Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Filling the Creative Well

zebra
Zebra by George Stubbs, 1763

Ever since our move to New Haven, my creativity levels (and if we’re being honest, my emotions), have fluctuated more than normal. One day, I’m happily whipping out a new chapter for Desertera #2 or proudly revising The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) for the umpteenth (but next-to-last!) time. The next day, I’m moping around the apartment with barely the energy to lift my Kindle but plenty of energy to suck Daniel into yet another round of Netflix.

One of my creative “mentors” (unbeknownst to her, which sounds much creepier than it actually is), Joanna Penn, talks about the duality of art. Above her workstation, she has a sign that says “Have you made art today?” But she also notes that it is just as important to consume art as it is to make it. After all, if we let our creative well run dry and never take in new inspiration, how can we continue to make fresh and invigorating art, whatever our chosen medium?

the unborn
The Unborn by Anselm Kiefer, 2001

Most writers I know (and several of my non-writer friends) turn to books when they are feeling bored or uninspired. Sometimes this works for me, too. However, my reading has revolved around my book review queue lately, and while I have been enjoying those novels, it’s made reading feel more like “work” than play (one of the many reasons I’m not taking new requests).

But, even when reading is purely for my own enjoyment, it’s not always the best medium for me to gain inspiration. For whatever reason, I feel inspired to write after seeing visual art (paintings, sculptures, etc.) or listening to music. Partly, I think this is because I cannot paint or make music, much to my continual despair, and partly, I think my brain or subconscious or muse (not that I think I have one) likes to “translate” these forms of art into a new one — writing.

divination book
Divination Book (Pustaha), Batak, Sumatra, mid 18th-19th century

Yesterday, Daniel and I finally decided to get out of the house (I keep saying “house” when I should say “apartment,” and the inaccuracy is driving me nuts!) and enjoy some of New Haven’s free entertainment. First, we went to the Yale University Art Gallery, where we saw everything from ancient Greek pottery to Islamic tapestries to African statuettes to colonial American furniture to just about everything else you can imagine.

I found myself moved by several of these pieces, which you can see throughout this post. In the British art section, I found my spirit animal. In the Indo-Pacific section, I found several pieces that filled aesthetic gaps in my to-be-finished novel, Desert Child. And in the Modern Art section, I found my favorite piece of all, The Unborn by Anselm Kiefer — inspired by the Jewish myth of Lilith and meant to evoke all the lost souls resulting from The Holocaust.

shakespeare in the parkAfter the art gallery, Daniel and I drove (a rather unheard of and dangerous task on the East Coast) to Edgerton Park to see a Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night. I have read several of Shakespeare’s plays (and poems) as well as watched productions on television, but I had never actually seen a live performance of one of his plays. I’m not a theatrical critic by any means, but I will say it was a lovely production, and I really enjoyed myself.

There is just something so beautiful about humanity, the way we can manipulate materials and language and create entirely new meaning out of familiar objects. Sometimes, we just get so caught up in our lives, or in trying to create art ourselves, that we forget to stop and appreciate what others have done. Even if we don’t understand it (the art itself or its effect on us), it’s worth taking the time to just exist among what others define as beauty, if only for an hour or two, and let it sink in to our subconscious. What comes out the other side will likely be entirely different, but it will be equally beautiful and equally as worthy in the world.

So do I think my creative well has been refilled? I hope so. But the proof is in the pudding. I’m off to go make my art for the day.


What inspires you when you’re feeling “uncreative” or down? Which forms of art do you make? Which art forms do you prefer to consume?

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

My Kansas Bucket List

As my regular peeps will know, my husband, Daniel, and I are moving to New Haven, Connecticut, where he will pursue a Masters degree at Yale. I’ve been thinking about our move a lot, both logistically and emotionally. One thought that slipped across my mind is that I may never live in Kansas again.

Full disclosure: Daniel and I have every intention of setting up a home in the Midwest one day. However, first and foremost, we have to go where he can get a tenure-tracked professorship. We’ll be in New Haven for two years, an unknown location (definitely not anywhere near home) for five years for his PhD, and then we’ll be chasing that professorship. Luckily for us, if all goes according to plan, I can be a full time writer from anywhere.

Anyway, point is: I do not know when I’ll be back to Kansas to live. Therefore, I’ve decided to make a Kansas Bucket List to hit my old haunts one last time and maybe see some things I’ve been postponing my entire life. I’ve got four months to do it. Let’s see how many I can cross off!

