The yeti crab and other Antarctic discoveries

By Midge Raymond,

I loved this moment in Ann Patchett’s novel Run in which a young girl, upon learning that new species of fish are still being discovered, says, “I thought it was done.”

Among the many amazing things about our planet is that species are still being discovered. And this is part of what made immersing myself in all things Antarctic so much fun while writing My Last Continent. So much is still being discovered there.

I can relate to Patchett’s young character — “It unnerved her, the thought that things weren’t settled, that life itself hadn’t been completely pinned down to a corkboard and labeled” — but on the other hand, there’s also a comfort about it, the idea that our planet contains so much more than we know (and that perhaps, despite all that we humans are doing to it, it might be able to save itself from us in the end).

One of the fun things I discovered while doing revisions for My Last Continent was the yeti crab, which thrives in the hot thermal waters under Antarctica and was described for the first time by scientists when I was in this revision phase of my novel. The yeti crab wasn’t the only discovery: scientists also described a seven-pronged starfish and a mysterious pale octopus among a community of other previously undiscovered life forms on the ocean floor near Antarctica.

I decided to work this hairy new yeti crab into the novel (I couldn’t resist), and even though the book is published and the research is over, I love keeping track of what goes on in Antarctica (50-million-year-old fossilized sperm is yet another recent discovery, as well as the fact that penguins feast on jellyfish). Due to its inaccessibility, Antarctica is most travelers’ last continent, the final frontier. And yet when it comes to science, in many ways, it’s a brand-new world.

 



Cat Editors: Susan DeFreitas and Akira Kittysawa

By Midge Raymond,

Meet author Susan DeFreitas, who writes with her feline muse Akira Kittysawa.

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I’ve had many cat editors over the years, all of whom were kind enough to spare me the worst of their critiques. But perhaps I knew that, in order to get my first novel published, I was going to need a firmer editorial hand.

Enter Akira Kittysawa—a tiny, somewhat shy shelter cat who, within six months of being adopted, had grown into sturdy, assertive alpha feline who, despite having almost no voice, was adept at bending the two humans in the household to her will.

Named after the great movie director Akira Kurosawa, this cat pulled no punches on my novel. Unlike other cat editors, who would meow politely from the floor until invited to weigh in on the manuscript—and would graciously accept being ejected from the process when my editorial instincts ran counter to theirs—Akira (Kira for short) insisted on being intimately involved in the editing process every step of the way.

 

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Her feedback was integral to turning Hot Season from a collection of linked stories from my grad school days into a full-fledged novel, and her determination to remain firmly seated on my lap—no matter how awkward this made typing—really gave me so much insight into some of my own characters, many of whom are just bound and determined to do some really inadvisable things.

For instance, my character Katie? She’s a freshman in college who wants to be an activist, and she’s decided to blow up the construction equipment of a developer that’s set to destroy a local river.

Her roommate Jenna, in her second semester, is determined to do something just as dumb, though probably less dangerous, in cheating on her long-term boyfriend with the hot new guy at school (though she does have suspicions that this new guy might be an undercover agent).

And their third roommate, Rell, may be older and wiser in many ways, but she just can’t seem to keep from trying to keep these girls from doing these dumb things they want to do—which, you might argue, is pretty dumb in an of itself.

All of these characters aren’t trying to cause conflict—they’re just being who they are. Just like Kira isn’t trying to cause conflict when she gnaws on my computer cord (just like she wasn’t trying to cause conflict when she destroyed the last one). She’s just a person who really needs other people to pay attention to her. (Unless she’s never seen them before; in that case, they are completely and utterly terrifying.)

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My cat editor reminds me, at every turn, that people really can’t help being who they are—and the conflicts that result are, ultimately, what drive effective fiction.

She also reminds me that characters don’t really show us who they are until they are completely and utterly exasperated with each other.

Thanks, Kira!

 

An author, editor, and educator, Susan DeFreitas’s creative work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Story Magazine, Southwestern American Literature, and Weber—The Contemporary West, along with more than twenty other journals and anthologies. She is the author of the novel Hot Season (Harvard Square Editions, 2016) and a contributor at Litreactor.com. She holds an MFA from Pacific University and lives in Portland, Oregon, where she serves as a collaborative editor with Indigo Editing & Publications.

 



Cat Editors: J. Bowers and Bama & Roland

By Midge Raymond,

Author J. Bowers, whose story “Shooting a Mule” appears in the new Among Animals anthology from Ashland Creek Press, writes with two cat editors.

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The first is “my” cat, Bama, a gregarious half-Siamese who was named by my husband after a character in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, though people who don’t know me well often assume that I must have some secret, inexplicable love for college football. Bama’s editing style is very paws-off. He’ll go under the desk and lace around my legs making this breathy purr, like a creepy phone caller. Really, he’s only after my swivel chair. It’s his favorite napping spot, and the office is off-limits to cats except when someone’s in here, so it’s a rare treat for him to spend some time “writing.”

