On Leaving..And Coming Home (A Love Letter)

As you might have guessed, I am home from France. Jet lag has not been terrible this time. We got home Tuesday evening and as I write this on Friday, I’m feeling pretty good. Which gives me time to dig into all the things that got put on hold while I was gone.  And, boy, do things pile up.

Some views of Collioure

I’ve got a ton of recommendations this month because I had a lot of time to read and also many confined hours on long flights in which to watch movies (which I’m usually bad at). But I did want to write a brief recap of the trip and encourage you to think about coming with next year. So here goes.

We landed in Paris on the last day of the month and spent an afternoon wandering about the neighborhood near the Gare De Lyon, which was surprisingly appealing.  Also, getting a good dose of daylight helps with jet lag. After a pretty good night’s sleep, it was on to Perpignan via the fast train, which is comfy and relaxing.  Dali called the Perpignan train station the center of the world, and while that seems a bit excessive, the city is growing on me. We stayed in the historic center, full of twisty streets and fun shops and a divine place to eat, Restaurant Le St. Jean.   (In case you ever find yourself there, it is right next to the Cathedral St. Jean and you actually eat in a courtyard right next to the church.)

The next day it was on to Collioure, our location for the next three weeks. That included two weeks of writing workshops and one week of leisure in between. There is something so special about sinking into one place for an extended period of time. Even though I was working two weeks out of three, it is infinitely relaxing. On workshop weeks, we meet every morning from 9:30 to 12:30 (except on Sundays and Wednesdays, which are market days, so we meet at 10 in order to give everyone time to wander the stalls). Our teaching is a combination of mini-lectures on writing, discussion of assigned books (see below), writing exercises and prompts, and discussion of the assignments everyone has completed the night before. You may think that people don’t make much progress on their writing when billeted in paradise, but the opposite is actually true. Every year we see writers make huge leaps in their works in progress, get re-inspired, and write more than they thought they would—all while enjoying the hiking, shopping, eating and drinking of the region.

But three weeks does fly by—and last Saturday it was back to Paris, this time to stay in a lovely Airbnb in Montparnasse , my favorite neighborhood in the city. It rained like a mofo on Sunday afternoon but once the rain cleared, everyone emerged, and we were able to celebrate the hub’s birthday at a fun restaurant. The next day we played tourist and went to the top of the Arch de Triomphe (there was an elevator, thank god—my poor hip couldn’t have done the stairs).  And then, sadly, the next day it was time to leave.

But leaving is made easier by knowing I’ll be back next year. And even more than that, by knowing that my family awaited me back home. Along with good friends, my own comfy bed, my crazy fat cats, the even crazier family dog, and good plans for the fall—not to mention crisp autumn days. (Temps in Collioure were in the mid-80s, but the humidity was very, very high and the mosquitos were killer.)

So that’s my story about leaving and coming home. Oh, while there, I read over my novel one last time and fixed a couple inconsistencies. My agent is submitting it even as we speak I write. And I made some good progress on my next book. So, there was that, too.

We should now be back to regular weekly programming here. So, I’ll see you next week—but please do leave a comment and tell me what you’ve been up to.  And see below for the links to September reading and watching, as well as a new feature, a weekly prompt or two!

A Prompt

We had such fun using prompts at the writing workshops in France, I thought I’d start a new series and give you a prompt thematically linked to the love letter’s topic each week. Here is this week’s effort:

Write about a time you hated leaving. Now write about a time you couldn’t wait to leave.

September Round-up 

Reading

An American Marriage  by Tayari Jones.  This was one of the books we assigned in our France workshops (the other being Educated, by Tara Westover, which I highly recommend). I had decidedly mixed feelings about this novel and can’t help but feel it is over-rated. We did have lively discussions about it, though!

Pardonable Lies, the third Maisie Dobbs mystery, by Jacqueline Winspear.  I picked up #10 or #11, not sure which, of this series and liked it so much I’m reading them from the beginning.

