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Success Unexpected in Common Hours
Posted by Mary Celeste on 2/4/2013 to On Writing
Recently I’ve been re-reading ‘Walden’ by Thoreau. I love the verses from the conclusion of the book, about unexpected good things happening “…in common hours”. Such words can be somewhat of a mantra for a life’s journey and the struggle to do more, to be something more, but, I’ve learned, not necessarily something more complex. 

I identify with the stories in Walden, partly because the inner parts of Thoreau’s writing are so idealistic and yet hold the keys to simple and authentic living, unencumbered by the falsities and affectations of modern life. Reading Walden prompts me to ask the question – why shouldn’t I also seek out the authentic and simplistic life, the one that I’ll look back on in peace and complete and serene acceptance when I am old? 

In Walden, Thoreau talks a great deal about the money he saves and the peace of mind and time he conserves by clearing his own land, building his own dwelling, and growing and storing his own food. He provides heavy and thoughtful anecdotes about how much better it is to be unencumbered by the accumulation of things - namely things that are meant to represent wealth, because then you become a slave to the very possessions you’re accumulating (yeah, the ones that are supposed to make your life more enjoyable). 

And so, with this inspiration, our family has over time tried to incorporate small Thoreau-like things into our family lifestyle – growing pumpkins and strawberries and squash and pole-beans in our vegetable garden, taking the kids to the nursery to pick out flowers and other plants, so they can smell and feel the varieties of plants that grow at different times of the year, and though we are quite bad at it, composting. 

In addition to this blog, I also stop every so often and write by hand, on paper, in a very un-21st century kind of way. It’s exhilarating, kind of like an unexpected good thing happening ‘in common hours’.
Writing Resolution - My Writing Themes for 2013
Posted by Mary Celeste on 1/2/2013 to On Writing
Welcome 2013! The world did not end and the writing ideas and projects I had in 2012 are still with me. This year, in addition to my usual ongoing projects, I resolved to let my writing help me to explore a handful of key themes that seem worthy of deep exploration: safety and fear, trust, envy, boredom, and patience, to name a few. In their most basic essence, they are mostly emotions and states of mind, but they are also the goodies that I am nearly always obsessed with in my writing. Some might say there are a handful of mortal sins in my list, others might say they are just the feelings and sense of things that make us all human. For my own part, my feeling is that they are concepts of truth about which I would like to write further this year. The related story ideas are sure to fill a few notebooks this year...

The first is safety...
Writing Wishes for the Twelve Days of Christmas
Posted by Mary Celeste on 12/13/2012 to On Writing

“On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”

Even though it may be a tie between how many times we will hear that little ditty and Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” this holiday season, perhaps it would be a nice time to have some handy writing inspirations to help count down the days until Christmas, since we are now officially twelve days away from the Big Day:

On the 12th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me… gift cards to purchase more ebooks

On the 11th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me… patience to write when it is time to write, and to edit when it is time to edit

On the 10th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me…calm and focus to see the trees, the forest, and all the little mossy roots sticking up through the earth

On the 9th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me…wrist and finger strength, to keep typing when fatigue is setting in

On the 8th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me…balance in both reading and writing, so that one inspires the other

On the 7th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me…faithfulness to the story line I created, and the power to withstand plot distractions

On the 6th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me…early morning creativity, and late night reflection

On the 5th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me… five golden manuscript requests following my queries

On the 4th day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me… control over doubt-driven urges to scrap the whole story, when maybe all is needed is some strategically placed rewrites

On the 3rd day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me… three pretty writing journals to take notes on my new story ideas for 2013

On the 2nd day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me…two characters who either live happily ever after, or become arch-rivals until the end of time

On the 1st day of Christmas, my writing muse should give to me… the will to never, never give up on writing

The Writer as Prop Stylist
Posted by Mary Celeste on 11/26/2012 to On Writing
What is it about the fine print that catches me up every time? Instead of reading my favorite magazine starting from the back and working my way towards the front like I usually do, this time I began reading starting from the very beginning and turned the page sideways. When I did this I noticed a little fine print in the margin. Next to the photos depicting how to make a doll out of popsicle sticks, glue and yarn, just a couple inches above the page marker, it read: “Prop Stylist, Betty Jones”. 

