My Voice and Me

“In the time of your life – Live!”  -William Saroyan

A professor once said to me, “We don’t take time to think about the things we think about” A few of my brain cells no doubt tied themselves in a knot; but to good purpose, I remember the statement still! It was one of those nuggets that are tossed our way and which succeed in rocking the boat. 


In the brief span of a dozen words a question is posed that demands an answer. The first thing to consider is the urgency of the question. In reality, it is urgent. As posed by my professor it does not rank with “Why can’t we all just get along?”; “What is love?”; “Does anybody really care?”. This riddle turns us inside to a place we share with others – our thoughts. We have many random thoughts in the course of our day, some worthy of reconsidering, developing, perhaps even setting down with some degree of permanence. In our media rich world, however, I suspect we are more likely to react to the constant slings and arrows of outrageous media. It’s defensive! Our thinking is defensive, a condition that surely becomes weary.

Dumb, and Dumber

Kathleen Parker recently wrote about a retiring congressman from New York. She asked him if more than thirty years ago, when he first came to Washington, were congressman more collegial. He said no, but they were friendly. Now it’s treasonous to step across the aisle. She then asked why is this so? His response, and I still don’t believe I read this, was “People are dumber.” He qualified the remark by saying he would never say that if still running for office. Only in retirement is there honesty?

The Time of Your Life

People may well be dumber and I do believe my professor needs to be heard again. “We don’t take time to think about the things we think about.” If we did, life would be slower, our critical thinking… well, more critical!

For me, this journey of reinvention through writing and journalizing on this blog does exactly that! I slow down to think. In doing so, I become more closely tuned to my own inner life, resulting in an improved writing voice. Numerous comments, other than from my wife, mother, brother, and grudgingly from my sister-in-law, make the point that they enjoy the writing. 

There is no curriculum in the country that teaches voice in this fashion, only YU, Your University! Voice can be found in William Saroyan’s epithet “The Time of Your Life – Live it!” That’s the only way to find a voice, explore, develop it, use it.

Happy living!

Passion Redux

Comments from yesterday’s post regarding the X-Factor of reinvention generated some buzz. The analogy of checking a book out from the library as a cautionary note about the difficulty of change generated some humor, apparently. A redux is in order.

I am currently in the throws of revisions on a novel. I was working on a chapter and scene yesterday involving a historical character, Ben Hogan. The book is not about golf. Golf courses and steeple chases in North Carolina provide a larger context for the story. Hogan is reputed to have told a reporter about his practice and development technique in this fashion: “You have to dig it out of the ground.” Hogan is perhaps foreshadowing the 10,000 hours to mastery theory of today. Digging has never been fun for me!

There is no substitute for the grunt work of repetition necessary for retraining the mind and body. You can’t take a pill, watch a DVD, make a resolution, or check out a new book. As a professor said to me many years ago, “The seat of the pants must make contact with the seat of the chair.”

That having been said, the mystery of passion is still unsolved. Where does it originate? What is it? Do some of us not have it at all, and others in degrees? One reader yesterday suggested that passion was like the tide, ebbing and flowing, and only the discipline of work could carry us from the lowest of tides to the tidal magic of a creative high.

Passion, it seems to me, precedes its object. Something creates action. For example, one might have a passion for gardening and the production of flowering beauty. Flowering beauty, however, may not be the motivating energy. The primary source energy may just be the need for a hands on engagement with a living earth, manipulating it to produce flowering beauty.

My mother’s uncle was a greenhouse man. He grew flowers for wholesale distribution. I remember as a youngster visiting the greenhouses and being enchanted by the smell and feel of the earth in the greenhouses. The earth he created was different from the earth I normally experienced. Watching him run his hands through the earth as he explained the process was part mystery part mystical for me – until now.

His passion ended with the flowers, but began with the earth! The object of our passion may well be distinctly different from its source.

How do we find it? This passion. This energy or drive?

I can only tell you what seems to have worked for me… Today! That’s right, today. Friday in my fitness regimen is a swimming day. I swim a mile. Wednesday is also a swimming day and this past Wednesday presented me with a serious wall- I felt that I could go no further with only twenty laps to go. I made it but I labored terribly and suffered most of the day. I questioned my own ability and desire, resulting in the post X-Factor.

My swim this morning began much like Wednesday’s swim with twenty laps to go, I was fatigued. In the back of my mind comments about the post were tumbling about, incubating, simmering, or simply bouncing about. Somewhere shortly after my tenth lap the focus of today’s post magically appeared and before I knew it, I was into lap forty! The discovery of a purpose or idea energized my body. My swimming became stronger and the ideas grew in size and depth. I began making connections to my current novel, and applications beyond the novel began to take shape. Voila! I finished the swim with one powerful closing lap- sprinted rather than limped!

The power of the idea can motivate the body providing the energy for the grunt work necessary for reinvention. For me, the idea is a purpose and if I have a purpose I am energized and productive!

That’s not all, folks! Remember the post about where the body goes the mind will follow? There is a partnership here that is essential. The physically fit body capable of ‘digging the game out of the ground’ creates discoveries that further drive or give passion to your objectives. It’s a circle, albeit a vicious one! Walking out of the fitness center today, I felt a little taller. I probably was!

