JOY IN MUDVILLE

Nothing can match the joy I felt when I opened a brown box with no return address. Thinking about it now, I suppose I should have been cautious. Not me. I instantly ripped right into it.

get-attachment.aspxMy cup, my cup!

An anonymous reader miraculously found the exact cup to replace my broken one. (See blog before last)

“There was joy in Mudville tonight.”  Why did that quote come to me? Why did I  say that?

I thought I had heard it before. It came creaking into my brain from somewhere. Oh, yeah, it was a poem. Junior High School.

As a writer, I became curious. I looked it up. The quote was in reference to a baseball player named Casey who struck out. The correct quote was  “But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.”

As a writer, I became curious.

Who wrote something so long ago that had resonated with me on some level even today and stayed with me for more years than I want to count?

Ernest Lawrence Thayer. Born in 1863, died in 1940.  Edited Harvard’s satirical magazine, the Lampoon. Worked on the West Coast in the newspaper era for the San Francisco Examiner, contributed occasional humorous columns to the paper under the pen name “Phin”–derived from a college nickname, “Phineas.”

Although he had poor health, he continued to write for the Examiner, much of his work syndicated by the Examiner.

DeWolf Hopper, a comedian/actor read his poem at the Wallack’s Theatre in New York City. That particular evening was a “baseball night.” The crowd loved it!

For years no one knew who Phin was, but in the early 1900’s it became clear the author of the famous poem was indeed Thayer.

As writers our work comes in many stages from many directions and inspirations, easing out into the public in many forms. And we may not know what people think of our work right upfront. In some cases, we may never know.

As a columnist for years, I received instant feedback. As a blogger, I receive instant feedback. But if you’re writing a novel, not so instant.

Thayer’s story can teach us one sure thing. If you’re writing and no recognition should ever come, would you still write?

If you are a true writer, yes.

So get to it.

 

BLESS YOUR IKEA HEART

The reflection of IKEA is in my rear view mirror. I’m early. Traffic is congested on I-25 where I have an excellent view. Something to entertain me until the doors behind me open.

imagesUsually, I’m in the middle of traffic, dodging vehicles, changing lanes, looking for roads less traveled.

Everyone is going. Or coming. And I wonder randomly about all those drivers.

I think of their TO DO lists.

People on personal missions.  What holds them back? Did they plan well? Did they think it out? Are they going to make it to their destinations? Or will they change their minds in the middle of the journey? Being  in the right place at the right time. How many will make it to work on time?

Writing toward publication is like that.

We have our chosen work, something we believe in. Each day we show up. Things change. Our vision is altered. We inadvertently change our course.  Or we allow someone else to change our course. We take a wrong turn. Turn right when it should have been left. Was it enough planning? Was it new information that grabbed us by the hair of our heads? Redo, Redo. The words flash before us.

Have we depended on an expired GPS?

Listening to too many people and adjusting to a collaborative vision?

Allowing traffic to interfere.

Have the whiz-bang gurus disrupted your idea, misled you?

Regroup.

Move on.

But move.

 

A CUP IS A CUP IS A CUP

Windows wide open, birds warbling, rain drops struggling for freedom in grey hovering clouds. Beautiful except for one thing. I am mourning.

It is not a life or death loss many of us have had to endure. But it is a personal, straight to the heart loss that cannot be dealt with except with the passage of time.

It concerns the destruction of something very dear to me. And perhaps you will laugh or maybe relate.

Someone broke my coffee cup. And worse, I don’t have a picture of it. (The insert is nothing like my cup, but it will have to suffice.)

images

I hear a snicker or two from a couple of you. I see the roll of eyes. But you have to understand that I drink copious amounts of coffee every morning and that white cup with a red postage stamp on the outside of it was the only cup I faithfully used every morning for three years. I still see the dark steaming liquid swirling against the red interior.

It was love at first sight.  It was a celebratory white cup made for Valentine’s Day. I carefully lifted it off the Starbucks shelf as if I’d found the Ark. I clutched it and took it home as if it were the dearest friend I’d ever had.

That cup was with me through the writing of my novel, through the editing of my novel, through the angst of my novel and through the happiness and delight of my novel.

That cup was there to greet me at 3:30 in the morning. It was valiant and lovely and truly my best friend. It was devoted to me. Rarely did I share it for fear that it might break.