Prop Stylist. Got to be a new way of describing some kind of job that has always existed, but for which the name keeps changing through the years. Kind of like Doctor, Physician, Health Provider, Giver of Prescription Medicine to Addicted Celebrities. Kind of like that. 

Well, no. It turns out that a prop stylist is and does just what the name sounds like – they arrange and style various props, for photographic aesthetics and/or ease of understanding by the reader. I’ve never met one, but would like to. I imagine a prop stylist could help me with a lot of challenges I’ve been having around my house, even if it is certainly true that no one’s going to be taking any photographs of my living room or broom closet any time soon. But really, I have a hard time with the kids’ playroom. I bet a prop stylist could really whip those toys on the top shelf into pretty good shape. Make it look nice, inviting, like a tray of sweets in a pastry shop laid out in a neat, appetizing arrangement. And then there’s my master bedroom closet. Does it really matter how the clothes hang on the rod, or should they be color-coded or hanging according to designer, length, or type of fabric? Should they not even be hanging, and perhaps folded neatly in little boxes or custom-made cubby holes? Perhaps a prop stylist would know. 

Really, at its most basic level, what is a prop stylist anyway? Isn’t it someone who has either been trained or has an intuitive gift of looking at things and knowing what fits and what doesn’t, what is easy on the eyes and what is painful to behold? Well, if so, then writers are also most certainly prop stylists. And maybe, so am I, ‘cause I just crafted a killer ending to that horror story I’ve been writing. Now if I could only solve the problem of my mud room…
Characters That Never Die
Posted by Mary Celeste on 11/13/2012 to On Writing
So this week marks a big week in the world of film for young adults – the theater release of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2”. In this final installment, Edward and Bella and their family, fight in a series-ending duel with the evil Volturri, and then they presumably live on in never-ending vampiric marital bliss.
In keeping with the theme of characters who never die – ‘undead’ book characters I suppose - it got me thinking of the book characters that remain alive for me, long after I’ve finished the book.
It’s amazing the things you remember from books you’ve read long ago. Sometimes they are the same quotes or characters you loved, didn’t love, or were moved by the moment you finished reading the last page, and sometimes not. For example, it’s been at least a decade since I read Crime and Punishment, and for all the themes in that book - about crime, acceptance of guilt, denial - the most gripping image I have of the story is the consumptive Katerina, and her bloody cough. The images of that character and her sick, unstoppable cough, have followed me for years.
In one of my favorites, Pearl S. Buck’s, The Good Earth, I find that thoughts of the protagonist’s first wife, O-Lan, keep coming back to me. Whether it was the way she was so sorely mistreated, objectified, taken for granted, I don’t know. I just know she came alive for me, and I so wanted for her to be vindicated before the book ended.
Maugham’s Of Human Bondage still grips me too after all this time. The kunstlerroman’s protagonist, Philip Carey, was a hopeless, hopeless romantic, truly lovesick for a woman who would never care for him of course, but he was committed, and never gave her up until the end. He was freed of her by the love of another. Nonetheless, I don’t know if I should try to purge these characters from my mind, and become redeemed like Philip, or just let them stick around until they’re ready to fade away… just in time for me to reread them.
A Long Winter's Write
Posted by Mary Celeste on 11/9/2012 to On Writing
It is November and the year is almost done. The air has taken on a clammy feel and there is less smell in the air, confirming that some things are withering. And yet, when I hear the winds howl outdoors and the click-click of my thermostat compelling my boiler to deliver more heat, then the writer’s voice within me speaks louder, and I know it is time to settle in for a long winter’s write.
There’s something about the seasons changing and the days getting shorter that signals to the writer’s soul that it is time accelerate a writing project, start a new one, or even return to an old one - the one that never wants to be finished. As for me, it is returning to an old love – the novel I thought I had finished at the beginning of the year and which has been sitting in my writing box, calling for me, begging me not to forget it. I have never truly forgotten, but just felt afraid to pull it out again, to get reacquainted with the characters, to start dreaming about them again.
It’s hard to let go of a book when it’s done, whether you are the writer or the reader. But, I know I must go back to it, see how it has ripened since I last worked on it, check what I can do to make it come alive in an improved rewrite. After all, the year is almost done, and with the new yearcoming, a new novel may need to be born.
The Well-Read Life
Posted by Mary Celeste on 11/4/2012 to On Writing
I’ve just recently finished reading “Mornings on Horseback”, David McCullough’s superb biography of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US President. I had decided to read it because I had read once that Roosevelt had not only written and published a couple dozen books, but also that he had read tens of thousands of them in his lifetime, largely owing to his near photographic memory and ability to speed-read.
Writing Forum Round-up – great online forums for writers
Posted by Mary Celeste on 10/29/2012 to On Writing
When you’re a writer and having trouble getting focused, and sadly, you’re not actually writing, what better way to spend your time than by spending some time on the writing forums? At least then you’re writing about writing, right? Here at Imagination Tree, these are a few of our favorite writing forums for whiling away our writing day.
The Best Friend of Books
Posted by Mary Celeste on 10/23/2012 to On Writing

