Diane Frank Reaches Beyond Romance: Erotic, Lyrical, Cultural, Poetic Fiction

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A few novels cross genres with perfection. Diane Frank, however, weaves multiple genres to create a tapestry of writing that could almost become a new category of its own. Blackberries in the Dream House, her first novel, is described as magical realism, yet some could argue that it is a form of poetry, erotic romance, mystical and or spiritual fiction, new age, historical/cultural, pseudo-paranormal romance or romantic fantasy. You get the idea. I am fascinated when an author boldly crosses boundaries within genres, as well as cultures and periods of history, with such precision that it is barely noticed. It’s much like watching a prima ballerina who makes strenuous work appear elegant and effortless.

I met Diane Frank Valentine’s week at the San Francisco Writers Conference(SFWC) where we spoke at length, like old friends, touching on a variety of subjects. We are both writers who are meditators and yogis. We are both fascinated by Japanese and Buddhist culture and art. We both love music and dancing. We have a little in common. Diane’s first book was a bit of risk, in terms of publishing in the 21st century, as her main character is a Japanese geisha from 150 years ago. The writing is poetic, erotic, spiritual and infused with musical, historical and Buddhist overtones. Each chapter is short, and could read like an individual poem or a recounting of a lyrical dream. Some agents today might consider this novel daunting to represent—as agents at the SFWC admitted trepidation over representing first-time novelists who write within differing cultures or gender viewpoints. (To read more, see Voice, Authenticity & the Right to Write.).

 

With that said, I strongly believe readers will always resonate with powerfully artistic writing that transcends such constricted boundaries. Which is likely one reason why Blackberries in the Dream House was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Diane has published nine books and is currently writing another, while also teaching creative writing and poetry in San Francisco and Iowa. I interviewed Diane recently about Blackberries in the Dream House: her process when writing it and her advice to other budding authors willing to tackle subjects and characters outside of today’s defined publishing norms.

 

Q. What first inspired you to write about a geisha and a Buddhist monk in Japan? Can you pin point your first ah ha moment that sparked your journey toward creating Blackberries in the Dream House?

A. I’d like to begin by telling you how this book came into being. While I was still living in Iowa,  The Winter Life of Shooting Stars, my fourth book of poems, was published. When I called my Grandma Helen to share the good news, she said to me, “Diane, I don’t understand poetry.  Could you write a novel?” I said, “Sure, Grandma, I’ll write you a novel,” even thought at the time I didn’t know what the book would be about.

I don’t know how it is for other writers, but I feel that the story I tell in Blackberries in the Dream House chose me. It began with a deja vu in my bathtub. The tiles turned deep blue, and I felt like I was in Kyoto in a public bath during the late Edo period. The geisha and the monk were there, and the story started telling itself to me until it was told.

Blackberries is a forbidden love story about a geisha and a Buddhist monk in Kyoto 150 years ago. It’s written in the genre of magical realism which means that extraordinary things can happen in the waking state. The story is told from inside the soul of the geisha, and it begins with an epigram from Rumi…

“Lovers don’t meet along the road somewhere.

They’re in each other all along.”

Blackberries in the Dream House comes from a deep place in my soul.  My strong intention is that this book will have a gift for everyone who reads it.

2. Are you a Buddhist?

I’m not a practicing Buddhist but am strongly influenced by Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy – especially Tibetan Buddhism but also Zen. I learned to meditate when I was twenty years old and continue to meditate twice a day. My spiritual practice takes me to a place of deep peace and provides a grounding I maintain as I live in the world.

Traveling in Japan and Nepal strongly influenced this book. I loved living among the Buddhist people.  I deeply admire the Dalai Lama and have been strongly influenced by his teachings. When I was trekking in Nepal, I had the opportunity to ask the Tengboche Rinpoche (the High Lama at Tengboche Monastery) a question that was important to my spiritual growth, and his answer has guided me for many years.

When I was in Japan researching Blackberries in the Dream House, all of the people I met believe in reincarnation and felt that I was returning to Japan from a previous life. The Noh Sensei (Master teacher of Noh drama and singing) asked me, “How does it feel to be back in Japan?” The geisha from Kyoto who mentored me had me walk in her maiko (young geisha in training) sandals to see what I would remember when I wore them. Walking the streets of Pontocho, the geisha district where my novel takes place, was non-stop deja vu.

My 400 mile trek in the Nepal Himalayas was a spiritual quest. I write about this in Letters from a Sacred Mountain Place: A Journey through the Nepal Himalayas, which was published two weeks ago. My new book takes you into the mountains, with stories, poems and 53 color photographs. My early readers have told me that my new book has a similar feel to Blackberries, especially with my “Buddhist friend,” who is like the inner lover in Rumi’s poetry.

3. There has been much dialogue about the risks authors take when writing outside of their nationality, gender, sex, or even period of history. Yet Yukiko’s and Kenji’s voices are authentic and every scene within this book is believable. How much research went into crafting the elements within the dialogue to create believability? For instance, knowing the various Japanese musical instruments and art techniques of the day, or describing the temples.

I believe that as human souls, we have lived in many times and places. But yes, I did a tremendous amount of research. Years ago, I was drawn to a book by Liza Dalby called Geisha. It’s the definitive anthropological study of the geisha community of Kyoto. I’ve also written several scripts for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, multi-image presentations to introduce their traveling exhibits. These included “Footsteps of the Buddha,” to introduce an exhibit of Buddhist art and sculpture, and “Japanese Ink Painting,” an exhibit of the Japanese Sumi-e artists through the centuries. Yukiko, the geisha in my novel, is a Sumi-e artist, and this is how she meets the young monk, as part of her training. My research for LACMA educated me in the subtle aspects and techniques of Japanese ink painting. My book also has a subtle layering of Tibetan Buddhism and Kabbalah, which I have studied.

