Writers: Do You Podcast?

Are you a writer? Do you podcast? Have you been considering doing a podcast? Have you considered doing a podcast on your writing? I could go on with these questions. For some time now, I’ve been considering doing a podcast. But every time I look into it, I become overwhelmed by all the technical aspects (due to the fact that I’m NOT the least bit tech-savvy). The whole process of putting together (producing) a podcast, uploading the podcast to a hosting site, making it available to Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), learning Audacity or Garageband (Macs only)…gives me the willies. I’ve been told more than once I should be speaking to audiences and I admit I feel very comfortable talking into a mic (I’ve recorded before). But the thought of me having to do ALL of it without a producer or at least a friend with some broadcasting know-how seems a hurdle too huge to jump at the moment. But the urge grows within me.

Currently, an average of 1 BILLION (that’s right) people listen to podcasts, and roughly 47% of Americans listen to radio, according to Edison Research and Triton Digital statistics. Think about it; we have the whole world at our disposal if we can find the right stories to tell, find the right niche to fill. That’s the tricky part, I imagine. With millions already podcasting out there (and the numbers grow each year), how to not be the veritable needle in the haystack with your message? I suppose it all goes back to the same process we go through with our writing and the marketing of our books/work.

So I Googled podcasting sites and a here’s a short list of some good ones: Podbean, Libsyn (I personally like this one), Buzzsprout (like this one, too), Podomatic, Sound Cloud, Conclusion, and Archive.Org. Podbean wants $200 per month to let you monetize your podcast (in other words, ask for a ‘donation’ so you can afford to keep producing shows); that seems a bit steep for my taste so I’m looking elsewhere for an affordable option.

Buzzsprout has a page, How to Make a Podcast, where they literally walk you through every step of putting together a podcast and it’s jam-packed with good information. For writers unsure of which topics to cover in their podcasts, here are two of several suggestions from the same page:

  • Repurpose Your Blog Content Are you a blogger? Finding a great podcast ideas is as close as your blog. Take your readers’ favorite posts, add extra content, and *presto* it’s a podcast. Bonus: you’ve already tested this content and know it matches your demographic’s interests.

  • Recreate Popular Content With Your Spin Even if you don’t have a blog, you can use a similar strategy. What is your target audience reading and listening to? Improve it! See lots of complaints on popular posts? Create a podcast that provides the missing pieces.

This is the year I think I will make the leap from writing blogs on writing (and other topics) to recording podcasts discussing a variety of topics (social, environmental, and economic issues) that will hopefully cause folks to think more critically. I miss dialectic and want to create a podcast where I invite intelligent discussion, discourse, and argument. And in the process, perhaps, create a small revolution (change) in the way we perceive this world and our places in it. 

Remember:

“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius. And it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Unknown

Writing From the Heart

In recent posts I have alluded to a big change in my life coming this week. The time is nigh and I find myself in a quandary, which is why I’m late with my weekly post. Because I’m about to go through something that will (once again) turn my life upside-down for a bit (which could be good or bad, I just don’t know yet), I decided to share an excerpt of my personal memoir, written many years ago. It was written on the heels of both the 9/11 tragedy (I was working in NYC before, during, and after this life-altering day) and my mother’s death from cancer. The experience nearly wrenched my heart from me (emotionally and spiritually, anyway) and I find myself, once again, in a similar situation. The book, as it turns out, was a cathartic exercise for me, thus my title for this week’s post.

I would never accuse any writer of not writing from the heart; but I think the writing is different when the heart hurts in some way. Perhaps the catharsis of writing it down on paper helps. I’ve struggled with my writing this week (actually I’ve avoided it altogether). The words seem stuck in a nether world and I’m unable to retrieve them, as the pain is blocking my “juice,” which I wrote about in my last post.

