Wonderful things happen when the mind is still and the space quiet. Spending so much alone-time on my boat during the summer has always confirmed this notion. One forgets that stillness can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere. The challenge is to wrestle that little voice in the mind to the ground and plaster a piece of tape over its mouth.
Since the release of my second novel in November, I’ve been doing numerous book club visits along with bookstore presentations on taking a novel to the screen. Fortunate me, I was invited to appear on Portland’s Afternoon Live show this week to talk a little about the book’s development into a limited television series. Quite a ride, and glorious example of good fortune for me. Fodder for another post down the road when the process is complete.
Good fortune is following me these days. After a presentation and signing at Book Passage last November, I received a lovely note from author, Isabel Allende. A friend who had attended my appearance at the bookstore had passed my book to her. Out of the blue came a package from Ms. Allende with a signed copy of her latest work. A truly delightful surprise.
The latest amazement unfolded thusly: While quietly shushing that little voice in my head, as I waited in a vacant KATU Green Room to called into the studio, a man entered to sit on an adjacent couch.
We exchanged a greeting, then continued in silence, until he asked why I was waiting. I told him I was there to promote a new novel. He asked the about title and subject. I told him, following with, “An interesting journey since it was option for the screen. What are YOU in for?”
“A novel, as well,” he responded. “My second. Also optioned for film. And I know what a ride it is. It recently came out in theaters.”
“That’s wonderful. What’s the title?”
“Call Me By Your Name.” Andre Aciman smiled.
I nearly fell off the couch.
Heady company for THIS author, and more great good fortune that seems to follow me on this book trail for my Light of the Northern Dancers. Something must be in the air….;-)
Dear Mr. Bezos:
Your net worth just passed $95 billion. A mind-numbing number.
Do you ever pause at a price tag? Worry over paying the bi-annual property tax? Waver between buying gas for your car (or paying the electrical bill for the Tesla) and taking mass transit? Or, as most authors do, use the blank side of already printed paper to fashion a document? Perhaps at one time in your life, but now I’m afraid that from the throne atop that money mountain your vision never meets the ground, but is rather dazzled by the golden coins at your feet. I don’t begrudge your wealth. You’ve worked hard and earned every penny. Changed the way western civilization lives, in fact.
But Amazon now wants to charge the author for any giveaways they wish to do through Goodreads, and not a few pennies: $119 for regular and $559 for “premium” placement.
I’ve been writing seriously for over a decade. No one paid me an hourly wage for that first novel, nor the second, not even the third. If they had, at U.S. minimum wage I would have a $50,000+ check in my bank for each project. Common thought by the reader is that once the book is sold, the publisher’s advance makes that up. Maybe if your name is Dan Brown, or Isabel Allende, or even a nouveau named, Gillian Flynn. Otherwise, a lottery ticket carries the same chance at garnering income from writing.
Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash
The majority of traditionally published authors receive no marketing for their work, no advances that pay for their time beyond what the average person Sierra Leone sees (where workers expect $0.03/hour). So why DOES anyone write. Well, see this on that: The Why of Writing
I love writing. It’s my addiction. Painful at times, I’ve experienced some of the lowest lows of my life related to the craft (i.e. rejection, and that oft-used question mark after the notion of self-worth), but Everest-sized highs, as well.
In the end, you, Mr. Bezos have become just another dealer of this drug called writing. Writers are hooked. You know we hang by our fingertips, reaching for the calm of that keyboard. And like any dependency, it’s expensive in so many ways. Friends and family don’t understand our isolation; the “do not disturb” sign on our office doorknob at all hours of the day; our memory drain because our minds are on the story and not on them; our inability to join a lunch or an outing because of “work.” What work? We don’t have a real job, right?
Shall I go on?
In the end, why is this Goodreads give-away business important to keep affordable for the author? Who needs it?
You, Mr. Bezos.
Ask any Indie bookstore, the businesses who are in it for their passion for books and authors (only love would prompt them to continue their shove against the broad shoulders of Amazon): Every book given away promotes an author, broadens the reader base, and SELLS more books. A concept you obviously understand well.
Jeff, please come back to earth from your lofty pile of coins, join the real world, and promote those who BEGAN your journey into the Gilded Empire:
AUTHORS MADE AMAZON.
