Let my creativity go!

by Pari

Wednesday evening this week marks the beginning of Passover. It's my favorite holiday. I prepare for days for the seder — a traditional meal and home-based spiritual service — and usually invite more than a dozen guests for the first evening.

While I cook and clean house, I have plenty of time to think about many of the biggest themes of Pesach including: the Exodus, religious persecution, the shedding of unnecessary items in one's life, slavery — present and past, and what freedom truly means.

This year my thoughts also turn to my own creativity and professional life. I found out recently that my publisher, The University of New Mexico Press, is making some major personnel cuts that will impact its ability to market, promote books, and serve its various customers. I won't go into the specifics of what's happening there, but you can read more here.

Alex wrote a wonderful piece on Saturday about finishing what you start and I commented that I agreed with her almost completely. However, given what I know about the Press, I've decided not to finish my new Sasha book.

And, boy, does it hurt.

The truth is that writing takes time for me. I can slam out a rough draft in a matter of months and end up with a nice blob of text that will someday be a good book. The bulk of my work comes during the editing and rewriting. Though I adore Sasha, I'm not willing to go through the tremendous effort to hone a novel when I don't have the confidence it'll be introduced and supported effectively in the national market by the publisher.

Which brings me back to freedom . . .

Slavery is a fascinating subject and the source of much conversation during the seders at my home. We talk about its tangible manifestations in horrid businesses such as the international child trade as well as its mental/emotional ones. This year, I'm interested to know what my guests think of the new laws vis a vis women in Afghanistan. 

I've been thinking about my own creative fetters. This topic has been stewing, bubbling uncomfortably, for months now. It may sound strange given that I'm a two-time Agatha Award nominee, but I've always fought the traditional mystery "formula" because I've been more interested in character development than the placing of clues and the puzzle of solved crimes. It's not that I dislike these components of the novels; I just don't naturally write them.

Have I been imprisoning myself?

With all the talk of conforming to genre, have I forced myself into writing things that I'm not as passionate about because I have to meet some amorphous expectation of how it's supposed to be done?

I don't know.

What I do know is that I'm feeling uneasy and adrift.
And at the same time, I'm excited.

I love my new series (and hope my agent feels the same way). It's a cross between mystery and fantasy and has the kind of female character I love to write. I've just started a new book that I don't know how to categorize yet — comedy? suspense? It's a project I've deferred in favor of others for years and now, because of my decision vis a vis Sasha, I'm going to finally pursue. I also have ideas for a women's fiction/mainstream novel AND a YA.

So . . .

This week while I prepare the matzo balls and chicken soup; poach the salmon; cook the pot roast; whip up the chopped liver and mock chopped liver; and wait for those meringues to warm to perfection, I'll be examining my self-imposed shackles. Where are they in my creative life? How can I free myself from the ones that most limit me?

Today I'd like to know:
What's one of your own creative manacles?

And I'll ask you to think about this for your private consideration: Is there a way for you to free yourself from that restraint's insidious hold?


Of note: Will Bereswill, a frequent commenter here at Murderati and a new novelist, asked me to mention that he has a guest author and a really embarrassing video up at http://www.workingstiffs.blogspot.com today. I, for one, am in the mood to be amused.

On the subject of freedom, Murderati will be migrating to a new blog host starting next Monday, April 13. We're doing this for a variety of reasons. Most of all we hope the new site will be more convenient for you — and for us.

In order to get up and running, we'll need to close down Murderati for two days — April 11 and 12 — during Easter weekend. We hope you'll join us on the 13th and that you'll like the new look.

Thank you,

22 thoughts on “Let my creativity go!

  1. pari

    Hey all,Sorry for the late post. I had it set correctly and, for some reason, it didn’t come up at the scheduled time.

    Now you understand why we’re migrating Murderati to a new site . . .

  2. Allison Brennan

    Hi Pari: yep, there is some sort of psychic connection . . .

    I found your post fascinating on two levels. First, Passover. It’s honestly the time of year that I (a Catholic) feel closest to my Jewish brothers and sisters because we share a reverent holiday (for us Holy Thursday) and reminds me of the connections between all of us, no matter what our race, religion or color.

    I’ve also been reading a lot of Jewish folklore in preparation for writing my supernatural thriller series. Wow. There’s some really scary stories out there! The Brothers Grimm have nothing on some of the stories about demons. But the stories have also given me far more insight into Judaism than I ever had before, and the vast similarities between our beliefs–which isn’t a surprise 🙂

    On the other point, creativity, my manacle is fear. It always has been, only it’s different now than before I was published. The only solution is to recognize it and continue to write through it. Some days it’s easier than others.

  3. billie

    Pari, I am sad not to get that next Sasha novel, but you sound so excited about the other projects I can’t help but be happy too!

