Do you see any conflict between being a romance novelist and being a feminist? Do you feel an obligation to interject socially conscious themes into your work? Are there authors you respect for their socially conscious stories? These are a few of the questions I was asked during a Q&A with Geek Girl Authority‘s Leona Laurie.
Here are a few soundbites from my responses:
“We’re at a time in our culture where long-standing and important issues are coming to light in a new way—including feminism—and I’m grateful to have grown up in a family that celebrates empowerment. When we empower individuals to feel good, do good and be equal players, I believe we lift ourselves as a whole.”
“In the genre of romance, Nora Roberts must have very strong shoulders because generations of writers are taking taller strides because of her.”
“My job is to tell the most authentic story that I can, each and every time, and I take that responsibility to heart.”
You know that feeling you get when you’re listening to something, watching something, reading something, and it gives you a sort of super boost? It just gets you going, and makes you feel that gritty gratitude that you’re alive and sharing in whatever was created to give you that boost in the first place? And then you take that feeling within yourself and let it boost your own vibe, your own life, your own creations? It helps you to feel a new, fun, exciting facet of yourself?
I call that a Creative Crush. If I were in a band, I would liken it to playing with other people to hear a new sound, feel a new dynamic, then crushing hard on that new feeling.
The idea that a person’s (or group’s) imagination takes nothingness– No Thingness–and creates something that resonates so deeply with people, is an amazing, magical marvel. Creating something from nothing takes many things including drive, discipline, and the ability to connect, listen, and express. And then you hope to hell that the thing you created makes someone smile or feel happiness, or allows them to sink into a story or song or show or movie that either gives them a fun reprieve from the everyday or reminds them of their own creative power, or both.
For me, I’m deeply affected by music, which means, oddly, that I don’t always seek it out. Mostly for the reason that I get a bit waylaid from my own creative spirit when listening to music so I tend to prefer creating in the sanctity of my own space, my own quiet, my Fortress of Solitude (where I may or may not pretend to be Super(wo)man). And adding to that oddity is the idea that live music (that I connect with) is so powerful for me, that I become the most boring concertgoer ever. I become so full of feeling, that I sit there mesmerized while everyone bounces, dances, and sings along around me.
So over the weekend, after completing the second draft of a new book, I set the work aside and spent 8 out of 24 hours in my Fortress of Solitude watching then re-watching the documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers called Runnin’ Down A Dream on Netflix. (Which means I spent more time watching this documentary than sleeping. Something I didn’t realize until just this moment.) The documentary struck me in many ways–not only am I a fan of Tom Petty and the music and lyrics he writes and performs, I am now a huge fan of his creative vibe. I spent the weekend having a serious Creative Crush on Tom Petty.
Of course, it didn’t stop there. Then I found the footage from Saturday Night Live where Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed the song Honey Bee with Dave Grohl on drums.
Oh. My. God.
This performance just oozes with creative energy. That same magnanimous creative energy that creates worlds and flowers and babies. You can feel it–it’s big and powerful and yet manages to be totally accessible–and the whole thing feels very much like fun. Palpable, ass-kicking fun.
So there you have it, my Creative Crushes of the weekend: Tom Petty and Dave Grohl.
Happy Monday, everyone. I hope you find your own Creative Crush to keep you inspired to create, to live, and give of whatever gift you’re here in the world to give this week (and beyond). If you want to share my current Creative Crush, the more the merrier:
I was born into a kind, caring family, raised in a small town where you couldn’t go to the grocery store without knowing at least five people. (Suzy! Jimmy! Tommy! Mary! Mr. Musacchio!) Kind social pleasantries were a way of life. And while that is all well and good (and a hell of a lot better than some of the intense awfulness that children can experience in this world), I had a drive toward emotional truth that prevented me from fully appreciating my participation in those pleasantries. I was less interested in what was being said, and more interested in what wasn’t being said.
