Ask.

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I am not at Left Coast Crime this weekend, even though it would have been a no-brainer, L.A. and all.   

There was a time – like, yesterday – I would never have missed a conference.   Conferences are the social reward of being an author, cleverly disguised as essential career business.   I love them.   They are always exactly what I need in the moment.

But tempting as it is, and much as I am missing everyone, I don’t regret it.   I don’t want to take even a few days away from my writing right now.   More than that, I don’t want to pull myself out of writing mode, and conference mode is really different from writing mode. 

It’s been an exceptionally hard year for me, as it has for so many of the ‘Rati, and I think for many, many, many of our extended community.   And the whole rest of the world.

So I don’t have a lot of energy to split my focus, right now.   And I am so excited and grateful to HAVE a book I want to write again.

I tried this whole thing a little differently this time.    I always wait for inspiration to help me choose a project.    Well, “waiting” isn’t exactly the word, because it’s a more active process than that, deliberately throwing myself open to receive ideas, journaling, making lists as I’ve talked about before, foraging widely in subject matter that draws me.  

But this year I’ve been working a 12-step recovery program, Al Anon, for people who have been affected by other people’s drinking (which would be, let’s face it, everyone, right?).  One of the pillars of that program is releasing your own need to control everything under the sun and learning to first trust, and then gradually fully rely on a Higher Power of your own understanding.  (And for the record, the first thing I do when I buy one of the daily meditation books or any other of the literature, is go through and cross out any mentions of “He” in regard to a Higher Power.  Or add my own genders randomly.)

So this time, as I was finishing  Shifters, my Harlequin Nocturne book that comes out in October, and getting that gnawing restless feeling…   What next?   What am I going to write next?   I realized that if I am really committed to this spiritual path, this decision is like every other in my life – I needed to turn it over to my Higher Power.   And ask:   “What do YOU want me to write?”

(How you phrase the question in these communications is important, I’ve found.   It’s not “What should I write next?”    but “What would you have me write?”)

So every day, I’ve been asking, in prayer, meditation, in the car, lying awake at night – “What do YOU want me to write?

This question had actually become more and more desperate, especially once I’d finished the first draft of the current book.   Because I didn’t seem to be getting any answers.  

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been a professional writer for most of my adult life and I actually have a backlog of perfectly great, pretty developed story ideas that would take me much more than the rest of my lifetime to write.    But that isn’t the point.   I don’t want to be out there on my own writing, any more.   I want to be aligned with what the Universe wants from me.

But with no obvious answers forthcoming, I went into doubt.  I started to feel not just confused, but completely blocked about what book to write next.    I started obsessing about the need to give my agent some proposals (like, yesterday).   And I worked on ideas, carded them, did all the right things – all the while being less and less trusting of myself to make the right decision.    So over and over and OVER every day, for weeks, maybe months, I kept asking (in prayer, meditation, in the car, lying awake at night) – “What do YOU want me to write?”  “PLEASE tell me what to write.”    “I really NEED to know what to write, here…”

Then, week before last, I had the opportunity to go on retreat with some of my best writer friends.  

I’ve written about this before, my posse of mystery writer friends (I should say goddesses, really) I hang out with in Raleigh: Margaret Maron, Sarah Shaber, Diane Chamberlain, Katy Munger, Mary Kay Andrews and Brynn Bonner.   I was stunned when they asked me to join this group – my first book had just come out and I felt like such an amateur, comparatively.    I’d been reading Margaret for years and it was really like getting an invitation from the queen. 

We’re more a regular lunch group than a critique group, but several times a year we go on retreat to the beach or the mountains or some generally fantastic place – that’s how I came to stay in the haunted mansion in Southern Pines that I used for the model of my haunted house in THE UNSEEN. We get together in the morning to set goals for the day and help each other with story problems, work all day long by ourselves and then convene at night to have dinner and brainstorm on any new problem that anyone’s having.   And of course there are walks on the beach, field trips to cemeteries and nearby historical districts….

