I know I’ve been posting a lot about my book lately. Today’s post touches on it too (sorry!), but I’m thinking about the bigger question of creativity, and why this particular book, and the process it went through in getting published, feels like a real benchmark for me.

I’m a trauma survivor. Only recently, I’ve started taking ownership of this fact and how it affects me. I grew up in an unsafe environment, and for a long time, I told myself that I just needed to be strong enough to leave all that behind. It “shouldn’t” affect me anymore. It especially “shouldn’t” mean that some things are hard for me, when they might not be for other people. Things like taking care of day-to-day deadlines, managing a tight schedule, and juggling a regular job and home life. For me, emotional overhead can lead quickly to overwhelm and shutdown.

It’s taken me a very long time to realize that some things just are hard for me, and the only way I can get better at them is to honor where I’m starting from. Many trauma survivors deal with a blurry sense of identity. We were often told, somewhere along the line, by someone who had a lot of power over us, that we weren’t who or what we were supposed to be. We had to change and silence ourselves to survive. Then, if we get to place where we’re free, we feel lost. “Who am I really? Is that okay?” When you’re focused on survival, you don’t have as much space to grow. When you’re told you shouldn’t be who you are, you learn to distrust yourself.

For me, writing has been a release, an affirmation, and a survival tool. I was always a voracious reader. Stories and storytelling helped me survive. As an adult, it’s still taken me a while to honor my identity as a writer. When I was first learning the craft, I knew how much I wanted to do this work and how right it felt, but at the same time, I never lost the messaging that this was something else I “shouldn’t be.” Calling myself a writer felt uneasy and shameful. It doesn’t anymore: this is who I am, and I’m glad.

Fourteen Stones, as a fantasy in a created world, is such a pure product of my imagination that it was incredibly tough to believe it might be worth other people’s time. Its journey to publication was another kind of test: finding the path that felt right, as different as that path looked from what I’d thought I “should” want. (Yes, there’s that word again.) It has been amazing to see this story coming into its own, finding readers who are glad to spend time making the trip to Namora and Lassar. The printed book looks so different from my computer-screen original that when I look at the pages, I have to stop and remember that yes, this is my story that I wrote. And…wow.  

That’s why this book feels like a turning point in my professional life. It’s exactly the story I wanted to tell. My publisher presented it as beautifully as I could ask for. Trauma survivors often struggle with owning their voices after learning to silence themselves for so long. It’s hard for us to recognize that we have a right to our truths, and a right to share them when we need to. I still struggle with that every day, but Fourteen Stones has been an important step in recovery.

I’m hoping to find ways to use storytelling to help other people like me, who are reclaiming themselves. Meanwhile, moving forward after Fourteen Stones feels like coming into greater ownership of myself and my voice, and that means a lot.

As always, thank you for visiting the blog. If you’d like to receive regular updates, please consider subscribing. See you next time!


Don’t Miss It!

Join me next Monday, December 12, at 5 pm EST for a wonderful Zoom talk with my friend and colleague Dr. Julia Lee Barclay-Morton! Julia and I have both recently had books published: her hybrid collection The Mortality Shot is her first, and Fourteen Stones is my second.

Our books are very different, but Julia and I have a lot in common. Both of us came to writing “sideways,” as we call it, from other fields. We’ve gone at it in non-traditional ways; neither of us has an MFA, and we both work with indie presses and have found unique paths to publication. We’ve engaged a lot with questions and challenges relating to mental health. As middle-aged women, we’ve found ourselves navigating that tricky period in midlife where the sense of self can shift, and we run up against a real sense of our own mortality (Covid of course contributed to that a lot).

In our talk, we’ll share readings from our books, and talk about our experiences of the writing life and how our work as writers has been shaped by the other circumstances we have in common. As the publishing world continues to change, growing in some ways and contracting in others (especially with respect to traditional “big press” publishing), we think it’s important to highlight the many ways one can build a writing life, and emphasize the idea that there’s no single “right way.”

Because of that, we’re calling our talk “How Not to Get There Directly.” We think there’s a lot to be said for the roundabout, adventurous kind of path that lets you see a lot of the world. We hope you’ll join us on Zoom on Monday 12/12 at 5 pm EST!