Everywhere you look there are inspirations for writing and reading – including in children’s books, two of which I recently discovered at the local library while searching for new books to read to my son. I thought they were the perfect inspiration to keep me focused on the short novel I’ve been working on. The first book, we loved, DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK!, by Michaela Muntean, is a hilarious story of a little pig doing his best to finish writing his story; and he could finish, if it weren’t for all the distractions created by the reader and all that annoying page-turning! The story is reminiscent of writer’s procrastination – all those times I said, “I could do some writing today, if only it weren’t for the….”

Another delightful read is DOG LOVES BOOKS, by Louise Yates, about a dog who loves books so much that he decides to open up his own bookstore. When he opens the store and the customers don’t come flooding in, he decides to pass the time by reading the books in his store. The story and the beautifully delicate illustrations are great reminders of how reading opens the door to fantasies and dreams. The French translation of this book is LE MEILLEUR AMI DES LIVRES – the best friend of books. How quaint! For those of us who love books, are we not all the "best friend of books"!?

A Bit of Time in the Sun
Posted by Mary Celeste on 10/15/2012 to On Writing
Sometimes a bit of time in the sun is all you need to fill you with enough writing inspiration to last through the cloudy days. It happened to me just yesterday. I drove to the highest spot in our neighborhood on the hill and parked. Got out of the car and had to choose between a giant row of flat-topped boulders in the shade, or a spot in the sun with a direct view of a small stand of birch trees. The spot in the sun won hands-down. I sat on a narrow step below a flagpole in front of the local middle-school. No 11 or 12-year olds today. It’s a holiday, and it’s just me and the sun and the trees and the wind.
Nothing Like Boredom to Make You Write
Posted by Mary Celeste on 10/1/2012 to On Writing
Some mornings are just perfect for writing. The day is new, the air is clear (in reality, and figuratively), and the mind is uncluttered and ready to create. Fresh ideas, like little twinkling points of light, are waiting and ready to be placed on the page at just the perfect moment.
You know it’s time to write and there’s nothing else going on. Nothing. These are the best moments – when you’ve exhausted all paths of procrastination and nothing is nagging at you; you finally feel free to write.
Agatha Christie once said, “There’s nothing like boredom to make you write.” (By the way, she said this on a BBC interview, which was recently re-broadcast on writersfm.com, a cool site which plays great writing music and interviews with leading authors). Sometimes so true Agatha.
Write About These Things
Posted by Mary Celeste on 9/1/2012 to On Writing

It was William Faulkner who in 1950, upon being awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, proclaimed in his acceptance speech, that the writer is immortal, “…not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things.”

All who write know the pleasure and agony of telling those stories. Write on, write well, but most of all keep on writing.

Let The Writer Within You Break Free
Posted by Mary Celeste on 8/1/2012 to On Writing

'I need to break free', said the she from within.

Wriggle out of bondage, a pustular eruption that's left as evidence on the pockmarked face of inprisonment.

