Writing in the dark

There’s a handout from one of my college writing classes that has hung on my office bulletin board for years. It’s an excerpt from a poem by Denise Levertov entitled “Writing In The Dark”:

Keep writing in the dark:
a record of the night, or
words that pulled you from depths of unknowing,
words that flew through your mind, strange birds
crying their urgency with human voices,

or opened
as flowers of a tree that blooms
only once in a lifetime:

words that may have the power
to make the sun rise again.

I have a lot of weird-ass things on my bulletin board, including an illustration of Charles Dickens and a photograph of the inside of my colon. But this poem is the thing my eye has been searching out lately, when I need to connect to something familiar while trying to work.

I wouldn’t say things are dark right now, but they are a bit stormy. We’re packing to move for the second time in less than a year, from our rented house to one we recently bought, thus completing the painfully drawn out process of trading a life in Los Angeles for one in the Hudson Valley. (Of course, this is a good stormy, but it’s still a damn-I-am-overwhelmed-with-stupid-tiny-tasks stormy.) My 2-year-old daughter Clea has just been diagnosed with a couple of chronic conditions (hello medication, bye bye gluten). Another close family member is losing a battle with cancer (to which I just say, eff you, cancer). And then, for some twisted reason, I picked this time to stop eating sugar.

I’ve been hit with enough of these lifestorms to know, you do get through them. What other options are there? But this is when writing goes from being a part of my physiology, a thing I need and love to do, to just another obligation I have to shove into my day and, quite frankly, resent a little. It feels like hot annoying breath in my ear, or an achy weight on my shoulder. How can I write when my head is tangled up in knots? How can I even think about a character’s life when my own is so much louder and whinier?

Well of course, this is exactly when I should be writing. It’s when writing and life can strike a great deal, if you can swing the negotiation. Your writing helps you cope with the flurry of crap, and the crap-flurry draws something raw and authentic into your work. There’s also the familiar “Once I’m over this hump, I’ll really be able to dive into the book.” I say that to myself all the while knowing that there is no Perfect Time. I could be alone in a bungalow on a beach on Kauai, sitting in a custom-made ergonomic chair, getting 10 hours of sleep a night and all my meals cooked for me, and it would not be the perfect time. Okay, that’s a bad example, because why the hell would I be stuck inside on a computer? I’m kid-free in Hawaii, dammit! But my point is that often, the perfect time to be creative is actually when you think it’s the worst possible time.

So I will write. It may just be a journal entry or some character background notes or…hey, I’m writing a blog post! Simply this act of writing about “writing in the dark” is, in fact, writing in the dark. I’m gonna go ahead and say that counts. Somehow, there will be a record of the night, and you never know when — and how — words will pull you from depths of unknowing.

Cool, tall, vulnerable, and luscious

A bit of business: Congrats to Jennifer A. at the Little Shelf blog for winning the ARC giveaway! More giveaways to come — keep an eye on Goodreads — and the book should be on NetGalley any day now.

So yesterday in the car, which is where all profound and random things tend to happen for me, my 6-year-old daughter Sadie announced that she wants to be “cool and beautiful.”

At first, I felt sad. Because of course, she is cool and beautiful, but as is the nature of most truly cool and beautiful girls, she will never understand just how cool and beautiful she is. (I have no idea what “cool” and “beautiful” mean in the context of being 6, and even though I’m a little scared to ask, next time I will.)

Then I was reminded of Liz Phair’s incredible song “Perfect World” from her Whitechocolatespaceegg album, where she sings about wanting to be “cool, tall, vulnerable, and luscious.” Which then reminded me of how much I love all the songs on that album, and that reminded me of how dangerous, dirty, and completely badass I felt when my boss at the time first introduced me to Liz’s debut album, Exile In Guyville.

Then I was so very happy. I’ve been trying to collect songs that Justine, the protagonist in my book-in-progress, would listen to, because she’s feeling lost and blank and pissed. Liz Phair! You still rock my world, Liz Phair, even though I sort of forgot about you for a while. I know you and Justine will be fantastic friends in my mind.

Still looking to build Justine’s “playlist” — I don’t listen to music while I’m actually writing, just when I’m brainstorming or simply want to be in a place with my characters — so if you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them. She’s quietly angry and doesn’t really know why. She has no idea who she is, as a person. People expect things of her, but she expects nothing of herself even though she really should. She wants to be cool, tall, vulnerable, and luscious…and would never admit it. What’s on her iPod?

Did I mention how much I love this song? And this video someone made, too.

“The Beginning of After” ARC giveaway, again!

Holy time warp, Batman. Was it a whole month ago that I did the last giveaway? That went fast. And now here we are, THREE months until pub date for “The Beginning of After.” Thirteen weeks! (I was going to do a whole “that’s the same as one trimester of a pregnancy” riff but realized that landed in a weird area.) Yes, September 6 is still a whole season away, but at least it’s the one I’ll be spending at the town pool, eating Swedish Fish and chocolate soft-serve.

So I’ll be short and sweet here. I’m offering up an ARC to mARC the countdown, to anyone in any country. Leave a comment here to enter. Let me know if you Tweet or Facebook this nugget and I’ll give you 2 extra entries; post something on your blog and you’ll get 5 more.

Giveaway ends at midnight on June 13. Good luck!