Registration is free but required. To sign up, please click here. When you come, please also bring any questions you have; we’ll have an open-ended Q & A period at the end of the session. See you then!

Tuesday Creativity 2

Continuing with the series I started last week, and also with the theme of “everyday magic,” I thought I’d share two more photos as creative fodder.

I took both of these pictures on the same morning as the daisy photo from last week. The temperature was exactly right for dew to collect on the leaves and petals of my late-blooming rosebush. By midmorning, the sun was bright enough to bring out each bead.

These photos make me think about transience and transformation. To me, the kind of beauty dew creates is like the beauty of shadows on snow, or the thin coat of ice that turns tree branches briefly into glass: it’s all the more precious because it won’t last. That’s a funny thing for me to appreciate, as a chronically anxious person who generally isn’t great at uncertainty, change, and letting go. Maybe appreciating those things in the form of dew and snow is one step toward appreciating them elsewhere.

What do this week’s images inspire for you? As always, thank you for visiting the blog. See you next week!

Tuesday Creativity 1

I’m going to do something a little different here for a few weeks, combining the regular blog with my Maker’s Day feature, for a Tuesday Creativity series. (I’m starting a new job and figuring out a new schedule, so need to juggle a little less elsewhere for a while. 😉 )

In the back of my mind, I’m percolating ideas that link creative writing and mental health. One of my big goals, as a teacher of writing and as someone with longtime mental health challenges, is to help folks with similar challenges use creative writing as a safe outlet for exploration and expression. I’m hoping that, sometime down the road, this means putting together workshops geared to supporting mental health through writing.

Meanwhile, I’m experimenting with some ideas. Over the next several weeks, I’ll use this space to offer prompts and my own brief thoughts on them, as possible starting points for creative exploration.

Today’s prompt is a photo I took of dewdrops on the petals of a Gerbera daisy:

To me, dew creates magic. I love the way the tiny beads transform leaves and flower petals, and I love how transient the magic is, vulnerable to the smallest shift in temperature and the smallest change in the angle of the light. I wish my photos did a better job of capturing that crystal-on-silk glitter, but this one gives at least the idea of it.

This image made me think of a verse from one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s poems in The Hobbit:

“For ancient king and elvish lord, there many a gleaming golden hoard they shaped and wrought, and light they caught to hide in gems on hilt of sword.”

What might this image, the photo itself or the “everyday magic” behind it, conjure or inspire for you?

As always, thank you for visiting the blog. See you next time!

Tuesday Purr Therapy

It’s been a bit of a week here, so Fergus thought he’d help me with this week’s post. Enjoy!

Mom, how could your computer be more interesting than me?

This is your conscience speaking, Mom. You stress too much.

Here’s how to relax. See how easy?

Now you try it. I’ll lie on top of you to keep you in the correct position.

Good work. You can have a hug.

Don’t you feel better now?

Stop back tomorrow for the weekly Maker’s Day prompt. 🙂 As always, thank you for visiting the blog!

The Writer, Back When

Today’s post isn’t the one I meant to write. I’d planned just to post a “musical teaser” about my novel Fourteen Stones, but yesterday I was looking through some old photos, and got a new idea.

I’ve posted here on the blog about my experiences with mental health challenges, especially anxiety and depression. Both of those of course tend to get a lot more active during times of stress. These days, depression has made pretty regular appearances. Professional anxiety usually gets me going: “Am I doing enough?” and “Am I doing the right things?” turns into a litany of reasons why I’m not, and why that translates to my not being enough.

Last night, I pulled out a bunch of half-remembered photos I had in my desk. They’re all of me as a kid, starting when I was about a year old and going up until about age twelve. For a long time, I’ve had it in my head that I was a pretty challenging kid. Smart, but with a big tendency toward daydreaming and spacing out. Always a little out of touch with the world.

This was me at the beginning of first grade:

Age six. Looking pretty happy about school photos.

I was cuter than I’d thought. The one thing I don’t like about this picture is that it doesn’t show my glasses, which I started wearing in kindergarten. At that time, I was the only kid at school who wore them. That’s undoubtedly part of the reason my mother told me to take them off for every picture. These days, I’d much rather have the memory of how I really looked.