After I began writing my novel, I had a hunger to read everything I could find about Japan, Japanese art, Zen Buddhism, and the geisha community. I also had guidebooks and maps so I knew the shrines, the streets, the rivers, the mountains.  I worked with two Japanese advisors, who were students at the university in Iowa where I was teaching. Izumi Nakamura made lists for me of names appropriate for my characters in the late Edo period. I would give her the sound I wanted, and she would give me a choice of names with those sounds. She also made lists of flowers and trees that grow in Japan. Paul Shimura shared his experience growing up in Japan and saved me from a few cultural mistakes. In the late Edo period, there were no mirrors. People used water to see their reflection. No clocks – people told time by the ringing of the temple bells. No mangos in Japan – use a persimmon. He never gave me praise – which is the opposite of the way I teach – but made sure I stayed within the Japanese culture as I wrote. Later, when I went to Japan, Izumi hosted me and translated.

Before completing the novel, I knew I had to go to Japan and spend time in the geisha community. When I wrote to Izumi, I did not know that the Japanese people revere their teachers or that I was her favorite teacher. Izumi invited me to stay with her family, and she offered to travel with me to Kyoto, introduce me to the people she felt I should meet, and translate, since I don’t speak Japanese. She offered to plan my whole visit, and as an art-centered person, she wanted every day to be beautiful. At that time, she was studying music with a Noh Sensei who lived in Kyoto. Her Sensei arranged for me to be mentored by a famous geisha in Kyoto – you can find photographs of Masukiyo on my website,   If you enter the pages that feature Blackberries in the Dream House, I share a lot of information.

It is almost unheard of for a Western woman to be allowed into the geisha community, but as a gift from the Noh Sensei, that door opened for me. Izumi asked three of her friends to come with us and help her with the translation, as she had never become completely fluent in English. Masukiyu, the geisha who mentored me, shared many things about her life and answered provocative questions. She has a beautiful singing voice and has entertained visiting dignitaries and the Prime Minister of Japan. Everything about her is deeply feminine and artistic – her lovely voice, the way she moved in her green silk kimono, and her skill in making everyone feel comfortable around her. Even the simple act of watching her serve green tea and mochi was deeply pleasing. Before I left, she asked me to try on her maiko sandals to see if I would remember anything. They fit my feet perfectly.

Geishas take the mystery of being a woman and push it all the way to the edge. They are artists and feisty independent women. If they have a lover, it is their choice. Blackberries in the Dream House is narrated from the soul of the geisha, but what surprised me most when I was in Kyoto was how well I knew the monk. I went to Buddhist and Shinto temples every day, but as I approached Ryoanji, which in older times was called Oshidoridera, I immediately knew that the monk lived there.

And about the musical instruments . . . When I was writing about Japanese ink painting (sumi-e) for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I listened to every recording of Japanese music available in San Francisco at that time. I know the instruments; I know the way they sound.  Also, because I am a cellist, I know the discipline it takes to learn and master a musical instrument.

My book has been praised as having an authentic Japanese voice. I think you have to love Japan to do this, but I don’t think you have to be Japanese. I think the novel feels authentic to you because it comes from such a deep place inside my soul.

4. The eroticism and spirituality weave together flawlessly. Did you intend to write such an erotic love story?

The whole process of writing a novel is mysterious to me, but the weave of eroticism and spirituality is at the center of the way I view the world. I believe that sexuality is sacred and can open the way to the spiritual. As you can tell from reading my novel, I don’t believe in a separation of the erotic and the spiritual.

One more thing …  I was living in a spiritual community when I wrote this book. Many of the men in the community thought they were monks or tried to be monks, even though they were not this way by nature. It gave me a lot of material for this book. I think many people who are deeply involved with a spiritual path get confused about their sexuality. When Blackberries was featured in Tricycle magazine, a popular Buddhist journal, their topic was “Where is the Edge?” They used a chapter of my novel to explore this.

5. What/ who are your influences?

As a poet, my major influences are my teachers – Stephen Dunn, Kathleen Fraser, Robert Bly, and Daniel J. Langton – and the poets I love – Rainer Maria Rilke, Mirabai, Rumi, Kabir, W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield, Thomas Centolella, William Carlos Williams, Yehuda Amichai and too many others to list here. Because of Robert Bly’s teaching and his translations, the Spanish language surrealist poets have been a powerful influence – Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado, Cezar Vallejo, and Juan Ramon Jimenez. My life is filled with poetry.

With fiction, I’ve been strongly influenced by magical realism, the Spanish language poets and novelists, and authors who do similar things in English: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude; Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate; and anything by Tom Robbins, but especially, Jitterbug Perfume. While writing my novel, I also read Damage, by Josephine Hart, as a model for writing with short chapters; and novels that gave me permission to go way out there, like Hard‑Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami. 

Pierre DeLattre, author of Walking on Air and Tales of a Dalai Lama, was a major influence. This is what he wrote about my book: “What would happen to us if we were to undertake the discipline of turning our life entirely and self‑consciously, into a poem? Through Yukiko, who becomes both a contemplative Buddhist and a geisha skilled in the refinements of sensuous pleasure, Diane Frank allows us to live within the soul of a young woman who has undertaken to create a life imagined and expressed as a poem, in every moment, waking and sleeping, making love or meditating. With its power of language, Blackberries in the Dream House will seduce many readers into considering whether a prosaic life is the only choice we have.”

6. Do you have advice for other poets who want to make the leap into lyrical fiction?

My huge breakthrough came when I realized that to write beautiful prose, you need to work the language the same way you work every line of a poem. Sentence by sentence, I did this. Since I am primarily trained as a poet, I had two rules while I was writing – one extended metaphor per chapter and every sentence has to be beautiful. I worked the language line by line, the same way I work the language of a poem. 

I feel that a novel, like a poem, is a magic spell. As an author, I feel a responsibility to take the reader to a positive place by the end of the book – regardless of where I’ve taken them during the journey.  Most of my books have a long dip into shadow material at some point in the narrative, but I like the bring the reader back up transformed.

I use an intuitive writing process instead of planning the whole book in advance. In that way, the book surprises me and delights me as I am writing it. There are times when I finish a chapter and start weeping about what just happened. And times I am filled with gratitude. When I start writing, I fine-tune the previous chapter, and then ask myself, “What comes next?” Then the soul of the novel starts speaking to me again. It’s a mysterious and wonderful process. The other thing – since novels take more time than poems, you need to put yourself on a writing schedule.