Photo by Parker Byrd on Unsplash
Take the survey: How do YOU feel about the “Price of Giveaway?”
Traveling across the northwestern states for the last few days on a mini book tour opens a window of time to use one’s brain without an outline and in a less structured, free-flowing mode. I like to drive to music, especially when I’m sitting between projects thinking about endings, because that’s where my stories always begin.
Something exists in crossing the winterized high lonesome wheat plains of southeastern Washington State that roots me to America’s past, a type of ethereal fertilizer as real as compost nourishing the fallow soil of a winter field. That something is possibility.
Photo by Robert Zurfluh on Unsplash
Immense parcels worked dawn-to-dusk in the growing time, lay in solitude, farmhouses standing like gravestones at five-hundred acre intervals. I’ve come this way before, but not for a few decades, and I recall it even more expansive then. Larger farms, fewer houses, yet somehow a more visible population on tractors, in the fields, working the fences, ticking down the day’s list against snow fast approaching that carries a greater list of its own.
I traveled a hundred miles without a cell signal, passing only six cars headed the opposite direction and not one vehicle ahead. The feeling seeping through the window at my shoulder is more than loneliness. Abandonment.
Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash
Coincidently (are there any?), that evening I take a break from my current read, “Cruel, Beautiful World,” by Caroline Leavitt (title another coincidence?) to watch the Wendell Berry documentary Look and See on Netflix. Having been part of a farming operation (wheat, sugar beets, alfalfa, horses and cattle) for 15 years, I can vouch for every word. A question raised by Wendell: Why ISN’T the media covering this disposable farmland of ours? The crises faced as the population in many ways consumes itself: the dwindling of a culture the world depends upon for more than simply putting food on our tables.
Those clinging to the continental coasts are largely divorced from the land, and I can’t help believe that man’s connection to the soil is integral to his survival. An honest yearning exists for the affection we have for, and would like to have again, with each other––with the land. “This is an age of divorce…we can’t put it all back together, but we begin, piece by piece, to rejoin,” says Berry, “by fulfilling an earnest wish for what we miss and would like to put back together.”
I feel fortunate for having experienced a connection with the soil, the land, and the animals (other than man) that inhabit simple farms. Those living what those who perceive themselves more educated and experienced perceive to be that of a simple, uneducated life; worthy of nothing else but working the soil, some by hand; looked down upon by intellectuals. My question: Whom would you chose to help you survive the apocalypse? The farmer or the Harvard PhD? I know.
Photo by Nicolas Barbier Garreau on Unsplash
As illustrated in the documentary, some farmers have succumbed to the popular organic movement. Yet, in my opinion, the myth of organics taking the world by storm is driven by economics alone. Organic products command a greater price. Sadly, for every ton of organic produce, a large part is forfeited because the general public will not buy “blemished” produce. The waste is reprehensible (only one who depends on the land understands the sorrow of waste) and chemicals banished from organic fields, no more harmful these days than a general antiseptic is to those who drench their hands in Purell a few times a day. Consumers ride the wave of organic farming. Prices go up at the market because of the waste. Farmers turn meager profits that go right back into the farm to satisfy rising equipment costs. An endless cycle of feeding the world with little thanks or appreciation for the hardships of farming.
Farmers care deeply for their land and their products, no matter the method of production. They always have, because it’s inherently integral to their livelihoods and embedded like coiled DNA in their marrow. Farmers adore the earth, love sinking their hands into soil and across the backs of their livestock. This is the culture of farming and ranching––always has been––a love of living things. “A passion for excellence and order,” Berry said. Humanity shares this, I believe.
Farmers understand challenge in a way most people do not. They know the cycles of change well. They work with change not against it, because they know that possibility always lays in life’s hardship. No real endings exist. Instead a different page is turned. A different season. A different fad. The greatest adaptor yet may be the farmer. What a wonderful thing.
Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash
My second novel, Light of the Northern Dancers, releases November 7. A long journey into print. An even longer trek into understanding my raison d’être for writing and my life in general. As is most often the case, literary writers craft a story they’d like to read not only for entertainment, but for personal growth (whether they realize this or not).