    My creative manacle is probably my intense need for privacy and independence. I love writing novels, have to write them, actually, and believe they are good and publishable.

    But deep inside there is also the feeling that if/when the first one sells, I will lose some of my privacy and a LOT of my creative independence, and I have often wondered if b/c of that I sub-consciously thwart my own efforts toward publication.

    More on an energetic/intention level than in action.

  4. pari

    Allison,Re: PassoverAlmost all of our guests aren’t Jewish. I don’t know quite how it worked out that way, but this is a holiday they cherish as well. Every year around this time, people whom I haven’t heard from for, well, a year will call “just to see how I’m doing.” Heh heh. I know they’re worried I’ve forgotten to invite them.

    And yes. There are some really frightening stories in traditional Jewish folklore. I think it’s because life was often so difficult and the urge to make sense of it so strong.

    FEARWhew! That sure is a big one, isn’t it? I think it’s at the base of many of our deepest barriers to creativity and actual producing

  5. Louise Ure

    I’m with Allison. Fear of not living up to expectations is my heaviest manacle. Although just exactly what those expectations are, I couldn’t tell you.

    Good luck with the new series and books, Pari. You sound ready for the change and up for the challenge.

  6. pari

    Billie,I’m very sad about the whole Sasha situation too, but it feels like the right decision for now. I’ll still have those pages and Sasha may make an appearace in the Darnda books . . .

    You’re right about giving up some of your creative independence and privacy once you’re published. But I’m not sure it has to be a huge sacrifice if you’re centered enough before you begin. And that is something I’m sure you ARE.

    The thwarting of one’s own efforts is a knotty issue, isn’t it?

    Consider this: You’ve delved into internet/blog communication and haven’t had to sacrifice too much. As a matter of fact, you might have gained something. So publication on a larger scale might merely be a magnification of your current experiences.

    It’s a thought.

  7. pari

    Louise,You’ve hit on a really important point: we respond to nebulous “expectations” often without knowing their origin or gist. Perhaps that’s the first place to start, to try to identify what we *think* those expectations are — stare them in the eye — and make them cower.

    As to all these writing changes here chez Pari, I’m feeling scared, overwhelmed and energized. It’s an interesting place to sit . . .

  8. J.T. Ellison

    Pari, I wish I was in New Mexico so I could benefit from your experience this week. I’ve always been fascinated by Passover, and don’t have any Jewish friends here in town who I can experience it with.

    I had a conversation with a friend about this very issue this week. He told me he’d heard that in the genre fiction world, the publishers and editors told you exactly what to write, what page the murder had to be on, how many bodies need to be dropped, etc. I quickly disabused him of this notion – I’ve never been told any of those things. And if I were told what to do, I’d tell them to go jump.

    I really do believe that you MUST, MUST, MUST write what’s in your heart and leave the notion of formula behind. I’m reading the Christopher Vogler book, THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. As much as I’m enjoying it, I’m bristling a bit at the idea of conforming a story to the specifics of his ideas. I know many, many people adore this book and use it as their guide. And that’s fabulous. But I think the books that really break out toss the formula out the window and make their own rules.

    You, my dear, are making your own rules. And I’m thrilled for you!

  9. Allison Brennan

    JT, I am a dyed-in-the-wool believer in Vogler’s work, which is essentially a ore accessible explanation of Joseph Campbell’s HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES. I don’t use Vogler as a guide because I don’t plot, BUT I can see the structure in EVERY GOOD STORY ever told. You use it–you just don’t know it. I use it–I didn’t know it until my fourth or fifth book. There is a common feeling and rhythm to stories that is universal, and it’s what makes them accessible to a broad audience. Don’t take it as a structure or a rigid guide–that’s never what it was intended to be, and doing so would of course make a book “formulaic”

    Like Stephen King says in ON WRITING regarding the writer’s toolkit, the hero’s journey supplies the writer with tools to use (or not use) on the journey of storytelling.

    pg13 “Every storyteller bends the mythic pattern to his or her own purpose or the needs of a particular culture. . . . The way stations of the Hero’s Journey emerge naturally even when the writer is unaware of them.”

    pg26 “The Hero’s Journey is a skeletal framework that should be fleshed out with the details and surprises of the individual story. The structure should not call attention to itself, nor should it be followed too precisely. The order of the stages given here is only one of many possible variations. The stages can be deleted, added to, and drastically shuffled without losing any of their power.”

    Okay, okay, I know, I’m an evangelist for Vogler. I think that whenever people read craft books, some resonate like Vogler does for me because it’s our internal and natural way of storytelling, whereas other books that I can’t stand (STORY by McKee, for example–there’s only one chapter I like) appeal to a different type of writer.

    But I can read any book and watch any movie and identify the underlying hero’s journey. EVERY story has it.