The French Exit,  by Patrick DeWitt. I hate to speak ill of a fellow Portland writer, so I won’t. But I will say this book was just not my cup of tea.

Two books by J.A. Jance, both in the Ali Reynolds series. A friend finished Deadly Stakes in Collioure and gave it to me to read. I enjoyed it, so I downloaded the first in the series, Edge of Evil.  I’ll definitely read more.

Slain in Schiaparelli, the third Joanna Hayworth vintage clothing mystery, by my friend Angela Sanders. I love everything she writes, her capers and her kite mysteries written under the name Clover Tate, as well.

Watching

 A Wrinkle in Time. This was my favorite book growing up—my sister and I read it a million times. But the movie was terrible, awful, wretched. I hated it.

The Post. Conversely, I loved this one. It tells the story of the Washington Post publishing the Pentagon Papers, and how that turned the paper into the national publication it is today, as well as changing Katharine Graham from a D.C. socialite into a powerhouse publisher. Highly recommended.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? The Mr. Rogers documentary. Proof that Fred really was as nice as he appeared on TV. Wonderful.

Book Club. Pure fun. Loved it. Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, and Diane Keaton.  So good.

Facebook Group

And of course, don’t forget to join the Facebook group if you haven’t already.  I post lots of good links and we often have lively writerly discussions going.   https://www.facebook.com/groups/1910275502543679/

 

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. It  contains affiliate links.

 

 

 

 

On Conflict and Writing (A Love Letter Reprise)

(While I’m away teaching in France for the month, I’m running a few favorite newsletters from last year.  We will be back to regular, new programming the first week in October. Meanwhile, if you want to come to France with me next year, click here for a look at this year’s program.)

 When first I started writing this letter, it was about a different topic (travel to be exact).  But as I tunneled further into it, I realized that what I really wanted to write about his week was conflict.

Ah, conflict.  It is the most important element of any piece of writing.  Conflict creates the underlying rhythm of all fiction, and non-fiction as well.  It is the thrumming baseline, the constant hum, the clothesline on which we hang all our writerly clothing.

Many of us are told, repeatedly, to add more conflict in our work. And yet we run from it, screaming, in life, right? Right? I know I do. I shrink from arguments, hate confrontation, abhor conflict in all its forms. I meditate and knit and weave and go to church to find inner peace, because I absolutely, positively, for real, hate conflict.

But there is one conflict that is basic to my life: every single moment of every single day the constant drumbeat in the back of my head is, I should be writing.  (Years ago I had a writing friend who set her screensaver to say, why aren’t you writing? I did that until I took to screaming what I thought were perfectly logical reasons I wasn’t writing at the computer.)  When I’m watching TV at night, I think that. When I’m performing the afore-mentioned relaxing crafts I’m thinking it. When I’m reading emails I’m thinking it.

I suspect that many of you feel the same way. Our time to write can be precious and fleeting in the press of other life demands and so we obsess about it when we can’t do it.  I suspect other creatives share this trait with us, that painters worry about painting, musicians about playing music, and son. In fact, I think it is this constant conflict, this constant pull, that separates creative people from non-creative types. Okay, truthfully, I think everyone is creative, some just don’t choose to express it.  But for the sake of brevity, we’ll just call them non-creative.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be one of them.  To not have this constant thing nipping at my heels, calling me to attention.   Peaceful and easy, I imagine. I wouldn’t have to work so hard at all that inner peace, right? And yet I’d be bored as all snot, too.  I can’t imagine what life would be like without the call to creativity and I really don’t want to find out.

I had this crazy idea as I’ve been writing this letter.  And it’s this: that writing pulls us out of our everyday lives, that it’s the impetus to pull us onto a creative path, the hero’s journey if you will.  I just pulled out one of my favorite writing books, The Writer’s Journey (1st ed.) by Christopher Vogler, vaguely recalling that he said something about this very topic. And indeed he does: “The Hero’s Journey and the Writer’s Journey are one and the same. Anyone setting out to write a story soon encounters all the tests, trials, ordeals, joys, and rewards of the Hero’s Journey…. Writing is an often perilous journey inward to probe the depths of one’s soul and bring back the Elixir of experience—a good story.”