This trip we went to Mary Kay’s beach cottage on Tybee Island, off the Georgia coast near Savannah, which is the same charming, funky cottage she wrote about in her book SAVANNAH BREEZE.  Photos here.   And I almost didn’t go because there is so much else in turmoil in my life, but then I thought, no, “I will go, and I will come back with my story.   I have to.”

So we’re down at the beach, and a few days go by and I am still floundering, although it feels a lot better to flounder at the beach, somehow.   But on the third day, at our breakfast session, I was telling everyone all about my several story ideas, and I swear, Mary Kay just channeled God.   She got really intense, scary intense, and asked me bluntly, over and over again,   “What do you WANT this book to be?    What do you want it to do for you?   You have to ask for what you WANT.”  

Which is, always, the hardest thing for me to do.

And I opened my mouth and started telling them about a third book that I hadn’t even told them about because I hadn’t even figured out how to do it yet, and as I was telling them about it I was realizing that I have been, for weeks, getting the most clear signs about this book.  EVERYTHING, everywhere.    For every time I have asked this question the answer has been right in my face, in my inbox, on my shelves, appliquéd on the clothes I wear every day, in songs I hear, all right in my face.  

But I still hadn’t gotten it, so the Universe finally took pity on me and gave me the most direct answer to my question I could possibly have asked for, unambiguous, unequivocal.

So I am here today to say,  “Ask”.    Whatever it is.   Ask and wait for the answer.   The Universe is so patient, and so wants you to get whatever it is you need, that it will stay right there with you through pain and confusion and doubt and turmoil until you are ready to hear the answers you need.

I would love to know, today, if and how any of you consult with the universe or your own higher powers, in whatever areas of your life you do.

And of course, reports from LCC from all those attending!

Alex



29 thoughts on “Ask.

  1. Shizuka

    I have a hard time trusting in Higher Powers in the same way I do the concept of god.
    Possibly because I always think of the blue, toga-clad "Powers That Be" from Angel.
    Or because I’m a bit of a control freak.

    I am starting to trust my subconscious more and more;
    maybe that’s another version of Higher Powers or the Universe?
    What would really be great: a direct line from my subconscious to the conscious.

    Reply
  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hah – I can see how blue toga-clad "Powers That Be" might be distracting from the real deal…

    I find my dreams are a pretty direct line from my subconscious to my conscious. And Unconscious, which yes, I think is another voice of the universe.

    But when I’m overwhelmed, like now, I have trouble remembering dreams, it’s very frustrating.

    Reply
  3. Laura DiSilverio

    I’m a full-time writer today because my Higher Power (God) intervened. I was an Air Force officer with nineteen years in the military when my hubby and I took a trip (sans offspring) to Seattle to celebrate his return from Iraq. I was standing in the essays section of the Elliott Bay Bookstore when I heard a very strong voice within me saying, "THIS is what you’re supposed to be doing." It was powerful enough (and so totally unprecedented) that I immediately told my husband as we left the bookstore. "Go for it," he told me. (See why I married him? No hesitation about my ditching a six-figure income for the uncertainty and penury of a writing career.) It didn’t look like it was going to be possible for me to immediately leave the Air Force–I was contractually obligated for a few more years–but lo and behold, things fell into place, the Air Force waivered my remaining commitment, and I retired to sit down the next day and start working on a novel. I pray for guidance in many areas of my life–major and minor–but I know I don’t listen as well as I should and I ignore the answers (sometimes wilfully, sometimes not) until God slaps me upside the head with them, as with you in Georgia. Thanks for a brave post, Alexandra.

    Reply
  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    Mary Kay was totally spot on. But here’s another question: what makes you think that the other ideas came from a different source than the Universe? Because you already had them before you became more connected? Nope. It’s always there, always has been, and most of the time we either aren’t aware or acknowledge it. I think you had a great experience with friends though. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Thank YOU, Laura, for your story, and your courage in trusting that voice and going for it (and for the smarts to have married the obviously right man!)