  10. pari

    J.T.,Thank you, m’dear.

    I’ve never been told what to write, not exactly, but there’ve been insinuations that I wasn’t “doing it” quite right . . . you know?

    As to Passover: You’re invited whenever you want to come. I mean it.

  11. pari

    Allison,It’s good to read your take on Vogler. I’ve had a similar reaction to J.T.’s and have never been able to do more than scan the book but you’ve offered some “food for thought.”

  12. J.T. Ellison

    Allison, I think Vogler is a must for screenwriters, but I can also see some inexperienced writers who take it as gospel and follow too closely to the formula. I’m sure my books follow a mythic structure, but it’s my own background in mythology that drives it. I found ON WRITING to be much more revolutionary to my thinking than this is, but again, I’m a student of mythology. And I haven’t finished (it’s taking me days to read it. I keep finding other things to do. That’s never a good sign.)

    Pari, thank you. One day…

  13. J.D. Rhoades

    I think that my writing manacle has been an adherence to a variation on the old saw: “When you’re stuck, have a man with a gun come through the door.” I’m trying not to have ALL my dramatic points be piles of corpses, at least in the first half of the book. As a result, the first half of this book has the lowest body count (one) of anything I’ve done so far. We’ll see if it works.

  14. pari

    J.D.,Tony Hillerman used that technique — when he got stuck he killed someone — and it worked pretty well for him. Of course, I don’t think he got stuck all that often either . ..

  15. toni mcgee causey

    Great post, Pari. And like everyone here, I can see the enthusiasm for your new work and that makes me want to read it!

    As for my own manacle, it’s a variation on fear, but it’s very specifically culture/southern related: I did the MFA program (6 hours from graduating) and I knew that as much as I loved southern literary fiction, I didn’t want to write it. I won some awards, had some interest, but it just wasn’t the vehicle for the stories I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell layered stories, about people under extreme pressure, but I also wanted to reflect the absurd, to turn the moments inside out and find the humor–a way to cope–and tell it through that lens. As soon as I did, though, I found I had this “critic” — my own self-consciousness–on my shoulder telling me that I was somehow betraying my heritage and my education, that I wasn’t utilizing what I knew how to do.

    It wasn’t really until book 2 that I came to terms with it and found my path. I finally understood that though I enjoyed southern literary fiction, it didn’t mean I had to pursue that as my passion, as my living. I love photography, but I don’t want to be a professional photographer. I enjoy drawing, but I’d never want to employ it as a living. I can go to a museum and look at amazing samples of both and be inspired, but it’s not what I want to *do*… and the same thing applied to the southern literary tradition. I enjoy reading it, as a fan. I just don’t have a single ounce of passion to write it, though I utilize a lot of those skills in what I *do* write.

    I finally realized, I have the best of both worlds. I’m glad I had the education to expose me to the skills, and the time to practice them–and I’m equally thankful for my love of commercial fiction, which gives me hours and hours of pleasure reading. This is a win-win.

    Now, of course, that means that as soon as I’ve talked about it here, I will have this huge FEAR that I am now not going to live up to what I *do* want to do. I’m pretty sure that never goes away, if a writer keeps wanting to improve. A healthy dose of fear is a good motivator to do the very best I can, so that I can look back and know I gave it my all.

    [Of course, I will obsess about that, but I’m a writer, that’s what we do.]

  16. pari

    Beautiful self-analysis there, Toni. Wow.

    I can’t say anything but that it’s wonderful to read about a writer’s personal growth in a career and the paths that one takes to find true success AND satisfaction.

  17. pari

    Allison,We are so darn plagued, aren’t we?

    I am so excited about this new book and have to slap myself upside the head to make sure I don’t sabotage the creative aspect because of fear of my failure to tell the story the way I want to. ARGH!

  18. Allison Brennan

    You WILL do it, Pari. You’ll write it and you won’t have fear. Take fear and shove it where the sun don’t shine . . . LOL There’s plenty of time to stress when you’re done. 😉

  19. Cornelia Read

    I think my biggest creative fetters are 1) sheer terror, and 2) punching through the brick wall to get started every morning. Somehow I never remember that the bricks *always* turn out to be styrofoam.

    May you and yours have a sweet and happy Pesach, dear Pari.

  20. Tom

    Pari, I look forward to your new work.

    The thought of UNM dwindling saddens me. But I know you and the rest of the best will find your own way.

  21. pari

    Cornelia,Yeah, those bricks are a b*tch, aren’t they?Thank you also for your Passover wishes; I’ll be in full cooking mode today and all of tomorrow.

    Tom,I’m not sure if UNMP IS dwindling, but it sure looks that way to me. But they’re making some decisions that may be good for the bottom line while damaging to the bigger picture. It looks that way to me and I don’t dare spend my precious time on a project with little to no future . . .


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