So take heart, because all that conflict you’re experiencing about your writing makes you heroic, my friend.  And remember, all you really need to do is put the conflict on the page—instead of getting embroiled in it in life.

Leave a comment and tell me how you deal with the constant conflict of writing vs. not writing.  I’m in France, but I’ll do my best to respond!

And–if you would like to receive these weekly letter directly into your inbox, just click the sign-up form to the right!

Five on Friday: July 8, 2016

RocksWell, howdy. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Five on Friday, mainly because I’ve been busy doing stuff but no particular things stand out, if you know what I mean.  But since I know you’re just dying for an update (ha, like you don’t have five million things going on yourself), here goes:

What I’m pondering: Podcasting. As in, good ones to listen to. Podcasts for writers and creatives. Got any recommendations? Also, as in, maybe I’d like to start one. Do you listen to podcasts? Would you be interested in one on motivation, inspiration, productivity, etc., for writers and creatives? It is somewhat of a big production so I’m pondering this even longer than usual.  I get these big ideas and then realize how much work they are going to be and forget about them.

What I’m watching: Le Tour de France. I’m so excited to be returning to that beloved country in two short months (I just booked my Paris hotel today) and I adore the shots of the glorious countryside. There’s only one problem–all those bicycles zooming along are like the best soporific ever. Hub and I both fall fast asleep.

What I’m reading: Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo, so that I can read his newly released sequel, Everybody’s Fool. And because we might use it for the France workshop.  And books on organic gardening, weaving, and food.  Oh, and Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt’s book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. 

What I’m looking forward to: A writing retreat on the Oregon coast with my friend and biz partner Debbie. Two full days to write! I’ll be working on the most recent rewrite of The Bonne Chance Bakery.  And a few other bits and pieces here and there.

What I’m excited about: Rocks! Some time tomorrow, God and the delivery truck willing, we will have gotten a yard of small river rock dumped on our driveway apron. We have an awkward spot in the backyard by the fence to our neighbor’s backyard. We love our neighbors. Our visiting dogs love their dogs.  So much running about and barking in this area ensues, leaving it unsuitable for gardening.  So it is going to become a sculpture garden.  It is likely that I am more excited about this project than hub, because my job is to rake rock as he loads wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load and transports it to the backyard. Fun times!

What are you working on? What has your attention?  Please leave a comment and let me know. Also–there’s one spot left in the France workshop. It’s going to be awesome!  Let me know if you’re interested.

A Writer’s Miscellany

AnotherReadThroughI kind of love the word miscellany, whose official definition according to the Google is ” a group or collection of different items, a mixture.”  It sounds charming and old-school and like it would be said by a schoolmarm wearing a Little House on the Prairie outfit.  And honestly? The word and all its implications is way more grandiose than the collection of items I have for you today.

Which all have to do with me. I hope that still makes them a  miscellany.  Anyway:

Thing #1: I’m doing a special love-themed reading in honor of Valentine’s Day at my favorite Portland bookstore, Another Read Through.  The date is February 13th, from 1:30 – 3 and I’m appearing with several other local authors. Since the theme is love, I’m pondering reading the sex scene from Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior. (Which for reasons unknown to me is selling in the used section of Amazon for $58 and up, even though it is still available new.)

And since this is a miscellany, I’ll tell you a funny story about the sex scene, besides that it was the one thing agents commented on over and over when I was shopping the novel.  Anyway, my daughter and son-in-law have a habit of reading books out loud to each other in the evenings (at least they did, before they managed to produce two boy children).  It was Russell who read the sex scene out loud and when he was finished, put the book done and was silent for a moment, then said, “My mother-in-law wrote that. Not sure how I feel about that.”

