In which Scarlett and I begin to plan the Next Mother Daughter Writer’s Retreat; with Links on Doing Your Own

vole sleeping in flowerI am eating the frozen pupusas that I mentioned in the previous post.  Actually, they’re pretty good.  Although 14 year old Andrew walked in, picked one up, asked “Does this have meat in it?” and when answered in the negative, threw it right back down on the tray.

Back to writing:  today I put Scarlett on an airplane to return to LAX.  Before she left, we talked about having our second Mother-Daughter Writer’s Retreat over Thanksgiving.

I wondered how it could be improved, so I decided to do a little bit of research and found a couple of relevant articles on The Write Life.  The first one, 37 Incredible Writing Retreats to Attend in 2018, was just what it said.  This was the one that told me that Scarlett and I are on the right track.  These retreats were, it seemed, mostly on another continent and mostly $1200-$3000 not including airfare.  “What kind of writers have money for this?” I wondered.

Want to Reach Your Writing Goals? Try a DIY Writing Retreat was more helpful. Alicia de los Reyes | @likesoatmeal suggested that we 1) Change our Scenery (check) 2) Have a goal (working on it) and 3) Make a schedule for yourself.  (working on it).

I found another essay advocating the self-study writer’s retreat by Holly Robinson in the Huffington Post:  Why you need a writing retreat and how to make the most of it. Most helpful suggestion:  Do it four times a year.  Wow, Scarlett, did you hear that?  I’m not just behind on my submissions challenge, I’m behind on writer’s retreats too.


Wrapping up the 30 submissions in 30 days challenge

Well, I have to admit that I didn’t make it.  I only made 10 submissions.  Of those, one requested more material (agent query) one was responded to with a personal rejection, and I also got two time-stamp rejections, by which I mean, they said if it takes longer than a couple weeks to respond, it’s no, and it did.  Six items are still awaiting responses.

I spoke of my challenge-failure to Leo.  “Well, what made you think you could make so many submissions?” he asked me.  “Especially when right in the middle of it we went on vacation to Florida and you were babysitting Emma also?”

Uggggg.  What indeed.

Now we are moving to Colorado in five days, no, wait, a day has gone by since I originally drafted this.  Four days.  The house is full of boxes, I haven’t been on Twitter in about two weeks, and what is on my mind?  I’m worried about my submissions challenge?

Have I not got my priorities straight?  Well, maybe not, but one needs to have hope!  Writing makes me feel better and in the midst of moving, you have to feel better.  By this time, generally, I’ve emotionally reached what we have long called “the horse latitudes of moving,” that is, the point when you’re so sick of moving you just want to throw everything away and run for it.  So, as I pack another box, I determine:  as soon as I get started in the new house, I’m going to do the submissions challenge again.  This time, it’s the fifteen submissions in 30 days challenge.  And we’ll see how that goes.

Meanwhile, we’re having the leftover frozen dinners that have to be purged from the ‘fridge.  Smiley.  Not.

In which Scarlett and I discuss the Internal Editor and how to shut it up when you need to

vole sleeping in flower
This image has become the logo for the mother/daughter artist’s retreat

This morning Scarlett and I, the two participants in the mother/daughter writer’s retreat of last January, had coffee. She wanted to discuss the script she has been working on for an animated fiction short about a family of dragons.  Scarlett wondered if adding another character was advisable or not.  Clearly it would broaden the tale, but on the other hand, with animation, every second adds work to the process.

I agreed that the new character would add a desirable depth to the dragon family’s situation, but her concerns about extra time for animation on an already challenging project were valid as well.

“You just have to decide whether, in your vision, the addition is worth the extra development time,” I reasoned.  “Use your judgment.”

“Sometimes I just don’t feel like my judgement is that good,” she said.

“Ah, the Internal Editor,” I replied.  “Yes, Judith Cameron talks about that person.  Sometimes it’s good to have an internal editor, but sometimes it gets out of control and destroys or causes you to abandon good ideas.