When I began writing Blackberries in the Dream House, it felt like remembering something. But early into the book, the characters took over and created their own lives. They did unexpected things and frequently surprised me. The inner world of each character flooded through me day by day until my life became transparent. My visions, conversations, and dreams poured into the novel. I felt like I was Japanese as I was writing, and over time the novel became large enough to embody every important image and insight I have ever known.

My major advice to all writers … Make your writing a messenger for what is in your soul. Work your language so that it is powerful and beautiful. Work each line until every line sings.

I hope you enjoy my novel, and I would love to hear from you. I’m available to come to your book club, your favorite book store, your writers group, your library, or a university where you live. To schedule readings and workshops in your area, please get in touch with me!

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Hawaii w Kids: Locals, Farming, Aloha, & a lil Me TIME!

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On top of Koko Crater!

I love Hawaii. I think everyone knows that by now, lol! Three weeks ago I took the boys back to Honolulu for our sixth visit. Who would think there was more to do and see? There was SO much more. It was a magical trip for this single mom. It was partly a working trip for me, as I’m writing my fourth novel which occurs mainly on a farm in Hawaii (Read about Orbiting Jupiter HERE.). I also sold a story to MindBodyGreen (to be published in May, so I can’t go into too much detail here) about an organic farm in poverty-ridden Wai’anae, on the western side of Oahu, that also provides scholarships to teens and internships to college students.

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William picking mangos at the farm.

What I can tell you, is that the boys and I got to farm with a youth-leader there, mulching  in the heat and learning, not just about organic farming in a dry region, but about the struggles most Hawaiian teens growing up in this poor area of Oahu, go through. My boys who live in a bubble of wealth in Hermosa Beach, learned what it’s like when most friends drop out of school, get mixed up in drugs, have high rates of pregnancy, can’t eat lunch, can’t go to college because they can’t afford it, etc. We learned how diabetes and heart disease is the highest in this region, than any where else in Hawaii. Once abundant, we now also discovered that quality fruit and vegetables are scarce, mainly because the military cut off the west side’s main water source, diverting it for their needs, so growing is a struggle. The boys loved gardening and creating their own organic lunch later and the connections made were priceless. 

Just down the mountain road from the farm is this amazing, deserted beach. Can you just say WOW?

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Other highlights of this trip include hanging with a friend who now lives in Honolulu, her kiddos playing with mine. The coach for the Honolulu Bulls, met us in Vegas during a soccer tournament earlier, so invited my William and his best friend to practice with them on a steamy night for two hours in Honolulu. What a work out! The coach was so kind and most of the boys on the team gave William their info so they can follow each other on insta. None of them had ever been to California and asked my son SO many questions about girls and celebrities. 🙂 It was eye-opening for William as these boys, unlike the ones he plays with in LA, are super hungry and motivated to move up—as for some, it may be their only ticket to college. At the practice, there were adults and a few college players who were ‘mixing it up’ by playing with the teens, making it more challenging for them. The practice, also unlike the amazing facilities in LA, was held in an over-grown small field near tents of homeless. There had to be at least 25 homeless families camping just near the edge of the field. Just part of life in Honolulu.

What else? We hiked the Koko Crater! It’s a steep hike up an abandoned rail way, at points near the top, hikers see hundreds of feet below them, as they step on wooden planks. My 9-year-old was so scared that he shook and cried at points! But his big brother and I coaxed him on, helping him get over his fears. He was not a happy camper when he finally made it up to the top, but after he finished, he was ecstatic and beyond proud of himself, telling others they can do it, if he could. I’m proud of him too! 🙂

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post-crater hike wipe out!

This trip was really the perfect trip. It allowed us to meet with more locals, make new friends, explore little-known areas, even going to a Buddhist center downtown and a little known hole-in-the-wall eatery for yummy fish. I met with a realtor, got a few apartment tours for a possible move too, and even got asked to be a teacher at a yoga studio in Waikiki. How cool is that? And since I invited one of my oldest son’s friends, I had make shift babysitters one afternoon and escaped to relaxation: getting a massage (how I love groupon!), with time for day-dreaming at the spa pool after. What more can a mom ask for?

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Aloha until next time. ❤

L. xo

Mysterious Temporary Amnesia

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Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I belong? What is my purpose?

These are existential questions that I find myself asking from time to time—especially after a crisis or the death of a loved one.

But can you ever fathom asking these questions literally? What if you lost yourself— utterly and completely—all at once? Imagine that suddenly you have NO idea who you are, or where you are from, and your surroundings are completely foreign to you. Your sense of self and location vanishes in a wash of temporary amnesia. What would you do?

Skeptics wonder if temporary amnesia is possible. Many say the condition must be a hoax dreamt up by those who seek an escape to their circumstances. Others argue that temporary amnesia is some sort of subconsciously-triggered chemical reaction within the brain in response to extreme stress, or blocked memories of violence or childhood abuse as they begin to surface.

Neuroscientists and psychologists really don’t have an explanation for the documented and treated cases of temporary amnesia that have occurred around the world. But they do happen. And I’m completely fascinated by them. At one point in my life, eight and a half years ago, I slipped for a few minutes, into the unknown. It was only for a few minutes, but it was terrifying. Walking my then 7 year old to a play-date, I said good bye to the mom and then turned to walk back home. Suddenly, nothing was recognizable. NOTHING. The street, the street name, the houses. I turned and walked down a street, lost, then turned around again, not knowing how to get back home, where my baby was with a sitter. I sat down and began to hyperventilate. Now I didn’t forget who I was, but everything else was a blur. I was under extreme stress, so I’m convinced that my brain was on tilt. I had just discovered the night before (via snooping) that my husband was continuing his affair that he had promised was over. I had little sleep, as my baby was colicky.  Later that week, before my husband had returned, I fell, while holding the baby. While on a walk, picturing him with his mistress, I just couldn’t breathe. I became confused and suddenly stopped breathing, passing out. I came through due to the baby crying, but walked home in a fog, getting lost several times. I didn’t have amnesia, but definitely a mild state of dissociation from severe stress. Those days are long gone, thankfully.

