About Time

time to daydream for writing

This essay was written by Elizabeth Simons. 

My best ideas come through daydreams.

They come when I’m doing something else, and seldom appear when I’m sitting in front of my computer.

Don’t get me wrong. I write things down. Usually at sporting events. Or concerts. Or honky-tonk bars. But when I haul out the scraps of paper the words seem stale, as if the thoughts had run out of air. “Cute blond chick with fetching dimple sips margarita and flirts with handsome cowboy” becomes a puzzle. Where was that going? A tale about the young lady? The cowboy? The Margarita?

Great ideas come when I’m driving, washing dishes, or doing laundry. They float around in thought balloons as I do my daily tasks. I have every intention of writing them down. I even have a daydream about that: I’m in front of the computer as brilliant ideas bloom on the screen. I’m confident and productive, and my concentration is never broken by telemarketers.

Unfortunately, the daydreams and ideas dissolve the minute I sit down to write. The great idea that came while brushing my teeth turned out to be a very ordinary thought with no redeeming value.

So how does an organizationally challenged person like me bring these daydreams into existence?

In her book “Making a Literary Life,” Carolyn See exhorts me to write a thousand words daily—roughly three double-spaced pages five days a week, every week—without fail.  Implying, I suppose, that the act of writing brings ideas to birth.

That’s all well and good, but what about if you’re a perfectionist?  I shape every word in every sentence, fitting each syllable into a finely tuned matrix of prose that will reflect the brilliant thought I had several hours ago at the grocery store.

A thousand words? Impossible! A more facile writer could knock those out in less than two hours and still have time left over to play tennis with her agent. Me? I’d be slurping coffee at 4:00, eyes glazed, staring at four bedraggled paragraphs and wondering where the time went. A glance at the clock tells me I need to make dinner. Afterward, while loading the dishwasher, I’m flooded with creative ideas.

Ah, the burden of chores!  How do successful authors write such vast quantities and still have a life? They have to eat and sleep and brush their teeth, too, but do they have to clean the house? Do laundry? Go to the grocery store?

As I dig through the freezer for pork chops I wonder if J. K. Rowling ever had to tear herself away from the computer to fix dinner.

Would I be more organized and productive if I had a cook and a maid and a laundry service? Or would I just spend more time walking around the house sharpening pencils and daydreaming about the novel I’m about to write featuring the dissolute cowboy who seduced the blond girl with frozen margaritas, no salt?

I see hours in the day as markers for things I need to accomplish. I’m unable to sort out the things I love to do from the things I don’t love to do, so I end up categorizing writing as another tick on my to-do list. When I finally do get around to it, I treat writing as if it was just another chore, hurrying through it so I can get to the next item on the list. The joy of creation dissolves like a daydream.

Why do I engage in this kind of literary self-sabotage? Some of it comes from an ingrained sense of duty that tells me I’m not worthy to breathe if I don’t finish the dishes. But most of it comes from fear. Fear of completion, because an unformed idea has potential. It can be anything. A finished work is . . . finished. It sits there, inviting criticism.

So there it is. I see I’ve now written myself into a corner. In the words of Lady Macbeth, it’s time to “screw my courage to the sticking place.” Prioritize that to-do list with “write 1,000 words” at the top. Take the risk of turning possibility into reality, then introduce that reality to a wider readership. If I don’t do anything I won’t fail. But I won’t succeed, either.

So I have to produce more work.

Which means I need to stop beating time to death and relax. There is time for everything.

It’s about time to invite the daydreams to stay.

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 Elizabeth Simons is a writer who lives in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. She is the author of “Dancing With Words,” a creative writing course she wrote for the University of Missouri’s online curriculum for advanced middle school students. She also edits manuscripts for publication at Prosecraft. You can see samples of her writing at Words By Heart. Elizabeth is currently making peace with her muse and is working on her novel “To Die For.”

Photo: Some rights reserved by epSos.de

Supporting Characters Who Deserve Their Own Books

huckleberry finn supporting characters

This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.

Protagonists are fine and good. Protagonists are necessary. But what happens when, for whatever reason, they’re more than mildly disappointing, not to mention less-than-interesting? If we’re lucky, there’s a supporting character (or a few) around to pick up the slack and keep us interested.

Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, the author comes to the same conclusion as the reader, and the said supporting character eventually moves to the forefront to claim his rightful place as a protagonist in future books. Of course even when these literary sidekicks don’t get their due, they manage to steal the show in a big way, helping heroes and making sure readers stay entertained.

Here are some favorite supporting characters from modern bestsellers and literary classics.

Luna in the Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling

Often portrayed as seriously strange and something of a space cadet, over the course of the entire series, Luna is revealed as brave and loyal, not to mention more entertaining and less whiny than the boy wizard himself on many occasions. It seems safe to say that many bookworms would happily devour a book that was all about Luna.

Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Forget Romeo. He’s rather fickle (he is after all, in love with Rosaline at the beginning of the play) and boringly tragic (or is it tragically boring?). Mercutio, on the other hand, is bawdy, tempestuous and irresponsibly aggressive. If it weren’t for his death at the hands of Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, Romeo wouldn’t have killed Tybalt, and Romeo and Juliet may have ended up happily married, and where’s the fun in that? Besides, it takes a strong character to carry off a pun as he dies.

Rue in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Rue is a nice compliment to Katniss’ sometimes sullen cynicism in the first book in Collin’s best-selling series. Young but not innocent or foolishly trusting, Rue is kind, smart, and fast and easier to sympathize with than Katniss and Katniss’ affection for Rue is a big part of what makes Katniss leap off the page as a three-dimensional, compassionate protagonist.

Huckleberry Finn in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Even Mark Twain understood that Huck was worthy of a book of his own. He’s way more lovable and interesting than spoiled, selfish Tom. Despite his unfortunate circumstances (poverty, an abusive parent) Huck has a strong sense of right and wrong and buckets of common sense, as evidenced by how he saves the Widow Douglas.

Magnus Bane in Clarissa Cray’s Mortal Instruments series

Clary and Jace, Jace and Clary–they’re so conflicted, so tortured, so in love, and part angel besides. Forgive me for preferring Magnus Bane. Who cares if he’s part demon? He’s one of the most entertaining characters in the series and is exceptional in that he’s a strong gay character written into a young adult series. Plus he’s got lots of crazy clothes, amazing magical powers, and even better one-liners – some serious, some sarcastic, but all entertaining.

Phoebe in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Phoebe is Holden Caulfield’s kid sister. But more than that, she’s someone we can trust in a book where Holden encourages to trust no one. She’s a surprisingly compelling ten-year-old, a heady mixture of kid and grown-up that instinctively knows her big brother needs someone to take care of him.

Leah in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

Forget all the other vampires and werewolves, Leah is the only female werewolf, and one of Meyer’s strongest and most believable female characters. She has her heart broken and has to live with it daily, but manages to stick it out to support her family and friends to the best of her ability.

At the end of the series, her love triangle isn’t magically dissolved and the question of what being a female werewolf means for her future is far from resolved, either. Meyer’s written novellas like The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner about supporting characters in the past. Perhaps in the future she’d be up for letting us know in no uncertain terms what happens to Leah.

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Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Robert – Jemimus.

The Ethics of Buying Books

book buying ethics

This essay was written by Amarie Fox.

As a millennial, I often hear from friends that they don’t feel as if they should be forced to pay for art. By art, let me be specific. I am encompassing everything from films, to music, to yes, even books.

Perhaps, it is the false sense of entitlement in the digital age – where everything is free and instantly available for download – which allows for this kind of thought process to dominate. I grew up in an age where I actively witnessed the mentality shift and lose focus.

Music and films became mere things, free domain, ripe for taking, simply because they were hosted on the web. At this point, even books have encountered that sphere. There are websites that specialize in sharing downloads for newly released titles. Of course, this is a legal conundrum in itself, but that should not be the first deterrent for why someone might stop and question what it is they are about to do.

What about considering who is behind the finished product? In a moment of selfishness, fueled by the urge for instant gratification, in the lawless Wild West that is the Internet, no one usually thinks outside of his or her wants or needs, though. For me, that is far more troubling, because the issue takes on additional meaning. It signals a lack of human awareness or connection. Both of which, I deem as contributing factors in choosing to support any type of creator.

Over the years, as a rebellion to this popular and never-ending rapid advancement of rampant stealing (let’s not call it by any other kind name), I have become a strong advocate for upholding the ethics of actually purchasing a physical piece of art. I’ll take the time to say, that yes, I acknowledge that for some people, this may not seem like a life shattering issue, but at the core, I feel it is. Especially if you happen to consider yourself an avid reader or writer.

Writers As Avid Book Buyers

One of the more ineffective arguments I often hear is: ‘All writers should read!’ Okay, this is a perfectly valid (almost obvious), but the truth is, I have known many people who call themselves writers and have not picked up a book in years. That is what I like to refer to as a closed-off, selfish writer, whose motivations are badly misplaced. After all, if you love the act of writing, naturally you should also love other writers. As much as writing is a lone activity, once something is published, it takes on a new communal meaning. It is speaking to a larger audience and begging for feedback and swapped ideals.

However, if you expect your words to be read, but then never absorb any other ideas from anyone else, you’re missing the point. You’re not a writer as much as you’re a lecturer.

In this same line of thought, if you’re a writer and have never purchased a book, or rarely do, you’re not any better than the writer who avoids reading. The two go hand in hand.

