Wagner’s Book Blog Tour

Thanks to Mary T. Wagner, author of the Running with Stilettos, Heck on Heels, Fabulous in Flats, and her best of collection, When the Shoe Fits for inviting me to participate in her book blog tour.

I’ve been a fan of Wagner’s since I discovered Running with Stilettos. Since then, I’ve devoured every one of Wagner’s essays like a box of Oreo cookies, taking apart their wisdom and dipping them into the milk of my life. When Wagner asked me to participate in her book blog tour, I was both thrilled and honored to be asked.

Wagner, who divides her time between working as a criminal prosecutor, essayist, mother, gardener, and life adventurer, posed some questions to me about my life as a writer.

Wagner: What are you currently working on?

Lam Turpin: I have just finished proofreading galleys of a short story, “The Clay Ring,” which will appear in Art and Understanding, an anthology to be published by Black Lawrence Press.

Wagner: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Lam Turpin: My literary short stories hold one emotion taut as a rope from beginning to end, allowing the reader to explore the consequences of that emotion. They are tiny gemstones that can be read in one sitting and remembered for years to come.

Wagner: Why do you write what you do?

Lam Turpin: With my short stories, I have an emotion which I am bursting to express. I think my best work came before the advent of the Internet. Now anyone can post a feeling or experience instantly as a status update. Before that platform existed, thoughts and feelings were allowed to ferment into a story. It’s the same process that creates wine. You take the raw material and send it through a process of transformation. I managed to write and publish hundreds of literary short stories this way, over a dozen of my best which appear or reappear in The Human Act.

Wagner: How does your writing process work?

Lam Turpin: My writing process has evolved over the past 25 years. When I first started, I wrote on deadline only. When I married and had a child, I started getting up an hour early to write before the baby woke. The process hasn’t changed much since then.

I want to thank Mary T. Wagner again for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.

Next week, discover the writing of Steve Lindahl.

Lindal

Steve Lindahl’s debut novel, Motherless Soul, was published in 2009 by All Things That Matter Press. His short fiction has appeared in Space and Time, The Alaska Quarterly, The Wisconsin Review, Eclipse, Ellipsis and Red Wheelbarrow. He served for five years as an associate editor on the staff of The Crescent Review, a literary magazine he co-founded.

Lindahl’s background in Theater Arts has helped nurture a love for intricate characters in complex situations that is evident in his writing. He and his wife Toni live and work together outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. They have two adult children: Nicole and Erik. White Horse Regressions is Steve Lindahl’s second novel.

White Horse Regressions

Should You Rewrite for Representation?

open laptop and a personal organizer on an office table

I finally found an agent to represent my crime novel only if I can rewrite the book in the antagonist’s point-of-view.

Ironically, that is the only point-of-view missing from my original 120,000 word manuscript. First, I cut 20,000 words to get the novel within the 100,000 word guidelines most agents seek. Second, I cut the prologue and epilogue since most agents said they weren’t necessary. Third, I added a few flashbacks to fill in the missing pieces to the puzzle that had been deleted by the prologue. Finally, I rewrote the ending to add the symbolism needed to hint at the missing epilogue.

After sending the manuscript to 64 agents over many months and receiving mostly instantaneous rejections, I took a break and focused on other things. I learned about concept writing and rewrote the one line pitch and one page synopsis and gained the attention of my current agent-to-be whose only request was to rewrite the entire manuscript from multiple points-of-view to a single point-of-view.

It may sound like a simple request, but that’s not how I reacted.

After calming down, I sent an email to the agent-to-be requesting a telephone conversation. I woke up at 5:30 am and placed a call to New York at 6 a.m. For fifteen minutes I discussed my concerns, going over my woeful history of almost sales over 25 years writing fiction. “How was this experience going to be different?” I asked. “It’s just another request to rewrite without a contract.”

