Author Sean Murphy Newsletter, writing tips, contest, & more
March 29, 2010
Greetings from the Land of Adobe. Yes, with the spring thaw comes mud season in New Mexico (not so bad, we build houses with it!), as well as book news from me and Tania, an article on writing, your writing news, a contest, and a winner from last time.
We’re closing registrations this week for Write to the Finish 2010 – a long distance course by phone/email for writers working on book length projects. It’s a small group, starting April 10, and we’ve already got a great bunch of writers on board. A limited number of spaces remain, so if you're interested in joining us, email me back right away and we’ll send info.
Thanks for subscribing to my newsletter – scroll to the bottom to unsubscribe if you no longer wish to receive it.
1. THE WRITER’S LIFE
If you’ve noticed I've been somewhat out of communication, I apologize... 2009 saw me me working to set up a new Bachelor's degree focus in Creativity and Consciousness through UNM-Taos Bachelor & Graduate Programs, and establishing a non-profit with seminars for the public, called The Sage Institute for Environment, Creativity, and Consciousness (see www.sagetaos.com for more info). Andrew Harvey, the well-known mystic, activist, and author of over 30 books, led our debut seminar in Sacred Activism, and will return in August 2010.
I also taught fiction and NM Culture at the first ever SMU-in-Taos fall semester at Ft. Burgwin, and this semester I’m teaching Playwriting for Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. So if there's anyone I still owe a return e-mail too, many apologies!
Somehow in the midst of it all I completed a book of short stories which I'm currently sending around to awards and contests, am over halfway though my next novel, and also pulling together a collection of my own talks on Zen practice.
The sad news is that my much-loved Zen teacher John Daido Loori passed away in October at the age of 78, after an 18 month struggle with cancer. As a tribute to him, Tricycle Magazine asked me to write an article and collect stories from some of his other students. If you want to take a look you can see it at:
Needless to say he was an enormous influence in my life, a close friend and mentor, and he will be much missed.
2. NEWS FROM THE QUEEN OF DUKE CITY
In addition to her journalism for magazines and publications such as Writer’s Digest Books, Tania wrote a guidebook to Albuquerque for Globe Pequot, due out this April – Insiders’ Guide to Albuquerque. As a joke I’ve started calling her the Queen of Duke City. Unfortunately she’s taking this rather seriously and now wears a ristra crown when I serve her tea in bed ;-)
Tania also won the 2009 New Mexico Press Women's Excellence in Communications Contest for Short Fiction (for a story published in The Saint Ann’s Review), and for Food Writing (for articles published in Local Flavor magazine) and won 1st and 2nd place plus an hon. mention for her radio interviews with authors. The winning SOMOS Writers on Radio interview with the amazing poet Levi Romero, broadcast on the NPR-affiliate KRZA and KTAO stations, is free to hear online. (http://www.culturalenergy.org/mp3/somos_romero7nov08.mp3)
The interview later placed 3rd in the National Federation of Press Women awards; her fiction and food writing both took 2nd at the nationals.
Info on Tania’s books etc at her website: www.WriteOnDeadline.com
3. WRITE TO THE FINISH 2010 – all locations (online and by phone)
Starts April 10, 2010
Finishes January 2011
Led by Sean Murphy & Tania Casselle.
Long-distance 9-month course for writers working on a book-length project, by email/phone, so you can take part wherever you are. Course includes a full MS critique, online seminar days, mentor calls, craft lessons, etc.
Open to fiction or non-fiction writers who are serious about making significant progress on a book-length manuscript. Nobody can write your book for you, but Write to the Finish supports you with craft, community, focus and feedback. Start a first draft, finish a manuscript in progress, tackle revisions/polishing, or work on submission materials for a publisher/agent if you are at that stage and are pursuing publishing.
WE ONLY HAVE A FEW REMAINING SPACES and are closing the group this week to prep for first April 10 email & phone seminar, so email me soon for dates, details, & course outline.
Other workshops and courses will be updated at the Workshops page on my website.