And when I least expected it,  it did.

To the person who threw away the pieces it was only a cup. And I can understand that. How could she have possibly known?

Immediately I searched online for another. Nada. Even if I could have procured another exactly like it, it would never have been the same. Not really.

It reminded me of one thing. Enjoy the cup you are with. Live in the very moment.

Take no cup for granted.

 

 

 

Back on the Writing Track

Am I the only writer around to unintentionally take time off?

No writer’s block.

So what was it?  Did I not know how to end the book? Maybe.

So how did I feel not working on my novel?  Like the life had been literally sucked out of me. Truly. Like I was a ship without a safe harbor. Clichés? Sometimes you have to say what you feel and just let it out.

It began with a few trips that put my writing life on a roller coaster.

Sunrise in Australia
Sunrise in Australia

You can always take your laptop with you on trips. But I’m weak. I always find other things to do.  But this much I know. I don’t like it when I’m not writing. I don’t feel whole. I’m serious. (Oh, Darla,  you’re just trying to have something to say to get this blog up.)  No, it’s the truth. I am miserable. I mean utterly miserable. I am not myself.

My first book is currently with an excellent editor.  So I have released that one. But my second book is weirding me  out. It’s moving in a direction that has surprised me. And I like it. It borders on the best writing I’ve ever done. (And remember whose opinion that is…) But I am feeling terrific today and wrote from 5 -11:30 a.m. and had a glorious reunion with myself. And how did I get back on track?

I got up, put the coffee on, kept all the windows shuttered and began reading and editing the last forty pages.  Editing words, making corrections and amazing myself at what I had previously written.

Funny thing is I got to page 240 and anxiously scrolled down awaiting the next page only to discover blank pages. It seems I had stopped there. No, no and no!!!! What happens next?It was good and it was bad.

It was good because I realized that it was exciting enough that I was in turmoil because I didn’t know what happened. Yet, I was in a funk until tomorrow the same time when I work out the dilemma I left them in. Will I kill off a character? I think I have to. Will it hurt? Probably. Will they feel it?   Hey this is fiction.

Thoughts anyone?

D-d-d-d-doubt.

“All of us, whether we are in this business or not, have little voices that tell us we’re not good enough.” Ellen DeGeneres 

Thanks Google!
Thanks Google!

Ellen is once again hosting the Academy Awards this year.  If Ellen can speak of  those scary voices,  surely that alone will bring unbridled relief to the rest of us!

We may all have those moments when we are at the top of a precipice and can either slide down the back way or go for the gold. Largely, and apparently, it’s up to us! We stick or we slip.

Some even believe that self doubt can work for you.

Dani Shapiro Thanks Google!
Dani Shapiro
Thanks Google!

Dani Shapiro, author of  “Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life,”

“…I’m not sure self-doubt is an obstacle. It might even be a writer’s best ally. It seems to me that every really good writer I know is plagued by it. Confidence is highly overrated when it comes to creating literature. A writer who is overly confident will not engage in the struggle to get it exactly right on the page — but rather, will assume that she’s getting it right without the struggle. People often confuse confidence with courage. I think it takes tremendous courage to write well — because a writer has to move past the epic fear we all face, and do it anyway.”

And, no matter the current books written by Anne Lamott, I always return to her “Bird by Bird.” Surely a standard for writers everywhere.

Anne Lamott Thanks Google!
Anne Lamott
Thanks Google!

“You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

I love those words. And isn’t that what we are here to do?

Would love to hear how your dancing is going.

Leave a comment.

Sundance’s Magical Moments

As I walked through the lobby of the Yarrow Hotel at the 30th Sundance Film Festival, a young woman wearing shiny red boots, a heavy winter coat and a red star enhanced with gold in her dark hair stopped me in my tracks.

“Are you Wonder Woman?” I asked. Then Sara Fischel flashed me the full package.

Sara, a videographer and actor, turned her camera on me and asked why I was interested in Wonder Woman. WW was the only female — other than Lois Lane — who ever looked like she was having an adventure. A strong female hero for young women. And still the film industry does not do her justice. I could have talked all night.

Periodically through the festival I saw Sara dancing in the street and wandering around videotaping and being photographed. A delightful personality who’s focused on her career.

Sara Fischel
Sara Fischel stopped for photo with Darla Bartos at Sundance Film Festival 2014.

