Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Final Blog Post on blogger.com

 Dear Friends,

This is the final post you'll find from me on blogger.com and the final one you'll find in your e-mail box or RSS feeder from this host site.

If you've already migrated with me over to the new site, thank you very much. You'll stop receiving any duplicate e-mails of blog posts you may have gotten starting August 1, 2012.

All new posts will be only at the new site.  The new site feeds both to my Facebook page and my Twitter account @laraineherring.

If you'd like to continue receiving the blog posts in your e-mail box, please do the following:

Go to the site.

Click on the gray + follow button on the lower right corner.

Enter your e-mail address.

You'll receive a confirmation e-mail that you'll have to activate to start your new subscription.

If you'd like to subscribe through an RSS feeder, you'll see the RSS feed link in the upper right part of the website.

Whether you choose to continue to keep up with my writing and teaching or if we're parting ways, thank you for the time you've spent with me. I appreciate each of you.



Friday, July 27, 2012

Something Better Happen: Or, Plotting is Your Friend

Arvin Loudermilk taught me more about how to tell a story than anyone or anyplace else on the planet. He didn't do it all by himself. He did it through books he recommended, TV shows and movies we watched together, and by letting me watch a Manic Plotter at work over the almost twenty-five years I've known him. This Plot-World is not necessarily a safe environment to venture into, especially for someone like me who lives in the Land of Pretty Sentences surrounded by a lot of intuition and hope that those pretty sentences make a story. Arvin lives in the land of Something Is Happening.

How is that possible? Because he makes sure it is. He holds entire universes in his head, backstories for hundreds of characters, thousands of pages of a series of novels.

He makes worlds. I follow words. For a long time, there was a cavernous moat between us on this issue, filled with alligators and damsels in distress, and flying dragons, and ... or, as Arvin would say, cut the babble and find the story.

I guess it's normal to stick with what's familiar and with what you're good at. Because I loved language first, I focused my studies on that and figured the rest would take care of itself. Sure, I loved a good story, but not nearly as much as I loved a great sentence. And, as often happens to those of us who love the sentence, we poo-poo the genres that focus on story more than sentence. That's not writing. That's storytelling! we might say in a dark corner after a poetry reading when we notice someone is carrying a copy of the latest mega-bestseller.

Over the years, at least for me, I've had to step back from Language Land and really investigate what makes a story. I want people to read my stories, and let's face it, most people want a good story more than they want a fabulous sentence.

Why can't there be both? I think there can be, but not if a person doesn't understand what makes a story compelling. Very few people will just read strings of sentences. They want the suspense. The tension. The experience of being in another world. Sentences are the tools for creating that world, but I've learned they must be more than beautiful. They have to carry the weight of the story's movement. They have to construct, deconstruct, and seduce. A sentence isn't a fluffy socialite. It's a warrior.

I wanted to spend some time while on sabbatical learning to write differently. I wanted to learn more about what I am weakest at, and I wanted to push myself out of what was comfortable. I asked Arvin for book recommendations from authors who were strong plotters.He recommended books by Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, John Connolly, and Neil Gaiman. He recommended rewatching the HBO series The Wire. I studied shows like Breaking Bad and Damages and The Killing, asking myself: What are the writers doing to make me respond like X? What are they doing to make me respond like Y?

I studied these authors like I once studied highbrow literature in college, and surprisingly, I found myself enjoying reading again. I was reading stories that moved on the page, that surprised me, that made me cry. I hadn't cried reading a book in twenty years. Then I read Robert McCammon's A Boy's Life.

Teaching so long had turned me into a reader who read for intellectual reasons. I had forgotten somewhere that I used to read because reading took me places. It made me feel things. It opened my heart (and my mind), but it opened my heart first. I wanted to get back to that place, and I've had a bit of success with that this year. I have fallen in love again with stories. Now, I've got to keep working on putting into practice the things I'm learning.

Arvin helps me with this. Check out his book In a Flash. I have listened to him talk about the characters and the worlds in this book (and the subsequent ones in the series), for years. He simply gets Story.

Remember, if you want to keep following the blog and you haven't signed up at the new site, please make sure to do so. The blogger site will be taken down in August. To move to the new site, do the following:

Visit the new site.

Click on the RSS feeder icon on the right side of the screen and add the new URL to your feed reader.

If you prefer to receive blog posts via e-mail, click on the gray + Follow button on the lower right side of the screen. Add your e-mail address to the form. You'll receive a confirmation e-mail at that address that you'll have to click to activate.

