Saturday, October 12, 2013

Complexity versus Chaos

Welcome to my inaugural Facebook moment, even though it's taking place on Blogger. I was on my mini stair-stepper this morning and caught the end of a song that I think was sung by Gregory Porter. The chorus of the song was, "I love too fast," repeated several times. The word, fast, nagged at me until I felt the genius of the lyric: it was uttered very, very slowly. Hence, the irony of the sentiment set in deeply. Then, my mind took me to the talent of scat singing−not imitations. I mean the difference between Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter, and John Hendricks, on the one hand, and others on the radio whose objective seems to be to utter the same exact sounds with each presentation. I have full respect for the precision and tremendous discipline that it takes to be a musician of any kind. I'm just sharing what I notice, which brings me to the title of this blog post: Complexity versus Chaos.

The title comes from ruminations about a book that I would categorize as fantasy fiction. It was recommended by a friend in response to a discussion of the groundwork for my fifth novel, which I'm writing, currently. I liked the beginning of the novel and immediately saw the reason for the friend's recommendation. Then a barrage of characters was introduced, which felt chaotic. That observation was instructive because it provided a perfect opportunity to contemplate the various ways that complexity manifests in writing. It was a wonderful reminder of the importance of respecting each other's efforts, not only as writers, authors, and readers, but also as members of the human race.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Paule Marshall Said

While walking on a beach in Tenacatita, Mexico with a friend, we talked about books and Paule Marshall's name came up. Immediately, I felt a kinship with Ms. Marshall because we both have roots in Barbados. I've read all of her books (The Chosen Place, the Timeless People; Brown Girl, Brownstones; Daughters; Praisesong for the Widow; Reena and Other Stories; Soul, Clap Hands and Sing; The Fisher King; and Triangular Road). During the time that I was participating in writers groups, a facilitator advised everyone to stay with one point of view (POV), no matter what. I remembered a scene in which Ms. Marshall changed POV seamlessly with great effect. I was able to ask her how she did it. She said, "Do what makes sense." What a multipurpose piece of advice!

Danzy Senna Said

"Every story includes someone new coming to town." As I quote Danzy Senna from a workshop that she led, I'm fairly certain that she, in turn, was sharing with the group an observation of a fellow author. Recently, this recollection entered my consciousness as a new character materialized in the novel that I'm writing now. I heard their distant footsteps through the main character's point of view. They're about to make their entrance and their appearance is quite graphic. It's time to discover what's on their mind.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Walter Mosley's Advice

Within the past decade, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar offered by VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation) that featured Walter Mosley as a guest. Two things, in particular, stand out from that gathering. I remember Mr. Mosley saying that there are two types of writers: intuitive and those who are more research oriented. (This is a rough paraphrase.) At the time, I recall Mr. Mosley placing himself firmly in the former group. The other thing that I recall is his advice to focus on one's own writing rather than reading work published by others. (Yes, there is a certain irony in taking this position.)

As I delve into writing my sixth book (fourth novel), Mr. Mosley's counsel is a great motivator. The more I write, the more selective I become about what I read and how I read it. I've been jumping around a lot in my reading and take this as a sign that it's time to concentrate on making this next contribution to my own body of work. Perhaps this perspective will also be useful to you.

Reading to an Audience

Fortunately, many brilliant people inhabit my life. Some are relatives, others are extended family, and there are all kinds of very valued friends. Allison Bliss is a brilliant person and her business, Allison Bliss Consulting, is an expression of so many of her extraordinary qualities. One of these is as a constant generator of meaningful ideas. Yesterday, she posed the following questions about a reading and signing that I did at Books Inc. in Alameda (at the invitation of my dear friend, Jerry Thompson) at the beginning of this year:

How did it feel?
Reading to an audience always feels wonderful. It's a lot like teaching in a classroom. Facing a group of people can be a very effective way of communicating with observers because it provides such a perfect opportunity for openness. Looking others in the eye stirs something within each of us. When I read to groups, I tell them that I will focus on the pages rather than looking up mechanically to make eye contact. Concentrating on the page re-inserts me into the writing zone and allows me to do my best presentation for listeners.

How did the audience respond?
They seemed very immersed in the reading; I felt that they were listening deeply. They offered interesting comments and asked compelling questions.

What feedback did you get?
The feedback that stands out was about the comforting nature of being read to. Perhaps one of the most thrilling things about getting feedback is the element of surprise. A writer could never anticipate how all readers will respond to their work. For one thing, it's good to remember that it will always be a mystery exactly how many people read one's work and what will be  their reactions. But when you do get to interact with readers, they often teach you new aspects of your own stories. Writing and reading are very interactive processes.

What did you learn?
I was reminded of how important it is to express how much I love writing when I read and discuss my work. This feels entirely natural to me. Sometimes, I assume that all writers feel that way, but I'm frequently reminded that this is a very individual experience.

How did it help you grow as a writer?
Each reading is unique and naturally augments the one that came before. Comfort increases with practice. That particular reading (at Books Inc.) made me want to do more. It reminded me of certain limitations of ebook devices. They don't adapt to getting authors' signatures; they're quite impersonal in many ways compared to physical books. What did I learn? I learned that writing and reading indeed have great potential for unifying people. I knew almost everyone who came to that particular reading and had not seen many of them for a very long time. It was a wonderful and moving reunion. What a blessing to be surrounded and embraced by so many brilliant relatives, extended family, and valued friends.
Allison Bliss

Monday, September 30, 2013

Audience−I'm Reaching Out to You!


Welcome back to all of us.

It's been a while since I've posted to my own blog. Now, I'm back--not with a vengeance--but with determination to reach out to the audience for my writing and to connect you with my work. This lapse in blog upkeep has been very productive. As a result, Oaktown Writers Collective (OWC) was co-created with Dr. Lesa Hammond and Colette Winlock. You're invited to visit our website:

Oaktown Writers Collective

I've finished my fifth book, Listening Out Loud: A Friend to the Serious Writer and have scheduled three local workshops presenting this approach toward creative writing. Find out details on my website,

OWC held our first meetup yesterday; it was a wonderful mix of fellow writers. Dr. Hammond shared with us valuable information from her book, Achieve in 5! How to Transform Your Life in Just Five Minutes a Day. Explore the book for yourselves, but we did a freewrite about dreams and finish lines that inspired me to revive this blog. My big brother Ken was one of the participants, which made all the difference in the world. My husband's continuous support and attentiveness also nudged me toward spending this time with you, right now. Why? Because you're my audience and I want what's best for you.

Listening Out Loud: A Friend to the Serious Writer is my first nonfiction title. Here's the list of the three novels and collection of short stories that preceded it:

Tanner Blue

Painted Deserts


Music for the Dream--Seven Short Stories

I'm off to do our weekly show on Blog Talk Radio. I want to stay in much closer touch with you.

Best wishes,

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Civil Peace

America has been engaged in nonmilitary civil war, coincidentally, since President Barack Obama campaigned for a first term. Blue states, red states, colliding into one great bruise. Great nation that we are, let us commit to Civil Peace. Change we can believe in.