Why I Need Tea

Morrocan mint tea

Lately I’ve been obsessing over photos of tea. Teapots and teacups. Tea in mugs. Loose tea in antique silver bowls.

I don’t get anything from cups of coffee. Latte’s with pretty pictures in the foam? Nothing. Not interested.

The reason is simple enough. I don’t like coffee. I don’t drink it. Tea, I drink several times a day. I love black, green and herbal varieties. I love the smell of chai, the look of vintage tea pots, and pictures of misty tea plantations. My favorite thing in the afternoon is a hot cup of herbal with a cookie.

Our brains constantly connect what we see with what we already know.

What I know is this: the characters in my novels read tea leaves not coffee grounds. When the outlook is grim, the local wizard boils water for tea. The outcast warrior drinks weak tea on recovering from a fever and a girl on a quest drinks bitter tea to bring on the Sight.

What about sweet tea with honey or blackberry tea? Why do your characters need it?

How to Know When You Need a Little Story Therapy (and What to Do About it)

Surprising outcomes from Story is a State of Mind – Part 1

Using books in your bookcase to trigger memoryWhat do you do when you feel your writing is worn out? When nothing seems fresh? When the words you put on the page bore you? I’d been feeling this way for about nine months. I tried writing short stories and fizzled after two pages. I started a new project (or two) thinking the “newness” by itself would be enough to jolt me out of my funk.

Successful authors will tell you that writing through a dry spell is essential.

Don’t give up! Butt in Chair! Set a Timer! Onward!

Most of the time I agree with that advice. But I also believe that there comes a time when you have to take a step back and realize that you need help. S.O.S. “Will someone please tell me what I’m doing wrong?”

Don’t you think that at some point butt in chair just doesn’t serve and that writing more of the same crap makes you feel even worse? I do.

I found help in the form of story therapist Sarah Selecky. (Okay, she really calls herself a writing teacher and mentor but therapist works too.)

Sarah is the author of the short story collection This Cake is for the Party. She spends half her time working on her own projects and the other half running her story therapy business–helping writers like me (and you) get their divine writerly mojo back.

Sarah offers an online, self-paced course called Story is a State of Mind, which I’m currently working through. She’s also just launched a guided three month workshop beginning in September. (I signed up for this too.)

Story is a State of MindI can honestly say this course is just what I needed. You don’t have to be a writer in the throws of writer’s block to take this course. You can take it if you’ve never written a word before.

The rest of this post (the first in a series), is for those of you thinking of indulging in a little story therapy. Instead of doing a review of the course itself, I’ll offer up my thoughts about experiencing Story is a State of Mind as I go along.

Remembering things

One of my biggest obstacles heading into this was that I’d been feeling empty–bereft of words almost. Some days, I felt like I was losing my mind. Where were all my words? I couldn’t remember any, I’d lost them, I’d run out.

It was a weird feeling.

One of the early exercises involved giving the old memory muscles a kick in the pants.reading the first sentences from random novels on my bookshelf. It was a fun exercise about starting stories but it also had some surprising results.

One of the outcomes was that I lost track of time standing in front of all my books. I mean, I was there a long time taking a good long look. I felt like a benevolent ruler surveying my domain.

It struck me that my bookcase is the story of my life. I imagine this is the case for every book lover and veracious reader on the planet. I couldn’t help but stop and read the titles. Then I had to pull them out and flip through the pages. I looked at the covers. I read the back copy. It’s funny but I can remember the occasion of almost all of them. Where I was when I bought it, why I bought it, even if I can’t remember the details of the book itself!

Water for ElephantsFor example, I can remember exactly where I was when I bought Water for Elephants: summer, camping trip, Oregon coast, small village, tiny book shop with weathered siding and barrels of perennials by the door. Hmmm, that was a great trip. Great book too.

The Jane Austen Book ClubAnd, hey look….there’s The Jane Austen Book Club hiding under a stack. I bought it in a used bookstore, also while on holiday. I remember looking at the cover, deciding. I’d never heard of the author at the time, but come on…it had me at the title…

What a delightful discovery! I’m relieved as well…all that good stuff is still in there (taps brain).

Everything in your life triggers memory and like any muscle it needs a good workout to stay in shape. I loved that Sarah advises us to take a dip into memory and do it often. Look at all the mismatched coffee mugs in your cupboard, ratty old blankets, the brand new Apple TV box. And for heaven sake study your bookcase! (Because trust me, it will make you feel good.)

What do you think?

What surprising things trigger your memory? If you’re taking Story is a State of Mind, did you have any delightful outcomes from your memory work?

I’d love to hear in the comments. I promise I’ll reply!

Reading a book I should have read long ago…

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie BabbittI’ve been meaning to read TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt forever, and not getting around to it. I’d never read it as a child. I was at retreat recently where the guest author said (I think it was Linda Sue Park) that she tries to re-read TUCK every year.

Now I know why. Simply Wonderful. Beautiful prose and delightful characters. She sketches Winnie Foster with the briefest of lines but you understand her perfectly. In other passages, her description of the hot August prairie are to die for.

This one jumped out at me:

“The pastures, fields, and scrubby groves they crossed were vigorous with bees, and crickets leapt before them as if each step released a spring and flung them up like pebbles. But everything else was motionless, dry as biscuit, on the brink of burning, hoarding final reservoirs of sap, trying to hold out till the rain returned, and Queen Anne’s lace lay dusty on the surface of the meadows like foam on a painted sea.”
~ Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, 1975

I am inspired to do better in my own writing.

Great Kindle Service from Amazon

I just wanted to shout out a thanks to Amazon for some great customer service when it came to my Kindle. Basically, the thing imploded. I didn’t get the blue screen of doom but I did get “Boot Error:200 Please Call Amazon for Service” and a phone number.

I have to say, I dreaded making that call. When I phoned, I fully expected the runaround. Long wait times, repeating my story over and over to five different levels of technician.

What happened was just the opposite. The first CSA passed me on to a technician (Josh). I told him the boot error. He took a moment to look it up. He came back and said, “Yup its hosed. We’ll send you a new one” (free of charge).

Two days later, it arrived by courier. I couldn’t believe it! I have spent hours on the phone with the likes of Dell trying to get faulty hardware addressed.

Thanks Josh and Amazon!

How they got there…I wanna know!

I’m always interested in reading about a writer’s  process, especially someone whose novels I admire. How did they come up with the idea? How long did it take to write? How many drafts? How long to sell it? Deep down I think I really want to know that published authors all go through the same this-manuscript-really-sucks phase and possibly-this-is-the-worst-thing-I’ve-ever-written moment just like I do.

Today I read a post (an old one actually) by Laini Taylor, author of much buzzed about YA book DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. She talks about the process that brought about the book. It’s a lovely tale about allowing books that need to be written. Laini has moved shop now and can be found on her new blog here

Another post I read recently comes from the wonderful Holly Black. In it, she details how she wrote BLACK HEART, detailing her daily word counts over the course of six months or so. Read it!

Any ‘road to publication’ posts out there that you find inspiring? Let me know!