You Don’t Have A Book IN You–Because that is not where books live

It is a truism that every person has a book inside of them. However, this isn’t exactly accurate.
No book is inside the constructed self that anyone calls “me.” That self itself isn’t as “real” as a swing set on a playground, but I’ll leave the details of that to Buddhism and other spiritual paths.
Any book–written, partially written, or just aspirational–exists in an intermediate zone that consists of you, your imagination, literary lineage, and the world of other people. It doesn’t reside in the conscious mind, or we could grab it like a dental appointment card. It isn’t unconscious either, or it would stay that way. Rather, it is located in what Freudians used to call the pre-conscious–the realm where things emerge: dreams, daydreams, visions, and of course stories.
That book you want to write is made of only one substance: words. Words and sentences from whatever language you are writing in. Language is a book’s mother, grandmother, foster mother, step-mother, godmother, sister, and all of its second cousins once removed.
The book belongs to language as much as to you.
To write it, you must navigate between the lived and the observed, between what you think is the self and everything else. Books called “How To Write A Novel” are full of handy tips but they don’t always admit that a book is not inside the writer as if it were an internal organ. You don’t control it. You don’t even possess it. You might invoke it, incubate it, conjure it, or fashion it. Indeed, you should.
But you can’t pull it out like a radish from the earth or a bean from a toddler’s nose.

Horror Genre and The Craft of Writing

I’m enjoying a new blog by a younger writer I know, Last Lantern.
It covers the Horror genre, and there is some great mythic material on the blog. But I particularly like a section devoted to the author’s outtakes, bits of story that may or may not find a home elsewhere:

Story Bones

This is a page for weird little bits of writing that may never actually find themselves in a story.

“Everyone who has ever seen the end of things always speaks of the Dragon. Some speak of the claws that rend earth to shadow. Others speak of the scales that turn aside the slings and arrows of time itself. While you point to its fangs, he points to its glistening eyes, and she is lost in its voice like earth asunder. I can really tell you nothing about the dragon, save that it is coming and our world will bleach to bone in its wake.”

“It was heavy. Not just to hold, but to look upon. It was a thing whose meaning was unavoidable and whose use was abominable to the consciousness. He couldn’t life it, yet, but he knew the the day would come when his hands would become so caked with blood that the instrument would feel comfortable in his grip.”


I just love the idea, and the writing. Check out the blog!

Letter To My Younger Self by Baro Shalizi

Letter to my Younger Self

At sixteen, you think you are quite worldly. You have lived in four countries, two of those in boarding schools far from your home and family. You are responsible. Looking back, kiddo, I must say, you were too responsible.

Remember the time you left home to come to America for school. You stopped in London overnight and stayed with family friends. They begged you to stay a few days see the country, but you adamantly refused because school had already started. It turned out you were bored in school and often fell asleep in class. The standard of education was so much lower in the US than what you were accustomed to. You could have spent a few days in England and been none the worse off. But you did the right thing. In college, while many of your friends experimented with drugs, you abstained and focused on your studies. Decades later, those friends are doing just as well in life as you are. At the time you didn’t realize that there were two ways to learning – academic and experiential.

But your instincts stood you in good stead. You have traveled to numerous countries, worked for the UN, started numerous businesses of your own, but most importantly you have a plethora of friends. Friends who are always there for you – the biggest treasure in the world. To have good friends, you have to be a good friend. You have done well, young man.

Notes From The Forest Fire


I’m in an artist’s residency in the southern Rockies, collaborating with my daughter Isabel.
Where am I really? The days of being a Romantic poet in a bucolic setting seem to be over (probably a hundred years ago). There is rural poverty and oppression in Hardy’s novels, but still, the city is worse. And I’m in an eco-system beleaguered by global warming and drought.
This mountain burned twenty years ago. It’s burning again, the scrub oak that sprang up. I’m pretty afraid of wildfires because I have only one fully working lung and I try to avoid the smoke. Yet the fire is contained, now smoldering. On National Forest land the fire can’t be fought with chemicals in the same way it is one private land. A helicopter has dumped water. I feel a huge love and gratitude for the four guys up there working to contain the fire.
And yet I’ve read enough Gary Snyder to know that western forests need to burn to be healthy. This forest fire is a hundred percent not about me. Yet it impacts me. In this it is pretty much like every other problem I’m facing right now—an ill friend, a demented frail family member, world events.
I sit in an old comfy arm chair on the front porch. I should sweep, but housekeeping is never my strong suit. I myself am full of contradiction. I want to: write, work in the print studio, run off to Questa to see if there are ice cream pops in the general store.
Isabel has been teaching me a lot. She gave me lessons on her camera. Taught me to make a monoprint. Yet sometimes I want to quibble with her, even boss her around. Or watch Mad Max with her.
It’s too easy for me to say—just go with the flow, to pick peace and grooviness over confrontation with this world. It’s too easy to say—well, reality is shit, how can I be so happy here in this gorgeous setting drinking my coffee when people are dying in the street the world over.
I’m quite convinced there is a Middle Way not just because I’ve heard its rumors but because I see it moment by moment before me, whether or not it leads me to Questa.