Dancers is period fiction set in 1888 eastern Wyoming. Five years in the writing, a mountain of research accumulated at my feet. I climbed the hill daily. Pages were sifted through as I hunted the perfect details to enhance my story. A journey of discovery for the novel––and for me.
How much did I use? Probably 2%. But in that little slice lay the importance of historically accurate minutia: data enhancing setting, crafting character voice, and conveying a message lurking in the author’s mind-shadows.
Any author plays each role in their novel. Authors are actors. The page is the stage, the novel a theatre. What drives that author- actor in their performance is theme. If the author is skilled, the reader slips into the protagonist’s skin, and the story comes alive. Writing the West, because its history is imbued in the DNA of all Americans (we are all immigrants or descended from), strikes a deep cord in readers.
Photo by Dinis Bazgutdinov on Unsplash
Apparently, a psychiatric theory exists about those who emigrate: the adventurers. People of great foresight and imagination tend to be the ones seeking new frontiers. Hence the innovation found in America and then the west coast, in particular by those descended from men and women who took up the reins and moved across a desolate and dangerous territory toward the Pacific. For this reason, writing the West involves themes of transformation, as one takes life into their own hands, manifesting their own destiny
Photo by Barby Dalbosco on Unsplash
Fundamentally, the pioneer lifting himself out of the familiar to face the unknown seeks to better a life left behind. Why? Greater opportunity. More prosperity, To discover happiness. For one reason.
Joy. The ‘why’ of seeking anything.
If an author pays attention, the theme spoken through their words, sometimes hidden even to themselves until that closing line, is not only an idea conveyed to others, but an essence they must take to heart, as well. The message of a good novel––and I believe that for a story to remain in the reader’s psyche, message must exist––exists most importantly to be heard by the author. Every single time.
Is the Transitive Property of Equality (if A=B=C, then A=C) the quick and clean explanation of existence and a beautiful example of the perfection found in circuity? If consciousness relies on trusting our awareness, try assigning the above formula these values: Trust=Faith, Faith=God, then Consciousness=God. Since faith by definition cannot be proven, neither will human awareness ever be explained.
I do not purport to be an expert on any of this (in fact, I’m sure I’ll be corrected by those who are), but the argument between physicalists and dualists is ancient. Physicalists can be seen as atheists, for their faith is placed wholly in the proven, solid, material world. Dualists are the spiritualists, ever seeking, yet content in their strong belief in immaterial, unproven planes.
Panpsychists believe that all matter experiences a certain element of consciousness. If quarks indeed have consciousness in that they react to human observation, then even a stone is aware on some level. (Suddenly, the word “stoned” takes on new meaning)
In his article, What is Consciousness, Kristian Marlow states that “consciousness seems to have boundaries,” and that panpsychism has difficulty explaining this, so therefore, the theory doesn’t hold up. But these boundary constraints cannot be proven. This is where faith comes in, in my opinion, thus strengthening the linkage to a Higher Power consciousness: that which can never be proven.
Perhaps the tenant suggesting that humans are physical in order to experience, is that of the power in pure faith; the accomplishment possible through strong belief. As humans, this ability is only now being resurrected in practices like the Law of Attraction. Therefore, the biblical line “as you sow, so shall you reap” is not be only literal in its definition, and not only specific to how we treat others, but also a reflection of how we feel (how we treat ourselves), and how those feelings draw to us specific events designed to mirror those feelings.
Pure, higher consciousness is a big, all-inclusive club: every quark in the infinite universe within every stone, living creature, dark matter, and star.
If it is a feeling based universe and like attracts like, then when things are good and we revel in that feeling, the world we see gets better and better; when things are bad, and we wallow, our world disintegrates. As well, if we do not feel appreciation for the wonders surrounding us, we leave ourselves open to “random” events. In a very real way, we are able to guide our life experiences if we just pay attention.
Perhaps New Age thinking is nothing new at all, but simply a remembering.
The experience of Marlow’s hypothetical Mary, where she is liberated from existence in the black and white room into a world of color she’s never before seen, can be interpreted as death: that release into the known (where pure consciousness understands all) from the unknown (our physical universe which is one big question mark, noting that the word, question, is rooted in “quest”).