Here it is then:

“As I move through writing about a difficult phase in my life, I spend a good amount of time thinking about universal energies. What lesson was I not learning that the universe brought me to the brink and forced me to look over the edge? I read a column in a local newspaper discussing this very subject. It seemed fitting because I’ve had a bit of writer’s block off and on lately. I believe there is no such thing as a coincidence. The universe has its own way of letting us in on the lesson/s to be learned in its own good time. One lesson I have learned: part of the reason I ended up losing so much was that the universal energies were telling me it was time to go, time to let go, and to rebuild, and move on, even though I felt I wasn’t ready. The universe, however, knew better. Fear keeps us in stagnant lives and relationships and we’re unwilling to move along even though we’ve done all we could with them. One way or another, the universe manages to bring us face to face with our issues and we are forced to work with them, whether we want to or not. If we put off dealing with our demons, they will only rear their ugly heads again in another situation farther down the road, in one possibly far worse than that which had been avoided out of fear of confrontation.  As it said in the column, “same lesson, different package.” I make a conscious effort to remember that I wasn’t being punished – though I certainly felt that way many times. Instead, I was freed from a life that was not working, not fulfilling my destiny, whatever that may be. It became time to explore the unknown, to step outside the box as it were, and to seek out new adventures and challenges.”

I really needed to read this again and I hope it helps you as well. 

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.”

– the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

 

Is No Pain Really No Gain?

I know artists are supposed to write/paint/create from their pain, but it never works for me. If anything, it makes my writing worse, downright pathetic. What sounds good or interesting or adventurous in my mind when I’m sad, depressed, or stressed never comes out good on paper. Do any of you have this experience or can you work/create from pain? Do you feel that personal pain gives your work a certain je ne sais quoi?

The other morning I daydreamed instead of getting up to start my day at the usual time. I ran a scenario through my mind in relation to both a book I’ve contemplated writing (international suspense) and some life-changing events currently making my life way more challenging than I’d like (or can handle). The dialogue was West Wing-esque, one-liner banter between me and a male protagonist who I turned into not much of a protagonist after all. When I did finally arise, I thought about putting it on paper later in the day (I like to write after dinner, as I am now), because it sounded like it would be a good alternate beginning to the suspense novel.

The words flowed from my fingers. I struggled with a bit of the dialogue, trying to remember exactly how I’d envisioned it earlier, to get the feel of the scene just right. I tried to seamlessly weave it into the suspense book as a prologue to what I’d already written. That didn’t work. So I thought I’d try it out as a separate chapter that would explain my how main character got dragged into the mess happening in the book. That didn’t work either. As I read and re-read the three or so paragraphs, the words seemed lifeless, dull, and inadequate. The main character (a facsimile of me) sounded even worse on paper than what had been in my mind that morning. She was supposed to be someone down on her luck who happens across this man and together they become involved in a tangled web of deceit complete with mobsters, money laundering, extortion, and murder. I thought if I used my personal angst as the main character’s, she would come off as brave and high-spirited, facing danger and uncertainty. Instead, she came off sounding sullen and sarcastic, and completely unlikable. Absolutely paltry. Even I don’t like her and I’m practically her!

 I haven’t deleted it (yet) but I have decided to stick with the original opening. Maybe I can work it in somewhere, maybe not. Maybe I’ll keep it for now, as a reminder of what not to write. Or to not write at all when I’m not in a good place. For me, no pain is definitely gain – it’s when I have the most “juice.” Seems I write best when I’m feeling on top of the world and nothing or no one can bring me down.

Free Publicity: Exposure and Perhaps More

In early August, I wrote a blog on getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In continuing with this theme, Sandra Beckwith of Build Book Buzz recently followed her first blog on this subject with a second and just as informative blog on getting trade journal publicity. I admit, since my last post on this topic, I have not increased my trade journal exposure. But it’s probably due to the fact that I was a crime victim and have been focused on protecting my identity and life (update: so far, so good, but I still want my Curacao pen back).

Sandra is quick to point out that publicity is NOT advertising (duh), because you can’t buy it or control it. But it is free exposure (currently in my price range) and you do sort of have to throw caution to the wind and cross your fingers at the same time. She offers six great tips (plus two bonus tips for getting and responding to interview requests):

publicity2

1) Review several journals and issues of those journals to find out what kind of content they use. Look for a ‘news brief’ section where book announcements can be added, or whether they utilize guest columnists. Do they review books? Maybe they’ll add yours to the list.

2) Check out the editorial calendar – you can find it online or request it from the editor. That way you’ll know what goes in the publication and when it goes out to the public.

3) Make a list of how you can contribute to the publication’s content. Personally, I’m not much of a list-maker so this one won’t get me far. I’ll know whether or not I want to write for a publication once I review its contents.

4) Find out who the contact person is for a specific topic/department (if applicable). Last thing you want to do is send an article to a person who doesn’t handle the section/topic you write about. Check the masthead (also called the impressum) for the necessary information.

