Snippet Sunday is a monthly meme organized by Stephanie Dray in which historical authors post six sentence snippets of their novels. For the sake of organization, I’ve decided to post mine on the first Sunday of the month. You can read my previous snippets here.
On a late winter afternoon when the trees are bare and the sun golden, the twisty, hilly road bisecting Highgate Cemetery seemed a picturesque secret. As the road climbed toward the highest point in all of London, the burial ground was surrounded on both sides by ivy-covered walls and old growth trees. Perched within them I spied bird nests, optimistic for spring, and a scattering of buds upon green branches. Mama and I had never visited Highgate before; we’d chosen the less lofty Brompton Cemetery for Papa. If I didn’t know where I was, I’d believe I’d happened onto some part of Hampstead Heath that never made it into a Baedeker’s. This made what was about to occur seem all the more sinister.
The above photograph was taken by me during my visit to Highgate Cemetery to visit Elizabeth Siddal’s grave in 2010.
Photographed at Salt Cay Island, also known as Blue Lagoon Island.
I’m still playing catch up in the studio after my life-changing experience at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat. I have much wisdom to share from the retreat, but have been sidetracked by needing to nail these novel revisions before inspiration slips away. In the meantime, I’ve a treat in store: debut novelist Jennifer Laam (THE SECRET DAUGHTER OF THE TSAR) has agreed to be my guest this Friday. We’ll discuss creativity, writing, the Romanovs, and much more. There’s even a book giveaway!
I think this may be my new favorite photograph of myself. It’s taken of me while I was at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat in the Bahamas last week. I was completely unaware of the photographer at work. Hence, I look relaxed, unguarded. Looking at this photograph reminds me of a happy, productive time when all felt in harmony and filled with possibility.
And now I am back in Brooklyn, mulling all I learned at the SCWR, missing the wonderful friends I made. I took in so much inspiration and information that my head is spinning. The panels were sublime, featuring a heady mix of top notch literary agents, authors, and editors. They spoke on subjects ranging from the importance of setting in novels to the ways publishers break out books to become bestsellers. I workshopped the opening chapters of THE LILY MAID with author Robert Goolrick (A RELIABLE WIFE, HEADING OUT TO WONDERFUL), which was an unforgettable experience. He’s a brilliant, wise man who opened my eyes to so much in regards to my novel and my writing—I am beyond grateful. I also adored meeting with and working with the other authors in my workshop, whom I know I’ll stay in touch with.
Our workshop group, left to right: Anne Clermont, Robert Goolrick, Atossa Shafaie, me, Janet Howle
The table where we workshopped our novels. Idyllic!
Photographed on the B-68 bus in Brooklyn.
As many of you know, I’ve been on a semi-break from all forms of social media these past five weeks—blog, Facebook, Twitter—to prepare for the Salt Cay Writers Retreat, which starts October 20th in the Bahamas. I’ve only four more days until I leave. (Eep!) Accordingly, I’ve moved onto triage to complete everything I need to do before leaving. Taxes, check. Passport, here. Laundry, getting there. Research and reading, still on it. Workshop manuscripts, critiqued and printed out.
Alas, all these necessary “to-dos” have kept me from completing my next manuscript draft, as I’d intended. At first this was seriously stressing me out. However, the time away from my writing has been helpful with untangling troublesome plot points that I’d been trying to force to behave. It’s also reminded me how taking breaks from a project can stoke creativity. I know this from personal experience—I often get my best ideas while walking or taking a shower or driving. Yet I always resist taking a break since it feels so, well, counterproductive. I mean, when you’re on a deadline, isn’t it crazy to walk away from the task at hand when Every Moment Counts?
Turns out it isn’t:
Psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara have uncovered the very conditions that give rise to creative thought. As the researchers point out, there are countless anecdotal accounts of creativity happening when people take a break from whatever they are working on. The question, however, is whether any sort of break sparks creative thought or whether there is a certain type of activity that is best to perform during the break period. The answer, it turns out, is the latter. When stuck on a problem that needs a creative solution, turning your attention to another task that requires just a little bit of focus (but not too much) is the best way to jump start the creative process.
Read the rest of this article at the Creativity Post here.
So, almost-but-not-quite finished. More importantly, my mind is clearer and inspiration is afoot. And, in four days’ time, I’m going to a place where I’ll have the time and resources to do what still needs to be done. I’m beyond excited.
Photographed in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn at 9:30 am. Look how slanted the autumn sun is!
In other non-news, I’m still deep in readying my manuscripts for the Salt Cay Writers Retreat. Less than three weeks to go! Yesterday, I received the other participants’ chapters,which I’m required to critique before we meet. I’m thrilled my workshop group will be lead by bestselling author Robert Goolrick (A RELUCTANT WIFE), though also nervous.