Saturday, June 22, 2013

Little Feathers: Word Paintings

Little Feathers: Word Paintings: Today I learned a lot about writing. In an art class! Up here in our mountain valley above Taos, NM, we have several fine artists. One is Ke...

Word Paintings

Today I learned a lot about writing. In an art class! Up here in our mountain valley above Taos, NM, we have several fine artists. One is Kevin McPherson (, who paints and teaches all over the world. He and his wife, Wanda, are very generous with our community, and we were invited to watch Kevin demonstrate painting outside. It is called En Plein Air, French for 'in the open air'. Kevin is a master at it, and today he took us through the thought processes he uses to create his paintings. As he did, I got more and more excited about what he was saying, because it was as true about writing as it is about painting.
He talked about squinting down to see the essence of color that may in fact be a mountain or a tree; it is made of light and dark. Of warm and cool. So he mixes a color and fills in the shape with this dominant, medium range color that is revealed to his eye. Detail will come later. And, as Kevin explained his technique, I thought about creating a character for a story or a book. I start with a general idea of who this person is. So I color him in. If he is more dark than light at this point in the story, I see him that way. I write him that way. But if that is all he was, he would not be interesting. Or real. He would be one dimensional. So then I begin to look for the little edges of light, however tiny. The ambivalent parts that are lighter shadows or darker highlights. I see how what is around him colors him. The sun shining on a green tree is a very different picture from that same tree on a rainy day. What is happening around my character, and how does that shape him?
An analogy? OK. A technique? For sure. It extends to plot, as well. I need to know the focus of my story. I need to see the completed picture before me as Kevin sees the lake and trees, sky and mountains he will interpret. Not the minute detail at first, but certainly the flow of color, the shape of light and dark. Maybe not the idiosyncrasies of every character (because we know how those characters like to take over our interpretation of them sometimes). Maybe not the subplots. Maybe those jump onto the page like the suprising yellow Kevin added to the white clouds when the sun hit them.
I am excited to get back to work on the sequel to Raina Rising (which is coming out soon), I can't wait to paint her ballet master, her fellow dancers, and the Soviet ballet school itself.
Thanks, Kevin!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Little Feathers: The Shadowlands

Little Feathers: The Shadowlands: I grew up loving the 23rd Psalm. Most people know it..."The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". I heard it many places, but no...

The Shadowlands

I grew up loving the 23rd Psalm. Most people know it..."The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". I heard it many places, but no hearing made a bigger impression on me than hearing it at a funeral. I thought that the beautiful lines, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil," were the psalmist considering his own death. And maybe they were. But they have a different meaning to me today.

Having lost people I love, including grandparents, parents-in-law, a sister-in-law, and many friends, I find myself drawing comfort from those lines as a survivor. I see how the shadow of death touches all of us, from the time we are born. And the shadow of death darkens each day that I hear about a tragedy like killer tornadoes or fire fighters lost in an apartment blaze. The shadow chills the bones, and not just with the human-nature reaction of realizing I am going to die. But with the grief of the people who don't die, but lose the ones they love. The shadow falls on those who are living with disease, with the loss of their health, and those who love them.

Living in the shadow without fearing evil--that seems like an impossible task sometimes. Sometimes we are simply overcome with grief at the loss, the incredible loss, to be endured. I understand that grief is not evil. It is the emotion that must be felt keenly and completely in order to move on with living. Yet there is evil, very real evil at work in the world, and that is what strikes fear into my heart. Hearing of child abuse, torture of prisoners, injustice and racism and oppression...the ability of mankind to become monsters whose compassion and decency has disappeared strikes fear into my heart.

So, how to live in the shadowlands without fearing evil? The phrase I left out of the 4th verse is the key, for me. "...for Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."  I have to admit I have no idea why a rod and staff would work--I'm sure Bible scholars could tell me exactly-- but I certainly get the gist of it. God lives in the shadowlands with us. There is no tragedy, no death, no atrocity that occurs apart from God. The age old question of why bad things happen to good people is a difficult one to address. But I do believe that God walks beside us in our grief, and in our fear.

Life in this world is life in the valley of the shadow of death. So I am grateful for a God who "leads me beside still waters," who "restores my soul".  I can feel God beside me sometimes, and sometimes I just have to take it on faith because I don't feel it. I draw comfort from that nearness, and from the memory of it. And comfort lets light into the valley.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Little Feathers: Humble Pie

Little Feathers: Humble Pie: When I was growing up, I thought the phrase, "humble pie", sounded really awful. Like something I never wanted to taste. Right up ...

Humble Pie

When I was growing up, I thought the phrase, "humble pie", sounded really awful. Like something I never wanted to taste. Right up there with pie made of four and twenty blackbirds. Now? Well, now I still don't really like the thought, but I have lived long enough to understand humility a little better. It doesn't mean feeling inferior, or bowing and scraping. It means understanding I am no better, and no worse, than anyone else. It is the truth about my place in creation.
I have been working full speed ahead on some writing projects, pushing, pushing them in hopes that an enlightened publisher will see their worth and help me launch them into the cosmos. And that is a good thing. Unless I lose sight of the truth. Unless I start to take my writing, and my life, for granted. Unless I forget that I am blessed beyond measure with the chance to sit and write at my leisure. If I forget to be grateful and begin to think I am in control of what happens when I hit the "send" button, or put stamps on my self addressed stamped envelope, then I am needing a little ego adjustment. And humble pie is on the menu.  It must be nutritious, because it surely isn't tasty!
I had two projects that were looking really promising. In fact, I had mentally decided they were in the bag. So when I got rejections, it was unnerving. I did a tail spin onto the other side of humility which is also a lie. I worried that I really don't have anything of worth to contribute. That I should just give up, and why did I think I could write to begin with! But that is not the flavor that my creator intended for humble pie. That thinking is every bit as self absorbed as egotism, every bit as self focused. Self pity and self doubt both begin with "self".
So, this morning I am sitting at my laptop desk in a beautiful cabin in New Mexico that Bob and I were blessed to help build. I am reminded of the truth about my life. That every good thing has been given to me, and I am blinded by smallness if I forget to live in gratitude. Writing from that place, from the sure and certain knowledge that I am loved, is my privilege. I am starting fresh today, chalking up the rejections as lessons to be learned. Hopeful that opening my mind to the blessings of the day will set my fingers on a good path. A path of gratitude for everything, including humble pie.