    I find, inevitably, the thing that makes me open further to my own higher power is to hear other people’s stories of their own relationships with their higher powers.

    I love that Elliott Bay Bookstore, too, what a magical place to have that experience!

    Reply
  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    You’re right, PK, the other ideas weren’t from any different place. But the sad truth of being a writer is that you can’t write everything you think of writing, and there are always choices to be made and ideas that must be shelved or abandoned. I’m glad not to be living in the illusion that I’m making those choices completely on my own, anymore.

    Reply
  7. Louise Ure

    I’m glad you found the inspiration you were looking for, Alex, no matter where it came from. But that list of writing pals (especially the divine Miss MM) sounds like a blessing.

    Reply
  8. toni mcgee causey

    I love this, Alex. However anyone wants to characterize what Higher Power means to them, it also encompasses the act of deep listening: asking the tough questions about oneself: what do I care about? why? what do I want to learn? why? what are my fears? why? what am I afraid of exposing? and again, why?

    It’s the process of answering those questions that connect us deeply to the work, and give us the energy to sustain the long slog of getting the idea down on paper, because we’re figuring out why we care, and in figuring that out, we’ll figure out why our audience would care, and that’s where the connection between work and audience will happen: why we care.

    Reply
  9. JD Rhoades

    Shizuka: It’s never a good idea to base your cosmology on TV shows. Of course this is from a guy who used to write "Jedi" on forms that asked for your religion.

    And that is one AWESOME beach house.

    Reply
  10. Kaye Barley

    Alex, sweetie – you have made me cry buckets with this.

    I think you’re one of the strongest women in the universe,and writing this took strength. The journey you’ve made just getting to the point that you are has taken strength, and along the way you maybe forgot that under all the "stuff" you’ve been going through was that incredibly strong woman.

    I agree with Toni – what Higher Power means is going to differ to each of us. To me It’s not only having the strength to ask the tough questions, but even more strength to be able to listen to the answers ’cause sometimes those answers are not what we want to hear; even when they’re coming from our own minds and our own hearts. Bravo to you for allowing them to finally come without the filters.

    One giggle did come when I pictured Mary Kay Andrews channeling God. Lordy, who’d a thunk it?! AND what Louise said – what a group of women to be blessed to have in your life. You cannot lose with that group covering your back.

    Huge Hugs, Alex. And as always – I’m waiting for the next book and know in my heart I’ll never be disappointed in what you give us.

    Kaye

    Reply
  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Toni, beautiful. There is so much that we COULD write in our frighteningly limited time, that it becomes even more important as we go on to make sure we are writing the thing closest to exactly what you said – what we CARE about and why.

    Reply
  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Okay, Kaye, now YOU made ME cry. I didn’t expect this to be so intense this morning, but I don’t know why it should surprise me. Thank you for your radiance.

    You are so right – I am a great one for jumping on the answers I want to hear. This was very hard for me not to do. It was worth it.

    I wish I had a DVD of Mary Kay as God. I doubt it would read quite as how it happened for me.

    Reply
  13. anonymous

    toni. really really great.

    Young J.D. Knight. still laughing. Jedi. you know that’s going to be your nickname now, right?

    Alex. Two words. Beach house!

    I have to admit that I have not consulted with a Higher Power than my PowerBook and so far I have been unable to release my need to control it because I don’t yet fully trust or understand it.

    j/k I sorely lack spiritualism. Gotta work on it. Gotta "Ask", etc.

    Reply
  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Anon, it sounds like you have the same kind of troubled relationship with your laptop that I do.

    I think as writers we’re more wired to "ask" than a lot of other people are. I don’t think I’ve ever met one of us who really thought we were the only one doing the writing. That’s just – implausible.

    So it’s not such a huge stretch to trust a little more, and a little more…

    Reply
  15. kit

    Ye heavens…more signs I’m on the correct path for me.LOL
    sometimes, we put into words the very things someone else needs to *hear*

    Thank You, Alex.

