Homes and Hearths

This year for Wyrd Words, we took the retreat to Europe, to the Isle of Skye, where American-based writers connected with European friends.

I am so grateful that Wyrd Words participants always bring imaginative, thoughtful, open-hearted energy to our workshops and retreats.

Plus there is power in the settings we are lucky to work in, places with their own pulse and personality.

The Isle of Skye was an incredible backdrop for our week of creative work, a profound and majestic wilderness.

Every sunrise, dusk, and star-filled sky was a gift. Stepping outside to breathe in the wide open sky, catching a glimpse of the ocean from one of the windows, going for a walk along the craggy shore with its whispers of ancient secrets. I fell in love.

It was a delight to write and play in this incredible setting with brilliant and beautiful people.

Then there was…the Aga.

If you have never heard of an Aga (I had not until recently) then you can read about it here.

Along with our friend (and culinary goddess) Vanessa, we took turns cooking meals in this hearth-like stove that heats the home and remains on at a steady temperature for a completely different way to think about preparing food. I had to change the way I thought about cooking, but once I did, I loved it.

Plus…the Aga heats the kitchen so well (which for me is a dream, since my Raynaud’s starts to flare up this time of year).

Wyrd Words came at an interesting time this year, right after the kids began school and just before the launch of our cookbook, FORKING GOOD (out on October 22nd!)  I had ambitious goals for everything I hoped to accomplish (as always), and I didn’t get it all done, but I did make every moment count: I wrote every day, slept in, cooked and ate meals with people I love, and had moments of exploration and reflection.

We survived driving across Scotland in a large van (on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car!)

Plus I got to explore Glasgow a little (I want to go back!) and I saw my dear friend Alison for a whirlwind 24 hours.

Some places grab hold of your heart. Scotland is another of those places for me.

We’ll be back.

 

 

Read the Comments

Wyrd Words Moonrise 2015 (photo by Stephen H. Segal)

In my last blog entry, I wrote about the song that my kids and I worked on together for the Amanda Palmer Blackout songwriting challenge–our first collaboration, my first songwriting lyric attempt, my 12 year-old-daughter’s first time singing in a public space, my son’s first time working with lyrics for one of his compositions. That’s a lot of firsts.

I’m not a singer, and my daughter enjoys it, so I asked her to be a part of this because it’s summer and I wanted to try making something together; but the truth is, I would have sung the lyrics myself (however poorly) if she hadn’t wanted to be a part of this.

Full disclosure: I’m terrified of singing in public. I have not sung in front of strangers since I was a child and my family teased me about performing “Dites-Moi” too dramatically in the choir at St. Pascal’s grammar school. I think I was 9.

I only started singing in small, private settings in the last few years, ever since the kids were born and I wanted them to feel comfortable singing. I tried to model for them that not having a “good voice” shouldn’t stop their love of making noises and expressing themselves. But have I ever done Karaoke? Nope.

Still, for this, I would have sung.  So what had changed? It’s not the fact that it’s recorded, because the idea of something living online is even scarier than a live performance.

This thought was fresh in my mind after we posted our song entry, when Lana and I started to go through the hundreds of comments to see how other people had responded to Amanda’s challenge. I continued to peruse them last night, and something struck me.

Again and again I read versions of the following in the Patreon comments:

“I’m really nervous…” “I’ve never done anything like this before…” “I only sing in my shower…” “I can’t play an instrument…” “English is not my first language…” “I’m learning how to speak English…” “I’ve always wanted to write a song…” “I was so inspired to try…”

Hundreds of people responded with song lyrics that they wrote, many of them sung into telephones and computers with little or no musical/recording experience. In a week. They made art and shared it with strangers.

There is wisdom in the modern proverb, “Do not read the comments.” Too often, strangers are not kind to those who reveal their vulnerability in a public way. It can be scary even for those those of us who look to have an audience for our voices and ideas. Here were people taking up the challenge to be creative and post it publicly. Even if they couldn’t play an instrument or were afraid to sing or if knew that they would be disqualified because they didn’t fully follow the instructions, still they posted their words and sang their songs.

