Tuesday, October 17, 2017

My October Wish

May I leave
     this world more alive
                 than when I came.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lament of the Images

The makers of images
Dwell with us still
We must listen
To their speech
Re-learn their
Recharge the psychic
Of our dying
Or live dumb
And blind
Devoid of old
Divorced from
The great dreams
Of the magical and fearful

--Lament of the Images
  An African Elegy
  Ben Okri

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Intimations of Imagination

As a creative person, I’m often asked how to increase our imaginative ability. One way is to learn to pay attention to moments when you’re surprised, startled, or captured by something. Perhaps an image, event or idea. A moment of beauty or repulsion. Such moments mean something is resonating in you. These are “intimations of imagination.” Intimation is the act of making something known. These moments are seeds of imaginative potential and carry tremendous energy.

Often we are too busy or distracted to attend them. A creative person needs to tune herself to catch these energies. Hence the pencil stub and bit of paper always in the pocket.

Here’s an example. During an acupuncture session, a vivid image flashed in my mind. A poem wanting to be. But, being a human porcupine, I couldn’t grab a pencil. Afterward, I considered jotting it down, but rush hour traffic was increasing by the minute. So I didn’t. That night, I was distracted by life’s unending necessaries. When I at last opened my notebook the next morning, the poem was gone. Oh, I still had the image, but it was as bland as egg whites. All the energy it carried had fled.

A week later, shortly after I went to bed, an image and a phrase came. So did the energy. But I was already late to bed. However, recalling the lost poem, I thought, this is my job as a creative person. And that job comes with irregular hours and starting bells that ring at odd times. So I stumbled into the kitchen and opened my notebook. A poem flurried onto the page. With work, that poem may be a good one. It contains a possible picture book story, too.

Joseph Campbell wrote, “the goal is to live with godlike composure on the divine rush of energy.” Writing is the same. If you show up for the intimations of your imagination, that rush of energy will do most of the work for you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Library is Haunted!

I am pleased to celebrate publication of The Haunted Library: The Underground Ghosts, a new book by my fellow author and friend, Dori Hillestad Butler. And #10 in the series! I asked her: If you could haunt any library as a ghost, what library would you haunt and why? 

Dori Hillestad Butler replied:
If I ever do come back as a ghost, it probably will be to a library! Haha! The question is which one? At first I thought it was a toss up between the Library of Congress and the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, but the more I think about it the more the scale tips in favor of the Seattle Public Library. 

Sure, the Library of Congress is beautiful and it's got 32 million cataloged books. But the Seattle Public Library is one of "my" libraries. I'm there fairly often, working in the writer's room. It's also a really interesting building and I don't think I'd run out of reading material there. 

I think my haunting would entail entertaining children as the resident ghost (entertaining, not scaring!), freaking out (okay, scaring!) people who are rude to librarians, and helping aspiring writers who use the writer's room. I think I could be very happy spending eternity haunting the Seattle Public Library as the resident ghost. And as I established in my Haunted Library #10, it's POSSIBLE there's more beneath that building than people know. Only the ghosts know what's really beneath the Seattle Public Library . . . .

Dori Hillestad Butler lives up to her 2011 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. I love that this book is linked to Underground Seattle, a very spooky place!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Kiss Your Inspiration Goodbye

Inspiration is an important, but ultimately small part of writing a novel. Story blossoms are everywhere—in the lines of a book I’ve read, the shape of a tree I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, and the lifelong sojourning of my imagination. Inspiration is the wind that comes and sprinkles pollen onto one particular blossom. Then the capricious wind flits away, leaving me with the job of growing that blossom into a lush piece of fruit. I have to water the tree. Protect the blossom from frost. Keep the insects away. I have to stop the birds from pecking the fruit. Pray that the hail will not come, and that the well will not run dry. This has little to do with inspiration and everything to do with steadfast work.

What keeps me writing after the initial inspiration is the great glory of revelation— those flashes of insight where I suddenly see what the story is really about, suddenly see who the character really is, suddenly see what that character should really be doing. Such revelations mean that my story has come alive and is now running on ahead of me. If I’m lucky, if the work is a true one, the revelations come again and again as I chase after the true story.