5) Map out your strategy – this includes a press release or an offer to send a review copy (again, make sure you have the right contact person). In her article, Sandra offers a link for writing a press release.

6) And finally – send your pitch (okay, this is the one I need). If you’re pitching an article or guest column, make sure you know what they want (subjects) and what they use. Again, a cool link on how to email a press release to a journalist/editor.

Bear in mind that there is no guarantee from this endeavor; however, I’m willing to roll the dice and see how it plays out. I got lucky with one trade journal and perhaps I will again. Sometimes you just need to be patient and build momentum.

Writing as One Profit Center

I was in the mood to read a book today so I snagged a book I’ve been working my way through from the bookshelf. I’ve mentioned this book before – Making a Living Without a Job by Barbara J. Winters. I’m in a bit of a pickle at the moment (I won’t bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my life will be turned upside down as of end of this month, which could turn good or bad). I’ve been racking my brain on how to create more of what Barbara calls Multiple Profit Centers or MPCs. It’s her theory that by creating MPCs, you increase your potential for prosperity and a more balanced life. Each profit center/idea/ job/entrepreneurial adventure has its own rhythm; over time, you create a steady stream of income because while one or two MPCs may experience a lull in business, one or two other of your MPCs will be on the upswing and generate income.

She even mentions getting paid to write articles. Personally, I’ve not had much luck in this area (the getting paid part). In a previous blog, I wrote about getting exposure for your work via trade journals. In my experience, this type of exposure doesn’t pay (if it does, please let me know how – and now!). But I would enjoy writing articles for other publications; problem is, I’m not sure how to go about doing that (query advice anyone?). If any of you have had some success in this area, please share your experience and expertise so that we who have not yet tasted that kind of success can take a step closer.

Something else in her book got me thinking – and it made perfect sense. This is from her chapter on creating MPCs and is a quote from author and former London Business School professor Charles Handy (she quotes him in her newsletters), who advocates developing MPCs:

“Think of it this way, ” he advises. “You will have a portfolio of work like an architect has, or like your stock portfolio, no prudent investor puts all his savings into one stock, and no sensible business goes after only one customer. Yet that’s what you’ve been doing with your work and talent all these years….Now is your chance to go ‘portfolio’: to diversify your interests and do some things for money, some because they interest you, some out of love or kindness, and some for the sheer hell of it. And, moreover, it’s your chance to flex your portfolio to leave you time for all those other things – for travel, for discovery, for golf, for dining.”

Wow. That brought me back to one of my early blogs, Be Careful What You Wish For. I just realized I have already created MPCs, except that they don’t yet pay the rent. I guess I need to come up with a few more MPCs to cover the downswing of the current ones. It’s just that I feel lost amid the millions of voices already out there clambering for everyone’s business. All I can come up with at the moment is that I (and you, too) need to find a way to STAND OUT by doing something DIFFERENT with my (and your) skill set. Only then can my writing become a Multiple Profit Center that truly pays (emotionally and financially) – and supports my no-more-nine-to-five lifestyle.

What’s your MPC? 

Losing Your Mind on Social Media?

This morning I came across an interesting article in one of my LinkedIn Groups, Book Marketing (amidst so many others that are not – at least to me). The author, Kirsten Oliphant, writes about the overwhelm many of us experience these days with Social Media (SM) and how to choose which ones will work best for each of us. As I read the article, knots formed in my stomach. I admit I’m not tech-savvy in the world of SM and just reading about it gives me the willies. She makes a good point, though, at the beginning, about struggling with mastering SM and balancing the marketing we do there with finding time to write.

She provides three options: 1) Hire out (don’t know about you but I certainly can’t afford this option), 2) gripe and procrastinate (welcome to my world), and 3) master and manage (oh, here come the willies again). While she makes valid arguments for all three, I’m focused on the third, master and manage. If only I could learn, understand, and utilize at least a couple of SM to my advantage as a writer.

Good news: Kirsten provides a free resource guide describing many platforms in detail, so that even I, the un-savvy, can understand and utilize SM. She also provides sensible advice: choose one or two platforms you’re comfortable with and start with those. And maybe use only those, as she does advocate not going hog crazy and trying to be everywhere and everything on SM. This makes sense to me, as it allows for time to write (and work a full-time job since writing has not yet completely replaced the J-O-B lifestyle).