“You need to believe in yourself, and also you need beta readers or a writer’s workshop, to shut up the Internal Editor sometimes.  And sometimes you have to just accept that not all of your work is going to be first rate, and that sometimes the only way to find out if it is, is to write it, let it cool off, and then decide.”

I asked her if she’d read Charles Johnson on the Craft of Fiction from this blog.  He says that the fiction structure is in all of us, it’s our job as writers to work until the structure develops its complete shape.  For Middle Passage, Johnson wrote about 3000 pages, but only kept about 300.  He said it took years.  Then he finally had it done, and it won the National Book Award.

Meanwhile, Scarlett asked me why I’d taken out one of the characters in my novel.  She thought the character added something important.  “Oh Scarlett, the way I had it was too close to home,” I said, referring to the real life murder that had inspired the novel.

“Maybe so, but there’s an important doubling between the two murder victims and your protagonist and her boyfriend,” Scarlett said.  I began to think that, regardless of the extra work, I might have to put the character back in.

Beta readers.  There’s indispensable.



War on unfinished work: A reflection on writing too slowly, too diffidently, and too self-critically. And on the 30-day submission challenge.

The truth is, it hasn’t been going too well with the 30-day submission challenge. It is now day 28, and I have only submitted seven items. Vacation and preparing our house to go up for sale took a lot of time and I’ve done relatively little in the last two weeks.  I am hoping over the next few days to submit some things, but in honesty, unless I do a multiple submission to agents, of my novel, it’s going to be difficult.

When I look over my ranks of potential items to submit, I have to admit that many of them seem unfinished. Now here is the question: are they really unfinished or were they finished hours ago and now are they getting overworked? If a short story takes 100 hours to write, is it really worth it? I mean could you knock off early at only 50 hours and have it be 95% as good?

I am reminded of the radio interview I heard one day of songwriter John Stewart of the Kingston Trio, who reported that he was moping one day because of his poor productivity: “I only wrote one song today: Daydream Believer.” That’s not much for one day, one song. But on the other hand, if that one song is Daydream Believer, it’s worth quite a bit.

I have been meditating about this, the question of how much do you have to work to get something good? What is the point of writing if it might just all be bad writing? But I think the answer is clear: as Sylvia Plath showed with her passion to write constantly and her passion to finish everything: the fact is that you have to write a lot, for the most part, to get something really good. As for my unfinished work, I think I just have to declare it finished, and that maybe my problem is that I don’t want to accept work that’s not as good as my best. But accepting that some of your work is better than other work is just part of being an artist.

Of the Long Distance Drive and Easy Rider

We just drove back to Texas from Florida over the last two days, a drive of 17 hours made worse by the fact that the battery needed to be replaced in Port St. Lucy.

Yesterday, as we powered through Alabama, Leo made a comment about traveling on I-10, and Easy Rider.  Adult daughter Tiara asked “What is that?”

“It’s this movie with Henry Fonda,” I say.

“Peter Fonda,” Leo corrects.   Easy Rider is an interesting case for writing reflections because Peter Fonda cooked up the concept and then they shot, basically without a script, using people they met on the way.  It’s an interesting idea for how to spark creativity:  Get yourself on location, and record.

“What happens?” Tiara wants to know.

“Well there’s these guys, hippie guys, they go on a road trip.  There’s Peter Fonda and this other guy … ”

“Jack Nicholson,” I say.

“No, the other one.”

“Dennis Hopper.”

“Yeah.  They made a cocaine deal.  They stuff all the money in the American Flag gas tank of a chopper … ”

“A helicopter?” asks Tiara.

“No, like a motorcycle with ape hanger bars … ”  Leo demonstrates.  “They go east until they get shot in Alabama.”

“For what?”

“Flipping some guy off, one of those red neck guys.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, yeah, that’s the movie.”

“You really only have to see it once,” I chime in.  “They do meet some people on a commune, and a guy who married a lady who won’t use birth control … and then they pick up Jack Nicholson but he gets killed pretty quick.”


“It’s not clear.  He’s a lawyer in the movie so maybe that’s why.  Or maybe it’s just the lifestyle … waking up and someone’s dead.”