See you there!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Girl, Ya Gotta Work It, Work It

My twenties mostly sucked. I had graduated from college and couldn't find work in Tucson, so I returned to Phoenix, a place I swore I'd never go back to. Besides my family, the two people who kept me sane, focused, and fired up, were Arvin Loudermilk and Mike Iverson. I met Arvin just after high school, and I met Mike shortly after that. Arvin and Mike became creative and business partners, and they were both smart as hell and wickedly talented and they were amused by me. I missed the get-married-out-of-college-boat, which was fine since I really didn't want to be married or on a boat, but it was more difficult to find and keep friends once school ended than I thought it would be.

To say that I spent most every weekend for a dozen years with Mike and Arvin is not my usual hyperbole. They formed a creative partnership that has survived and flourished into today. Now, they work together as The Concentrium. They are responsible for the design of this site (and all my previous websites), for the layout and design of my first book, Monsoons, and the layout and design of both the print and e-book versions of Ghost Swamp Blues. But they are responsible for much more than that in my life. They taught me how to work and how to both tell and show a story -- not an idea, not a conversation, but a story.

The three of us went to see movies I'd have never seen on my own. I watched television shows I'd have never seen, and they still send me television shows to watch that I'd have never picked or heard of. They talked non-stop about characters and stories and the imagination. And pretty much every minute they weren't at their day jobs, they were making art. We were all in our twenties. We were all good at our art, not great, (and not nearly as great as we thought), but good enough to be dangerous, and more importantly, good enough to believe we could be better.

We'd get back from seeing a (fill in superhero action movie here) and have pizza and then go to work. Mike would draw well into the early morning hours. Arvin wrote. I wrote too, but I also fell asleep on the couch a lot. They worked around me. There was no room not to be working. So that's what I learned how to do. I had a raw talent, but I'd made it through school with nominal effort, except in math and science. My "good enough" writing in school was just that. Good enough. No one took the time to help me get better, and now that I teach one hundred students a semester, I understand, after I've just spent an hour trying to decipher a paragraph with no punctuation or topic, how the ones who are good enough get very few comments. There's only so much time. So I didn't know what I didn't know during the nineties, but none of us did. We persevered. We sent out work. They got their first comic book series, Vigil, published through Innovation in 1992. I got my first short story published in the anthology Walking the Twilight in that same year. We all moved on from there.

The 10,000 hours it takes to become anything, to do anything, I experienced with them. And I know now that the 10,000 hours is just the first part. There's another 10,000 and another and another after that. I watched them never give up. They were early embracers of the internet and web publishing and have always put the story first. If they couldn't find one avenue to release it, they'd find another, and if they couldn't find another, they'd make their own. There was no possibility of quitting. I watched them hold, shift, and commit to a vision of a story arc. I watched them embody their stories. And since they wouldn't accept anything less from me, I learned to do the same. "Nothing" could never be the answer to: "What are you working on now?" And so it never is.

And so I am a writer.

I'll be sharing more about Arvin in the next blog and how his approach to storytelling has influenced mine, and then I'll share some insights about writing that I learned from Mike and his visual art and prop-making projects in a separate post.

In the meantime, Arvin's first novel is out: In a Flash. You can read an excerpt on his website or on any of the on-line retailers. It's well worth it.

Remember, if you want to keep following the blog and you haven't signed up at the new site, please make sure to do so. The blogger site will be taken down in August. To move to the new site, do the following:

Visit the new site.

Click on the RSS feeder icon on the right side of the screen and add the new URL to your feed reader.

If you prefer to receive blog posts via e-mail, click on the gray + Follow button on the lower right side of the screen. Add your e-mail address to the form. You'll receive a confirmation e-mail at that address that you'll have to click to activate. See you there!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ghost Swamp Blues Available as an E-book

There was a time when I thought I'd never read on an e-reader. Now, it has become my preference. It could be connected to the belief that I would never need reading glasses, but now I can't even read the back of a frozen pizza box. Fortunately, eight minutes at 425 seems to cook most things. I'm not tearing down the joy of paper books at all. I'm just noticing the frequency and ease of my reading life has improved tremendously since I started reading on an e-reader. I started with a Kindle, and because I drank every last syrupy drop of the Steve Jobs Kool-Aid, I now have an iPad which is my new best friend, until I got the new iPhone, which is now my new best friend, which tells you I might need actual living friends, but on my iProducts, it's always sunny and 73 degrees, and who can actually say that about real people?

Seriously, I'm very excited to be working with The Concentrium (who are real people and real friends, not just iFriends) on the e-book of my novel, Ghost Swamp Blues, which was released in print by White River Press in 2010. 