4. THE TIME OF NEW WEATHER CONTINUES
My mass market paperback edition of The Time of New Weather won best novel in the 2009 New Mexico Press Women's Communications Awards, and best novel of 2009 in the National Federation of Press Women's awards. (No, I haven’t had an operation. Awards are open to both genders!)
If you want to find out what's up with the weather you can find out at a cover price of only $6.99... Imagine Brave New World or 1984 with a dash of humor and a pinch of romance. (If you send books to me with an SASE, I'll inscribe them to you or anyone else, and you can save big on your next round of gifts for the readers in your life!
5. GOOD NEWS FROM YOU
Good news from writing students and friends. You might recognize some of the names if you’ve taken Write to the Finish with us or other workshops, so you’ll know that these writers have worked hard at their craft and REALLY deserve their successes! Congrats to:
-- Jessice DeVoe's book The Topping Bar: My Quest for the Family Dinner was accepted for publication by NorLights Press, due out later this year. In our next newsletter we should have a link for that – Jessica’s very entertaining book of essays and recipes will be a boon for families juggling multiple diets from vegan to food allergies.
-- Kristen Kittscher's wickedly funny Young and Yang won first place for a young adult novel manuscript in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association 2009 Literary Contest.
-- Charles Stein was a finalist in the highly competitive Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers, Nov 2009, for his story No Reply.
-- Jo Ann Barefoot was a quarter finalist in the 2009 Amazon.com/Penguin Breakthrough Novel Contest. Jo Ann also received an honorable mention for non-fiction in the Santa Barbara Writers Conference 2009 contest.
-- Robin Sheerer enjoyed her first fiction publication (hurrah!) in Chick Lit Review (Nov 2009).
-- Sherry Hardage won second place in the Writer's Digest 2009 Poetry Competition with her poem Los Alamos.
-- Char Huxtable's "Freeway Fiction" piece was published in the Pacific Sun and they also produced a video version with Char reading it (extremely well!).
-- Karima Alavi now has an agent for her novel In the Shadow of the Tombs, so we’re fingers crossed for more good news from Karima soon!
Tell us your writing news - To share with this extended family of writers and readers, drop me an email and say it's for the newsletter.
6. ARTICLE BY SEAN: ZEN TIPS ON WRITING
Because my much-loved Zen teacher, Roshi John Daido Loori, passed away in October, it strikes me that it might be a nice tribute to him to discuss a question I'm often asked: how my Zen practice has influenced my writing. Whatever your own orientation, perhaps you’ll also find some helpful tips in here too.
My practice has influenced my creative work in many ways, from subject matter (in One Bird, One Stone and The Hope Valley Hubcap King) to my whole approach to the writing process. For one thing meditation opens up the mind, makes it more malleable and free, less bound by habit and less afraid to go down unfamiliar pathways.
Also meditation has taught me how to stay with the writing process even when it gets uncomfortable, as it often does when facing blocks in a project. This is something I learned the hard way while writing The Hope Valley Hubcap King, which is part of why it took me 12 years to finish it – every time it became uncomfortable or I didn't know how to proceed I'd think to myself 'hmm... probably real writers don't ever feel this way.' Then I'd put the manuscript away for months, or even a year or more. Of course I was wrong – real writers often feel uncomfortable, or uncertain how to proceed, and once I'd learned this my writing process speeded up considerably. The first draft on my next novel The Finished Man, took less than six months to complete! What was different? I learned that the occasional discomfort of blockage and confusion is, for most of us, a natural and, for inevitable part of the writing process. (And in fact, part of life!) If you can do your best to face it and try to keep moving forward, it will eventually open up and you'll know how to proceed. This often tends to happen right when we're on the brink of a breakthrough, so I urge you to stay with it, even when the resistance becomes strong!
The next important lesson I learned from meditation was how to let go of negative voices – you know, all that scolding stuff we all have in our heads saying: 'you'll never finish it', 'you don't have anything new to say', 'it'll never sell anyway', 'there are too many books in the world already' etc. These are all versions of what I call the 'I suck' voice. Everyone has some version of this dark angel sitting on one shoulder speaking into our ear and telling us we're not good enough. Once we recognize that this is normal, that there's not simply something 'wrong with me' we can relax and not be so driven by these internal booby-traps. Why do these negative voices exist and persist? I don't know... perhaps it’s some built in social control mechanism to keep us in our places so we don't all rush out and write novels at once and leave the world to starve. All I know is that somehow they have to be overcome or at least bypassed if our creative spirit is going to gain its full freedom.