The agent-to-be listened patiently before she responded. “You don’t have to do anything,” she said. “You may shop the manuscript around and find someone interested in the story as it is or sell it on your own. But if you want my support and expertise, you need to rewrite the story from the antagonist’s point-of-view. She’s the most interesting character, the one I want to know the most about, and I feel cheated as a reader because so many questions could be answered by her thoughts and feelings but aren’t because I don’t have any access to them.”

Hmmm…my beta readers had actually said they liked not knowing what the villain thought and felt.

But here was someone who worked to sell manuscripts to major publishers who had time and money and expertise to expand an author’s readership.

Could I find the time between working six days a week, going to school, and parenting children to rewrite the manuscript from another point-of-view?

If I decide to embark on this task, I do so without guarantees. I don’t have a contract with the agent. I don’t have any promise of publication. I only have one person’s opinion and a dream to be read.

What would you do?


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Life is Laundry

Lifeislaundry
Life is dirty. Life is clean. Life is colorful. Life is dull. Life can be sorted, washed, dried, folded, hung up, or neatly put away.

Laundry is the great equalizer. Everyone needs freshly laundered clothes. It doesn’t matter if you wash them yourself or hire someone to do it. It is a task that must be done.

Parents teach their children how to launder clothes as a necessary life skill. For many, wearing a pink shirt as the result of mixing white shirts with red towels is a rite of passage.

The life is laundry motif runs throughout my writing, most noticeably in my short story collection, The Human Act.

In “Fistful of Love,” a pregnant woman carries her laundry on her head, negotiating the stairs and the narrow walkway to the laundry room to wash and dry her family’s clothes. The narrator surreptitiously watches her through the peephole, infatuated with her. Laundry symbolizes the pregnant woman’s burden. Behind the safety of a front door, the narrator fantasizes about rescuing the pregnant woman and relieving her of her misery.

In “Randy Returns,” the narrator reminisces about her husband teaching her how to sort the clothes when they were newlyweds. The act of instructing a basic skill symbolizes the fundamental love her husband had for her long after he has passed away. It is a legacy that cannot be stolen. When the narrator washes the homeless friend’s clothes, it is an act of love.

In “Hope in the Laundry Room,” a woman loses her charm in a washer. The narrator finds it and returns it to her, sparking the start of a relationship full of caring and caretaking.

I have washed and dried many loads of laundry throughout my life, from the baskets full of soiled infant bibs to adult work shirts and pants and everything in between. I’ve watched colors fade and bleed, stains removed or set, clothes shrunk from XXL to XXS.

Laundering is as much a science as it is an art. No two people launder the same. No two items of clothing require the same care. Pockets full of tissue can cause a whole load to become full of lint. Candy wrappers may wash out just fine, but gum may stick and later dry on material that is hard to remove.

But no matter whether the clothes fade or shrink or come out just fine, we are all in this laundry of life together, and the lessons we learn are as necessary as clean clothes.


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All My Books

Limitlessness

RunHow are you limiting your success?

For years, people tried to encourage me to paint on larger canvases. Instead of taking their advice, I continued painting portrait sized landscapes that could be discretely hung in an office setting or as one of many paintings on a living room wall.

Now I realize why I shied away from those larger canvases. Fear. It’s easy to paint small, to say to the world, “My creativity can fit on my desk.” But if the audience wants to hear you scream instead of whisper, you have to decide whether to respond to that request or continue to hide behind the fear that limits you.

I finally took that leap of faith when I put down a wallet sized canvas and purchased a wall sized canvas that took up the back seat of my car. The next-door-neighbor helped me carry it into the house.

Then my heart sank.

All those excuses on why I couldn’t succeed threatened to extinguish the hope I had been feeling. I was eight years old being scolded for drawing when I was supposed to be memorizing my multiplication tables. I was sixteen years old in the guidance counselor’s office being told to choose a different major because no one makes money drawing pictures. I was twenty-eight years old in a job interview being told my artistic vision was too original to ever make it as a marketing director.

