Spring is almost here.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Author Interview with Sonya Solomonovich

Last summer, I ran a promotion for The Eye-Dancers.  During that promo, Sonya Solomonovich purchased a copy of the book.  Later that fall, she took the time to interview me on her website.  It was a fun interview, as she aimed several of her questions at the main characters of The Eye-DancersMitchell, Joe, Ryan, and Marc had a great time answering her questions, and so did I.

So when she announced the release of her new novel, Dryad, it was an easy decision for me.  I purchased a copy, and genuinely enjoyed the book.  I also wanted to reciprocate and interview her–along with several characters in her book.

dryad

 

What follows is my interview with Sonya, and Solena, and Tyler, and . . . well, you get the idea.

I hope you enjoy the interview!

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1.  The main character of Dryad is, well, a dryad!  Have you always been interested in dryads?  Or is it something that you’ve recently discovered and wanted to write about?

I’ve always been interested in Greek Mythology but not so much in dryads.  The idea for Dryad emerged when a friend of mine suggested I should write about a dryad from the Amazon rainforest climbing the corporate ladder.

2. As a writer myself, I am always fascinated by ideas–how they strike, when they hit, and how complete they are when they do come.  With Dryad, did the idea hit you all at once?  Or was it gradual–a scenario here, a character there, a scene there, and you had to build it slowly, over time?

I’m so bad at coming up with ideas for my own books.  It was really a friend of mine who came up with this idea–and wrote it down on a napkin for me–but then gradually I started building on it.  For a while I was considering the main character to be a male dryad, but then I changed it to a female.  Then I decided to add a time travel element and the talking alligator.  Then I forgot all about it for a couple of years.  Finally, it all came together when I realized I wanted to write an adventure that would be both silly and epic, and by that time most of the characters were already in place.

3.  Solena, the main character of Dryad, is a dryad who sympathizes with humans and who takes on the appearance and identity of a human for the majority of the novel.  How much of yourself would you say is a part of her?  Are you a lot like Solena?  Or is she the polar opposite of you?

I have to admit I’m a lot like her.  Sometimes I think I’m a different species and I’m still trying to figure out what humans are all about 🙂  Also, like Solena, I’m a romantic and I enjoy all the superficial glamour and glitz of Hollywood and pop culture.  I think it’s okay to do that in moderation.

4.  The character of Teddy Goldman intrigued me–a self-help guru who, for years, even as a best-selling writer, had his better-looking brother pose for him in PR photographs.  Did any real-life self-help or celebrity personality serve as an inspiration for Teddy Goldman?

I’m glad you asked this question because I love self-help books.  Some are funny and ridiculous, while some are really helpful.  Teddy Goldman is mostly based on fitness guru Matt Furey, who calls himself “Zen Master of the Internet.”  There are a lot of similarities there because Matt Furey is a martial artist who also writes on other diverse self-help topics.  Initially it was meant to be just a small joke, but then he became a more and more important part of the plot.  Then there came a moment when I thought, wait a minute, this character is too perfect.  So that was when I decided he is actually not hunky and has a limp and a better-looking brother.

5.  One of the central themes of Dryad is respecting the environment.  Is this something you have always been passionate about, and do you often incorporate this into your fiction?

I didn’t really become interested in the environment until about two years ago, when I moved to the west coast of Canada.  Everyone here is so environmentally conscious that I couldn’t help but get into the spirit.  And of course, I love animals so it finally dawned on me that animals can’t survive without a habitat!

 

And now, here are questions for the characters themselves!

1.  Tyler–you are quite the unique character–a talking alligator!  Do the alligators who cannot talk resent you?  Do you have trouble “fitting in” with other alligators?  And do you feel more “at home” with humans than with alligators?

Man, I don’t want to fit in with those yokels, the other alligators.  I’m sure they resent me, and I just love being resented: it means I’ve made it big!  I’m a hotshot executive now, and I’m much happier with my human friends and frenemies.  My life is like some sort of crazy reality show.

2.  Solena–you of course are a dryad.  But over the course of the novel, you take on the appearance and identity of a human and spend a lot of time with other humans.  You even have a romantic relationship with one.  What do you feel are the main differences between humans and dryads?  And what can we teach each other and learn from each other?

That’s a really good question, Mike.  Humans have so many different arts and sciences that there is almost no limit on what they can do!  They could certainly teach dryads to be more innovative.  On the other hand, dryads are good at being happy with what they have.  They inhabit the natural world and are in harmony with it.  (Some) humans could learn from us to connect with nature and enjoy life!

3.  Roger St, Amour, as a seventeenth-century pirate transported to the twenty-first century, what are your thoughts of our way of life today?  We’ve progressed a great deal as a society in terms of knowledge and technology.  But, in your eyes, have we lost anything precious along the way?

Aye, we have lost much of what makes a man feel alive.  How is it that you ride about in magical carriages and yet do not feel a sense of freedom?  A man cannot go anywhere without everyone knowing where he is and sending him those blasted emails.  I’m setting a course back to the seventeenth century as soon as I can!

4.  Sir Lancelot and Gawaine!  Knights of the round table, and, along with St. Amour and others, time travelers from the distant past.  The two of you are the epitome of chivalry.  Based on your observations, is chivalry still alive in the twenty-first century?

Aye and nay…  There is much amiss in this world, and chivalry does not rule the day.  Yet we have seen many ladies and gentlemen fighting against injustice, and that is the most important part of chivalry, methinks.

And, we will finish with Sonya–one last question!

Do you have a sequel for Dryad planned?  What are some of the writing projects you will work on next?

As a matter of fact I do!  I’d like to write a sequel with the knights and Jackson (St. Amour’s lieutenant) as the main characters.  So far they have been minor characters, but maybe they should go on their own time-travel adventure.  Right now, I’m taking a break from writing but I’m sure I’ll come up with a new novel or screenplay one of these days.

 

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

ss

 

Sonya Solomonovich has been a journalist, a teacher, and an editor. She briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a fitness instructor, but then realized that what she enjoys most is writing novels. Sonya is passionate about all things swashbuckling and seafaring. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

You can connect with Sonya on her website and Goodreads.

If you’d like to buy a copy of Dryad, please click here.

Thanks so much to Sonya (and Tyler, and Solena, and . . .) for doing this interview, and thanks so much to everyone for reading!

–Mike

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