31 October 2014

Happiness and the Art of Storytelling: An Interview with Daniel McInerny

It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.
~ Patrick Rothfuss

Tomorrow marks the beginning of that madcap dash into the world of words and word counts: National Novel Writing Month – affectionately known as NaNo.  I didn’t sign up this year, but throughout the month of November, I’ll be highlighting authors, their books, and the writing process.

e all live in a story.

Some of us just happen to narrate our own stories.  We are sometimes called crazy.  Sometimes we are. 

We are writers.

And it is both our gift and our curse to live in the midst of a jungle of words – poetry intermingled with prose.  Some of our stories have tragic ends.  A few have happily ever afters.

But all some have moments of happiness and joy.  Moments, that if they are gathered up, would shine a light on the darkest dramas and mysteries.

Throughout the month of NaNo November, I will highlight different authors and their books.  Because you can’t become a good writer, if you aren’t a good reader.

Today marks the launch of a new blog series, The Happiness Plot by novelist, screenwriter, children's author, playwright,  Daniel McInerny.  This blog series focuses on storytelling and the quest for happiness and will be available as an ebook by the end of the month.

Join us in the La Belle library, where we’ve just sat down with a pot of Earl Grey.

Image: Google Images

Why do you write?
I write because I love to contemplate the human predicament through the means of beautiful language.

Name two mentors who influenced your writing.
My father, Ralph McInerny, and all my high school English teachers, who as a group were exceptionally gifted at teaching the fundamentals of writing. 

Name five writers you recommend (any genre).
Evelyn Waugh
P.G. Wodehouse
Flannery O’Connor
Muriel Spark
Walker Percy

What is the toughest challenge you face as a writer?
I struggle to be a more “seat-of-your-pants” writer, making up the story as I go along, line by line. This is an important struggle for me because my entrenched analytical habits (I hold a PhD in philosophy and taught in academia for many years), while immensely valuable, can also be a hindrance to creative work. Thus I am trying to learn not to plot and analyze too much ahead of the moment of actual composition.

Describe your writing process. 
I tend to get an idea for a story long before, sometimes years before, I actually begin writing a first draft. The thing often begins as a series of scraps and influences and vague possibilities that I collect in a notebook. It takes me a long time, and more than one false start, before I have a firm sense of what I’m doing, which is typically toward the end or even after the first draft.

What does your writing space look like?
Dreary.  Home office in the basement. No windows. Rickety desk with a broken leg. Horribly uncomfortable chair. Insufficient shelf space.

I can’t think of a more perfect place to write.

Your new series on storytelling, The Happiness Plot, begins today.  What inspired you to write this?  And what can writers (and readers) learn from it?
I really love James Wood’s little book, How Fiction Works, with its pithy 200-word sections.

It occurred to me that these sections were just about the length of a blog post and that Wood’s book provided a good model for a series of posts on storytelling structure. My contribution to all the “how-to” material in this area concerns the link between story structure and our human quest for happiness. I believe understanding this link allows us to tell more emotionally moving, intellectually satisfying, beautiful stories.
Daniel McInerny

The series is perfectly timed for those participating in National Novel Writing Month in November.  As soon as the series is done at the end of November, I’m going to collect the posts into an ebook, with the addition of some bonus material I’m sending out to the folks on my email list. I further plan on doing further blog series on other aspects of writing and the writing life. 

All this material is great for lovers of fiction as well.

Give 3 brief words of advice for writers.
Sit. Now. Begin

Anything new in the works?
Currently I’m writing a novel for adults as well as returning my play, The Actor, about the young Saint John Paul II’s subversive theatrical activities during the Nazi occupation of Poland, back into its original form as a musical. A producer has shown some interest in the work and right now I’m doing a revision based upon his and another friend’s notes.

Thanks for stopping by, Daniel!

To follow the storytelling adventure and to subscribe to Daniel’s email list to receive cool bonus content and a free storytelling consultation, go to  The Happiness Plot.

For more info on the Kingdom of Patria series for children, go to www.kingdomofpatria.com.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

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15 October 2014

Letting Go: Lessons from Kodiak and a Photography Party

You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don't have something better.
~ C. JoyBell C.

The Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop was incredible.  I went to write with 11 strangers, and I left with 15 new friends.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting my photos and thoughts on the workshop and on the beauties of Kodiak, Alaska.

am torn.

Ever since I returned from Harvester Island, I have felt pulled in two opposing directions:

Move clear across the country and live with a view of mountains.

Move further out to the country, but stay within driving distance of friends and family.