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Bama’s mackerel tabby brother, Roland (also named for a Dark Tower character), is helplessly devoted to my husband. But since I tend to write while he’s at work, Ro settles for hanging out with me. I write with a pillow in my lap to cushion my wrists, but he thinks it’s for cushioning him. He will yell at me until I let him jump up, then swat my hands if he thinks I’m doing too much typing and not enough scritching.

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J. Bowers‘s fiction has appeared in The Indiana Review, StoryQuarterly, Redivider, The Portland Review, and other journals, and she is a contributor to Among Animals 2: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction. She is an assistant professor of English at Maryville University in St. Louis, MO. Visit her online at www.jbowers.org.



Cat Editors: Anne Elliott and Angus, Ava & Antonio

By Midge Raymond,

Author Anne Elliott, whose story “Strays” appears in the new Among Animals anthology from Ashland Creek Press, writes with three cats — six if you include the inspiration she has received from ferals in a colony in her Brooklyn neighborhood.

Angus is perhaps her best known cat; he has appeared on icanhas.cheezburger.com and has published a blog post. Of his editorial skills, Anne says:

Angus is the most senior of the three and wears many hats. He came from the rough streets of Brooklyn, where he was the feral cat that got picked on.  We discovered he liked laps very much, not to mention dogs, other cats, strangers, yarn — there is just about nothing this cat does not like. He had a crushed pelvis when we brought him in, which we did not figure out for at least a year, he was so good at hiding this old injury. But now he is healed, and his self-appointed job is to heal others and keep them company.  As for my writing, his job is keeping the other pets from bothering me by bothering them.  He is more of an editor-in-chief, managing office politics and getting involved where needed.

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Ava is the middle one and also came from our backyard feral colony. She was a pregnant kitten when we brought her in.  Now she acts as a consultant in my writing program, helping by offering me yoga instruction. I don’t always keep up with her fitness program, but I do find that a little physical exertion helps me to keep my writing flowing.

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Antonio is a real hands-on junior editor. It’s hard not to get distracted by his blue eyes and constant drooling when he sits on my lap to provide live critique while I compose. Once he settles down and stops chasing the cursor, work gets done. On the plus side, his comments are always supportive.  Occasionally he turns on the computer in my absence and types in edits on his own. He also acts as a teddy bear/dream consultant when I take a nap break.

AE Antonio

I would be remiss not to include some of my favorite outdoor cats, part of our Brooklyn colony, and all bear the ear-tip mark. As editors, they remind me to be grateful and to let my mind run wild.

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Anne Elliott is the author of The Beginning of the End of the Beginning, released by Ploughshares Solos in 2014. Her stories have also appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Witness, Hobart, Bellevue Literary Review, Fugue, r.kv.r.y, and others. Her story “Strays” appears in Among Animals 2: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction.



Time to write … but no inspiration?

By Midge Raymond,

It’s 2014.

You’ve made your resolutions. You’ve set aside time to write. You’ve got your writing space all set, you’ve got all the time you need — and yet, nothing’s happening.

What to do when you’ve finally made the time to write — but you’re not inspired?

First, don’t panic; it happens. This is one reason I so enjoyed this article on procrastination in the New York Times. Writing can be such a daunting endeavor that of course we put it off. Note, however, as this article points out, that by procrastinating we in fact get quite a lot done. (It just may not be our writing.) The article quotes Robert Benchley, the Algonquin Round Table member: “The psychological principle is this: anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.”

Another reason I think we writers may freeze up once we finally give ourselves the time to write is that we are so overwhelmed by all we feel we need to accomplish that we’re paralyzed. Whether it’s a writing retreat or just a few hours in the afternoon, we feel the pressure to create and that, in turn, kills our creativity.

So here are a few tips for you so that you can make the most of your writing time once you have it.

  • Also, at the risk of sounding like a broken record lately: Create a list of works. If you already have one, take it out and update it. When I did this last year, I finished four new short stories within a couple months. Now that we’re in yet another new year, I did this recently and am already outlining a new project. Thanks to Priscilla Long for the most brilliant idea for writers ever.
  • Check in with a writing buddy, your writers’ group, your therapist — whoever can give you a little boost, and/or point out reasons why you might be facing Resistance. (For more on Resistance with a capital R, check out The War of Art, which is sure to inspire you).
  • Treat your writing time as if it’s time on the job. You are here to do a certain thing in a certain amount of time. Be your own boss: Set yourself a goal, however big or small, and do your best to accomplish it. Whether it’s finishing a new a scene or revising your first few chapters, choose a task to complete. Just the act of getting started is likely to awaken the muse and get you into the zone.

Happy writing!