Other surprising moments bordered from wacky to serendipitous and flat astounding.

Read on.

Meaghan Rath, a Canadian film and television actor, who portrays Sally Malik on the series Being Human, walked by my son Philip and I in a narrow hallway while we were in line waiting to see her in a Slamdance movie Three Night Stand. My son is a big fan and acted quickly.  “Meaghan, could I have a picture with you?”

She whirled around flashing a celebrity smile. I grabbed his iPhone and snapped it.  “We can go home now!” he laughed.

Meeting Meaghan Rath! Meaghan and Phil Bartos
Meeting Meaghan Rath!
Meaghan and Phil Bartos

 

Whimsical moments occurred that were astounding. And here’s another one.

Phil and I were lucky enough to have passes, which meant priority seating. For our first movie,  we sat in the middle surrounded by rows of empty seats. A young woman walked over and asked if she could sit down in the seat next to me.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I”m an actor.” The conversation sped up.  When Loren Fenton explained that she  worked mostly in the New York area, Philip leaned in and asked if she knew Nisi Sturgis, a lifelong friend of his sister, and my daughter, Benjie Ruth Bartos. Loren shot her head back and looked at us as if we were pranking her. Her eyes grew wide.

“Yes, I’ve worked with Nisi on several projects!”

I whipped out my phone, asked a stranger to shoot us, which I then texted to Nisi, who minutes later sent back a text of delightful surprise that we’d met! It was uncanny that Loren just happened to select the empty seat next to me with an ocean of empty seats available.  Coincidence?

Actor Loren Fenton, Darla Bartos and Phil Bartps, my son, at Sundance 2014.
Actor Loren Fenton, Darla Bartos and Phil Bartos, my son, at Sundance 2014.

In another theater,  Philip and I  watched as a mass of attendees searched for seats. A woman asked if the seat next to me was taken. I said no and when she was settled, I asked, “And what do you do?”

“I’m a filmmaker.” And when Frances Bodomo, originally from Ghana, said she had directed Afronauts, Philip nearly leapt out of his chair across me. “That’s all my Mom has talked about for days.  Really, you can’t imagine how much she is dying to see it.” And it was true.

Having lived in Africa, I was intrigued when I first heard of Afronauts because the story was so provocative.  http://powderroomfilms.com/film/afronauts/  Bodomo, also a writer, works for a film company. It was a grand moment when the image from her short film eased across the big Sundance Screen.

get-attachment-1

Of course, I could say a good time was had by all. But that would not convey the experience of having being among so many creative people.

At the end of each movie, the director, producer and sometimes the stars, appeared on stage to answer questions. One young man — I don’t remember which film — made the most memorable comment.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing.”

A courageous comment and a moment of inspiration for us all.

YOU DESERVE A GOLD STAR !

As my granddaughter watched me brushing my hair, she looked up and saw the sign, “WRITE.”  “What’s that for?” Pleased that she’d noticed, I responded. “It’s to remind me to write everyday.”

A quizzical expression registered on her face as she stared at me with those big eyes.  “But you write every day, so why do you still have the sign up?”

Good question. I needed a good answer. I took a moment. “So I won’t forget to write everyday.”

There had been other signs in every room when I began my indoctrination to the world of novel-writing. But as the years have passed, I only need one now. Because she’s right. I do write every day.

I discovered the power of visual repetition when I was in college at Baylor University millions of years ago.

Running for the Board of Publications, I asked a friend who worked in the printing area of the Baylor Lariat campus newspaper to help me create 3 x 5 cards with my name on them. Due to restrictions, it became my first name only. “Darla” I plastered them all over the campus. Nothing else. Just my name. I won and was re-elected. The visual reminder put me in the voters’ heads. It is the same in my house. “Write.” It puts it in my head.

Also, my cell phone alarm beeps at 7 a.m. everyday and reminds me to write 1000 words. Many times I am well done by then. I smile. Either way, it’s a reminder, a connection to my better self that says “get on with it.”

I have continued utilizing anything that will help me write and keep on keeping on. Even goofy and quirky stuff.

I have a barbie sized Wonder Woman doll who sits on top my favorite how to write books. Does she help me? I don’t know. But she stands for strength and she listens to me. Has she ever talked back to me? Never. Do you think I’m crazy? It’s fun. It works!