Why?

Surely many wanted the opportunity to share something with the artist who has given them so much joy and comfort and inspiration. Amanda’s relationship with her fans is special. She works hard at it, and as a writer mama, I respect the way she’s trying to make time for the many relationships in her life now that she’s raising her young son Ash, including the relationship with her fans and collaborators.

It’s a contest, and so some were inspired by the prize and potential recognition, and yet in other contexts, competitions can get ugly. To date, this one has not.

I believe there’s more to it than fandom. Amanda has cultivated her community with a desire to connect, to share unapologetically her life and her self online and in person. Her community of supporters is built on her foundation of vulnerability and acceptance. She does it in a way that is bold and and performative, and it’s not for everyone, but it’s a message that reaches a lot of people looking for a safe place to be themselves, to be seen, to be heard.

The wonderful Brené Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly,  “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

It’s interesting, because when a friend heard our song, she told me that she was struck by how vulnerable Lana sounded. She’s right. Hearing our finished song, I felt both protective and proud, and I think it’s because of that creative vulnerability. I asked Stephen his thoughts, and his response was that this community was likely to be mutually supportive–that Amanda Palmer fans weren’t going to tear each other down over a prize.

We’ve all heard stories of how kids get cyber-bullied. I’ve been protective of the kids growing up because of the way that the internet *can* bring out the worst in people. But Stephen was right, this really is different.

Looking at the songwriting entries from all over the world, I was heartened to read people saying supportive things to strangers, offering to help one another. I think that’s really important. There’s a lot of poison out there now, and it was good to see a few more examples that we can do better. I know there are other such communities and online sanctuaries, and I’m grateful to be a part of a few of them; but it’s also easy to get weighed down every day by the many places where we need to work harder to make things better. This was a small moment of hope, and I just wanted to share.

Writers and Nebulas

If you’re involved with publishing or books in some way or another, you likely know that BEA (BookExpo America) is in Chicago this year (May 11-13). What you may not know is that there’s another literary event overlapping as well. The Nebula Conference is in Chicago on May 12-15 and will feature seminars and panel discussions on the craft and business of writing.

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There is no one path to being a writer (except for the work of writing and revising). Some of us have gone through MFA or PhD programs. Some of us come from backgrounds in journalism or advertising. We are lawyers, teachers, therapists, burlesque dancers, parents, doctors, baristas, puppeteers. We have varied experiences, perspectives, and skill sets. Conventions and conferences give us the opportunity to learn from one another, and the Nebula Conference has assembled an impressive array of topics that are timely and relevant.

Here’s a sampling of the programming options for writers who register for the Nebula Conference Weekend:

Best Practices for an Author Website

Commissioning, Working With, and Compensating Expert Readers

Understanding Translation

Fighting the Harassment Game

Patreon

Podcasting for Writers

Language as Rebellion

Historical Research from the Margins

The Moral Responsibility of the Storyteller

Day Jobs for Writers

What Teens Are Looking for in YA Literature

The Future of Racism

Promotional Bootcamp

BarCon and other Secret Handshakes

So you want an assistant…

Western Narratives, There is No Single Voice in The West, So Why Do Only Hear From One?

Defense Against The Dark Arts: Protecting Yourself and Others From Harassment Online

Literary EstatesPart I and II (pre-reg required)

How to Give an Effective Reading

hodgman1Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the annual SFWA Nebula Conference will be held at the Palmer House and will include professional programming, receptions, and an awards banquet and ceremony with Toastmaster John Hodgman.

On May 13, a mass autographing session will also take place at the Palmer House that is FREE and open to the public. You can view the list of participants here.  (I’ll be there with Stephen signing copies of Geek Parenting! Stop by and say hello!)

While the organization sponsoring the weekend, SFWA, is a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres, the programming and speakers participating in the conference are pertinent to all manner of professional writers. From freelancing to social media, digital assets to agents—these topics transcend genre and will be presented by professional writers, editors, lawyers, and social media specialists.   

More information about the SFWA Nebula Conference can be found at: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/2016-nebula-conference/

 Autographing