In 2010, one of my favorite literary magazines, Tin House, launched a campaign called Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore, which required that all authors to include a receipt for a recently purchased book along with the unsolicited manuscript. The new policy didn’t end there: “Writers who are not able to produce a receipt for a book are encouraged to explain why in 100 words or fewer. Tin House will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore or why he or she prefers digital reads.”

Now, this may seem drastic, even slightly dramatic, but let’s consider something vital in this initiative: Tin House isn’t saying they want a receipt of a book you purchased that was published by them. No. They are raising a different awareness and question. Why in the world would any writer not actively be buying books on a regular basis?

The way I see it is if you don’t, you have absolutely zero business publishing a book yourself. Writers should be aiming to support the institution that they, in turn, wish to one day support them financially.

Price of Books

I asked my friend, we will call him Jim for the sake of anonymity, “Jim, why don’t you buy books?” Jim looked at me as if I had grown four heads and said, “I’m not paying twenty bucks for something I’m going to read once.”

Now, I could have said many things to Jim. Most of which would have been curse words. This is because I will never grasp the whole “affordability of books” as an obstacle. Sure, I understand if you are a person who doesn’t write and wants to live a very minimalistic life. I have some friends who just don’t have the space for books, but again, they don’t have aspirations of actually becoming writers. They just love to read and when they can check a book out from their local library, they don’t see the point in buying one and reading it once. That is fine. Different strokes, right?

Humans are smart. When we see an obstacle, the goal is to work our way around it.  The price of a hardcover book should not stop you in your tracks. I have often told people, especially Jim, that I think books should actually cost more than they do. Thirty dollars, tops, for a beautiful hardcover? That is a steal. If you don’t believe me, calculate the number of hours the author actually spent writing the book – probably months and years. Then, add up the art team and typesetting crew, all the people behind the scenes that make a book look the way it does. Expenses of the finished creation hardly rival the amount of time and energy put into producing it, don’t you think?

Personally, a book represents many things. It is a gateway to knowledge, a time machine to the past and imagined future. It is even a mark in my memories, because I associate certain times with whatever I was reading. When I browse my shelf and run my finger across the spine of Milton’s Paradise Lost, I am transported back to a year ago, on the beach, where I was sitting cross-legged in the sand, listening to the ocean and the children building sandcastles.

I didn’t tell Jim this. It is my own personal connection with reading; he wouldn’t have cared to hear it. Instead, I brought up the idea of a book as art. Obviously, not many of us can afford to actually go out and buy an original piece of art. But, with a book, you’re getting that – the artist’s original visual interpretation of a text.

A lot of people refer to this as “book fetishism,” but in all honestly, people should care how a book looks. I condone judging books by their covers, because I have always believed that if anything is going to save the publishing industry, it is the ideal and promise of an attractive cover. Of tapping into our materialistic culture and working with it, instead of against it.

Plus, the publishers should owe us a certain amount of  accountability. They should be held to a standard. A high one. The consumer should not tolerate sloppy work, such as a blurred typeface, due to horrible printing job, or a binding that falls apart after several sessions of reading.

As for the innovation of the e-book and e-reader, yes, it does have its advantages. I won’t downplay the encouraging factors. At the same time, I won’t get into the debate of digital v. traditional: it is a dead end. Something that has certainly been discussed enough.

All that I would ask of you is to acknowledge the lower standards that come with producing e-books. A publisher and bookseller can choose to sell a certain product for a few dollars less than the actual book. This is the equation of robbery and seems outrageous to me, personally. I don’t see the point in paying $12.99 (or higher), when I can go out and get the hardcover for a few dollars more. Convenience? Probably. But, to what end?

No Perfect Reader

Don’t mistake this for something it is not. I am not claiming that there is a “perfect” reader. My real aim is to allow for us to examine our actions when it comes to a human creation. Ask: why did I do this something and not that something else? There is no free lunch, we all know that by now, but there is also no free art. There is a man or woman behind it, who labored away.

If you haven’t been a bookshop in a while, I beg you to go into one. I’m not saying lazily click your mouse and snag something off of Amazon. Leave your house and really browse.

As for the fear of buying something you won’t enjoy, you have to let that go. Take some chances in life; support something that is bigger than you or me.

If you’re interested in seeing some of my favorite “Beautiful Book” starter collections, I have included several links below, if available:

1. Penguin Drop Caps Collection (2012 – ongoing)

2. Penguin Clothbound Classics (ongoing)

3. Penguin Threads

4. Word Cloud Classics

5. Virago Modern Classics

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Amarie Fox is a writer and artist. She recently graduated with a BA in English Literature. She plans of making an origami swan out of her diploma. Her recent fiction work has been published by Little Fiction, NIB, and Literary Orphans. More information at amariefoxart.wordpress.com.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Devon Christopher Adams