Often this coming alive of the story means I have to abandon my initial inspiration. Perhaps I thought the blossom would become an apple, only to find it is really a peach. It can be gut-wrenching to abandon my inspiration. But I must, in order to see what is actually in front of me now, to see what the story has become and wants to become, rather than what I thought it was going to be. As a result of my own work and care, the story declares its independence. Like any parent, I must help it become what it was born to be, and must fight my reluctance to let it go,

If a writer honors the wonder and glory and kicking life of what she has miraculously created, then, with a kiss of blessing and thanks, she can let the capricious wind of inspiration blow away over another hill, and get on with the work at hand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

7:30 BELLS: Traffic Jam Bells

Stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway, I inched through the winter night. I didn’t want to be there. I was tired after a long day and just wanted to get home. Where are the bells now? I wondered. Was there any way to feel vibrantly alive in this situation?

A red river of brake lights stretched ahead as far as I could see. Across the freeway, a white river of headlights rushed toward me. All those lights glistened on the wet road and danced in the rain, as luminous and atmospheric as a Turner painting. All these people in all these cars were coming and going like the endless river of life.

None of them wanted to be stuck in this traffic jam. They all wanted to be somewhere else. Or did they? Maybe in one of these cars, two people soon to part were blessed with an extra hour together. Maybe a man listening to music would think of some wonderful new idea. Or a woman listening to an audio book had an insight that would change her life.

The traffic jam turned beautiful. And suddenly, I didn’t want to be anywhere else but in that shining red and white river of life.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Three Little Trumpigs and The Big Bad Wall

Once upon a dastardly time, three fat little trumpigs ruled a good, green country. But in the world outside, a terrible storm blew. People crept to the country’s border, looking for shelter. 

The three little trumpigs didn’t like this one bit. Late one night, they tweeted, “Let’s build a big bad wall to keep them out!” So they snortled and chortled and built a wall of lies.

“Little trumpigs, little trumpigs,” the poor people cried, “please let us in!”

The three little trumpigs grinned. “Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins!”

But Lady Liberty heard the cries and raised her torch. “I’ll shine, and I’ll shine, and I’ll burn that wall down!” And—poof! she did.

The three little trumpigs didn’t like that one bit. They tweeted, “Let’s build a bigger, badder wall!” And they snortled and chortled and built a wall of power. It was fifty tanks wide and fifty generals high.

“Little trumpigs, little trumpigs,” the poor people cried, “please let us in!”

The three little trumpigs grinned. “Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins!”

Again Lady Liberty heard the people cry. She raised her torch. “I’ll shine, and I’ll shine, and I’ll burn that wall down!” And—poof! she did.

The three little trumpigs threw a tweet tantrum. “Lady Liberty is a disaster,” they screamed. “Let’s build the biggest, baddest wall ever!” So they snortled and chortled and built a wall of hate.

“Little trumpigs, little trumpigs,” the poor people cried, “please let us in!”

The three little trumpigs grinned. “Not by the hair of our chinny-chin-chins!” 

Again, Lady Liberty heard the poor people cry. But when she saw the towering wall of hate, her torch flickered. And Lady Liberty began to fall.

The people of the good, green country ran out of their houses. Brown people, black people, white people, and every color of people in-between. They all joined hands around Lady Liberty.

“Mother of Exiles,” they said, “once we were the homeless, tempest-tossed. You took us in—your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Our hearts will hold you up!” 

Lady Liberty stood tall again. Her torch shone brighter than ever. She and the people called to the three little trumpigs jumping on the wall. “Together we’ll shine, and we’ll shine, and we’ll burn that wall down!” And—poof! together they did. 

And late that night, all the people of that good, green country—the new arrivals and the old—feasted together on three fat, little roasted trumpigs.

--Dia Calhoun 

Note: I've always kept my personal political opinions separate from my literary work for children. But given the current political climate in the world, I need to use whatever power my pen has to speak out and speak up.

The Three Little Trumpigs and The Big Bad Wall is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License Feel free to share it as much as you wish, so long as you credit me and link to this page. But do not sell it, or change it in any way without my permission. Thank you.

Some of the phrases in The Three Little Trumpigs and The Big Bad Wall were derived from the the poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus.  

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land,
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Shows world-wide welcome: her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands you storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.

Lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

--Emma Lazarus