Posture was more erect. Allowing myself to slump accentuates the process of aging wherein the weight of our bodies falls more significantly on a weary skeletal system. But, if we remain erect and activate our core muscles more fully we distribute the work load of carriage and energize our body and thereby free the mind for thinking and reinventing!

Fiction, Literary, Mainstream, Commercial, or Genre

This is my third day of intense submissions of my first manuscript Devil’s Gut. Using my Writer’s Digest online site, I created a number of searches for agents or publishers who welcome unrepresented and unpublished writers. The result produced a 26 page list of potential ‘customers’, although some candidates were contests. The most confusing aspect of this process has been the rather confusing array of types of fiction some agents or publishers list as ‘of interest.’

I understand the distinction between literary and commercial. However, there are many agents and publishers who list literary, mystery, historical, women’s issues, but no genre! So, what are mystery and historical?

It comes as no surprise, really, that I must look at what they have published to see what they really mean by these contradictory lists. It’s simply another level of diligent research for publication.

Devil’s Gut Synopsis

On Wednesday morning of this week, I sent a copy of Devil’s Gut to my daughter in California. It was an expensive mailing; edits will be required and I’m waiting for two friends to deliver their proof-reading of the tome. However, my daughter wanted to read it immediately. I sent it off and like a parent sending his child off to the first day of school, there was some separation anxiety!

The synopsis of the manuscript follows: Devil’s Gut

The seed of germination for Devil's Gut

Where the Veranda Club meets in Devil's Gut

History is an irrepressible force. Silent and lethal. A reckoning. Edward Kean is a prisoner of history, trapped in a reckoning with his family’s past: two unexplained fires and the slow drip of a poisonous industrial life. The Kean family is equally irrepressible, tireless entrepreneurs cut from the fabric of American mythology that values the coda of self-reliance. This passionate core is both liberating in its opportunity and repressive in its addictions. Edward wrestles with his place within Aberdeen, unable to distinguish between belonging (as in membership or inclusion) and belonging (as in ownership). He is young man of some talent, a dreamer, obsessed with a passionate need to make a difference, and like the pale knight in Keat’s poem he wanders the shores of Aberdeen Lake, “though the sedge has withered from the lake, and no birds sing.” A dreamer desperately trying to find his way back to reality.

The world had recently exploded in chaos, pushing dreams into the deeper corners of the heart, and many young men soldiered off to foreign lands where their dreams were hopelessly mangled or snuffed out with lost lives. Some men remained behind, often for obvious physical reasons, while for others the reasons seemed murky. Edward is rejected, despite numerous attempts to enlist. His repeated rejections felt murky, leaving him with a gap, a void, that could never be filled.

Returning to his hometown after college, he begins work in his father’s company, but finds himself forced to leave in an ugly family dispute. He lands a job as a writer with the local paper where his sense of integrity flourishes. Edward’s father is shot outside the family home, and the many strands of Edward’s destiny are hopelessly knotted. Moments later, a solitary figure walks into the bedroom of Edward’s mother, a Luger dangling from his right hand. In self-defense, she shoots the intruder.  The dead body belongs to Jimmy ‘Watts’ Watson, Edwards best friend. Edward must peel back the layers of toxic poisoning that has permeated his entire life in Aberdeen. Sciences clash, economic priorities revealed, and the deeper secrets of unfortunate choices and passions from earlier years prove toxic in the present. Commitment and belonging face off in a desperate struggle. Passionate obsession is a double-edged sword in a community once known as the Devil’s Gut.

Revision and word count

I have been using Scrivener to write my novel and appreciate the flexibility of the program. When assembling my files for printing to PDF the program told me my word count was 83,435 words. I was particularly excited because my target had been 80,000 words. I have read on line is that a hardcover novel should be about 80,000 words, and at a words-per-page average of 250 (Times New Roman, 12pts) this should result in approximately 330 pages. However, formatting the novel and using Times New Roman (12pts.) the PDF file comes in at 249 pages! I don’t know why or how there’s this discrepancy. 249 pages means we’re averaging 300+ words per page… I guess the word count will be a significant factor.

I have printed several copies for friends to proof and comment. When those come back I’ll make the necessary changes and send it off to my daughter in Los Angeles. She has a literary agent friend who has agreed to read it. The feedback should be significant, I hope.

Regardless of what happens, I shall begin assembling a list of agents and publishers who accept queries from unpublished writers. The process is, I understand, lengthy. Query, submission, query, submission, etc. I am however excited by this process. It has taken me eighteen months to get to this point, a second draft that reworks the story into a framework that works in 83,000 words. When I started this process, 80,000 words seemed impossible. The improbable result was that I wrote much more than that and had to cut and edit! The second revision took less time than the first draft and was more inspired, i.e., finding the right way to tell the story was very exciting. For the most part, I wrote almost every day, and usually about the same time every day. Needless to say, survival work did occupy significant amounts of time. That’s how it is. Someone once said (something to the affect) that life is not about enjoying the dance, but learning to dance in the rain!