Places to Go (Ran out of time for all of these. A good excuse to come back home!)

  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
  • Stull Cemetery
  • Lebanon, Kansas (geographical center of the U.S.)
  • World’s largest ball of twine (Cawker City, KS)

Things to Do

  • Host a going away party
  • Graffiti session at Java Break (Closed for construction on the day I went. Boo.) 
  • Make a Kansas shirt at ACME
  • Have an amaretto sour at the Record Bar
  • Have a drink at the Hillsdale Tavern
  • Star Wars marathon with our friends, Devin and Caleb
  • Miami County Wine Trolley Tour (Ran out of time for this, too!)
  • Ride Verruckt (world’s tallest water slide) (And this…at least I made time for my novel!)
  • Buy/make something “Kansas” for our apartment

Photos to Take

  • Childhood home/property
  • Our walking route
  • Baker University
  • A few favorite spots in Lawrence
  • Sunflower fields (The ones near me haven’t bloomed in time.)
  • Sunset (ours are the best in the country)
  • Midwest imagery (grain silos, barns, hay bales, etc.)
  • Make copies of old family photos

If you were moving away from your hometown, what would you make sure to see and do? If any of my Kansas people are reading this, what did I miss from my list?

Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles

Guest Post: Writing with a Soundtrack by Amanda Richter

Today, I’m excited to bring you a guest post about how music can help your writing by the fabulous Amanda J. Richter. Personally, I fall into the write in absolute (sometimes creepy) silence category, so I am pumped to soak up some of Amanda’s wisdom and see if any of her tips work for me. Enjoy and leave your comments/questions for her below!


When I was in high school my mom always scolded me for listening to music while I studied. She was convinced that if I wasn’t sitting in absolute silence I could not be concentrating.  As I moved from high school to university I found I could use music strategically. When studying for exams I picked songs that were catchy and easy to remember and listened to them on a loop. Each class had its own song. In the exam I hummed as I wrote.  Like magic, it helped me remember what I had studied.

It wasn’t magic though. As much as I would like to take credit, it’s not a new concept.

Stores use music to keep you shopping longer. Movies and television use music to set mood and tone. Try imagining a movie with no soundtrack—it would be weird. Commercials use jingles and song snippets to play on your memory and keep their product firmly ear-wormed in your brain.  So it makes sense that writing with a soundtrack taps into how the world uses music around us.

Writing with a Soundtrack to Anchor

I use music the same way advertisers do.  I pick one artist (or album) per writing project and listen on repeat until they become synonymous with each other.  By building an association between the music and the story I am classically conditioning myself (see Pavlov).  This helps get me into a creative mind-frame and dive into my characters, settings, and plots faster.  As an added benefit I find having music on lessens other distractions; such as my need to check Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  Associating music with writing keeps my mind on task longer.

Writing with a Soundtrack to Set the Mood

Much like in movies and television, writing with music can help you establish the mood of your scene or project. During NaNoWriMo 2014 I wrote a post-apocalyptic dystopia; I used a dark album, full of angst and lyrics surrounding drug addiction. This helped set the tone of the novel and kept my mind functioning in a space similar to what my characters were enduring.

When I am writing my fantasy pieces I listen to Celtic music or music from my favourite video game soundtrack.  For my romantic piece I listen to modern pop music.  By using different soundtracks for each genre/piece I can keep the mood/tone of the story in mind. It also helps me switch gears when I am working on multiple projects.

Writing with a Soundtrack for Inspiration and Against Writer’s Block

In my NaNoWriMo 2014 novel drug addiction was a side-note, just another tack for my characters to sit on. As I listened to the album I chose I realized that drug addiction was not something that should be a side-note. It is what my characters are fighting against as they come to terms with the loss of the world as they knew it.  The music inspired me to take my characters in a different direction to the benefit of my story.

If you are a believer in writer’s block listening to music can help break through that frustration. It can help reboot your brain. When I run out of steam I often sit, close my eyes, and listen. After a few minutes my mind will wander and the ideas will flow again.  Changing the music you are listening to can help you refocus. If you were listening to something dark and dreary then throw on something up beat and lively.  Dance breaks are always encouraged.

Writing without Music

Not everyone can work with music. Many people find it distracting and end up singing along with the music instead of writing. That’s ok! Even as a person who needs music ninety percent of the time to be productive, there are always times I work better without music.  If you find even the traffic, birds, or constant crying of your children distracting try ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones.