 



Shaking up old writing routines

By Midge Raymond,

I am not a morning person and never have been. And never in a million years did I think I would enjoy writing at sunrise (let alone before sunrise, which will be happening this fall when the time changes). Granted, I’ve been getting up early to write off and on over the years — in part because the cat wakes me up for food (he is relentless about this) and I figure I may as well be up writing than lying there trying to sleep while he throws his twelve furry pounds against the bedroom door — and in part because it’s often the only time I have to write. But this schedule has never stuck for long; when given the choice, I’ll sleep in every time (and then, of course, I’ll be grouchy about not having written).

But for the last few weeks, I’ve actually been enjoying my early morning writing — far more than I ever imagined I could. It may be because I’ve had a breakthrough on a project I’m working on. It may be because I’ve set new rules for myself about when I can be online (which is not often anymore, and not at all during my Writing Time), and this frees up so much mental energy. Or it may be because I’m adopting a practice that Hemingway followed when he wrote: stopping when there’s still more to say, not after you’ve gotten everything in you on the page.

And I think this new practice has done wonders. My habit has always been write down everything that’s in my brain — the worry being that I’d forget it all if I didn’t get it down as soon as possible. But there’s something to this notion of leaving a little left for the next writing session. As Hemingway advised: “You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.” And this is probably why I find myself eagerly getting to work in the morning instead of dragging myself to it.

All this — and sunrises.

For those of you who’ve never tried this, I encourage you to go for it: Leave something for the next day. You just may find that it’s just what you need to make an old writing routine new again.



Beyond the Margins: 5 tips and prompts for busy writers

By Midge Raymond,

A million thanks to Randy Susan Meyers for hosting me on the wonderful Beyond the Margins blog today, where I offer 5 tips and prompts for how to be an Everyday Writer.

Most authors have busy schedules — these days, who doesn’t? — and yet it is possible to keep writing, even if you aren’t able to sit down in the chair. These 5 tips will help you see the ways in which you can think like a writer, which is the next best thing to putting words on the page.

Happy writing!



On awareness (or lack thereof)

By Midge Raymond,

One of the main tenets of Everyday Writing is to be aware of one’s surroundings, i.e., to be an Everyday Writer by paying closer attention to the world around you — to capture every detail, every snippet of dialogue, every little tidbit you can in order to enrich your creative life. It’s something I work on every day myself — and, I’ve just realized, something I may need to work on a little harder.

Now that the weather is lovely, I’ve been making a point to walk in the woods every day. This isn’t always possible, but I do my best. Exercise and fresh air aside, it’s a great way to rest one’s brain, to clear it of its clutter and make room for creativity. (All writers should go for walks, if they can — whether it’s in the woods, around a lake, or around a busy city block, getting out into the world is good for the senses and for awakening one’s sleeping inner writer.)

I usually walk solo, of course, but over the weekend I took a walk along the same trail with my husband, who noticed something I’d apparently passed by dozens of times without noticing. He took a photo of it with his phone:

As someone who thinks of herself as fairly observant (and as someone whose husband isn’t usually all that observant), I couldn’t believe I’d missed this lovely little statue, just to the right of the trail.

In my defense, the statue is about ten feet off the trail, not exactly noticeable unless you’re really looking around. And, as my husband kindly pointed out, when you’re alone on a trail (or walking first, as I was that day with him), you’re looking ahead and paying attention in other ways (we have bears and cougars in these hills, and one always has to be at least a little alert for these creatures). But still — how had I not noticed this (now very obvious) statue in the middle of the woods?

This is, for me, an excellent reminder that no matter how observant we think we are, we could always open our eyes a little wider. Not to mention our ears, our hearts, our minds. Ever since this discovery, I’ve make a point to look outward just a bit more than usual. I leave my cell phone at home when I run errands, preventing me from turning to it when I feel a moment of boredom. And just the other day, when I was at the hair salon, having purposely left my phone at home and taken nothing to read, I got a new idea for a story (or perhaps even a novel) while I was in the chair. (And those moments are a lot more fun and interesting than checking email for the eighth time in an hour.)

When you’re a writer, there’s no such thing as being bored — but there is such a thing as being overly distracted. So leave the distractions behind whenever you can, and open yourself up to a little “boredom.” You may not capture everything going on in the world around you, but what does draw your attention could be wonderful fodder for your work.



5 Ways to Make Time for Creativity

By Midge Raymond,

I’m happy and grateful to be featured on the StyleSubstanceSoul blog today with “5 Ways to Make Time for Creativity.”

If you’re not familiar with StyleSubstanceSoul, visit today and sign up to receive their e-news, which delivers inspiration, book and film reviews, interviews, and amazing giveaways to your in-box every week. This wonderful site was founded by three best friends (and mothers of daughters) who believe that “female energy has the power to change the world.” They are all about living a life of positive action and compassion — what’s not to love about that?

A million thanks to StyleSubstanceSoul for featuring 5 Ways to Make Time for Creativity (and be sure to click through to a couple of the links, where you’ll find books by a couple of my favorite poets). Hope this all leads you to a weekend of inspiration, good reading, and good writing!