Indeed, as Marlow suggests, “experience is not reducible to the purely physical,” but includes the world of wonder, that which defies proof.
Perhaps the point to any physical existence is in granting understanding to a Higher Power. What if God’s first words, as the bible stated, were misinterpreted, “I am” instead becoming “What am I?” In this case, the individuation of matter in all forms is the individuation of experience in every form, whether humanity sees it as good or bad, in reality, judgement is non-existent. All serves the purpose of Higher Consciousness. In a very real way nothing bad ever happens.
So, if pure physicalism can be disproven in that wonder exists, how can atheism hold up? There is a God.
Or rather, there is a God?
And if A=C, then C=A, as well. Consciousness is a Higher Power dependent upon faith, forever remaining a mystery.
For another view: Why Panpsychism Fails, by Keith Frankish.
Nothing drives home the point of ebb and flow more than being on a boat. I feel the tide go in and out four times a day during the summer. Time and tide, waiting for no man, give a clear window into the inescapable ebb and flow of life. Nothing new, but the annual spate of reflection bores deeper into my psyche each year.
A theory exists suggesting that the universe is built as a hologram, the higher dimension coded onto a lower dimension. On the hologram, only one part is physical: the lower plane. The image looks three-dimensional, but nothing is truly solid.
Already proven: more dark matter exists than particulate matter. Nothing actually touches. If the holographic theory is true, and mathematical calculations have proven this to be possible, the Universe may be born of another plane. Yet, our “reality” is as fundamental to our senses as the clock running forward. Oh, wait. Einstein has already suggested the illusion of time.
If some three dimensional spaces can be mathematically reduced to two dimensions, is this flatter plane their origin, or can they be further reduced to the singularity that is God? Is this holographic image similar to depictions captured double mirrors: infinite? Or are they one-in-the-same?
If we really live in a giant hologram, who’s to say that all the artificial worlds we build within computers, film, literature––our private dreams––aren’t as “real” as the world around us?
Imagination, whether originating on this plane or another, is the driving force of all creation, physical or fantasized. May they be holograms of each other?
The Universe, a non-linear rotary engine: circular. As complex as creativity; as simple as a button.
It has been said that one never gets things done because of perfection in nonexistent. If you can never get it right, you can never truly finish, and if you never finish, you never get it right. But the moments arrive when an author must pen the last sentence, give the work a final polish, hold a breath and press send.
I’m about to do just that with my third novel, Sun at the Edge of the Sky.
The path created by this story wound through disbelief, scaled challenge and ultimately came to rest beside a clear, still pool of serendipity. I was forced to take to heart the message of my own book: There’s magic in believing. Because just as they do in the novel, disjointed pieces fit perfectly as if falling from the clouds with a map and GPS.
The tale entwines two seemingly unrelated people, connected by the events of two September eleventh mornings separated by eighty-four years. Inspired in part by the life of Georges Guyñemer, the highly decorated and most beloved French ace of World War One, the writing of this novel is a story in itself which I will, at some point, assign in words. Suffice it to say that strange things have been afoot over five years of inspiration and research; the writing of scenes that turned out to be very close to the facts–months before those facts were found; the meeting of people associated with Guyñemer in some way, seemingly by accident (I have come to believe there are none); a few supernatural incidents, including the disappearance in one spot and reappearance in another of an item significant to him: an authentic pewter pin of Escadrille #3 once belonging to a squadron mate of his; the showing up of a Eurasian collared-dove in a remote Canadian location (foreign to that species) at I wrote a particular scene which featured this bird so common to northern France.
The list is long and growing.
Yes, something is afoot, or in Guyñemer’s case, a-flight.
I’m eager to discover just what. But since “you never get it done,” I suspect I may never truly be certain of the perfection of it all. So I’ll call it faith.
Notice? I took a semi-hiatus from digital communication the past year. In part, because I have several writing projects racing to the finish line, and in part, because I had an epiphany a year ago: face-to-face contact makes me feel good. Not that I went completely dark: I still use my cell phone, and I do most of my research online.