But the amazing thing about faith is the magic behind its force. My husband rearranged the furniture to accommodate the oversized canvas. My daughter suggested potential subjects to paint. And my son, who usually dominates the entire household with his demands, decided to leave me alone.

If you can abandon the excuses others have given you, those same excuses you have chosen to make your own, you can unleash your success.

Finding and Losing Faith

Writers are people of faith.

They trust the process. They let go and step into the fog of the unknown.

They send out their manuscripts to strangers and hope they will be treated fairly.

They write and rewrite even if no one reads what they’ve written.

When everything falls apart, they begin again.

But writers can lose faith.

They can doubt the process. They can hold on to fear and unrealistic expectations and refuse to try something new.

They can send out their manuscripts too early to publishers and face rejection or withhold sharing their work with the public until it is too late and the trend has past.

They can stop writing even when they have an audience waiting to read their next work.

When everything comes together, they can fall apart.

Most writers undergo a cycle of faith and doubt throughout their creative lives. Sometimes a writer will ask, “Do I cut my losses and walk away? Do I keep pushing for the dream? Do I settle?”

Some writers stop writing. Others can’t. It’s the air they breathe. Others stop talking about what they are writing, afraid to jinx the story that hasn’t taken shape yet. Some stare at the blank page and ask, “Why?” even as the words start to flow.

In the darkest moments, it is easy to abandon the craft. Ignore the phone calls from the muse. Delete the words that travel through the mind upon waking up. Discard the story ideas as distracting daydreams.

It is normal to lose faith. It is normal to walk away, vowing never to return. It is just as normal to return to the struggle of writing through the fog of the unknown, to risk sharing the manuscript with the world again. Finding and losing faith is as cyclical as the rest of life. The trick is to know neither the apex nor the nadir lasts forever. There is only this moment. Embrace it.

Writing for Fun to Free the Soul

Child Praying

Writing a Letter

 

 

 

 

 

Writing is my spiritual practice. Some people pray. Others meditate. I write.

I’ve written enough over the years that I literally have filing cabinets lined up along one side of the garage full of the writing I’ve done for fun, not profit, for me, not others, for the joy of writing in and of itself.

This is writing no one else will ever see.

Some of the poems are prayers. Some are conversations with God. Some are letters to the person I was or wanted to be. All of it was written from the depths of my soul, from that deep yearning to connect with something larger than me. The best writing from those pieces aren’t polished and published; they’re full of insight and revelations and truths.

Some of my favorite authors are spiritual writers—not writers who write about the topic of spirituality, but writers who use their writing to explore their spirituality and as a result of that exploration create wonderful published works.

When I was in college, I had the pleasure of hearing Natalie Goldberg speak about the writing life. For her, writing was an extension of the Zen practice of meditation. She sat and moved her hand across the page, letting the words flow out of her. It was no different than sitting meditation in which she sat and let the thoughts dissolve around her or walking meditation in which each step she took brought her closer to God.

When I was at the Vermont Studio Center, I had the privilege of writing with and learning from Melanie Rae Thon. Melanie’s writing practice consisted of asking questions and answering them through writing. Whether it was questions you asked yourself or your characters, the answers revealed themselves through the words that poured forth. Those answers could become solutions to real life problems or the conflicts and resolutions to published stories or novels.

When I realized the best writing I admired came from the spiritual practice of writing, I changed the way I approached the page. There was the writing I did for work and the writing I did for fun. Over the years, however, I lost sight of how the two intertwined: that the best writing I’ve done is also the best writing I’ve published which is also the best writing that has come from delving deep into my soul through my spiritual practice.

When writing became a job—something to produce for a profit—and stopped becoming a journey to find a way back to God—my spiritual practice—I saw the profits drop and my soul start to die.

Sure, I had the spiritual writing I did for fun on the side, but it was no longer essential like eating and sleeping. It had become a hobby, not a lifestyle.

