On the Road

October 29, 2007

I’m in Virginia right now, visiting old friends, making my way northward to New York City, where I’ll see more friends, including several who I first met during my year in Australia, and ultimately to Saratoga Springs, where I’ll attend the World Fantasy Convention, and have a chance to spend time with still more old friends.  My wife and daughters couldn’t join me on this trip.  They’re home, working, going to school, preparing for Halloween.  And naturally I miss them very much.

But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy extended driving trips like this one.  I find in the solitude of the road, in the quick intense reunions with people from my past, something that renews me, that reminds me of who I am, of where I come from, and of where my life is headed.  An old friend — not one I’ll see on this trip; I’d have to cross the pond to see him — once referred to the car as an island of steel and glass.  It’s an image that has stuck with me.  The car isolates us, even as it takes us to those we love.  It provides a refuge of a sort from the hassels and routines of everyday life.  I do some of my best thinking in the car.  Give me an open road and some good music, and I can map out an entire book, or solve plotting problems that confounded me while I sat at my desk.  But I can also lose myself in driving and go for miles, hours, without any directed thought at all.  (Yes, I know — those who know me have no trouble imagining me thoughtless and clueless.)  And there’s something incredibly cleansing about that, as well.  So much of our time is planned, either by us or for us.  We have to scratch out our down time, our chances to relax and do nothing.  But alone, on the road, we have hours at a time during which all we have to do — all we can do — is drive.  Our minds are free to roam.

Stepping back into old friendships offers a different kind of renewal.  My wife and I are fortunate to have  many wonderful friends where we live.  We’ve been there for years, and many of the people we spend time with are as dear to us as any friends we’ve ever had.  But as I reconnect with friends from my past, be they friends from college, or Australia, or from the early years of my career, I learn things about myself and my present life.  It’s easy to take for granted all that sustains us, all that gives emotional texture to our lives.  But as I sit with my Virginia friends in their kitchen, surrounded by their children, steeped in the aromas of the meal they’re sharing with me, and I tell them about my kids, about my work, about the little things that strike me as funny or poignant in my day to day experiences, I see these things as if for the first time, through their eyes.  And I’m amazed by the richness of it all.  I’m struck by how fortunate I am.  I realize that there’s nothing mundane in that life I’ve left back in Tennessee.  It just happens to be mine, and thus, as I said earlier, too easy to take for granted.

Today’s music:  Gary Burton and Pat Metheny

A word about my previous entry:  teaching at the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop conference went very well and was a tremendous amount of fun.  The conference attendees were engaged and motivated and eager to talk about their craft.  In short they were the perfect students.  They made my job easy; they made it a pleasure.


October 23, 2007

On Thursday, I leave home for an extended work trip.  It begins with a long weekend in South Carolina, where I’ll be an instructor at the annual South Carolina Writer’s Workshop Conference.  I’ve attended the SCWW conference once before and had a wonderful time.  This time around I’ll have a chance not only to teach, but also to renew some old acquaintances and spend some time with my agent and good friend, Lucienne Diver, who’ll also be on the conference faculty.

As the conference approaches, though, I find myself thinking about what it means to be a writing instructor.  The last time I went I’d been a published author for about five years, and I thought I knew a good deal about writing professionally.  Five years later — five books later — I realize that I knew very little last time around.  That should give me a lot of confidence, right?  My workshop last time went just fine.  This year I’m doing five workshops in three days, and I’m certain that they’ll go fine, too.  But I find myself wondering how much I don’t know this time around.  Five or ten years from now, when the good people at the SCWW invite me back again, will I look back on the talks I have planned for this year and be struck once more by the conceit running through them?  Will I wonder once more how I could possibly have thought that beginning writers could learn something valuable from me?  How can anyone teach another person to write?  To me it seems like trying to teach someone to eat or breathe.  I can tell them how it works for me, but the rest is really up to them.

A few years ago I took up photography again.  I’d done a bit of work as a younger man, but hadn’t been serious about it.  This time around I resolved to learn something about the medium, to read everything I could.  There are lots of books out there that cover everything from what equipment to buy, to how to use the lighting settings on a camera, to how “to see” as a photographer does.  Early on, I read a ton, trying to put to use all the accumulated experience of these various authors.  Ultimately, though, I didn’t start taking good pictures until I put the books away and just used the camera.  Turns out I didn’t see someone teaching me how to see.  I figured it out for myself.  I still have those books — there are some nice pictures in them — but I rarely read them anymore.

Writing, I believe, is much the same.  We all have stories to tell.  We all have a voice — and here I mean a writing voice — with which to tell those stories.  I can share with the folks in South Carolina what works for me.  I can tell them how I go about developing character and building fantasy worlds and structuring my story arcs.  But ultimately they have to feel their way through their own creative process.  And maybe knowing this will allow me to be a more effective instructor this time around.  I’m not there to teach anyone how to write; at least I shouldn’t be.  I’m there to suggest ways they might work on establishing their own voices, to tell them what I can about the publishing business, and to give them the confidence to keep writing.  And I’ll also be there to listen.  Because if we all have stories to tell, and we all have voices of our own, those beginning writers, brimming with enthusiasm and passion for their art, should be able to teach me a thing or two.

I’ll be on the road for a couple of weeks — from South Carolina I head up the coast to New York City, and finally to the World Fantasy Convention, which this year will be held in Saratoga Springs, New York.  I’ll do my best to post while I’m traveling, and I hope to return home with new stories to tell and new inspiration for my books as well as my blog.

Today’s music:  Nicholas Payton

Something New

October 22, 2007

All right, there still appear to be a few bugs in the system, but I’ll get through them. (For a while there I thought my first post was going to be WordPress’s initial instructions — how pathetic would that have been?)

This is my first attempt at blogging, and for someone who makes his living as a writer, I’m surprised to find myself a bit intimidated.  It’s not that I have nothing to say, but rather that I don’t know where to begin.

As I say, I’m a professional writer — I write fiction, fantasy mostly — and I view this blog as a place where I can share my ideas and observations on the artistic process, such as it is, that guides my professional life.  But I have other interests as well.  I’m a husband, and a father to two wonderful girls.  I’m a concerned citizen of this country (alright concerned is a bit too weak — terrified, really) with strong opinions about where we ought to be headed as a people and as a nation.  I’m a dedicated (fanatical?) amateur photographer.  I’m an avid birder and naturalist.  I love music and Thai food and the New York Mets (my heart may never heal).  And I have things I want to say about all those things.

I guess, then, that this blog is about far more than my work.  Indeed, I hope it will be about far more than me.  That’s the point of a blog, right?  It’s a chance for people to interact, to exchange ideas.  So welcome, and thanks for stopping by.  Let the exchange of words begin.

Today’s music:  Chris Thile