Not that I went completely dark: I still use my cell phone, and I do most of my research online. But I have scaled back from posting daily (to my agent’s chagrin), I call instead of text, I read a real hold-in-the-hand book instead of a digital screen. All have confirmed what I already suspected: texting, Facebook and blogging are not honest forms of communication. They have their place. But they’re not trustworthy.
As writers, the first lesson we must learn is how to elicit emotion from our written words. But authentic interaction demands voice tone and word inflection––and eyes.
Words are often mistaken as the best medium for expression, yet communication falls flat without the crutch of emotion. And emotion cannot depend on emojis, it hinges on sight and sound to reveal its truth.
Consider the phrase, “I love you.” Tossed around mindlessly at times, the truth behind the meaning is purely dependent on the tone of voice delivering the intention. Think of the many ways those words might be spoken. The degrees of love, defined.
So, I have scaled back my digital engagement in order to be more engaged with humanity, with nature, and with myself.
With eyes averted from personal digital devices, and I am reminded that human interaction at the visceral level, and nature itself, is integral as a transformative experience. No need for an online course, daily quotation, or word-of-the-day delivered to my email inbox.
Digital-free becomes a full-immersion experience without the the blindfold of virtual reality glasses. Glasses that may simulate, but will never replace, the “God-light” of early morning or late afternoon where the spirituality of the natural world is revealed.
And words delivered in person tell me the truth of a matter more surely than any missive read on the screen. Loving or bloody, they touch the emotion. They leave scars. And scars show us the color of our blood, the tone of our humanity, they teach us to be human, to handle our emotions, to show us emotion should be embraced by every fingertip. That we must dip ourselves into the blood, feel it’s warmth, and its energy.
I had the great good fortune to sit next to legendary director, Mike Nichols, on a Swissair flight from Warsaw to Geneva in the early 1980’s.
We both made our homes in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, California; both bred Arabian horses, and both loved Poland. We attended the Polish National Arabian horse show and auction the week before and experienced a wonderful few days of spectacular horses, great friends, and marvelous stories.
The acting director of the Janów PolaskiPolish Arabian Stud
we visited had spent a good deal of time reciting his adventures as a stable boy at the Janów Stud the summer of 1939. Fun, that is, until the Germans invaded Poland, and Russia crossed the Bug river less than two miles to the east, laying waste to the country as they rushed toward Berlin. What the German’s hadn’t destroyed, the Russians did.
Andrzej Krzysztalowicz told a tale in Polish with an English translator in riveting detail. When Mike and I emerged from lunch, all we talked about was the horrific, yet heartwarming, story of a young boy who, when the Russians threatened, opened the stall doors to a band of Poland’s most precious broodmares, climbed on the back of their best stallion, and guided the herd southwest bridging the border into the safer haven (he thought) of Hungary. Krzysztalowicz saved the seed blood of the Polish Arabian horse breeding program.
When the Americans visiting the Polish Stud climbed aboard the flight from Warsaw, and the plane took flight, the passengers cheered. Not because we hadn’t been treated exquisitely by the Pols. The Iron Curtain was yet to be drawn open. The oppression they suffered at the hands of the Russians was palpable the moment one stepped onto Polish soil. Americans needed to be sponsored just to visit, shepherded around at all times by those affiliated with the government. Freedom was a very foreign word.
Mike and I spent the short flight talking about how wonderful it would be to turn the Krzysztalowicz yarn into a film. The vision he held in his eyes as he spoke of the possibility bespoke the grandeur of such a film by his hand. But Mike felt the only place the film should be made was in Janów, and the red tape involved in accomplishing that seemed insurmountable at the time. By the time we landed in Geneva, he was talking about other projects in his queue: Working Girl, Heartburn, Biloxi Blues. Unfortuantely the dream of honoring Krzysztalowicz and the great influence of the Polish Arabian, unlike that Swissair plane, never got off the ground.
Andrzej Krzysztalowicz has passed, and the Polish border is an easier bridge to cross––but Mike is gone.
The tale itself might be dead. But the memory of that day will live on. My writerly fingers can’t help but tap an invisible outline somewhere in the recesses of my mind.
There are simply too many tales to tell.
Auf Wiedersehen mein Freund. Mike, your movies will never let you go.
Guest Blog––from the Dog.