Monday, September 22, 2014

A Simple and Sincere Account

Thoreau lays his scalpel along my vein.

I...require of every writer...a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives.

I type one-handed and shield my soft underbelly with the other. I cannot permit it.  My regrets, my shames, my failures are my own.  Better to scratch at the ugliness of others than to reveal my own darkness.

The price is too high, and so my words are dreck, stale and tepid. There is no healing in them.   My words themselves are sick. 

I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.

Taking the scalpel in wavering hand, the ink flowing red, I lance the wounds that sicken me. The pain is only a phantom whose story has little power.  The feverish healing begins.

My biggest wound was 

 (from Walden)

Friday, September 19, 2014

On Parts and Sums

(image courtesy of

Now, more than ever, I cannot get numbers to give up their powers. They are an old foreign language, growing more incomprehensible with every year. It is not just the algebra from high school that is fading away. In fact, I think I am forgetting how to add.

This summer I began to try to learn to sing alto in church hymns. Music has been another great mystery to me. I know there are four parts, but unlike my husband who sings the soprano reallyreally flat to emulate another part, I know they are all there. But they lurk in muddy harmony, like wriggling water snakes just beyond grasp. I cannot find them unless someone plays, charms each snake, each alone.

These two inacessibles, music and numbers, humble me. Ah, I say.

Ah, I see. I have learned great empathy for people who cannot make words yield their secrets, either.

Words still woo me. I am not the ragged claws, scuttling.

But. But-- today is a broom and dustpan I am using to sweep into the corners of myself to gather enough of me to

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Dear God ...

How do you help someone in her situation? Lord, if you're listening, that's what I need to know. I pray, yes, non-stop, but I wish I had the perfect words to say to her, to eradicate this pain she can't navigate. But what do you say to an 18-year-old who's just lost a close friend ... a one-time boyfriend ... to suicide? So I pray. And I weep for this girl I love so deeply, for this boy I never knew, and for his family and the grief that will never leave them. Death like this creates a massive Before and After. It's a chasm you can't go back across.

God, I know you're good, and kind, and merciful. There's no end to the adjectives that describe you. Your compassion is fathomless; but, God, I have to admit you aren't always what I want you to be, you seldom do what I want you to do. I wish, God, I could be your advisor for a while.

I'd tell you what it feels like to be let down, to deal with disappointment so big it can swallow you whole. I'd say, Lord ... a lot like the sister of Lazarus said to you ... if you'd only been looking, this awful thing wouldn't have happened. I'd tell you that maybe you should use some of your omnipotence to prevent things like 18-year-old boys from hanging themselves. Or from feeling the need in the first place. There's a lot I could argue against free will. But the thing is, I want it when I want it. Okay, I know, I'm definitely too fickle to be the advisor to God.

But I have to say, believing in you -- and I do with all my heart -- but believing in you creates more questions as I pass through this dark night of the soul than if I didn't believe; didn't believe a benevolent God truly cares about and enters into the affairs of humanity. Because things often make so little sense with you in the equation. If I didn't believe in you, I could say when awful things happen, "Well, that's just the way it is. It's fate, or whatever." But because I do believe and I know you could have made a difference in so many situations ... and yet didn't, that creates a huge disconnect between what I see and what I believe. Yes, I know, that brings up the whole faith vs sight debate. But I'm hurting too much right now to debate.

So the biggest question of all, God, related to so many issues, is ...

why ...?

why do You

Monday, September 15, 2014

First One in the Lake

Being first up to write honestly about the dark night of my writing soul is a bit like being the first one in the lake at the beginning of summer.

I stand at the end of the dock, warmed by the June sun on my shoulders and squint into the glint off the water. It's a lovely picture, but if the lake is still deceptively frigid, the cold will squeeze my lungs with an iron fist.

Here's the funny thing: I thought I'd been honest all along. Now, poised to jump, I recognize that in the name of not being labeled ungrateful, faithless, a quitter (that one really stings), too circumspect, a party-pooper, or unworthy, perhaps not called at all or even talented, I barely know where to start with this truth business.

Perhaps it's enough to know I'm tempted to take a job at Taco Bell, clear the bookshelves of all writing books, and convert my office into (gasp!) a TV room with a futon. In other words, remove all that reminds me that I didn't live up to my potential.

The boxes of unsold books must go, too.

And yet, I write most days, plugging away at a story I'm convinced is absolute dreck. Still, I can't help but marvel at the accumulation of pages each day, and when I read from the beginning (as I just did), I'm surprised that the story is not quite as awful as I'd feared. But not as good as I'd hoped, either.

If storytelling were a drug, I would be a junkie.

It makes no practical sense for me to continue writing. I'm in debt to myself (actually my husband, but he doesn't keep track of these things like I do) for the release of my last book. Also, I'm an extrovert craving the company of people other than made-up characters. And I fear that my precious time on earth is being squandered dreaming up plot points, distilling a phrase to the most concise word, and researching the sound of waves under a pier.

There are lost people out there. Hungry people. Enslaved people. Angry people. Doesn't God

Cookies, as promised.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Not going gently into that dark night... of the soul

For six years the six of us have walked alongside you, our readers, sharing with you our collective knowledge and insights about writing. In many ways, we’ve let you eavesdrop not only on things we have taught you, but on our interactions with each other.

We six have something extraordinary, and we know it. One thing that people always notice—and speak of—is the remarkable unity between us. The tenderness and kindness and great affection in our words to each other. The lack of competition, the wholehearted support and love we have for each other.

We began the blog as hotshot writers, riding the successes of recently-published books. Some of us won awards, all of us were congratulated by someone. Our agents at Books & Such whose names we bless forever for bringing us together, saw something we all had in common and put us together. And it was love at first sight for all of us.

But something has happened to each of us. For some, our salaried jobs have sapped our writing time. For others, we have faced tragedy of startling varieties. Economic realities—and great loss—has been the portion of others of us. And there is more. But what has happened to one of us, we feel, has happened to all. Often for each other flows, as the old song says, the sympathizing tear.

We are one. In ways we cannot explain to others, we are one.

We are losing ourselves in each other: You’ll not see our individual pictures nor will we sign what we write other than by our collective name, Unity. No longer will NovelMatters be a place to get advice, but to read journal entries, poems, rants, character sketches and scenes that do what writing is supposed to do: show, not tell.

Other, greater, writers than us have acknowledged their Grief Observed (C. S. Lewis), their spiritual bereavement and begged, Come be My Light (Mother Teresa), and have whispered the prayer of Madeleine L'Engle. (See below.)  

And we want, out of the loss and the dark night of our collective soul, to use the gift of language God gave us to talk about the things that authors often don’t talk about.

We will end each post without punctuation. We want the conversation to go on, in your heart.

We feel the privilege of honesty that will give a haven of fellowship for others.

Welcome. Come sit with us.

Are you wanting to pray this prayer? 

What we want more than anything