In fact, all of our thoughts, whether negative or positive, are only that – just thoughts. Thoughts are models of reality, not reality itself. They are conditioned by our past experience, behavior, and learning, and although the brain creates them in an attempt to be helpful, they're not always accurate. We can learn to observe them and judge for ourselves whether they're useful and appropriate to our current situation, or whether they're derived from some older time and place that no longer applies. Just because something appears in our minds doesn't mean we have to believe it, although it takes some effort and willingness to free ourselves from this habitual attachment.
In the process of meditation we practice letting go of our thoughts and returning to the present moment (often in the form of following the breath) again and again. As a result we become less reactive to our thoughts and gradually they lose their automatic grip upon us. Our lives become freer. The process takes time but it's worth it. In fact everyone who has ever achieved something great in their lives has had to learn in some way how to deal with the internal voices of doubt. Meditation is simply a particularly effective tool for doing this.
What freedom is available to us when the thoughts that arise in our minds cease to automatically drive our actions! Then when one of these self-defeating 'I suck' thoughts arises – 'it's all been said before' or 'it's all pointless', we can recognize it for what it is – simply a thought. In itself, it has no power. We don't have to believe it. A bumper sticker I saw not long ago said it perfectly: 'Don't believe everything you think'.
That's pure Zen, and great advice for any writer or artist of any kind (or for that matter, any government or religious leader)!
*** Feel welcome to forward this newsletter to reader/writer friends, but please don't copy any part to public spaces without permission.***
7. NEW CONTEST
Win a phone consult or a book. Send a few sentences/brief para on:
How do you deal with the 'I Suck’ voice when it rears its ugly head in your life?
We’ll feature some responses in the next newsletter (they may be edited for space) and one person will win their choice of either:
a) A 30-minute phone consultation with me (or Tania, your choice) on whatever you want to discuss that would support your next step forward, from big picture writing goals, to craft challenges and nitty gritty technical stuff.
b) A signed copy of any of my books. e last contest asked for:
8. CONTEST WINNER
The last contest asked for: One thing you learned about writing/yourself as a writer in the last year, and how you benefited from that discovery.
Winner: Denise Chadurjian:
“My characters in the story I am working on have seemed...well, somewhat wooden. Even to me. I have had trouble letting them speak and act freely. I think I have worked out why. It is the fear that imbuing these characters with some of my own traits and observations will mean that a rejection of them by the reader is a rejection of me. So I have been working on coming to terms with this and it has not been easy. I have realized that if I am going to be able to convince others that characters with all their flaws and failings are worthwhile I have to believe it first....”
Plus a couple of inspiring thoughts from:
“I don't have a disciplined writing schedule. Nevertheless, I completed a fairly lengthy novel last year, in addition to publishing some short stories and poems. My shameful secret? I've developed an addiction to writing fiction as a relief from the stress in my personal life. Entering the world of my stories and inhabiting the bodies of my characters, who always surprise me with their unexpected actions, is better than ingesting mind-altering substances. I emerge from the waking dream state of writing relaxed, alert, and better able to cope with leaking roof, the tax returns, the argumentative partner, all the petty annoyances of physical life."
Marie Delgado Travis:
“I learned that if you can get past the enormous hurdle of the first paragraph, page, chapter, etc., there is a point where the book starts to write itself and it ties in perfectly at the end, too, in ways you never imagined. (It also helps to have a wonderful writing mentor like Sean Murphy or Tania Casselle sharing their time, talented advice and pom-poms with you in the background)!”
Shucks, thanks Marie, but the main thing is your first point – and for that people have to get over the enormous hurdle first - ref the Zen Tips on Writing!
Wishing you a happy, healthy and creative 2010!
*** Feel welcome to forward this newsletter to reader/writer friends, but please don't copy any part to public spaces without permission.***