It was only when I received an e-mail from the new editor of a national publication who discovered my writing through one of my spiritual pieces published when I was much younger that I woke up and realized a fundamental truth: the writing that answers the questions of the soul is also the writing most people want to read. It’s looking the hard questions in the eye and answering truthfully, whether through an article, an essay, a novel, a poem, or a short story, that brings the reader and the writer together in a timeless journey of discovery of the purpose and meaning of life.

Modern life may be different than medieval life, but the life of the spirit remains unchanged. That’s why we still read the classics—the truth does not change.

Writing for fun, for discovery, for the soul is the deepest, truest writing that you’ll ever do.

It doesn’t matter if it ends up the cover story of a national magazine or in the filing cabinet in the garage. What matters is the writing is done with the same loving practice as the everyday self-care tasks of caring for the body. For writing is one way of caring for the soul.


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Chase the Concept: Writing Backwards

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Yes, my blog has been bare. I took a two month hiatus to draft a contemporary Christian romance. That’s what the genre is…but that’s not how the story came about.

It started on one of my runs. A woman was complaining, saying it was all her mother’s fault she was a romance addict because her mother named her Juliet. She swore she was a star-crossed lover before she was born.

But just because I had a character didn’t mean I had a story. I had realized with my last two thrillers that concept is more important than story. High concept – a series of events that happens to a particular person with a particular result – must appeal to the masses, not a handful of people. That’s why I resisted writing anything about Juliet until much, much later.

I needed a series of events that happened to a particular person with a particular result that appealed to many people.

I needed a concept.

Backwards writing. That’s what I was learning how to do. I would sell a concept then write the story.

I sat down and wrote a one line pitch. Then a one page summary.

I sent out queries based on a book I had not yet written to see if it was worth writing.

Now I’m pedaling backward fast…churning out a novel and editing the first sample pages so literary agents can judge whether or not they think I should finish it.

It’s an experiment in backwards writing…but since forward writing hasn’t paid off, it’s worth the risk, isn’t it?


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WRITERS ARE ATHLETES

Santa Rosa Marathon

What does a writer have in common with an athlete?

A lot.

Hard as it may be to imagine the sedentary, day dreamy lifestyle of a writer as comparable with the action-packed, movement-filled lifestyle of an athlete, writers and athletes travel a parallel path toward success.

Here’s what I’ve learned from sports rehabilitation and writing through the trenches:

YOU MUST SET A GOAL

Athletes must have an objective: win a gold medal in the Olympics, run a marathon, or qualify to play on a local softball team.

Without a contract or a deadline, no one cares whether or not you show up at your desk to write. You must set a goal and work toward it. You might want to query your favorite magazine, write a book proposal, finish a short story, or land a book deal or find an agent to represent you. Any of these goals is good enough to get you started.

YOU MUST CREATE A SCHEDULE AND STICK WITH IT

An athlete is disciplined. Training schedules must be followed. Diets must be balanced. Sleep must be maintained. An entire lifestyle must encompass the athlete in order for the goal to be achieved.

Writers must also be disciplined. Set a writing schedule. Follow it. Make sure you eat right to think right. Exercise the body to exercise the brain. Sleep long and deeply so that creativity may be replenished. A writer must create a lifestyle to support the creative habit and allow it to flourish.

YOU MUST HAVE A SUPPORT TEAM

Athletes get injured, miss milestones, reset goals, and even fail. Writers are no different.

Athletes surround themselves with doctors, nutritionists, rehabilitation experts, sports psychologists, and coaches to build up the support team needed to sustain them through the ups and downs of training toward a goal.

Writers must surround themselves with people who support their writing: family and friends, fellow writers, editors, publishers, marketing experts, agents, attorneys, and people in other creative disciplines such as acting, music, and art.

Does an athlete cross the finish line alone? No. The support team is in the crowd, cheering the athlete on, celebrating the victory.