If you want to use music while you write, but feel that lyrics distract you, try classical or instrumental music to start. I often listen to instrumental movie soundtracks (Lord of the Rings; Avatar). Find what works for you and helps you be productive. Experiment!  Try different kinds of music—even if you don’t end up using it while you write you might find something new to enjoy!


For more from Amanda, check out her author website, http://www.amanda-richter.com, or her WordPress writing blog, Reading Over People’s Shoulders.

 

Fiction Blog, Writing Samples

Antes de la Boda: An Original Poem

Antes de la Boda

from the oil on canvas by Antonio Muñoz Degrain

 

The bones of her corset creak against her ribs

as she breathes, Necesito un momento,

por favor.

She dreams of salt water dried on her skin,

of the warm breeze tangling her curls.

Of Valencia. Of home.

She clasps her right hand, wrist

bruised and aching from her father’s

grasp. Wrapped tightly in satin

and trimmed with ribbon,

she is the gift. White and soft,

she is the dove. And her bouquet,

the olive branch.

antes de la boda
Antes de la Boda by Antonio Muñoz Degrain as featured in Museo Nacional del Prado.


This poem is from my Poetry Writing I class at Baker University. It was part of the poetry collection, Olive Branch, which I presented at the 2013 Sigma Tau Delta International Conference. It was published in the 2014 edition of Watershed Literary Magazine.

Antes de la boda is Spanish for “Before the wedding.”

Necessito un momento por favor is Spanish for “I need a moment please.”

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Christmas Adventures

Well, friends, this will be my last post until after Christmas. I intend to resume blogging on December 29, just in time to wrap up 2014 and share with you all my resolutions and plans for 2015. However, before I disappear into Christmas Land, I want to bring you all a little bit of the holiday spirit and share with you all the holiday activities that have been (happily) keeping me from writing and editing.

IMG_20141206_143114 (1)1. Decorating the Tree

This year may be my last holiday in my childhood home, as my parents are in the process of building a new house. So, I did what anyone from my generation would do and chronicled the decoration process on Instagram. Because, you know, Millennial.

20141222_2021032. Buying Presents & Stocking Stuffers

I love my family, but I am so glad to be done buying stuff for them. This year, Christmas shopping was like a hydra — I crossed an item off my list and three more appeared. However, I am happy to report that I am finally DONE.

3. Preparing for Company

Daniel’s brother is coming all the way from Australia to visit us for Christmas (or, more accurately, gallivant around the U.S. with his friend, but let’s pretend it’s about us for a minute). I still have some work to do around the house to make the guest room habitable, but at the very least, his presents are all ready to go. That’s the important thing, right?

IMG_20141214_1445194. Wrapping Presents

I take extreme pride in my wrapping skills. I joke about myself a lot, because I am not a typical “wife,” and I have very little interest in domestic activities. But present wrapping? I got this. All day long. Seriously, it took me the better part of an afternoon (and a few other stolen moments) to wrap all our Christmas presents, and what you see here is only the tip of the iceberg.

20141222_2021305. Baking Sugar Cookies

My family is not particularly culinary, but we have one killer sugar cookie recipe. My mom did all the difficult work with these, but I helped run the cookie cutter and did a lot of frosting and sprinkling. It just isn’t Christmas in our house until these get baked, and we’ve already got relatives knocking down the door to get their dozen.

6. Going to Family Dinners

3 down. 2 to go.

20141222_2006187. Making an Ornament

As you all know, this is my and Daniel’s first Christmas as a married couple. Due to the “distractions” of NaNoWriMo and work, I missed most of the ship dates for handmade Etsy “Our First Christmas” ornaments. Therefore, I made our own. Now, my artistic talent is pretty much limited to writing, but I think I did okay. They say “Dan & Kate’s First Christmas 2014” in red and green, and the strips of paper on the inside contain words from our wedding ceremony. Not too bad for a non-artist. I think this is a tradition I would like to continue.

20141222_200638I love Christmas. I love decorating, crafting, gift-giving, and spending time with loved ones. However, I’m pretty freaking tired. As crazy as it will sound to the non-writers (and even some writers) out there, I’m really ready to get back to writing and start on some editing so I can have a break and rest. Luckily, though, I think most everything is done and now it’s simply a matter of smiling through it all (Oh! And opening presents!).

No matter what or if you celebrate this holiday season, I hope you find yourself surrounded by loved ones and full of joy (or you know, sugar and wine).

See you on the other side,

Kate