Squirming and swirling and swimming in my shell, like a well-overdue fetus, I'm itching to reverse the entrapment, to unleash my soul and let it breathe again, to crack the wristholds and ropes of flax that burn my skin.

Need to release a big oooh--ahhhh--ahhhh--ooohh, and let my lungs know the truth again. Let them feel "the real" - escape from the 'air-conditioned nightmare', and live.

Yellow Brick Road
Posted by Mary Celeste on 7/1/2012 to On Writing
In one of his most famous songs, it was Elton John who sang, "Maybe you'll get a replacement, there's plenty like me to be found." This line is like an ode to my last employer, before I joined Imagination Tree, because honestly, even though it may be oddly tempting, I frankly could care less about what's going on at my last company.
This week I am driving my husband to work and back while his left arm heals following an operation. His office happens to be right down the road from where I used to work. As we drove by my old office, it looked the same. Same long drive, same beautiful stone wall surrounding the property, same perfect landscaping. But I have changed. I have become a mother since I left there, learned to garden, have gotten back into some fruitful writing since then, and have started at Imagination Tree, where I absolutely love this blog. I am a different person and also a better person since I left my last job.
As we drove by I glanced at the main building and thought about what it was like when I used to work there. I even had a fleeting curiosity about what it would be like if I was still there. And then I thanked myself that I'm not. I;m with Imagination Tree now, and long-term, my yellow brick road is looking brighter and more golden with each passing day.
Writing Without Boundaries
Posted by Mary Celeste on 6/1/2012

One of the things I really enjoy is writing. About anything. I like this blog I've started. I like to write letters and emails to friends. I'm also working on a novella and a few short stories.

The thing I like most is that when I write there are fewer boundaries and rules than in all of my other life's endeavors. Or maybe its just the rules that do exist in most parts of my life are a bit less tolerable than the ones I have to follow when I'm writing. When I worked in an office, there were all sorts of written and unwritten rules about how to dress, how to communicate online, on the phone, in meetings. There were rules about how to manage people, how to interact with one's boss, and how to submit proposals and presentations. And that doesn't even include all the self-imposed rules I set for myself, like how to ask for a raise (or gracefully complain about the one I'd just gotten), how to deal with workplace bullies, and how soon after I started a new job did I need to wait before I could take a day off.

With my children, there are other things that restrict one's freedoms, so to speak. Dealing with my daughter's preschool teachers and having to find a way to nicely say I was disappointed that they put her in a time-out the first week of school because she wouldn't conform to all their rules right away. Deciding who it was ok to schedule play-dates with and he best logistics to fit into our schedule. Trying to deal with the hullaballoo surrounding holidays, and keeping our daughter centered and sane in the midst of all the make-believe (Santa Claus) and spooky (Halloween). All boundaries and rules and socially-accepted ways of doing things that must be considered on a seeming second-by-second basis.

But when I write, there's a certain boundary-lessness that comes. Sometimes I let the text unfold simultaneously with my thoughts, and let the story unfurl before me in real time. Other times I have a sequence of events and concepts in my head and I think about it quite a bit before writing it out. Either way, I control the process, the order, the beginning and the end. For me, writing is one of the most refreshing activities of my day. Once I've done it for even just a half-hour, I feel accomplished, relieved that I did something productive for the day. It gives me a slight sense of hope, that even in the midst of my busy life I can find a slice of time to do something that I truly love, by my own rules, in my own unique voice, and in my own time.

Posted by Mary Celeste on 5/15/2012 to On Writing

I open the dictionary and promise to write something about the word on which my finger first lands. With my eyes closed, I flip to the back, hoping for 'quality' or 'quasar' or 'quake', or 'zephyr', in the extreme.

But I move to the front, seeking 'fortune' or 'frought' or 'fearless', but finally land on 'essence'.

The life-force, the birth of who one is, the bloodline and beginning of a foundation - ESSENCE.

The needful thing in us that sometimes defines our want or lack or pining, or even our need for pruning. The part deep within that begs, that is our calm, our reason for being and wanting to be - ESSENCE.

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