This little girl, six-year-old me, undoubtedly was pretty “spacey” and “dreamy.” I remember, though, that she was also the one who wrote her first original story. It was called “The River,” about a king who essentially “stole” water from his subjects by damming the river in his kingdom. I don’t remember how things got resolved, but everyone did live happily ever after. I also remember that I was inspired to write the story because of the way the bathtub faucet dripped. (Inspiration comes from everywhere. 😉 )

A few years later, here’s fourth-grade me:

Age nine. Same smile.

Again, I should have glasses in this photo. When I look at this girl, though, I notice how pretty she was. I remember, too, that she was the one who fell in love with Tolkien. That was the year I discovered The Hobbit. I remember taking the time to memorize that wonderful “Far O’er the Misty Mountains Cold” poem, getting chills every time I got to the line “The mountain smoked beneath the moon…”

That little girl also wrote a lot. Some of her stories were “fan fic” imitations of favorite writers, but some were originals, start to finish. She wrote poetry too. She loved words, the way they tasted, the way they sang. I remember what that was like. I remember, too, how that little girl decided she would be a writer when she grew up.

Nine-year-old me didn’t have the best situation at home. Much later, in my twenties and thirties, I came to understand why, for instance, I used to feel scared most days on the way home from school. I’m still tangling with and figuring out a lot of things, but I know that younger-me didn’t have the family a child deserves. I also have a better sense of why, these days, forty-something-me always struggles to think well of herself, or believe in what she can do.

Which brings me back to that professional anxiety thing, and depression thing, I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. Last night, I looked at my old pictures, especially the one of my fourth-grade self who decided to be a writer, and thought how proud she would be of how I turned out.

Those of us who grew up in unhealthy environments often learn, as adults, about self-parenting. I’ve had a lot of trouble with that idea, what with my ingrained sense that I was a “difficult” kid, but when I look at the girl in these pictures, I realize she wasn’t the challenge I always believed she was. Sure, she had her moments, but she was smart and creative, imaginative and kind. She always marched to her own beat, even when the people closest to her made that risky and unsafe. She was pretty cool. If I could reach into the past now, I’d tell her so. I’d tell her to hang in there, she and I will make it through together.

I have a feeling she would tell me I’m pretty cool too. You really write books? Wow!! Taking the self-parenting idea a step farther, I who don’t have kids (except feline ones): I would say that if she were my daughter, she’d think her mom was awesome. And if she were my daughter, I would be awfully proud of her.

My husband and me. Still the same smile, no?

This post has felt pretty personal and pretty risky, but it’s been good to write. Thank you for reading.

Since I can’t leave without plugging my book a little, please do remember to check out the Fourteen Stones crowdfunder campaign – link below – if you’d like to preorder a print or e-book. If you have a bookstore, or book groups, etc., and would like multiple copies, we do have a wholesale option. You can also choose to pledge other amounts to the crowdfunder. We can only take preorders and pledges until August 31!

>>Fourteen Stones crowdfunder link<<

Thanks again for visiting! Please stop back tomorrow if you’d like a Maker’s Day prompt. See you next time!

Music for Meditation

Today is a bit of a down day. There’s a lot going on in the world (right now, especially here in the US) that’s dark and nerve-racking. I’m definitely having one of those days where I wonder about making art, what it’s good for, and what I’m hoping to accomplish with it.

I’m trying to hold onto the idea that how I feel is always temporary. I might feel down, but that doesn’t mean I am down; that would imply that the feelings don’t change. I’m also holding onto the fact that there are still, always, lovely things out there to admire. We have a nest of wrens in the backyard. Our bee balm is in bloom this morning (I didn’t even know it had flowers!). The goldfinches are back for the summer and making themselves at home.

Bee balm flowers. Who knew?

In the spirit of looking for and sharing beauty, I thought I’d share a little more music this week. These are two recordings I made a couple of years ago. The composer, William Byrd (1540-1623), is one of my favorites, though you don’t hear his keyboard music played much. Byrd was one of the greats of the English Renaissance and is mainly known for his vocal music, especially liturgical pieces.