It's been re-designed for the e-world and released from The Concentrium as an e-book for $2.99 at the usual suspects: iBooks, Barnes & Noble (Nook), and Amazon. I hope you'll check it out (and yes, you can download the first pages for free!)

Remember, if you want to keep following the blog and you haven't signed up at the new site, please make sure to do so. The blogger site will be taken down in August. 

To move to the new site, do the following: 

Visit the new site

Click on the RSS feeder icon on the right side of the screen and add the new URL to your feed reader. 

If you prefer to receive blog posts via e-mail, click on the gray + Follow button on the lower right side of the screen. Add your e-mail address to the form. You'll receive a confirmation e-mail at that address that you'll have to click to activate. See you there!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Blog Migration

Are any of you still there? I hope so. And I hope you'll follow me over to my new home.

My sabbatical is almost over and I am planning on returning to blogging twice monthly when the semester begins. I've also got some special announcements to share with you over the next few weeks.

During this time away, we've made some significant changes to the blog and to my website. This blog (laraineherring.blogspot.com) is going to be deleted shortly. Unfortunately, though I've migrated the blog posts to the new site, I cannot migrate the followers and subscribers. I'm really sorry about that. I'm converting to Wordpress, which is much easier to use and is going to allow me to make many more frequent updates to the website in addition to the blog.

If you'd still like to follow the blog (and I promise I'll be posting again soon), please do the following:

Go to the new Wordpress site site. (http://www.laraineherring.com) If you currently like to read the blog through an RSS feeder, then please look on the right side under the book covers. You'll see "Feeds" and the icon for the RSS feeder. If you prefer to get the blog on your e-mail, you'll see a gray rectangular box on the lower right side of the screen with a + symbol and "follow". Click on that box and fill in your e-mail address. I can't complete this part for you, unfortunately. That's it! Your blog subscription process will be completed.

If you poke around on the new site, you'll see there's a contact link on the upper right. If you'd like to be added to the e-mail list for my every-other-month newsletter (a new feature!), please fill out that form and check the box.

I have also, theoretically, figured out how to feed the new site into Facebook just like we did before.

You may notice the new site is laraineherring.net instead of laraineherring.com. I'm in the process of transferring the domain ownership of laraineherring.com from my current registrar to the same hosting service we're using with the new site, so both domain names will reflect each other soon. We will eventually just redirect the .net site to the .com one. (I know, too much information) That transition should be much simpler and not require you to re-sign up for the blog.

I'd like to offer a huge thank you to my amazing friends at The Concentrium for helping so much with the design and transitioning of my domain and data.

I'll be posting both on this blog and the new site for a few weeks before shutting down the Blogspot blog.

I hope you'll continue to join me. Enjoy the final weeks of summer!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Wounded Writing Warrior

You'd think with my life of stunning athleticism, grace, Xtreme sports (you should see me on a skateboard) and just plain passion for intense physical activity, (sarcasm alert) that I'd be used to getting hurt. Not so.

I'm in Massachusetts today getting ready to teach The Writing Warrior workshop at Kripalu. I fell a couple of days ago on an easy walk around the neighborhood. It was almost 70 degrees, breezy -- all conditions perfect for me going outside (I have a four-degree comfort range....) We were 2/3 of the way done with our couple mile walk when I tripped on uneven pavement.

I sprained this ankle twice before. The first time was in Italy. I fell down a marble staircase with a suitcase, but I did end up with a dapper cane from an Italian pharmacia. I also spent the rest of the trip shouting "Basta!" and swatting at gypsy children who circled me right away once I was the wounded-walking-weak. The second time was two years ago after a yoga class. I tripped in a pothole in the parking lot behind the studio. That was before I was going to New York (a particularly fun city to be in with a busted foot) to teach at Omega.

So, as luck would have it, right before I'm scheduled to go teach in Massachusetts, I do it again. This one's the worst so far. I even had to get the sky cab in the airport to cart me around. I have a medical cane this time, some rank-smelling natural sprain relief cream from my acupuncturist, and about 600 ibuprofen.

One wonderful thing about being injured is the room upgrade Kripalu provided so that I could have a safety bar in the shower. It was almost worth getting hurt. Usually I'm put up in one of the monk-cells with a shared hall bath. That's fine (though I do prefer a Hilton), but I could just see myself tripping and slipping in the dark once again in a hall bathroom at 3 am where no one can hear you scream. (I know -you're thinking, but Laraine, you're so graceful. So fluid in your movements. Your very footsteps are a ballet...a waltz with the earth.)

