Saturday, November 18, 2017

Weekend Zen, November 18-19

Find life experiences and swallow them whole.
Travel. Meet many people. Go down some 
dead ends and explore dark alleys. Try everything. 
Exhaust yourself in the glorious pursuit of life.

~ Lawrence K. Fish

Friday, November 17, 2017

Write What You Learn

Around the time Solid Ground was released earlier this year, I penned a series of posts about my writing process and my journey to publication. The articles were published on various sites, but with lots of new readers and social media friends, I've decided to re-issue them on my blog.

Here's the fourth installment.

As I navigated my way through the first or fourth or twenty-second draft of my debut novel, Solid Ground, someone shared this Virginia Woolf quote with me.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” 

Having “completed” my book (whatever that means), I can now say I agree. I wrote what I knew, and to some extent, I wrote who I was. I wrote what burned inside me, a tendency I imagine to be especially true for first time novelists, in whom all of those previously unsaid things have smoldered the longest. This isn’t to say a novel is always autobiographical (mine’s not, I swear), but that in some way, the stories we write are inextricably anchored to who we are and how we see the world.

I suppose I knew all along that my writing was intertwined with my identity, but then the damnedest thing happened as I wrote my book — I changed.

I wrote Solid Ground off-and-on for more than a decade, and over those years, I had many new and varied life experiences and qualities of mind. So, wouldn’t that change my novel? Does the story we write change as we do? Mine did.

From its humble legal pad origins to its still humble digital and print publication, the themes of Solid Ground evolved, and in some cases, came to mean the literal opposite of their original intent. As I reflected on it, what was most fascinating to me, though, was the realization that, even as the themes changed, the characters and plot of the story remained essentially the same.

Solid Ground has always been about Conor McLeish, a flawed but kindhearted gay man who, as he approached middle age, was worn down by the drama of coming out and the search for acceptance. In each draft of the story, Conor struggled with a truckload of childhood baggage, depression, and his tendency for self-sabotage.

From the early drafts to the eventual published book, what changed were not the key plot points or the sorry details of Conor’s life, but the lessons he takes from those elements. And those lessons, the story’s themes, if you will, changed for Conor because they changed for me.

Even the significance of the novel's title came to carry new meaning for me. When I first began writing the book, Conor's story was about a man's search for a future that's secure and stable, a man's desperate need to stand on solid ground. Years later when I finished the final draft, when Conor and I were both a decade older, the story was more about his willingness to accept an unstable and unpredictable world where the ground never stops shifting beneath his feet.

I don’t want to spoil the story so I won’t give away too much more about Conor’s arc, but I can say this: the book I published wasn’t the book I started writing so many years before. I always wrote what I knew, but over the course of time, my worldview evolved, what I came to know about myself changed, and I wrote what I learned.

Jeff's first novel, Solid Ground, is available in print and ebook 
at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers. 

Daily Zen - Friday, November 17

Happiness is your nature.
It is not wrong to desire it.
What is wrong is seeking 
it outside when it is inside.

~ Ramana Maharshi

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, November 16

The Buddha taught that we're not actually 
in control, which is a pretty scary idea. 
But when you let things be as they are, 
you will be a much happier, more 
balanced, compassionate person.

~ Pema Chödrön

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, November 15

Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is a nobler art of leaving things undone.
The wisdom of life consists in the
elimination of non-essentials.

~ Lin Yutang

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Daily Zen - Tuesday, November 14

Sometimes kindness takes the form of
stepping aside, letting go of our need 
to be right, and just being happy for someone.

~ Sharon Salzberg

Monday, November 13, 2017

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Friday, November 10, 2017

Daily Zen - Friday, November 10

I meditate because life is too short 
and sitting slows it down...
I meditate because life is too long 
and I need an occasional break...
I meditate because I'm building myself 
a bigger and better perspective
And occasionally I need to add a new window.

~ Wes Nisker

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Daily Zen - Thursday, November 9

With an undefended heart, we can
fall in love with life over and over
every day. We become children of 
wonder, grateful to be walking on 
earth, grateful to belong with one and 
another and to all of creation. 

~ Tara Brach

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Character Who Just Showed Up

This AC/DC T-shirt is quintessential Harlan,
the character who just showed up.
Around the time Solid Ground was released earlier this year, I penned a series of posts about my writing process and my journey to publication.

The articles were initially published on various book sites, but with lots of new readers and social media friends, I've decided to re-issue them on my blog. Here's the third installment.

Let me start by saying this — I’m a writer who generally balks when other writers say characters acted on their own or storylines took twists the writers never could have expected. It’s all in our heads, right? It’s not magic, it’s plotting. Having said that…

Most of the characters in Solid Ground were there from the beginning. My damaged main character, Conor, and his Buddhist boyfriend, Will, both existed from the moment I conceived the story. Conor’s beloved Vegas-loving grandmother and his judgy evangelical Aunt Doris, even his not-so-important and somewhat peripheral boss, Marshall — they all existed in my head when I first put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). But not Harlan, Conor’s smart-ass, sixteen year-old, Florida cracker neighbor. This brash kid from the sticks was nowhere near when I began writing Solid Ground. Still, from the moment he appeared on Conor’s front porch, a cigarette dangling from his lip and a tattered AC/DC concert T-shirt hanging from his scrawny frame, I knew exactly who Harlan was. What I didn’t know was how much work he would do for my story.

Harlan was an interesting kid, so I let him stay awhile. I explored his past and his personality, and I realized he offered a great deal to Solid Ground. I won’t tell you everything about Harlan, but here are just a few of the things this unplanned character does for my story. 

First, the kid’s overly confident smart-assery provides welcome comic relief to the story and to Conor, whose storyline offers plenty of stress and an abundance of costly wrong turns. Second, descriptions of Harlan’s hometown and his central Florida upbringing give the story a more authentic view of place and setting. Third, Harlan’s willingness to help Conor illustrates a central theme of Solid Ground, which is that we have to learn to be open to the unexpected — the teenager’s support is not something Conor anticipates, or even recognizes. Lastly, through Conor’s interaction with Harlan, a character whose age, experience, and personality are significantly different from anyone else in the story, the reader sees an added dimension of Conor, like watching a coworker whom you’ve never seen outside the office playing with his kids in a park. 

I’ll probably never remember the exact genesis of Harlan, but I’m grateful he and his mother left their “backwater shithole in central Florida” and moved next door to my main character. I’m not saying every unplanned guest who shows up in a manuscript needs to stay, but when Conor (and I) needed him, Harlan grew organically from the narrative, sprouting from the story like a weed, or a wildflower.

Daily Zen - Wednesday, November 8

There was another life 
that I might have had,
but I am having this one.

~ Kazuo Ishiguro

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Monday, November 6, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, November 6

I believe success is achieved
by ordinary people with 
extraordinary determination.

~ Zig Ziglar

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Weekend Zen, November 4-5

I embrace emerging experience.
I participate in discovery.
I am a butterfly.
I am not a butterfly collector.
I want the experience of the butterfly.

~ William Stafford

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Daily Zen - Wednesday, November 1

If you can't fly, then run.
If you can't run, then walk.
If you can't walk, then crawl.
But whatever you do, you have
to keep moving forward.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Daily Zen - Monday, October 30

Better it is to live one day wise
and meditative than to live 
a hundred years foolish and uncontrolled.

~ The Dhammapada