Still, I’ve not heard of some of the SM sites she mentions and I’m likely to stay with what’s familiar (Facebook, etc.). I’m toying with opening a Twitter account; have any of you found it to be useful for your published works? I’m just not a big fan of being “followed” by anyone, and evidently I have to follow others first for that to happen. And by nature I tend not to follow others – rather, I prefer to take my own, less-traveled road, so I don’t know if Twitter is right for me. Which means I need to read her booklet in more detail, because who knows what I may discover. Perhaps I’ll find a SM site that doesn’t overwhelm or confuse me; perhaps I’ll discover an inroad to a new marketing adventure. Regardless, I know I’ll learn something that can help me to the next step in the process, all the while not losing my mind over the there-are-too-many-options-to-choose-from menu of Social Media.

You can check out the full article here.

A Writer At a Loss for Words?

I haven’t written anything this past week – I’ve been at a loss for words. I got sidetracked by a personal incident. Early last week, my car was vandalized while on my morning hike. Evidently I had not hidden my bag (containing wallet, phone, etc.) behind the grocery bags as well as I’d thought; thieves threw a large rock through my car window and took my life. I’ve spent the last seven days trying to protect my identity from further damage. Only time will tell if I’m to be lucky.

When I had to fill out the Missing Property Report for police, I realized how little attention I’ve paid to the “little things” in my life – like what exactly was in that bag. It struck me that I (and probably many of you) go about each day in a certain state of blissful ignorance about some of the little details in life. Details deemed unimportant until they need to be recorded on a Missing Property Report and given a value that isn’t sentimental, like the worn leather key ring embossed with a silver Indian headdress  – bought at a small craft fair while on a motorcycle ride with a good friend, about twenty years ago. Gone. Or the pen I’d purchased on a trip to Curacao, covered in red leather and carved with a picture of their famous swinging bridge. Gone. Or the new spring green note pad for taking notes while on the road so I’d remember to do whatever needed doing when I got home. Gone.

I want my key ring back. And I really miss that pen. And damned if I can remember what I wrote in that notepad, to remember to do when I got home.

Turns out cell phone technology has its drawbacks, too. WhatsApp doesn’t transfer your contacts to a new number. So all of my international friends who did not supply me with their emails? Gone. And my contacts list of phone numbers? That’s gone, too, (or so I thought) because I had to change the number but luckily found a backup of contacts in my Lookout app – which doesn’t transfer contacts to a new number. I had to add them each manually. All two hundred of them. Notepad? All my mileage and book promo expenses from the last four months were on there and that doesn’t transfer either. Like the Six Million Dollar Man, I, too, will have to re-build (and if I could run like the Six Million Dollar Man, I would’ve caught the buggers as they sped away from the scene).

I’m actually taking this all in stride. I’m a little surprised that I have not had some sort of mental breakdown over it, though I admit I was tempted to let myself fall apart. No, I decided to forge ahead with renewed resilience, determined to find the thieves who tried to take my life from me (not that it’s much of one and I wouldn’t wish it on another person – except for maybe the idiot thieves who stole it from me, maybe they could do better with it).

So I’m thinking the lessons here are: 1) don’t bring my bag/purse with me in the car when I go on a morning hike (now I stick my new, smaller wallet in my fanny pack and take it with me), 2) live a smaller life with less tech-y toys and apps, and/or 3) let go of the past. Cherish the here and now, cherish what family and/or friends you gather around you (especially during a trying time as this), and keep cherished items OUT OF YOUR BAG/PURSE.

Hmmm….not at such a loss for words as I thought…wink emoji

A Feast of Words for Your Palette

I just finished reading a lovely little book titled “A Feast at the Beach” by Willaim Widmaier. In the book he shares childhood memories of his summers in Provence, France (what a terrible childhood he had) with his grandparents. What I enjoyed most was that he included some delicious, old-world, mouth-watering French recipes that his grandparents served in their cozy cottage in St. Tropez. The recipes made his story come more alive for me while I envisioned the smells, tastes, and colors of the delectable dishes. It’s the kind of book I’ve not read often but enjoy when I happen upon one. (This one was a freebie offered at a recent writer’s meetup, so of course I took advantage.)