This room has its own bathroom (I'd do the happy dance if I could) and it looks out at this view of the lake and the Berkshires:

Of course, it's winter now, but there's no snow on the ground, believe it or not, and its sunny and warm (relatively speaking).

So I'm now in my room with its very own bathroom with my foot elevated staring at the bruises. I will spare you pictures, but I am finding them fascinating. I hardly get hurt so I don't really know what bruises do. The color scheme is quite amazing. I'm trying to figure out ways to apply this to the workshop, since now I won't be demonstrating many of the yoga poses. I'll do the shaking practice from a chair or leaning against a wall on one foot, but it'll be a different class than I'd originally planned, which will be OK.

Right now, I'm thinking about the Wounded Writer idea. Where does our writing come from, after all, if not from those wounded, haunted places? When your body is injured, it's impossible not to pay attention to the wounded part. You keep, with every step, remembering you have a foot which touches the ground which propels you forward which does its job without your constant direction. When you can only walk at the pace of a walking meditation, you're forced into the moment. If you forget, your foot pain brings you back. Often in writing, I'll see people (and myself) write a story up to the moment where the real issue occurs. We'll write up to the moment of the first stab of pain. Oh my god - I'm writing that. Oh my god - I didn't know I still felt that. And we'll turn away. We'll spin on our healthy feet and run as fast as possible the other way and start a new book or a new story. When the pain is in the body, it's much more difficult to spin away from it. You've just got to look.

I think perhaps it might be easier, rather than running from what scares us in our work, to learn not to be scared of it. More often than not, the writing of the book helps shift that relationship. Maybe we'll talk about that this week.

No matter. I've got no access to wine, meat or felines. I have all-I-can-eat access to quinoa, barley, oats, millet, (basically pick your grain choice) kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, cauliflower, tofu, nuts, bread, fruit, teas, milk, juice, and, of course, an injured foot. Who knows what stories we'll write from this place?

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sabbatical Days Ahead

The most amazing thing is about to happen. I have graded my last paper, responded to my last discussion board, created my last Excel spreadsheet for eight entire months. Two hundred forty days.

Please pause for a minute and twenty-seven seconds of really happy (OK, projecting!) dancing animals:

This semester has been better than spring semester, where I think part of my problem came from teaching summer school and not getting any break at all from teaching for five semesters. Not this year. Fall semester, aside from the new math, pie chart graphs, and strange Edu-Speak I found myself uttering in meetings with high-level administration, has been much better. I have been busier, but the students have been better, kinder, and more interested in learning.

I have some plans - lots of travel - Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago, Taos, New York, Massachusetts and North Carolina. I have writing goals. Reading goals. (I'm shooting to read fifty novels. We'll see!) I  finished a draft of a novel I've been working on for five years in November, and I plan to finish two more on sabbatical which are currently languishing at the magic 30,000 word stopping place. I am working on a teaching and writing project with my friend Cain Carroll. I am feeling very full - like I've been gathering and gathering and gathering for many years and now can harvest some of that bounty.

OK, pause for one more dance. Monkeys! Irish jigs! Computer-generated animation ...

But here's the real thing: I am at a place in my life where I understand what this means. I understand that this time off, with pay and good health may never come again. I understand that it doesn't ever come for many people, and that I am, frankly, profoundly lucky. I'm not a better person than others. I'm not smarter, more talented, more deserving. I've been dealt a good set of cards and the older I get the more I see the randomness of that deck and the more gratitude I feel for not only the most basic of things (food, shelter, health), but for a life which provides the opportunities for me to do the best I can with the deck I have.

I understand what is important to me and I understand how to best use this time to sow the seeds for the next decade of my writing career. I wouldn't have known this ten years ago. I wouldn't have been far enough along in my study of the craft of writing. I wouldn't have done so much work with my body - with yoga, with food choices, with meditation. There's more - always more to learn, to let go of, to move deeper into. But I know how to use this time so that I don't find myself on August 15 saying, "Oh my, I haven't done anything." This is a winning lottery ticket, and I'm going to spend it on the things that help me do the work I do in this life (write, teach) better.

I'll also probably get a new refrigerator. I expect the hot water heater to go at any minute. But I'm going to dream deeper than I've ever dreamed. I'm going to unpack the metaphoric basement and see what I've gathered and where it's supposed to go. I'm going to learn more about writing than I know now, and I'm going to stretch. I'm also going to have unexpected things happen. I'm going to leave space for wonder, space for surprises, and space for magic.

Thank you, Yavapai College, for this time, for this gift. I'll be back.

But not until August 15.