My week in Alaska was a gift, a break from the stress and emotional drain of living with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.  It was therapeutic as well ~ I haven’t cried that much in a long time (except maybe in my therapist’s office).  The unconditional acceptance and yes, love that I experienced from my fellow writers was surprising and healing.

And the views.  You know I’m going to mention the views.

But in addition to the peace and tranquility, my time cuddled in Kodiak’s majestic embrace also gave rise to some tough, potentially life-changing questions: 

Have I become too complacent?
Do I need to make a change geographically?
Do I want to move away from all I've known for a good reason? Or as an escape?
If I do move, do I have the strength to be a wayfarer for a little while?

All of these questions involve letting go: of old defense mechanisms, of old ways of thinking. Letting go of guilt - both real and imagined and that was placed on me by others.  Of old fears and self-imposed obstacles that kept my heart stagnate and locked behind a fortress so old and impenetrable, even my rusty key didn’t work anymore.

And then the winds of Uyak Bay blew around and through me, clearing my head of all those mental and emotional dust bunnies.  The Alaskan sun danced off the water and burned away the soot of fear and the broken bits of my past.  The beauty of the mountains and the ocean and the wildlife grabbed me by the heart and shook all those old locks and bars until they crumbled at my feet. 

It was both exhilarating and scary as hell.

I don’t like change.  I don’t know anyone who does (well, except one of my sisters ~ she seems to move every quarter).  Change for change’s sake is not always a wise thing.  But change because it is time and nothing, absolutely nothing, can truly remain static ~ that kind of change is an impetus for growth. 

That kind of change also means that I will have to let go of something good in order to embrace something better.  I don’t have any answers to those questions yet.  So my meditation and self-reflection for the next 5½ months is that no matter where the road takes me, I will be able to accept it with peace and humility.

And the strength to remain present to the journey.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

This post was inspired by the Abbey of the Arts Photography Party.  If you would like to join us on this visual meditation, post your photo at the link above, or join the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks on Facebook.

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09 October 2014

Kodiak Alaska: Highway to My Comfort Zone

Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end...because in the end, it shows you a whole new world!!
~ Manoj Arora

The Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop was incredible.  I went to write with 11 strangers, and I left with 15 new friends.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting my photos and thoughts on the workshop and on the beauties of Kodiak, Alaska.

ne of the bibliophile-esque pages I follow on Facebook posted a Venn diagram of a bookworm’s comfort zone.  It was a hoot and I could identify with many of the items or actions listed.

So of course I shared it.

Before long, one of the friends I made while on Harvester Island commented, “Wonder how the HI attendees’ comfort zones would compare pre and post our adventure!”  I loved that idea.

So of course I made a pre and post diagram and shared it.  Now I share it with you.

My Comfort Zone - Pre Harvester Island

My Comfort Zone - Post Harvester Island

Oh, what a difference a week on a remote island in the bush paradise of Alaska makes.  And I cannot wait to do it again! 

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

What is in your comfort zone and what would it take to push you out of it?

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01 October 2014

The Birth of Autumn

Fall has always been my favorite season.
The time when everything bursts with its last beauty,
as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.
~ Lauren DeStefano, Wither

The Harvester Island Wilderness Workshop was incredible.  I went to write with 11 strangers, and I left with 15 new friends.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting my photos and thoughts on the workshop and on the beauties of Kodiak, Alaska.

appy New Year!  L’Shana Tovah!

Autumn is often seen as a time of death and decay ~ leaves falling, ground hardening, summer’s harvest withering.  And, yes ~ all that is happening.

But if we stop there, we’ve only read Autumn’s flap copy.*

Our societal myopia of focusing almost exclusively on the surface, the first impression image, extends to our perception of the seasons.  Signs of negative change ~ the brown grass, the fading sun, the gradually colder weather ~ become all we see while we forget that all that decay on top seeps underground and feeds the seeds and beneficial bugs for next Spring’s buds and blooms.

Autumn Leaves and Apples
© Igor Yaruta
Maybe I am in a privileged minority, but I have always thought that the new year should begin in Autumn, and the images the word conjures are as far from death and decay as fresh apple cider is from hard cider.

Explosion of colour
Reading by the fire
Wool blankets
Flannel shirts
Apple cider
Constant Comment tea
Reciting poetry in an ancient graveyard

Autumn is a time of ripening, harvesting, cider pressing, storing up for the coming winter.  It is a season of celebration of life, not a time of sadness and mourning the end of summer.

So grab an apple, dip it in caramel, and join me amoung the worn gravestones.

To Autumn
William Blake

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stain’d
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

*Flap copy is the term used for the book synopsis on the inside of a dust jacket.

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