Monday Feature by Michaela Kahn: Why We Love Public Libraries

Public Libraries, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways …

Recently I’ve been spending a lot more time in the public library than I have in quite awhile and its reminded me just how very very much I love public libraries. Here I sit on a Sunday afternoon, in one of these little student desks at the Southside branch of the Santa Fe Public Library system. There’s air conditioning, quiet, peace, comfy chairs, a few thousand books, and a place for everybody – heaven.

I used to work in a library, Boulder Public, the main branch downtown. It was a great job – clocking in to spend my hours sorting books and shelving, helping the occasional lost patron find something. The Boulder library was a haven for all sorts of people, from tourists who needed some water and directions, to high school students studying for exams, to a whole range of homeless people who had no where else to go to stay warm or wash their hair.

Over the years I’ve traveled and lived in quite a number of cities and states across the country, and everywhere I go, the public library is one of the first places I look for. More than once in my life public libraries have been my only source for access to Wi-Fi and entertainment. In Wisconsin the library systems were all tied together, and from a tiny little public library in rural Reedsburg, I could request books from all over the state, including the better stocked libraries in Madison.

The obvious reason that I love libraries of course is the books. I’m never going to be able to buy all the books I want to read – so here at the library I can stretch my knowledge and find new and old works to add to my list. But there is more to my love of libraries than that …

For those without computers or the money to pay those exorbitant cable/internet fees – the library is a place where we can get online, find resources, look for jobs, print out resumes, email friends. And there’s the access to entertainment too – just last night we checked out a great movie we’d never seen before by Francis Ford Coppola. And there’s the people – a librarian can help you find the information you need or connect you to resources. There’s the kid’s section – without which I know my childhood would have been a lot less fun. Do you remember summers as a kid, making a weekly trip to the library for a huge stack of books? And there’s library programs – the magician here at Southside yesterday, speakers on local environmental issues, the occasional local author giving a reading. And there’s space – rooms to be reserved for community groups to meet or groups of students to study.

But most of all I think I love libraries because they are truly public. It’s a place to rest, to sit, to read, to work, to get out of the heat, to learn – and everybody is welcome. To my mind public libraries are at the pinnacle of civilization, the best of what we can do together.

Why do you love libraries?

More Recommended Books On Writing

Diana Rico Right now I am groovin’ on Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story.” It’s my third read-through and it is helping me make critical story breakthroughs on my first novel.

Donna Snyder On Becoming a Writer was one of the first I read and I recall at the time I thought it was great.

Liz Wallace Art and Fear

Janet Brennan Oh yes, I forgot about that one. The successful. Novelist ” by David. David Morrell. Highly recommended.

Paula Ambika Bromberg Of course that’s easy—all of Natalie Goldberg’s books..They rocked my soul….if that counts as helping me write…they inspire and delight…what’s yours?

Claudia Long Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

Richard Peabody Sol Stein’s book on writing fiction. Taught Gardner, Goldberg, and Lamott for eons. Lance Olsen’s book and John Dufresne’s are also great for fiction.

Jennie Cooley Stephen Kings book on writing. keep going back to it.

Alfred Stanley The Elements of Style

Joyce Kornblatt ONE CONTINUOUS MISTAKE, Gail Sher

Linda Wiener Art and Fear is my vote too

John Roche I often use Writing Down the Bones or Susan Wooldridge’s Poemcrazy in classes. But the book that worked for me was Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading.

Cinny Green one of my favorites is The Passionate Accurate Story by Carl Bly.

Marmika Paskiewicz Writing Down the Bones definitely was/is it for me – gave me the freedom to leap into it with all my fingers sticky without worrying “Am I really a writer?” or “Is it good enough?”

Marmika Paskiewicz I really want a writing guide with “snow” in the title…

Lauren Marie Reichelt The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It helped me to develop a concise and clear literary style.

Kate McCahill Dicey’s Song changed my writing life.

Terry Lucas I agree with all of the above. And I know you asked for “the best book,” but all of the following have been “the best” at different times for me: Best Words, Best Order by Stephen Dobyns; The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, Ordinar…See More

Charles Trumbull The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser. One of the most sensible books on writing IMHO.