But reading it out loud in the comfort of your own home and reading it out loud in front of a group of people are two different things. So I’ll probably chicken out.

Thing #2: The very next weekend, in the very same location, my biz partner Debbie and I will be presenting the second round of our workshop, The Ins and Outs of Publishing.  It is a day-long workshop with lunch provided and our first group loved it and learned a lot.  We cover the entirety of the publishing world and bring in our friend Angela Sanders to cover self publishing. You can read more here. But let me also add that the bookstore is a great spot to hold a workshop.  Elisa has a cool upstairs loft that we use and we sit surrounded by the mystery section. I dare you to attend and not buy a pile of books (since the bookstore is mostly used, you can go home with a stack for not that much money).

So that’s it, that’s my miscellany.  And now I am off to the bi-weekly writing group, loosely called Wednesday Writers, that Debbie and I torture run.

What’s going on in your writing world?

Photo from the Another Read Through website.

While She Was Out

PrintshopI grew up partially in my Dad's printing plant.  One of the many things I loved about that was hanging out in the front office, which was cleaner and more organized than the rest of the shop, but not by much.  And one of the best things about the office was the office supplies.  I particularly loved the pads of paper headlined "While You Were Out" with handy pre-printed lines to write the message on. I LOVED those pads.  

Alas, they did not survive.  But check out the photo to the left of some simple scratch pads that did. The business itself did not survive the onset on computerized printing in the eighties, and went bankrupt.  Tough times.  But I digress.

Because the point is that I will be out.  Overseas. Across the pond. Gone fishing.  Whatever.  It is time for the annual Let's Go Write workshop in France, this year in Collioure.  Last year, I think I actually managed to post once or twice, but maybe I just made that up.  It might well happen this year, too.  

But I have also made provisions for while I am out.  I have lined up a couple of fun oldie but goodie posts from the archives, written and scheduled a couple of new ones, and also created a couple of link posts that I think you'll like, drawing on the eight years of content (and 1266 posts) from this blog. So there you have it.  All will not be lost.  There will be a dim shadow of a Charlotte here.

But, alas, I've put the Inventive Writing Prompt blog and weekly posts on hiatus until I get back. But don't despair.  As of this writing, there are 392 prompts there, so that ought to keep you busy for awhile.

One more thing–don't forget that my Get Your Novel Written Now class starts in October, and I've extended the early bird registration until I get back so go SIGN UP NOW.

5 Things on Friday: Feeling Frazzled Edition

Paris-parigi-eiffelturm-1577018-lWhy I'm Frazzled: BECAUSE I'M LEAVING FOR EUROPE ON TUESDAY. That's why.

What I'm Reading: Same thing I was reading last week, The Surrender Experiment, by Michael Singer.  I'm about 10 pages from the end, and was going to finish it at lunchtime but then the phone rang and I got distracted.  But, for your curiousity pleasure, here is a list of books I've downloaded to take with me:

The Last Time I Was Me, by Cathy Lamb

My Very Best Friend, by Cathy Lamb

(She's a Portland author and when I learned from a friend at church that she had stayed up until 4 in the morning reading Lamb's most recent book, I decided to check her out.)

Splinters of Light, by Rachael Herron (love her!

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (love me a good science fiction read every so often and this one is loooong–great to take on a long flight)

There's no way I'll get all of those read, especially because last year on the way home from Paris I discovered that watching movies back to back makes the time pass really quickly, and when I'm traveling I don't read as much.  But I like to be prepared.  Because, what if the Iceland volcano blows and we're stuck in Europe? (We should be so lucky.) I will need books to read.

What I Have Left to Do Before I Leave: Host one family dinner, engage in a board of directors bonding outing, attend one birthday party, finish reading one manuscript, exchange one cardigan, write two newsletters, get my hair cut, and pack.  That's not so bad, is it?  Is it?

