Creativity Friday: Seven things about myself as a writer

Posted on Mar 27, 2015 in A Gathering of Shadows/The Lily Maid, creativity, news & muse, the Next Novel

the blue house garden under snow
The Blue House garden last week. (Spring? What’s that?)

It’s been a busy time here at Chez Art and Words—I’m knee-deep in revisions on the Next Novel and other projects, and there have been big but good changes afoot, and my daughter turned ten—ten!—years old, and we had visitors and so on and so forth. Anyway, I was tagged by my writer friend Ellen Seltz to list seven things about myself as a writer. Took me a while to get to it, but here goes:

1. Both of my novels were inspired by dreams.

2. The title of the Next Novel came to me in a dream. (I’m not ready to reveal it yet, but I’m besotted with this title.)

3. Per #1 and #2: Whenever I get stuck writing, I believe in the power of sleep to unstick things, especially a twenty minute power nap. Ditto for long walks and baths—anything that puts me into a creative ”flow” state.

4. I’m a creature of routine. My writing prefers consistency over quantity. Meaning that words flow better when I write every day—preferably first thing in the morning, and in the same place. Daily practice, if you will.

5. I find first drafting painful. I love love love revising once I have a draft—that’s where the fun stuff happens. And I revise a lot—one scene in A GATHERING OF SHADOWS must have been revised nearly a hundred times before it found its final place in the novel.

6. I also reread what I’ve written a lot when I’m revising. I’m like a detective trying to suss out the hidden stuff my subconscious has left for me to find.

7. I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice. It rocks.

What about you? If you’re a writer, what seven things make you unique? Feel free to post them on your blog and share the link in the comments—I’d love to know.

Wordless Wednesday: Shelfie du jour

Posted on Feb 25, 2015 in A Gathering of Shadows/The Lily Maid, news & muse, the Next Novel, Wordless Wednesday

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Photographed in my studio: some of my favorite research books these days. 

Creativity Friday: The Rules

Posted on Jan 30, 2015 in A Gathering of Shadows/The Lily Maid, creativity, Doomed Queens, news & muse

I’m away through the end of January at a writer’s residency at the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts, where I’ll be hard at work on the Next Novel.  During my absence, I decided to repost some old blog favorites about publishing and the creative process. Enjoy!

Of late I’ve been wondering if are there rules for embarking on a new book or creative project—a subject brought to mind after a writer on Facebook mentioned his set of rules. After mulling a bit, I realized that I do have some. Though my rules no doubt differ from others, they’ve proven fairly consistent over the years.

Rule 1: I shouldn’t be bored. I must fall in love with the book completely and desperately. Both of these qualities are essential because I may be spending years living with it. (Though DOOMED QUEENS took me just over a year to create, THE LOVER’S PATH entailed almost a decade of on-and-off work. That’s a hefty chunk of time.)

Rule 2:  The process of creating the book, or its subject matter, should scare me a little. Or a lot. I look upon the presence of fear as a sign that I’m growing as an artist. Sometimes my fear may be in an “oh my god this project is going to challenge me. I’m not sure if my skills are up to it.” (I definitely felt this way when I began writing A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. Thank goodness for National Novel Writing Month, which pushed me beyond my initial “I don’t know how to write a novel” resistance.) Or my fear might be due to the subject matter. For example, when I first thought of the concept for DOOMED QUEENS, it scared me to death: a humorous book about how royal women were disempowered throughout history? Who would want to read this? Would people be offended? Fortunately, my literary agent pushed me to embrace the darkness amid the light. Voila, DOOMED QUEENS was born and went on to became one of my most critically praised books.

Rule 3: Finally, I need to have fun while working. If a project isn’t fun, what’s the point?

So, my creative rules for choosing to work on a book come down to:

  • no boredom
  • love
  • embrace the fear
  • have fun

That’s my formula. However, I haven’t included my biggest rule of all: to produce the best publication I possibly can, using all of the artistic knowledge and skills I possess.

What about you? Do you have any rules for choosing your creative projects?

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Above photograph: Craft project by Thea for her clubhouse. 

Creativity Friday: The most beloved painting in Britain? Or, the Lady and I

Posted on Jan 16, 2015 in A Gathering of Shadows/The Lily Maid, creativity, news & muse

I’m away through the end of January at a writer’s residency at the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts, where I’ll be hard at work on the Next Novel.  During my absence, I decided to repost some old blog favorites about publishing and the creative process. Enjoy!

Many of you know that the Waterhouse painting of the Lady of  Shalott (above) served as inspiration for my novel A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. Turns out I’m not alone in my obsession: I’m pleased to report The Lady of Shalott was recently voted the most loved painting in the United Kingdom as part of Art Everywhere’s incentive to celebrate British art.

As such, it will be featured on billboards for the next two weeks, along with 57 other popular British paintings, in what is being billed as the “world’s largest art show.” How cool is that?