Doug Bootes Unbroken Line: Writing in the Lineage of Poetry. Seriously, I use this book more often than any to help expand and solidify my poetry.

Aline Tayar Kate Grenville and Sue Wolff’s Ten Australian Stories – interviews with famous Australian writers who talk about how they came to write one of their novels – from Jessica Anderson to Patrick White and Peter Carey. There are samples of early drafts as well as the final version of a piece of text. How an idea is born and how it gestates – this is the one book on writing that I’ve read and re-read.

Kelly Davio Scene and Structure. It’s dry, but incredibly useful. It’s a technical manual rather than a rah-rah-you-can-do-it book, and that works for me.

What’s the best book on writing you’ve ever read–and did it actually help you write?

I decided to crowd source the question—What’s the best book on writing you’ve ever read–and did it actually help you write?—and got a huge response! There is some repetition here, but I thought I’d leave it in because the responders are interesting writers themselves.
I’ll be blogging the responses over a few days. Readers please feel free to add to this.

Jeanne Simonoff I would have to say writing down the bones by Natalie Goldberg—timed writing is my life.

Bettina Jane Lancaster Ditto -bc of her permission to write “the worst garbage in Amercia”

Michelle Holland _One Writer’s Beginnings_, Eudora Welty. Allowed permission to reach for and describe the intangible in our tangible world — to make connections from inside to outside and trust that an audience would come along for the ride.

Cirrelda Snider-Bryan me own mama loved that book – have and read her copy

Donna Hilbert Because it helped me to be a better reader, it has helped me be a better writer,”How to Read a Poem and Start a Poetry Circle,” by Molly Peacock. I have been waiting for someone to ask that question.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I have urged all of my workshop students to read it.

Stephanie West Allen The books by Donald Maass, and, yes, they were very helpful. He is working on another one and I am looking forward to the read.

Anne MacNaughton James’ Woods, “How Fiction Works.” Since I don’t write fiction, of little use there, but a true eye-opener on ‘voice’ and a huge assist in critiquing creative work from movies to novels to poetry.
The side effect is that I know too much about voice now and tend to complain about some of the hot popular movies and novels – and get obnoxious about it when folks start to praise them. Ruined my enjoyment of some ‘classics.’ But he’s brilliant!
Susan Nalder TO SHOW AND TELL by Phillip Lopate;THE WRITER’S PORTABLE MENTOR by Priscilla Long; YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP by Lee Gutkind; THE SITUATION AND THE STORY by Vivian Gornick; BEYOND THE WRITER’S WORKSHOP by Carol Bly; TELLING IT SLANT by Brenda Miller & Suzanne Paola. Selected chapters in each of these books; i use them to edit and inspire; some really good exercises; issues in creative nonfiction treated well –

Have You Sacrificed To Be A Writer or Artist?

After writing a recent blog post about not having it all, I started to wonder about the rather old-fashioned romantic view of the artist as having to sacrifice something for that art. This might include ordinary life, financial security, even health or mental well-being. It’s an idea that held some sway with me when young—and I’ve always loved La Boheme. However, when I asked a group of contemporary writers and artists this question, most hardly saw any dilemma at all.

What did you sacrifice?

Some noted that one choice excludes another:

Isabel Winson-Sagan Other life plans

Yehudis Fishman really every choice that is chosen sacrifices the choices not chosen; most of us have multi and often conflicting interests that we have to navigate between.

A few did note the sacrifice:

Larry Goodell A huge sacrifice. No moneyed career. Poverty as a result of priority being the demand of creativity. Consequently very little travel and almost a daily penny pinching. But creative life has its incomparable surprises.

But a lot of the response focused on the purely positive:

Audrey Erin Wiggins I see writing as a gift not a sacrifice. It’s special.

Rod Scott I think it is a sacrifice to ignore the muse. Ignoring the muse has led to decreased empathy and frustration. My challenge has always been to make the effort to embrace the creative muse as it attempts to envelope my consciousness.

Reverie Escobedo When I was writing more, sacrificed on all fronts but was so glad to be writing and it allowed me to be home with my kids.

Holly Baldwin I sacrifice time daily as a parent for my children’s art, but that is very important to me as a member of the human family. More than anything, I sacrifice sleep and exercise, although I have become much better with that studying art/writing than I ever was as a pre-nursing student. I think we all sacrifice something in our pursuits, but it has to be for something extraordinary to our heart for it to be worth the trade off. Do what you love.

Jan Marquart I sacrifice nothing. Writing is first, everything else falls behind that.