Another book I discovered several years ago, titled “How to Cook a Dragon: Living, Loving, and Eating in China,” details the life and food adventures of a Japanese woman (who is also a journalist) living in China. It’s a poignant tale laced with the most scrumptious recipes for authentic Chinese cuisine not seen here in America, unless you’re Chinese and cook them at home. Aside from the food, the story is delightful and a highly recommended read.

I enjoy books like these because they bring together food, family, friends, and their stories. I love to eat good food, share it with family and friends, and write/tell stories. They are the parts of life that bind together families, friends, and occasionally strangers. Not to mention that the authors are generous enough to share fabulous recipes with the world – and I am more than happy to take what they have given and add them to my kitchen repertoire. Language, food, and family are fundamentally tied together and books like these remind me of that. Makes me want to plan a family picnic and have everyone bring a family recipe dish. 

The books I mentioned here also use language (names and ingredients of the recipes, conversations between characters in the books) as part of the story – in these cases, French and Mandarin respectively. Because I also love languages (and have studied/dabbled in several over the course of my life), I see how it connects food to culture and people. It has always fascinated me, the way culture/language develop around the various cuisines of the world. That’s why I like Anthony Bourdain’s shows (on CNN) – he connects food with people and their cultures, and makes the food seem all that much more delicious.

Do you have a story to share where food is the centerpiece? I started writing a draft for a cookbook/family photo album years ago and it’s still a work in progress. But I love that every time I work on it, I’m taken down memory lane and get to re-live so many of the delicious made-from-scratch recipes I grew up eating. If you have a story like that to tell, don’t keep it to yourself, share it. Share it and let the world revel in the smells, tastes, and colors of your life story.

 

Showcase Your Work: Trade Journals

I don’t know about you, but I’m overwhelmed by all the internet options for marketing books. Where to begin? Which to choose? How much to spend? On a weekly basis, I scour newly discovered sites hour after hour, page by page…then I’m back to feeling overwhelmed, because there are far too many options. I’m driving myself crazy with agida (see this  post) while trying to keep track of all the marketing options and whether or not they’ll work for me.

Then a book blog I subscribe to sent an interesting post this week on marketing our work in, of all places, trade journals. What a great idea! idea light bulb

Why didn’t I think of that before? Oh, wait…I have…at least once…which is why my work (actually, an excerpt of my nutrition book) is currently published in Qi Journal magazine. Based on the blog’s suggestions, I opened my ‘ideas notebook’ titled “The best way to get something done is to begin” and started making a list of trade publications in my field. Why didn’t I think of this before? 

 

Qi Journal Summer 2016

All too often, I get caught up with and excited by the new opportunity and forget to continue down that same road to increase my chances of success. Do any of you experience this? You know, the can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of thinking? Or maybe the internet is finally frying my gray cells to the point of no return from all the TMI (too much information)…

My trade journal list is a work in progress; I have to do a bit more research but am hopeful of the success I will have, based on my good luck with Qi Journal. When their Summer issue came out, a fellow acupuncturist contacted and informed me that she loved the article/excerpt and purchased a copy of my book. It was the validation (from a professional colleague) I sought for work well done. And it has provided the confidence to submit my work to other journals in my profession.

If you don’t have a ‘profession’ to speak of, don’t be afraid to send your work to trade publications that are related to your subject matter, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. Take a chance on an area where your target market is already defined – and ripe for the picking.

 

 

 

 

You Have Too Many Adverbs, We Need To Operate ASAP

A funny, enlightening view of one of my less-than-desirable writing skills (and many others’, I’m sure). Read on…

P. S. Hoffman

Yesterday, I went to the Doctor’s to have my brain tested. She came into the room, staring at her charts, shaking her head.

“P.S. Hoffman, I’m afraid I have some bad news.”

“What is it? What’s wrong with me?”

View original post 502 more words

Subliminal Messages and The Call of the Word

Do you notice how your writing takes on a life of its own once a project is started? Do you wonder how you got started on it to begin with? I only recently realized that happened to me. After completing the grueling self-publishing process of my nutrition book (Agida/Agita No More), I thought about writing another  book on Chinese dietary therapy, detailing how foods can heal specific Western diseases. Then I summarily dismissed it. I was exhausted mentally and felt I did not have it left in me to start another painstaking journey down the nonfiction road. 