But I am forever fascinated by them, and the stories of others who lapsed into complete amnesia. In fact, they have inspired my next novel (working title Orbiting Jupiter). My protagonist develops temporary amnesia while on vacation, and for three months, believes she is someone else—while everyone in her family thinks she has been kidnapped or has died. That’s all I’ll reveal now, as I delve into mysterious aspects of the self she identified with for three months.

While my novel is pure fiction, real cases have existed and been documented. In all of them, the person who develops amnesia, suddenly becomes someone else. After a period of time, they just as quickly come back to their original identity, with NO knowledge of the past days, months, or even years, while living as someone else.

How is that possible? Is it mental illness? Is it past-life transgression? Is it some sort of worm hole in time that a person slips into? (Can you tell my son is obsessed with Dr. Who?!) Those who study physics will say time is an illusion anyway. Is it possible, then, that someone could literally slip into another period on their soul journey—either past or future—by mental slip, or accident? Or is it just pure unfathomable stress that triggers a brain-chemical reaction spurring this lost identity?

Take Agatha Christie’s case. The famous author developed temporary amnesia and went missing for eleven days. Already quite famous in her mid-30s, a massive manhunt ensued to find Ms. Christie, even recruiting other famous contemporary authors, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L Sayers. author of the Lord Peter Wimsey series. I’ve read a few accounts of her mysterious missing days, as nearly every paper covered it, including The New York Times. Theories vary as to why she ‘lost her self,’ but unequivocally, she did. Friday, Dec. 3, 1926 at 9:30 p.m., after putting her daughter to bed, Ms. Christie got into her car and drove away. The car, later discovered abandoned, but in good condition, showed no signs of accident. Apparently, Ms. Christie then walked to Harrington Yorkshire and began staying at The Swan Hydro Inn, under the name of Theresa Neele, one of her husband’s mistresses. According to all reports, she referred to herself as Ms. Neele the entire time. Eleven days later, someone recognized her at the hotel, yet she didn’t recognize her name or her pictures in the newspaper. After her husband picked her up, she had no memory of the past eleven days, nor did she know exactly who she was or who he was. Perhaps Ms. Christie snapped due to the stress of her husband’s infidelities, as well as her pressure to write more best-selling novels, while also taking care of her daughter? We’ll never know. The author never spoke about her disappearance.

Temporary amnesia, however, doesn’t always occur due to extreme stress. While doing more research, a friend sent me this New Yorker article about a woman who continued to experience temporary amnesia throughout her life. Hannah Upp disappeared for weeks at a time. In one instance, she left her Manhattan apartment to go for a jog. Wearing a jogging bra, shorts and running shoes, Ms Upp shifted mentally during the run. That’s all she reported. She went missing for weeks—her friends and family thinking she had been abducted. Tapes within an Apple store show the young woman looking at computers, still wearing her jogging gear, but looking a little raged. The school teacher had no keys, no wallet, no phone, no identification and must have wandered around New York City aimlessly. She was found floating in the East River, remarkably still alive, but not knowing who she was until she came through while receiving treatment in a hospital. Ms. Upp’s story is intriguing because in two of her cases, only mild stress could have triggered her lapse of identity. The beginning of the school year is hardly a major life stressor. Yet that was when these situations occurred. Both parents reported that she had no abuse or trauma in childhood. Her father, however, was an evangelical minister, perhaps she had a conflict within her faith? We’ll never know. Her last jaunt into the unknown, tragically is still happening, as she is currently missing and considered dead. Just before she ‘left’ Ms. Upp had said goodbye to her boyfriend and was helping the principal of the school where she taught in St. Thomas, prepare for another storm. The principal reported that Ms. Upp was responding to her in a monotone tone of voice while providing one sentence responses—something not usual for the friendly, chatty woman. Some speculate that Ms. Upp slipped into a state of dissociation before completely transitioning into amnesia.

Another bizarre case is that of Ansel Bourne (the inspiration for the character Jason Bourne). Ansel Bourne was an evangelical preacher from Greene, Rhode Island, who took a trip to visit his sister in Providence on January 17, 1887. However, for unexplained reasons, he ended up withdrawing his savings instead and traveling to Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he opened up a variety store and started a new life as Albert J Brown.

When Bourne woke up on the morning of March 15, he had no idea where he was. In his mind, it was still January 17 and he had no memory of being Albert J Brown or owning a variety store. Ansel found his way back home and back to his family, resuming his life without any recurrences of Albert J. Brown. It was documented that he had suffered from a psychiatric disorder described as a ‘fugue state.”

What do you think? Is it possible to just suddenly forget who you are? Can a person slip into another identity and over time come back to their original one without any memory of the lapse? And if so, how do they pick that identity? It’s a mystery. And one I’m exploring. I hope you’re becoming as intrigued, as I am!

Laura

 

 

Fake News? Or Freedom to Report the T R U T H? Sinclair Broadcasting Crossing the Line into Trumpville

As a journalist and graduate from University of Georgia, I am proud that UGA’s journalism dean, along with 12 others, signed a letter in protest to Sinclair Broadcasting. Sinclair, owner of more than 200 TV news stations in America, is continuing to create controversy. Or, better said, Sinclair Executive Chairman David. D. Smith, needs to attend a journalism ethics class and should consider resigning. Who thought it would get worse after Mr. Smith denounced ALL print news outlets as ‘meaningless’ last month?

On April 3, New York Magazine published statements by Smith saying, the print media “serves no real purpose.” The story included this quote:

“The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away. Just no credibility.”

(My guess? He’d rather we all read tweets from President Trump and ignore scientific evidence showing global warming, or photos of white hats pulling chemically burned bodies out of rubble in Syria, or FBI proof that our last election was tampered with.)

Sigh. I usually stay away from controversial, non-positive topics on this blog. But guess what? Our freedom of speech and the public’s right to be informed are at risk. Forcing TV news anchors to read a letter that says other news outlets are publishing “fake news” is out of control. News anchors have reached out to friends (including one of mine) upset and saying she had no choice, but to read the letter given to her on the air or she’d be fired.