These two pieces are both Byrd’s arrangements of folk songs that were popular in his time: “Will You Walk the Woods so Wild” and “The Maiden’s Song.” Each piece is a theme and variations. You’ll hear the main tune presented first, simply, and then changed up and ornamented in a series of variations.

Both pieces are meditative and lovely. I really enjoy playing them, and hope you’ll enjoy listening.

William Byrd, “Will You Walk the Woods so Wild”
William Byrd, “The Maiden’s Song”

Tomorrow is Wednesday, which means a new Maker’s Day prompt. Please stop by and check it out, and meanwhile, if you like what you see here on the blog, please consider subscribing. As always, thank you for visiting!

Writing and Mental Health

Today I’m thinking about writing (when not?), and more particularly, the connection it has for me with mental health. Here on the blog, I’ve posted about my own mental health challenges, especially with anxiety and depression. I know many of us deal with similar challenges, and I like to be open about mine, because (a) they’re the truth and (b) I figure it never hurts if we can talk about these kinds of things.

Writing is often a great healer for me. I feel most grounded when I’m working. When my brain is busy with some project, hanging out with my characters and working through the puzzle pieces of story, anxiety and depression have a harder time getting their hooks in. I like how my brain is willing and able to latch onto the “good stuff”; I have a side helping of OCD, which, sadly, doesn’t translate to keeping my house even remotely neat, but does help keep me laser-focused on my writing-in-progress. Obsession can be a terrific superpower for an artist. It does tend to drag perfectionism along with it, but if you can separate the two for a little while, you can harness all that energy to help get a project done.

The flip side of the writing-and-mental-health mix is the fragility of sharing work, especially work that has meant a lot, and dealing with rejection. This has been much on my mind lately as the launch of Fourteen Stones gets closer. I’ve found myself thinking about some particularly tough times three years ago, when getting this book into the world seemed extremely far away and probably impossible, and between that and other factors, my mental health hit an all-time low.

My therapy cat, Fergus, who knows when his assistance is needed.

For the first time ever, I found that I couldn’t write: my brain simply refused to go into the world of story. A solid wall stood between me and the one thing that had always helped me. Even reading was no fun anymore; I couldn’t concentrate on books, couldn’t surrender and take a ride with another writer’s imagination.

If you’ve ever been there, you know how disorienting and difficult that is. When your creativity is such a big piece of who you are, and you can’t tap into it because your own mind won’t let you, you start to feel pretty detached from yourself and unsure about everything. I’ve never had the same level of anxiety, before or since, that I did during those months. If you have mental health challenges, you know it’s the worst when your mind is your enemy. You can’t escape from yourself, as much as you want to.

I spent a while (way longer than I’d have liked) in that limbo. Finally, in late fall of 2019, I found myself starting to edge back towards creativity. One day I found I could sit down with a novel and actually get into it. Then, a while later, my favorite characters from Fourteen Stones started to nudge at me. I found myself sketching scenes with them, not to use in any real writing but just for fun, just because hanging out with them felt right. That was when I knew I was getting better. My beloved characters were a solid, strong lifeline. I could hang onto them and they would help me heal.

Map of my fictional country, Namora, which I taped up over my desk when I started writing again.

The good thing, as I found when I finally started to come out the other side of that time, is that once you’ve gone through that kind of fire and know you can survive, it’ll never be so scary again. You might not feel like you’re quite the same person you were before – I don’t, and I’m still learning about what’s changed – but you can feel grounded in yourself and know you’re doing okay, even when you run into bumps in the road.

In the spring of 2020, when Covid hit and everything turned upside down, Fourteen Stones helped me again when I launched into an overhaul of it. It felt so good to dive into the world of story, especially in lockdown, when real-world escapes had mostly disappeared. Since then, writing has stayed around as a touchstone, motivation, and release that I’m very grateful for. Sometimes it feels bizarre to make art, and worry about story and characters, with everything going on in the world. But I do think that it matters to put ourselves, our hopes and pain and wish for beauty, into what we create, and that by doing it, we can make a difference.

I hope you can spend some time today with whatever grounds you and lights you up. As always, thanks for visiting the blog.