When I finished my final draft a couple of novels ago, I was asked to send the entire 350 page manuscript via U.S. mail.  I printed it out and placed it in a big white box. A crazy idea hit me. I was so exhiliatrated by finishing it that I wrapped it up like a present with a big red bow.  You probably aren’t surprised that I didn’t hear from her. Except for the rejection, of course. She probably wished I’d sent her a better story. Not very professional, but it was fun.  

Recently, I began the final edit of my current novel.  I labored over inserting the changes into the computer.  I rejoiced when I was finished. I was filled with exhaustion and pride. And no one around to congratulate me. Job well done, Darla. On the kitchen counter I saw a stack of mail. One envelope had delivered to me free of charge some adorable stickers. All alone in the house, I chose the bright gold star about the size of a quarter and eased off the backing.

Grinning, I placed it carefully on the first page of my manuscript before I filed it away. An intense feeling of pride radiated through me. I felt exhilirated by my accomplishment. I had finished another novel. It was a thank you to myself. Job well done.  It embolded me.  I had never worked so hard for a little star. I knew I was that much closer to publication.

7f2728ca567ecfcf316620f9478247ff

(Thanks Pinterest for Lovely Photo!)

Letting the inner you know that you are aware of all the work and research you have put into your manuscript is important. First you have to please yourself. And if you think about it, you’re the one who counts. This is your own look at this world you have created. You need to love it.

It’s important to learn to be playful, to learn how to motivate yourself. Writing can be a lonely business. Why shouldn’t it be fun and fulfilling as well?  Keep yourself upbeat. Learn to love the inner writer in you.

Writing with No Maps

Writing has not changed. It is easy, it is hard. It is fun. It is grueling. It produces results. It never gets off the ground.  It drives you crazy. It fills you with elation. So after all this advertising, are you going to catch the wave and be a writer?

Yes. It’s in your blood. You’ve got this urge to write. You don’t know why but you must write. But how do you begin? You don’t know what you want to write about? You don’t know how to do it. Your grammar is not excellent. You hated English class, but you love writing. Ignore the doubtful voices. Sit, go on, sit down and write.

c48b32956ce0f97db5776cefa2463898

When you sit at your computer or you have pen to paper, the same process occurs.

Natalie Goldberg expressed it in “Writing Down the Bones.”

“When I teach a beginning class, it is good. I have to come back to beginner’s mind, the first way I thought and felt about writing. In a sense, that beginner’s mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before. Each time is a new journey with no maps.”

No maps. It tugs at our inner free spirit. Maybe that’s why so many of us love to write. It’s up to us to  travel to worlds we’ve visited or imagined. To become someone else we are not. And sometimes, even thought we don’t realize it, writing can be therapy.  It tells us a lot about ourselves.

Perhaps we come upon an idea that seems strange and we tarry a bit. Fiction or non-fiction. Should we go there, should we not? Jump! Go! Tear it up later. Explore the thought, take off, explode into the unknown! Take a chance.

The first article I ever sold was sad, one I nearly didn’t write.

It was about the death of my second child. My first child was healthy as could be, and so we were extremely distressed to see that our second child was born with Hyaline Membrane Disease. He lived one day. Leaving the hospital with no baby. Devastating.

A short time later I wrote a piece about how lucky we were to have had our first healthy child, then a thriving thirteen month old, to come home to and be a constant reminder of something I had always taken for granted. Good health. I wrote how we dealt with the loss and sent it in to “Baby Talk” magazine, knowing full well they would never print anything so absolutely depressing. Which was a testimony to how young and naive I was. I thought I was the only one suffering from loss. The editors bought it and thus started me on the road to freelancing.

Sometimes what we are writing about —  nonfiction or fiction — seems unlikely to be of value to anyone. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned since the tech revolution, it’s that it’s a big world out there.

So what I am saying is don’t hold back. Write it down. You may be a new writer, but you have unique experiences and a perspective no one else has.

Tell us a story.

Write.

NEW WRITER? HOW TO BEGIN …

TO BEGIN

If you’ve decided to write a novel, then really there’s nothing I can do to discourage you. As if I would. I have written several and I remember the first one as if it were yesterday.

It was a warm spring afternoon in New Jersey and I had laid down on the bed for a quick nap that soon developed into a rather deep sleep. When I awoke, I had this amazing idea for a plot and a couple of characters. It had a sci-fi element to it, something I’d never thought about before. But I loved the idea!