“Fake News” threats are just a bully’s means to hoist control and not be held accountable for truth. That’s all. It is similar to President Trump’s ‘fake news’ claims, which are clearly his means to cause confusion and fear in Americans—trying to plant a seed of doubt so we won’t believe what we read or see on television news. Shame on Mr. Smith for forcing his broadcasters to read a letter verbatim on air accusing other journalists, without any proof, of not doing an accurate job. I’m proud so many journalism deans and department heads took a stand.

To read more about what Sinclair did, and how the company also recently withdrew a $25,000 contribution to the National Press Photographers Association’s legal fund, go to Poytner Institute’s thorough article: 13 J-school deans and chairs issue letter of concern to Sinclair.

I’ll close with this thought to Mr. Smith:

Your beliefs, your politics and your business agenda, have NO place in the newsroom. Journalists are trained to report news as thoroughly as possible by garnering multiple sides to every story, outlining multiple viewpoints and finding original sources. The journalism industry won’t die, because our society is now flooded with bloggers who don’t use multiple sources when reporting, and a President who likes to tweet personal reactions not based on facts. Our society needs journalists now, more than ever. If this makes you uncomfortable, then perhaps the news business is not for you. Your letter, that was forced to be read verbatim by professional journalists—without letting them tell viewers that they did not write it, or that it was commentary, not facts—vomited on American journalist standards and ethics. In the coming weeks, I hope more academics and journalists take a stand.

 

 

When Did You Last Have a BIG HUG?

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Photo by: by ラルフ – Ralf RKLFoto

When is the last time you received a big bear hug? The kind that doesn’t release instantly? The kind where you feel accepted, supported and loved for who you are?Fake, pseudo LA hugs where a person lightly touches your shoulder-blades and releases, while looking away to see who witnessed it, doesn’t count! I mean, good friend hugs.

And when did you last give a big bear hug, and to whom?

Hugs are so healing. And when life is kicking you when you’re already down, you really need one. Amma the Hugging Saint lives her life giving hugs to relieve suffering (while also raising money to support charities working to reduce poverty and help the environment). But if you, like me, find yourself rarely hugging others deeply and authentically, ask yourself why? Or do you, like me, often pull away before the hugger is done, feeling embarrassed, or uncomfortable because you weren’t raised in a hugging, loving environment and aren’t used to letting others hug you?

I’ve come to know a few things with complete certainty. One is that if you didn’t receive hugs as a child, you need the power of hugs in your life today. Start by giving them and receiving them. Hug your children. Hug your best friend, sibling, parent, dog, deeply today. I gave my sister five hugs yesterday. It felt amazing!

To give and receive love requires compassion. In a me, me, and more me-focussed world of today, let go of yourself and your needs for just a moment and embrace mindfully, focussing on the other person with complete compassion. What a gift! To do so says: ‘I see your pain, I feel your pain, and I wish I could help.’

A big hug, like the best gifts in life, doesn’t cost a thing, and is exchanged on a deep, emotional level without the need for words.

This virtual hug is from me to you.

Have a beautiful Sunday.

Laura xo

To Self Publish or Not … One Writer’s Positive Experience

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Today I met with a talented poet and artist who self published her first book in 2017 with Amazon, for less than $2,000. That’s amazing. And it’s gorgeous. Shani’s Whispers of Grace is a delicious compilation of paintings and spiritual poetry, inspired by her time in silence “with Shiva” at the holy hill of Arunachala in Tamil Nadu. Mystical, lyrical and emotional, Shani could have sought out an agent and tried to publish traditionally. Instead, she chose to self publish and to hire a friend to create her cover. As we chatted today about her next book, now in the works, we both began discussing the pros and cons of the self publishing route. As most of you reading this know, I’m pitching agents and have written three novels, now working on my fourth. Intrinsically, I worry about the costs of self publishing and managing all the self promotion, printing costs, pr costs, platform management and search elevation, contractual issues, etc. by my self. I’ve always held agents in high regard and read experts advice such as Shawne Coyne (who published this article today lauding what good agents can do: What it Takes: Art + Commerse = Better Art.).

 

But after speaking with the kind-hearted and spiritual Shani today, I see that in the end, whether a writer decides to self publish or pursue traditional publishing, it all boils down to expectation and time. Shani is happy to let her book grow organically through word of mouth referrals (including mine, buy it please!). She allows placement to happen organically within appropriate settings, such as spiritual book stores, or yoga and meditation retreat centers. As Shani said: “if I touch one soul, I am happy.” She isn’t bogged down by what frightens me: all the time consuming PR, self promotion pitching and travel and speaking engagements. And her work is doing just fine since she kept creation costs relatively low.

I love her perspective and choices. Because in no way does her choice to self publish affect the quality of her craft. In fact, I think this journey of Shani’s has allowed her to focus 100% of her time on her art, and perfecting that art, without worrying about the business side. She lets her art speak for itself—and it does.

I love this last line of her poem Song of the Self: “It is only the Supreme non-dual “I” that destroys ignorance and pure Knowledge shines forth as Self.”

I think all of us writers could learn from Shani. When one continues to write for the sake of writing and for the gift it gives us by honing the craft—while enjoying the journey—the writing will intuitively and intrinsically get better. And it is more likely that an author will make deep connections with her readers as well. From the heart-felt intention of creating an inspiring piece of art, for the sake of art, that art, in turn, will flourish and the right organic opportunities will arise.

Thank you Shani for your words of wisdom today. I can’t wait to see your paintings and your next book!

Namaste ~

Laura xo

 

Finished your novel? Think again. How the editing process is endless…

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So I naively thought I was DONE editing my third novel Between Thoughts of You. Lets just say today was humbling and frustrating. On a happy note, a publisher in the UK agreed to read 10,000 words. Yay! Right?

Sort of.

My freshest version of the manuscript was saved via pdf. The publisher didn’t want to receive a pdf format or my entire novel. That caused a little anxiety. See, after editing my novel four times and sending it to beta readers, I had saved the final version in pdf form back in February before going to a writers conference. I think I edited the word docs of each chapter so many times that I actually have 3 of every chapter saved. Don’t ask me why, but that’s how it turned out. I like to have the option of seeing and re-visiting they way the longer chapters feel, so I keep earlier, longer drafts. To give the UK editor what she wanted, I had to highlight the first three chapters within my pdf version and then copy and paste it onto a fresh word doc. Sounds easy right?