Long before I was able to identify that drive for truth, I spent a lot of time in my imagination. And in my imagination, there was always a beat of truth in the heart of the play. My Christmas list every year read, “Dear Santa, I would like my driver’s license, please.” (Always polite.) And I was genuinely convinced that in some way, for some reason (cue imagination), I was going to be granted my driver’s license before the requisite age of 16. I never dreamed of anything that wasn’t at least slightly possible. I didn’t imagine becoming a fairy princess in a far off land with a dragon as my protector. I dreamed, instead, of rescuing a close family member of the President of the United States and being awarded with my driver’s license at the totally astute age of seven. In reality, it’s completely unlikely this would happen (and to be honest, I have a heard time even saying that), but it could happen. Sadly it did not, but this was my early training in believing wholeheartedly in my imagination. In a lot of ways, these playful scenarios were more real than the pleasant grocery store greetings.
After college, I moved to Los Angeles and began attending the (prestigious, thank you very much) acting school, Playhouse West. This was where I got my first taste of exchanging emotional truth with peers in real life—not just in my imagination. The experience was intense. Soul-squeezing, gut-wrenching intense. It required listening for whispered expressions of human truth, breathing in those whispers, then breathing back out my own honest reaction, no matter how subtle or bold. If we expressed anything less than honesty, if we slipped into “acting” or “thinking” rather than “being” and “expressing,” we were stopped in our tracks, called on the fake or contrived expression, and told to get off the stage and sit down. That training demanded such emotional truth from me that I left sobbing from my deepest, darkest places on several occasions because I was so emotionally open. And I loved it.
Later when I moved to New York, I felt a deep sense of connection to the city. Which was a bit odd to the outside viewer, I imagine, given that I grew up in such a small town, but to me, something strummed inside of me and I felt at home. I began my job at CNN and within hours of my arrival, I dove headfirst into that corporate routine of pleasant coffee room conversation: “Hi, how are you?” “Good, thanks, how are you?” “Good. Okay, see ya.” “Take care.” But there was one girl in the mix who didn’t exchange smiles in the hallway, didn’t make coffee room small talk, didn’t emote anything she didn’t intend to emote. I thought, God, this girl is kind of awful. In my head, I dubbed her Mean Girl. Then early one morning, I stepped into the elevator and there she was. The two of us rode up twenty-something floors together in silence then finally I said to her, “I like your tights,” (they featured some fun geometric pattern) and she replied with her tone as indifferent as the look on her face, “Thanks. They smell like feet and vagina.”
In that instant, I adored her. The truthful words were like candy for my spirit and we became friends. She was brave in her expression (likely without knowing it), candid, and blunt without being mean (contrary to my initial perception), or further, without caring if she was perceived as mean. There was a freedom and inherent hilarity in her expression, which I knew to be that thing I adore: emotional honesty. And, like New York itself, something resonated with me on that day, something that strummed a sense of home within me.
Stephen King said, “As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty.” How do you do this? Well, I can’t—with any confident honesty—tell you how to do this, but I can tell you how I strive for honesty in my writing. I listen. It’s something I know I’m good at. I listen, I feel, I pay attention, and then I communicate (write) what I experience. But before I’m able to do all of that, I first—and this is crucial—have to be open to that level of honesty inside of myself before I can play in the sandbox with anyone else—real or fictional. I must practice the same intense level of honesty within myself, well before I can expect to be in tune with the honesty of my work. Basically, I have to be able to call bullshit on myself before I can call bullshit on anything I create.
When I recognize those moments of honesty in my writing, I relish that they required little to no effort from the thinking mind or any sort of plotted, pre-determined reaction (which can be spotted by even a slightly discerning reader), and rather that they required me to inhale with all of my senses, then exhale my honest interpretation of the situation, the scene, the story. That is my job, and I must be able to call bullshit when necessary. (Trust me, it’s necessary.) On the flip side, I also must be able to spot truth when I see it.
Each afternoon, after wrapping up my writing for the day, I head out into nature with my puppy. As we walk—avoiding as many bugs, bears, and reptiles as possible—I spend time letting my mind catch up with whatever I’ve created that day. What interests me is not, is this new situation carrying the plot forward? Did those scenes make sense as part of the whole? That will all be answered after I finish the first draft and begin working through the second. What matters most to me is, did I pay attention to the truth? And did I express that truth? If not, it’s okay. I’ll keep going, keep writing the next day, and will go back and work with whatever strand of truth I can unravel during that second draft.
Like anything else, expressing honestly is a process, a muscle that must be recognized and exercised. It’s also my job. In order to do my job, I must make sure to remember at least this one thing: always pay attention to my character’s (and my own) feet and vagina.