Everywhere I went, people asked me, “How do you treat disease X, Y, Z?” when I talked about/marketed my book. I wondered if perhaps it would make sense to write a companion book, to clarify how to eat to heal Western diseases from an Eastern perspective. Once again, I quickly dismissed the idea and bristled at the thought of going through that process again. Something nagged at me – it happens to a lot of writers, I will assume – and ideas formed in my mind about how I could actually write the book that so many seem to have hinted they needed.

As I write this blog entry, I’ve already completed chapters one and two of the new nutrition book and am now working on chapter three. So much for avoiding agida. But the call from so many turned out to be a subliminal message that I finally heard (okay, so I’m a little slow on the uptake). I have found this book a bit easier to write since I’m keeping the formatting style from the first book. That means all I have to do is plug in the information, as some of the information is repeated from the first book. I love the copy/paste function! 

It was a great release to finally get the myriad rambling ideas out of my head and onto paper (though more continue to take shape since I’ve made room up there). Subliminal or not, it has occurred to me that, simply put, writers must write. Regardless of the subject, we must give in to ‘the call of the word’. 

My advice: Pay attention to the hidden messages all around you. Let them be your muse, let them inspire you to answer your ‘call of the word.’

Success and Failure: The Yang and Yin of Writing (& Life)

I’m more than a bit of a fatalist. I start each day at my computer by checking a particular set of websites: my blog (Mestengo Books), my Fan pages (ROWT, 5 Element Nutrition), and my LinkedIn page. Before I do all that, I check my “fate” for the day at ifate – I leave it up to the Universe as to which type of fortune-telling card shows up (I-Ching, Tarot, or Runes). Today, it was an I-Ching reading that I found relevant and is my lesson for the next twenty-four hours: Hexagram 47 (this link provides a fuller explanation).

In summary, the lesson of Hexagram 47 for today is about oppression and hope – that even during difficult or bad times we must dig down deep, not fear failure (the inevitable downswing of the life/writing-cycle), quietly embrace it, and carry on with the understanding (hope) that all will be better again (the inevitable upswing of the life/writing-cycle). Does that sound like your life or your writing? It certainly does mine. 

It got me to thinking – since I’m licensed in Chinese medicine and I see the world through the lens of Yin/Yang relationships (Universal Law of Unity of Opposites) – that oppression, defined in the hexagram as “a form of troublesome worries,” is a kind of Yin/failure that sooner or later will turn into Yang/success in the cycle of life/writing. Some days the words flow, other days they don’t. Today I struggle with finding the right words for this blog while I wrestle with a work-related decision that must be made. I can’t wait for that upswing…

I’ve also been struggling with marketing my new book (due mainly to budget constraints and lack of marketing acumen) and am looking at non-mainstream options. I know it won’t be a NY Times bestseller and I’m okay with that – it’s not what I really want anyway, because it’s not where I fit. It’s been a slow climb. Recently, however, I’ve had the good fortune to be published in Qi Journal, a wonderful publication highlighting Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Chinese medicine, martial arts and Chinese culture in general. As a result, sales of my book increased. And I’ve been invited to publish with them again (and possibly ongoing). It was a chance email I’d sent to  them inquiring about writing an article for them (because I was looking for different avenues for book marketing) and ended up with the opportunity to publish a portion of my book. Talk about Yin moving into Yang!

Failure  happens to everyone. It’s how you handle the failure. Ride it out, like a big bump in the road and you’ll come out the other side wiser, and perhaps, more successful. In whatever way that means for you.

failure should be our teacher

 

 

The Legend of White Thunder

For those who are not yet familiar with my work, I’m posting a FREE PREVIEW of a portion of one of my favorite chapters from my first novel adventure, Rescue on White Thunder. Originally, this particular character was not a part of the story; he came along at the right time and the rest of the story developed around him and his Native traditions. It’s the part of the writing process I enjoy most – the unexpected meanders and turns we writers take on the storytelling journey to entertain and enlighten.
 