But then the editor in me, couldn’t let it go. I read the three chapters upon pasting them and realized there were formatting issues. AND a few words were missing. To add to my mounting anxiety, I found one tense that didn’t quite work. Of course, I decided at the last minute, that one entire sentence of the final paragraph of Chapter 1 had to go. Then I decided, what the Hell, I really need to re-visit the ENTIRE manuscript.

Why? WHY? WHY am I like this? Seriously?

Two mocha’s later (which I had given up last month) I’m in a complete caffeine panic. I’m thinking: “No wonder one of the agents at the conference passed on my book! She saw the tense problem. She didn’t like the last paragraph of my first chapter either.”

Dread entered my heart and anchored my ass to the chair. I had to fix this.

“Wait!” I screamed out loud in my empty house. It dawned on me that I had sent the exact same three chapters to two other agents—my top choices—before making the changes I made today. That was bad. Really bad.

I need a rewind button.

A mild version of PTSD crept into my veins. I couldn’t breathe. And I’m a damn yoga and meditation teacher. So I started deep yoga breathing and mentally repeated “This isn’t 2015, chill out.”

In 2015 a friend who has written 10+ novels introduced me to her agent. This agent, who works at one of the largest agencies in the world, loved the synopsis and first chapter of my 2nd novel Uriel’s Mask. But I had made the rookie mistake of thinking my novel was ready for a major agent to read in its entirety, before I had edited it many, many times, and with only a few friends as beta readers. This agent had me sign a contract that I wouldn’t submit to anyone else for six months. I was beyond ecstatic. And then seven months later, she passed. It was too long. The word count needs to be under 90,000 words for first time writers. Why didn’t anyone tell me that? And, it had too many characters. Uriel’s Mask is a southern, semi-historic family saga. First time authors today need short books, with short chapters and with few characters. Again, that wasn’t told to me in my MFA program, and my favorite authors often have long, deliciously complex novels. Sigh.

When I was getting my MFA in New York, it was a completely different publishing landscape. My first novel, Lucifer’s Laughter, a psychological murder mystery inspired by my days as a newspaper crime reporter, had been my MFA thesis. And it got accepted by the first agent I pitched after sending only a few chapters. That agent was the amazing Anita Diamant Berke, who had rep’d VC Andrews, author of the Flowers in the Attic series. A few weeks after she signed me, she died of a heart attack and her entire agency went into a tail spin. I was broke and owed more than $40,000, so took a job as a magazine editor in Atlanta, met my husband the first week there, and then life got lifey with kids, editing jobs, etc.

Enter today. I’ve returned to writing fiction. But in 2015, I had the mentality of someone submitting to agencies in 1996—thinking my work didn’t have to be perfect before going to an agent. It does. Today’s submissions need to be ready for publication. And first time authors should be warned that agents like to pitch short novels with character-driven, not-too-complicated plots. They are easier to sell to publishing houses who don’t want to invest and lose too much on first time authors. It makes sense. But I didn’t completely understand that in 2014/2015. I do today and am grateful to the handful of agents who let me know.

My third novel is shorter and with two main characters. It has tight, easy-to-read chapters. I paid attention to the agents’ advice. So today’s discovery of a few missing words, a wrong tense and a lengthy sentence, sent me into a complete panic. Sigh.

I have to let go. I will not re-send up-dated chapters to the two agents now considering the work. That might send a red flag. Or be confusing. But maybe I should?

The kids are in bed and I feel the urge for another mocha and an all night editing binge.

HELP!

 

 

The Reality of Writing of a Novel

I SO adored the blog post by Emily Gould, “How Much my Novel Cost Me.” We must have been sisters in another life. Honestly, I can relate to the experience of getting an MFA in New York. Of having “broke” trust fund friends. Of augmenting my writing by teaching yoga, for very little…And, of course, of the reality of how much debt one can go into when writing a novel. My first book, the thesis of my MFA program, cost me almost $40,000…and then after my agent died, I took an editor position at a magazine in order to pay off debt. I can also relate to the ticking clock need to have a baby! Insert two children and nearly 10 years of NOT writing fiction, and now I’m back at it, working on my 4th novel.

If you are an aspiring author, read her post as she outlines her years in debt, what she learned and how her book deal came about. Yes, you may go in debt, even if you get a book deal. And no, getting a book deal won’t guarantee your happiness. It might, however, help you to feed your cat, to pay off debt and to start the next novel without too much fear of not being able to buy groceries or make the rent for a few months while you write!

 

Enjoy. Thanks Emily for the wonderful post. (Read it HERE.) I look forward to reading your next book!

 

View story at Medium.com

Dating Survival Tips for Single Moms: It’s a Jungle Out There! (So don’t swing out on a vine above the online dating swamp solo!)

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This is how I feel after many of my first dates that I meet via online dating. Dating post divorce is really, really hard for anyone. And it’s especially tricky for the full-time single mom. But I’m CONVINCED, that having full custody of my kiddos has saved me from dating a slew of selfish men, or men just seeking to hookup. (I can’t tell you how many men on the first date have said: “Wait, you don’t get one weekend off? Ever? How are we going to have sex later?”

Sigh. I’ve been a single mother for 9 years. My youngest is 9, do the math. I’ve had dark, dark days, I won’t lie. I found yoga, meditation and am now writing my 4th novel and teaching yoga and meditation. I don’t often write about the trials and tribulations of juggling single parenthood anymore, as I don’t like for it to define the essence of who I am. But when it comes to dating, lets just say, there’s no way that it can’t. I’ve made SO many mistakes over the years, and have comical and scary experiences under my belt that have helped me now that I find myself dating again. I’ve come up with a list of tips and strategies to help anyone—but especially the newly single mom—navigate the crazy dating process with dignity and with their center in tact. Try to enjoy the process. And look at each blind date as just one more experience to help you gain clarity. After divorce, many women lose sight of who they are, what they are worth, and what they want. We can also get mired down in the full-time, exhausting parenting process, losing our gratitude and our excitement for life. But now is your time to grow and flow. Never, EVER settle. Never think lesser of yourself or accept disrespectful treatment from any man whose view of you is that you are a handful just because you have chosen to raise children and put them first. Each guy you say NO to, gets you closer to finding what you’re seeking. And maybe that just might be your self worth and your own inner light. Re-acquainting with your dignity, your love for life, your sense of power, center and inner-goddess is  worth much more than any man (or woman). No person will bring you happiness. It’s an inside job. Let your inner light be the beacon that attracts the souls to you who will love and respect you—showing your children how women should be treated.