Here’s my description of the painting from my novel. It’s written from the point of view of Elizabeth, the young woman who models for it:

 Though The Lady of Shalott clearly wasn’t finished—loose brush strokes indicated much of the composition—I easily recognized myself in it. Gazing at the painting was like looking into a strange mirror reflecting back another time and place. There I was, a fragile-looking young woman on a barge, my sorrow-filled eyes half-shut in anticipation of death. One hand held a lily; the other grasped the side of the boat. My blonde hair was scattered about my shoulders, as it had been that first morning when I’d first posed on my settee. The landscape surrounding the barge was marshy and tangled, threatening and wild. Water lilies past their bloom filled the foreground. The overall sense was one of tragic beauty. Of yearning that extended beyond grief. Lost possibilities. Lost love.

My obsession with the Lady of Shalott goes back years before I ever learned of the Waterhouse painting, or caught a glimpse of the novel that would become A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. My first exposure to her came at the age of six, when a favorite cousin gave me the Golden Book of King Arthur illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. It included a lush painting of the Lady of Shalott, here called Elaine the Lily Maid, that was simply the most stunningly romantic thing I’d ever seen. I must have spent hours staring at it, trying to comprehend her death from heartbreak. I couldn’t—but what child can?

But Lancelot mused a little space
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”

This was only the beginning of my relationship with the Lady of Shalott. She stayed with me throughout my childhood, this tale of a girl trapped in a tower weaving tapestries of the world forbidden to her; to my mind, her story mirrored my favorite fairy tale of Rapunzel. Later, as a high school senior, I made an illuminated poster retelling the Lady of Shalott—one of my first attempts to integrate art and words as one. A teacher at the time said to me, “I’d be very interested to see you attempt this subject after you go to art school.” Alas, this was not to be, at least in painted form, for it was at the School of Visual Arts I was  introduced to Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott by another art student. How could I attempt to paint her in the wake of such a glorious painting?

Though it’s been some years, I still recall how my fellow student pulled out a much-thumbed postcard from his sketchbook. “It’s a painting of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott,” he said with the hushed tone of a junkie hawking an illicit drug. “It’s on display at the Tate Gallery in London. I returned every day to view it while I was there. I want to go back this summer.” However, that wasn’t all he found at the Tate Gallery: standing beside the famed painting was the young woman he was convinced was meant to be his true love and eternal muse.

I wonder still if they ever reunited. If so, I like the idea that the Lady of Shalott’s tragic love might have inspired someone to a happy ending.

Creativity Friday: Blank slate for a new year

Posted on Jan 2, 2015 in A Gathering of Shadows/The Lily Maid, creativity, news & muse, the Next Novel, the world around me

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Above: the chalkboard wall in my studio at the end of 2014.

There’s something about the start of the new year that reminds me of a blank slate where everything is filled with possibility and wonder. I’m especially glad for this blank slate—if I am to be completely honest, 2014 was truly difficult. For starters, my mother died early that January, which set the tone for the remainder of the year. While Mom’s passing was not unexpected—she’d suffered from Alzheimer’s for years—the loss of a parent is regardless an intense experience. You simply can’t prepare for it.

Burying a parent is a definite reminder of the cycle of life: Those who grant us life will die, just as we will die one day. As sad as I was over my loss, I sensed there was more at play beyond this most primal of leavetakings—deep transformations within myself as an artist and as a human being that I needed to understand more deeply, yet wasn’t ready to.

Then fate intervened.

Soon after returning from Europe to inter my mother’s ashes, I broke my foot (above photo). It was especially frustrating because I do things quickly: I walk quickly, think quickly, and talk quickly. If that wasn’t distressing enough, I walk everywhere as a matter of course—if there’s a choice between walking, driving, or taking the subway, I choose my feet. However, having a broken foot did force me to finally slow down to acknowledge the complicated emotions I’d been avoiding: sorrow, frustration, the weight of lost time, and a conundrum of others.

And how am I on this second day of 2015? Better. My foot is healed, though it still aches a little when it rains. Regardless, I’m back to walking my usual several miles a day. More importantly, I feel less caught between past and future. More integrated into the present.

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 After feeling battered by 2014, I’m grateful for the blank state to begin again. As you can see above, I’ve already filled my studio chalkboard wall with my intentions for 2015. One of them is to share my photography on a wider platform. Toward that end, I’ve finally joined Instagram under KrisWaldherr. (Ta da!)

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Another intention: to feature authors and artists more regularly on this blog, as I did before the Great Travails of 2014 intervened. I’m delighted to report that I already have the lovely Lisa Alber (KILMOON: A County Clare Mystery) lined up for my next Creativity Friday post. Lisa will be generously sharing about one of her favorite tools for inspiration—which I think will inspire you in turn, dear reader.

In other blog news, this Sunday is the first Sunday of the month, or Snippet Sunday. I hope you will check back then for January’s six sentence excerpt from the Next Novel. Semi-related note: I am counting the days until January 13th. This is when I leave for my two week residency fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where I’ll be finalizing my first draft of the Next Novel. I’m excited and grateful for this opportunity.

So, onward! Here’s to a wonderful 2015 for all of us.