Chapter 3: The Legend of White Thunder

(Amazon, copyright 2012 D. Thunderhawk All rights reserved)
 
“Leonard Laughing Bear is a six-foot man in his mid-fifties with a stout build and broad shoulders designed for carrying the weight of the world. Hair as thick as a Berber carpet flows freely down his back and is streaked with gray between strands of deep black. The lines on his face are a roadmap to the life history of an experienced elder. His left knee is bowed outward so when he walks he tilts a little to the left. His eyes are small, dark beads that glow with an intensity and hint of a deeper knowing, and are bordered by prominent cheekbones that seem carved from rock. He is a soft-spoken man with a velvety-toned voice that draws people in to listen attentively. He is a gifted storyteller.
three flames bullets 
Upon entering the library, Annie followed signs that read “Story Hour with Laughing Bear – All Ages Welcome,” down the east hall to Reading Room A. Inside, children of various ages vied for space up front and closest to a small stage set with a mission-style wooden chair. A leather fringed bag rested on the seat next to a microphone and stand; a gourd rattle and rain stick lay on the floor next to the chair. Adults, most likely parents of the excited children, Annie assumed, leaned against walls at the rear of the room on either side of the door. Annie joined them, not knowing what to expect. There was electricity in the air. A moment later, Leonard Laughing Bear stepped up on to the stage from behind a curtained-off area and a hushed silence fell over the room. The children sat cross-legged and leaned in, their faces beaming with anticipation.
 
Leonard opened the leather bag and removed a deerskin wrap containing a bundle of dried sage and cedar and a large fan fashioned of six eagle feathers drawn together with rawhide – one for each direction, and the Sky Beings and Mother Earth. He lit the singed end of the bundle and fanned the sweet, pungent curls of smoke first over himself and then over the crowd seated before him, speaking in a language they did not understand. When he finished, he dowsed the bundle in a small plate of sand placed on the floor at his feet. When the bundle no longer glowed, he carefully packed away the deerskin wrap and its sacred contents. He pulled a hand-carved cedar flute from the bag and placed the bag on the floor. Leonard sat in the chair, flute in his lap, and pulled the microphone closer, adjusting the height for maximum amplification. No one moved or made a sound.
 
Leonard spoke slowly, ritualistically. “Welcome children, parents, everyone, to Story Hour. My name is Leonard Laughing Bear. I am also called Wahúnkh-têshi, Keeper of the Spirit Cave. The sacred medicine bundle and prayers have been passed down to me by my mother’s people. My people, the Uşkéwah , have lived on this land for more than four thousand years,” he emphasized, sweeping his arm over the attentive crowd and gesturing with four fingers, “under the watchful eye of Washīshi Tetŭ and his children, who live on White Thunder Mountain in the Spirit Cave. Now I know many of you have heard the story of the Thunder Beings and maybe some of you do not believe, but I tell you, they do exist. So I will tell you the story of the Thunder Beings and how they watch over us humans. My mother and her mother before her, and so on back through time, have been the guardians of our oral tradition and now I pass it on to you.”
three flames bullets

“It came to pass long ago, before there were white people, when my people lived in peace and harmony with the land,” he began, leaning forward, sweeping his eyes across the front row of children, who seemed to barely breathe as he spoke, “When the Great Thunderbird, Washīshi Tetŭ, came to live on White Thunder Mountain.”

“It was during the Moon of the Drying Grass,” he continued, “when warriors were heading home from their hunts. Women readied for tanning the hides of animals the warriors brought back with them, and prepared a tipi for smoking the meat that would provide food for the people in the long winter that was to come. Others harvested roots and mushrooms.”

 Leonard paused, as if in deep thought, then continued, a note of foreboding in his voice. “One day, two of the young women, Woman With Fire and Talking Bird, were gathering mushrooms and wild turnips on the edge of their winter camp. Storm clouds raced in to cover the blue sky, leaving Woman With Fire and Talking Bird in darkness.”

three flames bullets
Leonard didn’t skip a beat. “Woman With Fire, a name given to her because she was strong-willed and outspoken, looked up to the sky and saw Nahünķpt′a, the Night Rider, a dark and powerful bird with red flames for eyes and talons so sharp they could tear a human to shreds with one swipe. Nahünķpt′a was a selfish creature who wished for dominion over all the lands as well as the sky, and he would kill any human who took from his land.” Leonard closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath as he vividly remembered how his mother used to tell him the story of the Evil One Who Was Dropped from the Sky.”
 
 

Evoke, Awaken, and Enlighten with Your Writin’

The inspiration for this blog came to me as I hungrily devoured the middle chapters of The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo by Kent Nerburn. This is the third in a trilogy of books he has written at the request of an American Indian elder named Dan (not his true name but Ken keeps it from us for good reason). It’s been some time since I’ve been so moved (emotionally and spiritually) by a story told by an exemplary storyteller. I realized that whether we write fiction or nonfiction, it’s important to captivate your readers and leave them wanting more.