Leo tells Tiara about when we were in New Orleans, when we went on the cemetery tour.  The guide said when he started doing the tours, he had never seen Easy Rider.  People kept mentioning it, asking about it.  So he watched it, and told the story, “So they’re right here, in the cemetery, and they’ve picked up these prostitutes and Dennis Hopper is shagging this chick right here in this alcove.  And then I’m like whoa,  what is this, and I ask ‘how’d they get permission to shoot this in the Catholic cemetery? And then I find out the Archdiocese of New Orleans says ‘we never knew they were in here.”  And that’s why to go in the cemetery now, you have to have a licensed guide, and pay an entry fee.”

Well, the movie was shot in 1969.  What do you expect?

Leo loads up Easy Rider on the cell phone, the opening credits.  “Get your motor running … head out on the highway … “sing Steppenwolf.

“Why are they dressed like that?” asks Tiara.  “Look at that fringe on his jacket!”

“Yeah, they’re hippies,” says Leo.  “Peter Fonda admitted that he couldn’t remember most of the shooting of the film.”

“Why, because he was taking so many drugs?” Tiara asks.

“Yeah,” Leo concluded.

“It was the time.  That was the way it was,” I finish.  “it’s lucky your parents survived it all.”

And we get the motor running.  And we head out on the highway.


Now Reading: Yoga Body. Which covers the history of early modern yogis who might beat you with a club if you don’t cough up

Having finished Benjamin Lorr’s Hell Bent memoir I am now reading a scholarly work, Yoga Body by Mark Singleton. The question of this book is basically: how did the ancient Indian yoga tradition come into being, and does it have anything to do with the modern anglophone asana-based practices going on in yoga studios?

Singlton’s argument, to begin with, is ‘not much.’ Yoga Body is rather heavy going to start with, but oh what a payoff for reading. There’s all these text citations of ancient Indian documents as well as later documents in English (or even French). But the book really gets going when he starts talking about Hindu “yogis” and Muslim “fakirs” who have wild hair and beards and drag around an elephant chain back before the beginning of the 20th century. Early modern yogis were, I learn, “marauding mendicants,” perhaps best analogized with the squeegee guys of our own day: Beggars yes, but intimidating beggars. Apparently, in 1675 or so, packs of these old-time threatening street people would sit under trees, bodies twisted in bizarre contortions, and wait to accost passers-by looking for handouts. They were believed to have magic powers related to their contortions, to be able to bless and curse, possibly to have shamanic spiritual and healing powers and to be able to communicate with the nether realms — clearly, not people who you’d want to say “sorry, I don’t have anything” to as you brushed by. And also not your general Bikram yoga studio crowd. Perhaps a bit more like Bikram himself, who makes outrageous claims and proposes to have super-human powers. But I digress.

As I read about this yogic history, I find myself agreeing with the author: There does seem to be some disconnect between the “extreme sports” aspect of earlier yogis and the current almost soccer-mom aspect of the clean-living, Prius-driving, spandex-clad yoga studio denizens. Early yogis covered themselves in ash and let their fingernails grow to corkscrew lengths; modern yoginis use every lotion from Bed Bath and Beyond and get a pedicure.

Consider: According to Singleton, “Highly organized bands of militarized yogins controlled trade routes … ” and then the British East India Company cracked down by making yogic practices illegal. “It even became an offense to wander naked or carry a weapon, the two defining marks of the naga ascetic …” So apparently what they would do is walk around with a club, stripped naked? These guys were not your everyday troublemakers.

The last word of the quote gives me a clue to an analogy between pre-modern and modern: the word ascetic. This ascetic notion of the early modern yogin does show up in the Bikram class: the idea that we endure discomfort in order to build a type of strength and focus in ourselves not possible with other exercise traditions. There is also this analogy: these yogis are training in groups, like a yoga studio class. And finally, both groups see themselves as alternative lifestyle people, as fringe-ers. The only difference is, how far are you wiling to go? Getting in a hot room for 90 minutes and doing difficult poses is pretty serious, but not as serious as those early modern yogins were. There’s been a decline in severity, if not in style.