When you sign your publishing contract, you are not alone. Your support team is behind you, cheering you on, celebrating your victory.

The same is true with failure: you do not fail alone. Others are there to go over the play-by-play, break it down, analyze what went wrong and why, and help create a winning strategy for the future.

YOU MUST EXHIBIT GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP

Good sportsmanship means thinking of others: teammates and opponents. An athlete who exhibits good sportsmanship wins with humility and fails with grace.

Be kind. Be gracious. Be magnanimous.

Be a good sport.

Celebrate the success of other writers. Someday those same writers will celebrate your success.

Whether you are an athlete or a writer, the journey is the same: a life tailored around achieving a goal with the help of a support team in the midst of opponents who will push you to give your all in the pursuit of your dreams.



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Finding Your Place in Work and Life

This week author and philosopher Mary Clark writes about her journey to find her niche in writing and life:

Mary Clark

In the 20th Century, we had two very influential women philosophers, and controversial as well: Hannah Arendt and Ayn Rand. Then there were the feminist writers and social scientists: Joan Tronto, Margaret Urban Walker, but the friendship I had with an elderly Bohemian male, PJ, played a pivotal role in my life and my profession. Tally: An Intuitive Life is the story of that friendship and shared occupation.

In my late 20s, after graduating with a degree in psychology and then publishing a community-arts newsletter, I started work at a poetry program in New York City. These occupational adventures were connected, intuitively, although I was not aware of it then. I was interested in human behavior: why did people do what they did? In my writing, I peeled away conscious and unconscious layers and contemplated the nuances of my motivations, thinking, and emotions. Studying psychology, the patterns became more comprehensible, along with being exposed to the labels and varied interpretations. It all came to a dead end for me. Academic education failed to address the fundamental issues of life. What I didn’t know was that I was interested not in human behavior, but in human nature and all the great philosophical questions.

Yes, I read Nietzsche and Kierkegaard while still in college. I studied Hegel, Kant, Goethe, and others. After college, intuitively, I began to read on my own: novels by Balzac, Colette, Gide, Camus, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Gorky, Lermontov, the diaries of Anais Nin, the Village Voice, Susan Sontag, and Gore Vidal. The Existentialists held my attention for some time. Then there was art: Bunuel’s films, Bejart’s dance group, and Judy Chicago’s paintings. There were rock groups that dared to explore the borders as well. Here I found the beating hearts of real people, in real situations, facing the terror and joy, boredom and excitement, of living.

I was on a quest for wisdom about the levels of life: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. Still following an intuitive directive, I read (re-read) the Bible, the Koran, the Bhavagadvita, and Idries Shah’s The Way of the Sufi, among other religious and spiritual books. Who didn’t read Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet? Very little spoke to me. Some are great cultural tales; others are ethical guides, or both. Some of the poetry, though, fastened to me neurologically. In fact, all the great poems I’ve read have done this, although I can’t quote them. No, it’s more a matter of influencing my intuition.

It was difficult for me, as a woman and outside academia, to find intellectual companions. I was searching for a way to reach out to people who were also interested in philosophy, psychology, nature including human nature, and literature. So I began an alternative community publication featuring articles, cartoons, poems, and short stories on books, music, film, dance, and environmental issues. There was another side: the paper covered local issues as well, usually the positive, such as a new affordable senior residence. That community-mindedness was a natural part of my interest in the world and the ways human beings treat one another. Unfortunately, it was not a money-maker!

I moved to New York’s West Side and eventually came to the poetry program at St. Clement’s Church. Through its director, I met PJ. Everything I had done was connected by an intuitive thread. I moved from friendship with PJ, to care giving, and back to friendship, and then to more. In my blog post, Occupational Integrity: a Life Profile, I show how PJ traced the intuitive thread in his own life.

PJ

If you enjoyed this guest blog post from Mary Clark, please pick up Tally: An Intuitive Life published by All Things That Matter Press.


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