What I Love This Week: My new phone.  The Samsung Galaxy S4 Note.  It has a stylus!  A freaking stylus!  I went to the AT&T store on Saturday and ordered it.  (Wasn't in stock, small store.) Had great service there.  Went to a different AT&T store on Wednesday where they could do a data transfer and had, um, shall we way, interesting service.  As in, all the worker people telling me, "You're switching from an Iphone to a Galaxy? Girl! You're going to be back in here telling us you want your Iphone back."  Also telling me I have way too many contacts (Is 323 really that many? I didn't think so, either.) And so on.  Hear me now: I WILL NOT BE IN THERE TO SWITCH BACK. Because I'm stubborn that way.  And because I love my new phone.

What Will Happen to This Blog While I'm Gone: Read my post Monday to find out.

Happy weekend! What are you doing this weekend?  Something fun?

Photo by al lannin.

Five Things on Friday: August 14, 2015

Sunset_401450119_5UwyR-XL

I saw a sunset just like this one!

Where I've Been: I kinda fell down on posting at the end of last week (no 5 on Friday post) and the beginning of this week.  That's because I was at the beach.  I stayed with my family at my daughter's in-law's house in Garibaldi (thank you, Dennis and Carlene).  We also visited old, old, old (and by old, I mean since birth) family friends in Arch Cape.  I shouldn't be posting about Arch Cape here because it is pretty unknown, as in on a weekday in summer the beach is deserted, and I would like it to remain that way.  So don't go there, (as one of our favorite governors famously told people about coming to Oregon to live), please.

What I've Been Reading: Have I obsessed about Dietland here yet?  It is the best book I've read in ages, so full of unflinching, radical and incredibly brave commentary about body image and the way women are treated in North America.   Every woman should read it immediately.  Men, you should too, but prepare to become very defensive.  I'm now reading The Ambassador's Wife, by Jennifer Steil.  I kinda put it down to read a couple books about writing, but I like it well enough.  

What I'm Excited About: A really, really, really, really good publisher is considering my novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery.  Think good thoughts, please!

Where I'm Teaching Next Fall and Winter: I'll be teaching my Get Your Novel Written Now class right here online this fall, starting in October and early-bird pricing is good until I leave for Europe on September 1st.  And then, for those of you farther east and south, I'm part of the staff of the reborn Room to Write in Nashville in January.  Join me at one or both.

What I'm Obsessing About: Clothes.  As in, what to take to Barcelona, Collioure, and Paris.  I gave away half my wardrobe (not exaggerating but I will admit to having a lot of clothes) earlier this summer and felt like I had nothing to wear.  So I've been ordering things like crazy.  I love shopping online.  I think I have it all figured out now.  And I realize how very lucky I am to have this problem.

Oh, and by the way, I'm going to try my best to post regularly from Europe.  Yeah, that worked out well last year.  But on the off chance you've had an idea for a guest post, this would be the time to hit me up with a query about it.

And also–follow me on Instagram because I'm going to be posting photos from my travels there, and at the moment you can see pictures of Poo and Mr. Rock.

What's going on in your world? Please do tell.

Writing Wild and True Presents: From Spark to Story

Join me and fellow writer and creative coach Terry Price as we teach a nine-hour, two-day workshop in one of my favorite places on earth, Nashville.  The workshop will be held on Friday, May 1, from 6:30 to 9:30, and Saturday, May 2, 9:30 to 5:30 (with a long lunch break to give you time to write). The workshop will be held at the gorgeous Scarritt-Bennett center, which features delightful grounds and a central location near coffee shops and restaurants galore.

Here are the details:

Do you have an idea for a story that you’re yearning to get onto the page?  Or maybe you’re well into a writing project but you’re stalled?  We can help!  Join us May 1-2 at the lovely Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville for a two-day, nine hour workshop that will spark your imagination, fire up your writing practice, and burn writer’s block to ashes!

