Sep 032014



To see me standing there, in the dim light of our basement, glancing around at the shelves and dark skyline of sheet-covered shapes, you’d have thought I was some rendered figure in a Lester Johnson painting. I was just, I don’t know…looking, the way you sometimes do when you’re standing in the doorway of a room you’ve just entered while having forgotten your reason for doing so.

Pre-kid days, I would sit at the large, salvaged office desk down here beneath the interrogation-style lightbulb on a cord and crank out words and sentences on my old, Russian Space Station Mir-sized desktop computer. With the blind appointing of some migratory bird, I was heading towards “something” that was novel length. When I write, I rarely plot anything out. Fine, maybe there’s a name list that I keep and/or a rudimentary list of plot notes that I create simply to avoid plot conflicts, but I don’t have the organizational skills to plot the course of a story from beginning to end. In other words, I don’t always know where I’m going with a story. Most of the time, I’ll write a few words or even a few pages and if I like how it sounds, I keep going.

There’s a line in the Danny O’Keefe song, “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues”, where he says, “you’re not a kid at thirty-three…”. In the spring of 2007, at the age of 33, I really started thinking about this. It’s true. The elevator only goes one way. As if my ten years in law enforcement hadn’t already revealed to me life’s true delicateness and ephemerality, I seemed to enter a certain “freak out” period where I suddenly recognized that I was already 1/3 of the way to life’s finish line.

I imagined a guy who had or was just about to turn 50 and the sorts of things he might be experiencing emotionally. And with this idea in mind, I began to pound out a few words on the computer. Soon, a few words became a few pages. Then a few chapters. And before I knew it, I had the beginnings of a decent story about mid-life crisis on my hands.

Over the months, I reveled at the sight of this swelling manuscript. Finally, I was writing something that, by the light of the new day, I didn’t entirely consider to be shit. I created characters I had developed a genuine care and concern for and after I had written the book’s final word, I felt a sense of loss. Of course, the story was saved and backed-up, both on my computer’s desktop as well as on a flash drive. But I also kept a hard copy around that I would use as a blueprint and make corrections on before correcting the corresponding part of it on the computer-saved version. Five revisions later, I had a manuscript that I felt reasonably confident in to begin pitching to literary agents. When I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference in 2013, it garnered the interest of no less than five agents.

They’re publishing it next summer and suddenly, I feel as if all the experiences and wins and losses that I’ve ever experienced in this soulful journey hasn’t been in vain, after all. It’s redeeming. But along the way, that original manuscript that I had printed off; the old clunky 300+ stack of papers that I carried with me constantly like an old friend, had gotten misplaced. Although I knew I never would have set it down and left it anywhere, it bothered me that I had no clue where it was or what I had done with it. So, when on a whim, I began sifting through the boxes of photographs and old personal effects in our basement, I was thrilled when I happened upon it. Thumbing through the old, tattered, coffee-ringleted, written-on pages, I reminisced, remembering even where I was when I had written certain parts of it. Remembering how Cody, my old beloved golden retriever who has since passed away, would remain loyally by my side as I continued to self-inflict psychic damage with my computer.

I persisted. I never gave up. And what I had written was something that beheld an elemental truth about life and the ways of the world as I saw it. When I wrote those first few pages, I had no way of knowing where the journey would end. But at the risk of sounding banal as hell, it’s true: every journey DOES begin with a single step. Your life is your journey. With bravery, and a whole lot of persistence, you can embark on one of your own.

Aug 292014
Writing Career with a Muse

Muse Attack

Having rescheduled yet another appointment due to my predilection for getting lost in my writing, I decided that it was time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my Muse. Seriously! When I chose a literary career, I thought I was supposed to be in charge of the writing process. After all, many successful authors describe how they structure their days, “reporting to their offices” to write for several hours, after which they go about the rest of their lives as they see fit.

Obviously, they never met my Muse. Like a selfish child, it can clamor within my head at the most awkward times. The following is an example of a recent exchange. Feel free to offer suggestions as to how you would handle my quixotic Muse!

MUSE:  “Hello there! Remember me? I just thought of a way you can improve that chapter you’ve been struggling with!”

ME:  “It is 3:45 am. Can’t I just put in a wake-up call for 7:30? I’ll be fresher, and my fingers should work better then. OK? Good! Keep in touch . . . . “

MUSE:  “’Fresher?’ And how do you think that is going to fix that overwritten, narrative-starved, clunky excuse for writing? I need you edgy. Nervous. That’s what’s missing in that chapter. Now, get your butt out of bed and let’s get busy!”

