Kay: Not Dead Yet

“Nuns at a Calder Show, Los Angeles” photographed by Imogen Cunningham when she was 70

I was on public transportation the other day when two women—neither of them young, but both of them younger than I—sat down on the seat behind me. They didn’t hesitate to use their outdoor voices on the train, so consequently I learned that one of them is writing a novel, and the other envies her friend and wishes she could do the same.

However, she said, she’s too old to start now.

For any of our wonderful followers who might feel the same, or who know others who might feel the same, let me first draw your attention to Ida Pollack, who had a book out to her editor for revisions when she was 105. Helen Hooven Santmyer hit The New York Times best seller list and became a celebrity at 88 for her novel . . . And Ladies of the Club. And Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first of the “Little House” books, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65 and the last one when she was 76.

Clearly, as long as you’re not dead, you’re not too old to write a novel.

But the conversation between these two friends on the train made me think about the writing life—a slow and often tedious process filled with (sometimes years of) revisions and then years of submitting and rejections before the hopeful author finds the editor of his/her dreams. Continue reading

Kay: Rituals are Fun, but Process Gets It Done

woman-typing-on-laptop2People like rituals. Some sports stars don’t wash their lucky socks during the season, or always eat the same meal before a game. Actors tell each other to break a leg. Spiritualists burn sage to cleanse a room of evil spirits.

Writers have their rituals, too. They sharpen their pencils and line them up. They crack open a new notebook. They put on the same playlist while working.

There’s a kind of magic that comes with habitually picking up a favorite pen or sitting down every day at sunrise (or moonrise, take your pick). Ritual is emotional preparation. It sets the stage for accomplishment and entices your muse to dance across it. Sometimes when things don’t go well, ritual can trick you into cooperating. But not always. Because ritual is tangential to actually writing, it doesn’t always work.

Process does.

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Kay: The Art of Love

Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida - https://www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/

Al and Roey Stickles dancing at the trailer park: Sarasota, Florida 1946. Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida.  www.flickr.com/photos/floridamemory/7157828142/

I’ve started writing a scene that I think will be pivotal in my book. It’s a scene in which my hero and heroine have sex, but the sex will propel them into a new stage of their relationship. My critique partners have emphasized that it’s important that I show why my heroine has been unwilling to move forward quickly with the romance—she won’t move in with the hero—even though she must make a decision soon about whether to return to her old job across the country. If she goes, the relationship dies.

So to write this sex scene with as much sensitivity and weight as it needs, I wrote a scene that sets it up—my heroine tells the hero about her mother, and in so doing, reveals her feelings about family, home, and security. I wrote this scene from the hero’s POV, because I wanted readers to see his reactions to her story, and I wanted him to ask the questions I thought readers would be likely to ask if they’d been in the room with her. I spent some serious time on the scene, and it’s not bad. I’d give it maybe a B-.

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Kay: Writing Sex Scenes

Cupid and Psyche (1817), by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)

Cupid and Psyche (1817), by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)

I’ve been chugging along on my WIP for a very long time. For a while, Life intervened. But even after I got Life wrassled to the ground and stomped on, that WIP just didn’t cooperate. No matter how I tried to gas it up and drive it someplace, it went nowhere. And as I don’t have to tell most of you, nothing is more depressing than writing 500 new words and deleting 600 old ones every day. A person starts to wonder if she’ll end up with an empty tank and no place to go.

But over the last few months, things have turned around. The book’s going okay. It isn’t there yet, but these days I’m writing 500 words and deleting 50. That’s what I call progress.

Until yesterday. Yesterday I looked at my blank page with fear and loathing. I’ve come to that spot in the book where my characters need to have sex.

I hate writing sex scenes. I know they’re supposed to be like any other scene, where things happen and characters grow or change, or the plot moves (or maybe that’s the earth) and so on. Continue reading

Kay: Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe!

edgar-allan-poe-200Today is the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, a writer, editor, and literary critic best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre. Part of the American Romantic Movement, he was one of the earliest American practitioners of the short story and is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre. He also contributed to the emerging genre of science fiction and was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 19, 1809, Continue reading

Kay: Art in Turbulent Times


Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Do turbulent times create an environment that produces great art?

“Art has always [forced people to confront a dark reality], and it is a really powerful space for expressing anger,” said Genevieve Gaignard, a photographer and installation artist, in an interview for the Huffington Post. “If you’re not the type to protest on the streets or don’t have the words to express your outrage, your voice can still be heard through your art.”


Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix, 1830

Plenty of examples back her up. Picasso painted Guernica, probably the most famous anti-war painting ever, only two months after the bombing of that Spanish town during the Spanish Civil War. Eugene Delacroix painted Liberty Leading the People to commemorate the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France—a painting the French government thought was too inflammatory in its glorification of liberty, so they bought it and removed it from public view. It was roughly in that same period that Victor Hugo wrote the novels Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

And of course, the theory is that the artist has to starve in a garret while writing or painting the masterpiece, because genius flowers only when it’s drunk, high, unhappy, destitute, or emotionally scarred.

But many artists would prefer not to suffer. In an interview in The Atlantic, the Danish writer Dorthe Nors, author of Karate Chop and other novels, said such ideas are self-destructive, and glamorizing suffering is dangerous. “We can separate artistic pain, the experience of feeling deeply, from leading a painful life,” she said. It’s because art is painful that she strives to keep an even keel, because the work itself is hard enough.

Are we entering turbulent times—times when the political climate could lead to a diminished quality of life for people, including artists, who might be marginalized? Some artists think so. They’re worried about it—and they’re wondering what they can do to stay on an even keel and produce their work.

John Scalzi is a novelist (winner of the Hugo award) and “critic at large” for the Los Angeles Times who feels “knocked for a loop” by the election. He wrote a 10-point plan for how to create art in turbulent times. Actually, it’s good advice even for peaceful times. It starts with “Acknowledge it’s bad, and other facts of life” and ends with “Remember: Your work matters.” For the full article, go here.

Are the times turbulent for you? And are you finding the time and bandwidth to create anyway?

Kay: Resetting Creativity


Illustration for “The Green Forest Fairy Book” by Loretta Ellen Brady, illustrated by Alice B. Preston, 1920

If I haven’t said it thirty thousand times already in this space, let me say it now: I hate the cold. (I also hate the heat. I’m an equal-opportunity hater of extreme weather.) However, for some inexplicable reason, this season, as chilly as it’s been in northern California (and it has been chilly!), I’ve been happily productive on my languishing WIP. It’s like the cold cleared out my brain or reset my creative thermostat, or something. I sit down every day and do something good on that manuscript. It really is a holiday miracle.

Consequently, I used today’s solid productivity gains as a warm-up for tomorrow’s Writing Sprint challenge that Elizabeth always posts on Fridays. She gave the Ladies the words in advance this year in case we wanted to get a head start on our holiday entries, and—although I’m jumping the gun by a day—if I don’t post this story today, I won’t be able to post it for another two weeks, by which time we’ll be into the new year and it will be too late.

That just seems wrong. So here’s my holiday story. Think of it as a sneak peak, and see if you can guess which words Elizabeth will post tomorrow for her writing sprint.  Continue reading