Friday, January 15, 2021

Dragons Are My Patronus

 

I’ve written about classes and seminars that I’ve taken this past year. Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson’s Revision Workshops are some of the best. Other workshops I’ve taken include Emma D. Dryden’s excellent workshops in finding an agent. Other seminars, hosted by Lorin Oberweger and Free Expressions, include the wonderfully inspirational Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey and Character Masterclass as well as Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel.

Probably the most inspiring seminar was hosted by the award-winning science fiction and screenwriter David Gerrold* . Not because of what I learned about the writing process, but rather what I learned about myself.

David began by asking, why do you write? I suspect the intent – to reflect some degree of self-awareness—is to echo some level of Truth itself. That is to say, if story is the oldest invitation to the human experience, than the heart of that story – and why we (or I) write – is because we want a glimpse of some larger Truth, on what it means to be human. On what it means to be ourselves. So, what is that truth?


But the truth is, I have no idea. Not anymore. I don’t know if I have The Write Stuff.

I can tell you how I started. As a (very!) young child, I was ill with osteomyelitis. Recovery took a long while. While in the hospital, someone read to me. These stories freed me from confines of a hospital bed. It was more than just escaping a painful reality. These stories created a new reality in which I could do what otherwise I could not. Didn’t take long for me to make the jump into reading. I learned to read, even as I learned how to walk again. I was well ahead of everyone by the time I entered elementary school.

By fourth grade, I was reading Charles Dickens, and developed quite a crush on the Artful Dodger. I wrote my first story, in which he and I became friends. I also discovered Anne McCaffrey’s Pern. I read that her brother also suffered from osteomyelitis, and it inspired her to create a character (I forget which character. But, I tend to like dragons more than people anyway). 

 And suddenly dragons became by patronus. 

Certainly the act of writing is a construct of putting feelings into words, and I created a reality and a community in which I finally found belonging. I went to school, earned my MFA (among other degrees), and wrote. I have had short stories, articles and seven books published.

Then something happened. It wasn’t sudden, like a great big bang bazinga. It was more like a slow burn, years in the making. I had prepared, and fully devoted, for a career in writing. I was unprepared for the business of writing.

The business of writing is harsh, dispiriting in its rejection, and – good great glory – it comes complete with all the reigning -isms. For every Gandalf and Dumbledore, there is a Sauron and Lord Voldemort. We have heard of prominent agents – and a few writers – who have conducted themselves inappropriately as the MeToo movement swept through the publishing field. A few writers – including a hero of mine – twittered one too many times to reveal their own humany limitations. Then there’s the major literary agency rocked by – and eventually dissolved by --intimations of racist behavior. Turns out a few significant agents were nothing more than scammers. Writers Beware is full of warnings of publishers and agents acting in bad faith.

In other words, publishing is not some magic place over the rainbow. Rather it’s like every other business, complete with its own dark side and deatheaters.

I’ve had three agents during my ‘career’, all of whom promised to be the champion that would help me build a writing career. Long story short, none worked out. And, in many ways, the impact on my career has been negative. Each time I’ve had to start over.

I’ve had seven books published, a million (or so it seems) articles, and have won a fair share of awards, and still it seems I have spend more time trying to prove (to myself as much as anyone else) that I am relevant. In this quest to start anew, I worked with an agent on three rounds of revisions, with the assumption (never a promise) for representation. And the end of the year-long process, she loved (loved!) the manuscript, but historical fiction would be a hard sale (translation: she wants a quick sale). I had another agent schedule The Call three times, and each time she had to reschedule. And then she ghosted me, despite my nudges. Another agent asked to see more manuscripts, and then she ghosted me, despite my nudges. I even sent another historical fiction to my old editor, who once said she’s a big fan and to send her historical fiction. And then she ghosted me.

We know it’s not personal, but it certainly feels it. And now, even my dragon patronus has fizzled. I had taken classes. I have done research for potential stories and revised old stories, but I have not written anything new for over a year. My hope is this ebb and flow is normal, and what ebbs soon flows. My fear, however, is that I’ve lost my dragon. And what’s worse, I’m not sure she wants to be found. As I recall, her last words were, ‘### this ###.’

But, before you think its all woe and gloom, something else happened. Something unexpected. It occurred to me, while pondering this question, that my affiliation with story has always been to find a place of belonging. We are all stories in the end, says The Doctor. I have had a career – as a teacher, a bookseller, an editor, a reporter. It wasn’t the one I expected, but perhaps it was the one I needed. 

For so long, I thought that to belong meant I had to be published, but that’s not true, is it?