From Spark to Story Workshop is just that – Like flint against steel, our workshop is designed to spark your imagination into inspiration. Then we’ll teach you tools and techniques to help fuel the sparks to ignition. We’ll send you home with ideas and practices to keep the embers burning through the creative process.

From Spark to Story Workshop is a presentation of Writing Wild and True, a creative venture by writers and creative coaches, Charlotte Rains Dixon and Terry Price, both former program directors for The Writer’s Loft at Middle Tennessee State University (now MTSU Write.) Charlotte and Terry both graduated with MFAs from Spalding University in Louisville and currently serve as faculty for MTSU Write.

Charlotte lives in Portland, Oregon, where she writes novels and coaches writers.  She also leads workshops world-wide, including Collioure, France, in 2015. Her novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, was published in 2013 and she is represented by Erin Niumata at FolioLit. Charlotte’s website is www.wordstrumpet.com and you can reach her by email at charlotte@charlotterainsdixon.com.

Terry is a Tennessee based writer and creative coach and retreat and workshop facilitator and has 2015 retreats set for Taos and New Harmony, Indiana. Terry also has a schedule of online creative webinars set for 2015. He has published several short stories, two of which have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is currently revising a short story collection for publication and is writing a novel set in Nashville, titled An Angel’s Share. Terry’s website is www.terryprice.net and you can reach him by email at terry@terryprice.net. 

The Spark to Story Workshop will be offered for only $129 which includes all instruction and materials (meals are on your own). However, if you sign up before March 15th, the total registration will be $99. For more information and to register for the workshop go to www.wordstrumpet.com or www.terryprice.net  If you have any questions, just contact us at the email addresses above.

To register, head on over here and sign right up!

 

Writing Retreat in France

270px-Pézenas,_Hérault_01I’m beyond excited to be returning to France to co-lead another workshop/retreat. We’ll spend a week in Pezenas, a lively city in the south of France, where we will write, eat French cheese and chocolate croissants, drink good wine and write some more. Interested in joining us? We’d love to have you, but spaces are limited. For more information, check out our website.

Writing Around

When I was working on my recent workshop for The Writer's Loft, I had a brilliant realization.

There's writing. Objects-stationery-draw-10141-l

And then there's writing around.

So you don't think I'm the densest writer on the planet, I've known this forever, but haven't known known it, if you get my drift.  Writing around is something I've always practiced but never named.  And I'm going to bet every bit of money in my bank account that the same is true of you.

Writing is when you're working on your actual project.  Writing a chapter, scene, paragraph, sentence, or word that will (with perhaps some editing) eventually appear in the finished product.

Writing around is when you are writing, well, around said project.  Working on a character sketch, for instance.  Or making endless notes about where the plot is going.  Journaling about the storyline, or why the location of the big break-up scene should be moved. 

And so on and so forth.

There's a whole hell of a lot of writing around involved in writing.  I'm guessing here, but I'd bet that the ration may be as high as 3:1, with the amount of writing around being at least three times higher than actual writing.

Which is fine.  Writing around is necessary and important.  Novels, memoirs, articles and essays do not get written without it.

But what's not fine is when we don't give ourselves credit for it.  Sometimes we're so concerned with our writing output that we forget to count all the writing around.  Maybe I wrote 5 pages of notes on my novel, but no actual scenes.  So I beat myself up, thinking I didn't get any writing done. 

When in truth, what I got done–writing around–was probably nearly as important as the actual writing.  Because without a lot of writing around, there isn't going to be any writing.

How else will you:

And so much more.  So remember the value of writing around, and next time you write 3 pages of notes on your next story, you get official bragging rights.  Because, you have been writing, sir or madam.

Do you have any writing around wisdom?

**FYI, I'm trying really hard to get back to a regular posting schedule.  Not every day (how did I ever manage that?) but three times a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Come back here on Wednesday because I have an exciting guest poster lined up!

Photograph by danzo08, from Everystockphoto, where you might have noticed I get all my photos, because I am such a creature of habit and if it works, why fix it?