Sometimes Writing is Like Dreaming

My forest dream is still a dream...A quick post as I slowly ease back into what I hope is a more regular blogging routine.

As I dive back into my next WIP, I keep drawing from the most unexpected places.

Yesterday, I was reading an article that contained an infographic recounting a text conversation between several parties.

A few days before, I was talking to a group of writers about how the cutting boards in my father’s kitchen had caused me to reflect on how signs of our past relationships linger.

Last night, as I brushed my teeth before bed, I had an epiphany about whose point of view parts of the story should be told from.

Of course the work happens on the page, but in moments like these, writing reminds me of dreams. The way they’re random, the way they pluck images and people from the oddest depths of our memories, from thoughts we never paid much attention to. The way we can never predict where they’ll take us.

I finished brushing my teeth, so elated that I ran out to the living room and told my husband who this new narrator is. And then, cheesy as it sounds, I did a happy dance and said, “Storytelling is magical.”



The Real and the Magical and Everything In Between

dragon flightSo I’ve been taking a magical realism course at a local writing center. Once a week, I get to hang out with a group of about eight other writers and, led by a really great instructor, we discuss reading assignments like Aimee Bender’s “The Rememberer” (seriously, bookmark it for when you have five or seven minutes. It’s short but powerful.) and workshop each other’s stories.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, magical realism is a style of writing that incorporates magical elements but grounds them in the real world, where they’re not necessarily treated as extraordinary, but used to push the story forward and reveal/bring about change in the characters.

So to get us to started during our first class, we did this really great exercise (want to try it?) that involved us thinking of a magical element and pair it with a character.

Hence, I’m currently working on a short story about a graffiti artist who creates paintings as an offering to a sea dragon, but he fears for his life because the sea dragon keeps washing his work away, each time causing more and more danger to the artist and his town, and he can’t figure out what it is the dragon really wants from him.

Crazy, right? And fun. Although I’ve always loved reading magical realism, this is the first time I’ve tried writing it. The way it’s challenging me has shed some light on why and how I write.

When I’m working on a story or a scene, the moment it clicks for me is when it starts to feel real. Real enough that I can believe the character or the situation or whatever it is they’re feeling. If I look back at my last few works, they were all grounded in things I knew to be true—like my grandfather’s kidnapping, or an abandoned property my parents once owned—and having that as a starting point gave me permission to imagine everything and anything else.

We talk a lot about truth in fiction not needing to rely on facts. How as long as it feels real and stays loyal to some aspect of our human experience, there’s truth in it.

Working on this story, I find myself starting from a place so far beyond reality, I know it only exists on the page. It’s forcing me to redefine my criteria for truth, to let go of the idea that for something to feel real, I have to think it could actually happen.

Maybe the real magic is in the leap, in that moment when what’s most extraordinary isn’t something like an all-knowing toaster but the way a town reacts to it. And it’s not just in this one style of writing. In all fiction, there’s the real and the magical and everything in between.

Have you ever written magical realism? 

Why I Write Before I Wake

I am not a morning person, but when I write before sunrise I feel a connection to the story that I can rarely attain any other time of day.

The house is quiet. The world beyond my window and behind the computer screen is barely stirring. Most importantly, I’m not fully awake yet. A part of my brain is still dreaming. Its guard isn’t up. Thoughts that I might not even know I had are still out playing, vulnerable and exposed and ready to be plucked and put to paper. Aware, my mind is too logical, too much of a cynic, but when its barely wakening it’s not tethered to a world of absolutes. It dares to explore the grays of truth and language and metaphor, risks breaking the rules for the thrill of leaping over creative boundaries.

Nothing matters more than a world built by words in these moments. I write like I’m in a dream, and then later, I edit with my eyes open.

Some nights I set my alarm with the giddy anticipation of a teenager who’s just made a date with her biggest crush. I can’t wait to see the story again. Other times it’s a struggle; this week I actually sat up in bed, tucked myself back in, and slept. I resigned myself to having lost that battle and obsessed about it, sticky with guilt, all day.

Then night came, and a new morning.

The sun doesn’t care if I show up or not. But the days seem brighter when I do.

3 Ways the Olympics Reminds Me of the Writing Community

This past week and a half, my world has revolved around the Olympic games. I’m not ashamed to admit that I plan my workday around beach volleyball and diving and synchronized swimming, or my nights around gymnastics finals and more beach volleyball.