If the point of story is to find community, it turns out I have built up quite the community. A very special, extraordinary community, complete with Gandolf and Dumbledore, and Clara and The Wandering Monk, Authors Who Teach, Smacking Dabbers, and Master Guru. It includes The Librarians, and Poodle Lady, and Freckles, Lady Squabbit of the North, and Ella Bella’s Nana. And there’s Nyxie, Queen of the Universe (and her Royal Regent Grandpa). Mrs. and Mr. Shiny Serenity (complete with their pretty floral bonnet). The Professor, and Wordswimmer, the Geek, and the Nerd, and The Dog Whisperer, Pearl’s Mum and so many more unexpected friends. Steadfast and firm in their stance, reminding me to never give up. 

Why do I write? The answer was always at once simple and complex: To belong, of course.

Perhaps my patronus, my dragon, just needed a rest. You'll be glad (or at least, I was!) I started a new project. I have seven sloppy, somewhat begrimed chapters. But the characters are certainly dancing about.

Who wills, Can. Who tries, Does. Who loves, Lives. – Anne McCaffrey


Photo: Princess and Dragon by Nikita Volobuev, 2020.





David Gerrold  wrote the script for my favorite original Star Trek, The Trouble with Tribbles. He’s currently on Patreon, conducting weekly seminars and fireside chats about life and grandchildren. Do check it out!

Thank you for spending time with me!

--Bobbi Miller

Friday, January 8, 2021

Happy ANEW Year! – Courtesy of the Prefix “re”

YAY! and finally: our New Year is here!

2020 no longer banners our calendars.

This year’s start, though, is different from all others.

Since my one-year-ago post sharing my Rx for 20/20 vision, 

my eyesight required emergency refraction.


I count my blessings daily, if not hourly, that COVID-19 

literally infected neither me nor my family, at least up until 

this moment, and that friends and colleagues who experienced 

otherwise survived without serious after-effects.

I remain forever grateful my losses to date remain few.

My heart holds a place for those unable to say the same.


Still, figuratively? If I was to KEEP keepin’ on, in body, 

in spirit, and especially in my life’s work – teaching, coaching

and writing, the corona virus forced me to see my world – 

everything and everyone - anew. 

When it came to looking, back no longer did the job.


          re-

          prefix

      Definition of re

      1: again: anew retell

      2: back: backward recall


This past year,

whenever Stuff demanded figuring out, so some part of my life – 

i.e. the story I was living, would work as needed, my M.O. became:

re-examine who and what was important, adjusting my camera lens 

 to better focus,

re-assess obstacles and available resources,

re-consider options, NO MATTER HOW SCARY, 

re-imagine desired outcomes,

•then begin anew with mustered courage.


Were some days better than others, some efforts unsuccessful? 

You bet!

Was I able to get every single aspect of my life working? NO!

But there was always tomorrow, a new day waiting.

The prefix “re” ensured I kept keepin’ on.

                                                      (Used with permission from Karen Ritz)

Recently, Karen Ritz’s beautiful illustration above of Mary McCarthy’s

oh, so true words prompted me to revisit 2020’s happenings.

And, lo and behold! As I saw the year anew, I saw me anew, too!

Like any Heroine who proves different for her Journey, I, too, proved 

different for the story I’d been living.

For one thing, I realized my ability to endure, despite whatever.

“I’m still here,” as Elaine Stritch famously sung.  

For another, I now know I’m able to face down my fears, especially 

those technological in nature.

And like any Heroine, I, too, returned home with something better than 

first sought. I began 2021 with buckets of proven courage.

                                                (Used with permission from Karen Ritz)

The Good and the Bad, the Ups and the Downs, the CrazyCrazy 

challenges – all contributed to a newer, braver me.


Now, whenever Stuff needs figuring out, so some aspect of the story 

I’m writing works as needs be, I’m rarin’ to go.

And that includes the 8th iteration of my current picture book 

biography!

I just rinse and repeat my 2020 Covid-19 M.O. 

I found the perfect prefix to adjust my vision, 

to adjust my verbs from focus to imagine.

I found daring and boldness, no matter the unknown, so my Reader, 

too, can be different for her Journey.


Thanks to Sylvia at Poetry for Children for hosting today’s Poetry 

Friday.


Here’s to your stories - both those you are living and those you are 

writing – and finding, however challenging, at least one Silver Lining!

Happy ANEW Year!


Esther Hershenhorn

P.S.

Welcome, welcome to our ANEWEST Teaching Author – Zeena Pliska!

You can read more about her here.