    Reply
  16. Colleen Bivens

    Learning how to live in the land of TRUST on a more permanent basis has been a key focus of mine this year. (Right now I only have a temporary visitor’s status.) So, I had to laugh when I read your post and realized that there is yet another area of my life in which I’ve been "trying to control everything under the sun" lately. It’s amazing how those words seemed to leap off the screen and perform a little dance (a can-can) right before my eyes. Talk about getting answers from the universe! Oh, well. Once again, it’s all about "progress, rather than perfection."

    I do agree that whenever I ask, the answers are given. They come through inspiration, dreams, other people, books, synchronistic events and even posts on the Murderati blog!

    Plus, my Higher Power has a wonderfully quirky sense of humor and occasionally communicates in very strange and unusual ways. My favorite (so far) happened about a month ago when the universe rented me a DVD from Blockbuster! Not only was it NOT in my queue, when I looked the DVD up on the Blockbuster site (after receiving an e-mail saying it was coming) their site said, “We’re sorry, this title is not available to rent or buy by mail.” Really!? Couldn’t wait for it to arrive and ended up watching it twice. Sure enough, I got more answers!

    Thanks for another great post, Alex! You’re an ongoing source of inspiration for me.

    Reply
  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Colleen, you’re the one with the great post, here. It’s so true, the answers come through all kinds of sources, and ESPECIALLY synchronicity, for me.

    But the nonexistent DVD is the best. Love it!

    Reply
  18. kit

    I sorely lack spiritualism. Gotta work on it. Gotta "Ask", etc
    Anon

    not trying to start an arguement here, but I beg to differ…and here’s why.
    It’s all in the way you look at things..see, everyday, when I come here, not only am I coming for the blog and it’s writer…but also to read or hear the discussion. I can also pretty much count on certain people joining in or being here…

    I n my everyday life(in the real world) I, most likely, wouldn’t have come to meet them in any other way…due to several factors, distance, careers, time, ect.
    Now the practical side of each one of us, could possibly give an explanation in detail, how we got here…we followed this link..we saw that web address …ect.

    However, that doesn’t cover …the WHY we come back….once again, our practical sides could come up with an explanation…..however, it’s not what we say…but what we DO, that is so telling..

    showing up, is a spiritual act of faith.

    Reply
  19. billie

    A day late, but I love this, Alex.

    I pretty much walk around all day, every day, noticing the signs and watching for places to step into what I call the ‘flow’ – it’s almost like a conveyor belt of moving energy that I think is always there but for some reason we can’t always find it. But when you do, it moves you forward fast into whatever place you need/want to be.

    I’ve found it enough times I have no problem trusting it’s there.

    Reply
  20. pari noskin taichert

    I’m a day late, too, X . . . but you’re such a Pisces. I’m glad you’re finding that voice — wherever it comes from — that answers the deeper questions, forces us to go deeper and really listen.

    I’m also grateful you reminded me to do that myself. I’m struggling with a few questions right now and know that the answers are just waiting for me to let myself hear.

    What a beautiful blessing that you’re now writing the book you need to write.
    May it flow.

    Reply
  21. Gar Haywood

    Alex:

    Another fantastic post.

    Man, where would I be if I didn’t believe in a Higher Power (in this case, that old reliable standby "God," non-gender specific)? There are a million and one ways to lose your way when you’re a writer, and sometimes you can find the road back home alone and sometimes you can’t. Asking for "directions" can save one a lot of time and grief, believe me.

    We aren’t always the most humble people, us literary types. But in my experience, good things always come when I openly admit that a given problem is too big for me to solve all by myself and I’d welcome a little divine intervention — the more conspicuous, the better.

    Very happy to hear you found the answer you were looking for. Won’t be at all surprised if an incredible book is the ultimate result.

    Reply
  22. BUSHEllen

    Have no money to buy a house? You should not worry, just because that is available to get the loan to work out all the problems. Thence take a secured loan to buy all you require.

    Reply

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