Poor E has actually suggested we go out a few times in the evening, and I’ve looked at him like he’s crazy: Go to the movies? But Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh are playing tonight!


I’ll go as long as there’s a bar and a TV playing images of women flying through the air in questionably high-cut leotards and too much glitter on their eyelids.

I get like this every two years (thank goodness for the Winter Olympics—four years is seriously too long to wait). I can’t put my finger on exactly why I love the games so much, but in many ways, this year’s have reminded of our online writing community:

1. It’s a mile marker. Where were you when you watched the 1992 Barcelona games? The 2008 Beijing games? Because they only happen every four years, I remember each Olympics vividly; they seem to encapsulate certain eras in my life. Four years seems like a good amount of time to set a huge, life-defining goal and work towards it. Every Olympics we’re reminded of this by athletes who train tirelessly for four years only to have it pay off—or fall apart—in less than a second or with hundredths of a point. Win or lose, they inspire us to dream big, train one day at a time, and keep going even when reality brings heartbreaking disappointments.

2. It’s the stories that really get to me. Yes, I know pulling on our heartstrings is NBC’s intention, in which case I’m the easiest target ever. They understand the power of stories. They know, like all great writers know, that no one will care about a character’s journey if they don’t care about the character first. And while I have my favorite sports, I haven’t cheered louder than when I’ve cheered for an athlete who’s overcome some big struggle to win gold. I’ve gone from I couldn’t care less about the Men’s 400 m final to OMG Kirani James has to win this first gold EVER for Grenada because he has the biggest heart and he deserves this! in about three-hundredths of a second flat. Is there a medal for epic softie?

3. It’s the camaraderie that makes it all worthwhile. Yes, the athletes are competing against one another. Yes, some have been completely ungraceful when winning silver, of all things. But then you get a moment like this:

“Give me a hug, man. That was ridiculous!” — Sam Mikulak, congratulating fellow gymnasts even when he was no longer in place for a medal.

And all faith is restored in the world. That, my friends, is a beautiful heart and a pure love for the craft.

The Art of the Bound Book

When we think of book fairs, we usually think of authors, of stories, of the craft of writing and the signing of books. This weekend I went to a different kind of book fair: one that celebrated the physical book itself. No surprise that it was a completely hands-on experience. Guided by several bookmakers from the Austin Book Workers, I bound my own mini book, created book art, and even set some type.

While I had a crafts day with paper and ink, my husband took pictures documenting the whole thing. (Well, not the whole thing. It was a multi-sensory experience—imagine two artists’ studios filled with that musky book scent we all love so much.)

A part of me felt guilty for folding the pages of this book, so I made sure to handle it with care. The design was a fanning of the pages into folded hearts.

The book I chose was the Magna Carta; I loved the added richness of the patterned endsheets and how the edges of the pages were pink, which seemed appropriate for the heart design.











The end result:

I think I’ll put this on my desk and use the slots to display important notes or the occasional handwritten letter I receive.

I meandered over to the letterpress area and admired a table full of moveable type.

I loved the heaviness of the moveable type. Each letter had real weight; it was cold and sunk into my palm as I held it.

I chose to typeset my name and for once was glad I had a long one…I was enjoying the experience too much to have it go by quickly.

Tom (the owner of this beautiful letterpress) built a plate from my type and slid it into the machine. I just did the easy part; I pressed down on the handle.


I titled this picture, “Hooray, letterpress!” Yes, I was that excited.




















Even though the majority of books are no longer bound by hand, getting to know the process from start to finish was a wonderful way to appreciate the craft that goes into actual books. We mostly talk about the craft of writing, but a physical book is a work of art that we hold in our hands. We hold it close to us, we smell it. We admire its cover and the feel of the paper between our fingertips. We let it take up space along the walls of our home and next to our beds at night.

So this weekend, though nobody ever said it, the questions “Will this all go away soon? What will become of printed books?” hung in the air. Of course I don’t have the answer to that. I myself have a Kindle and I could write a whole post about why I only read certain things on it (but that’s just me).

What I did realize is that those of us who prefer paper books aren’t just sentimental and old-fashioned. It’s about much more than emotions; it’s about feeling an experience as completely as possible with touch, smell, and sight.