Here are some more useful dating tips:

  1.  Never introduce men who haven’t made a commitment to you to your children. EVER. It doesn’t matter if you’re frustrated about not being able to spend the night together. He needs to commit to being monogamous with you and you need to get to know him better before the oxytocin bliss of sex takes hold of your brain. Trust me. Don’t take a man home for your kids to discover. Your children are the most important people in your life and any man who doesn’t understand that needs to GO. I’ve made many mistakes in this lifetime, but my children have only met one man in nine years, and I became engaged to him. I’m very proud of that when I see the harm that comes from friends who introduce many men too soon.
  2. Don’t have sex before you really really know a man is kind and trustworthy and would be a good example for your children down the road. Period. Maybe that sounds harsh? But think about it. Women get addicted very quickly to men through oxytocin bonding via sex. They, however, do NOT. Once we bond, we make a slew of excuses for our slack men who aren’t treating us well outside of the bedroom and ignore red flags. (Read this interview with Dr. Pat Allen, relationship expert, author of NYTimes best seller Getting to I DO and coach for TV series Millionaire Matchmaker to get more advice that will blow your mind! She was my divorce therapist, LOL and granted me this interview to help me on my first venture out into the dating world. I wish I had heeded all of her advice!!)
  3. Before you venture onto an online dating site, write in a gratitude journal daily for a month.  That’s right. Write down what you are grateful for every day. Some days might be hard, but you can write: food, bed, water. Write down at least three things. Start to create a vibration of gratitude before you go out into the dating world. It will help you notice straight away, even on first dates, men who are mired down in negativity. Shed yours and theirs will stand out in stark contrast. It will help you move on.
  4. Meditate every morning (or night if you have very young children). Go to Headspace, or The Chopra Center (sign up for Chopra’s 21 day meditation challenge!) or DavidJi (who started Chopra’s challenges and does 40 day ones on his own!) to find free guided meditations. Start small, do a 10 minute one daily. Put on your headphones and listen. Why? It will help you connect to your intuition. And you’ll need your intuitive voice to speak to you when on dates. It will help you avoid narcissistic men and help you to break patterns, such as being attracted to men who are controlling or mired in addiction, etc.
  5. Play with yourself. Yup. Get your sexual vibes flowing. Why? Because you can. Because you’ll realize that you can satisfy yourself and it will be easier to say no to the hot man with 6 pack abs, but who would wreak havoc on your family due to his heavy drinking, or negativity or whatever. You are a goddess and deserve to be treated as one. So treat yourself to an orgasm and remind yourself. 🙂
  6. Practice mantras in the mirror. You can find many on LouiseHay.com. I adore her. Women who have been through nasty divorces can often internalize and believe the negative things said about them (men too, but this article is to help my fellow moms!). Look deeply into your eyes and say “I Love You. You are worthy of love and deserve to be happy.” There are many other mantras. It will feel silly. But do it. Feel loving and lovable before you go out into the dating world!
  7. Be honest on your online dating profile about what you want and who you are.  Don’t post pictures of yourself in a bikini or in provocative poses either. Even if you look great, try to not give the impression that you’re looking to just have casual sex, ok? Men, in my experience over the last 9 years, like to prey on single moms. The rationale is that we don’t have sex often, are probably desperate, and aren’t available for a relationship anyway. I can’t tell you how many men (including married men) have asked me over the years if they can be my friend with benefits. And that’s fine, if that’s what you are looking for. If you want to find a partner, however, and find love and respect, hold out.
  8. Talk on the phone first before meeting men who you connect with via online dating. Why? You need to feel good about this person before getting a sitter to spend more time with them. I can’t tell you how many dates I’ve had (while paying a sitter $18 / hour) that resulted in me listening to a man complain for hours about his ex or about his divorce, etc. I’ve coached so many men to forgive and forget and to remember the ex is the mother of his children and to embrace a more positive existence. It’s exhausting. You and I have spent too much time creating a positive life for ourselves. Don’t waste hours on a negative person AND pay for it!
  9. Don’t respond to every man who messages you via online dating. You may think it unkind, but don’t. Be brutal. If there is NO way you’ll go out with a 21-year-old who is looking for a MILF, don’t respond. If a man is 65 and you’re 35, don’t even respond. Know what you want. If someone brags about being in the NRA and voting for Trump, and this offends you, ignore his hot gym pictures. If you want to find someone who is spiritual, ignore those who say they are an atheist or a nihilist. You get the idea. This is the time for you to find someone you can have a soul connection with. If you don’t want to be with a drinker, say so in your profile. Why weed through all the requests from those who drink and smoke weed daily if you don’t want that in your house?
  10. Practice saying NO. A lot. Men, after the 2nd date, often pressure us for sex. Sometimes on the first date. It’s too soon. Say no and walk away knowing another man is out there. Say it to yourself: “Another man, a man better suited for me, is out there.” A single mom I know lamented to me last week that she’d date anyone at this point “because who would want to date me? I’ve got 4 kids!” My heart broke for her. Don’t make that mistake. You are better off alone, than letting in a potentially abusive man into your home. Make space for someone better and hold the space in your heart, knowing you are worth it.
  11. Don’t let ALL of your friends set you up. Even those with the best intentions, wind up making bad choices for you. Two years ago one of the producers of Queen Latifah Show put me on air. He’s a neighbor and his son is my son’s friend. He knew I was having trouble finding a man I could relate to and he wanted to set me up with a friend, but did it by having me be a contestant on Latifah’s Dating Game. See article hereThe Queen Latifah Show Season 2
    It was really funny when my friend’s friend ended up choosing the 60-year-old contestant over me! You just can’t win them all. In the end, even friends who set you up, often make the wrong choices for you. It was humbling.
  12. Exercise more and drink less. Get the endorphins going. Yoga, walking, jogging, biking…whatever works for you. Find a way to get your endorphins going and feel good. Try not to drink vino when you are stressed or alone. It might make you more likely to drunk text someone not good for you, or to give out your number to a bad boy you met online, when you ordinarily wouldn’t. It may sound like I’m being a bit strict, but you’ll feel better and get closer to what you ultimately want—a soul connection and a partner.Good luck and enjoy the ride! For more advice, read one of my most popular articles where I interview a knowledgable LA psychiatrist: How NOT to Date a Narcissist.