In the first book of the trilogy, Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder, Kent beautifully details his trips to the Northern Plains region to meet with the Indian elder. I’ve never been there but I can clearly picture the landscape, thanks to his exceptional descriptive writing style; it’s as if I were there with him every step of the way, emotionally and physically. He continued to mesmerize me in the second book, The Wolf at Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey Through a Land of Ghost and Shadows, where his adventures into Indian country continue, and so does his brilliant narrative.

This one particular paragraph from the first book spoke volumes to me:

Because of this, I saw something else in that roadside enclosure. I saw a piece of the earth – a huge and silent rock – enclosed in a pen like an animal. I saw the living belief of a people reduced to a placard and made into a roadside curiosity designed for the intellectual consumption of a well-meaning American public. In short, I saw one of the most poignant metaphors for the plight of the Indian people that I am likely to confront in my entire life; the spirit of the land, the spirit of the people, named, framed, and incarcerated inside a fence.

Isn’t that what it’s all about for us writers? To evoke images, awaken a sense of imagination, belonging, or participation in the story, and enlighten us in a way that transforms? It’s what I try to do but whether or not I succeed is purely the opinion of my readers. Yet I keep on writing with the hope that some of my work – be it fiction or not – will take the reader on a ride to a land or place or dream they’ve not before been. And want to go again.

Armchair Experts and Me

More thoughts on conscious writing:

What can I say, I’m on a roll….

I’m on LinkedIn and so are a lot of other people. A LOT. Probably explains why the few groups I joined  seem to be brimming with what I call “armchair experts” (any more than that seems a waste of time and TMI for me). Don’t misunderstand, some (perhaps many, I haven’t taken a poll) are successful with their work. But many (or perhaps some, I still haven’t taken a poll) are not – but think they should be, based on their expertise. (And why haven’t I heard of these experts?)

One of the groups  – Book Marketing – sends me a weekly digest of (too many) topics being discussed. I’m amazed (and often overwhelmed) by the varying opinions (remember, we’re all experts on our opinions) on how to market one’s work, publish to the masses, find that secret to getting the world to recognize our work, etc. Sometimes the advice seems ridiculous, sometimes it helps. Mostly you have to “read and weed” through the junk to find the proverbial needle in the haystack that will help advance your writing/work. 

One of my top pet peeves is (and has always been) people who talk like they know when they don’t. I refer to them as “armchair experts (AE).” Here in the U.S., the number of AEs appears to have grown exponentially with the advent of social media sites. Or is it my overactive imagination, mixed with a pinch of cynicism and a dash of arrogance? With so many of these AEs online, it seems they have solutions to my problems – both personal and professional. In my (expert) opinion, there is a lot of preaching about what one “should do” but how many are asking “Do you want my advice?” in the first place?  I’m reminded of a poem of sorts I have stashed away somewhere in storage, on the definition of a friend, and this is one piece from it: a true friend is someone who does not give advice without your request.

That’s called preaching.

One definition of preaching (as a verb and in secular text) is “to do this in an obtrusive or tedious way.” So i looked up obtrusive (an adjective, for context): “having or showing a disposition to obtrude, as by imposing oneself or one’s opinions on others.” (I added all the italics.) How many people start their sentences (verbal or written) with some form of “you should…”? The moment I hear that sentence, the tone in the voice, and watch the body language, I think – uh, oh, here it comes. The preach. The “I-know-just-what-you-need-though-you-didn’t-ask-me” monologue. No faster way to get me to leave the table, the room, or the website/blog. If you haven’t taken the time to ask (then truly listen), then you don’t know what I need (or want). You can’t assume I want to hear what you have to say, no matter how wise or beneficial your words may be. Let me first ask.

It’s rather like a famous diet (yes, more conscious eating metaphors) – The Paleo Diet, The Virgin Diet, The South Beach Diet, and on, and on… As with these famous “diets,” some of us will succeed in following the diet, others will not. And some will find the courage to take our own roads with our writing and learn the accompanying lessons, since it’s about the journey, not the destination, after all.

Any thoughts? (Yes, I’m asking…hee hee)