I grabbed my pen and wrote down the general thought I had the minute I had stirred. Because as you know, a thought is a funny thing. It can flee in a moment with no notice whatsoever.

I was startled at how vivid my idea had been. How had that happened? It was like a gift from heaven. That was my first introduction to the fact that ideas do not come from us. We are human dream catchers and channel the thoughts onto paper.

Now, how to go forward.

photo-16

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, five children were under my roof. Two were babies, meaning they weren’t in school and needed constant attention. I wanted to write and now I had a plot that totally excited me.

There was all the time in the world. I was a journalist writing non-fiction articles for newspapers and magazines, short fiction, but this was going to be my very first book.

I wish I’d had a blog to help me get started. Here are a few pointers.

  1. Write fast. Set yourself a certain amount of words you hope to complete for the day or write for an hour, or even a half hour, according to your busy life.
  2. Turn off your editing self.  Worry later about clean up. Get the story down.
  3. Research later. You can fill in facts and descriptions after the story is complete.
  4. Let new characters appear at will and enjoy the surprise ride. Use your enthusiasm to get the story down.

Each morning I was excited to get up to see what would happen to my characters that day. Each day was a cliffhanger. I knew the end of the book, but the fun of creating, letting the ideas flow and writing a story that constantly surprised … What fun!

First, I would reread what I had written the day before. And then let the ideas begin! Later, I could change anything. Just write freely and fast.

The beauty was that I never knew where my characters were going, what they were going to do. What quirky ideas they might have. It was like taking a joy ride in a brand new car across country.  Every novel can be that way if you have a place to begin. The universe steps in and will take you on the adventure of your life.

If you haven’t had a dream experience and you’re not sure where to begin., you could try a trick of Stephen King’s.

In his book “On Writing,” he explains several of his books came from using the “what if” scenario.

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot)

What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)

What if a cleaning woman suspected of a murder she got away with (her husband) fell under suspicion for a murder she did not commit (her employer)? (Delores Claiborne)

If you have exhausted all your ideas of what to write and have come up with nothing, ask yourself a Darla question.

What is your true passion? Is it a place, a country, a person? Begin there.

WRITING IS LIKE COOKING FROZEN CHICKEN

Have you ever tried to cook frozen chicken?

If you’re not careful, you’ll think it looks done, but whoa to those who bite into it. You’ll learn pretty quick that it’s just not ready yet. It requires lower heat, longer cooking, simmering  and careful turning at various intervals to be able to reach it’s peak of perfection.  Because it WAS FROZEN when you began it.

get-attachment.aspx

It’s like when you finish your novel and you can’t wait to get it out there. You are pushing it long before it’s ready to be out there.

A novel, as a lot of writing, is meant to be put together with love and zest for what you’re writing about. It should be treasured. So you’ve fniished it, and you’re tired of it now. Best advice. Put it aside. Start another one. Leave it for a while.

Oh, but it’s your baby, right? You can’t just leave it in limbo!

Someone once told me to leave it for six months. Oh, no, I said, I can’t do it. I have to send it out.

Here are a few ideas about what to do with it while you’re waiting for it to gestate.

1.Print it out and at your leisure, pretend you just picked it up at the library and read  to see if it captures your attention.

2. Hand a few copies to friends and see what they think.

3. Get a good friend to read it who does not believe all your work is perfect. Like a husband, if you’ve got one of those. Or a wife.

If they loved it and/or you’re still married after that, consider they absoltuely are brilliant.   If they hated it, don’t give them anything else to read. Why hear such madness from someone who is supposed to love you. What were you thinking?

4. Go ahead and send out queries, but if you sent them out and are praying no one will ask for your work,  then it’s not ready. But you knew that already.

5. If you’ve truly finished your book and you still aren’t sending it out. Do that one more edit. Then get brave and pitch it our into the snow if you have to .

But get it out the door. Make it leave home. Bargain for it. Put it on Amazon. Get it gone.

Then start your next one. Guaranteed, it will be even better than the one sitting on the snowbank.

In novel talk, that means, are you rushing your novel before it’s ready for delivery.

Granted some of us spend more time on a novel than others. I’ve still not figured out how that works. But I have a few ideas.