    Here’s to Love & Light & Enjoying the Journey,
    Laura x

The Artists Guide to Finding Time Step 2: Trust the Universe

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Photo by Chloe Moore Photography

Hmmm, what does THAT mean, I imagine many of you fellow writers and artists asking. When a yogi says you need to “trust the Universe” it can sound vague at best and spiritually superior at worst. But as a writer for 25 years and a yogi for only 8, I can tell you that trusting the Universe requires specific actions in order to create more, produce more, and live in an abundance consciousness that can create a vibration of attraction and opportunities. And it’s a daily achievement, as each day will be different. But if you, like me, are focussed on your art and know that it is what you are born to do, then trust your instinctual voice and your universal guides—even if you aren’t completely sure you believe in their existence. If you do, you will banish your FEAR that is ultimately what is standing in your way in the first place, right? The FEAR of not being good enough. The FEAR of ‘who am I to think I can be X (insert: published, artist with gallery exhibit, musician with record deal, etc.)? The FEAR of what if I don’t make it? The FEAR of what if I can’t pay rent?

These are all serious concerns, for sure, but what you focus on grows. I’m not advocating everyone throw caution to the wind and go bankrupt, but there is more time in a day than we actually realize. There are ways to find more time to slip into a creative space on a daily basis. There are ways to minimize fears, produce more effectively and live with more joy—while you’re reaching for your dreams. This way, you can enjoy today, the moment, so much that reaching your goal almost doesn’t matter. Why? Because you’re living your art, living authentically, and enjoying your life more. Here are tools that are currently working for me:

  1. Reduce the hours at work in your day job so you can focus more on your art. Over the years I’ve encountered this lesson time and time again. At one point, I left a high paying consultancy gig with a New York PR firm. Why? Because it was taking up all my time and I couldn’t actually finish my 2nd novel. (The first I wrote in graduate school moons ago, so this was my second attempt to return to fiction in more than 12 years!) I also recently let go of co-managing a yoga studio because the hours were long, the work labor-intensive in the heat (a hot yoga studio) and I was exhausted after taking care of the kiddos every night and not actually writing. So now I just teach yoga classes and write for magazines when an editor reaches out. Yes, the money is less, but I finished my 3rd novel and am now jamming on my 4th! My days feel yummy. I enjoy the hours I write and I love the balance I’m creating.
  2. Start your day early and set positive intentions. If you aren’t a meditator, consider it. You can literally download free guided meditations from DavidJi (one of my favorite human beings) or from The Chopra Center and just listen for 15 minutes with ear plugs. All have messages to light up your agni (internal fire) and help you tap into your intuitive, creative center to manifest your dreams. We often have to let go of mental baggage, or negative fear-based programming from childhood, that trigger our less-than thinking. We have to let go of that and embrace our Divine right to infinite possibilities.
  3. Commit to your art every day, even if some days that means a mere 30 minutes. This is hard, I know. Some days I don’t write or work on my fiction. Those days are usually consumed with a sick child, or work from a day job that required extra time. But I’ve realized that the more I try to stick to this goal, the easier it is to achieve. By letting go of social media and 15 hours a week at a low-paying day job, I’m able to find an hour or more every day to write or pitch an agent, or enter a contest…getting me closer to my goal of publishing traditionally.
  4. Put aside art-focussed weekends. If you are single without children, you can really do this. 🙂 If you are married or a single parent, this can be a little challenging. I’ve asked my former mother-in-law to watch the children for weekends when I needed to get away, flying her across the state to help, even if I just went down the road to write. I’m also considering swapping kiddos for a few hours every other Saturday with another single mother who is an artist, so we both garner more time and our kids get to play. Find creative solutions!
  5. Take breaks to exercise & breathe deeply. This is important, especially when fear is creeping back in. If you can’t afford yoga classes or a gym membership, exercise in your house, or jog or take a walk. And breathe. Take 3 deep breaths, holding them at the top, then releasing slowly, visualizing all the stress melting away with the breath.
  6. Pay attention to the energy you surround yourself with. If you listen to the news first thing in the morning, or read your social media scroll, or check your email—before meditating or planning out your day—you may sink into a fear-based mentality. If you often talk with relatives or friends who doubt your abilities and don’t support your artistic endeavors, think about cutting down your time with them. Start to allow in other artists or supportive friends if you aren’t all ready. Find them via Meetup groups or start your own. Cut off the news and turn on music that inspires you when you’re home. Create the energy that fosters creativity.
  7. Read from the experts! Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird and many others, is beyond inspirational. Check out her Ted Talk video: 12 Truths I learned from Writing and Life. Steven Pressfield, author of 17 books, is another favorite of mine. The Art of War is Pressfield’s eye-opening book that explains why artists and writers often stop or get discouraged, just when they’re on the verge of a breakthrough. He describes it as the Universal Law of Resistance that manifests in procrastination, self-sabotage, fear, arrogance, self-doubt. His weekly advice can be emailed to you as well, a helpful tool of inspiration!

Believe in yourself. Be good to yourself. You are on this planet for a reason. I’ve come to believe that art is the universal language of love and compassion. It is a worthy endeavor. Anyone who tells you differently, must never have cried during a movie or at the end of a novel or when finding that perfect song that speaks to his soul. And isn’t that sad to imagine? To me, nothing trumps that soul connection via art.

Have a beautiful day. As always, thank you kindly for reading my humble suggestions and prose.

Laura x