Michael Smith No sacrifice at all, except TV. And that is no big loss! But perhaps I am in a unique position.

And some continue to contemplate the muse:

Russell Miller I don’t think I’ve offered up to the gods anything I wanted to keep for myself. But I admit I ask myself that question almost every day.

Guy Nickson Threading the different imperatives of life may not be a matter of volition or sacrifice. Maybe it’s karma or the puppet master that makes us dance our feverish jigs? Only Regret invites the question.


Thanks to all participants—a wonderfully varied and thoughtful cohort.

I Don’t Want To Have It All by Miriam Sagan

Recently, people have been complimenting me on my apparent creative productivity by saying: I don’t know how you do it all. But this is not a compliment I deserve, because I’m actually doing very few things. Yes, my novel (that took decades to write) just came out, and I’m running a writing program, and going on residencies—but this is essentially an integrated whole. I’m good at it, I know what I’m doing, I’m focused—and most important, I want to be doing it, and feel this is my life’s purpose.
I’m a 61 year old woman who right now isn’t doing any primary care taking for someone very aged, sick, or dying. Or, conversely, for small children or crazed teenagers. The periods of my life where this was true were considerably less productive. I also don’t can from my garden, volunteer, belong to any organized religious groups, work out at a gym, or floss. I don’t go to Paris. And I am uninformed on popular culture and not very well informed on world events.
Honestly, I’ve never tried to “have it all” because I’ve never had the stamina, or the skill set. I’m not in the entitled male artist role because I can cook tofu and clean up after myself—but I must admit I lean more in that direction than in the female direction of having it all.
What I really like, besides being a writer and teacher, is hanging around, being with my husband Rich and daughter Isabel and son-in-law Tim, having friends, being pretty places, dancing by myself, taking a bath, Netflix, reading, and going out for coffee. I have my guilty materialistic pleasures—but they aren’t very time consuming. I feel my obituary should read: She divided her time between Tune Up Cafe and Counterculture. Tune-Up is walking distance, Counterculture three minutes by car down Baca Street. Both provide cafe au lait.
Conversely, those who praise me often criticize me too— I don’t go out much to events, I tend to bail quickly from parties. I don’t have a smart phone—or even a workable cell. I may say I live for art but I seem to have a lot of accessories. The truth is—I’m not off the grid, or unmaterialistic. I just want a small but firm wedge between me and consumer culture. I may be femmey, but I also want that wedge between me and feminine expectation. I have what I need, I don’t much mind what I don’t have—and that is ample.

The Sewing Room

Summer is, paradoxically, a more introverted time for me. I’ve been on an academic calendar for so long–I regard it as a fishing boat regards the tides. The rhythms rule my life. Each semester has a curve, but summer is the major break. (May I just add for those of you out there who think teachers get paid for 12 months but work 9 that teachers are on 9 month contracts. And either work summers doing something else–I once met two different middle school teachers driving cabs in the space of one week–or stretch the paycheck).
But this summer I’m not “working” although I’m still overseeing the literary magazine production, producing books for other authors under Tres Chicas and Miriam’s Well, midwifing two books of mine (both forthcoming with New Mexico presses), and, oh yes…writing. It looks like a lot, but it really isn’t too much. I’m hanging around a lot and wasting a lot of time. The cat is well groomed. The yard is well watered. Then, there is my TO DO list.
For three seasons a year, I put things off on to the Summer To Do List. Did I change the water filters? Check. Look at an old poetry manuscript (and discover to my horror that it was deeply flawed)? Check.
Summer gives me more time alone, more time staring into space, and more time to notice small things. Today I’ve been experiencing how the internet lets me into intimate personal spaces created by other people. I got an invitation to write a list that quantified things with numbers–an intriguing idea. It is for another writer’s project–and I’ll share the result when she posts it. But it got me thinking about my house (again!)–this time perhaps more affectionately:

“The Sewing Room”
When my daughter left home, I took her room (which had been mine originally) and called it a sewing room, but I didn’t sew. Then I started!
I realized I should have called it the “world peace room” or the “best selling novel room” because its name was predictive.

27 pink, turquoise, and gray knit squares that have not been sewn into an afghan
3 pairs of underpants drying
114 books my daughter took to her house
4 mouse holes
16 bits of mosaic inlaid in the wall
2 times that this room was mine
26 big plastic letters of the alphabet
2 now gone high school boyfriends who are the reason the screen is broken
1 wooden spoon used to prop the window open
76 feminist Tarot cards
40 unsold copies of my haiku book
2 pots with polka dots–too ugly to plant
1 weaving of a volcano
2 pillowcases embroidered by a woman who crossed herself with my pesos