ME:  “Get busy? I’ve been pounding away on that keyboard until my fingers have gone numb. I’ve had to call to push up meetings with kind and patient folks who have decided that there is simply no way they are going to get me to conform to a ‘normal’ schedule, and even find me mildly amusing in an eccentric way. Besides, who put you in charge anyway? I’m the writer, you know!”

MUSE:  “Really? And who do you think planted Max inside of your head anyway, ‘Madam Writer?’ Who do you think woke you up that morning so many years ago with a little old man chattering away in a Yiddish accent you simply couldn’t ignore? Who do you think presented his entire story, beginning to end like a shimmering rainbow, even showing you the pot of gold on the last page? Who kicked you out of bed and drove you to your computer, so you could quickly record a rough outline of chapters before the Universe reabsorbed the story? ME, that’s who! So, who is in charge here? Do you really think you have much of a choice in the matter?”

ME:  “Well, I agree that you got the ball rolling. But, I don’t see you sitting hours upon end at that computer until your tailbone screams for relief. I don’t see you longing to be lost in Max’s world when your beloved partner impatiently calls you to yet another dinner he’s prepared just to hear, ‘Five more minutes. I just need to finish this paragraph!’ (With me generally appearing an hour later, my plate of food in the microwave awaiting resuscitation). I was the one who went into postpartum depression when I completed the first draft of the manuscript because I couldn’t bear to lose Max. Why shouldn’t I have the choice as to when to write? I’m not a television remote control device, you know. I have never found it comfortable to write, ‘On Demand!’”

MUSE:  “Because of ME! Do you know how lucky you are? Just think of all the people in the world who are asked to write on a subject that bores them to tears. Yet, they have no problem doing it. You’ve been there. I’ve rescued you time and again from linguistic drudgery in dreary offices. And this is the thanks I get? ‘Wake me at 7:30?’”

ME:  “OK, OK. You have a point there. How about we make a deal? You are allowed to wake me at 3:45 am to plant a thought, but as I need all the strength I can get to finish these revisions, how about your letting me hit your ‘snooze button’ so I can get a little extra shuteye until 7:30 instead?”

MUSE:  “I am more than a little bit offended! Likening me to an alarm clock is like comparing a brilliant sunset to the streetlights that go on at appointed times. I can’t give advance notice as to when I’m going to burst forth with some magnificent insight, rain glorious words down upon you like a refreshing shower, or fill your head and heart to overflowing. No, I’m afraid there are no deals if you want to be a writer. Writers aren’t doctors. There’s no vacation time, weekends, or full nights of sleep. That’s simply the name of the game.”

ME:  “But, doctors certainly get paid a lot more. A LOT more when you consider that being a full-time writer often means having to go long periods ‘on sabbatical,’ from any type of meaningful employment!”

MUSE:  “’Meaningful employment?’ Crunching numbers, or trudging to an office with bland people doing bland things while they answer to bland bosses who direct their lives? Writers are on their own! If you want a structured existence, than forget living a life with a Muse to provide you with pictures that dance in your head. It boils down to one simple question. Are you really serious about being a writer? If not, I can look for somebody else . . . . ”

ME:  “NO! Don’t leave me! Without you, Max wouldn’t be jabbering away in my ear and I don’t quite think I’d ever be whole again without him. He takes long walks with me and draws me into his world so I can experience the full flavor of his life and times. We’ve become very close. If you left, I’m not quite certain he’d know how to find me, nor I him. You win. If you can’t wait until a reasonable hour, than I suppose my nickname, ‘The Late Sue Ross’ will have to stand. Of course, I may never have work again, not to mention friends or colleagues who have trouble understanding the way of the writer, but that’s the way it will have to be.”

MUSE:  “Truly, I really don’t want to cost you friends, or employment, but I think you’re being a little melodramatic here. We’ve been working on this book for 14 years, during which time you’ve held down some pretty impressive jobs (with a few breaks here and there). I guess it’s hard for me to hold back when the energy is flowing.”

ME:  “I get that, but keep in mind that when you aren’t holding back, neither can I!”

MUSE:  “True, but if I’m on a roll, and you decide to come along, you’ll just have to accept the consequences. I will continue to wake you up and typing whenever the spirit moves me. You will simply have to accept your lot in life as a writer enslaved to me, your Muse, for as long as it takes. Not really a bad gig. You could have been born into a life as a telemarketer or bill collector! Instead, you are living two lives. Your own, and Max’s.”

ME:  “My own, and Max’s, hmm? Well then, let’s get back to work!”

MUSE:  “Now, that’s more like it! OK, get some rest for now. But, remember . . . I’ll see you in your dreams.” 

(“Muse Attack” created by –

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